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Ranking the NBA: The golden age of the NBA Center is long gone

In continuation of a Bright Side tradition, we go through the trouble of ranking the players in the NBA at each position.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, to much fanfare, our own Jacob Padilla broke down his letter grades and rankings of players at each of the positions in the NBA. This year, I'm going to do the same thing, but with two twists.

First, I am going to introduce a slight empirical element to this grading system. Instead of going entirely by the gut, I will base at least part of my grades on a composite ranking scale that takes into account a players ranking on four aggregate statistics from the 2013-14 season that all have slightly different emphases: Win Shares per 48, Real Plus/Minus, PER, and PoP48 (from This hopefully adds a little objectivity to the analysis.  (Note: because there are players who didn't play last year, the rankings cannot be entirely based upon this.)

Second, I am taking a cue from the great Bill Simmons, who invites commentary from the infamous Cousin Sal in his NBA rankings columns, and inviting commentary from my friend and Suns junkie Gottlieb. Whereas I rely on statistics to inform my grades, Gottlieb will provide gut check evaluations.

The grading system will remain roughly the same as last season:


S: Best in the Game (LeBron James)

A+: Second Best in the Game (Kevin Durant)

A: Top 5 Player

A-: Top 5 at the Position

B+: All-Star Caliber

B: Above Average Starters/Fringe All-Star Caliber

B-: Above Average Starters

C+: Average Starters

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

C-: Good Bench Player

D+: Average Bench Player

D: Fringe Rotation Player

D-: Fringe NBA Player

F: Soon to be Puerto Rican League All-Star!

Note: Order underneath each grade range is entirely arbitrary.

I start with the Center position (link takes you to the publicly viewable Google Sheets page for all position raw rankings), and will end with the Point Guard position.  Here we go!

A: Top 5 Player

Nada. Zilch. While the center position is not as weak as the shooting guard position, it is really hard to justify any center in the NBA right now being a Top 5 player.

A-: Top 5 at Position

Joakim Noah (ranking 5.25); DeAndre Jordan (ranking 8.25); Dwight Howard (ranking 9.75); Brook Lopez (ranking 9.75); Andre Drummond (ranking 11)

Noah is clearly the best center according to the metric stats used; he is the only player to appear in the Top 10 of all four statistics. Howard, Lopez and Drummond are all anchored by strong performances in PER. Drummond is hindered by a poor Real Plus/Minus, where he ranks 31st. Jordan performs strongly in WS/48 and PoP48.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Okay, here is the shpiel: Dwight Howard is the most overrated player. I know what you're thinking, with his freakish athleticism, defensive prowess, and his double double averages, he's one of the most coveted big men in the league. Even with all of that, I would not pay him $21 million a year. His free throw shooting is abysmal and it's a flaw oh so many teams have been opportunistic to exploit over the years. He's a lane clogger, too, because he has so little range, which takes away opportunities for the likes of Ariza, Beverley and Harden. In the end, the coaching carousel he's been through and personal training from Kareem and Hakeem, it was never about the guidance, but always about Dwight. IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT DWIGHT!

B+: All-Star Caliber

DeMarcus Cousins (ranking 15); Nikola Pekovic ( ranking 13); Chris Bosh (ranking 21.5)

Boogie is a weird case. He ranks first overall in PER, but 28th overall in Real Plus Minus. I think most can agree that he is a notch above the three guys in the category below in terms of raw talent and production. Bosh played 80% of his minutes at the 5 last season, so is considered a center. He is bumped heavily because he is Top 15 in every stat but PoP48, where he is 49th. Pek's efficiency might decline a bit this season since he won't be playing with the floor stretching Love, but it will likely come with increased touches as he becomes more of a cornerstone of the offense.

B: Above Average Starter/Fringe All-Star Caliber

Andrew Bogut (ranking 12.75); Marcin Gortat (ranking 15.75); Al Jefferson (ranking 19.25); Marc Gasol (ranking 24.25)

While health is likely a big factor for all three of these guys, it seems fair to say that when healthy any of the three could be an All-NBA caliber player. The biggest problem for all three is that they are 29 years old, and the players above them are either younger, better, or both.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Obviously if Dwight is the most overrated big in the league, the obvious choice for most underrated is The Polish Hammer. He stole Roy Hibbert's lunch money by putting up 31 points and pulling down 16 boards on a stingy Pacers defense to stave off elimination in the playoffs last year. Clearly the BSOTS community was a bit conflicted on whether he was worth 5 years/$60 million, but there can't be any doubt that he's a serviceable starting big that's a banger on the boards that can block shots and knock down a couple of short-range jumpers.

B-: Above Average Starter

Robin Lopez (ranking 13.25); Anderson Varejao (ranking 14)

Lopez and Varejao fall below other players with slightly better scores, primarily because they both had better than average seasons that they likely won't be able to repeat.

C+: Average Starter

Tiago Splitter (ranking 17.25); Tyson Chandler (ranking 17.5); Samuel Dalembert (ranking 24); Nikola Vucevic (ranking 25.5); Omer Asik (ranking 26.5); NeNe Hilario; Jonas Valanciunas (ranking 35.25); Henry Sims (ranking 38.5); Larry Sanders (ranking 41.25); Derrick Favors (ranking 31.75); Greg Monroe (ranking 30.75); Joel Embiid

Two players get a significant bump to make this group: Sims and Sanders. Sanders is fairly easily justified: he was recovering from injury all year, and the previous year he was arguably a Top 10 center. Sims is more difficult. Some would argue Sims probably benefited tremendously from the decent-player-bad-team effect last year with Philly. But take a moment to reflect, and something else comes out: in 27 games with Philly, Sims had double doubles against Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins), the Knicks (Tyson Chandler), and Chicago (Joakim Noah), and had 5 games of 18 points or more.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Nikola Vucevic is due for a breakout. I got a chance to see this kid play at the Galen Center when he was playing for USC, and he dropped the kibosh on my beloved Arizona Wildcats. He has a great handle for a big and shows a variety of moves in his offensive toolbox. He quietly averaged a double double in his second year for Orlando. He's not very athletic, but with Orlando's recent moves, he probably doesn't need to be. I think the addition of Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon could stretch defense and make their front court a dynamic scoring threat. I like Nikola to have a breakthrough year.

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

Brandon Wright (ranking 8.25); Chris Andersen (ranking 7.25); Mason Plumlee (ranking 24); Timofey Mozgov (ranking 30.5); Kosta Koufos (ranking 33.5); Gorgui Dieng (ranking 34); Bismack Biyombo (ranking 38.5); Kevin Garnett (ranking 40.75); Spencer Hawes (ranking 39.75); Nerlens Noel; Roy Hibbert (ranking 42); Miles Plumlee (ranking 42.5); Enes Kanter (ranking 61.75)

By sheer statistical ranking, Wright and Andersen should be 2nd and 4th overall, respectively. Realistically, these guys are probably 6th men caliber players. A number of starters appear in this group, including Miles Plumlee, Roy Hibbert, and Enes Kanter. Roy Hibbert may revert back to his 2012-13 form without Lance Stephenson and Paul George taking so many offensive touches and with George Hill running more of the point, but I just don't see it. Kevin Garnett gets nudged into this group because of his Hall of Fame patina, but in reality he's a shell of his former self, and probably shouldn't be playing more than 15 minutes a night.

C-: Good Bench Player

Cole Aldrich (ranking 17); Jeff Withey ranking 28.75); Kyle O'Quinn (ranking 30.5); Tyler Zeller (ranking 35); Ronny Turiaf (ranking 35.75); Jeff Ayres (ranking 44); Alexis Ajinca (ranking 44.75); Kelly Olynyk (ranking 47.75); Ian Mahinmi (ranking 47); Festus Ezeli; DeJuan Blair; Lucas Nogueira

By sheer ranking, Aldrich, Withey and O'Quinn should probably be in the fringe starter discussion, but realistically these guys at this point in their career are solid bench contributors. Surprisingly, Olynyk falls into this group, largely due to a poor PoP48 ranking.  Also surprisingly, Ronny Turiaf appears here: after a truly terrible 2012-13, Turiaf had a bounce-back season, reflected particularly in the PoP48 and WS/48 stats. I expect Ezeli to rebound and land here, but he may get big minutes if Bogut cannot stay healthy.

D+: Average Bench Player

Zaza Pachulia (ranking 48.25); Chuck Hayes (ranking 47.5); Jason Thompson (ranking 48.5); Chris Kaman (ranking 50.75); Steven Adams (ranking 51.25); Rudy Gobert (ranking 52.25); Marreese Speights (ranking 57.25); Greg Stiemsma (ranking 60.25); Joel Anthony (ranking 61.5); Jason Smith (ranking 59.75); Pero Antic (ranking 52.25); Clint Capela; Jusuf Nurkic; Emeka Okafor

There isn't much special to say about these guys. Perhaps the most surprising player on this list is Chris Kaman, who was paid almost $5 million dollars this offseason to take minute away from a player who scored much, much higher on this list (Mr. Fropez). This group is populated by a number of guys in their late 20s who are likely on their last NBA contracts.

D: Fringe Rotation Player

Joel Freeland (ranking 51.75); Dexter Pittman (ranking 55.5); Dewayne Dedmon (ranking 59.25); Justin Hamilton (ranking 59.5); Aron Baynes (ranking 63.25); Robert Sacre (ranking 60.5); Andrea Bargnani (ranking 64.5); Bernard James (ranking 67.75); Meyers Leonard (ranking 68.25); Alex Len (ranking 76.25); Alex Kirk

Pittman, Baynes, Dedmon, Sacre, James and Kirk are all big bodies that can be kept around for relatively cheap and not perform horribly if circumstances call for them to get playing time. While Bargnani is kept around because of his large contract, I still think he would likely be a rotation player in the NBA due to his offensive skill-set.  Len and Leonard are both relatively young first round picks who just have not lived up to expectations.

D-: Fringe NBA Player

Nazr Mohammad (ranking 60.25); Jason Maxiell (ranking 68.75); Ryan Hollins (ranking 41.75); Vitor Faverani (ranking 70.5); Hasheem Thabeet (ranking 73.5); Mike Muscala ranking 74); Hamady N'Diaye (ranking 82.5)

Hamady N'Diaye gets a bump because of a relatively impressive showing at the FIBA World Championships. Thabeet gets a slight bump here because, despite abysmal showings in PER, WS/48 and PoP48, he grades out at a respectable 46th in Real Plus/Minus. Maxiell, Hollins and Mohammad are aged veterans who only have a roster spot because of what they bring in terms of bench leadership; Muscala only appeared in the later half of the season and did not impress; and Vitor Faverani has already been connected with rumors of a Boston waive.

F: Future Puerto Rican League All-Star!

Aaron Gray (ranking 73.25); Kendrick Perkins (ranking 76.25); JaVale McGee (ranking 77.5); Ongjen Kuzmic (ranking 78.75); Daniel Orton (ranking 68.75); Brendan Haywood

Kendrick Perkins is terrible, by every conceivable objective metric. No player who started more than a handful of games for a team scored anywhere near as poorly as Perkins. There is no wide dispersal pattern here, either: Perkins falls 72nd or worse in every, single, statistic.  At least McGee and Haywood have major injuries to blame (though, to be fair, McGee is a laughably bad player even when healthy, though a crazy athlete), while Kuzmic and Gray can legitimately claim they weren't given many opportunities. Kendrick Perkins played 20 minutes a game, and started every game he appeared in. It is so bad that each of the last two years, his raw replacement (Hasheem Thabeet and Steven Adams) was so much better than him that the team actually produced better results when those guys were on the court...

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