Towering centers patrol the paint and low blocks, fulfilling essential duties on both ends. What skills make great centers excel within basketball’s grandest position lineage? This definitive guide explores all facets of playing center – skills, styles, role evolution, tactics, top players, and insights into excelling under the boards.

Definition and Overview of the Center Position

The center (abbreviated C) is typically the tallest player on the roster occupying the low post or paint areas close to the basket. Key traits:

  • Usually 6’10” or taller with a strong frame to joust inside.
  • Play primarily around the block zones near the rim on offense.
  • Defend the basket area and grab defensive rebounds.
  • Screen, rebound, score inside through post play and putbacks.
  • Anchor interior defense and protect the paint.

Elite height and physicality allow centers to thrive down low – but developing complete all-around skills separates legendary big men over merely one-dimensional giants.

Common Offensive Responsibilities

Success playing center on offense requires excelling at:

  • Post play – Establishing front or mid-post position, mastering scoring moves like hook shots and drop steps. Playing with patience, fundamentals and footwork.
  • Pick and roll – Screening aggressively then rolling hard to the rim looking for lob passes and dump-offs. Finishing through contact.
  • Rebounding – Claiming offensive boards with box outs, positioning, timing and simple hustle. Generating extra possessions.
  • Rim running – Sprinting downcourt in transition, setting early position and playing for lob dunks before defenses set. Beating slower centers down the floor.
  • Screening – Setting meaty on and off-ball picks that create driving lanes for guards and open midrange looks.

The best centers blend inside scoring touch with hard screens and offensive rebounding tenacity.

Common Defensive Duties

Competent centers control games defensively through:

  • Rim protection – Discouraging dribble penetration, challenging shots via verticality at the rim, and blocking shots.
  • Rebounding – Ending opponent possessions by securing defensive boards with two-hand grabs and outlets.
  • Paint Enforcer – Preventing easy scores using positioning, physicality, and deterrence of drives.
  • Backline Communicator – Acting as field general calling out screens and marking cutters from the low man spot.
  • Pick and Roll Defense – Showing hard on picks or dropping back smartly while handling guard exchanges.

Elite defensive awareness and communication allows centers to quarterback defenses from the interior.

Styles and Types of Centers

While well-rounded abilities are ideal, centers tailor games towards certain strengths:

  • Back to the Basket – Brawny low post scorers with advanced footwork, hook shots and drop steps. Live on the block. e.g. Hakeem Olajuwon, Al Jefferson
  • Pick and Roll/Lob Target – Superior athletes who screen and dive hard, playing high above the rim as lob threats. e.g. DeAndre Jordan, Clint Capela
  • Stretch Five – Outside shooting big men who open the floor with 3-point range. Pull shot blockers away from the rim. e.g. Brook Lopez, Karl-Anthony Towns
  • Defensive Anchor – Rebounding and shot blocking specialists who excel protecting the paint without huge offensive loads. e.g. Rudy Gobert, Dikembe Mutombo
  • High Post Passers – Well-rounded centers with passing vision operating from the foul line and elbows. e.g. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah

Playing to strengths while masking weaknesses often defines successful center play.

Evolution of the Center Position

The role of centers has expanded with the perimeter-oriented modern game:

  • 1960s/70s – Back down dominant scorers playing inside-out. Kareem, Wilt, Moses Malone.
  • 1980s – Rise of athletic shot blockers like Hakeem Olajuwon. Defense enters focus.
  • 1990s – Complete two-way centers. David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Shaq.
  • 2000s – Stretch bigs emerge shooting 3s. Decline of bruising back to basket scorers.
  • 2010s – Shooting, mobility, switching on defense gain primacy over size. Small ball centers.

Once low post kings, centers now blend inside toughness with versatility to unlock modern spacing.

Memorable All-Time Great Centers

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – NBA’s all-time leading scorer perfected the skyhook. Master technician with six rings.
  • Wilt Chamberlain – Stat sheet stuffing machine who once scored 100 points in a game and averaged over 50 PPG for a season. Unparalleled athletic specimen for any era.
  • Shaquille O’Neal – Physically overpowering giant who won four titles. Blending size, strength, agility and skill.
  • Bill Russell – Defensive anchor with legendary rebounding and shot blocking ability. Ultimate winner with 11 championships.
  • Hakeem Olajuwon – Artistic post wizard with peerless footwork and Dream Shake. Two-way innovator who carried Houston to titles.
  • George Mikan – Basketball’s first superstar center who pioneered post play and dominated the paint before the NBA’s inception.

The center position boasts distinguished lineages across every era, assuredly continuing into the future.

Statistical Measures of Strong Center Play

  • Points in the paint
  • Rebounds per game
  • Defensive rating
  • Shooting efficiency – FG%, eFG%
  • Double doubles
  • Blocks
  • Minimal turnovers

Volume interior production paired with defensive resistance indicates centers positively controlling games.

Common Questions and Misconceptions

Is the center position dying out in the modern small ball era?

While more teams embrace small ball, the need for at least one quality defensive center remains to anchor elite units. Talented 7 footers like Embiid still thrive with skill and mobility.

Are centers simply the tallest players on the team by default?

Great size helps, but natural ability supersedes height alone. Excellent skill development enables some power forwards around 6’8-6’10 to functionally excel as centers.

Do centers only operate near the basket?

Modern centers have stretched their games, operating from elbows, executing dribble handoffs, setting screens farther from the paint, and knocking down 3-pointers. Expanding versatility leads to new opportunities.

Is being a dominant scorer required to give centers value?

Certainly not. Less heralded centers have provided immense value anchoring elite defenses without huge scoring outputs, like Draymond Green. There are many paths to effectiveness beyond just points.

Do centers no longer face contact or wrestle inside anymore?

While increased spacing and pace reduce bruising wars inside, banging bigs who play through contact remain extremely impactful, especially during playoffs. True big men still welcome physical play.

Though the game is evolving, elite size, interior scoring touch, rebounding strength, and paint protection are attributes that will always enable centers to influence winning. Mastering this demanding yet rewarding spot in the middle unlocks pathways to greatness.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

  • The center is often the biggest player on the court yet also requires deft skill and athleticism to thrive.
  • Impact comes from scoring inside, screening, rebounding, and protecting the rim.
  • Adaptability is important as the game trends more outside-in offensively.
  • Two-way centers who block shots and also stretch the floor are extremely valuable.
  • Study the line of all-time greats to gain deeper appreciation for the craft’s fine points.

Few spectacles match watching dominant centers impose their will down low. Aspiring big men must pour time into footwork, post play, finishing, and defending the paint to one day join the pantheon of backboard-shattering titans.


Categories: Basketball


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.


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