On the Ball: Best of the NBA—Top Five Centers

December 18, 2014 Updated: April 24, 2016

There’s surprisingly more competition at the center position than I thought, thanks to the emergence of centers like DeMarcus Cousins and Nikola Vucevic. And by the way, leaving out Chris Bosh (who’s playing out of position for Miami) was very difficult, but where are you going to put him? Others like DeAndre Jordan and Al Jefferson were in the mix originally, but I couldn’t take off any of the five below, who are the NBA’s best.

5. Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks—Chandler is one of those players whose impact goes beyond the box score. Look at how the Knicks have struggled without the 2011–12 Defensive Player of the Year. The Mavericks originally took a hit after they let him sign with the Knicks after he helped lead them to the NBA championship in 2011, snapping their string of 11 straight 50-win seasons. They haven’t won 50 since, though they’re on pace for 57 this year—with Chandler.

Career averages: 8.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game.

4. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies—If only the Lakers could have kept Marc Gasol out of the Pau Gasol trade—what a frontcourt they could have had. Originally an afterthought in the deal that netted the Lakers two more titles, Marc Gasol has made a name for himself in Memphis. The 2012–13 Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol’s offense has taken off this season as the 29-year-old is averaging a career-best 19.6 points per game while pulling down 7.8 rebounds for the 20–4 Grizzlies.

Career averages: 13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.

3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings—Cousins is quietly entering his fifth season in the league, and he’s averaging an All-Star-like 23.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. The 24-year-old former Kentucky star has been overlooked due to the fact that the Kings have limited visibility (haven’t made the playoffs since 2006) and the bad rap that came with him when he came into the league in 2010.

Career averages: 18.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

2. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls—Noah is the most well-rounded center in the game. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year was also the center of the team’s offense last year (in the absence of Derrick Rose) leading the Bulls in assists, rebounds, and blocked shots. Now with Pau Gasol in the frontcourt, Chicago’s offense no longer has to go through the 29-year-old center who can focus on defense.

Career averages: 9.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets—His value has taken a hit over the past few years due to injuries and the uncertainty over where he would land in free agency, but he was so far and away the best center out there before this all happened that even at 90 percent, he’s still No. 1 on the list. Now that the 29-year-old is long-term in Houston, the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year is back to his old self, averaging 19.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks a game for the 18–5 Rockets.

Career averages: 18.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game.