Great centers? The NBA used to be full of them. Guys like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once ruled the league. Now? It's the weakest position by far. There are still difference-makers like Dwight Howard (left) and Andrew Bynum (right), who switched conferences in a blockbuster four-team trade in August, but most of the top centers are more flawed than dominant. Here are our top 10.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
He doesn't jump like Javale McGee. He doesn't score like Nene, rebound like Marcin Gortat or block shots like Andrew Bogut. Yet Hibbert does everything well enough to get the nod over those more physically gifted centers, a testament to his work ethic and steady improvement. In his fourth NBA season, the 7-foot-2 Hibbert completed his rise from big stiff to All-Star and got a max contract to boot.
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
A broken foot sidelined Lopez for all but five games last season, but he doesn't have a long injury history like, say, Andrew Bogut. He'd never missed an NBA game the previous three seasons while establishing himself as one of the best offensive centers in the league. A decent defender but mediocre rebounder, Lopez could make the loaded Nets a contender if he becomes a more physical presence in the paint.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Based just on size, skills and stats, Cousins would easily be a top-five center. But his immaturity too often overshadows his 18 points and 11 rebounds per game. In addition to feuding with Kings coach Paul Westphal, leading to Westphal's firing, Cousins was second in the NBA with 12 technical fouls last season. His big body and soft shooting touch are an extremely rare combination. But before he becomes an elite center, he has a lot of growing up to do.
Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Monroe probably should be playing power forward, given his lithe frame, quickness and skill set. But he held his own at center for the size-starved Pistons last season, averaging a team-high 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds. At just 22 years of age, he could bulk up and become more physical down low, especially on defense, as his career progresses. Or ideally, rookie Andre Drummond will emerge at center and allow Monroe to become an elite power forward.
Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
True centers with polished post games are almost nonexistent these days, but Jefferson has an array of moves around the basket and a soft shooting touch up to 15 feet. He led all NBA centers in scoring last season, averaging 19.2 points along with 9.6 rebounds. He's not a great athlete or dominant defender, but he and Paul Millsap give Utah a formidable frontcourt duo.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Noah doesn't measure up to most of the NBA's top centers in stats (10.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) or stature (6 feet 11, 232 pounds). But he hustles, he irritates (opponents and fans), he defends and he wins. The Bulls wouldn't own the league's best record the past two years without him.
Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
Hard to believe that Chandler was almost unwanted two years ago. Signed by Dallas to back up Brendan Haywood, he ended up becoming a key part of the Mavs' 2011 title run. That landed him a lucrative deal with the Knicks, with whom he earned the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He also made a league-best 67.9 percent of his shots. Now any team would love to have him.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
It's been more than four years since Marc (right) was included as part of a trade package for his older brother Pau (left), a deal widely decried as lopsided because it helped the Lakers win titles in 2009 and 2010. Since then, Marc has stepped out of his brother's shadow, becoming an All-Star for the first time in 2012 with his blend of power and finesse. Finally, we can call it what it was: a good trade for both teams — and both brothers.
Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers
Even as he developed into a dominant NBA center, Bynum frustrated the Lakers with his inconsistency, immaturity and unprofessionalism. They were thrilled to deal him for Dwight Howard. But the Sixers were just as happy to land a 24-year-old big man who averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds last season. If he thrives out of the LA spotlight, Philly may have a franchise center for the next decade. If not, well ... it was still worth a shot for the Sixers.
Dwight Howard, LA Lakers
With his trade to LA, Howard becomes the latest great center to don the purple and gold, following in the footsteps of Mikan, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq. He has the talent (and the teammates) to become a champion and a Lakers legend, as they did. The question is whether he can stay healthy, mesh with Kobe Bryant and handle the pressure. One thing in his favor: The NBA doesn't have many centers capable of standing in his way.