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Impact of centres fading as small-ball grows

Date

Roy Ward

Los Angeles Lakers centre Dwight Howard dunks on Detroit Pistons guard Kim English.

Los Angeles Lakers centre Dwight Howard dunks on Detroit Pistons guard Kim English. Photo: AP

From the look of the NBA all-star game voting ballot, you could be excused for thinking the centre position has been abolished.

Before the start of this season the NBA decided to remove the centre position from all-star voting, therefore letting fans pick more athletic line-ups to start the league's yearly showcase game.

But the actions of NBA general managers and the rosters presented in the opening few matches of the new season shows teams continue to value the “5” spot as much as ever.

Since Orlando Magic drafted Shaquille O'Neal with the first pick of the 1992 NBA Draft, six first picks have been centres (O'Neal, Michael Olowokandi, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut and Greg Oden) while Tim Duncan, Kwame Brown, Andrea Bargnani and Anthony Davis were considered possible centres before being drafted eventually settling into the power forward position.

Currently centres like Dwight Howard (LA Lakers), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), Andrew Bynum (Philadelphia 76ers) and Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks) fill the two most typical centre archetypes with Howard and Chandler athletic, defensive aces while Hibbert and Bynum are ambling, post up players.

But those four players aside, other clubs have done made some creative solutions to their lack of a true 7'0 tall centre.

A top-level centre is getting harder and harder to find while teams who are undersized or stripped of their big men via injury are getting smarter with how they chase rebounds and defend the league's best centres.

Two of NBA's title contenders, reigning champions Miami Heat and last season's Eastern conference finalists Boston Celtics both field starting line-ups without a recognised centre with 6'10 power forward Chris Bosh starting for the Heat and 6'11 veteran Kevin Garnett in the pivot for the Celtics.

Both players regularly get 10 or more rebounds and can guard post-players of all sizes while still being athletic enough to block shots and run the court making life hard for less-agile opponents.

The LA Lakers were willing to make radical changes to their highly successful roster to chase Howard during the off-season while Philadelphia was willing to trade away franchise player Andre Iguodala just to take centre Bynum from the Lakers in the eventual Howard trade.

Houston Rockets were also willing to hand a substantial contract to emerging Turkish centre Omer Asik in an attempt to find a starting centre, in the past two seasons Asik could not beat Joakim Noah out for the Chicago Bulls starting centre position but proved a solid bench player.

Asik has proven to be a wise investment, at least from his opening matches, with 19 rebounds in the Rockets' win over Atlanta on Saturday. (oz time)

New Orleans drafted 6'10 teenager Anthony Davis with the first pick in the most recent NBA draft yet the super-slim Davis was automatically slotted into the starting power forward position with the Hornets trading for 7'0 centre Robin Lopez to stand alongside him.

In time Davis could follow the lead of the likes of Garnett and fill the centre position.

Teams are doing a wider variety of things both tactically and personal wise with their big man position with some present days centres unrecognisable from their counterparts 20 years ago.

A starting NBA centre could be anyone from a 6'9 work-horse like former Detroit and Chicago star Ben Wallace to sweet-shooter like long-time Utah Jazz star Mehmet Okur onto thick-set seven-footers like Memphis star Marc Gasol, once-in-a-lifetime superstars like Shaquille O'Neal or giants like Yao Ming (7'6), Shawn Bradley (7'6) or Manute Bol (7'7).

Just to complicate matters, the league is seeing more and more 7'0 players arrive in the NBA with games more suited to playing the power forward or small forward positions with the most recent examples Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki and Toronto's Andrea Bargnani.

As always, teams are making the best of who they can draft or who they can sign, and while the NBA all-star game may not boast too many centres, the business end of the NBA play-offs certainly will.

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