While the league is moving towards a quicker game where centers are less prominently involved, there is still a surprising amount of depth at this position. I say surprising because most people think of Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Al Horford…and that’s about it. But there is some good, mid-level talent available. Starting with our sleeper pick…
Sleeper: DeJuan Blair (San Antonio Spurs)
Projected Stats: 54.3 FG%, 61.3 FT%, 8.7 pts, 7.3 rebs, .8 asts, 0.0 3pt, .6 stls, .5 blks
Blair proved last year that he has a nose for the ball, grabbing 6.4 rebounds in just 18.2 minutes of action. He worked himself into Gregg Popovich’s good graces and since Pop will more than likely limit Tim Duncan’s minutes, Blair could see increased playing time for the Spurs this eason.
25. Shaquille O’Neal (Boston Celtics)
Projected Stats: 56.8 FG%, 54.9 FT%, 10.2 pts, 6.8 rebs, 1.7 asts, 0.0 3pt, .2 stls, 1.2 blks
For the 19th straight season, Shaq works himself into the list of top fantasy centers. He’s likely to be a bench player but as long as Kendrick Perkins is still recovering from offseason surgery, he looks to be the front-runner to start over Jermaine O’Neal.
Even at 38, Shaq is still an effective rebounder and an above-average passer for a center.
24. Spencer Hawes (Philadelphia 76ers)
Projected Stats: 47.0 FG%, 66.7 FT%, 11.1 pts, 6.8 rebs, 1.7 asts, .4 3pt, .4 stls, 1.0 blks
An offseason trade moves Hawes from Sacramento to Philadelphia where he’ll take over Samuel Dalembert’s vacant role. It’s probable that he’ll be the starter in the middle and while he’s not as good of a rebounder as Dalembert, he’s a more capable passer and also has some outside value, attempting over a three-pointer a game for the last two years.
23. Mehmet Okur (Utah Jazz)
Projected Stats: 46.2 FG%, 81.4 FT%, 12.8 pts, 7.0 rebs, 1.5 asts, 1.0 3pt, .6 stls, .8 blks
Okur is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon and isn’t expected to return until November or December. He had his lowest point and rebound totals since 2005, his first season in Utah, last year but still is capable of pulling down 7-plus rebounds and knocking down one or more three’s.
22. Brendan Haywood (Dallas Mavericks)
Projected Stats: 55.0 FG%, 61.8 FT%, 8.4 pts, 8.4 rebs, .5 asts, 0.0 3pt, .3 stls, 1.9 blks
Haywood signed a $55 million extension with the Mavericks this summer and the starting job is his to lose, according to coach Rick Carlisle. He’s not a strong scorer and only averaged 7.4 rebounds in 28 games for the Mavs, but he’s a threat to block shots and provide strong field goal percentage.
21. Andris Biedrins (Golden State Warriors)
Projected Stats: 57.6 FG%, 52.0 FT%, 7.8 pts, 9.0 rebs, 1.3 asts, 0.0 3pt, .7 stls, 1.4 blks
After averaging a double-double in 2009, Biedrins was a huge fantasy disappointment last year with just 5.0 points and 7.8 rebounds in 33 games.
But he’s likely to be the starter at center on opening night for Golden State and everybody that gets minutes for the Warriors has some fantasy value because of their up-tempo style. He’s a poor free throw shooter but defends the rim well as he showed from 2007-2009 when he had 94 or more blocks each season.
20. JaVale McGee (Washington Wizards)
Projected Stats: 51.2 FG%, 66.7 FT%, 9.4 pts, 6.8 rebs, .3 asts, 0.0 3pt, .5 stls, 1.8 blks
McGee will look to use his time on Team USA’S FIBA roster to have a breakout season with the Wizards. With John Wall, Gilbert Arenas, and Andray Blatche, shots in the half-court will be limited for JaVale, but it will free him up to do dirty work in the middle, like grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and converting second-chance opportunities.
19. Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Projected Stats: 55.1 FG%, 65.8 FT%, 8.9 pts, 8.2 rebs, .3 asts, 0.0 3pt, .5 stls, 1.7 blks
The Nenad Krstic/Nick Collison era is over in OKC as the Thunder will probably incorporate Cole Aldrich and Serge Ibaka into the rotation.
Ibaka averaged 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 18.1 minutes off the bench last year. If he gets 26-28 minutes per game in 2011, it will translate to 8-plus rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game…solid contributions for a bench player.
18. Channing Frye (Phoenix Suns)
Projected Stats: 45.5 FG%, 80.8 FT%, 12.3 pts, 5.1 rebs, 1.2 asts, 1.9 3pt, .7 stls, .8 blks
After hitting only 20 three-pointers in his first four years in the league, Frye let loose in Phoenix, finishing fourth in three-point makes (172) in 2010.
Phoenix will need increased contributions from Frye, Robin Lopez, and newcomer Hedo Turkoglu to make up the scoring difference left by Amar’e Stoudemire, so Frye should still have free-range from behind the line. Just be aware that he’s a streaky player that can follow up a few strong games with the occasional clunker.
17. Samuel Dalembert (Sacramento Kings)
Projected Stats: 53.3 FG%, 72.7 FT%, 8.5 pts, 9.1 rebs, .5 asts, 0.0 3pt, .5 stls, 1.8 blks
Sacramento has a very deep front line with Dalembert, DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry, and Jason Thompson, and a strained left abductor muscle could open the door for Cousins to sneak into the starting lineup.
Dalembert has averaged more than 1.4 blocks and 8.2 rebounds every season since 2006 but how he fits in with the Kings’ system remains to be seen.
16. Yao Ming (Houston Rockets)
Projected Stats: 52.3 FG%, 84.4 FT%, 13.0 pts, 7.8 rebs, 1.8 asts, 0.0 3pt, .3 stls, 1.5 blks
A stress fracture in Yao’s foot left him on the sidelines for the 2010 season and the Rockets will be extra cautious working their 7’6″ center back in the rotation. They’ve already stated that he’ll play no more than about 25 minutes per game and will sit out the second night of back-to-backs.
While Yao is still an asset, Houston got great contributions from Luis Scola last season – they know he’s capable of stepping up while being the featured big man. Those that draft Yao should be aware of how Houston plans to utilize him this season.
15. Andrew Bynum (L.A. Lakers)
Projected Stats: 57.2 FG%, 72.5 FT%, 12.8 pts, 8.5 rebs, 1.2 asts, 0.0 3pt, .4 stls, 1.3 blks
Bynum averaged 17.8 points each of the last two seasons but has missed 96 games since 2008. He has the ability to easily be a top-10 fantasy center but until he plays a full season as L.A.’s starter owners should expect him to miss games and take that into consideration when drafting him. It’s a possibility he won’t return until December while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
14. Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Projected Stats: 54.4 FG%, 65.6 FT%, 9.8 pts, 9.4 rebs, 1.3 asts, 0.0 3pt, 1.0 stls, 1.0 blks
Varejao has been Cleveland’s sixth man for the past four years but the departures of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal thrust him into the starting role. Because the Cavs will play a faster tempo than they have in years past, Varejao should be able to use his athleticism to run the floor and get some easy points in transition. He’s always been a stroung rebounder and should be a threat to grab a steal and a block per game this season.
13. Emeka Okafor (New Orleans Hornets)
Projected Stats: 53.6 FG%, 58.7 FT%, 11.5 pts, 9.3 rebs, .5 asts, 0.0 3pt, .6 stls, 1.6 blks
Surprisingly, Okafor had a down year his first season in New Orleans with a career-low 10.4 points and 9.0 rebounds. On the plus side, he’s played 82 games the last three seasons and has averaged no worse than 1.5 blocks per game in six years.
It’s difficult to imagine him having a poorer stat line than in 2010 so you might be able to snatch him up a round or two later than he should go.
12. Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers)
Projected Stats: 50.5 FG%, 76.3 FT%, 12.2 pts, 7.1 rebs, 1.9 asts, 0.0 3pt, .4 stls, 1.9 blks
Even at 7’2″, Hibbert averaged just 3.5 rebounds as a rookie and 5.7 last season. He provides solid block numbers so if he can tweak his offensive game and become a stronger force on the glass he could be one of the sleepers in this year’s crop.
11. Robin Lopez (Phoenix Suns)
Projected Stats: 56.8 FG%, 72.1 FT%, 13.6 pts, 8.7 rebs, .3 asts, 0.0 3pt, .4 stls, 1.4 blks
My pick for breakout center of the year, Lopez had great numbers as a starter for the Suns in the second-half of 2010 with 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 24.5 minutes playing opposite of Amar’e Stoudemire. He’ll see increased minutes this year (probably around 28-30 per game at least) so if he continues at last year’s efficiency he’ll easily be a 13-8 guy that will be available in later rounds.
10. Marcus Camby (Portland Trail Blazers)
Projected Stats: 48.1 FG%, 71.4 FT%, 8.0 pts, 10.6 rebs, 2.3 asts, 0.0 3pt, 1.1 stls, 1.8 blks
Camby has averaged double-digit rebound totals the last seven seasons and since Greg Oden is still out in Portland, he’ll resume the starting role. You know what to expect from Marcus – less than average points and FG percentage, but above-average rebounds, blocks, and assists.
9. Chris Kaman (L.A. Clippers)
Projected Stats: 49.9 FG%, 74.3 FT%, 15.0 pts, 9.2 rebs, 1.5 asts, 0.0 3pt, .5 stls, 1.4 blks
One of the fantasy surprises in 2010, Kaman blew away his previous career-high of 15.7 points per game with 18.5 and shot 49 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line. He still should have a solid season this year but the Clippers will be incorporating Blake Griffin into the lineup, meaning Kaman probably won’t get as many touches this year as he did last year.
8. Nene (Denver Nuggets)
Projected Stats: 57.5 FG%, 70.0 FT%, 13.7 pts, 8.3 rebs, 2.0 asts, 0.0 3pt, 1.3 stls, 1.2 blks
Nene missed most of 2008 but has come back strong since, averaging 14.6 points (60.4 FG%) and 7.8 rebounds in 2009 and 13.8 points (58.7 FG%) and 7.6 rebounds in 2010. It’s tough to project anyone on Denver’s fantasy value until Carmelo Anthony’s future is situated, but Nene has started to produce consistent numbers and records some of the best steal numbers of any center.
7. Andrew Bogut (Milwaukee Bucks)
Projected Stats: 53.3 FG%, 62.0 FT%, 14.8 pts, 9.7 rebs, 2.1 asts, 0.0 3pt, .7 stls, 2.0 blks
A horrific injury sidelined Bogut for the playoffs last year after a career year of 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. He made his preseason debut on Sunday and notched 11 points and five rebounds in just 14 minutes.
Bogut won’t have a limit on how many minutes he plays this year, but owners should be more wary of the fact that Milwaukee added Larry Sanders and Drew Gooden to their frontcourt. Nonetheless, expect good things from a healthy Bogut.
6. Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
Projected Stats: 57.6 FG%, 71.2 FT%, 14.5 pts, 9.8 rebs, 2.2 asts, 0.0 3pt, 1.0 stls, 1.5 blks
Once considered a throw-in for the Pau Gasol trade, the younger Gasol has played exceptional in his first two seasons in Memphis and looks poised for another strong campaign.
He was one of the more underappreciated centers in 2010 with 14.6 points (58.1 FG%), 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.0 steals. The Grizzlies are still pretty thin at center (unless Hasheem Thabeet breaks out) so Gasol is a pretty safe option at center.
5. Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls)
Projected Stats: 53.8 FG%, 75.8 FT%, 12.4 pts, 12.2 rebs, 2.3 asts, 0.0 3pt, .8 stls, 1.5 blks
A walking double-double, Noah’s value won’t be negatively affected by Carlos Boozer because they have contrasting styles that complement one another’s game. Every year he seems to get better than the last, so don’t be surprised if Noah is in the top-five for rebounds this year while putting up strong percentages and block numbers.
4. Andrea Bargnani (Toronto Raptors)
Projected Stats: 46.2 FG%, 81.9 FT%, 17.7 pts, 6.5 rebs, 1.2 asts, 1.7 3pt, .4 stls, 1.3 blks
Just because Chris Bosh is gone doesn’t mean it will be any easier for opponents to game-plan for Toronto’s new featured big man. Bargnani benefited from the attention Bosh commanded from opposing defenses but he has a unique skill set that makes it difficult for centers to match up. He’s definitely the best three-point threat of any center and will be one of the league’s highest-scoring interior players.
3. Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks)
Projected Stats: 54.3 FG%, 79.2 FT%, 15.2 pts, 10.1 rebs, 2.5 asts, 0.0 3pt, .8 stls, 1.3 blks
Horford has almost averaged a double-double in his first three years (10.1-9.7 in ’08, 11.5-9.3 in ’09, 14.2-9.9 in ’10) and this year he’ll get over the hump. While he’s probably better-suited to play power forward, it greatly enhances his fantasy value since he gets so much time at center for Atlanta. No Al Horford fantasy owner has ever been disappointed in his production and this year will be no different.
2. Brook Lopez (New Jersey Nets)
Projected Stats: 51.7 FG%, 81.5 FT%, 18.0 pts, 9.2 rebs, 2.0 asts, 0.0 3pt, .7 stls, 1.9 blks
Lopez should find it easier to operate from the block now that New Jersey finally has a few three-point threats to stretch the floor (Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy). His rebounding numbers (8.1 in ’09, 8.6 in ’10) have been just a tad lower than you might expect so keep an eye on whether or not he can become a consistent double-double threat this year.
1. Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
Projected Stats: 59.4 FG%, 59.4 FT%, 20.2 pts, 13.6 rebs, 1.5 asts, 0.0 3pt, 1.0 stls, 2.6 blks
The unanimous choice and easiest No. 1 pick of any position, Howard is king of the bigs until further notice.