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, 22-through-12. Click the jump for the run.

So, throughout this process, my computer desktop is riddled with little notes to my future self, reminding me that Tyreke Evans(notes) will be an off guard, that I took Andrei Kirilenko(notes) as a small forward, not to duplicate, not to eliminate, et cetera. But I forgot to write a note about Anderson Varejao(notes), after going back and forth as to whether or not I wanted him listed as a center or power forward.

Clearly, he's a center. But my original list didn't have him ranked. This one does. Sorry.


22
. Nenad Krstic(notes), Oklahoma City Thunder (last year: unranked)

Nenad has been revealed, more or less, as someone you really don't want on your side when stuff is about to get real, son. But he's a versatile pivot with touch out to 19 feet that plays good help defense, sets great screens, makes the extra pass and sees shirtless guys that we don't see all around him all the time. It was nice to see him make a full, if extended, comeback from the torn ACL that ruined his New Jersey career.


21
. Nick Collison(notes), Oklahoma City Thunder (last year: 29th)

Collison's presence on this list, the entire list, will no doubt set a few people off. But those people must have missed the way this guy played defense last season. How he was able to stay with just about any driving point guard in the NBA, how he got out on shooters, how he hung with his own man and all those legitimate charges that he took. Collison won't ever lead the NBA in blocks, and he might not start a game this season, but his stifling all-around defense demands his inclusion in the top 20.


20
. Brendan Haywood(notes), Dallas Mavericks (last year: unranked)

Unranked last year as he was coming off of a major injury that nearly wiped out all of his 2008-09 turn, Haywood's ranking actually seems a little low to me upon first glance. He's a steady near-double-double guy, though, that can catch passes well, block shots, hang with driving guards off the screen-and-roll -- which is badly needed with Jason Kidd(notes) and Jose Juan Barea(notes) up top -- and he rebounds quite well defensively.


19
. Andrea Bargnani(notes), Toronto Raptors (last year: 22nd, but as a power forward)

Bargs is really a small forward, if anything, but you get the drift. Bouncing between the four and the five for him really doesn't matter, because he's a terrible rebounder at either position and his scoring (17.2 points per game last season) isn't really worth that awful, awful defense. Advanced statistical gurus much smarter than me will be scoffing at nearly putting him in the middle of the pack, I'm sure.


18
. Shaquille O'Neal(notes), Boston Celtics (last year: fourth)

Here's another tough one. For the last few years, whenever Shaquille O'Neal plays extended minutes, his team doesn't do all that well. Does pretty terribly, actually, relative to how the same team plays with Shaq on the bench. Now, O'Neal does well -- still putting up good scoring and rebounding numbers per minute, shooting a high percentage -- but for some reason, the overall picture isn't as pretty. Maybe it's his inability to properly defend a screen-and-roll, but it should be noted that upon watching O'Neal attempt it, he doesn't stick that far out as some hopeless defender.

And yet, knowing what we know, you have to rank him this low. The evidence is stacked too high, at this point.


17
. Roy Hibbert(notes), Indiana Pacers (last year: unranked)

Hibbert has had his growing pains, for sure. From fouling too much in his rookie year to serving as Pacer coach Jim O'Brien's go-to screaming post in his second. But the Georgetown product has significant skills in the pivot, and don't be surprised if Roy comes out of nowhere in 2010-11 to act as one of the better passing big men in the NBA. His growing ease with the high post, combined with his already potent low-post play gives Indiana a real up-and-comer.

16. Marcus Camby(notes), Portland Trail Blazers (last year: 10th)

We keep waiting for Camby's eventual drop-off, which may have informed his middle-of-the-road ranking a little too much as we enter 2010-11. His overall stats, adjusted for pace and minutes, were right in line with his career averages last year, even at age 35, and he seems to be growing more and more comfortable hanging with the screen-and-roll defensively, even as he gets older.

15. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers (last year: 23rd)

It's possible that no NBA big man is as comfortable hanging with the screen-and-roll as Anderson Varejao. And though the Cleveland big man still has a pretty awful offensive game despite the occasional catch and finish, his ability to help his guards and slink back to cover his opponent makes him a very passable starting pivot (though you would still prefer the luxury of having him come off the bench).

With Hibbert still a little untested and Camby possibly coming off the pine, I'm going with Varejao at 14.


14
. Emeka Okafor(notes), New Orleans Hornets (last year: 13th)

We're 4 1/2 positions into these rankings, and I think Okafor is the first non-MVP candidate that we've seen actually retain his ranking from last summer to this summer. Emeka doesn't send many shots back around the rim like you see above, but he does defend well in the post and tries on the perimeter. His offensive game isn't going to put him in the All-Star game, but it doesn't make him a liability either.


13
. David Lee(notes), Golden State Warriors (last year: 10th, but at power forward)

He's 6-foot-9-ish and can't even guard power forwards, so it's pretty wacky that Lee will suit up his heaviest minutes at the pivot once again. As long as Don Nelson is coaching the Warriors -- and sorry to say for Golden State fans, but it looks like that will be the case for the foreseeable future -- Lee will be best suited as a pick-and-roll demon in a small lineup. Oh, and he'll probably give Golden State over 20 points and 10 rebounds.

It's his defense that has him this low. Some of it isn't his fault, having to play out of position. But a good portion of it ... yeah, that's his fault.


12
. Yao Ming(notes), Houston Rockets (last year: unranked)

Unranked last season because we knew he'd be out for all of 2009-10, Yao fans will have to make the slow approach this season, too. His minutes (hopefully) will be limited, he'll take a while to catch up to NBA speed (which means heaps of foul trouble) and he'll be playing in a league that is moving further and further away from your typical plodding pivotman.

But he'll be back, and that's joyous news. On some nights, for some stretches, he'll be the best center in basketball. So give him a year to get his bearings straight and then it's right back in the top five (or higher) next year.

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