Front and Center

The Center
Samuel Dalembert has started 582 games in the NBA. And he has started at center in each one of those 582 starts. He was a center then, he is a center now, and he will be a center tomorrow.

The Bucks acquired Dalembert from the Rockets along with the 14th overall draft pick in 2012 draft (which the team used to select forward John Henson), a future second round pick, and cash considerations from Houston in exchange for forward Jon Brockman, forward Jon Leuer, guard Shaun Livingston and the 12th pick in the 2012 draft (which they used to select Jeremy Lamb).

For a team that did not carry a true center on its roster for much of the 2011-12 season, Dalembert immediately solves a central problem. And that is not only because Dalembert is a simply pure center. The point here is that Dalembert is a pure center who can play – and does play.

The Form
The 30s are treating Dalembert just fine.

In fact, the 31 year-old is coming off one of the best per-minute seasons of his career. He shot 5-6 from the field for 10 points along with five rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in his Rockets debut – and remained in form for most of the season.

Dalembert posted the best PER of his career – 16.9. He blocked shots at his best rate since 2005-06 (3.07 per 40 minutes), racked up steals on par with the top rate of his career, cut down on his own turnovers (his lowest rate since 2007-08), and set a career-best in free throw accuracy (79.6 %). And the Rockets outscored their opponents by 54 points when Dalembert was on the court.

Dalembert is working on the final year of a contract with the Bucks, and if last season is any indication, they are getting him at a good time.

The Change
When he suits up for the Bucks, it will mark a fourth new team in four seasons for Dalembert.

Drafted 28th overall in 2001 by the 76ers, Dalembert played eight seasons in Philadelphia, but since 2009 he has gone from the 76ers to the Kings to the Rockets and now the Bucks. The good news is that Dalembert has adjusted pretty quickly and pretty well to the new teams and environments. Perhaps that should not be surprising coming from someone who was born in Haiti, lived there for 14 years, moved to Canada, then moved to the United States for college at Seton Hall.

The Constant
So, while change has been something of a constant for Dalembert, the truest constant has remained Dalembert’s constant presence on the court as well as his good health. Centers are notorious for missing time due to injuries, and the Bucks have certainly felt the sting of that struggle recently with Andrew Bogut suffering one unfortunate injury after another.

But Dalembert has managed to stay in the lineup almost every night throughout his NBA career. Consider: Dalembert has missed just three games in the last six seasons combined. That means he is not even averaging one missed game per season in that span. Dalembert has played all 82 games in a season on five different occasions.

On draft day at the Cousins Center, a reporter brought up Dalembert’s remarkable durability, to which Coach Scott Skiles good-naturedly asked if the reporter was that one guy who brings up how many free throws someone has made in a row – jinxing the player in the process. Of course, you can count Skiles among those who must be comforted by Dalembert’s health history.

"Sam, he's got a book on him. He's got a career. We talked about him remaining healthy. He's been able to do that.”

The Blocks
Good health is good. But there is more to this than that. For one thing, Skiles can look forward to a new shot-blocking presence in the middle of the paint.

"The things he can do, he does. He blocks shots. He protects the basket. He shoots the ball. He's got a nice face-up game. He moves around the floor well. We need those things and are happy to have him."

Dalembert has blocked 1358 shots in his career – 39th most all-time in the NBA. He ranks 29th on the all-time blocks per game leaderboard – averaging 1.87. And he is still going strong. Dalembert swatted 1.71 shots per game last season (coincidentally, the same number as new teammate Ekpe Udoh), good enough for 10th in the NBA. And his per-minute block rate last season was his best since 2005-06.

But if you have been watching the Bucks over the past decade or so, you probably already know that Dalembert can block shots.

The Opponent
On January 25, 2012, Dalembert scored 13 points, hauled in 17 rebounds, and blocked two shots in a loss to the Bucks in Houston. That fateful night saw Andrew Bogut suffer a broken ankle that ended his season – and it turned out to be the final game that Bogut played for the Bucks.

Dalembert has an impressive record against the Bucks – in head-to-head matchups with Bogut, he has scored more, rebounded more, blocked more shots, and won more. That probably does not mean all that much anymore. But it does bode well that Dalembert has historically played comfortably in Milwaukee, and that the Bucks don’t have to deal with him anymore as an opponent.

The Endorsement
“I think the trade was great. Getting a big in there for us, a guy who can rebound, a guy who can block shots, a guy who can catch lobs, and a guy who is a true center for us. I just think it is going to work out perfectly.”

Brandon Jennings is rightfully pleased. He gets a defensive anchor on defense and a big target who can catch lobs on offense – a true center.

The Position
Last season, Drew Gooden admirably filled in to start at center for 46 games following Bogut’s injury. Prior to last season, Gooden had started 26 games at center in his entire NBA career, spanning nine years, compared to 421 starts at forward. Gooden fought through nagging injuries and managed to outperform opposing centers during the season overall – he posted a higher PER while playing center than did opposing centers who were on the court at the same time. 

Dalembert, as you might recall, has started 582 games at center. Just center. Or, “centre.”

The Centre
Dalembert is fluent in French, which is spoken by many people in both his native Haiti as well as where he grew up in Montreal.  In French, and in Canadian English, you would call Dalembert a “centre.” Any way you spell it, Dalembert will be front and center for the Bucks.

Photos from Presser: View Photos