Marc Gasol vs. Al Horford: Who Is Fantasy Basketball’s #1 Center?

Outside of the much publicized LeBron vs. Durant discussion there isn’t a more interesting debate to me in fantasy basketball this season than the one about which center should top the rankings list.

It’s been a spot long reserved for Dwight Howard, but as the rest of the pack has caught up to Dwight his shortcomings have become more of an issue. If you’re playing head to head he’s probably still the top guy on this list, but in a roto league I don’t think he sits atop the center throne any longer.

In this article two different sides will be presented for who should be number one, with an argument for Marc Gasol and one for Al Horford, two centers on the rise. Why is it important might be your question. If they are close in value, which they are, why not just wait a round and take whoever is left? Chances are you won’t be able to. If you are keying in on a center in the middle of round two, the other one is going to go shortly after and won’t likely make it back to you.

So while the gap might be small between them you may very well have to decide one or the other and you want to make the right choice. Here are the arguments for each side:

The Argument for Al Horford from Will Overton

I think both Ray and I agree that the margin here is small between these two. I think what sways me is that while their games are similar, I can see Horford being more dominant, whereas I don’t know if I’ll ever describe Gasol’s game as more than a solid good player.

The talk is that Gasol is going to up his game by this huge amount because Rudy Gay is gone now. You can’t argue that he won’t get better, but I wonder how much better. Gasol did have a nice March without Horford, but he shot 57% which was considerably higher than his season total. He also only averaged 11 points in nine games in April. Gasol is going to get better, but I just can’t see him topping 17 PPG, at the very most.

Meanwhile the Josh Smith departure in Atlanta is more significant than people are saying. Yes, they signed Paull Millsap, but that’s not Josh Smith. Smith took almost 16 shots per game last year, Millsap took 11 on a team that doesn’t have this same kind of talent. Josh Smith blocked 1.8 shots per game, Millsap blocked one.

Horford had a career high in points, rebounds and steals last season. I legitimately think he’ll improve in all those areas again. I think Horford is an 18/10 guy every night and he could easily approach four assists per game too. Don’t forget the Hawks love to pass from the inside out, and Smith was the big guy for that.

The one big advantage Gasol has, and I am readily admitting it, is in blocks. Gasol is a much better shot blocker and you like to have blocks from your big man, you need to have them. Blocks are more available now than ever before though. You can make up anything you lose in blocks in the mid or late rounds. And Horford could easily take a step forward there too. Smith was a block machine, now he’s gone. That doesn’t mean Horford gets those blocks, but he has a chance at them now.

The only other knock I can see someone having on Horford is that he shot 64% last year. That’s rough, but it’s not Dwight Howard here. That won’t single handedly sink your FT%. And, he’s a 74% career shooter who approached then 80% range his previous two seasons before last. You can’t dismiss the FT%, but I do think there’s reason to believe it improves, possibly dramatically.

Both of these guys are good players. If I am betting money on one of them becoming great this season, I’m betting on Horford. With neither guy having a very low floor, why not go with the guy who has the higher ceiling?

The Argument for Marc Gasol from Ray Kuhn

There really is not much difference between Marc Gasol and Al Horford. Yes, I know that is a bad way to start an article when you are trying to make the case for one over another. But it is the truth.

To be honest, I would be perfectly fine with either one of them anchoring the pivot for my squad. But, it is likely that you will be tasked with making the decision between Gasol and Horford. And at that point simply saying that there is not much difference between the two will not suffice. That is where we come in.

On draft day, if faced with the choice between the two centers, Marc Gasol will be my selection.

Following the trade of Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors last season, Gasol saw his scoring output increase and he averaged 17.2 points per game in 15 March games. The Grizzlies also lost O.J. Mayo last offseason. That simply means that touches are available, and someone needs to pick up the scoring slack. I can very well see Gasol being that guy. 

The offseason also saw Josh Smith leave Atlanta for Detroit, so that freed some offense up for Horford. However, that was only momentarily as the Hawks acquired power forward Paul Milsap to replace him.

I think we will see an improvement in both center’s point guards, Mike Conley for Gasol and Jeff Teague for Horford, so there is not much difference there. The one problem with this though, is that forces Horford to continue playing center as opposed to power forward where he is more comfortable.

With that being said, I would expect to see the scoring output for both players to be relatively similar, but I give a slight edge to Gasol.

Gasol also gets the edge in blocks by about half a block per game which translates to roughly 40 extra blocks over the course of the season. To me, that makes a big difference and could mean a few points in the standings.

Personally when I look at building my team, I try to value free throw shooting percentage over field goal percentage. In my opinion, it is easier to make up ground in field goal percentage, and that usually works itself out. Free throw percentage is harder to come by, and a specifically a center really can sabotage that.

Gasol on the other hand, can turn that into a strength for your squad while Horford will be a hardship. The 15% difference between the two centers free throw percentage carries more weight with me than Horford’s field goal percentage being about 5% higher than Gasol’s.

Horford might give you one or two more rebounds a game, but that is something that can be made up otherwise.

This decision really comes down to personal preference and you likely will be happy with either one.

If you’re the guy picking the first center who is it going to be? Are you on one of these guys or are you leaning somewhere else all together?

For my full centers rankings and projections on these two and many more check out the RotoProfessor Draft Guide which you can purchase here.

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