- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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In years past, center used to be the shallowest fantasy position. It is still fairly shallow, but the gap isn't nearly as large as it used to be thanks to the ever-growing list of players with power forward and center eligibility. Even so, given the depth at point guard this season and the scarcity of blocks, we'll still need to place a premium on the center position in 2012-13.
A funny thing happened to Andrew Bynum in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season: He finally managed to stay healthy. A high-risk/high-reward type of player for most of his career, Bynum played in 60 of 65 games, with averages of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. Now in Philadelphia where he won't have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol taking his touches, Bynum has a great opportunity to improve on his numbers from a season ago. He'll have to stay healthy, but he comes into the season as the top true center for fantasy leaguers. Al Jefferson is one of the league's premier scorers in the paint, and although he struggled with nagging injuries early in his career, he's missed just 11 games over the past three seasons. The Utah Jazz may be ultra-deep in the frontcourt, but Jefferson is their best offensive threat in the post, and he's always found a way to put up big-time numbers regardless of the situation. Some might debate DeMarcus Cousins as an "elite" fantasy center due to his somewhat underwhelming field goal percentage, but there is no doubt that he finished the 2011-12 season as one of fantasy's premier big men. With averages of 19.8 points, 10.6 boards, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 31.5 minutes per game after the All-Star break, Cousins has the potential to return second- or even first-round value in fantasy leagues. He's not perfect, but the upside is undeniable. Marc Gasol may not be flashy, but boy does he get the job done. As versatile as they come, Gasol finished 17th on our Player Rater in 2011-12 with averages of 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.9 blocks while maintaining efficient percentages from both the floor and the line. Zach Randolph will likely be healthier this season, but Gasol should be able to retain his value in 2012-13. I wouldn't quite consider Marcin Gortat an elite center, but he's a terrific fantasy option immediately after all of the big names are off the board. With 15.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.5 blocks in 2011-12, Gortat is a reliable top-10 center to consider on draft day.
Fantasy owners tolerated Dwight Howard's poor free throw shooting (49.1 percent) in the past because of his dominance in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks, but a change in scenery, offseason back surgery and an influx of young shot-blockers around the league should have fantasy owners questioning Howard's value for the first time in years. Howard's dominance in blocks isn't what it used to be, not with the likes of Serge Ibaka, JaVale McGee and newcomer Anthony Davis around. And while he's still likely to be a top fantasy option for points, boards and blocks, he'll undoubtedly see a slight dip in production with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol also needing touches in Los Angeles. Once considered an elite center for fantasy leaguers, Amare Stoudemire struggled mightily in 2011-12. Averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks while shooting just 48.3 percent from the floor, he is still a quality fantasy option, but he's essentially on the same level as Chris Bosh at this stage in his career rather than the elite option he once was.
Blocks are still fantasy's scarcest category, but several centers are beginning to make names for themselves as elite shot-blockers. Serge Ibaka leads the list after finishing the 2011-12 season with 106 more blocks than his closest competitor. Leading the league with a whopping 3.7 blocks per game, Serge finished 11th overall on our Player Rater despite seeing only 27.1 minutes per game. JaVale McGee still has a lot of maturing to do on the court, but he looks primed for a breakout season after an impressive playoff run for George Karl's Denver Nuggets last season. He's not much of an offensive option, but he can really get it done on the defensive end for fantasy owners, averaging 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in only 25.2 minutes per game last season. Roy Hibbert can be inconsistent on a night-to-night basis but he rarely misses games and is one of the few big men who can average 2-plus blocks per game while shooting better than 70 percent from the free throw line. Take the inconsistency with a grain of salt because he's averaged close to 12 points, 8 boards and 2 blocks in each of the past two seasons. Bismack Biyombo still has a lot of refining to do on the offensive end, but his shot-blocking skills are off the charts. With 3.79 blocks per 48 minutes as a rookie, and more playing time on the horizon, Biyombo deserves a look as a shot-blocking specialist in fantasy leagues this season. Omer Asik averaged an incredibly productive 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in only 14.7 minutes per game off the bench for the Chicago Bulls last season. Now with the Houston Rockets, Asik will have an opportunity to earn more playing time, where he'll likely struggle offensively but has the potential to be a big-time defensive force in the paint. Anthony Davis is one of the best pure shot-blocking prospects we've seen in years, and fantasy owners shouldn't be surprised if he finishes in the top five in the league in blocks even as a rookie. He'll likely struggle offensively, but he will still be incredibly valuable in the fantasy game thanks to his defensive abilities.
Andrew Bogut averaged a double-double with at least 2.5 blocks in two consecutive seasons before a broken ankle caused him to miss all but 12 games of the 2011-12 season. Injury prone throughout his career, Bogut has the potential to be one of the league's best fantasy centers, but his inability to stay healthy is a major red flag for fantasy owners. Brook Lopez didn't miss a single game in each of his first three seasons, but he saw action in only five games during the 2011-12 season with an ankle injury. For a 7-footer, Lopez is an awfully weak rebounder, but he's a terrific scorer and shot-blocker for fantasy leaguers if he can stay healthy. Although constant nagging injuries have dogged him throughout his career, Chris Kaman has always been a productive fantasy center when healthy. He's penciled in as the starting center for the revamped Mavericks, where he'll be a fine fantasy play for as long as he's able to stay on the court.
13hEric D. Williams