As with the previous posts in this series which detailed the best defenders at each position, I start with the question “Who are the best defensive centers in the league?” In order to address the question properly when evaluating centers, however, it is necessary to answer a prior question. What is a center’s defensive role in the modern NBA? During some prior eras, the center could remain near the basket either defending a fellow behemoth on the low block or walling off the path of opposing drives. Rule changes constricted the scope of zone defense. Then, the 3-point shooting revolution caught even big men in its tantalizing web. For the first time in basketball history, forces conspired to pull centers away from the basket for good.
As always happens in games of strategy, however, there were side-effects to stylistic changes. The spacing afforded by stretch bigs has meant that dribble penetration continues to be an integral part of every team’s offensive attack. Having fewer big bodies in the way makes driving easier. As a result, the role of “rim protector” is still very much alive. Teams in today’s NBA still need interior defense from their center.
At the same time, teams also need their center to be able to cover quicker opponents on the perimeter. The center’s role now lies somewhere in between the inside and the outside. When we ask who the best defensive centers are, we are really asking two things: 1) Who is the best rim protector? 2) Who is the best at defending on the perimeter?Continue reading “Who is Really the Best Defensive Center in the League?”