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20. Troy Murphy - IND [PF,C]
Murphy, with 27 starts in the low post last season, qualifies as a center even if he’s not a prototype at the position. He’ll share time with Jeff Foster, who is considered a much better low-post defender, but Murphy offers much more for a fantasy team than Foster. Murphy, who has averaged double-digit rebounds three times in his six-year career, has a nice touch and can score out to the three-point line. His three-point range (40.9 percent for Indiana last season, 36.0 percent during his career) should fit nicely with coach Jim O’Brien’s style. Jermaine O’Neal is still the premier option on offense, but when that’s not there, O’Brien has no problem deploying the three-point shot as a weapon.
21. Shaquille O'Neal - MIA [C]
One year older, another year less dominant. However, a healthy O’Neal still puts up good numbers in the big-man counting categories (17.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.41 bpg) and shoots a great percentage from the field (59.1 percent). He also passes well for a big man (career 2.8 apg). Of course, he’ll absolutely destroy the free throw category for you, and at this point in his career, that largely outweighs all of his positive contributions combined. In a head-to-head points league, however, he belongs in the top-15.
22. Nick Collison - SEA [C]
It’s hard to read how Seattle’s center position will play out, but with high-profile rookies Kevin Durantand Jeff Green expected to contribute immediately, we’re betting new head coach P.J. Carlesimo will use a veteran like Collison or Kurt Thomas to start the season. The wild card is Robert Swift, who is more developed than Mouhamed Sene or Johan Petro, but is coming off major knee surgery. Swift had the job during preseason last year before the knee injury forced another plan. Both Thomas and Collison possess good offensive skills and can rebound, but Thomas is the better defender. Given the San Antonio pedigree of the brain trust (Carlesimo coached for the Spurs, general manager Sam Presti was an assistant GM there), we expect a focus on defense. The position will shake itself out during training camp, so look elsewhere for a starting center on draft day, and be ready to pounce when (or if) one player emerges as the primary option.
23. Zaza Pachulia - ATL [C]
Pachulia has been an effective scorer and rebounder for Atlanta during the last two seasons while maintaining good shooting percentages. He plays well with his back to the basket, although he is not a feature of the team’s offense. He’s not a good shot-blocker but plays tough defense, and that buys him more minutes (except when he’s picking up fouls - 3.7 fouls per game, first among centers). Pachulia is also a good source of steals from the center position, where he averages close to one per game. While Shelden Williams didn’t force huge roster shifts last season, Atlanta coach Mike Woodson will need to find playing time for this year’s first-round pick Al Horford, so don’t be shocked to see Pachulia’s minutes reduced as the season grinds on.
24. Joakim Noah - CHI [PF,C]
Noah brings tremendous energy and solid defense to the Bulls. He has the upside to be a double-double guy with great blocked shots and steal numbers. The problem is that the Bulls already have a couple players with similar skill sets in Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas, so he’ll have to play very well to earn regular minutes. Still, there’s some stat-sheet filling upside if things shake out right for Noah.
25. Spencer Hawes - SAC [PF,C]
Hawes won’t be asked to start right away, but we’ll be keeping an eye on him in case the Kings either struggle or start anew this season. His opportunity to shine will be dictated on the health and performance of Brad Miller. Hawes is a gifted offensive player with a nice touch around the basket and good passing skills; however, he is not very strong or athletic. Essentially, he projects as a younger version of Miller.
26. Sean Williams - NJN [PF,C]
Williams was considered a potential lottery pick, but doubts arose when he was dismissed by the Boston College basketball team for repeated violations of team rules. He’ll join a New Jersey squad that for the last several years has been painfully thin in the frontcourt. If he can keep his head on straight, he has the potential to win a regular spot in the rotation. He’s expected to be a better offensive player than Josh Boone or Jason Collins and a superior defender to Nenad Krstic. As Mikki Moore proved last season, getting regular playing time with Jason Kidd can give a player fantasy value in a hurry.
27. Erick Dampier - DAL [C]
Dallas coach Avery Johnson seemingly employs his two centers on a whim. Dampier started more games than DeSagana Diop, but Diop is the better athlete, and Johnson likes to use him against the quicker squads. Dampier is the better offensive player, but Dallas doesn’t look for scoring out of the position. Diop is a more active defender, and his athleticism is a better fit in the changing NBA, which is favoring a quicker pace these days. In the end, neither player’s skills really matter if they’re getting just 20-25 minutes per game.
28. Kendrick Perkins - BOS [C]
The major shakeup in Boston leaves Perkins as the team’s top center. Now, that’s no different from the last two seasons, but Perkins averaged just below 20 and 22 minutes per game during those years. The limited usage last season had something to do with a troubling case of plantar fasciitis, but Boston also needed some offensive punch that Perkins couldn’t provide. Celtics coach Doc Rivers often used a lineup designed to score more points with Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes. Jefferson and Gomes, both of whom were traded to Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett deal, will no longer be around to eat into Perkins’ minutes. You know offense won’t be a problem with Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce around, so Perkins should get more playing time and become the enforcer we’ve been waiting to see. He’ll need the run if he’s going to contribute rebounds and blocked shots for fantasy teams.
29. Etan Thomas - WAS [C]
Thomas shares the position with Brendan Haywood, which does neither player any good when it comes to being fantasy contributors. Haywood went public with an offseason trade demand, and sources claim that his relationship with coach Eddie Jordan has deteriorated. If Haywood’s dealt, Thomas stands to see more minutes and could put up serviceable numbers as a rebounder and shot-blocker.
30. Rasho Nesterovic - TOR [C]
Rasho the Unspectacular will resume the role as Toronto’s starting center, where his biggest fantasy impact will be in preventing Chris Bosh from qualifying at center. With the Raptors going up-tempo in 2006-07, Nesterovic played only 21.0 minutes per game, and that doesn’t figure to increase this year. Nesterovic is a good shot-blocker, who can produce in that category for a limited time, but he’s not someone to start every night on a fantasy roster.
31. Jeff Foster - IND [C]
Foster and Troy Murphy will be sharing the center position for Indiana, but Foster doesn’t have the kind of offensive skill to make a difference in fantasy hoops. He’s a great low-post defender and gets tons of rebounds in short minutes, but with firepower lacking at other areas on the Pacers’ roster, he becomes a liability on offense.
32. Alonzo Mourning - MIA [C]
Mourning has been good for 20 minutes per game during the last two seasons, which have included long stretches when he’s been the starting center. Shaquille O’Neal’s spotty health gives Mourning some fantasy value. Even in short minutes, Mourning can get you a lot of blocked shots.
33. Kwame Brown - LAL [C]
Michael Jordan selected him first overall. Mitch Kupchak gave up Caron Butler to get him. Just goes to show you how NBA executives can be fooled by guys with great “measurables.” Brown certainly looks like a great basketball player – until he gets on the court. If you’re thinking this may be the year that Brown turns things around and becomes the player Jordan and Kupchak thought he would be, remember that he had major reconstructive ankle surgery in May and might not be available to start the season.
34. Johan Petro - SEA [C]
Petro is an athletic big man with good shot-blocking skills, but his offensive game has developed a little bit slower than the Sonics had hoped. He did show flashes toward the end of last season – a 22-point game at the end of March – but he’ll need to show more consistency on the offensive end or the team will likely give Nick Collison, Kurt Thomas or Chris Wilcox most of the big-man minutes once again.
35. Mark Blount - MIA [C]
The addition of all those players from the Celtics will have to shake out before we see if Blount survives as Minnesota’s starting center. He’s worked on the offensive end of his game, and it shows, but he’s not much of a defender or rebounder (career 4.8 rpg), which could hurt his playing time. The influx of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and Juwan Howard, and the continued development of second-year man Craig Smith will eat into Blount’s playing time. Jefferson routinely played the center position in Boston and could do the same with the Timberwolves, who now find themselves with an assortment of front line players.
Note: After press time, the Heat sent Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a first-round pick to Minnesota for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. To learn more about the fantasy impact, read here.
36. Brendan Haywood - WAS [C]
As the other half of the Wizards’ center tandem, Haywood can rebound, block shots and occasionally show a few moves with his back to the basket. With that said, he’s reportedly feuding with platoon-mate Etan Thomas and possibly even his head coach Eddie Jordan. If Haywood gets a ticket out of town, where he lands will in large part determine his fantasy value.
37. DeSagana Diop - DAL [PF,C]
Diop has one purpose for the Mavericks, and that’s to alter and block shots. He won’t score much, nor will he put up huge rebounding numbers. Moreover, he’ll share minutes with Erick Dampier once again this season. If you need a No. 2 center in deeper leagues who won’t shoot enough free throws to hurt you and who will do his part in blocks, he can fill the bill.
38. Greg Oden - POR [C]
NOTE: Oden will miss this season after undergoing knee surgery. If you are in keeper leagues, you should still give him serious consideration at some point in your draft. Following is what we thought about him before the injury. The key will be how he is able to recover.
Oden is already at a level where he can be an elite NBA defender. His offensive game still needs work, but he’ll step right into the starting center spot in Portland. From his limited exposure during Summer League, Oden will have to learn how NBA officials call games – he was whistled for 19 fouls in two games. As the season goes on, his comfort level should increase, and he should be a fine contributor in blocked shots and rebounds. Just don’t overpay for his off-the-charts long-term upside – he shot just 62 percent from the line in college and is unlikely to put up huge offensive numbers out of the gate.