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The 10 Greatest NBA Centers Of The 1990s

The 10 Greatest NBA Centers Of The 1990s

As the 1980s melted away toward the 90s, Hall-of-Fame centers like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Moses Malone, and Robert Parish were out of the league or slowing down, paving the way for a new crop of 5s to make their mark on the NBA. Players like Brad Daugherty, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Dikembe Mutombo started things off. Then David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan, and Shaq followed, lighting up the association.

The 90s featured dozens of outstanding centers. Some were hulking big men with excellent low post games. Others were lighter on their feet, using their side-to-side agility to explode for double-digits nightly. We also saw some of the best defensive specialists of all time, players who racked up four blocks per game and altered dozens of more shots.

Below we cut through all the centers of the 90s and rank our top-10.


10. Brad Daugherty

Brad Daugherty

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

1x All-NBA Third Team

3x All-Star

If you haven’t heard of Brad Daugherty, you’re not alone. Despite making the All-Star team five times, the 7-0, 245-pound big man out of North Carolina is mostly forgotten. Daugherty can blame his anonymity on two factors: he played his entire career for the small market Cavaliers, and he only suited up for eight seasons due to recurring back injuries that laid him up in his prime.

Despite Daugherty’s lack of name recognition, he was a force at the center position. He moved remarkably well for a 7-footer, long-stepping in transition for easy one-footed dunks. Daugherty also had the full backpack of low post moves, including left or right back-to-the-basket spins and quick bursts from mid-range to the rack for easy dunks. The former North Carolina product was a solid mid-range jump shooter and one of the best passing big men of the 90s.

Brad Daugherty averaged a near double-double for his career at 19.0 PPG and 9.5 RPG. He also found success in the postseason, helping guide the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992 while dropping 21.5 points per contest and snagging 10.2 boards throughout 17 playoff games before succumbing to the Chicago Bulls.

It’s a shame Brad Daugherty has drifted into obscurity, but he belongs firmly on our list of best 90s centers. If he’d played into his mid-30s like many of his peers, he’d almost certainly be a Hall-of-Famer.


9. Vlade Divac

Vlade Divac

Divac’s peak wasn’t as high as Brad Daugherty’s, but while the Cavs big man played only four years in the early 90s, Vlade was a steady force on the block for the Lakers, Hornets, and Kings throughout ten seasons.

Vlade Divac was a high IQ center known best for his sensational passing out of the post and his even more memorable flopping ability, turning tiny taps into full-throttled shoves nightly, drawing the ire of opposing centers, and occasionally crawling inside their heads to wreak mental havoc. Divac also got buckets. He featured a nice complement of spin actions going both ways and solid up-and-under jukes, but he specialized in the baby hook shot, a move he perfected throughout his career, and he could call upon to get timely baskets against bigger defenders when his squad needed a score.

Divac’s impact on the court went beyond his stats. He helped lead his different teams to the postseason in nine seasons throughout the 90s, doing all the little things—running the defense, pulling down big boards, diving for loose balls, and drawing fouls—that don’t always garner fame and notoriety but are essential to winning.

Vlade Divac finished his career with a solid 11.8 PPG and 8.2 RPG slash line and will be remembered fondly among Purple and Gold fans for helping drag the Lakers to the 1991 finals before losing to the Bulls.


8. Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

1x NBA Champion

1x Finals MVP

3x All-NBA First Team

2x All-Defensive First Team

1x All-Defensive First Team

Rookie of the Year

All-Rookie First Team

2x All-Star

Tim Duncan is a Hall-of-Famer, and one of the best of all-time. Still, this is a list of the best centers of the 90s, and The Big Fundamental played in only two full seasons during that span, pushing him toward the bottom of our rankings. The fact that Timmy makes our list with so few games played shows how dominant he was throughout his first few years in the league.

Duncan was nicknamed The Big Fundamental because he perfected some of the game’s most basic moves until he was an unstoppable force on offense, torturing opposing defenders who knew what was coming but had no means to stop it. Timmy’s favorite “basic move” was his mid-range bank shot, and it was as simple as things get on the basketball court. Duncan would get the ball outside the key, face up on his defender with the ball in his hands, jab step once or twice, and shoot the ball at an unblockable release point over his 6-11 head for an off-the-glass two-pointer. Duncan’s bank shot was death on the basketball court. If opposing squads chose to not send a second defender to help contain the Spurs big man, he’d drop 45 points on them easily, not a single bead of sweat swelling on his forehead.

Tim Duncan was also an immediate impact defender upon entering the league, making the All-Defensive Team during his first two campaigns. He was probably the best low-post defender in the league right away, leveraging his quick feet, long wingspan, and superhuman strength to stifle opposing centers on the block. He was also an instant top-5 rim protector, deterring countless shots at the basket for the Spurs.

Tim Duncan was selected to two All-Star games in the 90s while averaging around 22.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG, and 2.5 BPG. He also helped propel the Spurs to the title in 1999 and he became the best big man of his generation.


7. Rik Smits

Rik Smits

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

1x All-Star

Rik Smits was a legitimate 7-4 center who manned the middle for the Indiana Pacers throughout the 90s. The Dunking Dutchman wasn’t flashy on offense, but he was a consistent force, combining his massive 8-6 wingspan (you read that correctly) with a nice set of post moves, including pivots, reverse pivots, up-and-unders, and running hooks from the left or right side of the block. Smits feathery jump shot is what really set him apart, though, from many other lumbering 90s centers. He had range out to 20-feet, and he worked nicely as a pick and pop player with teammates Reggie Miller and Derrick McKey, lofting soft J’s that no one in the NBA could block.

Smits was also a solid rim protector, using his incredible length to alter numerous attempts at the rim from opposing guards and wings nightly. He also harassed the other big men in the NBA into ugly misses on the block, simply sticking his Gumby arms up and making them regret they were in Indiana for the night.

Rik Smits and his partner in crime, Reggie Miller, led the Pacers to the playoffs in nine out of 10 seasons throughout the 90s. They never made it up the mountain top together, but they competed hard and came close a couple times. In the end, The Dunking Dutchman’s basketball life was cut short due to recurring foot issues. Still, Smits had career averages of 14.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 1.3 BPG as he left his mark on the Indiana organization as an excellent center.


6. Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

3x Defensive Player of the Year

1x Rebound Leader

3x Blocks Leader

1x All-NBA Second Team

2x All-Defensive First Team

2x All-Defensive Second Team

All-Rookie First Team

6x All-Star

Dikembe Mutombo came into the league in 1991, at 25-years-old for the Denver Nuggets, and immediately made his presence felt, averaging 16.6 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, and 3.0 BPG. He was selected to the All-Star team as a rookie, made the All-Rookie squad, and played a whopping 38.3 minutes nightly across 71 games.

Mutombo’s first campaign was just the start. He became the dominant defensive force during the 90s. Dikembe won three straight block championships, was named the Defensive Player of the Year four times, and was an All-Defensive Team member during six seasons.

Dikembe’s defensive peak might be the best we’ve ever seen. During the 1993-94 season, Mutombo averaged a massive 4.1 blocks per game to go along with a ridiculous 96 Defensive Rating and 6.4 Defensive Win Shares. Compare those numbers to today’s premier defender, Rudy Gobert’s best season: In 2016-17, The Stifle Tower averaged 2.6 BPG, a 99 DEFRTG, and 6.0 WS.

Dikembe Mutombo was a genuine defensive force of nature. He averaged a double-double throughout the 90s at roughly 13.0 PPG, and 11.0 RPG while swatting around 3.5 shots per contest. Mutombo also helped his squad make the postseason in 13 of his 18 seasons in the league as their anchor by the rim.


5. Alonzo Mourning

Alonzo Mourning

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

2x Defensive Player of the Year

2x Blocks Leader

1x All-NBA First Team

1x All-NBA Second Team

2x All-Defensive First Team

All-Rookie First Team

5x All-Star

Alonzo Mourning joined the Charlotte Hornets out of Georgetown as a polished center with a ball of rage frothing inside his stomach. From game one until the end, Mourning played with a type of I-want-to-break-you-in-half intensity you rarely see.

Mourning was selected to the All-Star squad during his second season in the league with an excellent slash line of 21.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 3.1 BPG. He wreaked havoc on the NBA on both ends with a filled canister of quick back-to-the-basket spin moves, face-up blow-bys on offense, and incredible shot blocking on defense.

Alonzo Mourning helped his Charlotte squad make the postseason twice during his first three years in the NBA before heading off to the Miami Heat, where he formed an excellent tandem with Tim Hardaway. Unfortunately, Mourning played during the 90s in Eastern Conference, which meant year-after-year he and his Heat teammates had to endure the Michael Jordan buzz saw that took no postseason prisoners.

Alonzo Mourning’s career was halved by a kidney disease that caused him to miss the entire 2002-03 season and hampered his ability to play at the highest levels when he returned. Still, Mourning was a two-time block champion, seven-time All-Star, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year while averaging right around 20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG during the 90s.


4. Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

4x All-NBA Second Team

1x All-Defensive Second Team

7x All-Star

Patrick Ewing came out of Georgetown and immediately lit up the Big Apple, dropping 20.0 PPG along with 9.0 RPG and 2.1 BPG during his first NBA campaign for the Knicks. He was also named to the 1986 All-Star team during freshman year in the league, and he was the Rookie of the Year.

Patrick Ewing’s 1989-90 season was one of the best by a center in the NBA. He averaged 28.6 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 4.0 BPG behind some of the cleanest post moves we’ve ever seen, including hook shots going left or right, drop-steps in the lane, and light spin moves. He was also a monster rim protector for his Knicks, canceling out many attempts at the rim from opposing players nightly.

Patrick Ewing led the league in defensive win shares three times, was an eleven-time All-Star, and made three All-Defensive teams. Like many of the players who suited up in the Eastern Conference during the mid-80s through the 90s, he never won a title losing to some of the NBA all-time teams like the Bad Boy Pistons, Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and The Dream’s Houston squad.

Despite Ewing’s inability to hang a banner in New York, he was one of the best centers of the 90s, a true two-way force who used his size, length, and interior post moves to rule the league as he averaged nearly 25.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 2.0 BPG throughout the 1990s.


3. David Robinson

David Robinson

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

1x NBA Champion

1x NBA MVP

1x Defensive Player of the Year

1x Scoring Leader

1x Rebounds Leader

1x Blocks Leader

4x All-NBA First Team

2x All-NBA Second Team

2x All-NBA Third Team

4x All-Defensive First Team

3x All-Defensive Second Team

8x All-Star

David Robinson was probably the most fluid and well-conditioned center the league had ever seen. He was a legitimate 7-footer who moved like a guard, abusing opposing 5s with his agility on the block. The Admiral would routinely sprint down the court after a made basket on the other end, wearing out opposing centers and establishing excellent position on the block. Robinson knew what to do when he found himself close to the rim. He featured the quickest back-to-the-basket spin move in the league’s history, faking one way before juking the other way, getting whoever was covering him wobbling on his ankles, and finally going with a lightning-quick 180 for a dunk.

Robinson also used his length and agility to patrol the paint like a momma wolf protecting her pups. The Admiral blocked countless shots from opposing guards and wings, and altered many more attempts, helping transform his Spurs into one of the best defensive teams in the league yearly.

The Admiral took down nearly every award possible in the 90s, winning the Regular Season MVP in 1995, Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, Scoring Title in 1994, and a championship in 1999, all while averaging close to 20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 3.0 BPG during the 90s.


2. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O'Neal 1995 Orlando Magic vs. Chicago Bulls

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

1x NBA Champion

1x NBA MVP

1x Finals MVP

2x Scoring Leader

2x All-NBA First Team

1x All-NBA Second Team

3x All-NBA Third Team

1x All-Defensive Second Team

Rookie of the Year

All-Rookie First Team

7x All-Star

Shaq never got the credit he deserved during the 90s. Most people saw him simply as a massive human being who couldn’t shoot the ball from outside and lane, instead using his colossal size discrepancy to bulldoze his way toward easy looks. That analysis massively undersells Diesel’s talents and could be described as fan negligence.

Shaq warped the league with his ability to finish through double-teams with some of the best footwork we’ve ever seen from a center while simultaneously getting fouled on nearly every play. O’Neal took the dozens of nightly hits in stride, racking up a scoring title, seven All-Star appearances, and the Rookie of the Year Award throughout the 90s.

The Big Aristotle also brought home some serious hardware during the 1999-20 season with the Lakers, winning the Regular Season MVP Award, his first championship, and the Finals MVP Award. Shaq would go on to win three more championships after the turn of the century with the Lakers and Heat, truly dominating the league.

Shaq was an overwhelming force during his eight seasons throughout the 90s, routinely blasting opposing teams on offense and playing excellent defense as a rim protector for the Magic and Lakers. He finished off the 1990s averaging close to 29.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG, and 2.5 BPG, monster stats that today’s centers find nearly impossible to match.


1. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon

1990-91 to 1999-00 Accolades:

2x NBA Champion

1x NBA MVP

2x Finals MVP

2x Defensive Player of the Year

2x Blocks Leader

3x All-NBA First Team

1x All-NBA Second Team

3x All-NBA Second Team

3x All-Defensive First Team

3x All-Defensive Second Team

6x All-Star

Hakeem Olajuwon had one of the most devastating moves the league has ever seen, the Dream Shake. Olajuwon would stand in the mid-range and face up his defender without losing his dribble. Then he’d take a jab step, rocking his defender, wary of Olajuwon’s incredible burst, back on his ankles. The Dream would then immediately shake the ball from left to right (the Dream Shake), genuinely throwing his defender into a sweaty, twitchy mess of indecision before either launching up for a clean mid-range J or accelerating to the rack for a massive dunk.

Olajuwon is also the best defender the league has ever seen. He’s the only player who lands in the top-10 all-time in blocks (1st) and steals (10th), showing his incredible ability to disrupt from inside and out. Hakeem’s Dream Shake, along with the rest of incredible arsenal, also made him one of the best offensive centers in the NBA’s history, a player who at his peak was good for at least 27 points nightly while facing the total weight of every opposing team’s game planning and attention.

Hakeem averaged roughly 24.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 3.5 RPG during the 90s, and he was the 1993-94 Regular Season MVP Award. He won two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and took down two Finals MVP trophies, along with his 2 titles.

The Centers Of The 90s Were A Special Group

When many people look back on the NBA in the 90s, they think about Michael Jordan and the Bulls. MJ was a one-of-a-kind player who dominated the league.

Still, the 90s featured some of the best center play we’ve ever seen. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Shaq are all-time greats. Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, and Alonzo Mourning were three of the best defenders in the NBA’s long history. Brad Daugherty, Vlade Divac, and Rik Smits were also highly skilled two-players.

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