COMMENTARY | Gone are the days when the center position was viewed as the most critical spot on an NBA roster. Season after season, it seems to become more obsolete.
This was solidified when the league recently decided to remove the center position from All-Star voting ballots.
Yet, there remain more than a handful of centers with the talent to warrant recognition. Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls is one of them. As one of the best centers in the league right now, you could say that he is helping to carry a torch of sorts for the position -- reminding skeptics just how much of an impact a viable center can have on the success of a team.
Here is where Noah ranks among the top 10, and why:
10. DeMarcus Cousins
In addition to experience, the edge that Noah has over Cousins is that he knows how to play hard but also smart. Noah keeps his cool for the most part, while the antics and perceived poor attitude of Cousins can overshadow his game at times. He is an All-Star-caliber talent who can dominate a game when focused and motivated. Perhaps signing a massive contract extension with the Sacramento Kings and playing under a new head coach will do this for him, but focus and motivation are areas that are never an issue for Noah.
9. Nikola Pekovic
Pekovic was one of the bright spots in a disappointing 2012-13 season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is an above-average scorer down low, however, he is not even close to Noah on the defensive end.
8. Roy Hibbert
After a somewhat slow start to his NBA career, Hibbert "arrived" last season. He was especially dominant in the playoffs, abusing the Miami Heat until his Indiana Pacers were finally eliminated in Game 7. He is a factor on both ends of the floor. Yet, despite having displayed actual post moves, Hibbert averaged the exact same points last season as Noah, 11.9. In short, Noah does more with less.
7. Tyson Chandler
While he is good for a few dunks and/or put-backs every game, the impact of Chandler is felt mostly on the defensive end. An ability to compensate for team deficiencies on this side of the ball and grabbing 4 offensive rebounds per game last season make him vital to the success of the New York Knicks. Although he is not a scoring threat, Chandler plays his role to perfection.
Noah is not much of a scoring threat, either. His versatility is what makes him better than Chandler. Being a capable ball-handler who can run the fastbreak and a great passer allows Noah to contribute to his team's offense regardless.
6. Al Jefferson
"Big Al" has been doing this for years. He just sometimes flies under the radar due to his playing style, and also because he had been with a team that doesn't get much national exposure in the Utah Jazz. Now with the Charlotte Bobcats, Jefferson will continue to play his not flashy but highly effective game, and help his new team tremendously.
The advantage that Noah has over him is intangible. It is in his ability to get his team, the crowd and even the opposing team fired up. While Jefferson may possess more pure talent, he does not play with the same grit and passion.
5. Nikola Vucevic
Numbers don't lie. Vucevic averaged 13 points and almost 12 rebounds while coming in second among centers in double-doubles last season with 46. He was a more than admirable replacement at the Orlando Magic center spot left vacant by he who shall remain nameless (until later).
About to turn just 23 years of age and entering his third season in the NBA, Vucevic is just getting started. Such a small sample size is the only reason he is not ranked higher -- and also why he cannot be yet placed in the same category as Noah.
4. Brook Lopez
Offensively, Lopez is as good as it gets at the center spot, having averaged a position leading 19.4 points per game last season with the Brooklyn Nets. Rebounding is another story as he leaves much to be desired in this area with only 6.9. If Lopez can improve here even slightly, he would arguably become the most balanced center in the entire league. But, for now, Noah plays "bigger" than him.
3. Marc Gasol
Much like Lopez, Gasol is an offensive force. What separates him from most other NBA centers is the fact that he is a very good shooter. Gasol shoots over 84% from the free-throw line and can make a spot-up jumper with the best of them. He also gave the Memphis Grizzlies 4 assists per game last season. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Wait ... that's not right, but in this case makes sense.
So why is Noah still better? Combine the reasons given for his advantages over Jefferson and Lopez.
2. Joakim Noah
Noah does it all for the Chicago Bulls. He rebounds, plays stellar defense and hustles for loose balls. Also, as stated previously, Noah can run the break and set up his teammates. He is the team's emotional leader.
And if averaging close to 12 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks en route to his first All-Star appearance last year was not enough, Noah led a depleted Bulls squad into the second round of the playoffs -- with a bad foot. He is nothing if not tough. What Noah lacks on the offensive end, he makes up for everywhere else.
This is why Noah ranks No. 2 among his peers. He has the greatest impact on the outcome of games than anyone mentioned prior.
Watch the throne? Consider just how abysmal Howard's one-year stint was with the Los Angeles Lakers. Then consider that he still managed to lead all centers in double-doubles with 48, while averaging 17 points, 2 blocks and over 12 rebounds. Even an average and apparently unhappy Howard is better than most.
Now the focal point of the Houston Rockets, he must be considered the best center in the NBA until further notice -- or until Noah's stats increase to the point where they justify him surpassing Howard.Acamea Deadwiler is a Chicago-area native with several years experience covering the NBA, including the Chicago Bulls, for Examiner.com. She has also been featured in Bounce magazine, SLAM Online, and various other publications. Follow Acamea on Twitter @AcameaLD. More from this contributor:
- Sports & Recreation
- Joakim Noah
- Chicago Bulls