NBA Playoffs: The Revival Of True Centers
When I was growing up in the 1990’s watching basketball, most teams competing for a championship would have a star center. There were the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Alonzo Mourning amongst others. They were true centers, which patterned themselves into learning low post moves and accepting physical play. All four centers were tremendous leaders and are considered to be icons to their respective teams.
Now we are in 2013 and most basketball teams are filled with an elite wing or point guard. It’s become a league, where guards or small forwards are mostly featured and become the number one option on their team. It’s hard to explain how that happened, but the league has clearly gone in that direction.
It does bother me a bit because growing up; I patterned myself in playing like a center. When basketball was on, I’d watch the centers play and try to learn post moves since I was bigger than most kids my age. Now when you watch an NBA game, you rarely see post moves lead to points. It’s all about shooting, speed and proper set plays.
After watching the first round of the playoffs, there seems to be a revival in centers playing major roles towards their team’s success. Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Andrew Bogut, and Roy Hibbert were very productive in helping their team get past the first round.
They may not be scoring 20 points a game and averaging 10 rebounds a game like the four Hall Of Famers I mentioned above. It’s still great to see true centers establish themselves and play crucial roles in their team’s success. Here are the four centers that are playing pivotal roles for their team in the playoffs.
Other than LeBron James, there isn’t a player more hated in the NBA than Joakim Noah. From NBA fans to players to even coaches, they can’t stand how dirty he plays. He may be dirty, but his relentless effort and physical play has made him the most important player on the Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose.
Luol Deng may be their best scorer and Carlos Boozer is still a solid big man that can produce at a high level. Neither of them sets the tone defensively and gives an edge to Chicago like Noah does. When Noah was reduced to just 13 minutes due to injuries in game one, Chicago lost by 17 points and allowed the Nets to shoot 55 percent from the field.
Other than game five, the Bulls were never dominated like that again with Noah healthy. Even though Brook Lopez had his success, the Nets star guard duo of Deron Willians and Joe Johnson had to revert to shooting jump shots on most occasions. There were many occasions that both players had poor shooting nights based on having to shoot too many three pointers and Noah’s presence.
He has become the emotional leader for Chicago and that couldn’t have been more evident in Game 7 against Brooklyn. With Deng and Kirk Hinrich injured, many people were writing off Chicago before the game even started. Noah scored 24 points with 14 rebounds and five blocks to help Chicago advance in the playoffs. He picked up the scoring load when he was called upon.
Even though their massive underdogs against Miami, you know that they won’t go down without a fight. Noah will give them problems in the paint like he always does and make sure LeBron James doesn’t get many easy baskets.
In my playoff preview, you can see I made a cheap joke reverting to Andrew Bogut’s durability. He’s had numerous injuries over the past few years that had many people lose faith in him. Even though he is one of my favorite active players, I’ve lost confidence in him to stay healthy and make an impact in the playoffs.
That slowly began to change in game four, as the Warriors were off to a roaring start. Everyone will remember that game for Stephen Curry’s shooting clinic scoring 31 points on just 16 shots. It was also the game of Bogut scoring 12 points and making a huge impact on the defensive end.
He’s always been a quality defensive player that works hard and can give any center problems. The question has always been if he can stay healthy and play at least 25 minutes a game. He did that for the majority of the series, which was massive considering the hip injury to David Lee.
Golden State’s crowd is usually always loud, but that arena absolutely exploded when Bogut dunked on JaVale McGee. It was the type of aggression that everyone loves to see, since he hasn’t been 100 percent for so long and has always been aggressive in the past. Then everything came together for Bogut in game six.
It surprised me that he played 39 minutes, which is something that I haven’t seen in quite some time from him. He had 14 points with 21 rebounds to go along with four blocks. Denver shot 34 percent from the field and had to shoot 28 three pointers due to Bogut’s commanding presence. It’s great to see him healthy again because he can be a top five center.
It can be very frustrating to watch Roy Hibbert play at times. Here is a player, who is 7 foot 2 and has excellent footwork. Everything he does is smooth and has proven that he can be a future defensive player of the year. He averages over two blocks a game and consistently shows great defensive fundamentals that keeps him out of foul trouble.
The issue with Hibbert is that he isn’t aggressive enough offensively. When you are as tall as him, you shouldn’t be shooting only 45 percent from the field. That is pretty pathetic and it was a step in the wrong direction for him this season. With the competition getting better, the Pacers need Hibbert to be a force on both ends of the court.
His biggest games were in game five and six against the Hawks, where Hibbert was much more aggressive compared to other games. In game five, he got to the free throw line 14 times and scored 18 points. Then in game five, he scored 17 points to help Indiana clinch the series.
It has been shown on most occasions that if Hibbert is aggressive, the Pacers can beat almost anyone. He can be such a dominating player yet he hasn’t put it all together yet. There aren’t many players that have better post moves to go along with a baby hook than Hibbert.
He can punish teams that try to play small and it was shown against the Knicks. With Tyson Chandler dealing with foul trouble, he easily dominated the glass and made the Knicks pay in the paint. His superb defense was also on display frustrating Carmelo Anthony and J.R Smith anytime they drove to the hoop. If he can continue to be more aggressive offensively like he has in the past three games, we may be witnessing the next elite center.
I’ve saved the best for last. Out of the four centers on the list, Gasol is the best one of them all. He’s been the most consistent center this season and was rewarded with the defensive player of the year award. After Memphis traded away Rudy Gay, Gasol has been more aggressive and is starting to become the best center in basketball.
His stats may not be that impressive by averaging only 14 points a game, but he does so many things that the stat sheet doesn’t tell you. Gasol is very active and never stops moving on both sides of the court. When you watch him, you’ll notice how he’s constantly evolving his offensive game and plays a lot of minutes for a big man.
After watching him in the Summer Olympics of 2008, I had my doubts because of his chubby stature. The transformation from 2008 has been remarkable and he really looked like a new person when he entered the league. Gasol has now become a leader on Memphis based on his work ethic and how valuable he is to the team.
His play in the low-post gives opposing teams so many problems, especially with Zach Randolph right beside him. Randolph is as good as a low-post player as Gasol, but he has more of a reliable mid-range jump shot. They’ve become a deadly duo that has punished teams with the Clippers being the latest victim.
Even though Blake Griffin got injured and missed significant times in both game five and game six, Memphis was the better team. Gasol’s performance in that series averaging about 18 points a game has been getting a lot of attention. With Dwight Howard struggling to take his panties off in Los Angeles, people are starting to recognize Gasol as an elite center and someone that can be the best.
It’s been very refreshing to see centers more featured. In last year’s NBA finals, there was absolutely no post play. Chris Bosh may be classified as a center, but don’t let that fool you. Bosh is at his best when he is either driving to the basket or shooting his mid-range jump shot.
This may sound boring, but it can be the most effective way of basketball. Whenever you can shoot in the paint, the chances of scoring improve greatly. It sounds that simple, but having a talented center will always help. Based on the play of these four centers, teams should look into including a center more into their offense. They can be absolute game changers on both sides of the court, which makes them more valuable to any other position in basketball
You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk and/or e-mail me at AStrk19@gmail.com questions or comments.