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November 24, 2012
Big Man Barometer
Week Ending 11/20/12

by Bradford Doolittle


Since we're publishing on a holiday, which tends to stir feelings of nostalgia, I thought I'd take the occasion to highlight what may be the greatest big man season of all-time. I'm referring to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 1971-72 season for the Milwaukee Bucks. And, yes, this is a contrived way of paying homage to the man who was honored with a sky-hooking statue that was unveiled at the Staples Center last week.

Milwaukee won its first and only NBA title the season before and was still a couple of years away from dealing their franchise center to the Los Angeles Lakers in a megadeal. If that scenario sounds familiar, it's one that's played out time and again the NBA annals: Big man plays in small market and gets grumpy. Big man goes to the Lakers and wins championships. Anyway, it was also the first season Abdul-Jabbar played after changing his name from Lew Alcindor.

Abdul-Jabbar was just 24 years old in '71-72 season and was at the height of his powers. The game was geared towards size and Abdul-Jabbar chewed up a portion of the Bucks' offense that big men today can only dream about. He averaged 34.8 points on 57.4 percent shooting, 16.6 boards and 4.6 assists while playing 44.2 minutes per game. He led the league in PER (which of course hadn't been invented at the time) and was in a stretch of leading the NBA in that category in eight out of nine years.

Suffice to say, no one in this year's Barometer will be putting up number like that, the greatest season by the game's all-time scoring champ.

Details on how the Big Man Barometer is compiled can be found here.

Top 10 Big Man Performances

(For the Week of Nov. 14 to Nov. 20; Players listed by winning percentage; Any player who played a total of at least 30 minutes at center or power forward last week is eligible for the rankings)

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat (.774)

It might get old to see James on top of just about every statistical ranking ever published, but as long as he continues to do far more to help his team win than any other active player, that's the way it's going to be. His performance is not just historically elite, its remarkably consistent. With Dwyane Wade hobbled, James spent a bit more time on the wing last week, but still logged about 70 percent of his minutes at the four. He had 78 points, 19 rebounds and 22 assists in three games, taking on a bit more of a playmaking role and backing off the boards more than in earlier games. Whatever his team needs.

2. Greg Smith, Houston Rockets (.761)

A fresh face jumps into this week's rankings as Smith continues to carve out a role in the pro game. Smith still isn't getting big minutes but is making the most off his opportunities. He's made 11 of 15 from the floor this season and has solid per-minute averages across the board. Smith's most recent game was his best as he put up 6 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks against the Jazz. Smith fouls too often to play a major role at this point, but he's third on the Rockets in WARP and deserves a shot at a steady 15-minute gig. He's been putting his huge hands to good use.

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (.754)

Remember when Gregg Popovich decided to re-make his team so that Duncan complements Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili instead of vice versa? Right now, Duncan ranks second in the NBA with a 27.4 PER, per Basketball-Reference.com. If the season ended today, it would be the best mark of Duncan's Hall of Fame career. His resurgence continued last week with a pair of 14-rebound games even though the Spurs lost two of three. Duncan continues to produce career high percentages in defensive rebounding and shot blocking. Remarkable. Did we mention that this is his 16th season in the league?

4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets (.727)

Davis actually had a couple of off games before scoring 28 points on 14 shots against Milwaukee and throwing in 11 rebounds on Sunday. Right now the concern about Davis isn't performance but health. Davis missed Tuesday's game against New York because of a bum ankle. That was a disappointment for Spike Lee, who flew to the Crescent City for the game. I know how Spike feels since I didn't get to see Davis in Chicago because he was recovering from a concussion. Let's just say it would have been more fun to watch Davis guard Carmelo Anthony than Ryan Anderson.

5. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (.726)

Drummond's playing time has yet to uptick despite his fine play, but with the Pistons in rebuild mode, there really is no reason to rush. Drummond continues to dunk everything he gets his hands on and is proving to be an even more extreme example of what we thought he'd be. That is, a freak athlete with some rough edges in the skills category. The latter is most exemplified by Drummond's flip-a-coin success rate on free throws. Nevertheless, Pistons fans have to thrilled from what they've seen in the first-rounder's snippets off action. Food for thought: According to NBA.com/stats, Drummond and Greg Monroe have shared the floor for just 19 minutes thisthis season. The Pistons have been outscored in those instances, so that's something to work on.

6. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets ( .694)

McGee continues to put up huge numbers in a limited role for George Karl. Per Basketball-Reference.com, McGee is averaging 21.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes. He's also shooting 58 percent despite the ill-advised jumpers that still creep into his game. Denver has been markedly better on both ends of the court with McGee in the game, so it's hard to say what will convince Karl to give him a featured role. Last week, McGee scored 45 points in just under 60 minutes over three games.

7. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (.683)

That Howard doesn't rank as the runaway leader among pure big men for the season is a bit scary for Lakers opponents. Howard is still limited by his recovery from back surgery, but is still putting up elite numbers. Except at the line, of course. After Tuesday's 7 for 19 effort against Brooklyn, Howard is shooting a career-worst 48.4 percent from the line. Whether or not you root for the Lakers, you have to hope Howard gets better. There is nothing fun about watching 20 hack-a-Dwight charity tosses.

8. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat ( .669)

With Wade hurt, more has also been asked of Bosh and he's responded with aplomb. Bosh has the highest usage rate of his Miami career but his .628 true shooting percentage is the best he's had since entering the NBA. He's also been the Heat's best offensive rebounder and has a career-best block rate -- traits you like to see in a guy playing the five. Bosh did have one off game in Miami's loss to the Clippers and the Heat really struggled with L.A.'s size.

9. Anderson Varejao , Cleveland Cavaliers (.668)

Could Varejao be headed for his first All-Star appearance after right years in the NBA? Could be. Just on a superficial level, Varejao is highly ranked in points, rebounds and assists among centers in the East. (Unfortunately, the ballot no longer has that positional designation.) He leads the Cavaliers by being on pace for 13.9 WARP, 7.2 more than Kyrie Irving and now that Irving is hurt, Varejao will be featured that much more. If Chris Grant's plan is to flip Varejao in a trade, the big Brazilian is doing his part to see that Cleveland gets maximum return.

10. Rasheed Wallace, New York Knicks (.663)

If you expected Wallace to play this well after two years away from the game, you really ought to be working on Wall Street. On a per-minute basis, Wallace is scoring better then he has in ten years, and he's never had rebound and block percentages this high. Sure, not a ton of his minutes have been in clutch spots, but he appears to be working his way into becoming a late game option. It's great to have Wallace back in the league.

Season to Date

(Players listed by WARP, minimum 60 minutes played at power forward or center)

PLAYER           TEAM   WARP
LeBron James      MIA   3.00
Tim Duncan        SAS   2.38
Dwight Howard     LAL   1.99
Chris Bosh        MIA   1.91
Joakim Noah       CHI   1.80
Anderson Varejao  CLE   1.70
Paul Millsap      UTA   1.64
Greg Monroe       DET   1.50
Kenneth Faried    DEN   1.49
Marc Gasol        MEM   1.38

Three Bigs to Watch This Week

Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder

This is no time for a traditional center to be playing some of the worst basketball of his career, not in this age of shrinking lineup configurations of face-up big men. His rebound and block rates have plummeted to the extent that his defensive impact doesn't come close to compensating for his lack of offense. His usage rate is now so small that if a league springs up that plays by the old six-girl basketball rules, he'll be recruited as a guard. To be fair, Perkins has been a part of Oklahoma City's two most-used lineups and both units have outscored the opposition. However, the Thunder has had a lot of success with small configurations and if Perkins doesn't at least pick things up on the defensive end, his playing time could begin to dwindle.

Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz

Kanter was one of the best players in the league during preseason and in fact, accumulated more WARP than any other player. As it turns out, that and 75 cents will get you a candy bar. Kanter has struggled in his sporadic role so far this season, while the triumvirate of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors have not only soaked up the majority of big man minutes, but have also emerged as a viable front line as a group. Kanter has really struggled on the offensive end. He's finished well enough when he gets to the rim but he's turned the ball over so often that the occasion doesn't come around very often. He's struggled to leverage his frame into foul shots which is perversely a good thing because he's shooting 37.5 percent from the charity stripe. Kanter is raw, which we knew, but this is a key season for him to show potential as a foundation player. The Jazz face decisions on whether to let of Millsap or Jefferson, or both, or neither, after the season. A struggling Kanter only complicates that dilemma.

Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors

The spotlight in Toronto has been on rookie center Jonas Valanciunas and he has indeed gone through some ups and downs. He's struggled to finish in traffic and has had foul problems at times that have limited his minutes. Overall though, Valanciunas has played over replacement level and shown plenty of evidence that he can be a legit NBA pivot. However, his biggest impact initially was supposed to be that Bargnani would be allowed to finally move to the four position. Bargnani has largely split his minutes between the big man positions, but he's struggled wherever he's played. Bargnani's .466 true shooting percentage is a career low and it can't even be blamed on the vagaries of 3-point shooting -- Bargnani is shooting 38.5 percent on 2-pointers this season. Instead of blossoming aside his new running mate, Bargnani is now being looked at as a possible amnesty candidate by the Raptors' fiercely loyal fan base.

Top 25 Big Man Projections

(Forecast for 11/26-12/3, all players who qualified for this week's Barometer rankings)

PLAYER           POS  GP    FG%    3M   REB   AST   STL    TO   BLK    PTS  SCORE
LeBron James      SF   2   .554   1.0   7.1   6.7   1.9   2.9   0.7   26.3   23.1
Dwight Howard      C   3   .594   0.0  13.1   1.7   1.6   3.0   2.4   21.1   18.6
Blake Griffin     PF   3   .557   0.1  10.3   3.5   0.9   2.5   0.5   22.8   18.1
Carmelo Anthony   SF   3   .457   1.2   5.9   3.1   1.1   2.7   0.3   23.4   15.7
LaMarcus Aldridge PF   4   .494   0.0   7.9   2.3   1.0   1.8   0.8   20.7   15.5
Pau Gasol         PF   3   .519   0.1   8.9   3.2   0.6   1.7   1.4   16.5   14.8
Josh Smith        PF   2   .461   0.4   9.1   4.1   1.5   2.3   1.7   17.2   14.5
Chris Bosh        PF   2   .515   0.1   8.4   2.1   0.9   1.9   0.7   17.9   14.3
Al Horford         C   2   .548   0.0   8.4   3.1   0.9   1.5   1.3   14.6   14.0
Al Jefferson       C   4   .497   0.0   8.6   2.0   0.7   1.3   1.9   17.2   13.9
Greg Monroe        C   4   .538   0.0   9.2   2.4   1.4   1.9   0.6   15.5   13.8
Brook Lopez        C   3   .494   0.0   6.5   1.8   0.7   2.0   1.4   18.6   13.7
DeMarcus Cousins   C   3   .470   0.0   9.5   2.1   1.3   2.7   0.9   18.1   13.1
David Lee         PF   2   .505   0.0   8.9   3.0   1.1   2.3   0.4   16.5   13.1
Paul Millsap      PF   4   .515   0.1   7.6   2.4   1.5   1.8   1.2   15.4   12.9
Anthony Davis     PF   3   .526   0.1   9.4   1.2   1.1   0.8   3.2   10.9   12.8
Ryan Anderson     PF   3   .433   3.1   7.0   1.1   0.8   1.1   0.6   16.4   12.8
Marc Gasol         C   4   .515   0.0   8.0   3.1   1.1   1.9   1.6   13.9   12.6
Zach Randolph     PF   4   .469   0.1   9.9   2.1   1.0   1.7   0.2   15.5   12.4
Andrea Bargnani   PF   3   .449   1.3   4.9   1.8   0.5   2.0   0.6   20.0   12.4
Joakim Noah        C   3   .498   0.0  10.0   2.7   0.8   1.6   1.4   11.5   11.9
Kenneth Faried    PF   3   .595   0.0   8.0   1.1   0.8   1.3   1.0   12.2   11.7
Kevin Garnett      C   3   .516   0.0   8.1   3.1   1.2   1.7   0.7   12.6   11.5
Tyson Chandler     C   3   .648   0.0   9.6   0.7   0.9   1.7   1.5   11.1   11.5
Carlos Boozer     PF   3   .506   0.0   8.7   2.2   1.0   1.9   0.3   15.2   11.4
Marcin Gortat      C   4   .539   0.0   9.2   0.9   0.8   1.5   1.4   13.0   11.3
Tim Duncan         C   4   .483   0.0   7.9   2.3   0.7   1.5   1.4   12.4   10.9
SCORE: average Hollinger's Game Score.

Check out our Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13 homepage for more details and to order our annual guide to the NBA, available now in both PDF and paperback format.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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