Amar'e Stoudemire was voted second-team All-NBA at center after his first season in New York. But he's really a power forward. The Hawks' Al Horford was the third-team center, but he wants to move to power forward.
"With Yao battling those injuries late in his career, there is this out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing with people, forgetting just how good he was when he was healthy," Van Gundy said. "He was a low-post technician, with a jump hook, turnaround jumpers and spin moves. He had a package.
"So if you dropped him in today's NBA, with the lack of big men who can play, he would certainly be the best offensive center in basketball - it's not even close."
In some respects, the power forward position has supplanted the center spot for offense, with Dirk Nowitzki's MVP performance in the Finals continuing that trend.
Twenty years ago, when Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson ruled the paint, only two power forwards, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, ranked among the game's top scorers. Last* season, 10 power forwards ranked in the top 25, led by Stoudemire's 25.3 ppg. As far as post moves go, there isn't anyone at power forward or center who resembles Kevin McHale.
"What's sad for NBA fans is that the game is at its best when there are a different number of ways to score," Van Gundy said. "Now (Tim) Duncan is not featured, offensively, due to health and age, and with O'Neal and Yao retiring, you just don't have that much great low-post play. I mean, who is the best low-post player in the game today?"
Don't go looking for answers in the middle, where the center spot is often manned by a defensive specialist. Tyson Chandler had his moments at that end of the floor in the Finals for the Mavs, but he's severely limited as an offensive player. Now, Howard has the top tier to himself, mainly because of his rebounding and defense. But Orlando has gone backward in three straight postseasons, proving that winning often depends on who you're playing with, as much as who you're playing against.
By now, Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum should have filled the sizable void left by Shaq and Yao. But their NBA careers have been decimated, in Oden's case, and retarded, in Bynum's case, by serious knee injuries.
In three seasons, Oden has played what has amounted to only one full season for the Blazers, who will be kicking themselves for a long time for taking the big man over Kevin Durant at the top of the 2008 draft.
"Now Durant is a superstar and Oden has had all those injuries and he doesn't even play," said Charlotte coach Paul Silas, at the draft lottery in May. "Maybe that's a reason that people are shying away from taking a big guy. I think what they've seen out in Portland with Oden makes everyone a little more reluctant to draft a big guy at the top of the draft. But then I ask: Where are all the big guys these days? Where have they gone? You don't see them coming into the league like you used to. It's amazing, because years ago, we had a lot of great big men in this league."
A few years ago, Bynum looked like he might develop into one. But during his six seasons with the Lakers, he's played only one full season and missed 160 games.
The last we saw of him, he was removing his jersey as he walked off the court in Dallas after getting ejected for decking the Mavs' J.J. Barea with a cheap shot to the head. The move was quickly reduced to footnote status, as the game marked Phil Jackson's exit from coaching and a rare sweep for Bryant to stew over during the lockout.
His flagrant foul notwithstanding, Bynum's play has not made anyone forget the tradition of iconic L.A. centers, starting with Wilt Chamberlain, extending to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and last seen with O'Neal.
But in today's NBA, why would anyone expect differently?
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