Ball Don't Lie - NBA



As summer winds down and the day-to-day "news" falls flat, BDL will be ranking each NBA position, 1-through-30. Or, more accurately, 30-through-1. Here's an explanation.

In this post, we take on the centers, 11-through-1. Click the jump for the run.

Of course, I did it again.

In going back and forth between listing Al Jefferson(notes) as a power forward or a center, I nearly omitted him altogether. So the first two entries in our list of ranked centers will have to all move down one. Luckily I had Al in the top 10, but it's an unfortunate oversight ... for Erick Dampier(notes).

So, yes, this is 11 through first. And we start with the toughest.


11
. Greg Oden(notes), Portland Trail Blazers: (last year: 11th)

A broken wrist. Microfracture surgery. A sprained foot, hurt when Andrew Bynum(notes) grabbed him from behind and forced him to stay on the floor instead of allowing him to jump at the rim. A chipped kneecap, struck by Corey Maggette(notes) on accident. A fractured left patella tendon, hurt as he landed awkwardly after contesting a shot against Houston. These are quite a few injuries, for someone who has been playing on the NCAA or NBA level since 2006.

But they're different injuries. Freak injuries. Not like Yao Ming(notes) or Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) or Bill Walton turning their feet into dust with repeated stress fractures. These are just things that have gone incredibly wrong.

So, I'd like to rank Oden higher. I really would. And while some might want to see him paired with Yao Ming around the same spot, it needs to be shouted that Greg Oden is not Yao Ming. He hasn't had the same repeated injuries in the same spot. He's injury-prone, yes, but only in the most literal sense of the phrase. If Oden stays healthy and can limit his fouls? He's top five. Maybe top three.



10. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz (last year: third)

It might be another year in waiting for Al, which is bumming me out.

Last season, he had to deal with working through a post-rehab left knee that was clearly not as strong as it could be. The year before, a sure All-Star season was cut short with an ACL tear. And this season? Well, he's healthy, but there's concern that he could need a little while to figure out Utah's flex offense and that could limit his contributions while players like Paul Millsap(notes) streak to the correct place on the court.

Of course, he's Al Jefferson, so it's not as if he's falling off the face of the earth. It just might be a little while until he's comfortable, and by then Mehmet Okur(notes) might be ready to slide Al back to power forward.

9. Marc Gasol(notes), Memphis Grizzlies (last year: unranked)

Because he doesn't stand out in any one area, Gasol is continually overlooked as one of the league's finer centers. He's just all-around great, and at age 25, still has room to get better. A sound passer, like his brother, Gasol can score in the post effectively because he can hold position, something that's lost sometimes in a league full of defensive-minded six-foul guys. He does well enough on screen-and-roll defense and remains a tough rebounder.

Now it's up to the Grizzlies to understand what they have and feature him in their offense more often.

8. Nene, Denver Nuggets (last year: sixth)

Consider Nene more of a defensive-minded version of Gasol. Far beyond adequate in every area, Nene excels at disrupting screen-and-rolls. He won't pin shots to the glass with regularity like a Dwight Howard(notes)-type, but he changes more looks than your average bear. And he continues to get in that passing lane.

He averaged nearly 14 points a game in just below 33 minutes a contest, he tossed in just under 59 percent of his field-goal attempts and he just works that all-around game expertly. Truly one of the game's more underrated players.

7. Joakim Noah(notes), Chicago Bulls (last year: 15th)

Though his fiery personality and, um, unconventional offseason habits are the Houston forward's polar opposite, Noah almost reminds of a 7-foot version of Shane Battier(notes). The ultimate teammate, Noah is constantly barking out the opposing team's play, his position on the help defense side and he's the first to meet a teammate when things go perfectly, terribly awry, or somewhere in the middle.

He also put together a double-double last season while playing just 30 minutes per game, a fantastic accomplishment. And he's made huge strides in his rebounding since entering the league as a rookie in 2007, topping out with a rebound rate that flew past the 20 percent mark last season.

6. Chris Kaman(notes), Los Angeles Clippers (last year: 22nd)

I understand Kaman might not have the rep or respect of some of the players listed below him, but the man averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds last season, and it's time for some of us to get our act together in recognition of his talents. Was last year's big uptick a fluke? Well, he's 28 and has skills. You tell me.

Entering his prime, there aren't many big men I would rather involve in a screen-and-roll offensively in a last-second situation than Kaman. His ability to create open spaces and offensive versatility once he gets the ball goes a long way.

5. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers (last year: fifth)

Bynum's stats aren't as compelling as his Staples Center contemporary, and there is the nagging issue of those nagging injuries that have naggingly never, ever gone away.

But he turns 23 just before this season starts, he's healthy by all accounts he and managed 15 points and eight rebounds in just 30 minutes a game while dragging one leg for a good chunk of the season.

This man -- this kid -- has all-world potential. If he could just give you a healthy 35 minutes a game, you'll see. You'll see. He'll need the ball, too.

4. Al Horford(notes), Atlanta Hawks (last year: 17th)

Al Horford can defend. The Hawks don't really stand out amongst this league's best defensive teams, not with those point guards, but Horford just tends to cover all angles and save his team's bacon time and again.

He averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds with a block, too, last season. While shooting 55 percent and not having many plays run for him. The idea that Al Horford might be a top-five center in this league might feel a little off, but he is all over the place defensively and a smooth scorer offensively. And he's nowhere near as injury-prone as, seemingly, everyone on this list.

3. Brook Lopez(notes), New Jersey Nets (last year: seventh)

How can the best player on a 70-loss team be ranked in the top three at his position? Well, the team stunk. Last year's Nets were really, truly awful.

Lopez was not. He still remains really, truly underrated. He's not a stat hound, he doesn't do anything at the expense of winning and he just piles up the points and rebounds. He averaged 18.8 points and 8.6 rebounds last season with 1.7 blocks and 2.3 assists, and I'd really like the Nets to add 30 wins to last season's totals so people would stop looking at this 22-year-old with such a jaundiced eye.

2. Andrew Bogut(notes), Milwaukee Bucks (last year: 12th)

That's right. The man who I think is the second-best center in the NBA didn't even make the All-Star team last season.

This isn't me trying to be obscure -- Bogut was a No. 1 overall pick fercryin'outloud. It's just the end result of seeing this guy work expertly on either end of the court last season. Bogut was an at-times dominant defender on par with Dwight Howard, especially when Howard started 2009-10 slow. And Bogut's versatile offensive game still isn't being taken advantage enough by his Bucks teammates.

All he does is do everything well, save for the odd trip to the free-throw line. And because he turns 26 just a month into the season and so many other bigs are either playing out of position, coming back from injury or starting to put it all together, I think Bogut establishes himself as a clear No. 2 in 2010-11. To those that pay attention to defense, at least.

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (last year: first)

Dwight Howard pays attention to defense. He runs with a smile on his face and won't remind you of Elvin Hayes in the low post, but he is a dominant force, an MVP candidate and the best player at his position.

He also doesn't turn 25 years until December. Which just doesn't seem fair, if we're honest.

***

Thank you for reading these. To a great chunk of the readership that took the time to click on these rankings, I understand if some of them seemed to fly in the face of convention. Which, in an era that is getting more and more cynical by the minute, often leads to calls of unorthodoxy for unorthodoxy's sake. Something to drive readership. That's not me (seriously, that's really not me), but I can understand that. If I were in your context, or often in your age bracket, I might have the same reaction.

So, to those who disagreed the most with my take, hang with me. Watch me throughout the season. Take a look at the way I'm detailing games five days a week. Participate in chats. I'm not asking you to do this in some attempt to win you over because that's not what I'm after. This isn't a show-offy move, I'm not demanding you give me credibility merely because of what I do during the season. I'm just asking, if you love this game, to do what I did growing up.

If I disagreed with someone, vehemently, I followed them. I read them more than I did the scribes and NBA followers that I agreed with. Not to get angry, but because their ideas -- ones that seemed an anathema to me -- needed some context beyond the initial flame. I had to know why they thought that. I didn't dismiss them, I tried to understand them. I felt it necessary if I was to learn more about the game I loved and in turn help to take that love and make other lives more fulfilling by turning them onto this thing I was so hopelessly swept up in.

So, by all means, comment away. But after that? Understand, away. You might come out on the other side feeling the same way -- perhaps feeling stronger about your annoyance than you did following the first read. But it's a read about the NBA, which is always worth it. And thanks, no matter the reaction, for your read.

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