The demise of the big man has not been more evident than in the past 20 years. Maybe I was spoiled growing up, but in the early 90s there was a plethora of tall, talented big men who were willing to bang down low and protect the basket. These guys were not only all-stars, but Hall of Fame worthy franchise players that you build your team around. Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, even Dikembe Mutombo.
In order to win a championship, you had to pass through a gauntlet of big men. Nowadays, the number of big men that fit this billing can be counted on one hand. In fact on two fingers. Dwight Howard and Yao Ming.
Despite all his deficiencies, Yao Ming is still one of the most skilled big men in the league, and his size alone can deter penetrators to the lane. He rebounds at a decent clip and has a polished offensive game which is effective, but more finesse than power. If Yao can return healthy this year, (I’m not really counting on it), then he will join Howard (more about him later) as the only other All-Star caliber centers in the league.
There are numerous other big men who are good, but have deficiencies in their game which prevent them from becoming franchise big men. Chris Kaman and Andrew Bogut are two good big men that are better than 80% of the centers in the league, both of whom are skilled scorers and are good defensive presences. However neither of them are Hall of Fame worthy, both of them are marginal all stars, and they are not players you build your team around.
Brendan Haywood, Roy Hibbert, Andris Biedrins, Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown, Deandre Jordan, Kendrick Perkins and many other players have the size and physical tools to be great centers, but they will not ever be franchise players.
Dirk Nowitzki plays more like a small forward than a true big man, LaMarcus Aldridge is good but is far from being a superstar. Greg Oden was hyped as the next great center, but we all know how that turned out. Even if he recovers from his injuries and becomes a dependable starter, I doubt he’s gonna become the unstoppable force he was once hyped to be—I doubt he’ll ever be a perennial All-Star.
The list goes on and on: Kevin Garnett is over the hill and was never ever a dominant force on both ends of the court, even in his prime. Al Horford is good but not great. Carlos Boozer and David West are good scorers but they play little defense and are more Karl Malone than Tim Duncan.
Joakim Noah will likely develop into a defensive specialist, but averaging 20 ppg is out of the question for him. Nene is a solid player, but doesn’t fit the requirements. Chris Bosh is a very skilled scorer, but he’s not a great defender and he rarely scores with his back to the basket. Some of the younger players still might become dominant big men (Demarcus Cousins pleaaaaaase), but I’m not betting on it.