Player Rankings: Centers (1-15)
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1. Yao Ming - Houston Rockets
With his superior size and talent, one would expect Yao Ming to be the most dominant center in the league. And from February through early April, when a broken left foot ended his season, he was. Many have questioned Yao's competitiveness and desire, but it was injuries more than effort that held Yao back last season. His numbers improved in most categories for the fourth straight season. Yao averaged 18.3 points, 8.4 boards and 2.0 blocks on 55.2 percent from the floor and 78.2 percent from the line in 2004-05. Last season he averaged 22.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks on 51.9 percent from the floor and a stellar 85.3 percent from the line. Aside from an improved assertiveness on offense the other explanation for Yao's continued improvement is the number of minutes spent on the floor. In 2004-05 he averaged just over 30 minutes a game.
His penchant for the weak foul kept him off the floor. Last season, Yao lowered his fouls (from 3.8 to 3.4 per game) and improved to 34.2 minutes per game. As he matures and his superstar status is solidified, the fouls will be far more in Yao's favor than against. It is his free throw shooting that really separates Yao from the competition. He was best shooting center from the charity stripe last year, and his 5.9 made free throws per game were also the best at his position. The only question mark on Yao is his broken left foot. He's had ankle and toe surgery on his left foot, and this is the second time he has broken it. The latest reports have the foot healing ahead to schedule. This is good news, but fantasy owners have to be aware that with this history of injuries they could potentially be drafting Bill Walton instead of the best center in the game.
Bottom Line: He is getting better and better and so long as he can avoid the injury bug, he will stand head and shoulders above the other centers in the league on the stat sheet as well as on the floor.
2. Amare Stoudemire - Phoenix Suns
He's back. After a season lost to microfracture surgery on his left knee, Amare looks ready to reclaim the mantle as one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. He played pain-free in the Suns' summer league squad and showed some new wrinkles to his game as well. Amare is best known for his vicious dunks, after all, Stoudemire scored 26.0 points per game on a ridiculous 56 percent from the floor in his last full season in 2004-05. This summer he has shown more range and greater comfort with his jumper. Even more troubling to opposing defenders, Stoudemire is working on driving to his left. While he was near impossible to stop even when defenders knew he was driving right, imagine how much more dangerous he could be if he can go to his off-hand reliably. Granted summer league competition isn't the same as facing NBA players and Amare didn't show his trademark explosiveness around the rim, but his willingness to develop new aspects of his game bodes well for the coming season. So long as the knee holds up and he regains his former lift, Amare should be in for some monster numbers. After all, in addition to Steve Nash's pinpoint passes, Amare will also benefit from the great court vision of his frontcourt mate, Boris Diaw.
Bottom Line: When healthy Stoudemire is a sure-fire first rounder and could easily be the top center in the game. Given that his health has been upbeat this off-season, Amare is worthy of a first round pick again. However, you may be able to get him a little later if your league mates are wary of his left knee.
Update: Ouch, Amare has already pulled himself from two practices early in training camp. Not the news we wanted to hear from a potential first rounder coming off of knee surgery. He’s clearly not right yet, and until he proves otherwise, he’ll remain a huge injury risk for 2006-07.
3. Brad Miller - Sacramento Kings
Brad Miller will continue to bring great joy to his fantasy owners. Last year, despite predictions that Miller's numbers would suffer with the additions of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Bonzi Wells and Ron Artest, Big Brad just kept rolling. Miller averaged 15 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, which is just under a block and steal a game on 49.5 percent shooting from the field and 82.8 percent from the line. Only his rebounds and defensive stats slipped from the previous season. And he added a three-point shot his repertoire, connecting 34 times from downtown. If his numbers were to remain the same, Miller would still be one of the best centers in game. It's his free throw shooting and position-best assists that distinguish him among his peers in the pivot. When you get guard-like contributions from a center in these categories, it allows you greater flexibility when assembling the rest of your roster. And it's not as if Miller's other numbers hurt you in any way.
Bottom Line: With great percentages and a guaranteed four assists from the center spot, Brad Miller is one of the best values in the game. Since he won’t hurt you anywhere and is very solid everywhere, Brad Miller makes for a tremendous fantasy pick. Quality starting centers are always at a premium, so be sure to grab Miller early on in fantasy drafts.
4. Shaquille O’Neal - Miami Heat
At 34 years of age, Shaquille O’Neal is starting to slow down. The Heat are officially Dwyane Wade's team now and Shaq played in only 59 games last season—just two more than Yao Ming. Even with the injury problems and inevitable decline that comes with age, when Shaq is on the court, he’s going to put up numbers. Scoring 20 points with 9.2 boards, 1.9 assists, 0.4 steals and 1.8 blocks on 60 percent shooting from the field, Shaq is most everything you want out of a fantasy center. He’s polished down low and can either overpower a defender or use a nice little post move to get to the hoop. On the defensive end, he is on the decline (his 1.8 blocks last season were the second lowest of his career), but you can still expect him to get you almost two blocks per game. He’ll kill you from the line as he is unlikely to see the north side of 50 percent again in his career. The only way you can be assured of not finishing last in FT percentage is if you can surround him with guys who get to the line a ton and shoot a great percentage like Corey Maggette or Allen Iverson. Because of this weakness, Shaq is a lot more valuable in head-to-head leagues than rotisserie. You can lose one category a week and still be dominant in head-to-head; this is much more difficult in roto leagues.
Bottom Line: Many fantasy players will have a strict “no Shaq” policy because of his poor free-throw shooting. It’s a strategy that may work but sometimes people forget that with Shaq you’ll be low in FT percentage but near the top of the league in FG percentage. It’s a double-edged sword so if you’re comfortable with taking the hit in free throws, grab Shaq and enjoy his dominant production in points, boards and blocks. And don't forget your league's scoring format; what's good for roto may not be good for head-to-head.
5. Ben Wallace - Chicago Bulls
This off-season Wallace left the Detroit Pistons to join the division rival Chicago Bulls. While his uniform will have changed, his game will not. You’ll never draft Wallace for his offense; after all, he scored just 7.3 points a game last season. What you will draft Wallace for is his dominance in rebounds, steals and blocks. It is important to note that blocks and steals are supplied by fewer players than other categories. Last year, just ten players averaged both one block and one steal or better per game. Wallace was one of only two centers to do so—Marcus Camby was the other—putting up 2.2 blocks and 1.8 steals a game. The blocks were down from previous seasons (his career average is 2.3), but the steals matched a career high. He’s still a monster on the glass, ranking fifth in the league in boards with 11.8 a game, though last season marked the fourth consecutive year in which his rebounding numbers have declined. Still, you can count on Big Ben to average double digit boards next year. Like Shaq, he’ll hurt you with a sub-50 percent free throw percentage, but since he doesn’t attempt nearly as many free throws (3.6 a game to Shaq's 8.0), it won’t sting as much. While Chicago may regret signing Wallace to an expensive four-year deal a few years down the road as he ages and continues to decline, you can feel very good about selecting him this year for your team.
Bottom Line: Boards, blocks, and steals. Anything else you get out of Wallace is just gravy.
6. Marcus Camby - Denver Nuggets
Always an injury risk, Marcus Camby is perennially one of the great draft day paradoxes in fantasy basketball. On one hand, he is Ben Wallace with offense; on the other, he's an injury waiting to happen. Yes, he played in just 56 games last year. But, man oh man, what he did in those 56 games. The numbers speak for themselves: 12.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 3.3 blocks and a respectable 46.5 percent from the field and a tolerable 71.2 percent from the line. Despite missing 26 games (ten more than the previous season), Marcus still blocked the most shots of any center in the league and grabbed the fifth-most rebounds among true centers. In rotisserie leagues, it’s the final tally that counts - not the averages - so keep that in mind when looking at Camby. Despite the legitimate injury concerns, Camby has too much potential to ignore in the fantasy world. Whenever he’s on the court, he’s a double-double machine who is solid in the percentages and can contribute heavily in rebounds, blocks, and steals. He also turns the ball over very little (just 1.6 per game) compared to other top centers. It shouldn’t be a problem for Camby to post similar numbers if he can play in 50 or more games. If he does that, you will have one the best centers in the game.
Bottom Line: What makes him so provocative for the fantasy owner is that Marcus typically slips in drafts because of injury concerns. Don’t go too early for him as he’s unlikely to play a full season, but be ready to pounce as he is unlikely to last as long as he did last year. Head-to-head players can drop Camby down a few spots in their rankings because a few missed weeks at the wrong time can really hurt you in that format.
7. Zydrunas Ilgauskas - Cleveland Cavaliers
There are probably some newer fantasy players out there who can't remember when Big Z was one of fantasy’s most injury-prone players. There is good reason for this. Ilgauskas has missed only ten games in the last four seasons. In addition to being reliable, Ilgauskas has turned himself into one of the better centers in the league. Last season, he averaged 15.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.7 blocks a game. He shoots extremely well from the floor (50.6 percent) and just kills it at the line with 83.4 percent shooting -- good for second best (behind Yao) at the center position. While Ilgauskas' numbers dipped slightly from 2004-05 to last year, his numbers shouldn't change much this season, which makes him a great option for you at center.
Bottom Line: Draft with confidence. Big Z is still one of the best in the business at center. He’s like a mini-Yao Ming that can be had a round or two later in the draft.
8. Mehmet Okur - Utah Jazz
Mehmet Okur was a classic sleeper last season. He was available in the middle rounds of most drafts yet proved to be one of the most valuable pivot men in fantasy. His numbers made those who passed him by kick themselves for it. We always knew Memhet could score well from outside, but many questioned his willingness to bang inside for rebounds. Okur confirmed our faith in the former and answered our questions about the latter. He averaged 18 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and nearly one made three per game. It is this final stat that makes Okur special. Only a handful of center-eligible players (Raef LaFrentz, Rasheed Wallace and to a lesser extent, Brad Miller) can help your team in three-pointers, and Okur is the best rebounder of them all. Even when Carlos Boozer returned to the Jazz, Okur kept hitting the glass. So don’t expect a decline this year. Okur also shot a solid 46 percent from the field and 78 percent from the line. His one weakness is in the defensive stats. Okur doesn't get you the blocks you'd like from a center (0.9 per game), so if you select him, you'll need to bolster your blocks with other players.
Bottom Line: Okur is a great choice at center once the top guys at the position have been taken. In fact, he has been healthier than most of the top centers and averages similar numbers in scoring and rebounding. Yes, the blocks are a little light but what he doesn't block he makes up for in threes.
9. Chris Kaman - Los Angeles Clippers
Young, gifted and blond. That pretty well describes Chris Kaman as he enters his fourth professional season. While he might be best known for his long flowing locks, his owners from last year know how valuable this guy can be to a fantasy team. Despite playing in a front-court alongside Elton Brand, who put up career-best numbers, Kaman was a force in the paint. He has more athleticism and agility than many realize, and he gives a good effort on both ends of the floor. His numbers have improved every year, and he is a good bet to average a double-double this season. Last year, he gave his owners 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game on 52.3 percent shooting from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line. Those are stats you can feel very good about.
Bottom Line: Kaman is more than just solid as a fantasy center. He is a skilled athlete capable of big numbers. He will have peaks and valleys throughout the season, but in the end, his totals will compare favorably with players selected ahead of him your drafts.
10. Nenad Krstic - New Jersey Nets
For the second season in a row, Nenad Krstic turned in a strong second half and solid playoff numbers. Two years ago, in his rookie campaign, Krstic's post-All-Star numbers were 53.4 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the line, 13.6 points, and 6.3 boards. And last year they got even better: 53.2 percent from the field, 78.3 percent from the line, 14.8 points, and 7.7 rebounds. If Krstic can put together a full season of those kinds of numbers, his owners will have themselves a very nice center for whom they didn't need to overreach. With good scoring, solid rebounding and excellent percentages, Krstic's only obvious weakness is his shot-blocking. For the second year, he tallied just 0.8 per game. While he will never be a big time shot blocker, he should get more than a block a game a few times during his career with his long arms.
Bottom Line: Krstic should continue to improve as his teammates trust him more and more. We'd like to see more rebounds and blocks from the big man and it is reasonable to expect that he will improve in these areas to support his double-digit scoring and fine shooting percentages.
11. Andrew Bogut - Milwaukee Bucks
Bogut showed promise in his rookie campaign, but his numbers were not what one would expect from a number one pick. He averaged 9.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.8 blocks on 53.3 percent shooting from the field and 62.9 percent at the line in 82 games. This display of mediocrity could work in your favor as the big Aussie is likely to slide a bit in drafts. Bogut averaged 28.6 minutes per game last year. This year he will be in the low to mid-30s. With more minutes comes more production. Look for the Bucks to run more plays for Bogut, in particular, exploiting a potentially devastating inside-outside game with Michael Redd. Now that Jamaal Magloire has been traded, Bogut has the center spot to himself. He will be playing alongside another skilled bigman in Charlie Villanueva, whose passing is sorely underappreciated. It is not unreasonable to think that Bogut could average a double-double this season.
Bottom Line: Bogut will improve on all of his numbers from his rookie campaign. With Redd bombing from outside, things should open up on the interior for Bogut. As he gets more used to the speed of the game and learns where his teammates like the ball, Bogut's superior passing skills should translate to good assist numbers.
12. Tyson Chandler - New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
Chandler gave us another tantalizing yet ultimately unsatisfying season last year. He came out of gate very slow, but then in February, Tyson seemed to remember that he possessed telescoping long arms and began grabbing every rebound in site. However, Chandler's offensive game remained stuck in first gear all season, and his numbers suggest that he could be turning into a one category player like Jeff Foster. Chandler averaged 5.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks on 56.5 percent shooting from the field and a career-low 50.3 percent from the line. Part of the problem was that Chandler's offensive struggles forced early substitutions. He averaged just 26.8 minutes per game, depressing all of his numbers. If they are to improve, he will need more PT. There is good reason to think could happen now that he is with the Hornets. With Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic and David West leading the way, the team doesn't need Chandler's offense, just an active body going after rebounds and blocking shots. Letting him focus on what he does best should improve his confidence and his all-around numbers.
Bottom Line: Chandler should improve his rebounding and shot-blocking from last year with increased minutes. While he is unlikely to become an offensive force, he could see a rise in scoring as teams focus their defenses on the Hornets' more prolific scorers and leave Chandler to roam around the rim for easy dunks.
Update: Early reports have Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler connecting on a number of alley-oops in scrimmages. Paul is ecstatic about playing with Chandler, whose speed, length and hops make him an ideal partner for fast break finishes and backdoor plays in coach Byron Scott's Princeton style offense. Look for an uptick in Chandler's scoring this year if he and his point guard can maintain their connection.
13. Zaza Pachulia - Atlanta Hawks
After receiving less than 20 minutes in each of his first two seasons, Zaza Pachulia took over as the starting center for the Hawks last year. This fashionable sleeper pick did not disappoint those who took a chance on him late in drafts. The Hawks are thin at center once again this year, and he will be guaranteed playing time. In 31.4 minutes per game, Pachulia averaged 11.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 1.1 steals on 45.1 percent shooting from the field and 73.5 percent from the line. True, his blocks are a weakness, but Zaza's 89 steals were the second most by a center last season, so he isn't a bust defensively. He is also a hardnosed rebounder unlike some European centers. Look for Zaza too produce similar numbers this season.
Bottom Line: Zaza will go earlier this year than he did last year but is still a good value because of his points, boards, and steals.
14. Samuel Dalembert - Philadelphia 76ers
Samuel Dalembert would be ranked higher if he didn't disappear from the stat sheet for long stretches as he has over the past two seasons. Last year many of us expected a breakout season from the Haitian Sensation. It didn't happen. Injuries got in the way and even when Dalembert returned to health, he was unable to earn the full confidence of coach Mo Cheeks. He lost the starting center job to Steven Hunter at the end of February. He has all the ability in the world, as can be seen in his 160 blocked shots, but has yet to put together a complete season. With Iverson and Webber the first and second options on offense and Andre Iguodala primed to take more shots, it is hard to see how Dalembert will improve his scoring significantly. Even if he doesn't, his superior shot blocking skills and strong rebounding (8.2 per game) make him a fantasy asset.
Bottom Line: Don’t expect a breakout season like many did last year. After all, there is a chance he won't start the season as the Sixers' starter at center. Instead, target Dalembert as a decent second center who will help you excel in blocked shots and fortify your rebounding numbers.
15. Kwame Brown - Los Angeles Lakers
A look at Kwame's averages (7.4 points, 6.6 rebounds) from last season might make you question this ranking. But look more closely. When Kwame was named the Lakers' starting center in mid-March after a Chris Mihm injury, his production took off. From March 14 to the end of the season, Brown averaged 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks on 59.2 percent shooting from the field and 58.8 percent from the line. Brown returns as the starting center and should put up season numbers in line with those he posted in the last 18 games from last season. The question mark is playing time. With Chris Mihm coming back and Andrew Bynum in the wings, Brown will have to come out of the gate strongly in November to hold his minutes. Of course, Mihm could be traded and clear up any concerns about PT.
Bottom Line: Kwame makes for a nice option in two-center leagues. His numbers won't blow you away, but he will get his share of double-doubles through the season. The knocks against him are his poor shot-blocking and his free throw shooting, which has fallen from 68.3 percent in 2003-04 to 54.5 percent last year.
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