It's no secret that strong play out of the weakest of the positions -- center -- is a key to success in fantasy basketball. But this doesn't mean that there is only one way to get production from your centers. If you focus some of your attention on certain category specialists at the back end of your roster, you can maximize the output from a source known for its minimal contribution.
Backing up a step, there are only 30 starting centers in the NBA; that's half the number of starting guards and starting forwards, meaning the talent pool is severely drained at this position. NBA backups at center are serviceable at best, and utterly useless at worst, which, depressingly, is often the case. As a result, depth at center is a true oxymoron in fantasyland. Many fantasy scoring systems require two starting centers, subsequently leading teams to roster anywhere from three to five centers each. My 12-team, daily transaction league has a whopping 47 centers on rosters and yet virtually every owner is scratching and clawing to improve at this position both via trade and the shallow free agent pool.
But you shouldn't despair; by utilizing one or two-category specialists to complement the strengths of your team, you can find treasure in another owner's waiver-wire fodder. If your team is strong at free-throw shooting, don't let your centers detract from that stat with an anchor who will sink you in that category. Find a sweet-shooting big instead to buoy your percentage while paying no mind to any other categories. Is your team constructed with Robin Hoods, Winona Ryders and other famous thieves? Buttress your steals with a sticky-fingered center and don't worry about blocks. Could your team use a few more three-point bombs to stay competitive? Pick up some triples with a 7-footer who can stretch the floor. Blocks, rebounds and field-goal shooting be damned!
Here are some players broken down by category who can help you in said categories where centers typically provide you with little production:
Al Harrington, F/C, Knicks
Despite all the public pouting, Harrington lucked out when he was dealt from one ridiculous offense to another. All the threes he launches are actually welcomed in New York, where he wouldn't see that kind of positive reception were he relocated to a team with a less radical offensive style. All this means is that Harrington and his gaudy 2.4 3PM is top dog for center-eligible players and tied for seventh overall among all players.
Rasheed Wallace, F/C, Pistons
Sheed loves stepping outside to bury those long-range daggers. He's been doing it for years, so it's no fluke that he leads all centers with 27 3PM for the season. Look for the long-distance barrage to continue.
Troy Murphy, F/C, Pacers
Long-known for his outside range, Murphy's ability to stretch the defense allows wingmen such as Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels to get inside more easily. His 25 3PM on the year allows your team to bulk up in the rarest of all categories.
Andrea Bargnani, SF/PF/C, Raptors
The former No. 1 overall pick is drilling 1.5 3PM a night for the season, but he's upped the ante to an even 2 3PM since he entered the starting lineup seven games ago. Factor in that he's connecting at a scintillating 45.8 percent clip while also blocking 1.5 shots per game, and you'll begin to recognize how valuable he truly is.
Mehmet Okur, C, Jazz
Okur has been dialing it up from distance for years now. With more nthan one 3PM per game, it only seems like he's launching shots straight from Turkey.
Ryan Anderson, F/C, Nets
The Nets rookie has earned much more playing time than he was seeing when the year started, and now he has three games of three trifectas each. The Pac 10's leading scorer last year, Anderson is well acquainted with his jumpshot and should only improve as the year goes on.
Matt Bonner, F/C, SpursSpencer Hawes, F/C, KingsBrad Miller, C, Kings
Brad Miller, C, Kings
He's far and away the top dime guy for centers with 4.8 apg. That's double the amount of the seventh-place center and head and shoulders above your league-average pivot. Able to drain threes, grab boards, block shots and generally do everything, Miller remains fantasy gold at the C spot.
Tim Duncan, F/C, Spurs
With Tony Parker out of action, the Spurs often chose to run their offense through Duncan on the low post. The greatest power forward in league history had no problem making the correct decision and sharing the rock for open jumpers and layups.
Pau Gasol, F/C, Lakers
Gasol has always passed well for a big man -- perhaps that's why he's been labeled as soft by so many since he's looking to dish instead of score -- and this season's strong average of 3.4 apg is on par with career norms. He's got the Triangle Offense creating a lot of passing opportunities for finishers such as Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum each night, so the well won't be running dry any time soon.
Al Horford, F/C, Hawks
A complete basketball player, Horford will always make the proper pass instead of forcing up a contested shot. His dominance in the post, combined with his selflessness, has paid early dividends for both the Hawks and his fantasy owners.
Rasho Nesterovic, C, Pacers
Building off an impressive run to end last season, Rasho is keeping the momentum going this year in the uptempo Pacers offense. His current assist average of 3.3 per game is more than three times higher than his career average, but his lofty dime totals seem here to stay this year. He's had one game with 8 assists and three other nights with four or more helpers in just 12 total games. This offense is extremely pass-friendly for the big men, which is why you'll notice two other Indy centers averaging more than 2.0 apg.
Troy Murphy, F/C, PacersBoris Diaw, F/C, SunsCarlos Boozer, F/C, JazzJeff Foster, F/C, Pacers
Nenê, F/C, Nuggets
At 1.4 steals per game, Nenê is the top thief among centers. Considering his career-average of 1.3 spg, this is not surprising. The 1.7 blocks per night are, though, since he's never blocked more than one shot per game in any season in his career. Know that the steals will last (and that he'd have even more if the L counted charges taken as steals -- they count as turnovers on the offense and a change of possession occurs as a direct result of the defender's actions. Why no steal then?), even if the blocks won't.
Drew Gooden, F/C, Bulls
The recipient of center-eligibility early in the season, Gooden's quick hands have helped him rack up 1.3 spg this year. This is a move away from his norm since he's never topped 0.9 spg before, but it might last now that he's an undersized center guarding bigger and slower men. Playing against PFs in previous seasons, he didn't have the quickness advantage he does now against the more methodical giants.
Ben Wallace, F/C, Cavaliers
A former Defensive Player of the Year, you may witness Wallace starting for the Cleveland Cavs, but he's more easily found wading in fantasy free-agent pools across the country. A brutally offensive offensive player, defense is clearly Big Ben's forte. He can swat over two shots a game, but his prudent defensive instincts and strong, quick hands earn him plenty of steals each night. If you can handle the utter lack of scoring and terrible percentages that accompany that, Wallace's defensive category prowess can be a boon to your lineup.
Luis Scola, F/C, Rockets
He's a good thief now. Just imagine how much better he'll be when Yao Ming makes his annual pilgrimage to the injured list. Actually, the NBA doesn't quite have an injured list anymore, but you get the point.
Anderson Varejao, F/C, Cavaliers
Does anyone else feel Ben Wallace is treading on thin ice? Wallace is the definition of decreasing marginal returns when applied to basketball, while the young Brazilian is a blue chipper champing at the bit for a starting gig. The writing is on the wall, and a transition figures to be made sometime during the season. In the meantime, know that Varejao is a klepto who "yoinks" about one steal a night in only 24 mpg.
Jason Thompson, SF/PF/C, Kings
There's so much to love about this rookie from Rider, but somehow playing time is quickly becoming an issue. Even though he might not be starting anymore, Thompson is still a producer. A guard all through high school before a growth spurt changed his position, Thompson has small-man instincts and tall-man length, making it very easy for him to get a hand in the passing lane and take the rock coast-to-coast for the breakaway jam.
Amaré Stoudemire, F/C, SunsAndris Biedrins, C, WarriorsAl Harrington, F/C, KnicksZach Randolph, F/C, Clippers
Chris Bosh, F/C, Raptors
He's just a beast from the line; there's not really much else to say. He might win you a week in this category single-handedly (and some others as well during this MVP-caliber campaign).
AmaréStoudemire, F/C, Suns
A virtual carbon copy of Bosh from the stripe, Stoudemire and Bosh are 1-2 in this category for centers, even though they don't shoot nearly as high a percentage as Yao does. They get to the line three to four more times per game than they dynastic one does, so their overall impact is greater than even Yao's otherworldly reach; we're of course speaking about this category only, not global merchandising.
Yao Ming, F/C, Rockets
Dude is lights out from the field and the line. But again, you knew this already. But did you know that his 87.1 free-throw percentage is the highest percentage of his career thus far? He just needs to get there a little more often.
Andrea Bargnani, F/C, Raptors
Before missing one in last night's contest, the Italian by way of Toronto was nailing a sizzling 92.9 percent of his free-throw attempts on the year. All of the scouts singing his praises before the draft three years ago said he had a sweet shooting stroke, we're just finally seeing it this year. He's also getting to the line more since he's able to be more aggressive on his sashays to the hoop.
Ryan Anderson, F/C, Nets
In addition to his wet outside jumpers, he's pretty nifty from the stripe as well. His biggest negative right now is his minutes per game, which are on the increase since Anderson seems to be the lone scorer on Jersey's second unit.
Kevin Love, F/C, T'wolves
The rookie has obviously been schooled in the fundamentals so it's less than shocking that he's a strong free throw shooter as well. Connecting at an 83.0 percent mark on 3.5 attempts per game is more than just good for a rookie, or for a center. It's great for a rookie center, and one who is due a lot more playing time in the coming months.
Zach Randolph, F/C, ClippersZydrunas Ilgauskas, C, CavsNick Collison, F/C, ThunderLuis Scola, F/C, Rockets
That's all the Lab's got on the lesson plan for this week. We'll catch you back here next week for another round of fantasy basketball science. Until then, fantasy ball above all.