Kevin Seraphin: The Man in the Middle?

Apr 1, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Raptors center Aaron Gray (34) protects the ball from Washington Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin (13) at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Wizards 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The most important responsibility of an NBA center is to protect the middle. A certain, ahem, Grizzled-veteran recently advised Knick sensation Jeremy Lin:

When you watch tape, never watch your guy -- the guy you're sticking with. The guy that's sticking you is basically nonexistent. You look at the defenders behind him. How good are they? How good they are lets you know the kind of night you're going to have.

Essentially, that it's less important who a perimeter defender is than who's helping him. Centers are uniquely important in that they have to be ready to provide help defense at the rim regardless of where the offense is attacking from. Whereas a poor defensive center might not have had to have been involved in every play in the days of hand-checking, a poor defensive big can be exposed on almost every play an opposing team runs as a result of how easy it is for guards to get into the paint. Even if a team went to a zone to compensate for this weakness, they would still be exposed to the offensive rebounding unoccupied scorers might chip in.

As Nene gets deeper into his 30s and his injuries pile up, the Wizards may have to rely on Kevin Seraphin to play center more. In order to build around their current core, it's important that they know what they have in order to acquire the right complementary pieces. Whether or not Seraphin should be starting at center when John Wall is in his prime will be discussed after the break.

Kevin Seraphin is regularly described as a power forward despite playing the majority of his minutes in the middle. Seraphin is typically treated as a stop-gap player going forward and as someone who would come off of the bench for a good team. While there's no reason to expect he'll be an all-star, he's a young player with a PER over 15, so it's likely he'll be an above-average offensive player. The typical knock seems to be that at 6'9 and without elite hops, he can't anchor a defense, but he averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes last year. His defensive rebounding numbers are very poor, though, which is usually a red flag that a player is chasing blocks and out of position as a result. The trade off a slightly undersized player like Seraphin typically offers is a greater capability to switch onto perimeter players.

While the Wizards weren't good defensively last year, they played a solid number of minutes with Nene, the anchor of some good defensive teams in Denver, so a reasonable assumption can be made that doing as well as Nene can be considered adequate leaguewide. Meanwhile, Javale McGee, while not necessarily a good defender, is at least a really tall guy, which is the main thing being held against Seraphin as a potential man in the middle.

Player Defense On

Defense Off

Net Opponent PER
Seraphin 104 110 6 15.1
Nene 97 109 12 12.1
McGee 112 106 -6 19.1

(All Points Per 100 Possessions and from

Obviously, Seraphin at this point isn't quite at the level of an in his prime Nene, but he was clearly better than JaVale McGee last year. What should really give fans of the team hope, though, is that Seraphin is still only 22 and relatively new to basketball, so to be even just OK at this point is excellent as a sign of where he might wind up as a player. His height isn't a problem here, either, as he holds his opponents to a PER of 15.1, which is almost exactly average. Again, this is as a young player without great help defenders around him.

Ok, so even if Seraphin can defend well enough to play center, wouldn't the team's rebounding suffer having him chasing blocks? Actually, not all that much:

Player Team Defensive Rebounding Percentage
Seraphin 70
Nene 72.9
McGee 64.8

Seraphin is already much better at improving his team's defensive rebounding than McGee, and is almost as good as Nene, a key player on some Denver teams that were good on the glass.

Cleary, Kevin Seraphin isn't at a level where he should be starting in the middle for a good team. However, he's still young, picked up the game recently and has a track record for improvement, so he has a great shot at turning into a good player. He has a good work ethic and the physical tools -- strength for post defense, length and hops for rim protection, and the lateral quickness to guard the pick and roll -- to play center on defense, and has already demonstrated enough of an offensive game to be able to create for himself and his teammates.

What the team has in Seraphin is a player who should eventually be at least as good a defensive center as Nene while racking up offensive stats at a pretty good clip. That shouldn't make him untouchable, but he should be considered the team's long-term solution at center if he improves at a reasonable pace.

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