The NBA Finals, and the 2019-20 season has reached its conclusion. An amazing bubble that was setup by the grand commissioner Adam Silver, and the hardworking staff of Disney has made the NBA bubble a historical success in sporting history. While many people are celebrating the Lakers championship win, mourning over a series choke, or showing revamped pride for their team, there has been a factor of the game that has been revolutionized over this past few years of basketball, and has yet again transformed after this bubble. This factor is the market value of the centers.
When centers are mentioned, people tend to think of tall muscular rim protectors, paint beasts, interior monsters, and dominant post-oriented players. However, with this new perimeter centric game the center position has significantly changed. Instead of the paint beasts that were common, the center population is increasingly becoming more perimeter oriented, sharpshooting bigs whose main priority is to space the floor, instead of camping under the rim, or cleaning the glass. The top center’s in today’s game are undeniably the likes of Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony Towns, and Anthony Davis/Bam Adebayo if they fit your definition of a center. However, take a look at their skillsets.
All of them except Gobert and Bam shoot effectively from the outside.
(Player – 3P% 19-20 season)
Joel Embiid – .331
Nikola Jokic – .318
Karl Anthony Towns – .412
Anthony Davis – .330
Normally the 35% mark is considered average in today’s game for your center, especially if the star centers all of these four have respectable percents. Another notable aspect about each of these player’s games is also their ability to protect the rim.
Gobert, Adebayo, and Davis are all-defensive caliber players. They are the anchors on defense for their respective teams. Gobert is a former DPOY, Bam was the only sort of interior presence that the Heat had, and AD’s defensive versatility is awe-inspiring. Embiid and Towns are also formidable defenders in their own right, although KAT is not always a scary post defender. That being said, Jokic has been supported on the inside by the likes of Paul Millsap, but has also shown the league that he is not a push around in the paint area. Top centers have shown extreme two-way versatility on the court as they are able to play both within and outside the three point line. This raises the question, where are centers currently priced?
According to Sportrac.com, these are the top ten highest paid centers in the league right now.
Kevin Love – $31.25 million
Joel Embiid – $29.54 million
Nikola Jokic – $29.54 million
Karl Anthony Towns – $29.4 million
Andre Drummond – $28.7 million
Steven Adams – $27.5 million
Rudy Gobert – $27.5 million
Al Horford – $27.5 million
Nikola Vucevic – $26 million
Domantas Sabonis – $19.8 million
Out of all these players, the only ones who are currently worth their value right now are Embiid, Jokic, KAT, and Gobert. Let’s discuss the paint oriented players, before we head to the other centers.
Drummond and Adams are grossly overpaid. You may point out Andre Drummond’s rebounding numbers and blocks, but this hasn’t correlated to team success. Sure, he is leading the game in rebounding and is a top block, but this is yet to show a momentous impact. Especially with basketball heading towards a more perimeter centric mantra, the value of these rebounds are slowly decreasing if it means that they’re clogging up space within the offense.
If you search up Andre Drummond’s shot chart on statmuse.com you would immediately notice his lack of shots outside the paint area. He shot almost nothing outside the paint area. When you are paired up with the likes of Kevin Love this is not too harmful, but having Drummond on the court won’t exactly harm you as much as it would’ve in a much earlier era. Drummond’s impact in Detroit was not shown at all during his stint, and yes you can blame that on lack of teammates and a small market, but at the end of the day Andre Drummond is not a good first option.
Steven Adams was exposed in the playoffs this year. He was surprisingly a weak point for the Thunder when playing against the much smaller Rockets. When Billy Donovan put Dort and Adams on the floor, their spacing was nonexistent. Both are unreliable shooters, and this allowed the Rockets to have a much easier time to defend.
His PTS/REB splits were 10/11 which is not bad, but it could’ve been much better. There were numerous possessions when there were open corner shooters because of Adam’s lack of hustle on drives, and lacked the ability to close out. His familiarity at the perimeter was the Rockets key to exposing Adam’s weaknesses despite his renowned defense.
When we take a look at how the Lakers beat the Rockets small-ball, they sat McGee and Howard for a majority of Games 2-5. They used a small-ball lineup of their own with Markieff Morris or AD at center, when theoretically Howard or McGee should have been able to feast on the Rockets micro-lineup. The Lakers used this small-ball lineup time and time again throughout their championship run, and McGee didn’t even play in the finals.
This highlights the lack of effectiveness in paint oriented centers.
The centers like Vucevic, Sabonis, and Love lack the interior presence that is required to be a force. A top center requires the ability to be able to stretch the floor whilst being an interior presence. Unless you are unbelievably talented like Gobert, both of these factors are required, otherwise you will get exposed in the paint area, and this is why the Cavs needed to trade for Drummond to beef up their interior presence.
Lastly, when we take a look at the top four teams from the playoffs the centers for each teams were:
Dwight Howard/JaVale McGee/Anthony Davis
Bam Adebayo/Kelly Olynyk/Meyers Leonard
Nikola Jokic/Mason Plumlee
Daniel Theis/Enes Kanter/Grant Williams
There aren’t any notable names apart from Davis and Jokic. Furthermore, the finals matchup was mainly a small-ball matchup due to Bam’s undersized center height, and because McGee and Howard saw decreasing total minutes.
In recent history the centers for championship teams were players like Looney, Green, Bosh, Tristan Thompson; the list either has the Hall of Fame worthy centers who were smaller, and those who could play both in and outside but weren’t notable names.
The value of centers is rapidly decreasing. Rim protecting centers must be able to shoot the ball, and perimeter centric centers must have an interior presence.
This is why the only centers who really should be paid around the $20 million mark are Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Karl Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and/or Bam Adebayo. Higher quality is no longer the main priority for teams as we edge closer to full position-less basketball. It will take a drastic change in the modern game to regain some of the center’s interior presence effectiveness.
Photo credit: AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post