The easy comparison has always been that point guards are like quarterbacks. But looking at the NBA and NFL trends over the last few years, and you could say that the closest hardwood relative to the QB is actually the center.
Quality quarterbacks are hard to come by in the NFL, and franchise QB’s are priceless. The same goes for centers in the NBA. Most quarterbacks need time to effectively learn play the pro game (e.g., reading coverages), while a lot of centers need a similarly generous learning curve (e.g., staying out of foul trouble). And between C’s and QB’s, no position has been more ravaged by injuries lately.
So who is the NBA’s answer to Aaron Rodgers? Meet him and the rest of the Top 10:
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1. DWIGHT HOWARD, Magic — He was already far and away the best center in the League before he expanded his offensive repertoire this season. Now that Dwight (22.5 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg) is hitting bankers at obtuse angles and throwing up more hooks than Candyman at a University of Texas pep rally, he is arguably the most valuable commodity in the League.
2. AL HORFORD, Hawks — You don’t have to be flawless when you understand your strengths and weaknesses and simply stay within your limits. This season Horford has been the most efficient big man in the League, averaging 16.2 points and 9.9 boards while shooting 56.9% from the field, 82% from the line (both career highs) and committing career-lows in fouls and turnovers. And this isn’t even supposed to be his natural position.
3. ANDREW BOGUT, Bucks — Still looking for that first All-Star nod, which may never happen as long as Howard and Horford are in the East. Bogut (13.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.9 bpg) could become this generation’s Rik Smits, who made one All-Star Game in his career despite cranking out 4-5 All-Star caliber seasons.
4. AL JEFFERSON, Jazz — His talent was never in question, but earlier this season it looked like Jefferson had become one of those guys who was labeled underrated for so long that he’d actually become overrated. Recently, however, Jefferson (17.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg) has grasped the Utah system and quietly started to dominate. So far in February he’s averaging 23.6 points on 57.7% shooting from the field.
5. JOAKIM NOAH, Bulls — The Kevin Garnett of the five position. Noah (14.0 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg) excels on the defensive end, where his communication is just as effective as his shot-blocking; he rebounds like each one is worth a bonus check; he is the emotional leader of his team; and everybody who doesn’t play with him or cheer for his team hates his guts.
6. EMEKA OKAFOR, Hornets — Understated and underrated. Okafor has averaged a double-double for his career and was just starting to get recognition this year (I had him in the running for Defensive Player of the Year) when he got injured a couple weeks ago.
7. NENE, Nuggets — When he wants to, Nene (15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is a beast that few big men in the League can stop. But how often does he want it?
8. BROOK LOPEZ, Nets — The closest to an NFL quarterback in that he can carry your offense (19.4 ppg) but gives you nothing on defense. Lopez’a rebounding woes (5.6 rpg) have been well documented, so much that it overshadows his status as one of the most offensively talented bigs in the League.
9. ANDREW BYNUM, Lakers — If you want to know the value of a (potential) franchise center, consider that the Lakers reportedly wouldn’t trade Bynum (11.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg) for Carmelo Anthony. They won’t even trade him when Kobe Bryant says to trade him. Never mind that Bynum has a history of injuries and still hasn’t lived up to his monster contract. He’s young, he’s tall, and he’s good. That makes him more valuable than one of the five (or so) best players in the world.
10. ANDREA BARGNANI, Raptors — He’s not a conventional center, but Bargnani (21.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) gets buckets and is the best shooting center in the League.
Honorable mention — Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Shaquille O’Neal