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1. Amare Stoudemire - PHX [C]
Stoudemire put any lingering doubts about the condition of his surgically repaired knee to rest last season, playing nearly 33 minutes per night.and re-establishing himself as one of the elite big men in the league. The emergence of Leandro Barbosa had a dampening affect on his scoring opportunities, but Stoudemire got his 20 per game nonetheless. Stoudemire can score from mid-range and possesses a quick first step. He outworks bigger men and is one of the better athletes at the position. Playing alongside Steve Nash helps and so does the fact that there isnít a quality backup with Kurt Thomas now in Seattle.
*** UPDATE - Oct. 3: Amare had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 2. He is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks.
2. Pau Gasol - MEM [C]
Gasol is a big-time producer, and is now center eligible after starting 59 games at the position in 2006-07. Heís very skilled offensively, has an assortment of low-post moves, can use either hand, and can score facing the basket. And if double-teams are your concern, heís a gifted passer, averaging 3.4 assists per game last season. He was sixth among centers with 6.8 FTA per game. On a weak Grizzly front line last year, he averaged 20-10. Heíll benefit from Darko Milicicís presence this year. There has been little talk of Gasolís much-publicized unhappiness in Memphis since the club hired Marc Iavaroni as coach. However, there will be no talk now that the Grizzlies added Juan Carlos Navarro, a friend and former teammate of Gasol when the two played in Spainís youth programs and on the Spanish National Team.
3. Yao Ming - HOU [C]
Depending on how you define ďcenter,Ē Yao could be the best. He has incredible size and matches that with a skilled offensive repertoire, featuring good range and an accurate turnaround jumper. Yao contributes in all the categories we look for in a center, in addition to his deadly accuracy from the free throw line (career 82.2 percent, 86 percent in 2006-07). The Rockets are still an inside-outside team with Yao and Tracy McGrady leading the way in points and shots. Yao had a career-high 2.0 assists per game in 2006-07, but also turned it over 3.5 times per game. Thatís bound to happen because he touches the ball so often, but it would be nice to see that drop. Heís missed some games due to injuries during the last two seasons, but they arenít chronic.
4. Dwight Howard - ORL [C]
The man-child is all man now and gets paid like one after signing a five-year, $80 million extension in the offseason. While tossing $115 million at Rashard Lewis may be a reach, extending Howard is money well spent. Heís developing into one of the best big men in the Eastern Conference. Heís an elite rebounder, a shot-blocker and scores at will in the paint. And Howard will help carry your team in field goal percentage, hitting at a whopping 60.3 percent clip on 873 attempts last year. Unfortunately, heíll also destroy your free throw percentage, hitting only 58.6 percent of his 666 attempts last season. If Howard could be guaranteed not to attempt a free throw, heíd be a legitimate top-five overall pick. As it stands, heíll likely go in the second or third round.
5. Marcus Camby - DEN [C]
Camby played 70 games for only the second time in his career during the 2006-07 season, and therein lies the major problem with him. Heís an injury risk. Still, Camby averaged a double-double during each of the last three seasons, he was the league-leader in blocked shots per game for the second straight season, and heís the rare big man who contributes significantly in steals (1.2 spg last season). We have him projected to play 66 games, but if he surprises and plays 75, heíd be worth bumping up a couple spots on this list.
6. Emeka Okafor - CHA [PF,C]
The mystifying disappearance of Primoz Brezec opened up the center position for Okafor, who started 35 games there in 2006-07. While maintaining his reputation as a defensive wall (2.65 bpg, 7.5 defensive rpg), Okafor took steps on the offensive end, averaging 14.1 points on a career-high 53.2 percent shooting. He still isnít the best free throw shooter, but the offensive development elsewhere is a positive for fantasy teams. He can run the floor, which is a good thing because the Bobcats will have Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson and Raymond Felton setting the pace. The team is thin up front, so Okafor should get plenty of minutes and chances to improve on his 11.3 (fifth in NBA) rebounds per game.
7. LaMarcus Aldridge - POR [C]
With Zach Randolph headed for the city that never sleeps, Aldridge inherits a starting spot and a regular position, which should mean a significant across-the-board improvement next season. The second-overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft was slowed by a shoulder injury that kept him on the bench for the first six games of the season. He missed all of April while being treated for a heart condition. (That part sounds scary, but the condition isnít considered a risk going forward.) In between, he was often caught up in Portlandís big man log jam, bouncing between power forward and center and sharing time with Randolph, Jamaal Magloire, Joel Przybilla and others. Aldridgeís March numbers are probably the best indication of what he can do. In 15 games and starts, he averaged 14.7 points, 8.0 boards and 1.6 blocks. That block number is likely to increase, as the presence of Greg Oden in the middle this season should allow Aldridge to gamble a bit more.
8. Mehmet Okur - UTA [C]
Okur is a skilled offensive player who can score in the low post, from mid-range, and can drain the three-pointer (38.4 percent in 2006-07). Heís not a great athlete, and his defensive lapses will irk coach Jerry Sloan, but Okur offers a lot from the center position, including free throw shooting (career 78.9 percent) and assists (2.0 apg in 2006-07). Okur isnít a great rebounder for his size, but he can still be counted on for about seven boards per game at a minimum.
9. Andrew Bogut - MIL [C]
Bogut suffered a foot injury in 2006-07, ending his second NBA season in March. However, he improved in points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage, while increasing his minutes per game by six and shots per game by two last season. Bogut had to become more of a scoring option because of injuries to Bobby Simmons, Charlie Villanueva and most notably, Michael Redd. With better team health, and presumably first-round pick Yi Jianlian in the mix, Bogut may not have as many opportunities to score, but his passing skills could get you extra assists from the center spot.
10. Samuel Dalembert - PHI [C]
Dalembert enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2006-07, averaging career highs in points (10.7 ppg) and rebounds (8.9 rpg) while being very protective in the paint (1.94 bpg). Dalembert, like most of the 76ers, benefited from the Allen Iverson trade, getting nearly three more shots per game after the deal. Philadelphia is Andre Iguodalaís team, but Dalembert will get enough looks to be a solid contributor at the center position. Moreover, he wonít kill your free throw percentage Ė his 74.6 percent clip from the charity stripe last year was more than respectable from a pivot.
11. Eddy Curry - NYK [C]
Curry was among the Knicksí offensive leaders in 2006-07, pacing the team with 19.5 points per game, but he now must share low-post scoring opportunities with Zach Randolph. He has a highly developed offensive game and added an element we look for in fantasy centers, posting a career-high 7.1 rebounds per game in 2006-07. If coach Isiah Thomas can get Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford to buy into a low-post power game, both Curry and Randolph should produce well for fantasy teams. Points are taken off for free throw shooting (a career 64.6 percent) and turnovers (3.6 per game last season).
12. Andris Biedrins - GSW [C]
After impressing Don Nelson with his defense and rebounding ability in the preseason, Biedrins became a major factor in the power forward/center rotation for Golden State last season, supplanting bigger names (and salaries) like Troy Murphy and Adonal Foyle. Biedrins finished the 2006-07 season with point and rebound totals just a hair under a double-double (9.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and blocked 1.7 shots per game. There are two drawbacks with Biedrins though. First, his free throw shooting is simply atrocious (52.1 percent). Second, Nelson will yank him from the starting rotation occasionally based on matchups, particularly when facing larger or more physical opponents. The one big positive is that Biedrins will qualify at center in most league formats.
13. Tyson Chandler - NOH [C]
Chandlerís usually dormant offense had an awakening last season, when he posted career highs in points (9.5 ppg) and field goal percentage (62.4 percent) during 35 minutes per game. He "benefited" from injuries to Peja Stojakovic, David West and Chris Paul. Given a good season of team health, and the addition of Mo Peterson, Chandler probably wonít repeat his scoring numbers. But even with less scoring, Chandler contributes very well defensively and on both ends of the glass (4.4 offensive rpg, 12.4 rpg, 1.77 bpg). Heís awful from the free throw line, but he doesnít get to the line nearly as much as a player like Dwight Howard, for example. Chandler will hurt you, but not entirely bury you in that category. Moreover, he has little competition for minutes (Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons did very little as rookies), so Chandler is not being threatened for playing time.
14. Brad Miller - SAC [C]
Just 31, Millerís game took a step back in every category in 2006-07, except that he committed fewer fouls. Heís never been the best-conditioned athlete, and one has to wonder if stamina was a factor. A case of plantar fasciitis contributed to a noticeable second half drop-off, so age and health are legitimate concerns. The Kings selected center Spencer Hawes in the first round, and heíll get worked into the rotation; however, Miller will be the unquestioned starter. Despite the poor season, Miller is still a good rebounder and passer, can score away from the basket and hits his foul shots. In addition to the concern about Miller returning to form, the Kings seem like a team on the verge of a collapse, with Ron Artest and Mike Bibby unhappy and not necessarily likely to stick around. It may not be long before this becomes a rebuilding situation.
15. Zydrunas Ilgauskas - CLE [C]
Ilgauskas has become less important to Clevelandís offense with the arrival of LeBron James, but heís still a serviceable fantasy producer from the center position. Ilgauskas has shooting touch from both the field and the free throw line, while maintaining respectable shot-blocking and rebounding numbers. Salary cap problems left the team on the outside when it came time to add players during the offseason, so Ilgauskas should maintain his role and shots (10.2 FGA/game). If Drew Gooden is dealt for a point guard, Ilgauskas may even get more looks this year.
16. Nenad Krstic - NJN [C]
Krstic was on the way to his most productive NBA season in 2006-07 before reconstructive left knee surgery finished him off after only 26 games. He was getting more touches prior to the injury, averaging 12.4 FGA per game. That would have ranked sixth among fantasy centers if he played the full year, and he was averaging a career-high 16.4 ppg. Krstic has a nice scoring touch near the rim, which can balance off the perimeter-heavy scoring from Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter. However, heís not the only low-post scoring threat on the team anymore. New Jersey signed Jamaal Magloire to bolster the front line. He should complement Krstic well, giving New Jersey a better rebounder and defender, but ultimately could steal minutes and shots from Krstic that Jason Collins could never take.
17. Chris Kaman - LAC [C]
Kaman underwhelmed in 2006-07 after signing a five-year deal prior to the season. He can score around the basket, uses both hands well, and reportedly has committed to an offseason workout regimen. He surprisingly showed up in Vegas for the Summer League where he played three games -- a good sign heís putting last year behind him. Kaman is a decent source of blocks and could get more rebounds now that Elton Brand is out for more than half the season.
18. Ben Wallace - CHI [C]
Wallace remains one of the leagueís premier defensive forces, but he dropped in both rebounds and blocked shots in 2006-07. The 33-year-old is a good physical specimen, and he should retain a very high level in those categories, but offers very little as a shooter or a scorer. The Bulls have a deep frontcourt with Tyrus Thomas, Andres Nocioni, Joe Smith and first-round pick Joakim Noah looking for minutes. This might be the season when Wallaceís playing time takes a cut. Also donít forget to factor in the damage to your free throw percentage category if you draft Wallace.
19. Andrew Bynum - LAL [C]
Bynumís sizzling start fizzled when March and April rolled around, and we last saw Bynum playing a total of 55 minutes in the five-game playoff loss to Phoenix. Coach Phil Jackson criticized his work ethic and reduced his minutes after the All-Star break. Nonetheless, Bynumís got a nice low-post game, averaged 55.8 percent from the floor and heís the only center on the team not coming off serious injury. Kwame Brown is questionable for training camp after undergoing left ankle surgery in May and right shoulder surgery in June. Chris Mihm missed the entire season after undergoing ankle surgery in July 2006. The Lakers will live with Bynumís youthful struggles, and heís worth a flyer as a result.