The Orlando bubble is already underway and, judging by what we’ve seen thus far from the scrimmages and the first couple of seeding games, it seems like anything can happen this time. All games have been closed and players are eager to compete at the highest level.
Even so, there are, obviously, some players who stand out from the rest of the pack because of their impact on their team. Some of them are big men, which modern basketball fans could argue are a dying breed. Whether that’s the truth or not, these guys definitely make their presence felt.
But who’s the best center in the Orlando bubble? That’s a question that just doesn’t have a straight answer. However, what we can do is break it down in categories, and that’s what we’re going to do today.
Player – Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic just doesn’t get enough credit for his game. Make no mistake, this guy can flat-out ball. He can lead the break, dominate both sides of the glass, set picks, finish below the rim with either hand or even pull-up from beyond the three-point line.
Jokic’s impact has made the Denver Nuggets a perennial dark horse in the Western Conference. And now that he’s slim and in the best shape of his career, we expect him to finish the season strong after averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.
Scoring – Joel Embiid
For those of you who still doubt him: Joel Embiid is the real deal. Some claim he would have trouble scoring in the NBA because of his old-school offense and he developed a modern-day big-man offensive package right before our eyes.
He can torch you in the post with his elite footwork. He can finish with both hands in the pick and roll, he can dunk, put the ball on the floor, and has a smooth mid-range game. He can even knock down shots from beyond the arc. He’s currently averaging 23.4 points per game on 47% shooting.
Rebounding – Hassan Whiteside
His haters call him a stat-padder who cares more about his stats than his team’s success and while there may be some truth into that statement, you just can’t deny the fact that Hassan Whiteside is one of the league’s top-tier rebounders.
He’s currently averaging 14.1 rebounds per game (4.0) offensive and has a rebounding percentage of 23.5%. He’s great at establishing and maintaining position while boxing out and has a great feel, hops, and athleticism to dominate both sides of the glass.
Playmaking – Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is the best passing big man in the history of the NBA and never let anybody tell you otherwise. Yes, Arvydas Sabonis was also great but Jokic does things that not many players – regardless of the position – have been ever able to do.
Jokic is the ultimate point center. He’s averaging 6.9 assists per game this season, which is actually slightly under his career-high of 7.3 dimes per game on a season. He allows the Nuggets to have a lot of motion on their offense and his big-to-big man is just delicious to watch.
Shooting – Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez had attempted a grand total of 31 three-pointers over the first 8 seasons of his career. Now, he’s knocking down 1.4 triples a game. The ‘Splash Mountain’ worked a lot on his shooting touch and evolved as the game moved towards the perimeter.
Lopez always had a nice mid-range game and wasn’t the average dominant rebounder. Now, he’s pretty much camping in the perimeter waiting to pull the trigger from long range, and the Bucks are actually drawing up those kinds of plays for him.
Defense – Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert went from being a late-1st round pick with little upside to becoming one of the best rim protectors the league has ever seen. His wingspan, instincts, strength, and ability to alter shots make him a perennial candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Gobert has evolved a lot over the years. He’s also able to pick up smaller, quicker players in the perimeter and is great as a help defender, let alone being a lockdown stopper in the post. The only season he didn’t average at least 2.0 blocks per game was in his rookie season when he averaged just 9.6 minutes per game.
Clutch – Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is the kind of player that’ll never back down from a tough situation. He’ll take the last shot, hell, he’ll even demand the team run the play through him. He’s often come through in the clutch on both ends of the floor over his young career.
Embiid is an excellent defender as well and he’s shown it in a late-game situation over and over. The Philadelphia 76ers lacked a go-to-guy when the clock is winding down until Embiid finally came along. He’s one of the best we’ve seen.
Efficiency – Nikola Jokic
Most big men have been known for their efficiency throughout their careers but few have been more efficient than Nikola Jokic. That’s because he’s not the average post man or hustler above the rim but because of all the little things he does to fill in the stat sheet.
Jokic has a career PER of 24.9. He’s also got a 60.9% true shooting percentage for the season and 52.8/31.4/81.3 shooting splits with a 56.5% effective shooting percentage. He also runs the offense and isn’t prone to turning the ball over.
Leadership – Joel Embiid
The Philadelphia 76ers looked like a lost organization when they were going through ‘The Process’. Then, Joel Embiid came along. He proved that he was worth the wait and even though he may seem careless, he’s all about winning. All the time.
Embiid has always been an outspoken leader. He’s called himself and his teammates out both in public and in private, and he’s had that contagious energy on both ends of the floor since he made his debut. Hopefully, he’ll stay with the franchise until his retirement.
Handles – Nikola Jokic
Well, Nikola Jokic has one of the most impressive handles we’ve ever seen for a guy his size. He could win the skills challenge every year given how versatile his game is. Most nights, he looks like a point guard trapped in the body of a center.
Jokic isn’t exactly fast or athletic but his handles allow him to control the pace of the game. His size and length help him take the ball out of reach but once he puts in on the floor, there’s just no easy way of stopping him. He can change directions in the blink of an eye and throw a no-look, behind-the-back, cross-court pass.
Athletic – Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid didn’t even play basketball growing up. Now, he’s one of the best big men in the league – by a long stretch. How does that even happen? Well, he’s a gifted athlete. The game just came naturally to him, and he’s developed an outstanding repertoire while still learning the fundamentals.
As a matter of fact, Embiid was actually a pretty good volleyball player before he started hooping. His length, wingspan, and natural strength translated perfectly to the hardwood. The only thing that could hold him down from a Hall-Of-Fame kind of career are injuries.
Rookie – Jaxson Hayes
Like all rookies, Jaxson Hayes has had some struggles throughout his young career. But, judging by what he’s shown thus far, there’s a reason to believe he could be one of the most impactful big men in the league a couple of years from now.
Hayes is a hustler. He’s an athletic freak that’s already a pretty good rim-runner. Also, his rim-protection instincts and wingspan are quite promising. He’s averaging 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game per 36 minutes over his rookie season.