Shop Fantasy Travel Free e-mail About Us Statitudes


CNN/SI Home Statitudes Front Archive Fantasy Baseball Pro Footballs College Football Pro Basketball College Basketball Hockey Golf Soccer Tennis Motor Sports Women's Sports

 Sportsman of the Year
 Heisman Trophy
 Swimsuit 2001

 Fantasy Central
 Inside Game
 Video Plus
 Your Turn
 Message Boards
 Email Newsletters
 Golf Guide
 Cities GROUP
 Sports Illustrated
 Life of Reilly
 SI Women
 SI for Kids
 Press Room
 TBS/TNT Sports
 CNN Languages

 SI Customer Service
 SI Media Kits
 Get into College
 Sports Memorabilia


Traditional centers hard to find in today's NBA

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Thursday March 01, 2001 1:55 AM
Updated: Thursday March 01, 2001 11:04 AM

  Kevin Garnett's athleticism allows him to play power forward instead of center. Jamie SquireAllsport

By Jacob Luft,

The traditional center doesn't have much of a place in the NBA of the 21st century.

Among the top 40 scorers in the league, there is only one player -- Shaquille O'Neal -- whose name appears in a box score with a "C" after his name.

That wasn't the case as recently as 1995-96, when as many as five centers finished in the top 10 in scoring average (see chart, below). But over the past three seasons, O'Neal has been the only center among the league's scoring leaders.

Diminishing Value
MVP awards won by centers since 1960, broken down by decade. (Point your mouse over each number for the complete list):
Years  MVPs 
1961-70  9 
1971-80  10 
1981-90  2 
1991-00  3 

Part of the reason is the lack of upper-echelon big men coming out of college. From 1983 to '87, these elite pivotmen were the top overall picks in the draft: Ralph Sampson (1983), Hakeem Olajuwon ('84), Patrick Ewing ('85), Brad Daugherty ('86), David Robinson ('87). Another center, Pervis Ellison, was the top pick in '89.

Since then, the only centers taken with the top pick have been O'Neal ('92) and the underachieving Michael Olowokandi ('98). Faced with this dearth of collegiate big men, NBA teams have looked anywhere and everywhere for a center (see Frederic Weis, the Knicks' 1999 first-round draft pick).

Another explanation for the lack of traditional centers in the NBA is the increased versatility of modern athletes. Players tall enough to play center often have the quickness to play power forward (i.e., Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett). Of the seven players 6-foot-10 or taller in the All-Star Game, only three (Dikembe Mutombo, Vlade Divac and Robinson) are considered traditional centers. The other four -- Duncan, Garnett, Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace -- are power forwards who could play the five spot.

Center Pieces
NBA centers in the top 10 in scoring average (overall rank in parentheses):
Year  No.  Centers 
2000-01  Shaquille O'Neal* (4) 
1999-00  O'Neal (1) 
1998-99  O'Neal (2) 
1997-98  O'Neal (2); David Robinson (10) 
1996-97  Hakeem Olajuwon (7); Patrick Ewing (8) 
1995-96  Olajuwon (2); O'Neal (3); Robinson (5); Alonzo Mourning (T7); Ewing (9) 
1994-95  O'Neal (1); Olajuwan (2); Robinson (3); Ewing (6) 
1993-94  Robinson (1); O'Neal (2); Olajuwan (3); Ewing (6) 
1992-93  Olajuwan (4); Ewing (6); O'Neal (T8); Robinson (T8) 
1991-92  Ewing (5); Robinson (7) 
1990-91  Ewing (5); Robinson (9) 
1989-90  Ewing (3); Olajuwon (T7); Robinson (T7) 
* Through Feb. 27

Related information
Head to Head: Do you need a center?
Statitudes: NBA traditional centers hard to find
SI's Marty Burns: Evolution of the NBA's Big Man
Power Rankings: Center Stage
Photo Galley: 10 Centers Who Changed the Game
Visit Multimedia Central for the latest audio and video
Search our site Watch CNN/SI 24 hours a day
Sports Illustrated and CNN have combined to form a 24 hour sports news and information channel. To receive CNN/SI at your home call your cable operator or DirecTV.

CNNSI Copyright © 2001
CNN/Sports Illustrated
An AOL Time Warner Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.