Grading the Roster: The Centers


Tyson Chandler ©Kent Smith/NBA

As Larry Fine, er, Brown and the other Stooges have once again tweaked the Charlotte Bobcats roster mid-season, I found it to be the perfect time to introduce our semi-regular “Grading the Roster” column here at Bobcats Baseline.  We’ll go down the roster position by position to objectively see where the team stands in the talent department.
Grades are handed out based on: Current Production, Past Production, Potential Production, Contract Value and Trade-ability.

  • A = Super-Star/All-Star/Franchise Player
  • B = Highly Productive Player/Exceptional Value for Production/High Potential
  • C = Average Performing Player/Solid Player Overpaid for Value
  • D = Under-Performing Player/Terrible Contract
  • F = Poor Performing Player/Cap-Killing Contract

Bobcat Centers:

Tyson Chandler

PROS: Potential Talent, Near Expiring Contract
Once he gets into game shape and figures out what Larry Brown wants him to do, Chandler could be one of the more dominant defensive centers in the League.  Tyson could also opt out of his contract this summer, freeing up around $12 million in payroll next season but even if that doesn’t happen the Bobcats are only on the hook for next season when Chandler will become expiring contract trade bait.
CONS: Slow on the Up-take, History of Injuries, Bloated Contract
Will Chandler be able to figure it out this year?  And will he be able to work back into game shape before going down with another injury?  Thus far this season Tyson has been an undeniable liability on both ends of the court.  He picks up early fouls and (not surprisingly) makes us yearn for the comparatively sublime offensive repertoire of Emeka Okafor.  Also, at $11.7 million this season and $12.7 million next, Tyson Chandler might very well be (pound-for-pound) one of the most overpaid player in the League.
Unmistakably talented but limited starter needs to crank it up a notch or two soon.  Ultimate insult: People are openly pining for Larry Brown to bench him for Nazr Mohammed.  Who saw that one coming?

Nazr Mohammed

PROS: Quality Veteran Backup Center, Near Expiring Contract
One of the few pleasant surprises thus far, Nazr Mohammed has regained his pre-2008 form, returning to his role of “Professional Basketball Player” and contributing quality minutes in the paint for a team desperately in need of some low-post offense.  Nazr’s 18.35 PER is first amongst the team’s veterans and his game averages of 5ppg/3.5rpg/1bpg almost equal the output of starter Tyson Chandler even though Nazr plays less than half as many minutes at just over 11 per.  Even better, Mohammed’s bloated mid-level contract comes off the books during the summer of 2011, so there’ll be plenty of chances of unloading him to a contender especially if he keeps this level of play up.
CONS: Bloated Contract, Age, Defense
If Nazr was on a rookie scale contract and about 10 years younger, we’d be hailing him as the future of the franchise.  Unfortunately that’s not the case.  Mohammed is playing on a bloated full mid-level deal and at age 32, he’s pretty much hit his peak.
In an Ideal world, Nazr would be playing the role of veteran backup center on a grind-it-out half court contender like Dallas or Atlanta.  In his current role with the Bobcats he can provide a little low post offense for 12-15 minutes a game and then be dangled as an expiring deal next season.

Alexis Ajinca

PROS: Exceptional Skill and Athleticism at the position, Shows promise in stretches, Rookie-Scale Contract
Larry Brown saw enough in Alexis Ajinca to trade away a future first round selection for young frenchman during the 2008 NBA Draft so it’s a little confusing as to why Brown refuses to play him, especially now that Lex has seemed to figure a few things out.  During the ’08-’09 campaign it looked as though Ajinca might become the very worst draft selection in a short but steady history of bad draft selections by the Charlotte Bobcats.  In just 24 minutes in the team’s first 10 games, Ajinca has already doubled his PER from last season and looks much more natural and confident on the floor than he did just a year ago.  Props to both Alexis and Coach Brown for the improvement.  Now all Brown has to do is actually play him.
CONS: Victim of Circumstance
If Ajinca was an early second round pick in 2008 instead of a late first rounder, the whole story changes.  Ajinca is a project, plain and simple.  Unfortunately, Brown erroneously decided to swap a future first round selection for him and given the way that the Bobcats have been playing recently that pick may end up being a high lottery selection in a strong draft.  Ouch.

Gana Diop

PROS: Big body who can play defense when in shape, None
CONS: Not in shape, Perhaps the League’s Worst Contract, Offensively Offensive
Wow.  For those who don’t remember, it was only 9 months ago that Larry Brown begged the front office to make a trade for the lumbering Senegalese import.  Brown refused to play Mohammed and believed Diop to be a defensive presence on par with starting center Emeka Okafor.  Diop played ok last spring but thus far this season has been limited to chatting with Alexis Ajinca in French on the sidelines and being labeled “Black Shrek” by Bobcats Baseline readers.
Larry Brown needs to understand the financial implications of not playing Gana Diop.  In today’s NBA it’s okay to make a mistake and pay a 7th or 8th man the full mid-level because the player is at the very least contributing and is showcasing himself nightly as an NBA caliber player.  Gana Diop is currently the team’s 14th man.  The Bobcats are paying him $6 million dollars this season with an 8% raise every year until 2013.  To put this into perspective.  Kids who started high school this past Fall will have graduated and gone off to college by the time Diop comes off the books.  My advice to those kids?  Skip university and put yourself through an intense Yao Ming-type growth hormone therapy followed by an extreme version of the leg-lengthening operation Ethan Hawke underwent in Gattaca.  This should put you roughly in the height range of an NBA center.  Pain preventing you from moving laterally or vertically?  So what, somebody will be dumb enough to sign you to a 5-year $40 deal.

NEXT UP: The Forwards