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NBA: 4 Old school style centers who are still relevant today

Jason Mills
ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
640   //    Timeless

Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans
Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans

The skill requirements to play the center position in the NBA has changed. It used to be perhaps the dominant scoring position in the game. It used to be about strictly post play and rebounding. Shot blocking was also a requirement defensively. Skills like speed and defending the perimeter were not. Neither was the ability to shoot the three. 

According to the greatest scorer in NBA history, a center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stated:

"An effective center should have the ability to deny the opposition any easy points in the paint," Abdul-Jabbar—a six-time champion and most valuable player, the league's all-time leading scorer, and arguably the best to ever play the position—said in an email interview. "Offensively a great center will have an arsenal of shots that make him impossible for one man to guard."

In today’s game, a center needs to defend the perimeter and needs to be able to get up and down the floor. The game is played at a quicker pace and less reliance on isolating a particular player on offense.  The game today is almost position-less with an emphasis on passing, dribbling, speed and athleticism. 

"Who do kids emulate?" asks all-time great Jerry West, the inspiration for the NBA's logo. "They don't emulate big players. They emulate smaller people who can dribble the ball through a damn Coke bottle. Those are the things that excite kids."
"Everybody wants to be like Michael Jordan," adds Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing.

Jerry West is an NBA legend and was a point guard/shooting guard. Patrick Ewing was the prototypical center of years past. Both former greats are right. Everyone wants to be Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson. Kyrie Irving and James Harden excite fans with their ball handles and crossover ankle breaking moves. 

A 250-270 pound center is not pretty. He is like a bull in the china shop. The size and the power is impressive but blasé. Its expected. At the moment, there are only a few old school centers caught up in the transition from the old style of play to the position-less skilled and fast-paced game of today. Let's have a look at them.


#1 JaVale McGee

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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JaVale McGee has been an enigma in the NBA. He has many of the tools an NBA center needs to stay relevant in today’s game. He is a 7 foot 270-pound center. He is quick, athletic and had hops. However, JaVale McGee over the years has been called out many times over the by Shaquille O’Neal in a segment he does on NBA TV called “Shaqtin The Fool”. 

"Nuggets broadcaster Scott Hastings once summarized McGee perfectly: "He does things that make you go, 'Wow.' Then he does things that make you go, 'wow.'"

McGee was traded from Washington to Denver on March 15th, 2012. He proceeded to sign a 4 year $44 million dollar contract. It didn’t work out. Injuries and then a lack of playing time hurt McGee’s progress in Denver. Not much of a shooter or a post player, McGee was ineffective in the 2012-13 season. 

In 2013-14 he played 5 games before suffering a broken tibia. That injury persisted through the next season causing him soreness in the recuperating leg leading to him playing in only 23 games. By middle point of the 2014-15 season, McGee was in Philadelphia. 

After Philadelphia waived him McGee signed a 2 year deal with Dallas. McGee played in 34 games with Dallas and averaged just 10.9 minutes a game in 2015-16. The Golden State Warriors obtained his services after Dallas waived McGee on July 8th, 2016. 

It was also discovered he had anemia a lack of iron in the blood. This limited his ability to heal. Since then, McGee has reclaimed his career. His two seasons with Golden state were championship seasons and he played big roles helping the Warriors win. 

“The atmosphere here is great, it’s so positive, positivity definitely helps when you play basketball. It’s no negative vibes, nothing negative about it so it’s definitely a great environment.”

He has credited Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and assistant coach Jason Collins for his renaissance.

“That’s like my designated coach, and he really helps with the plays and really knowing where I need to be on the court,” McGee said. “The rest is just me knowing my role and excelling in that.”

It would seem McGee has been misunderstood. He would not still be a contributing member of the NBA if his work ethic and talent were in question. This year, before getting injured. McGee who signed a one year deal with Los Angeles is averaging 11.8 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 31 games. 

 


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