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.

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What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

The Bulls have made their biggest decision of the offseason but the future of Rajon Rondo and to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade, is still in the air.

Due to the trade for Kris Dunn and the Bulls having acquired Cameron Payne at the trade deadline last season, it doesn’t appear to be much room for Rondo. Even moreso, considering Dunn and Payne’s lack of production, one would think the Bulls would easily guarantee Rondo’s $13.3 million for next season.

But with the June 30th deadline approaching, it seems more and more like the Bulls will buy Rondo out for $3 million and go with a total youth movement, despite Rondo’s success with guiding some of the young players on the roster.

If not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Game 2 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Bulls could’ve advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Instead, they’re embarking on what could be a long process that may take years to recover from.

“He’s always been a great teammate and nurturer of the young guys,” said Bill Duffy, Rondo’s agent. Duffy also serves as Zach LaVine’s agent, so he was in attendance for LaVine’s introduction at the United Center.

The handling of Rondo’s benching, re-emergence and subsequent importance to the Bulls this past season has helped Rondo, in a sense. Rondo proved to be a galvanizing force to a degree after being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup.

“I think it’s fair to say he definitely showed a different persona that what had existed but like I said, he’s always been that way, I think it’s more publicized,” Duffy said. “I think he just loves to develop people, always managing and directing. So I think that’s always the case with the younger guys.”

If Rondo is released—and it certainly appears matters are trending in that direction, the 31-year old could have suitors in the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers, sources tell CSNChicago.com. One would think the Bulls could use Rondo’s type of straightforward but encouraging brand of leadership in the locker room, but the Bulls have yet to guarantee his contract for next season.

“That’s still to be determined,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’re going to sit down with Bill and talk it through. We do understand that veterans are important for a young basketball team, the right veterans – guys that are good teammates, are supportive of the young guys and can continue to teach them how to be pros. Those are things we’ll be addressing.”

“The proof’s always in the pudding and I think if you talk to the front office and coaches, they really love what he brought and how he handled the challenges last year,” Duffy said. “I think we all mature over time and he’s been in the league a long time. He wants to win but he loves the game. I think he appreciates it more, he’s kinda of in his twilight years or approaching it.”

As for Wade, he exercised his $23.8 million option for next season as he was expected to, but that was before the Jimmy Butler trade that ushered in a new day of change.

There’s been speculation Wade would seek a buyout from the Bulls at the start of free agency but so far, those conversations haven’t been held and Paxson intimated Wade would have to give back a significant amount of that money to become a free agent.

There’s been speculation of Wade joining LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Carmelo Anthony getting a buyout from the Knicks and following suit.

But the Cavaliers will have very little to offer in the way of cap space, so it’s tough to see Wade giving back a large sum then going to Cleveland for the veterans’ minimum—which would not make up the difference of a “significant” amount.

“I know Gar has spoken with Leon Rose, Dwyane’s agent, As far as the buyout, that has not been broached,” Paxson said. “I would say this: In this type of scenario, it would have to benefit us. It would have to benefit us. Dwyane was a great pro last year, and he’s been around a lot of different situations.”

But with Wade’s history of giving up large sums of money in the name of team, it’s harder to predict his moves. As strong as his relationship with Butler is, the possibility of Butler being moved didn’t affect him picking up his option, so his desire to play competitive or at least meaningful basketball could be weighed against wanting to keep his family comfortable after relocating to Chicago last year and collecting every dollar of his deal.

“He was in Miami when they had a couple rebuilding years as well,” Paxson said. “So right now we’re operating under assumption that he’ll be here. But like I said, if that subject is ever broached by them, it would have to be advantageous for us."