Once upon a time the center position was considered to be the most important position in basketball. They served a myriad of purposes. Defensively even your average center was adept at providing a last line of defense against driving guards and cutting forwards, and could box out his counterpart for the most part, all that in addition to averaging at least a block per game. In addition to providing a solid anchor on defense, offensively a serviceable center could be relied upon to shoot the basketball at around 48 percent as well as set screens to free up other teammates. He should also posses an ability to intimidate opposing players with but a glance as well. Though the aforementioned attributes are a desirable blend, very few modern centers have each attribute.
Dwight Howard, excluding intimidation, has them all. His amiable disposition belies his ability to block shots into the cheap seats. New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler has each of the aforementioned attributes, though some are at levels below what one might consider optimum. The former Defensive Player of the Year averaged 10 points, 10 rebounds and one block per game last season while shooting 64 percent from the field. Those are solid numbers indeed, but Chandler’s inability to create his own shot is hiding beneath that pristine veneer of efficiency as many of his baskets come off lobs and put backs. Chandler’s rebounds and baskets have suffered in each of his last three playoffs. Generally, teams simply do not allow many lobs during the playoffs as the screws are turned on defense.
Also, Tyson’s intimidation factor suffered dearly last season as well. It was difficult watching Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert dominate Chandler in such a manner. It was like returning from a restroom altercation with your high school bully and watching him use your lunch money to buy your date a milkshake while sitting in your seat. He had to have been thinking “It was all good just a week ago!” Once it was clear Chandler could not defend Hibbert the Pacers’ increased confidence propelled them to a 4-2 series victory. It had been a while since I saw an NBA All-Star and DPOY dominated so thoroughly in the paint.
The bearded 7-footer was also exposed as being virtually invisible in many half court offensive sets due to his inability to muster any offense on his own. There have been reports of the big man working on a mid-range jump shot from foul line extended, but I am not sure if I expect that to be a shot he’s comfortable taking anytime soon. Though I am confident in Tyson’s ability to grab rebounds and block shots, I am weary of those days where his athleticism and defensive prowess are neutralized on offense by a bigger, stronger player simply because he chose to work on his offensive skill set at such an advanced date in his career. Skills trump everything, almost all of the time.
Ricardo A Hazell is a freelance sports writer for Rant Sports based in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter at NikosMightyDad or add him to your network on Google Plus.