Rank Them: Centers

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on June 29, 2013 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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With two days until free agency begins, it’s time to officially start naming names as ideal targets for free agency. This week, The Two Man Game will go through each position and determine who appears to be ideal fits for the Mavs.

Money is always an issue, but the Mavs will have their share of cap space to work with. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard will not be mentioned on these lists because it’s blatantly obvious that they would be on the top of their respective lists, but they’re still long shots to come to Dallas.

 Meshing all the pieces is just as important of a part of deciding on the pieces. The number one option at shooting guard might not be an ideal match with the number one option at small forward. These rankings will be solely on my own projections. A quick blurb from Editor-in-Chief Rob Mahoney’s free agency primer on the SI.com’s Point Forward will be mentioned for each player.

Note: This is under the premise of bringing Brandan Wright back to be your primary big man off the bench. If the money stays within Ian Mahinmi’s range of four years, $16 million, it makes too much sense to bring him back.

Let’s look at the free agent options at the center position.

1. Nikola Pekovic [Restricted Free Agent]

Mahoney said: Pekovic’s hulking frame and power game give him a throwback appeal, but a surprising mobility makes him fit to operate in modern offensive and defensive systems.

There’s no disputing big Pekovic is a major throwback as he doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel as a center. He’s your traditional big who sticks to what he’s good and that’s hurting people with his large frame.

Does everyone take Mark Cuban at his word when he said on the radio that no restricted free agents are on their radar? That’s a pretty important part to the equation here.

Another question is, how good of a defender is he actually? The Mavs already went through a rough one-season phase with Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki together in the front line. At 27, Pekovic has a lot of characteristics that Kaman has, but he’s simply just better at them than Kaman.

You clearly have to pay him an eight-figure salary to get in the mix and that might not even be enough. To me, it seems like Minnesota, under new management, has to make a tough decision. They’ve already extended Kevin Love, but he could opt out in two years. They will surely give a max offer to Ricky Rubio within the next two or three years. They will have to eventually decide who they want to partner Rubio with. This summer will go a long way in deciding that.

2. Tiago Splitter [Restricted Free Agent]

Mahoney said: While he’s nothing more than a spot offensive option, Splitter’s ability to track play actions and defend them accordingly puts him well ahead of the curve in terms of basketball comprehension. He is a successful team defender and generally does a terrific job of guarding his individual matchup around the rim as well.

Splitter presents a true enigma of sorts. He is more than a capable man and team defender, but how much of that is due to having the benefit of playing around a team full of very capable defenders. In Dallas, he would be asked to really step up as a defender and as a screener.

I don’t have any doubts that he could really open things up, and the idea of a pick and roll with a facilitating point guard, a rolling Splitter and a popping Dirk Nowitzki provides some excitement. The question is, can he defend and rebound at the level the Mavs will need him to?

Your last impression certainly carries a lot of value, and Splitter basically made a mess of his free agency value with his performance against the Miami Heat in the Finals. Miami clearly wanted to go with smaller lineups and that really wasn’t the best-case scenario for Spiltter. That said, he was valuable in their series wins against the Lakers and Grizzlies.

He certainly should come much cheaper than Pekovic. You grow a little suspicious though if you make a reasonable offer and the Spurs decide to let him walk.

3. Al Jefferson

Mahoney said: I do not envy the coach and general manager tasked with building around so strange a player as Jefferson. He’s one of the better high-usage post scorers around, but inefficient enough in that capacity to hold his team back if given too many touches.

There is a major tier break in the rankings here. While he’s still 28, Jefferson is about as one-sided of a player as you can get. He can rebound the basketball and can score in the post, but you’re asking for major trouble if you have to rely on him in terms of actual defense.

With the Mavs already having moderate issues with Nowitzki’s defense, adding another defensive liability is not what the doctor should order. The roster would need to outscore teams 115-109 on a nightly basis to really build momentum. That’s a tough task and definitely not a winning one if you have championship aspirations.

4. Zaza Pachulia

The veteran big man saw his role reduced in Atlanta as they decided they wanted to go with a smaller look and had Al Horford slide up to center. Rebounding has been an issue for the Mavs and Pachulia could actually be an upgrade for them as he averaged 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.

In what could be a good or bad thing, Pachulia missed the final month-plus of the season, as well as the Hawks’ first-round loss to the Pacers, with a right Achilles injury. The recovery time was slated to be sixth months. He is expected to be ready for training camp. The good news with that is that might actually bring his price down. The bad news is that Achilles injuries of any kind are hard to bounce back from.

5. Timofey Mozgov

Both represent players who would be true stopgaps at the center position. Pachulia, 29, saw his season cut short due to an Achilles injury. Zaza scored 5.9 points with 6.5 points in 21.8 minutes per game this season for the Hawks. He is expected to make a full recovery and be ready in time for training camp. While he’s not a starter you can really rely on, it’s about the best you can do once you head near the bottom of the depth chart in this category. Based on the injury, he should come at a bargain price.

Mozgov, 26, was a fixture at the end of the bench for the Denver Nuggets. He only averaged 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 8.9 minutes per game for the Nuggets. Also, he only played in 41 games. The question becomes did Mozgov have way too many people ahead of him in Denver to really have a chance to show what he could do, or was he at the back of the bench because he was a 7’1” stiff?

Note on Andrew Bynum:

Mahoney said:  Some team is guaranteed to take a chance on the 25-year-old Bynum, even after he spent the better part of the last year racking up knee surgeries and making questionable decisions at every turn. Such is the value of Bynum’s uncommon package of size and talent.

Bynum’s injury history make the respective injury histories of Tyson Chandler and Chris Kaman blush. At this stage in Dirk Nowitzki’s career, Bynum and his questionable knees present too big of a risk. He also somewhat spits in the face of what the Mavs look for in players in terms of character and approach to the game. To me, it simply doesn’t seem like he cares.

It was noted during the season that he was seen bowling and that possibly added aggravation to his already ailing knees. Bowling while dealing with injured knees and not having the ability to even touch the practice court. Seriously? I’m not saying he needs to be put in bubble wrap and not do anything while he’s rehabilitating, but this is absurd.

The Lakers don’t lose on trades. Whether it was Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum, they discard what they don’t want before the expiration date. Philadelphia learned this the hard way this past season. Dallas does not need to make this mistake.

The center position is very thin if the Mavs end up passing on restricted free agents. The trade market will likely still be a strong avenue for them to pursue if they want to go for a big man. Names like Marcin Gortat, DeMarcus Cousins and Omer Asik could hit the trade block.

Again, this could all rapidly change if Dwight Howard decides to sign with Dallas. If I were to put a percentage on the likelihood of that happening, I would say it’s roughly 30 percent.

Free agency is approaching. Let’s see what happens.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University, studying ideologies of Clark Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.
  • Jimbo

    What about Dalembert? He would be a fit.