The NBA’s Six Most Underrated Centers
When discussing the center position, we often hear about the bigger names like Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol and even Roy Hibbert. Outside of them, the next names you generally hear are Andrew Bynum, Brook Lopez and Tyson Chandler. HOOPSWORLD would like to show some love to the lesser-known or lesser-heralded players at the center position that more than get the job done.
Contrary to the popular narrative of there being a tremendous lack of productivity out of centers, this list will focus on several players who are rising stars at the position or simply lack the fanfare of others.
While guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Joakim Noah are somewhat underrated by more people that consider themselves basketball fans than should be the case, they don’t exactly qualify for this list due to the respect and/or appreciation they receive from their contemporaries within the league.
Top Six Underrated Centers:
2012-13 Stats: 10.1 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 14.89 PER
While Omer Asik may currently look like the odd man when it comes to the starting center position in Houston with the recent addition of Dwight Howard, and may even start at the power forward position alongside Howard, make no mistake about what he actually is. By the end of the 2012-13 season, Asik had actually developed into an above-average starting center. Even though the Oklahoma City Thunder employed the ever-popular intentional foul tactic versus Asik in the 2013 playoffs, he still managed to average 14.8 points, 13.4 rebounds and 1.67 blocks on .537 percent from the field throughout their first-round series this past postseason.
2012-13 Stats: 9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 18.77 PER
HOOPSWORLD was able to catch up with Larry Sanders during this year’s NBA Summer League in Las Vegas following what was undeniably a breakout season for the third-year Milwaukee Bucks center. Sanders burst onto the scene as not only a nightly double-double, but also as one of the league’s best weakside defenders. During the interview, Sanders spoke about being ready to not only take the next step as a player, but also as a leader for a franchise in the midst of a massive overhaul in terms of personnel and the coaching staff. Expect even bigger and better things for Sanders as he continues to develop on both fronts.
2012-13 Stats: 14.1 ppg, 14.4 rpg, .6 bpg, 21.71 PER
Anderson Varejao has to at least be slightly penalized for his inability to stay healthy enough to remain on the floor. Outside of being a bit injury-prone, Varejao has absolutely developed into an above-average center in today’s NBA. Varejao won’t amaze you with his skill set, but he will undoubtedly impress you with sheer heart, effort and will. He’s the type of guy that gives it his all on every play, tends to get beneath the skin of the opposing players and does it all with a smile. If he and Andrew Bynum can remain healthy enough to split time in the post, the Cavaliers could have one of the best frontcourts in the league.
2012-13 Stats: 13.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1 bpg, 17.85 PER
As a part of the flurry of deals that resulted in Dwight Howard’s exodus from Orlando following the 2011-12 season, Nikola Vucevic certainly did not disappoint Magic fans in 2012-13. Vucevic actually got stronger throughout the course of a season that featured four 20+ rebound games and several where he netted 19 as well. In fact, Vucevic actually provided 18.5 points, 15.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in just his second year out of the University of Southern California over the last month of the 2012-13 season.
2012-13 Stats: 16.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, .8 bpg, 20.26 PER
Nikola Pekovic has gotten better and better in each of his first three seasons in the league. He’s a bit of a bruiser in the paint, but don’t take Pekovic’s “no-frills” approach to the game to mean the Yugoslavian big man doesn’t possess a decent array of moves and counter moves when necessary. Currently sitting out of the Eurobasket 2013 tournament while still negotiating a contract with the Timberwolves, Pekovic appears to be continuing to improve as a player, and may even work himself into those lists of guys at the start of the article with another impressive run in Minnesota.
2012-13 Stats: 17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 20.99 PER
Affectionately known as “Big Al” by those close to him, Al Jefferson has been quietly putting up big numbers for quite some time, only without the pomp and circumstance others have enjoyed. A career 16.4-point, 9-rebound guy, Jefferson was just rewarded with a three-year, $41 million contract by the Charlotte Bobcats. As a result of entering the NBA directly from high school, it may seem as though Jefferson has been around forever, but he is actually only 28 years old as he heads into his 10th NBA season in 2013-14. Charlotte should still benefit from several “prime” years over the life of that contract.
Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns
2012-12 Stats: 11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 15.45 PER
Marcin Gortat may not have duplicated the stat line he experienced during his breakout campaign of 2011-12, but his productivity in his first season in Phoenix without Steve Nash was still more than respectable. Following a busy offseason that saw the Suns revamp 40 percent of their starting lineup, Gortat should benefit from the new found spacing the additions of Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler should create.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
2012-13 Stats: 8.9 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 15.62 PER
Jonas Valanciunas is destined to be the centerpiece of Toronto’s new, young core. As he continues to develop, don’t be surprised if you see more than a few 20-point, 12-rebound type games from him throughout the year. With additional playing time and opportunities to contribute,Valanciunas could emerge as a Most Improved Players candidate.
Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Stats: 5.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 13.81 PER
If Andrew Bogut were ever able to experience an even remotely healthy regular season, one could expect very positive things from the talented Aussie big man. At one point, it was entirely fair to speculate whether Bogut would actually develop into an All-Star. Trouble is, in six seasons Bogut has never played in more than 70 regular season games, and can’t seem to catch a break from an injury standpoint.