Ranked: Ten Best Centers in the NBA
It's Time to Give the Big Men Some Love.
Size Still Matters.
The NBA‘s biggest offensive threats are no longer dominant centers. Today’s best players are smaller, versatile wing players who can break down a defense on their own. Top scorers including, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden are all under seven feet tall. But, big men still deserve some love. That’s why we ranked the Ten Best Centers in the NBA.
We analyzed career points, rebounds, blocks, age, and the big man’s impact on team success to come up with our results. We didn’t spend months mining thousands of data points. Instead, we used our eyes, studied game logs, and researched other news sites’ rankings. Our analysis also includes the NBA’s new advanced metric called Player Impact Estimate (PIE). PIE measures a player’s overall contributions against the total statistics in games those big men played in. The higher the number the more that player contributed to their team’s success.
10. Joel Embiid, aka “Trust the Process.”
Some NBA analysts think Joel Embiid is already the best center in the game. Sure he has great potential but Embiid hasn’t proven he can remain healthy all season yet. He missed all of his rookie year recovering from surgery for a broken navicular bone in his foot. Even today there are concerns Embiid suffers from low bone density that makes him more likely to break his bones again. The Sixers are very cautious with the former Kansas Jayhawk. Embiid is on a minute restriction and hasn’t perfected his outside touch yet. We would also prefer if his shooting percentage was in the 55-60% range.
|Career Stats:||20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 blocks, 47.4 percent shooting.|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||19|
9. Hassan Whiteside, aka “White Out.”
Hassan Whiteside is a freak of nature. He is a legit seven-footer with a 7’7 wingspan. It’s easy to understand why he’s a ferocious defender and rebounder. Since being called up from Miami’s D-League affiliate in 2014, his points scored and games played have gone up annually. Whiteside can be dominant, but he has flaws. He has bounced around the league since 2011 and with every stop, teams have questioned his maturity. “White Out” has received over $50,000 in fines from the league for technical fouls, fights, and arguing with referees.
Until Whiteside becomes a reliable NBA professional and team leader, he will always be considered a “yeah but” big man.
|Career Stats:||15.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 2.6 blocks, 58.3 percent shooting|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||20.2|
8. Andre Drummond, aka “Strokes” or “Andre the Giant.”
Andre Drummond has been a dominant offensive and defensive rebounder for the Pistons since his rookie season. After five seasons in Detroit, he’s averaged over 12 rebounds a game with a shooting percentage over 50%. We would argue that his statistical deficiencies come from carrying too much of the workload for the Pistons. So far this season, the Pistons look like a more balanced team. Forward Tobias Harris is developing into a consistent scorer and the addition of SG Avery Bradley has improved the team’s defensive perimeter.
We argue that Drummond is one of the more underrated big men in the NBA. He doesn’t even have a widely accepted nickname. Some fans call him “Andre the Giant.” We prefer “Strokes.” Why the name is an homage to Mr. Drummond from the 80s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes.
|Career Stats:||13.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, 54.8 percent shooting|
|Performance Impact Estimate (PIE):||15.7|
7. Nikola Jovic, aka “The Joker.”
The Joker could be the most divisive choice on the list. Some fans will argue Nikola Jovic deserves to be higher on the list. Others will question why we included him at all. Bleacher Report had their own power rankings of centers and noted, Jovic averages 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 58.7 percent shooting (34.2 percent on threes) after he earned a permanent starting job on the Nuggets. The Joker is a definitive top 10 center by most modern metrics used in the league. We have seen several of Jovic’s games and our assessment is he is mobile, can shoot from distance and is a great passer for a big man. If the Joker can become more consistent on defense, he will easily be considered a top-five center in the game.
|Career Stats:||20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 blocks, 47.4 percent shooting|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||19.3|
6. Kristaps Porzingis, aka “The Unicorn.”
Sure, you could make the argument, Porzingis actually plays the ‘4.’ Enes Kanter is the Knicks’ real center. What is KP doing on this list? Well, the modern NBA is moving away from traditional positions. The league features 6’8 point guards, 6’9 centers and 7’3 Latvians playing power forward. The Unicorn is so unique, there’s no way we could together a list of best big men and exclude the third-year player.
After the trade of Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are Porzingis’ team. He can put it on the floor to create his own shot. His post-up game is getting better thanks to future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and his length allows him to shoot over 95% of the league. Porzingis is virtually unstoppable on offense. However, the Unicorn still gets pushed around in the paint and needs to work on passing out of the double team. KP’s ranking is on the rise with the start of the 2017-18 regular season. He is currently third in the NBA in scoring.
|Career Stats:||17.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 44.5 percent shooting|
|Player Impact Estimate:||19.3|
5. DeAndre Jordan, aka “Lob City.”
At 29, DeAndre Jordan is one of the oldest centers on our list but remains a defensive stalwart and interior force. The LA Clippers drafted Jordan in 2008 after he played one season at Texas A&M. He’s a two-time member of the All-NBA first team and All-Defensive first team, mainly for his rebounding and ability to block shots. Jordan was also a member of the U.S. 2016 Olympic team. Offensively, Lob City has led the league in field goal percentage in four different seasons. However, Jordan’s biggest shortcoming is his free throw percentage. He is lifetime 43% shooter at the line. Jordan would be higher on our list, but his low free throw percentage means you can’t keep him on the floor late in games.
|Career Stats:||9.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.8 blocks, 67.5 percent shooting|
|Player Impact Estimate:||13.5|
4. Rudy Gobert, aka “The Stifle Tower.”
Rudy Gobert is one of the best defensive players in the game and potentially the strongest rim protector in the league. He’s averaged nearly three blocks and ten rebounds per game for the Utah Jazz since 2015. The biggest knock on Gobert is that he hasn’t developed a consistent offensive game. While this is true, over the last two seasons Gobert’s PPG has risen from nine to 14 points a game. Gobert is still young and becoming stronger. With Gordon Hayward now a member of the Boston Celtics, there will be more opportunities for Gobert to show the maturation of his game.
We hope that the bone bruise on his knee does not linger when he returns to the Jazz in four to six weeks.
|Career Stats:||9.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 2.2 blocks, 61.2 percent shooting|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||15.3|
3. Marc Gasol, aka “Tanketa.”
The original scouting 2007 report on Marc Gasol still holds true a decade later. The 10-year Grizzlies’ big man has great upper body strength, soft hands, and a deadly outside shooting touch. Fundamentally he is as sound as they come in the post. Gasol has an assortment of moves, can shoot a skyhook, and averages close to ten rebounds per game.
The two things that have changed in Gasol’s game are that he is in much better cardiovascular shape and shoots well from behind the three-point arc. In 2016, he finished the season as a top-30 three-point percentage shooter in the league. For a 7-1 center with size, that percentage is impressive. At 32, Gasol is the most veteran center on our list with career accomplishments to match. He is a three-time NBA All-Star, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013, and has been named to the All-NBA First Team.
|Career Stats:||15.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, 49.5 percent shooting.|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||15.2|
2. Karl-Anthony Towns, aka “The Big Kat.”
The former Kentucky Wildcat is a legit seven-footer, 250-pounder., with a 7’3 wingspan. Towns is a classic low-post scorer who can shoot a hook shot over either shoulder. He is a capable outside shooter with good mechanics, but where he shines most is his ability to get up and down the floor. The Big Cat effectively fills the lane in transition and plays above the rim. When he’s not dunking, he gets ‘deep’ post-up position and is virtually unstoppable when he catches the rock.
At Kentucky, he was a superb rim protector and his stellar defensive prowess has continued in the NBA. Towns averages over ten rebounds and two blocks per game. KAT is the modern day center, mobile, strong, agile and can handle the rock. At just 21 years old, his game is only getting better. That’s is why we rated him so much higher than his fellow big men. He was a consensus Rookie of the Year in 2016 and we expect playoff wins and MVPs to follow as the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to improve.
|Career Stats:||21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, 54.2 percent shooting.|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||15.3|
1. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins.
Boogie Cousins theoretically could be the best the player in the league. Cousins is 6’11 and 270 pounder who score several different ways thanks to his great footwork, strength, and tenacity around the basket. The former Kentucky Wildcat plays like smaller guards but with a mean streak. Plus, he is a superb passer with good handles. Boogie can lead the fast break and start an offense from the top of the key. Cousins is a double-digit rebounder, who’s averaged nearly two blocks per game since 2012. He was selected to the Team USA Men’s Olympic team and is a three-time All-Star.
The bad news is that Cousins is considered uncoachable and selfish. Former Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo called the center “immature” and said he has “mental issues.” Boogie has received several technical fouls, fines, and been ejected for fighting with teammates, other players on the court, and arguing with the referees. He’s fought his head coach and the media covering his team. The good news is that since Boogie was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans and teamed up with Anthony Davis, he’s calmed down and became a more professional NBA player.
|Career Stats:||21.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 45.9 percent shooting.|
|Player Impact Estimate (PIE):||19.2|