The rumor has it that the NBA doesn't value centers as much as they once did in the 1990's and 2000's when the likes of Ewing, Shaq, Robinson, and Olajuwan strode up and down the floor. The importance of the center position has dwindled since the amount of flexibility amongst versatile players at different positions has increased, but there have been several outliers at the big boy spot who have made the position definitively concrete.
The basketball teams in Denver and Philadelphia both beg to differ. Two of the most intriguing players in the league today are playing the center position. Although each player has entirely separate skill sets, one could argue that their approaches are equally effective.
Simply put, Joel Embiid is a fucking monster in the paint. His excessively large frame (7 feet tall, with a 7'6" wingspan), complimented by his incalculable self-confidence (see his attempt at bagging Rihanna), and shockingly gentle touch around the rim have allowed JoJo to become one of the most dominant scorers in the league regardless of position.
Nikola Jokic, on the other hand, is putting on passing clinics as if he was some reincarnation of White Chocolate, except he's a 7 foot tall Serbian instead of a 6 foot white dude who looks like he's a tattoo artist in the offseason.
The Nuggets and Sixers are each fueled by their talented big men, but are also reliant on their star-studded backcourts who are both as young and skilled as any other backcourt in the league.
While the Sixers may rely on the athleticism and savvy of the soon-to-be All Star Ben Simmons, and the go-get-a-go-getter-mindset-or-get-the-fuck-out attitude of Jimmy Butler, the Nuggets depend on their own bucket getting boys in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Both of these teams are currently third in their respective conferences, and look to make much larger strides come playoff time.
THE PHILADELPHIA 76ERS, 2018 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS DEFEAT
Philadelphia is currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 15-8 record. There is no patience to be had any longer in the City of Brotherly Love. The Process is officially over, and now the pressure is on the NBA's newest big three in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and the newly acquired Jimmy Butler.
Simmons possesses a skillset that has been compared to the likes of Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Ben is a 6'9" unicorn bringing the ball up the floor in nearly four strides. While watching him, you're merely in awe of his physical presence, then the realization sets in that he's also capable of finishing with either hand or dishing dimes that are relayed across different Instagram highlight reels. Simmons has already established a polished game around the rim with an array of hook shots, floaters, and fade aways in his arsenal. Simmons shoots 64.6% in the restricted area, which ranks at 9th amongst the entire NBA among the likes of Giannis, Drummond, Capela, AD, LeBron, and Steven Adams.
Aside from his improved scoring presence, Simmons has helped facilitate more open looks for his teammates since his tenure as a Sixer officially began last season, and this skillset has been directly attributed to Jimmy Butler's field goal percentage. Jimmy's field goal percentage has shot up from 47% to 52%, and his 3P% has been increased drastically from 38% to 55%. His scoring has been deducted by only one point per game, but his efficiency has been improved significantly since he left the Timberwolves.
THE DENVER NUGGETS, FINISHED 9TH PLACE IN 2018 WESTERN CONFERENCE
The Denver Nuggets look pissed off after missing the playoffs last season, and they've showed that so far by winning 14 out of 21 games. They're currently third in the Western Conference behind only the Warriors and the Clippers (?!).
When one looks at the Nuggets, they may think of their reputation as a flexible and diverse offense who can attack from all angles. But the stats tell a different story, the Nuggets are a top five defense in the NBA.
The Nuggets rank in the top five in both defensive rating and points allowed per game. The turnaround for the Nuggets has been a relatively quick one since their last superstar, Carmelo Anthony, departed nearly a decade ago. Now the Nuggets refuse to rely on one ball hogging bucket getter like Melo, instead they depend on an eight man rotation that is as deep as it is role-oriented.
Aside from their three potential all-stars (Murray, Harris, and Jokic), Denver utilizes the length and versatility of big men Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles and Juan Hernangomez. The Nuggets have devised a winning formula that only furthers the notion that basketball is a team sport. If the Nuggets can continue to play and win at this pace, they will be sitting in a very good position come playoff time barring any serious or critical injuries.