With the 2022-2023 NBA season rapidly approaching, The Athletes Hub has put together a list of the top 10 centers in the league:
10. Jonas Valančiūnas, New Orleans Pelicans
17.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.6 AST | 54.4 FG%, 36.1 3PT% |
The Lithuanian center has been a everchanging block of clay in the NBA since his arrival. While he has always been a solid rebounder, the former fifth overall pick was thrusted into a different role the past few seasons in the league and has thrived at each stop. Last season, Valencunias was given the green light on becoming a three-point shooter, something he wasn’t too familiar with until his last few years in the league. Still, his increased attempts turned him an actual threat on the perimeter. While New Orleans doesn’t rely on it too much, Valencuinas has garnered respect around the league as viable option from deep; especially considering his ridiculous 29-point, 7-of-7 from three-point range first half against the Los Angeles Clippers in November of 2021.
Valencuinas has a knack for explosive performances, including a playoff-high 25 rebounds in a Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns this past year. For Valencuinas, his play alongside Zion Williamson has a lot to do with the production he needs to bring. I imagine a diminished role, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact. Williamson is the more important piece, and Valencunias has to be the player to relinquish some opportunity for a better record.
9. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings
18.9 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 5.2 APG | 57.3 FG%, 31.2 3PT% |
The two-time All-Star had an interesting change of scenery last year after being dealt to the Sacramento Kings for a trade built around Tyrese Halliburton. While originally listed as a power forward, Sabonis made the transition to center for the Kings and did well in the role. Sabonis sported a career-high in PER last year while averaging 5.8 assists per game.
Sabonis ends up the only player in our ranking who finished with a losing record last year, going 5-10 with his games he played for Sacramento. Still, the numbers are too big to ignore. What is even more impressive is that De’Aaron Fox averaged 27.8 points per game with Sabonis on the court. Sabonis might not be the best defensive center in the league, but his ability to make players better, pass effectively, and create on the low block are key points that could lead the Sacramento Kings to their first playoff appearance since 2006.
8. Robert Williams III, Boston Celtics
10.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.0 AST | 73.6 FG% | All-NBA Defensive Second Team
When it comes to rim-running defenders, Robert Williams might be the best example of it in the NBA today. With a stellar playoff performance last season, including a ridiculous end to the regular season, Williams gave a reason to be weary of going inside against Boston. The undersized center didn’t let his height affect too much, finishing atop the league’s centers in points over shot attempt, gaining a ridiculous 149.3 points per 100 shots taken.
Across the board, his impact is seen all over the stat sheet. This can be seen from his 3.7% BLK percentage, or his 73.3% EFG%. Williams might take the award for biggest impact around the rim on both ends of the floor for a guy in his role. He has a chance to skyrocket in this rankings if he continues at his level of play. He is going to benefit from his lower usage and role with the stacked Celtics lineup. His offensive game is limited and he’s rarely asked to create opportunities for himself. However, when it comes to impact within the role presented, it’s difficult to find someone with a better understanding of how they fit on an NBA court.
7. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
17.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.4 AST | 63.4 FG%, 36.8 3PT% |
Contract weariness aside, Deandre Ayton has had one heck of a summer. The former top pick signed a four-year, $133 million deal to remain in Phoenix. The 24-year old has a lot to prove still, but his impact defensively helped the Suns claim the third-best defensive rating in the NBA last season, along with the NBA’s best record (64-18). While his stats don’t necessarily jump off the page, his stat line is a bit of a paradox. While he is a defensive asset with the ability to put up 17/10 on a nightly basis, Ayton remains as the Suns’ third option on the offensive end.
When Ayton puts up more than 15 shots in a game, he averages a scorching 21.7 points along with nearly 12 rebounds on 55% shooting from the field. Like most successful teams, there is a player that holds themselves back a bit for the betterment of the organization. Although Ayton might prove to be a great individual basketball player if given the reigns, his skillset comes from his lack of selfishness on the court. He is always atop the league’s best in screen assists, and at his young age, it only proves the maturity to bring a winning mindset to a great team. With Chris Paul’s age and health growing to be a larger concern, I’d imagine Ayton puts up even better stats this season, considering the heightened opportunity.
6. Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
16.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.6 AST | 67.7 FG% | First-Time All-Star
Allen had a breakout season with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, and made a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor. While his season was sadly cut short due to injuries, he shined while on the court. With added responsibility and a bigger role, Allen was able to shoot an incredible 67% from the field (best of his career) on 9.7 FGA per game (the highest of his career) and accumulate the most rebounds of his career as well, averaging 10.8 per game. Alongside with impressive offensive numbers, Allen and his rookie teammate Evan Mobley were a defensive wall. Allen held opponents to 12% less than expected against him at the rim, and rejected a healthy 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes.
How Allen ended up in Cleveland in the James Harden trade is beyond me, considering his upside and potential at the time. If the 24-year old can improve even further this upcoming year, Cleveland has a chance to say they landed a current top five center in a salary dump move. Crazy how things can change so fast, considering Harden isn’t even in Brooklyn anymore.
5. Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
15.6 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 1.1 AST | 71.3 FG% | All-NBA Defensive First Team
When it comes to defense, there is no one that makes a bigger impact at the rim than now Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year continues to impact winning in the regular season at a ridiculous rate. Unfortunately, his playoff performances have left most people sour on the idea of him as an impactful player. His alarming lack of offensive repertoire and inability to switch onto the perimeter has left him a target for a lot of teams, and something he needs to address if he’d like to bring playoff success to Minnesota.
However, his numbers are staggering when it comes to regular season defensive impact. The 7’1” stud is nicknamed ‘The Stifle Tower’ for a good reason. He defended the most shots in the NBA (34.3% of attempts when on the floor) and held opponents to -5.2% DFGPOE (Defensive Field Goal Percentage Over Expected – % of DFGA) allowed over expected based on shot distance. He also lead the entire NBA in rebounds. His impact in Minnesota could bring one of the best defenses in the NBA to a team that desperately needs it.
4. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
19.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.4 APG | 55.7 FG% | All-Defensive Second Team
From the aspect of defensive versatility, Bam Adebayo might be regarded as the most switchable defender in the NBA. His offensive numbers leave a bit to de desired, but his impact defensively is monstrous. In Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics shot 2-of-14 when guarded by Adebayo, good for just 14%. In terms of team defense, Adebayo is not only a great positional defender, but the Miami Heat scheme directly allows Adebayo to be the final defender on over 20% of opponent’s shots.
Considering that Adebayo plays a healthy amount on the perimeter, as well as being Miami’s only passable defensive big man at the rim, it’s easy to see how Miami’s fourth-ranked defense last year has all to do with Adebayo. Miami had the least amount of points scored in the paint per game last season, a stat that favors Adebayo heavily. That, combined with his tremendous passing and playmaking from the post, gives Adebayo the fourth spot on our list. However, his continued improvement offensively is a must if he wants to climb the rankings next season.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
24.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.6 AST | 52.9 FG%, 41.0 3PT% | All-NBA Third Team
Coming off a disappointing 2020-21 season, the self-proclaimed “best shooting big in NBA history” shot the Timberwolves into playoff contention for the first time since the infamous Jimmy Butler tenure in 2017-18. While his boisterous claim might be a little early, his case for third-best center in the NBA isn’t. His play last season gave him the spot on the All-NBA Third Team last season, after putting up a 24.6/9.8/3.6 stat line and shooting 41% from deep.
Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch has found a way to utilize the shooting big man in a way he hasn’t before in his career, giving him the edge on the other centers going into next season. The former top overall pick has a lot to prove entering the prime of his career. I certainly wouldn’t put his shooting ahead of Dirk Nowitzki just yet, but his claim grows stronger everyday. Is he the future star of the franchise? While that might be Anthony Edwards spot, Towns has found a way to translate his play to a winning record for the Timberwolves, even if his stats didn’t improve much from last year.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
30.6 PPG, 11.7 REB, 4.2 AST | 49.9 FG%, 37.1 3PT% | Scoring Champion | All-NBA Second Team
When it comes to defense, domination, and determination, Joel Embiid is nearly unmatched in today’s NBA. Even in the absence of All-Star guard Ben Simmons on his team at the start of 2021, Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers were able to dominate the standings early in the season, taking the third spot in the Eastern Conference standings at the All-Star Break.
After the acquisition of former MVP James Harden, Embiid managed to put up an astounding 32.5/13/3.9, blocking over three shots in a game five separate times. Sadly, his playoff performance was diminished due to a previous thumb injury, and an orbital fracture and mild concussion that came during the 76ers game-clinching win against the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the first round. Embiid and company are primed for a title run next season, as the 28-year old continues to prove his legacy in all facets of his game. My prediction is that we see Embiid holding up the Defensive Player of the Year trophy next season.
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
27.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.9 AST | 58.3 FG%, 33.7 3PT% | MVP | All-NBA First Team
While Philadelphia fans would disagree, there is no shot that Jokic falls below the top spot on this list. The two-time and reigning MVP boasts a ridiculous 27.1/13.8/7.9 stat line, improving on his MVP season in 2020-21. Even with his two best teammates, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, having missed the entirety of last season, Jokic still found a way to get his team into the playoffs. He also managed to put up the highest PER season in NBA history, even beating the famous Wilt Chamberlain 50 PPG season.
According to 538.com’s defensive RAPTOR statistic, Jokic also had the best defensive season in the NBA last year. While that statistic and metric is a little overblown in terms of actual on-court impact, Jokic has actively become an above-average defender in the post and an elite positional rim protector. Along with his incredible passing, post move repertoire, and 64.3% True Shooting in the playoffs, Jokic cements himself as the best center in the NBA today.
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