Some people think the center position, or the traditional “big-man”, is becoming extinct and has no place in today’s game. For those people, there is a talented young core of centers that may have something to say about that.
Fans picture the classic center as players like Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing. Guys who could dominate the paint by just bullying other players around.
The young centers of today have found a way to blend together the high-pace of today’s game with the size of a true center. The ideal center may be a little slimmer and faster than they were 20 years ago, but there are still seven-footers out on the court.
Admittedly, the NBA did go through a short period when top-end centers were starting become less available and less sought-after. However, the future looks bright for centers in the NBA.
Here is a look at the top five centers in the league under 30 years old:
1. DeMarcus Cousins
is a hands-down superstar and dominates games from the low post. He has just been stuck with the Sacramento Kings his entire career.
Cousins is the kind of offensive talent a team can base their entire game plan around.
This past season, Cousins was able to put it all together and become a complete package. The main area of improvement this season for Cousins was his outside shooting.
In 2016, Cousins made more threes than he had attempted in all of his previous seasons combined. In Cousins first five seasons he went 11-69, 15.9 percent, from three. In 2015, Cousins shot 70-210, 33.3 percent, from long range.
Even with Cousins’ offensive evolution drawing him more to the outside, his rebounding numbers have not been affected that much. This past season, Cousins averaged 11.5 rebounds per game and 2.4 offensive rebounds per game. However, both of those numbers are lower than the previous season’s numbers, 12.7 rebounds per game and 3.1 offensive per game.
Even though Cousins is known for his offense, he has become a solid defensive big man. He is a very big body at 6’11’’ and 270 pounds. He takes up a lot of space and deals a lot of punishment to opposing players. He is also extremely athletic for a man his size so he is able to create a lot of plays with his length.
Cousins has missed at least 10 games in four of his six seasons, and averages about 69 games a season. If Cousins is able to keep his games played around 70 and is ready to go come playoff time, his health shouldn’t be too much of a concern. However, players his size often deal with injury issues.
2. Andre Drummond
Drummond really sets himself apart when he is rebounding and dominating his opponents physically with his 6’11”, 279-pound frame.
Drummond was an extremely raw talent coming out of Connecticut when the Pistons selected him ninth overall. He still has a lot of growing to do as he is only 23, but is still able to dominate games with his supreme athleticism, motor and size.
The Pistons big man made a big leap last season on both ends of the ball, posting career highs in his points, rebounds and steals.
His offensive game was his biggest area of improvement last season. He jumped from 13.5 points per game to 14.8 points per game while improving his field goal percentage from 51.4 percent to 52.1 percent. He appeared to be much more comfortable underneath and with his back to the basket.
Drummond remains a defensive presence due to his size and athleticism. He recorded 1.4 blocks per game and 1.5 steals per game last season. While his blocks were at a career low, his steals were at a career high. I expect his blocks to get back up next season to above two blocks a game, which would be a new high for him.
The one major knock on Drummond’s game is his poor free throw shooting. The “Hack-a-Shaq” rule change will help Drummond stay off the line, but there is no excuse for shooting 33.3 percent from the charity stripe.
3. DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers have been one of the most talented and most disappointing teams in the NBA over the last few seasons.
Jordan fits perfectly into what the Clippers need him to do on offense and defense.
He absolutely dominates the boards, which allows him to clean up after shooters like J.J. Redick and Chris Paul. Once Jordan shoots the ball, he is one of the absolute best at finding the basket. He shot 70.3 percent last year from the field.
Jordan was also able to develop his playmaking ability over last offseason. This season he ended the season with a career high 1.2 APG, he had averaged less than 1 APG in his first seven seasons.
On the defensive end, Jordan absolutely changes games.
He has the body, 6’11” and 265 pounds, to bang with anyone on the low post. He can also bounce through the roof and can time defenders very well.
Last season, Jordan blocked 2.3 shots a game, the second highest of his career. When he wasn’t spiking the ball back to the ground, he was in the minds of defenders, altering shots by just being in the area.
Paired with his intimidating defense, Jordan is also one of the top rebounders in the game. He is always able to find the right position and even when he doesn’t, he is usually able to either out jump or out muscle the man next to him. Last season, Jordan posted 13.8 rebounds per game AND 3.5 offensive rebounds per game. Both of the rebounding numbers dipped from the previous seasons, when he posted career highs.
Like Drummond, Jordan’s main cause for concern is his free throw shooting. Jordan’s numbers are not as bad Drummond’s, although he is known for throwing up air-balls at the line. Last season, Jordan was able to increase his free-throw percentage from 39.7 percent to 43 percent.
4. Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside was drafted, out of Marshall University, by the Sacramento Kings with the 33rd overall pick in 2010. After playing in only 19 total games in two seasons, Whiteside left to play with Dwyane Wade and the Heat, where he played in 121 games in two seasons.
In his first season with the Heat, Whiteside became an instant double-double machine and an elite rim protector.
Whiteside has posted career high numbers across the board in each of his seasons in Miami.
On the offensive end, Whiteside has improved his scoring totals from 11.8 to 14.2 points per game, while shooting over 60 percent. He has shown development in his comfort level and low post moves when dealing with NBA bodies.
Defense and rebounding is where Whiteside really earns his money. He was named to the All-Defensive second team last season after posting 3.7 blocks per game and 0.6 steals per game.
Whiteside is the tallest big-man so far on the list at 7’0”. His length helps him reel in boards,. Where he really thrived was on dominating the offensive glass after his teammates put up shots.
Even though Whiteside has proven he has the talent to make a contribution in this league, he is still fairly unproven. He has yet to start a full season worth of games. Teams are still collecting film on him and learning how to play him. I expect him to remain a very good big man. Don’t expect the development he has shown thus far in Miami to continue at the same rate.
5. Rudy Gobert
Gobert has so much potential and such a high ceiling. He could find himself sneaking up this list to as high as No. 2 in a few seasons.
Gobert is already starting to set himself apart from the rest of the league with his defensive prowess and rim-protecting ability, a common theme among most of the top big men. Gobert was able to swat away 2.2 shots a game and was a constant thought of any would-be shooter bringing the ball into the lane.
Gobert was also able to beef up, enabling him to bang with NBA big men on the low post.
Last season, Gobert was able to set career highs in offensive and defensive rebounds per game with 7.5 and 3.4 respectively.
Utah’s big man still has a lot of growing to do, mainly on the offensive end, before he is considered elite.
Gobert managed only 9.1 points per game while shooting 55.9 percent, playing over 31 minutes a game. He does not look comfortable with the ball in his hands and is not much of an offensive factor at this point in his career. However, with his supreme athleticism and shown improvement, there is no reason to believe Gobert can’t become an offensive force one day.