BOULDER, CO – DECEMBER 07: Colorado University guard, Askia Booker, left, challenges Kansas center, Joel Embiid, for the ball in the first half of play at the Coors Events Center in Boulder Colorado Saturday afternoon, December 07, 2013.

The future of a species may rest on the broad, young shoulders of Joel Embiid.

The center species.

NBA executives are still suckers for an athletic, talented 7-footer, as well they should be. League history is filled with accomplished, fearsome centers — the kind of players you build teams around and win titles with. From Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Hakeem Olajuwon to Shaquille O’Neal.

Only the reality is, it’s not that way anymore.

The starting centers for this year’s NBA final four? Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert, Tiago Splitter and Kendrick Perkins. Bosh is by far the best of that bunch, but not a post player by any means. He’s a stretch-four playing center for the NBA’s premier small-ball team. Hibbert regressed to being just a space eater this season. Splitter and Perkins are role players.

The point is this: Winning in the NBA doesn’t require otherworldly talent in the post. Dwight Howard? Gone in the first round and has no titles. Marc Gasol? Gone in the first round and has no trips to the NBA Finals. Brooklyn played its best basketball of the year after center Brook Lopez was injured and out for the season. Washington’s Marcin Gortat and the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan were the closest athletes resembling a “big-time” center on teams that played in the conference semifinals. Both were second-round draft picks.

So why break your back to draft one with the top pick or any other lottery selection?

Embiid is the latest to-die-for center. His freshman season was compared favorably to Olajuwon’s in college.

But winning in the NBA these days requires only that your center be competent, not great. He must be able to contest shots and block some. He has to be able to catch the ball ready to lay it in or dunk when his man is drawn away from him. He must be able to defend without fouling and be effective enough on the block when the ball is thrown down to him in the post.

And that’s about it.

It doesn’t take the next Patrick Ewing to get that done.

That’s why Embiid is so crucial to the importance of the position and how it’s valued in the future. Perimeter players reign in this NBA. Even the best power forwards are now versatile players who can shoot with range out to the 3-point line. The league is speeding up as more teams go with up-tempo attacks. Winning requires big-time scorers who can work outside-in and players around them to space the court. Centers have been largely reduced to screeners, defenders and rebounders.

But if Embiid can buck the trend of recent draft disappointments in the post, he can breathe life back into the position. A whole generation of would-be post players is watching. An NBA full of longtime executives, who desperately want the center position to mean something again, are watching.

Because if Embiid falls short, if NBA titles keep going to the high-scoring small forward, the shooting guard and the versatile power forward, the view and value of these kinds of centers in the future will take a big hit.

Christopher Dempsey: cdempsey@ or dempseypost

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