Culture of Hoops

Fantasy Basketball 2012: Centers rankings by tier

Since the NBA’s inception, big men have ruled the league; from George Mikan to Dwight Howard and everyone in-between, the torch has long been passed down from one dominant big man to another. Almost every championship team (that didn’t have Michael Jordan) in NBA history has possessed a dominant big doing his thing, whether it’s blocking shots on defense or backing his man down in the paint only to raise up and slam it home for an easy score.

While it’s always good to have a well-rounded elite level center on your fantasy basketball team, it’s one of the positions that you can still win your league with with a “three-headed monster” manning the position.

Coming into this year I have a feeling hording centers earlier in the draft will pay off in a big way, at least that’s the way I’ve been playing it in mock drafts. And, no, I don’t have any fancy numbers or charts to back this up because sometimes you just have to double down and play the hunch.

Tier One

In tier one we have two of the best big men in the game who deliver daily double-doubles and provide blocks at a high level. And they may not be who you think of at first guess, but both of these superb big men will likely be off the board by the the tenth pick.

Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers

Yes, Andrew Bynum is the number one fantasy basketball center coming into the 2012-13 NBA season. Why, you ask? While it seems like he has been in the league forever, Bynum is just 24-years-old coming off an injury-free season that statistically was his best to date. Throw in the fact he has been traded to the 76ers where he will be the focus of their offense for the foreseeable future, as well as play in an Eastern Conference that isn’t loaded with many high-impact centers and it looks rosy for Bynum. In Philly, he is “the” big man in town and should see an increase in scoring upwards of 25 points per game being the 76ers first option on the offensive end. While his other numbers probably won’t see a huge bump it won’t be a surprise to see an uptick in overall production. Bynum is getting drafted around the seventh pick this year being the first fantasy center off the board, possibly for years to come.

Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz

Jefferson is sometimes a forgotten man when you hear pundits talk of the best bigs in the league, but make no mistake his production puts him into elite level territory. With Big Al on your fantasy team you get a player who puts up 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game. As an added bonus you get a rarity in big men as Al raised his free throw shooting to a respectable 77% last season. While he doesn’t go to the line that often (2.9 FTA per game), it still can’t be overlooked. Jefferson should produce another rock solid year for the Utah Jazz so taking him with in the 8-10 range looks like a sure bet.

Tier Two

In tier two, the players are obviously talented with a few flaws here and there to their overall game, but still guys that will lay the basis of a more than solid frontcourt you can ride to a fantasy championship. All tier two players should be off draft boards around the 16th spot.

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

Most people assume that Dwight Howard is the number one fantasy center in the league and with good reason, as he can put up some monster numbers in scoring (20.6) blocks (2.1) and rebounds (14.5), but unless you are playing in a league that doesn’t count free throw percentage (5.2 FTM on 10.6 FTA= .491%… Yikes!) Howard is relegated to the number three spot for fantasy basketball centers. It’s not that he just shoots a horrid percentage, it’s that he goes to the line more than anyone in the league too, making him the biggest free throw percentage killer in the game. Some people when drafting D12 opt to punt the FT percentage category, which I don’t recommend, but it can work out if you know what you’re doing. If that’s not an option for you, make sure you surround him with high volume/high percentage charity stripe shooters to help offset the damage sure to be done. Personally, it’s one of the reasons I shy away from drafting Howard because you have to completely shape your team around him, which can be limiting at times. For the first time in Dwight’s career there are questions surrounding him on draft day, like that whole little back surgery thingy (red flag) that ended Dwight’s 2011-12 season and we just don’t know how his back will respond to the daily NBA grind. Will it have a negative effect on his game overall and how will his numbers look playing on such a talented Lakers roster? I for one will be avoiding Howard in drafts for the most part because I just don’t want the headache, and I freely admit I might be dead wrong as he could have a huge MVP-like season; just don’t blame me for playing the odds. Obviously, Howard is an immensely talented player, albeit one who is better suited for the NBA game than the fantasy side of the ball, but still good enough to be drafted in the 13-14 range in standard leagues. *Buyer Beware Tag*

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

I can’t lie, I love a good troubled young NBA player, so it’s no surprise “Boogie” Cousins is close to my heart. Let’s get it out there – is he perceived as a knucklehead? Yes. Is he one of the top five big men in the league? Same answer. Last season, DMC gave us a glimpse of what’s to come and he looked like a future All-Star in the making. The numbers don’t lie: 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. It would be nice to see him raise his assists up a little bit and he can be foul prone (4.0), but let’s not knit-pick. The Kings frontcourt is slightly crowded, but DeMarcus will get 30 plus minutes a night and is no doubt their starting center for the future. Look for another big year of Boogie doing his thing in the paint and if you plan to draft him, grab him before the 15th spot or it might be too late.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Right under our noses, Pau’s little brother has taken his understated game to new heights and is now among the top centers in the NBA. With Zach Randolph out most of last season, Gasol played more minutes (36.5) and shot the ball more than he normally would (11.4 FGA) if the Grizzlies were at full strength, but it led to one of Gasol’s best seasons as a pro. Gasol is 27-years-old and entering his prime as a player, so we could see a statistical bump this coming season even with a healthy Z-Bo in the lineup. I don’t see Marc regressing much as the 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game he put last season seem easily repeatable for the hulking Spaniard. Gasol is being drafted in the mid teens, so I don’t really see him sliding past the 16th spot.

Tier Three

Tier three has two young stud centers; one coming back from injury hoping to pick right back up where he left off and the other knocking on the door of elite center status. Look for both to be gone by the early-30s.

Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons

Last season was a breakout of sorts for the smooth passing big man out of Georgetown University. With more minutes (31.5), Monroe saw his numbers rise accordingly, putting up 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. Now with recent fifth overall draft pick Andre Drummond in town, Monroe may see some time at the power forward spot this upcoming season, which could help him pad his stats against smaller players. I will be targeting Monroe in all formats this year as he seems poised to take the leap towards All-Star level production in only his third NBA season. Greg’s ADP is in the mid-30s, but seems too low to me as he should return second round value, but all it means is if he’s still available, make sure you are the one that lands him.

Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

Last season was a wasted one for Horford as injuries sidelined him for all but 11 games. However, Horford showed he could put up solid numbers upon his return. Zaza Pachulia got extended run with Al out and displayed he could hold his own at the center position, so we might see Horford at power forward for most of the season, which should make the game a little easier since Al is slightly undersized (6’10”) for the center position. We should expect Horford to put up a similar or better stat line as he did in his last full season of on-court action, so think 15 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and one block and steal per game. Horford is going in the mid-20s, which is a little too early for my liking just due to the possibility of re-injury to his pectoral muscle. That said, Horford should be off draft boards by the 35th pick.

Tier Four

In tier four we have an stubborn old head still running out every night banging in the paint and maybe barking at the occasional point guard, followed by two young up-and-comers looking to build upon last year and have another productive season. Look for them to all be off the board by the early-50s.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers

Hibbert was a player I was drafting in most of my leagues last year and he didn’t disappoint, delivering an All-Star season that saw Hibbert put up career highs in blocks (2.0), rebounds (8.8), and scoring (12.8). I would expect more of the same as the Pacers look to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. With another stellar season, Hibbert could solidify his place among the top bigs in the NBA and barring an injury I don’t see any reason to doubt that he will pull it off. Hibbert is a nice upside pick as he is a tireless worker and has made improvements to his game every season in the NBA. Look to draft Roy in the mid-40s with the utmost confidence. Hibbert is player I will be keeping an eye on this draft season.

Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

The times they are a changing. It is a completely different world today than 1996 when KG entered the NBA as a baby-faced recent high school graduate chomping at the bit to show he was ready to play in the NBA. Let’s see, in 1996 Michael Jordan was the MVP, Damon Stoudamire was Rookie of the Year, and John Stockton was still leading the league in assists. Now all these guys are retired and at 36 years of age, KG is still playing 30 plus minutes a game and putting up 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game, which isn’t too shabby for a grumpy old timer. It’s been a relatively healthy last couple of seasons for Garnett and it looks like he will be in line for another productive season as the Celtics’ (geriatric) starting center. As long as he can stave off the injury bug for another season KG has the makings of a solid mid-40s pick.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

Davis, the number one NBA overall pick draft pick comes into the league with a much-deserved buzz, as we haven’t seen such a polished defensive stopper with his overall skill come into the league in some time. As a freshman at Kentucky we saw “The Brow” average a monster 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 assists, not to mention collect every college basketball award on the planet. Spending most of his time at the center spot in college, it looks like the Hornets have him slotted in at power forward to begin his rookie season. While he won’t put up the same crazy blocks per game average as he did in college, he still enters the league as one of the more formidable shot blockers around. Being one of the main rebuilding cogs on a young Hornets team, look for Davis to get 30 plus minutes per game right off the bat making him a nightly double double threat. Expect Davis to put up close to 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist and steal per game. Davis is going off draft boards around the mid 40s which seems like a good value pick in standard leagues, although I did just recently see Anthony drafted with the first pick in a highly competitive 30 team-unlimited keeper dynasty league. As with all players draft positions can fluctuate greatly on league settings, with Davis I think he will be a solid third to forth round pick in all formats.

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

After two injury-plagued seasons wrecked havoc on Noah (and his fantasy value), last year he bounced back and played in all but two games while putting up 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game. Combine it with his strong percentages (.508 on FG and .748 on FT) and you get a solid starting fantasy center in the early-50s spot. Noah was a player I heavily drafted in the years he was injured, so I laid off last season to avoid the issue altogether, but he seems to have turned the corner. I’m not actively targeting Joakim in drafts this season, but I don’t feel like I have to avoid him at all costs now. If the draft position is right, grab him. We know every player comes with risk, but with Joakim it seems minimal now. And if he goes to hell and breaks down, you can maybe pick up Taj Gibson off waivers.

Tier Five

In this tier we have guys that might not have quite the overall game we’ve seen in higher tiers, but rest assured that they are all valuable additions to fantasy basketball teams. Players in this tier should be drafted by the mid-70s.

Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks

We already know the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a monster on that end of the court, but it may come as a surprise to hear Chandler led the league in true shooting percentage by a wide margin at .708 with the next closest being James Harden at .660. So, what does that mean? Partially it means Chandler was the recipient of a lot of alley-oops off Jeremy Lin pick-and-rolls, and while he doesn’t shoot a ton of shots (5.7 FGA), Chandler also doesn’t take bad ones. We have seen Tyson’s rebounding decline (9.9) since his younger days, but he still remains among the upper echelon in the category. We’re seeing Chandler go off the board in the early-60s followed by a run on centers in the next 20 or so spots, so make sure you get in on the action before it’s too late.

Glen Davis, Orlando Magic

When Dwight Howard went down, Big Baby stepped right in and put up some pretty good fantasy numbers from the jump: 15.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.1 assists, and 0.5 blocks per game in his 10 starts as the Magic’s center. While undersized at 6’9″ tall, somebody has to play the position and Davis looks to be Orlando’s center at least for the near future unless Gustavo Ayon or Nikola Vucevic can unseat him in the rotation. Glen could turn out to be a good value pick because with the Magic’s young roster, he may see as many minutes as he can handle. If you want a shot at drafting Davis expect to grab him in the early to mid-60s.

Nene Hilario, Washington Wizards

Nene has always struck me as a player that has been underutilized throughout his career because with his ability to score at such a high pecentage (.561 career field goal percentage), I cant fathom why a coach hasn’t yet made the decision to ride him in the paint. While limited to only 39 games last year, we still saw the same old Nene-type production we are accustomed to – 13.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 block per game. While he has never been a high level rebounder, it’s Nene’s overall production that makes him a valuable fantasy player, as well as the fact he doesn’t really hurt you in areas, as other centers can. Now in Washington, with John Wall out for the start of the season, this might be the year Nene gets featured on offense. It really can’t hurt anyway as he is the best scoring option on a young team, so you might as well feed him the ball right? Nene is in the middle of a pack of centers going between 60-80, so his value could fluctuate depending on the draft, but the 67-69 spot feels like the right time to scoop him up.

JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

McGee is the future of the NBA, if you ask his mom that is, but sometimes watching him play you might agree as McGee runs like a deer, jumps like he is on a pogo stick and throws nightly block parties. Then there are those other moments when “Pierre” comes out and he makes some of the most boneheaded plays ever seen in the NBA. Let’s not forget about the laughable side of McGee that loves to trick the NBA blogosphere into believing he adopted a pair of platypi. So it’s safe to say McGee is “unique” in many ways and that doesn’t end in the fantasy basketball realm as he put up 2.2 blocks per game, top notch by any definition and a respectable 11.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, but not much else. At 24 years of age just entering his fifth season in the league, it might be a make or break year for JaVale: can he live up to the hype and be an NBA star or a niche player who blocks shots on an elite level? McGee may not be a starter for the Nuggets, but he should get close to 30 minutes a game in a high-tempo offense, so he should be able to match his prior numbers. Will he even expand on his game maybe? Until then he will continue to be a late 60 to early 70s pick that mainly contributes in blocks.

Tier Six

In this tier everyone is coming back from one injury or another and all could possibly turn into high value picks based on their draft position and really at this point the risk isn’t all that great, so draft with confidence and roll with the punches.

Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

Brook, we need to talk. It was only two short years ago you were my go-to third round pick in all of my drafts and we had some great times together, but then something happened. You changed, Brook… Shh, Brook, don’t interrupt me please, I have to get this out… yes, I know about the 20.4 points per game. Yeah I know about the bout of mono and the broken foot, but I just can’t depend on you anymore to rebound the damn ball! I have to let you go Brook. It’s not me, it’s you. Don’t cry, I’m sure there are other owners out there for you, but until we build back the trust you lost with your awful rebounding (6.0), we can’t be together.

I hope I wasn’t too hard on him. Lopez is still very young, so I don’t really doubt he will bounce back, but I’m not going to blow a pick on a center who gets out-rebounded by guards. Not to be completely negative, the kid has the tools to be a great all-around fantasy center. I just need some proof that he has his rebounding mojo back before I can draft him in good faith. I mean relationships are all about trust, right? All kidding aside, Brook is the type of pick that can yield great return on value simply because his draft stock has fallen. If you can get him in the early-80s, he might be a steal, but just don’t bring up his rebounding.

Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves

Pekovic came into his own last season and showed that when given minutes, the rugged Euro can perform. In 35 games as a starter, Pek dropped 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. His lack of peripheral stats (blocks and assists) keeps him from being a higher pick, but we have yet to see what he can do in a full season. Pek is the clear starting center coming into this season and the Timberwolves with their new and improved lineup expect Nikola to be a big part of turning the team into a playoff contender. As it stands, Pekovic is a late-70s to early-80s pick, but has potential to return higher value.

Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

If not for injuries, Bogut would be considered a top five center as the guy can score and rebound at a high level, and can block shots with the NBA elite. If you list his career high stats together you have the makings of a fantasy monster with 15.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.6 blocks, and 1.0 steal per game. Granted, in a perfect world he would put these numbers up every night, but then again he wouldn’t be the NBA’s poster boy for fluke injuries either. Andrew was traded to the Warriors last season and is now supposedly on his way to being healthy for what seems like the millionth time. We don’t really know what to expect from Bougut this year but with his ADP at 91 you cant really go wrong taking him there and hoping for the best. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia 76ers

Spencer started off last season on a tear and had a huge December averaging 12 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 steals, and a blistering 67.6 percent shooting from the floor. Spencer instantly became a hot waiver wire pickup only to see him injure his Achilles and put a damper on his coming out party. It seems unlikely Hawes could average those type of numbers for a whole season, but it’s hard to ignore that kind of across the board production coming from as unlikely a position as the center spot. It’s a new season and Hawes will be playing alongside Andrew Bynum, which might hinder Hawes’ rebounding a bit, but should create a lot of open shots for Spencer to knock down. It’s hard to pin down exactly what kind of numbers Hawes will put up, but it should be close to 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal per game. Hawes is becoming a late round favorite of mine to pick up as a third to fourth center option with his well-rounded stat lines as he makes a great addition regardless of team makeup. Spencer has an ADP of around 130, which seems way too low, but you will not see me complain about a guy of his talent level that late in the draft.

Tier Seven

This late in the draft you want to be targeting a guy that will either offset areas of deficiency in your other centers or that complement you in categories that will put you over the top. Who goes at this point is all over the board, but I went with the guys that can help a team the most.

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

At this point in his career, Jordan is primarily a specialist in the fantasy world as an elite shot-blocker (2.0), a decent rebounder (8.3), and not much else. He isn’t a consistent scorer (7.4) and is a very poor free throw shooter (.440 for his career; Ouch!), but thankfully he doesn’t shoot enough of them to kill you in the category. So take him for what he is, a late round pick to help pad your shot blocking numbers and grab some rebounds. If by chance he can learn to consistently put the ball in the basket consider it a bonus.

Drew Gooden, Milwaukee Bucks

Usually a power forward, Gooden played all his games at center last season for a depleted Bucks squad and was something of a fantasy darling with his high assists rate (2.9 per game as a starter) from the center position. Drew did miss some games with injuries, but managed to play in 52 games, getting the starting nod in 46 andh averaged 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. Coming into this season we don’t really know what kind of exact role Gooden will have in the Bucks rotation, but smart money is on him spending most of his time backing up both the center and power forward spots. With his role undefined, he may be just a late round stash, but with the numbers he put up last season it would be silly for the Bucks to keep him on the bench.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets; Omer Asik, Houston Rockets; Rasheed Wallace, New York Knicks (kidding); Chris Kaman, Dallas Mavericks; Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers; Samuel Dalembert, Milwaukee Bucks

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