Fantasy Basketball: Howard’s mistakes prevent him from securing top fantasy spot at center

So far in the abbreviated 2011-12 NBA season, some players have stepped up in their respective positions as the top fantasy players. This five-week series will investigate the top five players at each position, what they were ranked prior to the season and how their production will change in the future.

For the final piece of the series, the focus is on the center position.

5. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 15 Preseason Position Rank) – The No. 5 center this season from a fantasy standpoint is not a big time scorer or rebounder. In fact, he only averages 8.3 points per game (PPG) and 7.6 rebounds per game (RPG) in 27.6 minutes per game for the red-hot Thunder. It’s his defensive numbers that make him a top five fantasy pick. Serge “I Block Ya” Ibaka averages a league-leading 3.3 blocks per game (BPG) and 0.5 steals per game (SPG). On Sunday, he posted his first career double-double with 14 points, 15 rebounds and an astonishing 11 blocked shots. As of Monday, Ibaka had registered 105 blocks in 32 games this season. If he can start contributing more on the boards, look for Ibaka to become a triple-double machine.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (No. 1 Preseason Position Rank) – All the talk this off-season was on where Dwight Howard would land. As it happens, he didn’t go anywhere. So naturally, Howard’s fantasy value has dropped a little from where the analysts predicted it’d be. Despite that, he’s still put up fantastic numbers in 33 games, averaging 20.3 PPG, 15.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.4 SPG and 2.0 assists per game (APG) in 38.4 minutes of play. He’s been an all-around force in the fantasy world… so why isn’t his value higher? For starters, his free throw percentage is a career-low 50.1 percent. He accumulates 3.3 turnovers per game and a fairly low field goal percentage of 54.7 percent. Even though he’s putting up career highs in minutes per game, rebounds and assists, percentages play a huge part in fantasy basketball scoring, and turnovers are killers. If his percentages were where they were last year, he may very well be the top-ranked center again this season.

3. Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns (No. 13 Preseason Position Rank) – Gortat’s numbers may not be as impressive as Howard’s, but his percentages and turnover numbers are much better. While Gortat only averages 15.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 1.6 BPG, he makes 66.4 percent of his free throws (72.2 percent in his last five games) and 55.7 percent of his field goals, with only half the turnovers of Howard (1.5). Despite being drafted, on average, 50 spots behind Howard, he’s had a better fantasy value this season, making him a steal for his fantasy owners. He is also much less likely to foul out than Howard, with only 2.1 personal fouls per game compared to Howard’s 3.2.

2. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks (No. 23 Preseason Position Rank) – Again, a situation where percentages and turnovers are more important than points, rebounds and blocks. Chandler averages a comparatively-meager 11.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.4 BPG and 1.0 SPG. However, his percentages are off the charts. Chandler averages 70.7 percent from the field and 72.9 percent from the charity stripe, while averaging the same turnover numbers as Gortat at 1.5. On average, Chandler was drafted 62 spots behind Howard, yet his fantasy value is much better thanks to his high percentages and ability to handle to ball.

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (No. 16 Preseason Position Rank) – Gasol’s field goal percentage is actually worse than Howard’s (45.3), but he makes up for it in other areas. Gasol averages 15.0 PPG and 9.9 RPG, with block numbers identical to Howard at 2.1 BPG. He also averages 2.9 APG, which is better than Howard’s assist numbers (2.0). Add 1.0 SPG and Gasol is one of the most well-rounded center’s in the NBA. Despite his low field goal percentage, he has made 75.7 percent of his free throws and is good for the occasional three-pointer, which Howard is not. He also averages 2.1 turnovers per game, compared to Howard’s 3.3, and 37.9 minutes per game.