Those who pay attention to the NBA know that the center position has been slowly moved down the ladder of importance. The age of positionless basketball has taken over and is not going away anytime soon. If you are going to be a pro in this league, you have to do more than score inside, rebound, and block shots. In comparison to the 90s with centers like Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and more, there is a more well-rounded skill set from today’s modern centers.
That is why when you look at the salaries for the upcoming 2022-23 season, there is not a single center listed in the top 10 highest-paid players. There are a couple of players in the top 15, though. Some players are mistaken for being centers like Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is a power forward. Draymond Green is listed as a center on some depth charts, but he played as a power forward as well last season. Neither of those players will be considered a center despite playing the position on the floor at times.
For these 10 players, they will have the position next to their names, and they will be the top 10 highest-paid players.
10. Clint Capela - $18,706,896
2021-22 Stats: 11.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Compared to his first season with the Hawks, this was a down year. Capela won the rebounding title in 2019-20 with 14.3 rebounds to go with 15.2 points per game. Nevertheless, Capela shot over 60% from the field and averaged a double-double for his second straight season. With a newly added All-Star in Dejounte Murray in the fold, the Hawks have a solid combination from top to bottom.
As for Capela, he has two more years left on his deal after this season with a little over $40 million. Given that Capela is efficient in the middle and a strong rebounder, this almost feels like a steal when looking at contracts around the league. His only drawback is that he has never made a three-point shot in his career.
9. Jarrett Allen - $20,000,000
2021-22 Stats: 16.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG
The Cleveland Cavaliers will have an interesting team next season. With Allen and Evan Mobley on the floor, the team was a tough squad to score on inside. Allen brings a lot to the table with his long frame, but he is also a player that knows his role. In 56 games, he averaged a double-double and shot 67.7% from the field, where he took 9.7 shots per game.
Allen is a true center. He shot 10% from the three-point range last year. He did miss a fair amount of games due to injuries. If the Cavaliers want to repeat as a top defensive team, Allen will need to play over 70 games. If that happens, the Cavaliers could be a dark horse among dangerous playoff teams next season.
8. Nikola Vucevic - $22,000,000
2021-22 Stats: 17.6 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG
The Chicago Bulls didn’t get the outside shooting threat they wanted last year. Vucevic shot 31.4% from three-point range, which was eighth among players at the position. Vucevic also underperformed among all centers in the league, finishing with the 21st best player efficiency rating. Newly signed center Andre Drummond had a better ranking than Vucevic.
Despite all of that, Vucevic pulled down 44 double-doubles and gives the offense a legit outside shooting threat, which spaces up the offense. Vucevic will have a lot to prove this season as he is playing in the final season of his contract. At 32 years old, he has at least one more large contract in his future.
7. Bam Adebayo - $30,351,780
2021-22 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Adebayo might be the best defensive player on the list. Adebayo won All-Defensive Second Team honors as a forward since that is a secondary position, but his position on his player profile classifies him as a center. Adebayo is in the conversation for the best two-way center after a successful offensive and defensive season.
Among centers, Adebayo scored the fifth-most points and shot 55.7% from the field. The Heat have made a solid investment with their home-grown draft pick. With Adebayo, the team made the NBA Finals in 2020 and went to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. The Heat will be among the Eastern Conference favorites this season.
6. Deandre Ayton - $30,913,750
2021-22 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Assuming that the Suns are true to their word and keep Ayton, he will be a top-10 paid center. The two sides battled for Ayton’s worth for his contract, but the team elected to match the offer by the Pacers to keep him on the team. Ayton cannot be traded until the middle of January, but the decision to keep Ayton likely pulls the Suns out of the Kevin Durant sweepstakes for now.
Keeping Ayton is not the worst thing in the world either. The Suns made the NBA Finals in 2021 and were the league’s best team last season before the team was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. However, Ayton was benched in the second half in Game 7, and there was a tense encounter with head coach Monty Williams. With that said, Ayton shot 63.4% from the field, secured 30 double-doubles, and averaged a double-double for the season.
5. Nikola Jokic - $33,047,803
2021-22 Stats: 27.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG
When Jokic signed his massive deal this offseason, there might have been a few hecklers saying he wasn’t worth close to $50 million per season. Then again, those people probably don’t realize he is the back-to-back MVP winner. Jokic led the league in win shares, not just among centers. He averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. As a center, he has triple-double potential every night. That included shooting 58.3% from the field, where he averaged taking 17.7 shots per game.
With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. healthy next season, the Nuggets are going to be a title contender. Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the perfect additions to round out a starting lineup with Jokic in the middle. Jokic is in the last year of his original contract before his supermax kicks in next season, where he will receive an increase of $13 million in starting salary.
4. Joel Embiid - $33,616,770
2021-22 Stats: 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Embiid will see three players receiving more money than him next season, but he outscored every single one of those players last year. Embiid averaged 30.6 points per game, which won him the NBA scoring title. Embiid also contributed a solid stat line the rest of the way. Embiid is in a similar position as Jokic, who was among the MVP candidates. With James Harden starting the season with the 76ers, the team looks to be a contender out of the East.
What makes players like Embiid special is that he is a perfect definition of the modern-day center. He can score inside and outside. Embiid shot 49.9% from the field, which included a 37.1% clip from the three-point range. Embiid is also a fairly decent shooter at the free throw line, where he shot 81.4%.
2T. Kristaps Porzingis - $33,833,400
2021-22 Stats: 20.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.6 BPG
The Washington Wizards have an interesting team with the duo of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. Beal was shut down later in the season when the Wizards were not going to qualify for the playoffs. Porzingis gives Washington two legit scorers on their team, while Porzingis makes the defense more dangerous inside.
Porzingis was one of four centers to average 20.0 points per game last season. He was also the best center shooting at the free throw line, where he shot 86.7%. Porzingis is not the best rebounder, as he secured only 15 double-doubles last year. With that said, he will stretch the floor for the Wizards. What could be concerning is that he will have more opportunities for three-point shots, but he shot a mere 31.0% from outside.
2T. Karl-Anthony Towns - $33,833,400
2021-22 Stats: 24.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.1 BPG
When you watch Towns play the game, you sometimes forget that he is a center. Towns are starting to create a name for himself as one of the best big-man shooters. Last year, Towns shot 41.0% from the three-point range, which included 2.0 three-point field goals per game. Both of those numbers led all centers. That also included 40 double-doubles, where he just missed averaging a double-double for the season.
When it comes to offense, Towns is as efficient as they come. Towns made 8.7 field goals per game, which trailed both Jokic and Embiid for the most among the players at the position. The question will be what position Towns truly plays next season. He could be the team’s power forward with the addition of Rudy Gobert. That would be the first time in his NBA career he would switch positions.
1. Rudy Gobert - $38,172,414
2021-22 Stats: 15.6 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.1 BPG
The Minnesota Timberwolves made it clear that they want to win right now. The cost of five first-round picks and a handful of players completed a trade for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. With the Jazz, Gobert shot an NBA-best 71.3% from the field while taking 7.7 shots per game. With players like Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell surrounding him, he will play a similar role and look to be efficient when he plays offense, as well as being a lockdown rim protector.
Gobert secured 53 double-doubles last season, which was second most among players at the position. His 2.2 blocks per game were fifth-best, while his 14.7 rebounds won the rebounding title. The move complicates the depth chart with two centers on the team. If both are considered a center, the Timberwolves have a combined $71 million tied to the position.