Centers of the New School

It was only a few years ago that prognosticators were predicting the demise of the traditional center and power forward in the National Basketball Association. As a matter of fact, the NBA itself has been moving toward that paradigm anyway. This can be summed up by the dearth of “pure” power forwards and “true” centers selected to the NBA All-Star game over the years.

At one time, at least one bruiser was elected to the All-Star game every year. Someone like a Charles Oakley, Jamal Magloire or a Jason Williams would eek out a handful of All-Star accolades at the midseason classic over the course of their careers.

However, that has changed just a bit. Though the Golden State Warriors are the very first perimeter-oriented team to win an NBA championship, teams have been trying to work out the kinks on that particular strategy for decades. People like to mention Doug Moe and those old run-and-gun Denver Nuggets squads, and even Nellie Ball incorporated by Don Nelson in Dallas and with the Golden State Warriors fits the bill as well. Just two years ago, former NBA player-turned-Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney-turned CBS College basketball analyst Len Elmore and I were discussing what appeared to be the last hurrah for the plodding dinosaurs of old.

Though many believe winning in basketball today is more about superior guard play than anything else, the emergence of some incredible big man talent is putting that train of thought to the test.

Anthony Davis

Though it has taken some time to get going due to a laundry list of injuries, New Orleans Pelicans PF Anthony Davis is finally living up to the lofty potential he showed coming out of Kentucky. A soft touch around the basket, explosive athleticism and a mean streak on the defensive end, Davis is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 32.1 points per game, blocked shots at 2.78 per game while average nearly 52 percent from the field. That’s beastly! Throw in 11 rebounds per game and you’ve got a player who can determine the outcome of a game on either end of the floor.

DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins came into the league with all the tools to be dominant as a traditional back-to-the-basket post player. But a funny thing happened. Seemingly in direct contrast to the idea that idea that says bigs traditionally do not have the wherewithal to alter their games while in the league, Cousins began shooting three pointers last year after not shooting it much at all prior to that.

Strength, explosiveness, great footwork, shooting touch and toughness, Cousins has all-time skills but hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since he came in the league. Sad, really. Especially when he’s such a bonafide baller.

Karl Anthony Towns

Oftentimes, we look back at pre-draft evaluations comparing one player to another and wonder what the hell scouts were talking about. Back when Karl Anthony Towns was at Kentucky and Jahlil Okafor was still at Duke, there was much debate about which would be better. At this point, it appears as if Towns has Okafor well in the rearview mirror. No offense Okafor, but KAT is averaging 22 points, 9.9 boards and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range.

Kristapas Porzingis

Uncommon footwork and ball-handling relative to his height, Porzingis is called a basketball “Unicorn” for a reason. He can shoot the ball consistently out from beyond the arc, protect the rim and is way stronger than he appears and has already been cast as the heir apparent to a long suffering legacy in New York.

Indeed, just last year the point guard position was announced as an absolute necessity for any team looking to go deep into the NBA postseason, much like the center position was pegged as a ‘must have’ for any contender throughout most of the history of the National Basketball Association.

But now we see that the center position wasn’t far behind in the evolutionary transformation of the NBA game.  My The Shadow League compatriot J.R. Gamble recently dropped a jewel titled “The NBA Hasn’t Seen Scoring Like This In 25 Years”  in which he lamented that NBA teams are scoring at an all-time clip. This is indeed indicative of the growth of the game.

As with any living thing that experiences a stimulus, NBA centers have evolved and these transformations won’t be uniform. We’ll still see players like Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond ply their wares in the traditional sense, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who is looking alluringly good, is proof positive that this isn’t a trend.

The future is here.  What we’re seeing is that the big man position is not in decline or demise, as had been postulated by many just last season. The center position is changing right along with the game and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Not only can they step out to the three point line, but will drive past you and dunk on your head or score from the low block. I believe the center position can be a go-to position for a great team once again.  Now, if only these big men could get on a great team so we can see if this hypothesis holds water.

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