Dwight Howard warms up with a Shake Weight

On the first full week of each month this season, I’m going to rank the top 10 NBA players at each position based on how I expect them to perform in the coming month. If a player is injured and is expected to miss most of the month, then they probably won’t make the list regardless of his value when healthy. I’ll rank the point guards on Monday, the shooting guards on Tuesday… you get the picture.  Your feedback is welcome, even if you want to tell me how incredibly, irredeemably clueless I am.

There are a whopping four new entries in this month’s center list. None of the players who got bumped are performing poorly, per se. We’ve just been seeing some excellent play from this position lately.

10. (New entry) Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets — 2010-11 stats: 63 GP, 34.9 MPG, 19.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 6.0 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, .483 FG%, .000 3P%, .802 FT%, 18.9 PER

Do you think playing with Deron Williams has helped Brook Lopez’s game? Since Williams played his first game with the Nets on February 25, Lopez has averaged 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Somehow, Williams has helped Lopez remember how to rebound.

9. (5.) Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 35.5 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 2.1 APG, 11.5 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.8 BPG, .479 FG%, .000 3P%, .413 FT%, 16.4 PER

Only two other players in NBA history have taken as many free throw attempts as Bogut (189) in a season at such a low percentage: Ben Wallace (twice) and Wilt Chamblerlain. Bogut’s still suffering the effects from last season’s fall that dislocated his elbow and broke his hand, as he can’t fully extend his shooting arm.

8. (6.) Nene, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 59 GP, 30.7 MPG, 15.1 PPG, 2.0 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .629 FG%, .200 3P%, .747 FT%, 21.0 PER

If you exclude Danilo Gallinari’s two games in Denver where he averaged 16 points per game, Nene is now the Nuggets’ leading scorer. He’s taken on a larger role in Denver’s offense since Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups left town — which I’m sure we can agree is a good idea, considering that he leads the NBA in field goal percentage. More importantly, the Nuggets are 6-2 since the trade.

7. (New entry) Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 33 GP, 34.8 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 2.4 APG, 11.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG, .516 FG%, .000 3P%, .716 FT%, 19.0 PER

Noah’s conditioning and jumpshot haven’t quite returned since he came back to the Bulls’ lineup from thumb surgery on February 23, but coach Tom Thibodeau has called Noah’s defense “phenomenal” and his rebounding in those eight games (11.6 per game) has been right on par with his season average.

6. (New entry) Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 65 GP, 35.7 MPG, 18.7 PPG, 1.6 APG, 9.2 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.0 BPG, .503 FG%, .000 3P%, .773 FT%, 20.1 PER

In his last 10 games, Big Al has been putting up numbers that would make Karl Malone proud: 27.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. He’s never going to be a good defender in the post, but that’s what they’re grooming Derrick Favors for. Considering that Jefferson is just 26 years old, Jazz fans have a lot to look forward to.

Al Jefferson dunks on the Dallas Mavericks
5. (4.) Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 59 GP, 27.7 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 0.4 APG, 9.4 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .651 FG%, .000 3P%, .760 FT%, 19.0 PER

Dwight Howard is a lock for the All-Defensive First Team, but should Tyson Chandler be considered the favorite to make the second team? His effect on the Mavericks’ defense is undeniable, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble if he’s going to get his team over the hump in the playoffs — he logged five fouls in each of his last two games and only averaged 21 minutes in those games.

4. (3.) Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 41 GP, 26.6 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 1.3 APG, 8.5 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .573 FG%, .000 3P%, .691 FT%, 21.2 PER

When people talk about the “size problems” created by the Lakers’ frontcourt, they’re talking partially about Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom but what they’re really referring to is the intimidating effect of man-mountain Andrew Bynum. When he’s healthy and playing well, the Lakers are close to unbeatable — as we saw during their recent eight-game winning streak when he averaged 10.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game while the Lakers held their opponents to an average of 87 points per game.

3. (New entry) Amare Stoudemire, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 63 GP, 36.9 MPG, 26.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, 8.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 2.0 BPG, .512 FG%, .455 3P%, .794 FT%, 23.9 PER

He’s back to playing most of his minutes at center, which probably suits Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni just fine regardless of what Stoudemire thinks about it. He needs to be careful about technical fouls going forward even though the NBA rescinded the tech called on him on Thursday — his next T will be his 16th and will cause him to be suspended for one game.

2. (2.) Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 60 GP, 35.2 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 3.6 APG, 9.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .567 FG%, .500 3P%, .804 FT%, 22.2 PER

He’s still playing out of position, and he’s still better at that position than all but one other player in the NBA. Hawks coach Larry Drew says that Horford has started embracing a leadership role on the team: “He is taking that role of being one of the leaders on the team and not afraid to put the team on his back. … When he is playing with that kind of swagger and that kind of energy, you can see the other guys kind of latch on.”

1. (1.) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic — 2010-11 stats: 62 GP, 37.2 MPG, 23.0 PPG, 1.3 APG, 13.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.3 BPG, .599 FG%, .000 3P%, .588 FT%, 26.0 PER

Like Stoudemire, Dwight finds himself in technical jeopardy at this crucial stage of the season. He’s already picked up his 16th technical foul and served a one-game suspension on Monday as the Magic predictably lost to the Trail Blazers. I’ve been backing Dwight for MVP consideration lately, but the Magic are five games behind Derrick Rose and the Bulls in the standings with 15 Orlando games remaining — meaning that Howard’s chances of beating out Rose for the award are slim to none, and slim just bounced.