The banner hanging above the tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park reads, “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” About a decade ago, a similar banner that read, “When Centers Ruled the League” could have been placed above a Roy Hibbert statue in the entrance to every NBA arena.

But centers haven’t gone extinct. They’ve just evolved.

Nikola Jokic is flinging around passes with the flare of Jason Kidd. Joel Embiid is posting up like Shaq but shooting mid-range fadeaways like Dirk. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a velociraptor in a T-Rex’s body, to continue the analogy.

And this year’s NBA MVP race is proving that centers do, in fact, still rule the league.

Jokic, Embiid, and Giannis lead the NBA MVP race

NBA.com’s MVP ladder for the week of March 4 has the top five candidates for the award in this order:

  1. Nikola Jokic
  2. Joel Embiid
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. DeMar DeRozan
  5. Ja Morant

One of the top three in the current rankings is all but guaranteed to win this year’s Maurice Podoloff Trophy. DeRozan is still putting up numbers, but his team is fading. Morant would constitute the only real threat, but Ja isn’t leapfrogging all three of the big men.

Jokic — although he’s the defending MVP — is addressed least at the national level but is on pace to win his second straight. In terms of traditional stats, the Denver Nuggets star is 11th in the league in scoring (25.9 points per game), second in rebounding (13.8), and seventh in assists (8.1).

Embiid’s stats are nearly as impossible to believe — JoJo leads the NBA in scoring, is eighth in rebounding, and is shooting better than 35% from three on almost four attempts per game. (Jokic is hitting 36.3% from deep).

Giannis is also doing his thing once again. The Milwaukee Bucks star is behind only Embiid in scoring (29.4), is sixth in rebounding (11.5), and would be second behind only Jokic in assists if he were considered a center in NBA.com’s stats database.

Antetokounmpo is a center everybody.

In some order, those centers will finish 1, 2, 3 in the voting. But it’s not just their individual numbers and award rankings that prove the position is alive and well.

They’re proving big men are still crucial to winning championships

Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the NBA MVP race as proving centers still rule the league.
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers hugs Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets after a game at the Wells Fargo Center. | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers are tied for the fifth-best record in the NBA. Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are seventh, and Nikola’s Nuggets are tied for ninth with Chicago.

(Once again, to separate Jokic from the others — Embiid now has James Harden as a running mate, and before that Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Tyrese Maxey; Giannis has Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday; and Jokic has … Aaron Gordon and Will Barton.)

The reigning MVP has done more with less than any other player in the league in 2021-22. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. could return for the playoffs, but Jokic has singlehandedly kept his team afloat in the Western Conference.

Per ESPN’s BPI (Basketball Power Index), the Bucks have the third-best odds to win the title coming out of the East, immediately followed by the Sixers. They’re predicted to finish third and fourth in the conference, respectively.

The Nuggets have the second-best title odds in the West behind only the Phoenix Suns, who have the best record in the NBA by a full eight games. And that’s without Murray or MPJ.

To further fuel the fire, Rudy Gobert is in line to be named the Defensive Player of the Year for a fourth time, and his Utah Jazz have the third-best odds in the West to win the championship.

Individual stats and awards are one thing. But these big men have their teams in line to win a title.

Centers may not be apex predators anymore, but they’re still dangerous

Want some more evidence that centers are still relevant? Before his injury, Cleveland Cavaliers‘ center Evan Mobley (he was nominally a 4 next to a traditional 5 in Jarrett Allen, but is in a Giannis-like center position) led the way in NBA.com’s rookie rankings.

The three-and-D wing, along with the scoring guard, is still the most sought-after and valuable archetype for an NBA franchise. Even with Gobert, Donovan Mitchell is Utah’s catalyst, for example.

And though 7-footers might not be sitting on the block and Dream Shake-ing anyone anymore — although these three could — the position is still dominant in the league.

Centers didn’t go the way of the dinosaurs. They weren’t wiped out by the three-and-D meteor (or whatever you believe may have happened). They found a way to evolve.

And that evolution has them just as dangerous as ever.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

RELATED: NBA MVP: Who Is the Betting Favorite to Win the Award in 2022?

The post The NBA MVP Race Proves Centers Still Command the League appeared first on Sportscasting | Pure Sports.

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By: Andrew Hanlon
Title: The NBA MVP Race Proves Centers Still Command the League
Sourced From: www.sportscasting.com/nba-mvp-race-proves-centers-still-command-the-league/
Published Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2022 17:37:21 +0000

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