Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum

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.

This will be my final positional power ranking of the 2010-11 NBA season. The thousands of hours of NBA-watching, Googling, blog-reading, and number-crunching I put into these posts were made worthwhile by the all the lovely, intelligent and charming commenters and Tweeters who interacted with me throughout the season — even the ones who questioned my mental facilities and cast aspersions on my ability to contain my saliva within my own mouth*. Let’s do this again next season, chill bros.

*This is a lie.

10. (10.) Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets — 2010-11 stats: 78 GP, 35.2 MPG, 20.0 PPG, 1.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG, .488 FG%, .000 3P%, .785 FT%, 18.9 PER

Brook Lopez can be a top-five center in this league, there should be little doubt about that. It’s been a matter of consistent effort from game-to-game this season — the scoring is often there, not so much with rebounding and defense. If we keep in mind that he’s still just 23 years old, then we should continue to believe he has a bright NBA future.

9. (6.) Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 79 GP, 36.0 MPG, 18.7 PPG, 1.8 APG, 9.7 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .494 FG%, .000 3P%, .769 FT%, 20.1 PER

A lot of people in the comments of these rankings get confused or angry when high-scoring big men like Lopez and Al Jefferson are ranked behind much less gifted offensive players. Maybe I’m tainted by five years of rooting for a team with Andrea Bargnani in its frontcourt, but I’m much less impressed by big men who can score than I am by bigs who rebound, contain their man in the post and provide help on penetration. Utah’s end-of-season slide — particularly on defense — reveals the fatal flaw in starting two big men who are both below-average defenders. Again, as a Raptors fan, I speak from experience.

8. (5.) Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 70 GP, 36.0 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 0.5 APG, 9.3 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .645 FG%, .000 3P%, .739 FT%, 18.4 PER

The timing of Chandler’s annual injury problems couldn’t be worse for the Mavericks. They’re a whole different team — especially on the defensive end — when he’s in the lineup. They’re 50-20 when he plays this season and 3-5 when he doesn’t. If Dirk is the straw that stirs the Mavs’ drink, then Chandler might be the ice that keeps the drink cool. (To be honest, that analogy makes less sense than I thought it would now that I’ve typed it out. Let’s just move on.)

7. (New entry) Emeka Okafor, New Orleans Hornets — 2010-11 stats: 68 GP, 32.0 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 0.6 APG, 9.7 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.8 BPG, .580 FG%, .000 3P%, .561 FT%, 16.3 PER

Allow me to toast Emeka Okafor as he prepares to make his first playoff appearance in seven NBA seasons. He never lived up to some of the expectations that come with being drafted second overall (behind Dwight Howard, in his case) but he’s a very solid defensive center who has remained remarkably healthy over the past four seasons and he’s the main reason the Hornets are ranked seventh in Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) this season.

6. (7.) Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 44 GP, 33.7 MPG, 11.9 PPG, 2.3 APG, 10.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.4 BPG, .525 FG%, .000 3P%, .726 FT%, 18.4 PER

In sharp contrast with Okafor’s sturdiness, Noah missed 18 games last season, has missed 34 games this season and is currently recovering from a sprained right ankle. When he’s healthy, though, he brings it on both ends of the court and would have to be ranked among the most beloved teammates in the league. He’s probably always going to rub other teams’ fans the wrong way, but I doubt that will dim his exuberance if the Bulls go all the way. As one of the featured comments in this YouTube clip said, “oh lord whats going to happen if the bulls win.”

Emeka Okafor

5. (8.) Nene, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 72 GP, 30.7 MPG, 14.6 PPG, 2.0 APG, 7.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .611 FG%, .200 3P%, .728 FT%, 20.4 PER

Nene’s ascension among the top big men in the NBA will make him an extremely coveted free agent this coming off-season. He’s always been offensively skilled and that ability has grown to the point where he can average 15 points per game on 60 percent shooting — a rare skill indeed. What’s new this season is his improved commitment on defense, where he now uses his athleticism to great advantage on pick-and-roll switches. Few men of his size can stay in front of quicker guards like he can.

4. (3.) Amare Stoudemire, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 77 GP, 37.0 MPG, 25.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, 8.2 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .503 FG%, .435 3P%, .793 FT%, 22.8 PER

It’s tricky figuring out whether to rank Stoudemire as a center or a power forward since Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has switched him between positions throughout the season. Most of his minutes were at center so that’s where he gets ranked for now, but the good news for Knicks fans who have grown tired of Stoudemire’s inconsistent attentiveness on defense is that D’Antoni is reportedly leaning towards starting Shelden Williams at center in the playoffs.

3. (2.) Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 73 GP, 35.7 MPG, 15.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 9.5 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .557 FG%, .500 3P%, .798 FT%, 20.9 PER

Like Stoudemire, he’s a man stuck between two positions. Unlike Stoudemire, Hawks fans never feel cheated by his defensive and rebounding efforts even though he’s usually undersized compared to his counterpart. There are signs the grind of banging against the big dudes is wearing him down, however — he only has four double-digit rebounding performances in his last 15 games.

2. (4.) Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 27.8 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 1.4 APG, 9.5 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 2.0 BPG, .576 FG%, .000 3P%, .662 FT%, 21.6 PER

Beast mode: Activate! Bynum’s been OK since the All-Star break, I guess. I mean, as long as averages of 11.9 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 61 percent shooting are the kind of numbers you like to see from your center. I happen to be one of those people, as you might have figured. Bynum is a problem for every team the Lakers face and if there’s an “X-Factor” in these playoffs, he’s it.

1. (1.) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic — 2010-11 stats: 76 GP, 37.8 MPG, 23.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 14.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.4 BPG, FG%, 3P%, FT%, 26.1 PER

Here’s an argument I haven’t heard or read anywhere else regarding the increasingly contentious MVP debate: Is there a bigger gap between the best and second-best player at his position than there is between Dwight Howard and whoever you deem to be next on your list of centers? I’m not saying it should necessarily factor into the MVP decision, but I think it’s worth noting the likely team impact of replacing a particular player with anyone else who plays his position.