Should O'Neal Move to Center?

by Conrad Brunner

Thursday, September 25, 2003

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Conrad Brunner

Q. With so much talk about the East being weak at the center position, doesn’t it just make sense to put (Jermaine) O'Neal there? Every team (in the East) except for one or two is weak at this position so won’t it essentially be like playing O'Neal at power forward against other power forwards? (From Randy in Kokomo, IN)

A. You raise an excellent point. There are very, very few true centers in the East. The two best, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cleveland) and Alonzo Mourning (New Jersey), both have chronic health issues that limit how much their respective teams can depend upon them. Beyond that, most teams are forced to use natural power forwards at center. The Pacers have several options, depending on matchups, but I still suspect Scot Pollard will start most games because of his size, defense, rebounding and hustle.

For all practical purposes, O’Neal already fills the traditional, back-to-the-basket, center’s role on offense. Last season, Brad Miller was more of a power forward, offensively, playing in the high post and generally floating 10-15 feet from the basket for spot-up jumpers. Opponents generally send their best low-post defender at O’Neal, regardless of whether that player is generally defined as a power forward or center. The hope is, between Pollard, Jeff Foster and possibly Austin Croshere or Jonathan Bender, a big man can fill the jump-shooting void left by Miller’s departure.

Defensively, O’Neal can guard either position but it makes sense to use him against the secondary offensive threat as much as possible to minimize wear and tear. Pollard and Foster both can step in to handle the toughest frontcourt scorers. You will very likely see lineups that include O’Neal at center with Al Harrington or possibly Croshere at power forward because of the increased offensive punch but, chances are, the starting lineup will have a more traditional look.