20 in 20: The NBA's top 10 men in the middle

20 in 20: The NBA's top 10 men in the middle

Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010
7:45 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
12. Who are the top 10 centers in the league?

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2009-10 season averages: 18.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 61.2 field-goal percentage in 82 games): The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, last season's league leader in rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal percentage, a freak athlete, almost as durable as Cal Ripken and still not even 25 years old--scary.

2. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2009-10 season averages: 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 52.0 field-goal percentage in 69 games): Before a gruesome injury ended his season prior to the postseason, Bogut, perhaps motivated by an All-Star snub, was the biggest factor in Milwaukee's surprising surge, and with an upgraded supporting cast around him, the Aussie and former top overall draft pick's strong all-around game should no longer fly under the radar.

3. Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers (2009-10 season averages: 18.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 49.0 field-goal percentage in 76 games): The next few players on this list could almost be placed in any particular order, but Kaman's underrated consistency gives him the nod, as he possesses terrific versatility on offense and is a big factor on the boards.

4. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers (2009-10 season averages: 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 57.0 field-goal percentage in 65 games): Bynum's injury concerns continue to be a persistent issue, but when the 22-year-old is healthy, his defensive presence, size and ever-improving offense make him one of the more effective true big men in the game, especially paired with teammate Pau Gasol.

5. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls (2009-10 season averages: 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 50.4 field-goal percentage in 64 games): His abilities have been covered in this space enough, but look for him to make a move up this list by the end of the season, assuming he can stay healthy and his offseason offensive work pays off as expected.

6. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets (2009-10 season averages: 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 49.9 field-goal percentage in 82 games): One of the lone bright spots in the Nets' dismal campaign last season, Lopez is one of the best young bigs in the league, and with the additions of veteran Troy Murphy and rookie Derrick Favors, he should receive less defensive attention, freeing him up to better utilize his polished offensive game.

7. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks (2009-10 season averages: 14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 55.1 field-goal percentage in 81 games): It may seem strange to see Horford, coming off his first All-Star berth, so far down this list, but that's a credit to the much-improved recent play of NBA centers, as the undersized Hawks' high-energy game, consistent work on the glass and developing offense are key to Atlanta's success, even if he might be better suited to play power forward.

8. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2008-09 season averages: 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 54.8 field-goal percentage in 77 games; missed entire 2009-10 season with injury): Obviously Yao would be at or near the top of the heap if he wasn't coming off such a major injury, but even with the pre-imposed half-game minutes-limitation set by the Rockets before the season, expect to see flashes of his old abilities on occasion.

9. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (2009-10 season averages: 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 58.1 field-goal percentage in 69 games): If there were more touches available on the Grizzlies or he was in a situation where he wasn't paired with another low-post scorer (Zach Randolph), the "other" Gasol would be higher on this list, as his fundamentally-sound (albeit ground-bound) offensive game, surprising finesse and tough rebounding are weapons the majority of teams in the league would love to have.

10. Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers (2009-10 season averages: 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 60.5 field-goal percentage in 21 games): Considered a bust by those who don't observe him closely, before he was hurt last season, Oden figured out a niche for himself--on a team that only requires that he play a limited role in the first place--as a dominant defensive presence, efficient in-close scorer and effective rebounder.

Next 10 (in alphabetical order):

Marcus Camby, Portland Trailblazers: Assuming Oden is healthy all season--a big if--the seemingly ageless Camby will be a backup, but regardless of his role, he continues to be one of the league's more effective defenders and rebounders year after year.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: Cousins possesses the versatility to also play forward, but since his size will likely dictate center being his long-term position, it's easier to project him there, where his combination of power and finesse should make an immediate impact.
Samuel Dalembert, Sacramento Kings: Although the aforementioned Cousins will see minutes in the pivot, Dalembert was acquired to contribute his solid shot-blocking and rebounding abilities to the present, not future version of the young and talented Kings.

Brendan Haywood, Dallas Mavericks: Haywood, projected to begin the season as Dallas' starter after signing an offseason extension--the brittle nature of probable backup and FIBA World Championships gold medalist Tyson Chandler prevents him from making the cut--was regarded as an underachiever early in his career, but has settled into a niche as a big-bodied, solid rebounding presence, with more than adequate abilities on both ends.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: The Georgetown product continues to make progress each season and while his team's misfortunes have kept him off the radar, he's quietly developing into a quite promising young big man.

JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards: A Chicago native, the still-raw and freaky-athletic McGee has as much potential as any center in the league.

Nene, Denver Nuggets: Vastly underrated by many, the Brazilian big man is tough in all facets of the game, but nagging injuries have kept him from taking the next step.

Emeka Okafor, New Orleans Hornets: The former Rookie of the Year, coming off the worst season of his career, may not be dominant, but when free from health concerns, is more than serviceable at his position, if undersized.
Mehmet Okur, Utah Jazz: Okur--who surely would have helped the Turkish national team this summer--will be sidelined for at least the early portion of the season, and while new Jazz acquisition Al Jefferson will cut into his minutes, his uncanny outside range makes him an offensive mismatch.

Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics: Another player who will miss time to begin the season--the veteran O'Neals, Jermaine and Shaquille, will attempt to hold down the fort in his absence--Perkins isn't flashy or incredibly gifted offensively, but his physicality, rebounding presence and defensive acumen are a big part of why the aging Celtics have maintained their level of excellence.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you're ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

The NBA announced Saturday that it has suspended former Bulls and current Knicks center Joakim Noah for 20 games without pay for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

He tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement called selective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033, which is prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement but would not have been under the new CBA starting next year, according to ESPN's Marc Spears.

It was announced in February that Noah would miss the remainder of the season with a left knee injury. His suspension will carry over into the 2017-18 campaign with only 10 games left this year.

Noah averaged 5.0 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 46 games in his first of a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks.