The center position has changed from the times in the past. Centers used to just be the big man on the floor. The man in the middle. A player that can score 10 feet from the basket, rebound, and block any shot that was coming into the lane. They were big, bad, and full of muscle and you did not dare enter the lane.
In the modern era, we may not ever see a player like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Shaq ever again. Centers have to be able to do what the other four players can do on the floor. Shoot the three, pass, and sometimes be the first player the guard looks to when starting the offense. Let’s take a look at today’s top centers by tiers.
Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid
Starting, we must take a look at the best centers in the league, who are both the No. 1 and No. 4 contenders for the MVP award. With both LeBron James and Embiid going down with injuries last month, it opened the door for Jokic and James Harden to claim the award, with Jokic leading the way. For the season, Jokic owns averages of 26.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. The offense for the Denver Nuggets runs through Jokic. Without him, this team would not be the same.
Again, if Embiid was not hurt, he would have been the MVP favorite right now, and not Jokic. To put it into perspective, Embiid is also the main focal point of the Philly offense but his numbers sport 29.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks. While his assists are not as high, his 40.4% three-point field goal percentage is about 5% higher than Jokic’s.
Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bam Adebayo, Nikola Vucevic, Kristaps Porzingis
Gobert is on track to win his third Defensive Player of the Year Award, which has only been done by Dikembe Mutombo, who leads the all-time list with four, and Dwight Howard. Gobert is also averaging at least 13 rebounds per game for the second straight season. Towns are averaging 24.6 points and 11.0 rebounds for a Timberwolves team that is on track to win another No. 1 overall pick. Towns is an exceptional player, so don’t take the Timberwolves’ losses as a reason to discredit his abilities.
Vucevic was worth the trade package from Chicago. Before coming to Chicago, he averaged 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds. He is a skilled big man that can shoot and pass. While his skill set is not as great as Jokic, having a “great value” Jokic is still All-Star worthy. Kristaps Porzingis has never played a full season, but he deserves to be here just because of his contribution and stats. With 20.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game, he is one of the best big men in the league and it would be great if we can see him finally healthy.
Finally, we had to end with Adebayo because out of all the players in this list from Tier 1 and Tier 2, Adebayo joins Embiid as the two best two-way players in the league. Adebayo’s defensive abilities are not at the same level as Gobert’s, but he hustles for every rebound and block. Not to mention, he can score, averaging 19.2 points per game currently.
Jonas Valanciunas, Deandre Ayton, Clint Capela, Myles Turner
What a great season for Valanciunas. When he was traded to Memphis as part of the Marc Gasol deal, he showed that he could be a center that scored after his 19.9 points in 19 games. This year, he is averaging 16.2 points but also career-high 12.5 rebounds. This is the type of production that Phoenix is hoping to get from Ayton, who is averaging 14.5 points and 10.8 rebounds. The former No. 1 overall pick is only 22 years old but with Chris Paul at the helm, the Suns don’t have a lot of time to wait around.
Capella ended up being a nice pickup for the Hawks, as he leads the league in rebounding with 14.2 per game. His 15.1 points and 69% field goal percentage give him a valid argument to be in Tier 3, but then you realize he hasn’t taken a three-point shot this season. Turner is in the same boat as Capella, labeled as a traditional center and not a modern age player. Turner leads the league in blocks with 3.5, but his offensive abilities are limited. He sports a modest 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds, which is starter-worthy, but not star-caliber.
Montrezl Harrell, Richaun Holmes, Jarrett Allen, Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka, Brook Lopez, Andre Drummond, Jaren Jackson Jr., Christian Wood
Tier 4 has some talented players that have a case for Tier 3. For starters, Harrell is a former Sixth Man of the Year winner but his new role has lowered his numbers compared to last season. He’s playing on a title-contending team and now backs up Drummond, so when you change your role, it changes your individual status. If Drummond didn’t sit out a month, which is not his fault, he would be in Tier 3 but after losing playing time, he is going to come back rusty. Still, if he plays near his 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds, he is going to shoot up this list.
Ibaka, Holmes. Lopez and Jackson Jr. are all capable starters, but you know what you get with them. You will get a long defender that is capable of scoring within the basket and is an okay defender. Lopez has improved his three-point shot, but it’s nothing too glamorous. Howard is a serviceable backup center that can still defend at a high level.
The two outliers in the group are Allen and Wood. Both are having career seasons. Allen is averaging 11.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. The 22-year old is going to be an All-Star within the next few seasons, so keep an eye out for his game to rise. Wood made a case to be an All-Star as he owns averages of 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Rockets. Both are playing on bad teams, so they don’t get a lot of attention, but these players could be something special shortly.
Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Wendell Carter Jr., James Wiseman, Bobby Portis
These final players are role players for their respective teams. Adams is a Tier 1 teammate. Any player in the league will attest to that. Kanter is having another respectable season with 12.0 points and 11.6 rebounds. He is a high-energy player that doesn’t get a lot of love from teams in free agency because he is a defensive liability but he is the ultimate role-playing center. Portis is the same way, but his 47.1% three-point field goal percentage was leading the NBA at one point.
Wiseman is only a rookie, so we should give him some more time to develop, but so far he is averaging 11.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.0 block per game. Carter Jr. can’t ever stay healthy long enough for us to evaluate him properly. With the Magic, he found his place in the world, posting 15.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.