The late 1980s and 1990s are heralded as the Age of Center. Hakeem, Robinson, Ewing, and Shaq are the headliners of this period of big men domination. One towering seven-footer who never received their level of acclaim, but was still talented and dominating in his own right was Brad Daugherty.
His domination didn’t achieve the longevity of his contemporaries, though, thanks to a bad back. His troublesome dorsal side knocked him out of the NBA in 1994 at the tender age of 28. Luckily, Daugherty proved an early bloomer. So, despite being a four-year college grad, he entered the NBA at age 20.
Debuting in the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1986, Daugherty was one of three rookies who’d remake the Cavaliers over the next several seasons. Mark Price and Ron Harper were the other two young studs who helped rebuild Cleveland. During the 1987-88 season, the Cavs traded Kevin Johnson for Larry Nance and spurred their rebuild even further along.
Daugherty’s place in all of this was to anchor the offense down low.
He was an immovable surefire rock on the block. The baby-faced Daugherty would use his strength to create a whirlpool of a spin move to devastate defenders. Although he didn’t have the pure leaping ability of teammate Larry Nance, Daugherty loved to finish these moves with a big two-handed slam. And even though he was a wide, big load, Daugherty loved to also run the floor. His mack truck routine ended with some great one-handed dunks.
And for all the love the other centers of his era receive, it’s safe to say none of them ever passed as well as Daugherty. In his eight-year career, he never dipped below 3 assists per game and twice peaked above 4 APG. But it would be just like Daugherty to be the best center at passing. That isn’t a skill centers are truly lauded for. His demeanor was also not exactly one expected of centers. He had Robinson’s aww shucks attitude, but had a thick country drawl that knocked the unsuspecting off-balance.
With Daughety, Price, Nance, and (sometimes) Harper at the helm, the Cavaliers became a East powerhouse that always was thwarted by the Chicago Bulls. Five times the teams tangled in the postseason and five times the Bulls defeated Cleveland. In retrospect it’s no shame that Daugherty could never lead his great team past another one that won three-straight titles.
Also, in retrospect, it should be quite clear that Daugherty was a man who deserves inclusion in every discussion of great centers from any era. He doesn’t muster the longevity, or the astronomically astounding peaks, that men like Hakeem or Shaq maintained. Daugherty, however, did manage to become just one of 10 players to average 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for a career. That’s something the Diesel and company can only dream of.
Years Played: 1986 – 1994
All-NBA 3rd Team (1992)
5x All-Star (1988-’89, 1991-’93)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1987)
NBA – 548 Games
19.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 53.2% FG, 74.7% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1986-87 through 1993-94 season)
19th Points, 22nd PPG
27th FGs Made, 11th FG%
13th FTs Made, 36th Blocks
13th Rebounds, 13th RPG
39th Assists, 35th APG
61st Games Played, 22nd Minutes Played