Ball Don't Lie - NBA



OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!

The rules may have changed; you can't touch point guards anymore, and it might be easier to pick up a sprightly 6-footer than find and mold a dominant 7-footer.

Doesn't matter. If you have a Hall of Fame pivotman, you're going to be in contention. You're playing the game from the inside-out, as it was meant to be played. You're going to win.

Feed the big man. Give him the ball. Let him know you care. Let him know that you, sprightly point guard, know how to play the game.

Then click the jump, for the 10 finest centers of the last decade.

10. Alonzo Mourning(notes)

I don't want to denigrate Mourning's passion for the game or will to return to the court, much less his accomplishments on the court while he was healthy. But Mourning also played in less than half of the games he could have from 1999 to 2008 because of illness and injury. Big heart, but bit part.

When he was able to perform, Zo was a defense-focused big who was capable of big shot-blocking nights even when he was playing fewer than 20 minutes a contest. Working on Nets and Heat teams that didn't depend on interior scoring as much, Mourning was allowed to save his energy for the other end and roam, roam, roam.

9. David Robinson

Sure, he only played from 1999 to 2003, but check the numbers.

About 13 points, 8.5 rebounds, two blocks, a steal and a low turnover rate in only 29 minutes a game. The Hall of Famer was a pocket All-Star in his last few years, and wholly deserves a spot on this list despite retiring in 2003.

8. Yao Ming(notes)

He hasn't played more than 57 games since 2004-05, but Yao has shown flashes of being an all-world center when he's healthy.

"When he's healthy." Sigh.

Forget it. The work he's put in is good enough. Scores from either block, from either hand, with several moves. Rebounds, changes shots, makes me tune in. Love watching him play, love watching him get a proper entry pass, and we'll all love it when he walks confidently back onto the court and starts dominating again.

7. Amar'e Stoudemire(notes)

Stoudemire broke into the league the same year as Yao (2002-03), and while he's been pretty injury-prone himself (missing almost all of 2005-06 and good chunks of 2003-04 and 2008-09), you cannot deny the young man's high- and low-post scoring aptitude.

No, he can't guard you, or tell you who Golda Meir is, but Amar'e can shoot, drive either direction, rebound and dominate games. He's sort of a fully realized Shawn Kemp, able to stay on the floor, able to play the pivot.

Now, fully realize it, Amar'e.

6. Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes)

He gets no extra points for this, but it's worth bringing up.

We thought the man's career was over during the lockout year. We thought it was over in 1999-00, and we thought it was over in 2000-01, when he managed only 24 appearances. The total, between those three seasons? Twenty-nine games, in 214 chances to play.

But Big Z came back, as if nothing had ever happened. Shot the high percentage, turned into the best opening tip-off winner we've ever seen, started tapping in offensive rebound put-backs from all sorts of impossible angles, and holding it down on both ends for a series of either crappy, crafty or championship-worthy Cavalier teams.

5. Jermaine O'Neal(notes)

O'Neal's been bashed plenty, and he deserves a good chunk of it.

Never was a low-post workhorse. Always listed at power forward, despite playing the pivot. Missed heaps of games. Shot a low percentage. Probably made too much money, relative to his production.

You know what he also did? Averaged a double-double for three years, played otherworldly defense, blocked shots, worked his tail off.

No, he hasn't played 80 games since 2000-01, a season that saw "hanging chad" work as a somewhat-funny punch line for the first six weeks. He hasn't shot over 47 percent since becoming a starter, and we're not sure how much he has left. But O'Neal was such a dominant defensive force, moving his feet, that he deserves a bit of reflective praise.

4. Ben Wallace(notes)

Can't drop 25 points in an empty gym, but could probably hold a community college's starting five, by himself, to 25 points in 40 minutes in the same empty gym.

All Ben Wallace did, for years, was guard everyone, and then come up with the rebound. A couple of times a game, he blocked the other team's shot, but most importantly he guarded everyone and then came up with the rebound. Changed shots, chased away guards, helped his teammates, got in people's faces, and then got the rebound.

I don't care if he averages 20 air-balled free throws a season. His mere presence had opposing teams air-balling 20 shots a week.

3. Dwight Howard(notes)

Only on the scene since 2004-05, he's taken a while to come around defensively (despite all the blocks) and offensively (despite all the dunks), and he's a bloody beast.

Forget the mitigating factors. Forget the growing pains. Let's talk about right now, and what he's done right then. Howard has averaged 17.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.9 combined steals/blocks, 57 percent shooting in 36 minutes a game.

Five seasons in, turns 24 in December. Good luck with all ... that.

2. Shaquille O'Neal(notes)

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, pivotmen ever.

That said, he's been injury-prone, he's showed up to camp out of shape, he hasn't really been a dominant force since 2003-04 or so. Sure, he came back to win a ring in Miami in 2005-06, and is still complaining about missing out on the MVP award in 2004-05, but he wasn't even the best player on either of those teams.

That said, O'Neal's 1999-00 turn was one of the greatest seasons of any center to ever play this game, he's still changing games and he's still throwing down. This just wasn't as fine a 10-year turn as the man who comes below this paragraph.

1. Tim Duncan(notes)

The same, old, story.

Duncan won't blow you away. Shaq seems scarier, and the "power forward" designation might throw you, but don't get shook.

Tim guards the low post (guards everything, really), and works from the low post while his "center" teammate (David Robinson, Nazr Mohammad, Fabricio Oberto(notes), Matt Bonner(notes)) works anywhere from the high post (D-Rob, Nazr), the baseline (Fab), or the 3-point line (Red Rocket).

In the meantime, Duncan has destroyed teams defensively, drawn trillions of double teams, scored efficiently and generally acted as what we'd hoped Bill Walton would have turned into.

And he's done it consistently, nearly free from injury (1999-00 and 2008-09 were kind of tough) for years. You can't say that about Shaq.

And injuries aside? I'm sorry, but he's been better. The best. The best center, of the last decade.

Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.

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