Post man cometh: Is Dwight Howard the last dominant big man?

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I wonder if Dwight Howard feels lonely. With the retirement of Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming over the past year it seems like the era of the dominant 20-and-10 big man has come to an end. Once a staple of the NBA, teams are now happy to get a serviceable defender to play the post. For those of us who remember the glory days, it’s frightening to see skinny offensively-challenged centers like Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler become coveted names in free agency.

Man what happened to the good old days? Back when guys like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq and Yao roamed the paint swatting shots and terrorizing defenses. Man those were the good old days.

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The 20-and-10 center.  It seems as if every team coveted the opportunity to get their hands on one whether it was through the draft or via a trade. The reason they were so coveted is because having one of these behemoths on your team was a necessity in order to win a championship. Not anymore.

Well actually that was never a true premise to begin with. Okay sure there are a lot of 20-and-10 big men who have come through the league and many of them left with rings but there have been plenty of teams through the years that didn’t have a 20-and-10 center and were still able to raise championship banners in their arenas.

Now granted, having one of those dominant big men did improve a team’s chances of raising one of those banners. That is up until the NBA started changing the rules to make the game less physical. The new rules didn’t eliminate the dominant big man or make him any less effective; it just opened the door for a new type of big man.

Starting back in the early-nineties, the league started to implement a series of rules changes in an effort to create more free-flowing offense and slow the league-wide trend of declining scoring numbers. They would implement the hand-checking rule and when defenses started to adapt they added forearm checking to the list. They also added the eight-second rule, started allowing teams to use the zone defense and upped the ante on flagrant fouls.

The institution of these new rules took a lot of the physicality out of what had become a pretty rough game which didn’t bode well for the most physical position on the court. Although the new rules succeeded in opening up the game, it led to a change in what was considered one of the most important positions in the game.

Instead of having to bulk up and duke it out with big bodies in the paint, now the more skilled big men in the league were being rewarded for being able to score facing the basket as opposed to scoring with their backs to it. Soon after that, guys would even fight being labeled as centers.

Like when Chris Webber came into the league as a rookie with the Golden State Warriors. Webber blew up when then Warriors’ coach Don Nelson tried to use him as a center. Even a guy considered one of the most humble guys in the league like Tim Duncan has fought against being labeled as a center.

It’s funny when you consider that both of those guys played center in college although it is understandable why Webber wouldn’t want to play the position. Webber was a ball-handler, passer and shooter whose game was tailored more for the open floor and high post than it was for the low post. Plus he wasn’t built to handle banging in the paint and showed no inclination to put on the necessary muscle to do so.

Duncan on the other hand has spent most of his career in the post. He’s a legit 7-footer unlike Webber who was around 6’10” and is a very polished post player, rebounder and shot blocker. Duncan has been voted in as a power forward to the All-Star game on many occasions but has essentially played the center spot for the San Antonio Spurs his whole career. David Robinson mostly played in the high post after the Spurs drafted Duncan so he could preserve his gimpy back.

If you look around the league though, you will see a lot of guys who would have been penciled in as centers back in the late-eighties and early-nineties. Amar’e Stoudemire, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Duncan would have been penciled in as centers back in the eighties.

Alas, the only guy man enough these days to wear the center label proudly is the self-proclaimed man-of-steel, Dwight Howard. There are still some good players currently manning the center position in the league but Howard is the only one so far that has shown he can be a 20-and-10 type player. Keep an eye out on DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol, Al Horford and Brook Lopez though because these guys may join Howard in the ranks at some point.

But for now we’re stuck with Howard and a collection of self-proclaimed power forwards to fill our longing for epic post battles. Will any more dominant centers come along before Howard decides to call it quits? I sure hope so but it’s not looking very likely. Especially when guys continue to opt to play power forward rather than center just so they can avoid a little contact.

Roosevelt Hall is an NBA Featured Journalist for Shatter The Backboard


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