Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your On the Clock...

Every Tuesday at AOL Fanhouse, two NBA columnists debate different questions pertaining to all things under the hoops umbrella. Despite my many requests and emails, one question has gone unanswered. Hence, KC Sports Rant is bringing you, the reader, into to the action. Here is the question that is up for debate:

In a draft where the skill and age of all players being drafted is equal, what position do you draft with the first overall pick?

A couple of caveats before you answer. The needs of your team are irrelevant – suppose you are two-deep at every position with average players, as many NBA teams are. Second, assume that playing time will not be a foreseeable problem – your draftee will start for the team from day one. Essentially the question can boil down to this: given the conditions above, would you pick a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward or center?

This journalist (yeah I said it… journalist) is going with the latter. With the first pick in this fake draft, KC Sports Rant selects… a center!

First, we have to recognize the other positions. The forward spots can be easily dismissed. In the NBA today, the difference between small and power forward is becoming quite obscured (see Odom, Lamar and Lewis, Rashard). Shooting guards are essential to any team and many times are the best player on the floor – just look at what Joe Johnson and Michael Redd do for their teams. The point guard came in a close second because someone has to quarterback the team. However, some of the better point guards like Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas and Mo Williams contribute more scoring than they do distributing.

And now to our pick: the center. The name of the game in the NBA is winning, championships in particular. And centers are keystones of any successful franchise.

First, let’s take a look at recent NBA champions. With Andrew Bynum out, Pau Gasol filled in at the five-spot for the recently crowned Lakers. Sure, Gasol isn’t a typical center as he can shoot pretty well. However, he is a clean seven feet, hordes rebounds and is excellent at finishing around the rim. Los Angeles’ opponent, the Orlando Magic, without a doubt rely heavily on their young big man Dwight Howard. Take Dwight away from Orlando and they are not even sniffing the finals.

The San Antonio Spurs are another team that reaps the benefits of an excellent big man. Tim Duncan, arguably the best big of his generation, has been solely responsible for keeping the Spurs relevant after the retirement of Hall of Famer David Robinson. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli were instrumental in San Antonio’s three recent championships, but they were second fiddle to the Big Fundamental. And for those of you arguing that Duncan is a power forward, swing by his player profile (

Eastern conference contenders Miami and Detroit leaned heavily on their dominant big men in championship runs. Yes, Shaq was Dwayne Wade’s sidekick but you can’t deny his four championship rings. The Pistons had the benefit of Rasheed Wallace’s ability to stretch the floor, but the guy can bang inside with anybody. And with Ben Wallace as the power forward, Sheed won the ring as a center.

The point is, if you take Gasol, Howard, Duncan, O’Neal and Wallace off those championship teams, most likely the squads aren’t finishing their season with a ring (or in Howard’s case an Eastern Conference championship).

And what about the centers in the rest of the NBA?

Yao Ming’s health is Houston’s singular excuse for not having a recent championship. Newly acquired Emeka Okafor has New Orleans thinking they will be back in the Finals discussion. Spencer Hawes and Andrew Bogut have two perennially losing teams not needing any further presence in the paint. The Golden State Warriors are a terrific example of this debate as they are overloaded with guards and swing players. Andris Biedrins alone is responsible for giving Golden State a presence on the defensive glass.

The most recent and tangible example of drafting big occurred on draft night in 2007. With the first pick, Portland took Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Certainly Durant showed much sooner that he belongs in the NBA, but what is Oklahoma City’s biggest weakness? They have no interior game at all. The Blazers went with Oden because it is much easier to fill the roster with quality perimeter personnel when you have good big men. Oden has a long way to go, but the physical transition to center from college is much more difficult than small forward.

This discussion is not to take away from the other four players on the floor at all. Everyone contributing regularly is probably the most important aspect of basketball. The Boston Celtics won a title by relying on an unprecedented team effort with Kendrick Perkins as the center.

However, in the situation presented earlier is a certain scenario where the center is valued above everyone else. If the talent on the draft board is equally distributed among the positions, grabbing a big man for you team is the first building block in developing success in the NBA.

Dr. Murphy out

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