Joel and the subjective guide to backup center desirability

I love this guy. You can frequently read comments about Joel Przybilla around Blazer's Edge to the effect of "best backup center in the league", "never trade him", etc. Well, maybe not quite, yet while we might start to over-value Joel, most media pundits and fans of opposing teams still tend to vastly under-value him.

If he is content with his new role in Portland (and I think he is), he is even better suited as a backup to Greg Oden than as a starter. He will come in with all his energy, defending the post, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, setting textbook picks, throwing elbows, after Greg has already worn down the starter. To me, he is almost the perfect role player for this position, and that's a valuable position on a team with a young center still learning the finer points of the game and coming off major rehab. He will do everything the team needs from him to win the game, and every point he scores is a bonus.

Today I went through all the depth charts of the other teams, and was again surprised how few backups I would like to have over Joel if we would need to find a replacement. Performance, age and salary matter in this head-to-head comparisons. Joel comes in at under $6.5 million (20.5 over the next three seasons if he plays out his whole contract), is 28 years old (going on 29 but working hard to stay durable), averaged 4.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG in a little over 23 minutes last season (I would expect him to play about 15 this season), and has strong intangibles that don't even show up in most advanced stats. With that in mind, I present "The subjective guide to NBA backup center desirability 2008" (as a companion, I highly recommend "The Timbo subjective guide to NBA player height"):

  1. Atlanta: Zaza Pachulia. Advantage Joel, though Zaza is not much worse and 4 years younger.
  2. Boston: Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Davis is undersized for the center position, but 6 years younger and much cheaper. Excellent late pick. Push.
  3. Charlotte: Ryan Hollins/Alexis Ajinca. Advantage Joel until (if) Adjinca develops. I would even take him over starter Nazr Mohammed (more points, less rebounds, 3 years older)
  4. Chicago: Aaron Gray. Advantage Joel, but at 23 Gray might still develop into a very similar player.
  5. Cleveland: Anderson Varejao. Great hustler, draws tons of offensive fouls. Similar defensive stats, slightly more dangerous on offense, similar price, three years younger, can play both positions. Advantage Varejao. Joel would bag Lorenzen Wright if he plays backup C.
  6. Dallas: DeSagana Diop. Horribly overpaid now for what he does on defense, even weaker on offense. Advantage Joel.
  7. Denver: Steven Hunter/Chris Andersen. Advantage Joel. He might even start, cause Nene while more talented on offense isn't a true center.
  8. Detroit: Kwame Brown. Not a complete bust, yet never worth the money he got. Advantage Joel.
  9. Golden State: Ronny Turiaf. While also not a true center, 3 years younger, 2 million cheaper, great hustler. Slight advantage Turiaf.
  10. Houston Rockets: Uhm, who is their backup center??? Earth to Rockets, Yao Ming is injury prone. 6'7 Carl Landry, if he re-signs? 6'9 Luis Scola who starts on PF? Methusela Mutombo? Until further notice, advantage Joel.
  11. Indiana: Rasho Nesterovic (might be traded before the season), Roy Hibbert. Push if Rasho stays.
  12. LA Clippers: Tim Thomas/Brian Skinner/DeAndre Jordan. I suppose Camby starts on PF. Anyway, slight advantage Clippers with Thomas and more depth.
  13. LA Lakers: Chris Mihm. At this point with a lot of injuries to Mihm, advantage Joel.
  14. Memphis: Hamed Haddadi? Advantage Joel. Or would a traded Zach play backup center? Doubtful.
  15. Miami: Jamaal Magloire. A shadow of his All-Star self. Advantage Joel. I wouldn't even want Mark Blount.
  16. Milwaukee: Dan Gadzuric/Francisco Elson. Both older and weaker, advantage Joel.
  17. Minnesota: Calvin Booth/Jason Collins/Mark Madsen? Advantage Joel against all of them.
  18. New Jersey: Josh Boone/Sean Williams? Advantage New Jersey.
  19. New Orleans: Melvin Ely/Hilton Armstrong. While both are cheaper and Armstong is younger, advantage Joel.
  20. New York: Jerome James is toast. Yet if Darko Milicic gets traded and is the first big off the bench with Lee starting at PF, advantage Darko.
  21. Oklahoma City: Johan Petro. Similar performance, 6 years younger, much cheaper. Slight advantage Petro.
  22. Orlando: Adonal Foyle/Marcin Gortat. While Gortat still might develop a lot when he gets more minutes this year, currently advantage Joel.
  23. Philadelphia: Theo Ratfliff, Marreese Speights. One is too old, one is too inexperienced. Advantage Joel.
  24. Phoenix: Robin Lopez. The guy definitely has talent to be a very good center especially on defense, but until I see it, advantage Joel.
  25. Sacramento: Spencer Hawes. Not really better right now, but on a good trajectory and still very young. Advantage Hawes.
  26. San Antonio: Kurt Thomas. Nearing retirement, but still really good. Push.
  27. Toronto: Nathan Jawai is super-raw. Andrea Bargnani on center? Push if you consider offense and defense until Bargnani realizes his full potential, and that would be more at PF.
  28. Utah: Jarron Collins/Kosta Koufos/Kyrylo Fesenko. Advantage Joel until further notice.
  29. Washington: Andray Blatche. 6 years younger, cheaper, better scorer, already almost equal. Advantage Blatche. Joel would keep Etan Thomas in check.

Total: 17 advantage/slight advantage Joel. 4 push. 8 advantage/slight advantage opponent. That's not a bad backup solution at all for the next two to three seasons (he has an early termination option before 2010/11) if Greg turns out to be our dominant center. And after that, we might look again to acquire a younger replacement via all options.

Since Dave has no player topic up for discussion today, start your appreciations of Joel, why he is even better than I think, or argue who you would like to have instead (or after his tenure with the Blazers) for the role of backup "man in the middle".

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