There are exactly two weeks left until the NBA season gets underway. This week we preview the best big men in the league.
#5 Andrew Bynum
2012-13 stats: DNP
I know what you’re thinking: How can a player who missed all of last season and has only played in 392 games in eight full seasons (656 games) be considered a top-five caliber center? The answer is simple: If Andrew Bynum is healthy, he is just that good.
Bynum is certainly not above criticism. Last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, he garnered more attention for his god-awful hair than any he produced on court. But his post moves, underrated shooting stroke and ability to play like a traditional big man places the 7-footer in elite company. In his last full season with the Lakers, he ranked 20th in the NBA in scoring (18.7 ppg), third in rebounds (11.8), third in field goal percentage and sixth in blocks. Playing alongside Kyrie Irving and a cast of young talented players, a healthy Bynum should flourish in Cleveland as long as he stays away from the local bowling alley.
#4 Roy Hibbert
2012-13 stats: 11.9 ppg, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 blocks
Over the offseason, Hibbert put on some muscle, worked out with idol Tim Duncan and focused on improving his low-post repertoire all in hopes of positioning the Pacers atop the Eastern Conference. With a huge body frame and calculated moves, Hibbert has proven himself to be a formidable force in the league. He anchored one of the best defensive teams, which ranked first in efficiency last year and only allowed 90 points a game, second behind only the Memphis Grizzlies. He is not the flashiest or most exciting post player, but what Hibbert does bring is an underrated presence around the rim. He causes guards to think twice when attacking the basket and most importantly, takes away an opponent’s ability to get easy points.
#3 Joakim Noah
2012-13 stats: 11.9 ppg, 11.1 rebounds, 4 assists
The spiritual leader of the Chicago Bulls, Joakim Noah is unusual in every sense of the word. From his sidewinding jump shot to the uncanny ability to provide instant energy, the New York product plays and looks different from any other player in the league. In basketball you can’t teach height and you can’t fake heart. Noah has both. In his first season as an All-Star, the Bulls’ center had arguably his best offensive output, averaging a double-double for the season while becoming one of the focal points for a Derrick Rose-less offense. An extremely effective help and off-ball defender, Noah led the Bulls to the third-best defense in the league, trailing only the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers. The team defense allowed 102.1 points per 100 possessions with Noah on the floor compared to 107.3 points surrendered with Noah off the floor, a differential of over five points.
#2 Marc Gasol
2012-13 stats: 14.1 ppg, 7.8 rebounds, 4 assists
At one time the lesser-known of the Gasol Brothers, Marc Gasol has quickly become one of the most skilled and versatile centers. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol embodies perfectly the heart of the Memphis Grizzlies: stout defender, crisp passer and above all else a smart player. Sure, his numbers won’t amaze you, but traditional statistics don’t necessarily convey Gasol’s impact, compared to other players on this list. However, he has a high player IQ and unparalleled court awareness, which can’t be measured. His precision in high-low plays to Zach Randolph is second to none. When Gasol wasn’t on the floor, the Grizzlies gave up over six more points for every 100 possessions last season.
#1 Dwight Howard
2012-13 stats: 17.1 ppg, 12.4 rebounds, 57.8 FG%
There’s almost no arguing this one. Even in his worst season, he led the NBA in rebounding, shot 58 percent, averaged 17 points and swatted over two blocks a game in a Lakers’ offense that he was less than elated to be in. And he did all this while dealing with a nagging back and shoulder injuries. Yes, we haven’t seen him at his best in a couple of seasons. And yes, he made the summer less than enjoyable especially for Lakers fans. But one fact remains undeniable: His post defense and superior athleticism make Howard a special commodity. If he is healthy and happy then the Houston Rockets can expect to see a “Superman”-esque season.