The center position in the league has been changing for years now and in today's NBA, big men must be multifaceted to make a considerable impact. Teams are beginning to implement smaller lineups and are relying less and less on getting the ball into the paint. To be an elite center you need to be able to help the team in more ways than just simply relying on the old school big man mentality of bully ball and brute force. Finesse is as big a part of a big man’s role than anything and Nikola Jokic is quickly joining the ranks of exciting all around center’s in the NBA.
The second year man from Serbia hasn’t made huge strides in terms of statistics in 2016-17. So far this season Jokic is averaging 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game which are just 4 more points, 1 assist and 1 rebound more per game than he averaged last year. It’s the way he’s putting these numbers up that have been surprising. He is showing off impressive ball skills for a 21-year-old 7 footer, hitting from beyond the arc consistently, and his passing has become something to look out for in Denver Nugget games. It seems like Jokic makes a highlight reel play at least once per game and has made a name for himself on a team that doesn’t have much to cheer about right now. Since he has gotten starter minutes, the Nuggets have really improved going into the All-Star break. They currently hold the eighth seed in the West and are getting better every week and Jokic is absolutely the catalyst for that. His surprising play could eventually catapult him into superstar status in the future.
James Harden the Point Guard
The Houston Rockets came into the 2016-17 season with some skepticism. The Dwight Howard experiment didn’t pan out as well as they had hoped, so he left for Atlanta during free agency. The team then hired the often-criticized Mike D’Antoni as their head coach and the move seemed to underwhelm Houston fans everywhere. One of the first major moves D’Antoni made was deciding to play James Harden at point. This wasn’t a huge move at first glance as Harden had essentially been playing point guard for the last year or two, just without the title but it didn’t take long for fans to realize Harden had really taken his game to the next level with the change.
James Harden is still scoring at his usual elite pace at nearly 29 points per game but he has made it a point to get his teammates more involved as well. He leads the league in assists with a ridiculous average of 11.6 dimes per game which is a full four assists more per game than his previous career high. These impressive numbers also give him the highest player efficiency rating in the NBA at 33.1, which would be the highest rating in NBA history for a single season. James Harden was already a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, but the switch to point guard has launched his talents even further up the league's best and he may even be the front-runner to win his first MVP this season.
Isaiah Thomas has been one of the more underrated players in the NBA for a while now. He has been buried in the discussion when talking about the best point guards in the league, in large part because the point guard position is the deepest position group in the NBA. Well, it seems like this season Thomas has decided to take it upon himself to make people notice him, and has put himself in the conversation amongst the league's elite. Thomas is scoring at a pace we have never seen from him before, scoring at a clip of 28.9 points per game, which is tied with James Harden for second in the league. Thomas is putting up almost 20 shots a night, with 8 of them being three pointers. The most impressive thing about those numbers is that he is shooting career high’s in field goal, three-point, and free throw percentage. The pint-sized point guard has been the glue to a much improved Celtics team that currently has the third-best record in the East. He has led the Celtics to a 29 and 18 record, with a couple of those wins coming off game winners from Thomas. He may be the shortest player in the NBA at 5 foot 9, but Isaiah Thomas has been as big as anybody in the league this season and it’s time for fans to take notice.
The Minnesota Timberwolves came into the 2016-17 season with a ton of optimism and excitement. They have two of the brightest young stars in the NBA in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins and hired perhaps the hottest free agent coach in the league, Tom Thibodeau. All signs pointed to this team taking the next step and competing for a playoff spot this season but as we near the All-Star break the halfway point of the year, the Minnesota Timberwolves boast the fourth-worst record in the West at 18 and 28 and that initial excitement has completely worn off.
A big reason for this start is the team's atrocious defensive output. Thibodeau is a defensive coach so that was the point of emphasis for this team coming into the season, but so far we haven’t seen any improvement from last year. In fact, as it stands now the Wolves are allowing over 104 points per game, which is close to the bottom of the league. While these numbers have improved as of late, and the team seems to be slowly figuring it out, it doesn’t change the fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves have absolutely been a surprise disappointment.
The start to Joel Embiid’s career was frustrating for not only 76er fans but NBA fans everywhere. Embiid was one of the most hyped big men to enter the league in years but, injuries started to make it feel like we would never see what could've been.. Embiid missed his first two seasons and started to have the Greg Oden feel to him, and fans began to question whether he would ever play again. Well after finally getting medically cleared, the seven-footer out of Kansas was set to make his NBA debut this season. The Sixers decided that he would be assigned a minute restriction, which was understandable, but it kind of tempered expectations. Well, it didn’t take long for Embiid to bring those expectations back and show the NBA world just what he was capable of. He immediately became the face of Philly and has proved his worth as the third overall pick in 2014 in just one-half of a season. He is averaging 19.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game, all while playing just 25 minutes per game. He is also shooting nearly 37 percent from the three point line 78 percent from the charity stripe, making him one of the most efficient shooters amongst centers in the NBA. In 2015, the Sixers had one of the worst first half’s of an NBA season of all time as they tallied a 6 and 39 record through 45 games. Insert Embiid into the lineup and Philadelphia has tripled their wins through the same amount of time. The future is as bright as it’s been in a long time for the city of brotherly love and the surprising dominance by the Joel Embiid is the biggest reason why.