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Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NBA living large again as centers step up

January 31, 2007

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Over the past few years, it seemed traditional centers in the mold of Shaquille O'Neal had gone the way of the dinosaur.

Not anymore.

With Yao Ming flourishing (when healthy), Dwight Howard arriving, and Amare Stoudemire re-emerging, big is back in the NBA.

In an era when the game is being dominated by guards and forwards, traditional, back-to-the-basket centers are showing that they, too, can stand their ground.

Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks' president of basketball operations, has an interesting explanation as to why traditional centers are once again emerging.

"I think the good Lord sometimes puts them down on this great earth in bunches," Nelson said. "Like this year's crop (possibly with Greg Oden) is supposed to be a bumper one in the draft, and then sometimes it's a lean crop. But there's no rhyme or reason to it."

Yao struggled to gain his stamina as a rookie after the Houston Rockets made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft. But since that first season, he has turned into a franchise player.

Mavs assistant coach Del Harris said teams are always beating the bushes trying to find the next great center. They're just not easy to find.

"There has not been enough of this type of ballplayer available," said Harris, who has coached Moses Malone and O'Neal. "It's not that they were out there and people didn't want them.

"People have always wanted guys like Howard or Bynum or the good big players."

Why?

"Good and big will beat good and small most of the time," Harris said.

Stoudemire's return from knee surgery last year is one of the main reasons the Phoenix Suns have put together the best record in the NBA.

Howard has shown why the Orlando Magic chose him with the top pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.

"He is a machine, and he's got everything," Nelson said. "The only thing he doesn't have is a three-point shot. He's the kind of guy you build a franchise around."

Andrew Bynum could be a future cornerstone for the LA Lakers. As the 10th pick of the 2005 draft out of high school, he became the youngest player in NBA history. Now 19 years old and in his second season, he has shown quite an upside, averaging 10.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in January.

"I definitely think that we have some bright young centers who are on the horizon that are on their way up," Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw said. "Yao Ming is still relatively young (26), so there should be some good battles and some good rivalries that develop over the next few years."

And what about the impending arrival of Ohio State freshman phenom Greg Oden? If you believe the hype, he's the low-post version of LeBron James, attending college only because NBA rules now prohibit players from jumping from high school directly to the league.

"People want to compare Oden to Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Shaq," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. "But they were playing against four-year players who were going to go to the NBA, whereas now this is the first season where you're getting the big guys (coming out of high school) who are going to college first.

"So it's really hard to say (how good he is), because he doesn't play against anybody big. But just athletically and skill-wise, it sure looks like he's going to be a stud."

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