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The (first) revenge of the centers

Βy Nikos Varlas/

Every tactic in Basketball, even the ideas about what every position in the court should mean and what the player should do, is something that can’t be judged objectively. On the contrary many times what is considered “right” it’s just the product of results, tendencies or even basketball trends!

For example, when in the late nineties Dusan Ivkovic said that the center should be able to move outside the paint and shoot, his view was considered almost revolutionary. Recently he also stated that pick and roll offense is outdated and modern basketball should be liberated by this play. An opinion that is already considered controversial by many…

But let’s get back for a moment to the center, the pivot, the position number five. The last dominant center in Euroleague was Nikola Vujcic and that’s because of his all around game. The last great old school center of the league was Nikola Pekovic, a Euroleague champion in 2009 as a member of Panathinaikos, and now a starter in the NBA.

The new trend

So what happened in the season 2011-12? Olympiacos changed the trend. Because of financial reasons, after cutting their budget, the Reds added in their roster Kyle Hines from Brose Baskets and in the middle of the season Joey Dorsey who had left Caja Laboral of Dusko Ivanovic as a failure.

Both of them are undersized centers who DON’T play with their back on the basket, but because of their fast legs they can permit their defense to switch in every screen and suffocate the opposing offense, a style of play adopted in a great way by Panathinaikos with the duo of Lasme and Gist.

Even in London’s Final Four with Hines as the starting center, but without Dorsey, Olympiacos kept in check players like Krstic, Kaun and Begic. The secret was the incredible strength of Hines’ body who had also the speed to play defense in front of his personal opponent and cut every passing angle to the post.

Everyone followed

Now let’s see the roster of every top team. Real Madrid has Bourousis, a big classic center body, but also undersized and faster Slaughter. Barcelona paired Tomic with Dorsey and CSKA Moscow signed Kyle Hines, the guy who started the trend. Panathinaikos has the Lasme-Gist duo, Olympiacos picked Bryant Dunston and EA7 Milano got Gani Lawal and also Samardo Samuels. Only Obradovic in Fenerbahce/ Ulker didn’t added an undersized center, even if is some ways Vidmar could be used like that.

The conclusion is simple. Every Final Four contender had decided that a “short” center is a must, at least as a pair with a classic pivot, like in the case of Barcelona, Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow.

Temporary or not?

And now let’s get to the point. Nenad Krstic was January MVP and Ante Tomic succeeded him in February. That brings up the question. It’s just a temporary explosion, or back to basket centers are back and will dominate in Milan?

The Croatian is more than skilled, he completed one month with amazing numbers (22 ppg, 74% FG) and he became the second player in the history of Top16 after legendary Arvydas Sabonis who had in one game 25 points and 15 rebounds.

The Serbian center of CSKA had the best PER in the history of Euroleague (!), by playing both as a center and also as a power forward with 16,4 ppg, 6 rpg, 1,4 asp and 57% FG.

Their influence

And now comes the tricky part. Despite the great games by Tomic, Barcelona has such a balanced and full of quality center, that makes his absence from the court not particularly felt. To be exact with him on the court Barcelona scores 110.6 per 100 possessions and 116.4 without him! In defense the difference that Tomic makes in 100 possessions is his team letting 6 points less with him protecting the paint.

What’s really unbelievable? The team of coach Pascual shoots better with Tomic on the bench (58% FG over 54% FG) and also has a bigger efficiency percentage in the paint by almost 8% (73,8% over 65,5%), probably because Joey Dorsey prefers to dunk and not to shoot.

Same is the situation with Nenad Krstic and CSKA Moscow, a team with many bigs. With Krstic on the court per 100 possessions, CSKA is better only in one statistical category, two points shooting percentage, by 3%. Of course, CSKA scores 12 more points with him active (always on 100 pos.) and also the team is letting 4,5 more points. However the most peculiar stats is the possibility of win with him on the court. Without him and according to the great stats analysis, CSKA has a 94% winning chance and with him playing the number drops to 64,7%!

It’s confusing right? Those numbers almost contradict their incredible personal performances during the last two months and that also proves how much complicated basketball can be. A player that does everything can give many things to his team, but a team also loses something when someone dominates.

What can’t be contradicted is that during the last two months we have seen the “revolution” of centers who have a multifaceted offensive game and can play with their back to the basket. Is there dominance temporary and in the end the undersized centers will be again key factors in the Final Four? The final answers will be given at Milan, but we are more than welcoming your prediction…

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  • BeneLuxxx

    The trend was really started in Bamberg, who successfully put Hines at the Center position. While he not only had a great Euroleague season and also put some of the other Centers into trouble with his ball handling and speed, he additionally dominated the German League. However, the deciding factor was being able to switch the PnR defense and still being able to defend adequately. Bamberg thus followed up on the departure Hines with the signing of Slaughter who can do the exact same thing on defense. He is also able to defend bigger Centers with his strength and athleticism, but is one of the best PnR defenders in the Euroleague. Sadly, Bamberg could not follow up Slaughter’s departure with another Center of the same mold and their complete dominance and competitiveness in the Euroleague decreased.

  • Danielus

    Firstly i have to say i like my team, Real Madrid, plays with a real center, but the times change and basketball is losing this kind of players. Just CSKA with Kaun and Kristic and Barcelona with Dorsey and Tomic have ‘real two 5′ in theirs rosters because for example Mejri in Real Madrid doesnt play a lot. Depends on the coaches and the play that they want to practice. Now basketball is faster and maybe they are not neccesary but i think that every team must have in their roster a big big center.

  • Vince

    depends on how the coachs’s use them. I still think the Euro coaches rotate way too many players. If they would settle on a solid 8 man rotation, you would see more use of traditional centers