After facing an existential wave of “centers are dying” scare over the previous several years, the NBA is now experiencing the pendulum, where many different centers are dominating in many different ways.
So today, I thought I’d establish how I view that elite group, based mainly thinking about the impact they make on both ends for their teams.
1. Nikola Jokic (Denver)
Jokic is truly unlike any big we’ve seen in recent history. An absolute gravity well thanks to his size and savvy, he often leverages that to open up passing lines, for which he has the best eyes among players larger than 6-foot-3. And when he’d rather keep it himself, Jokic is more than capable of just going right through the crowds he face when that gravity well is in full effect.
Nikola Jokic is inevitable pic.twitter.com/laW8QSNwPQ
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) February 25, 2022
2. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Screen games haven’t really been a big part of Embiid’s game to this point in Philadelphia, but that’s more likely due to never having an elite P&R ball handler than any indictment on Embiid himself. Playing with James Harden under Daryl Morey’s watchful – and excited – eye could open up even more ways for Embiid to be even more dominant.
The Harden-Embiid pick and pop
— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) February 26, 2022
3. Rudy Gobert (Utah)
It’s been a wild two calendar years for Gobert dating back to the “patient zero” stuff with touching the microphones to last playoffs where the mainstream media declared his defense “exposed” to all the way down to him exposing his own teammates for their defensive effort.
Meanwhile, Gobert is firmly in the MVP conversation and DPOY conversation, all while showing off space defense that we haven’t really seen much from him in past seasons, like locking down Luka Doncic here:
Rudy Gobert's 4th quarter defense vs. the Mavericks was nothing short of spectacular. pic.twitter.com/QkJrPsn4em
— 𝐇 𝐨 𝐨 𝐩 𝐕 𝐞 𝐧 𝐮 𝐞 (@KGsGOAT) February 26, 2022
4. Bam Adebayo (Miami)
Truth be told, Adebayo is one of my favorite players in the whole league. I love the fire that he brings on both ends, and he’s a brilliant connector. The shot could use some work, but it is progressing each season.
We remember the conference title-sealing block that he had on Tatum during the Orlando Bubble, and that end is where he’s most impactful, raising the Miami ceiling sky-high come playoff time:
LOOK AT THIS DEFENSIVE POSSESSION FROM BAM ADEBAYO. pic.twitter.com/7zssDnQBDe
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) February 6, 2022
5. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
Ayton is in a sense a problem child of mine; always has been and continues to be. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge the progress, which has come in leaps and bounds for the Suns’ seven-footer.
He’s established himself as one of the best defensive bigs in the league both in the paint and on the perimeter. The offensive game is coming around for Ayton as well, having essentially mastered his roll game as well as a hook shot, well-documented by David at The Four Point Play. The next step the offense needs to take is finishing at the rim when the touch doesn’t necessarily start right at the rim, like he does well here:
politely requesting that ayton does this at least once a game, please & thanks pic.twitter.com/ndvPEW8rN2
— damon allred (@iamdamonallred) February 26, 2022
6. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)
The reason I picked this clip for Towns is that this is truly emblematic of the tug-of-war in KAT’s game; as his prolific perimeter scoring shows itself, it opens up things down low as well, and while he had the best three-point contest showing in all of time, let alone for a big man, it’s important to attack the openings down low when he’s able to as well, if for no other reason than to keep the defense honest.
— Timberwolves Talk (@LetsTalk_Wolves) February 25, 2022
7. Jarrett Allen (Cleveland)
Part of the reason why I have Allen so high is team context-based, but he’s really an outstanding big in his own right. Allen plays with other bigs a lot, especially Evan Mobley. The two have shared the court for nearly one thousand minutes and they’re +93 over that time, or a net rating of +4.8.
Allen’s often asked to do non-big things when Mobley is acting as the big, or vice versa, and really just plugging up the holes (albeit infrequent, since Mobley is so good) of playing next to a rookie big, and he’s still doing it at such a high level.
Jarrett Allen is just absurd pic.twitter.com/tJxOD2J87f
— Mark Schindler (@MSchindlerNBA) February 24, 2022
8. Nikola Vucevic (Chicago)
Vooch serves as one of the most unheralded players on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. While a player like Jokic is more like a heliocentric distributing big, Vooch is the more connecting distributing big. He’s an elite passer – fourth in assists among centers with 3.6 – out of the pick-and-pop as well as on the short roll, and he really opens things up for Chicago’s guard-driven offense.
Highlighting how Nikola Vucevic gets the ball from point A to point B to impact the Chicago Bulls offense. When an opposing defense puts two players on LaVine or DeRozan to contain them, Vucevic is an outlet that can collect the ball & find the open teammate in the created 4-on-3 pic.twitter.com/NmypNTd6bM
— Hoop Informatics 🏀📊🎥 (@HoopInformatics) February 21, 2022
9. Jonas Valanciunas (New Orleans)
At 28.3 points, 18.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per 100 possessions, Valanciunas is one of the most productive centers in the league. He’s a memory of an older NBA where post-ups reigned supreme, and at 6.6 post-ups per game, he’s third in the NBA; behind only Embiid and Jokic.
Oh, and he’s capable of shooting 7-7 from deep in one half, when he feels like it.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS GOING CRAZY! 🔥
7-of-7 from three for 29 first-half points 🤯
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) November 30, 2021
10. Robert Williams III (Boston)
In some ways, Williams is a bit of a Frankenstein made up of all the centers above him on this list. He’s solid as a roll man like Ayton, he’s solid as a lob threat like Adebayo, and he’s an exceptional connector like Vucevic.
I love watching Robert Williams pass the basketball. Always makes such rapid decisions for the Celtics. These are two assists from today, the one-handed midair redirect to Pritchard after the rebound is silly pic.twitter.com/bWf4V9Rf3a
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) February 26, 2022
- Clint Capela (Atlanta)
- Jakob Poeltl (San Antonio)
- Evan Mobley (Cleveland)