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#pounditTuesday, January 26, 2021

Ranking the 10 best big men in the NBA

DeMarcus Cousins

Big men are a dying breed … except when they aren’t. Hail to this era of seven-footers who dribble like guards, jump like pogo sticks, and shoot their shots from deep like drunk texts at 3 AM. And here are the ten bigs leading that charge right now, not counting those who missed the cut due to injury (Rudy Gobert, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, and Nikola Jokic).

*Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com*

10. Kevin Love, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers

Love being the Joe Biden to LeBron James’ Obama sure has a nice ring to it. A lot of dominoes did have to fall for our favorite Banana Republic model to even be in this position: Kyrie Irving moving to Boston to flatten dreams, Tristan Thompson getting injured, and Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose both being unavailable for one reason or another. But Love has barreled in headfirst through his new window of opportunity, slaughtering defenses with his smoldering three-point shooting from the 5 spot and proving just as effective at smoking smaller players who switch onto him down low. As Cleveland’s undisputed No. 2 option offensively, he is once again a nightly 20-10 threat just like those halcyon Minnesota days. Whether you need a 38-point half or a 94-foot touchdown pass, it’s obvious that my man is a Love supreme.

9. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

Speaking of nightly 20-10 threats, here’s one who is seven years younger. Towns does look his age sometimes — his numbers have all tumbled fairly sizably from last season, and his contributions on defense are such an absolute zero that they may just break the Kelvin scale. But give Towns some more time to adjust to Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Max Contract Andrew Wiggins. He scores in the post like an old-timer but dribbles and shoots with the sauce of an AAU baller. That’s a winning combo for a modern big man, so save me the warm takes — if and when Towns’ D catches up to the rest of his game, the National Basketball Association will just be a fancy name for KAT’s Kingdom.

8. DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers

As the last Clippers’ opening night starter still standing, Jordan has officially won the Hunger Games. He has done much more than just survive though, collecting a cool 10-14 line every night despite having virtually no boots left on the ground to support him. Beyond just being a top-shelf rebounder and an alley-oop toy, Jordan still remains an underrated pick-and-roll defender who plays with exceptional IQ on that end of the floor in addition to sending a shot attempt or two into the netherworld from time to time. The All-Star center is a popular inclusion in trade rumors these days, and he should fetch a luxury yacht or a 20,000 square foot mansion should the Clips decide to flip him.

7. Al Horford, PF/C, Boston Celtics

Horford might just be the pinnacle of positionless basketball as we know it. He is a point-stretch-center who defends every action and can score from almost anywhere in the halfcourt. Sure, Horford’s surface stats (13.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 5.1 assists a game) don’t quite pop off the page to the extent that others on this list do. But he seamlessly takes the shape of whatever role Boston needs him to fill, and it is that adaptability which is putting him in the running for some major hardware. Kyrie Irving may be the best player on the Celtics, but Horford is probably their most valuable one, thank you very much.

6. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies

Gasol recently won the bloody power struggle in Memphis over now-deposed head coach David Fizdale, and his production at least helps make the case that management chose the right guy. His 19-9-4 line so far this season is probably the best all-around mark of his career, as it seems the Spaniard is somehow putting up better numbers now in his 30s than he did in his 20s. What little foot speed he once had may have vanished, but he’s still defending at a fairly high level, ranking in the top seven among big men this year in defensive win shares. And with Gasol letting loose to the tune of 4.5 three-point attempts per game, he is doing just enough to salvage the watchability of a Grizzlies team that has otherwise been a complete and utter garbage pail inferno this season.

5. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons

It makes my heart happy to see just how far Drummond has expanded his game this season. He used to be known exclusively as a close-range fiend and an industrial strength magnet on the boards with little else of value to offer otherwise. Now Drummond is strutting his stuff as a high-post passer (logging a career-high 4.0 assists per game) and showing massive improvement on the defensive end, not to mention that his Bob Beamon-esque leap in free throw percentage (from 38.6 last year to 64.8 this year) is the Christmas miracle that we have all been hoping for. At 14-8, the Pistons are the surprise team of the NBA, and Drummond eating the competition is what has made it all possible.

4. Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C, New York Knicks

Here’s to the guy who has made unicorn emojis fashionable again. Porzingis is the pride of The Big Apple, and you would be too if you went 27 and 7 on the hallowed hardwood of Madison Square Garden all night, every night. The 22-year-old stretches the floor on one end with his three-point range and shrinks it for the opposition on the other end with his shot-blocking skills, putting him in some truly elite territory. Don’t let his towering 7-foot-3 frame fool you — Porzingis is the everyman hero that Gotham deserves. Indeed, Phil Jackson is gone, Carmelo Anthony has packed his bags, and the coronation of a new king of New York (not LeBron James, mind you) has begun, so don’t be late.

3. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

Amazing Process, how sweet the sound. Embiid has rocketed past last season’s minutes restriction (going from 25.4 to 29.7 this year, including nine outings of 30 or more) while also producing the same Super Saiyan numbers that cherry-bombed the league in 2016-17. The Cameroonian is averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds a night on this go-around and is peppering it with enough threes, blocks, and assists to power a small village. Embiid’s play has been so obscene that you probably can’t even say his name on television any more. Best of all, the MVP performances continue when he is off the court as well. Loving Father, we thank you for this beloved fruit of Sam Hinkie’s sacrifice.

2. Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans

The man whose arms were the inspiration for The Neverending Story, Davis continues to outdo himself. He is turning in by far his most efficient season (57.3 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from deep), and he is still going 25-11 despite no longer having free rein on the interior (more to come on this). Furthermore, The Brow’s close-range finishing ability and his automatic off-the-dribble pull-up game is the epitome of “get you a man who can do both.” Yes, the trips to the locker room every other quarter are major vibe-killers, especially for a dynamic 24-year-old. But Davis’ two-way jet-airliner game is box office as heck, and when he’s on the court, none of us can look away.

1. DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Pelicans

I would much rather take the sweet kiss of death over having to stand between the basket and this guy coming in with a head steam. Boogie straight destroys lives. He is the only player in the top six in both scoring and rebounding this season, and his 3.0 combined steals and blocks per game are helping him generate some serious All-Defensive team buzz. Cousins can make basketballs explode with his mind, and when he’s not shoving his will down your throat through brute force, he’s can bust out some creativity to get his teammates involved too (averaging a career-high 5.1 assists a night this year). And if that’s not enough, he’ll net two treys per game and snarl at you while doing it. Cousins is the runaway train gone off the tracks … if the train was loaded with explosives and other assorted pyrotechnics. Yeah, you best stay out of the way.

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