The NBA has seen a major and unexpected swing to appreciating the bigs of the league. In the past decade we have seen a league dominated by guards and forwards. The last center who won MVP was in 2003 when Tim Duncan went back to back and won the championship in 2003. This season Nikola Jokic is leading the MVP ladder, and Joel Embiid is sixth. In the past century, the highest a center has finished in MVP voting was when Anthony Davis was third in 2017. The season there are two bigs in the top ten of the MVP ladder, which has not happened since 2014. This might be a sign of change in the NBA, or just a blip in the line of MVP guards and centers. 

History of the Big 

In the 1900s and early 2000s NBA teams were looking for tall centers who could defend and score in the paint. In what was a dramatic change brought on by the increased emphasis on shooting, especially threes, centers with the ability to shoot the three ball and still be effective in the paint were in high demand. We have also seen teams run with smaller lineups to end games, using their forwards as centers. This is most apparent in the 2018 Golden State Warriors ending lineup where KD and Draymond picked up the opposing teams big. This worked extremely well, with the bigger centers unable to keep up with the dribbling, shooting, and speed of the forwards. Teams were also able to send an extra guard down low to help an undersized forward guard a bigger center, turning a mismatch into a disadvantage for the big man. This has led to the ultimate downfall of the common big, who stays in the paint on both sides of the court. Now we are witnessing a new line of centers, headlined by Jokic and Embiid. 

Nikola Jokic 

Jokic is the best offensive big in the league. No debate. He can shoot, pass, and dribble. The Denver Nuggets are 4th in the West, and Jokic is a big reason why. Jokic is a prototypical point guard with vision to make crazy passes, and the ability to score in the paint and at the three. The one difference is that the Joker is 6’11 and has the ability to dominate  under the basket on any given night.

This clip is just one example of the vision that Jokic possesses. This is what separates him from other centers such as Christian Wood, who can play down low and knock down the three just like Jokic. This ability to make plays for his teammates is what makes him such an unstoppable player, and is why he is an MVP frontrunner. He does everything for the Nuggets, top 10 in the NBA in rebounds, points, and assists. Some people may point to moments of defensive lapses by Jokic, but when you look at his production on the offensive end it is almost expected that there would be some shortcomings on defense. 

Joel Embiid 

Joel Embiid was the center of hope for 76ers fans during the process. He missed the first two seasons, but as a rookie he made the first team all-rookie and has been named to 4 All-Stars. While Embiid does not possess the vision of Jokic, he is a bigger scoring threat from every spot on the floor and can dominate the boards better than Jokic. Embiid also has a very strong presence on the defensive end of the floor, usually blocking at least one shot per night. Embiid seems to be the embodiment of what teams want in a star center. He can shoot the three, score in the post, grab rebounds, and protect the rim. He has led the 76ers to the number one spot in the East, and will be contending for a championship. 

Future of Bigs 

The most recent NBA MVP rankings, April 9th, had two big men in the top three. This season we have seen two centers take control of their respective teams, showing that centers can still be effective in the modern NBA. While Jokic and Embiid are certainly the top centers of the league, there is a bright future of talented bigs such as Karl Anthony-Towns, Chris Boucher who had 38 points a couple of days ago, Christian Wood, and Evan Mobley who is a projected top three pick in this years NBA draft. 

Top Image:AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

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