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NBA Center Tiers: Joel Embiid And Nikola Jokic Are The Best Big Men In The World

NBA Center Tiers: Joel Embiid And Nikola Jokic Are The Best Big Men In The World

Big men are back, and there is no way that dominant centers have little impact on the game anymore. The paradigm shift towards outside shooting had seemingly killed the ability for centers to impact the game, but they have seemingly adapted by spacing the floor and showcasing other offensive skills.

Due to their versatility, modern centers are also capable of creating shots for others, defending multiple positions, and also defending the rim at a high level. Even if modern bigs are not obsessed with scoring around the rim anymore, they are still impactful players in a game predicated on outside shooting. Quite frankly, every team that wants to contend needs a capable center that can do multiple things. Here are all the NBA’s best centers ranked into tiers, until the best big man in the league is crowned.

Tier 5: Average Starters

Ivica Zubac, Daniel Gafford, Alperen Sengun, Jaxson Hayes, Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Stewart, Naz Reid, Maxi Kleber

Tier 5 centers are considered at the bottom of their class as starters, although they do their job at the basic level. They are all worthy NBA professionals who contribute on the court without making too much impact and are often looked over on the stat sheet.

Ivica Zubac is a very capable center due to his size, and he can roll to the rim and also play decent defense around the basket. Practically given away by the Lakers during the 2019 season, Zubac is playing a strong role for the Clippers averaging 9.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG.

Daniel Gafford is a 23-year-old center with some promising potential because he can defend well and is improving his offensive game slowly. The Wizards center is putting up 9.1 PPG and 6.0 RPG this season, playing a career-high 20.7 MPG.

The Houston Rockets are in tank mode, and one of their brightest players is Alperen Sengun, a Turkish center with a naturally skilled postgame. Drafted No. 16 overall this year, Sengun is putting up 8.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. Based on his solid start, Sengun could become a very good player someday.

Jaxson Hayes is another young center who makes Tier 5 because he combines athleticism with a growing skillset as he starts getting more minutes for the Pelicans. Averaging 8.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG this year, Hayes could become a capable starter who can impact the game very soon.

The New York Knicks might have some roster restructuring to do, and it might have to start with starting center Mitchell Robinson. The defensive big man is putting 8.3 PPG and 8.7 RPG this year, along with 1.6 BPG. His effort has not been consistent over his career thus far, but his improvements have probably made Robinson a trade target for some teams.

Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart made headlines this year for his altercation with LeBron James, but he is a promising center with a natural motor that can run the entire game. Averaging 8.4 PPG and 8.4 RPG this season, Stewart has shown improvements since getting drafted last year.

Naz Reid’s job is to wreak havoc on the court, and he consistently does that by running the floor on offense and defending the rim. The third-year center is putting up 8.1 PPG and 3.8 RPG this season, but his ability as a three-point shooter might be his greatest attribute (career 34.2% 3-PT FG).

A sharpshooting center that can provide around 25 MPG at a decent level, Maxi Kleber is averaging 7.8 PPG and 5.9 RPG on 36.5% shooting from three for the Dallas Mavericks. The center is tasked with spacing the floor around superstar Luka Doncic, and he has done a decent job so far over 5 seasons.

Tier 4: Quality Starters

Christian Wood, Steven Adams, Bobby Portis, Evan Mobley, Myles Turner, Jusuf Nurkic, Montrezl Harrell, Robert Williams III, Wendell Carter Jr, Jakob Poeltl, Al Horford, Andre Drummond

Centers in tier 4 compete at a high level every night and are considered above-average talents at their spots. While the separation between Tier 5 and Tier 4 is not as large as with Tier 3 players, it is still quite clear which players are more valuable starters than ordinary players.

Christian Wood is not quite a star, but he is putting up respectable numbers for the Houston Rockets this season. The lanky center is averaging 17.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 0.9 BPG this year through 55 games. Wood has great hands and is an excellent lob partner for guards on the offensive end.

One of the most physically powerful players in the league, Steven Adams is an immovable force when he is in the paint for the Memphis Grizzlies. Adams is putting up 7.1 PPG and 9.8 RPG this season, along with a career-high 3.3 APG. The New Zealand man is not responsible for scoring at an elite level, but for providing cover around the rim.

Bobby Portis is showing what he could really do when a team gives him a chance because he is certainly answering the bell for the Milwaukee Bucks. The big man was one of the best performers during last year’s title run and is averaging career-highs across the board. Portis is putting up 15.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 0.8 BPG for the reigning NBA champions.

Rookie Evan Mobley could be running away with the Rookie of the Year award, and nobody would have batted an eye if he was drafted No. 1 overall this year. An elite shot-blocker with natural offensive skills, Mobley will be a bonafide All-Star in the league. The 20-year-old is averaging 14.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 1.7 BPG for a very talented Cavaliers squad.

One of the game’s best shot blockers, Myles Turner deserves more praise for how well he impacts the game. The big man is putting up 12.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 2.8 BPG for the Pacers as a 2-time Blocks Champion. Even if Turner is not the most graceful player, he is an above-average player at his position.

The Portland Trail Blazers made some massive moves this season by trading CJ McCollum, but they seem keen on keeping Jusuf Nurkic on the roster. The talented offensive big man is putting up 15.0 PPG and 11.1 RPG this season, and if Portland want to be a playoff team going forward, Nurkic will be critical to the squad.

Montrezl Harrell has been traded a few times over the past few years, but he is still an above-average center who is active on the boards and around the rim. The former Lakers and Clippers man is having a solid season putting up 14.5 PPG and 6.9 RPG as he starts his new chapter with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Boston Celtics are playing much better lately, and Robert Williams is a big part of that. The active big man is putting up 10.0 PPG and 9.7 RPG this season, while also averaging a career-high 2.1 BPG. As a rim-runner who can catch lobs and finish around the basket, Williams is shooting an outstanding 72.8% from the field.

Wendell Carter Jr is one of the most talented young big men in the NBA, averaging 14.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 0.7 BPG for the Orlando Magic. A young center with a refined offensive game, Carter Jr does a ton of things on the floor very well including scoring from the perimeter and also crashing the boards at a very high level.

A very impactful starting center, Jakob Poeltl is a center who does everything an old-school big man should do. He rebounds at a high level (9.2 RPG), scores around the rim with efficiency (13.4 PPG on 62.0% shooting), and blocks shots (1.8 BPG). The Austrian was re-signed by the Spurs during the 2020 season, and his $27 million 3-year-extension is a bargain considering his production.

Al Horford has been a productive center for the majority of his career, and he continues to be as a 35-year-old center for the Boston Celtics. The veteran is putting up 10.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 3.4 APG on 44.9% shooting from the field. Horford’s numbers are down this year compared to his previous years, but he is an excellent defender who adds veteran leadership to a locker room.

Andre Drummond is no longer an All-Star caliber player in the modern NBA due to his offensive limitations, but he is still an excellent rebounder and defender at his position. The 4-time rebounding champion has a new home with the Brooklyn Nets due to the James Harden blockbuster trade and has had a very good season so far by putting up 6.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 0.8 BPG in 54 games as primarily a backup.

Tier 3: All-Star Caliber

Deandre Ayton, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, Clint Capela, Nikola Vucevic, Jonas Valanciunas

Tier 3 centers are players who are All-Star talents that will receive some consideration for All-Star teams this season. Thanks to their very effective play on a consistent basis, these guys can be the best player on their teams at moments but are usually the second or third option on championship teams.

Deandre Ayton’s contract negotiations have not weighed on the Phoenix Suns squad, because they continue to play at a high level as the number one seed in the West. The big man is putting up 16.3 PPG and 10.1 RPG this season, strong numbers for a 23-year-old center who will be an All-Star very soon.

Bam Adebayo already has an All-Star selection to his name and is the second-most important piece to a contending Miami Heat team. An elite defensive player despite being undersized at 6’9”, Bam plays hard every night while continuing to expand his offensive game. Stats of 19.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 3.5 APG are All-Star worthy in the Eastern Conference.

Jarrett Allen made his first All-Star Team this season at only 23 years old, and he certainly deserved it. Considering he is the best big man on a Cleveland team that ranks 4th in the East, no one should have a problem with his selection. Averaging 16.1 PPG and 11.0 RPG, Allen is also one of the best defensive big men in the NBA.

Clint Capela was shockingly traded by the Houston Rockets two years ago and continues to be an elite defensive player in the NBA. The big man is a double-double machine, putting up at least 10 PPG and 10 RPG for 5 straight seasons. Capela is averaging 10.7 PG and 12.1 RPG to go along with 1.4 BPG for the Atlanta Hawks this year.

Nikola Vucevic is a 2-time All-Star center who can score and rebound in bunches. The big man was a massive acquisition by the Chicago Bulls last year and has helped make the team a title contender. Vucevic is averaging 19.1 PPG and 11.6 RPG since arriving in Chicago, and will likely be the third option on the team behind DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine all year.

Jonas Valanciunas has yet to make an All-Star Team in his career, but there is no doubt his impact on both ends of the floor could be deemed All-Star worthy. The Lithuanian is putting up 18.0 PPG and 11.6 RPG for the Pelicans, and he will likely be a critical part of a New Orleans team that will feature Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum going forward.

Tier 2: Elite Stars

Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert

This next tier contains two of the very best centers in the league. They are easily All-Star players and have been featured on All-NBA teams as well. Both players in this tier are superstars, when healthy and motivated, and should be respected for their success in the league until this point.

Karl-Anthony Towns just made his 3rd All-Star Team this season, putting up 24.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 3.9 APG while shooting 40.9% from the three-point line. Towns made the claim this season that he is the greatest shooting center ever, and his winning the 3-point Contest this year gives him some credibility in that regard. Towns is also an elite rebounder and defender, placing him firmly in Tier 2.

Rudy Gobert tends to have a ton of critics for his lack of aggression on the court and also his limited offensive ability, but he is one of the best defensive players of his generation. The Frenchman is putting up 15.6 PPG, 14.8 RPG, and 2.3 BPG this year; elite numbers for a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Gobert combines incredible size at 7’1” with a natural defensive instinct, and there is no doubt he has been the best player on the Utah Jazz this season.

Tier 1: Best of the Best

Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic

The cream of the crop when it comes to centers has to be both Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. Embiid is having his best season yet, averaging 29.7 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.4 BPG while shooting 49.6% from the field, 37.6% from three, and 81.4% from the free-throw line. Those types of numbers signify an MVP candidate, and the center is most likely ahead of the pack right now. No center in the league can score as Embiid can, and his improved playmaking ability has set him apart from every other big in the league besides Nikola Jokic.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is on par with Embiid for the title as the best center in the game because he continues to dominate the game on the offensive end. Jokic is putting up 25.8 PPG, 13.7 RPG, and 8.0 APG while shooting a scintillating 56.7% from the field. Without Nikola on the roster, the Denver Nuggets are a lottery team and that is why the Serbian is also a top-5 MVP candidate this season. We have yet to see either player usurp the other in terms of all-around impact, which is why both superstars belong in Tier 1.


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