As big men continue to move farther out from the basket in an attempt to become more versatile, it's becoming apparent that the traditional center role is disappearing in basketball. It will never leave for good, as players such as Dwight Howard keep the back-to-the-basket era alive, but as the Miami Heat proved the last two seasons starting power forward Chris Bosh at center, going small can pay dividends and win championships.
But when Larry Sanders tweeted out yesterday that he had agreed to and signed a four-year, $44 million extension with the Milwaukee Bucks, it cemented the Central as a "center-centric" division, and one that may come down to the team that can get the most production from their man in the middle.
At the top of the class is Indiana's Roy Hibbert. He turned a nice second half of the season into an even better playoffs, where he averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds while leading the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals, falling to the eventual champion Heat in a Game 7 on the road.
Then there's Sanders, who is quickly becoming one of the best interior defenders in the league. Ranked second in the NBA in blocks per game, the 24-year-old Sanders was seventh in the Defensive Player of the Year voting and will man the Bucks' inside through his prime years.
The Pistons may have the most potential in the league at the position. 19-year-old Andre Drummond is as raw as a player can get, but the athleticism, size and talent is apparent in the teen. If he can improve his free-throw shooting and round out his game it's not unrealistic to think he could be one of the game's best centers in the next 3-4 years.
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Without Derrick Rose Joakim Noah put up a career-high in points and was named to his first All-Star Game. His future in Chicago is unclear, though the Bulls seem to be planning for the future with Noah involved. He's got the most range of any center in the division, but he's still at his best in the paint, defending or putting back missed shots.
The Cavaliers made noise this offseason when they signed Andrew Bynum to a two-year deal to complement Anderson Varejao inside. This pair could be the best 1-2 center punch in the league, though it remains to be seen how healthy Bynum's knees are and whether Varejao can keep up his defensive intensity after he missed all but 15 games last year with a blood clot in his lung.
Teams across the league are beginning to run, use three guards and extend their centers out to 17 feet, sometimes the 3-point line. But the Central Division is keeping things old school with their back-to-the-basket big men. With the Heat signing Greg Oden and Chris "Birdman" Anderson returning for another year, it will be important for whichever team(s) comes out of the Central to win the battle inside against Miami, and then hope to get lucky against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.