NBA centers represent a disappearing position, stricken from the All-Star ballots just last season. I've received a few queries about using traditional positional designations as a basis for ranking players, and I understand the concerns. However, I'm not in the camp of those who believes that positions no longer exist.
There's no denying that there has been an evolution of where NBA production and value comes from over the years. That has been perhaps the dominant theme of this rankings series. Consider this chart, which breaks down WARP by height during the 3-point era.
The average height in the NBA has barely changed over time, but the value derived from big men is higher than ever. What's disappearing is the prototypical 2-guard, who offers neither elite quickness nor elite length. Although the league is getting increasingly small, big men are as important as ever, whether you call them centers or not.
As the depth charts have filled, so have the forecasts generated by ATH coalesced. ATH, you may recall, is the projection module of NBAPET, my system of integrated spreadsheets for tracking, evaluating and forecasting all things NBA.
With the pieces falling into place, let's take an early stab at ranking players by position. Keep in mind that assigning a primary position to a player in today's NBA is often more art than science. Players are ranked according to ATH's forecasted WARP, or wins above replacement level, which accounts for a player's efficiency, volume of production and team context.
Here are the projected top 10 centers for the 2013-14 NBA season:
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 13.2
Howard is coming off his worst season since his rookie year, and ATH has him bouncing back to a level roughly equivalent to his third season. Because of his history of back trouble, you can't dismiss last year's dip in rebound rate as a fluke. However, his block rate was higher, so not all the athletic indicators were down. Howard's foul-drawing rate is always hard to read because of how often he is intentionally fouled, but it was strong last year as well. In his last fully healthy season, Howard put up 20.5 WARP, and that's the championship-caliber center the Rockets hoped they signed this summer.