The center position in the NBA is dying – SB Nation

More than two weeks into the 2017 NBA free agency period, nine centers have signed new contracts for a combined $145 million. Nine centers have combined to lock up a bit more guaranteed money than Jrue Holiday. Nine centers have combined to lock up $50 million less than Stephen Curry. Nine centers have combined to lock up $30 million less than Blake Griffin.

Why?

Part of the reason is that this was a particularly down season for centers — Nerlens Noel and Pau Gasol were the top options on the market entering July. A second reason the collective centers’ payday has been so pitiful is that the top options (including Noel and Gasol) have yet to sign contracts. By my assessment, only eight of the top 50 free agents were centers. Of those, only three — Kelly Olynyk, Dewayne Dedmon, and Nene — have signed deals.

Behind the slow processing of the centers this summer is the truth of the matter: Centers really don’t matter that much any more. The position has been de-emphasized in the modern NBA.

The most attractive centers available are inherently less attractive because of how the game is played. Noel can’t shoot, pass, or really score. He’s an ace defender and rim protector, but he’s a totally lopsided player. Gasol, meanwhile, can pass and score, but he is an entirely inflexible and doomed defender at this point in his career.

As the league moves closer and closer to positionless basketball, teams are opting for smaller big men who may not be able to block shots like Noel or post up like Gasol but who can offer just a bit more flexibility on the court.

Olynyk is an interesting example. He’s a rugged defender — not necessarily a good defender, but he puts bodies on opponents.

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