Best All Time NBA Centers

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He's an all-time great legendary player but Russell is overrated because of statements like the ones above. Amazing defender and rebounder but he was a 15 ppg player who shot 44% from the field at a time he was bigger and more athletic than basically everyone else.
hmm......overrated......"If Life Were Only Like This"

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He's an all-time great legendary player but Russell is overrated because of statements like the ones above. Amazing defender and rebounder but he was a 15 ppg player who shot 44% from the field at a time he was bigger and more athletic than basically everyone else.
As someone who watched Russell play I strongly disagree that he is overrated. And I was not a Celtic fan at that time, wanted badly for the Knicks with Richie Guerin, Walt Bellamy and eventually Willis Reed to beat them because my obnoxious next door neighbors were Celtic fans.
 

nelsonmuntz

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I get the emphasis on championships, but if we are going solely by Championships, then Will Perdue is better than Patrick Ewing. Basketball is a team game, and a lot of these players had incredible supporting casts, while others did not.

Assessing them solely on their ability as center:

1) Olajuwon - His stats were incredible, as was his longevity. Most impressive is that he did it with bad supporting casts. Other than a couple of years with a mercurial Ralph Sampson, and a couple of years with an over the hill Clyde Drexler, he never had a top player around him, yet won 2 championships, made another NBA finals, and went deep in the playoffs on multiple occasions. He did it in an era where there were many other top players.

One of the most impressive things about Olajuwon was how he dominated other top centers. He dominated David Robinson in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals and outplayed Shaq in the 1995 NBA Finals, and he was 32 years old when he did that.

2) Wilt

3) Kareem - A great player that benefitted from playing on great teams. His first championship was with the Big O, and the rest of his titles were with Magic.

4) Shaq - even a fat Shaq that couldn't shoot free throws AT ALL dominated the NBA for almost his entire career.

5) Moses Malone - His stats are insane, and he played most of his career on bad teams. He took a bad Houston team to the NBA Finals in 1981, and got Dr. J his only title, turning Philly into a dominant team in 1983. He was as dominant in his era as just about any player at any position.

6) Bill Russell - He benefitted from playing on the dominant team of his era. I also think his stats are a bit of an issue compared to the other players on this list, especially for the era he played in. The 44% shooting percentage is the biggest problem. Still, he has a ton of titles and his defense and rebounding would be great for any era, so he belongs on this list, but he is not Top 5.

7) David Robinson - He is one of my favorite players of all time stylistically. He was in incredible shape and worked as hard as any player of any era. But he didn't have that killer instinct, often choked in big games, and needed Tim Duncan to win his only title.

8) Patrick Ewing - He needed one more quality teammate to win a title, and that teammate never came. Great player.

9) Bob Lanier - Dominated the 70's on mediocre Detroit teams, but he was great in his prime and would be great if he played today.

10) Dwight Howard - He is an odd duck and most players that have played with him hate him, but he has good stats and was dominant in his prime.

Others:

Dave Cowens - never a dominant player
Bill Walton - his prime was too short
Willis Reed - prime was too short
Robert Parish - never a top scorer
 

cohenzone

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This is a silly rebuke. Many on this board have not seen Russell, Wilt, Kareem, etc. play in person. Does the fact we haven't seen them play detract from their greatness?

Any given player's greatness can only be defined by comparing them to their peers and era. That's why comparing players across generations is also silly and irrelevant.
these
The man won 11 rings and was by far the best player on his team.
Exactly. You don’t have to have seen Babe Ruth or Wayne Gretzky play to know how dominant and how much they changed the game. Every one of those 5 centers in their own way did some things not done before. Although I suspect he didn’t have the athleticism of the guys rightly on the list and probably wouldn’t match up, George Mikan was a major figure in changing the game.
 

nelsonmuntz

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One other fact that shows how much respect players from Olajuwon's era and after had for him is that, while Portland still gets skewered on tv or youtube almost every day for picking Sam Bowie, no one questions Houston's drafting of Olajuwon over Jordan in 1983, even 37 years later. 20 somethings who never saw either Jordan or Olajuwon play during their careers will be discussing Jordan on a podcast or youtube channel and not question Houston's decision. That is respect.
 

Chin Diesel

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Hakeem was so skilled on offense that people forget he had 3830 career blocks, several hundred more than anyone else.
Remember blocks weren't a stat or tracked when Russell and Wilt played.
 
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I get the emphasis on championships, but if we are going solely by Championships, then Will Perdue is better than Patrick Ewing. Basketball is a team game, and a lot of these players had incredible supporting casts, while others did not.

Assessing them solely on their ability as center:

1) Olajuwon - His stats were incredible, as was his longevity. Most impressive is that he did it with bad supporting casts. Other than a couple of years with a mercurial Ralph Sampson, and a couple of years with an over the hill Clyde Drexler, he never had a top player around him, yet won 2 championships, made another NBA finals, and went deep in the playoffs on multiple occasions. He did it in an era where there were many other top players.

One of the most impressive things about Olajuwon was how he dominated other top centers. He dominated David Robinson in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals and outplayed Shaq in the 1995 NBA Finals, and he was 32 years old when he did that.

2) Wilt

3) Kareem - A great player that benefitted from playing on great teams. His first championship was with the Big O, and the rest of his titles were with Magic.

4) Shaq - even a fat Shaq that couldn't shoot free throws AT ALL dominated the NBA for almost his entire career.

5) Moses Malone - His stats are insane, and he played most of his career on bad teams. He took a bad Houston team to the NBA Finals in 1981, and got Dr. J his only title, turning Philly into a dominant team in 1983. He was as dominant in his era as just about any player at any position.

6) Bill Russell - He benefitted from playing on the dominant team of his era. I also think his stats are a bit of an issue compared to the other players on this list, especially for the era he played in. The 44% shooting percentage is the biggest problem. Still, he has a ton of titles and his defense and rebounding would be great for any era, so he belongs on this list, but he is not Top 5.

7) David Robinson - He is one of my favorite players of all time stylistically. He was in incredible shape and worked as hard as any player of any era. But he didn't have that killer instinct, often choked in big games, and needed Tim Duncan to win his only title.

8) Patrick Ewing - He needed one more quality teammate to win a title, and that teammate never came. Great player.

9) Bob Lanier - Dominated the 70's on mediocre Detroit teams, but he was great in his prime and would be great if he played today.

10) Dwight Howard - He is an odd duck and most players that have played with him hate him, but he has good stats and was dominant in his prime.

Others:

Dave Cowens - never a dominant player
Bill Walton - his prime was too short
Willis Reed - prime was too short
Robert Parish - never a top scorer
Nice top ten list.

George Mikan needs to be in that 10 ten though.

In terms or career numbers and pure skillset Arvidis Sabonis would also be knocking on that door.
 
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Chamberlain is far and away the best center ever. It is not close. People confuse team success with individual player's performance. Over 10 seasons, Russell and Chamberlain played 142 games against each other. Wilt averaged 28.7 points and 28.7 rebounds while Russell averaged 14.5 points and 23.7 rebounds. Chamberlain scored 50 or more points seven times against Russell, including a high of 62. Russell's highest scoring game against Chamberlain was 37. Wilt averaged slightly more assists than Russell. For much of his career, Chamberlain had to carry the load for teams that lacked talent. How important was Chamberlain to his teams? In one season, he averaged 48.5 minutes per game in a game that only lasts 48 minutes. When given talented teammates, like the 72 Lakers, his teams dominated.
I've watched both, and its a tie to me, but I just love Jabbar's game. Perhaps his finesse is my reason, as I prefer skills vs dominance/athleticism. I guess it boils down to individual preferences and bias (team). Good thread though because of the top 5 mentioned if you had to select one, anyone would satisfy starting a team build. Like getting Kobe because Lebron was selected.

 
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Great thread- would love to see more of these type of threads during this pandemic & no to little sports!
 
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For those that want to build up Olajuown vs the Big 3-- (for the record Olajuwon probably my favorite center to watch as a fan in his 93-94 and 94-95 seasons).

In regards to Russell (I see more knocks on Russell than Wilt or Jabbar so I'll use him as an example.) - there's comments that he had the great teammates and that Russell didn't shoot well. SO how can anyone rip into Russell's fg% yet claim he had great teammates if fg% was so important? During Russell's time Hondo shot 41.9%. Cousy 43.8%. Heinsohn 40.4%. Sam Jones 45.6%. Russell averaged over 42 minutes per game in which Auerbach had his team run a crummy offense not designed for fg%.

Being 2nd on your team in assists for 9 years and 1 year leading your team in assists for a center - while your team is winning-- isn't the incredibly outstanding? Russell was able to lead fastbreaks in the open floor. Was Hakeem or Shaq ever able to do that? And I'd be curious to see his fg% in the 4th quarter vs the other quarters along with his assists considering he averaged for his career 42.3 minutes.

Let’s contrast this Olajuwon. Early on in his NBA career he was known as cheap-shot player. And look at his career – for someone as gifted offensively as he was he had a 6 year run of a fg% between .502 to .514. His average dipped to 21.6 in 1991-1992 (previous year he was hurt). ***Around that time he found religion. And he changed his style from power to more finesse. He became quicker. That’s when he “became The Dream” that we know of. Look at his stats. In 1992-1993 his FG up quite a bit. Points up by 4.5 and assists up from a career about 2.2 to 3.5. He never had more assists than turnovers until 1992. This all coincides with his getting more into religion. Look at his matchups with David Robison.

Their 1st 13 matchups before Dec 1992 DRob averaged slightly higher points that Hakeem, while shooting 48.9% while Hakeem shot just 40.01%. So DRob is taking 5.7 less shots yet scoring slightly more. But as mentioned above as Olajuwon’s style changed to more finesse –around the time he found religion- he began to dominate DRob. The timelines all coincide. I thought I read an article on this long ago as well but no way I can find it now.

SO a candle lit in Olajuwon’s head round the prime of his career. I know some will laud his 88-89 and 89-90 seasons which is absolutely justified in some manner as an individual. But take a look for example at his assist-to-turnover numbers. They stink. They’re awful. AT that point in time he wasn't much of a team player. Then miraculously he jumps to 3.5 assists and the 1st time he had less turnovers than assists for his career in 1992-1993? So while Hakeem was off-the-charts early on – there’s a stretch individually he is but still can be outplayed by someone like DRob. Not until 1992-1993 when he transformed does he wipe out DRob. The thing is the other 3 ALL-Time greats transformed into great players from day 1 and kept it going for 10+ years. Hakeem didn’t.

He can’t pass worth a lick as good as Russell. Doesn’t have his handle with the ball. Can you say he was a superior rebounder to Russell? SO I’m going to give it to him over Russell because of fg% without consideration of eras and coaching? Nah. And if FG% is so important then it means he can’t hold a candle to Wilt or Jabbar also.
 
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I've watched both, and its a tie to me, but I just love Jabbar's game. Perhaps his finesse is my reason, as I prefer skills vs dominance/athleticism. I guess it boils down to individual preferences and bias (team). Good thread though because of the top 5 mentioned if you had to select one, anyone would satisfy starting a team build. Like getting Kobe because Lebron was selected.

Didn’t someone post one of these videos last week that showed Wilt making Kareem look like a 6th grader repeatedly? Selective editing.
 

nelsonmuntz

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For those that want to build up Olajuown vs the Big 3-- (for the record Olajuwon probably my favorite center to watch as a fan in his 93-94 and 94-95 seasons).

In regards to Russell (I see more knocks on Russell than Wilt or Jabbar so I'll use him as an example.) - there's comments that he had the great teammates and that Russell didn't shoot well. SO how can anyone rip into Russell's fg% yet claim he had great teammates if fg% was so important? During Russell's time Hondo shot 41.9%. Cousy 43.8%. Heinsohn 40.4%. Sam Jones 45.6%. Russell averaged over 42 minutes per game in which Auerbach had his team run a crummy offense not designed for fg%.

Being 2nd on your team in assists for 9 years and 1 year leading your team in assists for a center - while your team is winning-- isn't the incredibly outstanding? Russell was able to lead fastbreaks in the open floor. Was Hakeem or Shaq ever able to do that? And I'd be curious to see his fg% in the 4th quarter vs the other quarters along with his assists considering he averaged for his career 42.3 minutes.

Let’s contrast this Olajuwon. Early on in his NBA career he was known as cheap-shot player. And look at his career – for someone as gifted offensively as he was he had a 6 year run of a fg% between .502 to .514. His average dipped to 21.6 in 1991-1992 (previous year he was hurt). ***Around that time he found religion. And he changed his style from power to more finesse. He became quicker. That’s when he “became The Dream” that we know of. Look at his stats. In 1992-1993 his FG up quite a bit. Points up by 4.5 and assists up from a career about 2.2 to 3.5. He never had more assists than turnovers until 1992. This all coincides with his getting more into religion. Look at his matchups with David Robison.

Their 1st 13 matchups before Dec 1992 DRob averaged slightly higher points that Hakeem, while shooting 48.9% while Hakeem shot just 40.01%. So DRob is taking 5.7 less shots yet scoring slightly more. But as mentioned above as Olajuwon’s style changed to more finesse –around the time he found religion- he began to dominate DRob. The timelines all coincide. I thought I read an article on this long ago as well but no way I can find it now.

SO a candle lit in Olajuwon’s head round the prime of his career. I know some will laud his 88-89 and 89-90 seasons which is absolutely justified in some manner as an individual. But take a look for example at his assist-to-turnover numbers. They stink. They’re awful. AT that point in time he wasn't much of a team player. Then miraculously he jumps to 3.5 assists and the 1st time he had less turnovers than assists for his career in 1992-1993? So while Hakeem was off-the-charts early on – there’s a stretch individually he is but still can be outplayed by someone like DRob. Not until 1992-1993 when he transformed does he wipe out DRob. The thing is the other 3 ALL-Time greats transformed into great players from day 1 and kept it going for 10+ years. Hakeem didn’t.

He can’t pass worth a lick as good as Russell. Doesn’t have his handle with the ball. Can you say he was a superior rebounder to Russell? SO I’m going to give it to him over Russell because of fg% without consideration of eras and coaching? Nah. And if FG% is so important then it means he can’t hold a candle to Wilt or Jabbar also.
Some of Olajuwon's teams in the middle of his career were not good. Thorpe was decent, but the backcourt sucked and he played several years without a real point guard on the team. Olajuwon went to the press during this time to complain about the quality of the roster. Jordan would have been punching people in the face every practice if he had to play with that level of talent. Olajuwon kept the Rockets competitive in the West throughout that period despite playing on bad teams.

He also played in an era where the Center was king. There was not just Ewing, Kareem, Parish and Robinson, but he overlapped with Shaq, Daugherty, Mutombo and Alonzo. There were a lot of second tier centers that were good defensively like Mark Eaton and Tree Rollins. He had to defend good offensive centers like Seikaly, Smits and Duckworth. Olajuwon would often matchup with power forwards, and had epic battles with the Mailman. He would match up against Garnett and Cliff. The pre-zone NBA was the Era of the Big Man, and Olajuwon played against some really good players.

The problem I have with both Wilt and Russell is that the overall competition from that era was weak compared to today. They had each other, and most of the rest of the competition was unathletic 6'7 and 6'8 centers.

I give Wilt a lot of credit not just for his stats and longevity, but because he usually played hungover and after epic nights with multiple women.

Russell is great, but if I was a GM and had a time machine, I would choose Olajuwon in his prime over any of the others.
 
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Some of Olajuwon's teams in the middle of his career were not good. Thorpe was decent, but the backcourt sucked and he played several years without a real point guard on the team. Olajuwon went to the press during this time to complain about the quality of the roster. Jordan would have been punching people in the face every practice if he had to play with that level of talent. Olajuwon kept the Rockets competitive in the West throughout that period despite playing on bad teams.

The problem I have with both Wilt and Russell is that the overall competition from that era was weak compared to today. They had each other, and most of the rest of the competition was unathletic 6'7 and 6'8 centers.

I give Wilt a lot of credit not just for his stats and longevity, but because he usually played hungover and after epic nights with multiple women.

Russell is great, but if I was a GM and had a time machine, I would choose Olajuwon in his prime over any of the others.
I wasn't talking of prime. That was the point of taking Russell overall. Russell had a "career type of prime." vs a shorter prime from Hakeem. But Hakeem's prime is off-the-charts. SoI agree I'd take Olajuwon's 3 year prime, but overall it's Russell imo. Though Wilt's 66-67 and 67-68 is absolutely sick. But not to be too picky I loved Olajuwon's prime. Man, would I love to have a prime Olajuwon at center and a prime Russell being coached up in today's game at PF. Russell as a PF can also lead some fastbreaks. It would be like getting "a skilled Rodman but bigger" at PF.

As for the bold above I don't put much stock in either. I wouldn't expect Hakeem to win titles with lesser quality teammates -- but Ewing also did well enough and his teammates were also highly overrated. Hakeem could've done better. Further, his complaining;--> Big deal. That's what he was before he settled down;; a complainer and as mentioned before a cheap-shot player. Then finding religion caused him to settle down. That's when he became "The Dream." That's when he began to dominate such a fine player in DRobinson. Without settling down he wasn't capable of dominating DRob earlier. The timelines all fit.
 
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Chin Diesel

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Shaq wasn’t great he was just big and strong and out muscled the othercenters
Lol, if this isn’t sarcasm then yikes
An older Shaq was just brute size. But going back to HS 275-300 lbs Shaq was a ton of (skill+speed) X size = power.

From the 1989 McD's game. CAUTION: Mute volume if you don't like obnoxious Dickie V.


 

nelsonmuntz

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Nice top ten list.

George Mikan needs to be in that 10 ten though.

In terms or career numbers and pure skillset Arvidis Sabonis would also be knocking on that door.
Mikan was definitely a function of his era. He would be a backup if he played today. Russell and Wilt would still be stars.

Arvydas Sabonis is one of the biggest "what if" players in the history of basketball. He was supposed to come to the NBA in 1988, and he even showed up at training camp, then left. He never kept himself in shape, and his drinking was definitely an issue, but it didn't matter playing in Europe in the early 90's. I think if Portland's conditioning crew could have gotten him in 1988, he would have been a dominant NBA player for a decade. Portland probalby would have won 3 titles if they had him from 1990 to 1992. That would have taken two titles away from the Bulls and one away from the Pistons, and he and Drexler would be considered two of the greatest players of all time.

Sabonis was still good when he arrived in 1994, but his knees were completely shot by that point.
 
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Mikan was definitely a function of his era. He would be a backup if he played today. Russell and Wilt would still be stars.

Arvydas Sabonis is one of the biggest "what if" players in the history of basketball. He was supposed to come to the NBA in 1988, and he even showed up at training camp, then left. He never kept himself in shape, and his drinking was definitely an issue, but it didn't matter playing in Europe in the early 90's. I think if Portland's conditioning crew could have gotten him in 1988, he would have been a dominant NBA player for a decade. Portland probalby would have won 3 titles if they had him from 1990 to 1992. That would have taken two titles away from the Bulls and one away from the Pistons, and he and Drexler would be considered two of the greatest players of all time.

Sabonis was still good when he arrived in 1994, but his knees were completely shot by that point.
Agree about Mikan . He is one of the era players that can be debated back and forth but he dominated his time and he also was a player where rules were changed to try and balance out his play. He was before my time so I only have seen highlights of his play and base my opinion of him on what b-ball experts have said and on what father told me about him. He would be in the lower tier of my top 10.

I have not looked up any of Sabonis stats but I think he played 8-10 years in the NBA. He was a top center in those days and he was elected to the HOF. He would have been more of a name if he came to the NBA earlier and like you mentioned, he let his body down and his body let him down. He did have a great skill set especially his court vision and passing. Definitely not a top 10 but I would put him in the next 10.
 
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Some of Olajuwon's teams in the middle of his career were not good. Thorpe was decent, but the backcourt sucked and he played several years without a real point guard on the team. Olajuwon went to the press during this time to complain about the quality of the roster. Jordan would have been punching people in the face every practice if he had to play with that level of talent. Olajuwon kept the Rockets competitive in the West throughout that period despite playing on bad teams.

He also played in an era where the Center was king. There was not just Ewing, Kareem, Parish and Robinson, but he overlapped with Shaq, Daugherty, Mutombo and Alonzo. There were a lot of second tier centers that were good defensively like Mark Eaton and Tree Rollins. He had to defend good offensive centers like Seikaly, Smits and Duckworth. Olajuwon would often matchup with power forwards, and had epic battles with the Mailman. He would match up against Garnett and Cliff. The pre-zone NBA was the Era of the Big Man, and Olajuwon played against some really good players.

The problem I have with both Wilt and Russell is that the overall competition from that era was weak compared to today. They had each other, and most of the rest of the competition was unathletic 6'7 and 6'8 centers.

I give Wilt a lot of credit not just for his stats and longevity, but because he usually played hungover and after epic nights with multiple women.

Russell is great, but if I was a GM and had a time machine, I would choose Olajuwon in his prime over any of the others.
I think it was his second or third year when they blew past the Lakers and lost to Boston in the finals. Then Houston's starting back court went on a cocaine binge and never returned, followed by Sampson getting injured. It took them awhile to rebuild their team after that.
 

nelsonmuntz

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Fun fact on Olajuwon: before the 1984 draft, the Trail Blazers offered the Rockets Clyde Drexler and the second pick in the 1984 draft for Ralph Sampson. Rockets turned down the trade. If the Rockets had taken it, they would have picked Olajuwon and Jordan, and probably won about 10 titles with those 3 players.
 

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