The center position is probably the most iconic in NBA history. The aim of basketball is to put a ball into a ten-foot hoop, so when the game was first created, height was the most important tool for a player. From Bob Petit, the first league MVP, to Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest stat-stuffer of all time, all the way to Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant center the game has ever seen, the bigs have defined the NBA. The center position has drastically changed today, as many label the modern NBA a position-less league. The rankings for this list are based on the best STARTING centers in the NBA. However, there are some great backups, so let's first tackle some honorable mentions.
Ranking All 30 NBA Centers Before the 2021/2022 Season
Ranking the top starters, and highlighting some of the best backups.
In only his second season in the league, Daniel Gafford saw himself shipped out to Washington from Chicago. The big man out of Arkansas took no time making the most out of the situation. Gafford plays with a sense of pride and hustle that you just can’t coach into someone. With Thomas Bryant coming back, Gafford's minutes will surely be reduced, but count on Daniel Gafford to make every minute he plays count.
After a rebound year in OKC for the veteran center Al Horford, he finds himself back in his old stomping grounds of Boston. Horford showed at the beginning of last season that he could still contribute, but was benched because OKC elected to tank for a higher draft pick. I’m not sure how the Celtics plan to utilize Horford, but he is an excellent addition and still one of the better bigs in the game today.
The Suns found themselves in hell during the NBA Finals when backup center Dario Saric went down. Adding a legitimate backup for Deandre Ayton will be huge for the Suns bench. McGee has shown himself to be a championship catalyst and one of the best locker room guys in the league. This Suns team needed more championship DNA and they got it with McGee.
Chris Boucher is known to many die-hard NBA fans as the Raptors secret weapon. A guy that Nick Nurse has been hesitant to give big minutes to is a force to be reckoned with on the court. Boucher can be one of the best shooting centers in the NBA and he only gets better each season. I expect Boucher to come off the bench again this season though, because without him the Raptors bench would be in shambles.
The Celtics beefed up their frontcourt by adding Enes Kanter from the Trailblazers. Kanter already had a stint in Boston and was pretty efficient in his time there. Kanter is a great interior big and can add offense in the paint, but his lateral quickness is a huge flaw to his defensive game. Enes Kanter can be used as a great center in short spurts, but I don’t see him getting significant playing time this season.
Hassan Whiteside had his big come up with the Miami Heat in 2015 and ever since he has been… interesting to watch, to say the least. Whiteside has an amazing build and is a good interior defender, but has a questionable basketball I.Q. at times. He joins the Utah Jazz looking to help put Ws on the board, so expect limited playtime from him.
The starting center situation in Orlando is gonna be one to keep an eye on this season. The Magic traded all-star center Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls last season for 7th overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. WCJ is the presumed starter, but I can see Mo Bamba moving into that role mid-season. Bamba has been improving and I think he’s ready for a big leap.
A starting caliber center, Montrezl Harrell has found his role in the NBA on the bench, and it suits him perfectly. Trez was shipped to Washington from the Lakers this off-season after a lack-luster playoff run. Pretty undersized for the center position at 6’7”, Montrezl plays like he’s a 7 footer with his energy. I think this will be a redemption season for Montrezl Harrell, so I expect him to make an impact for the Wizards.
Los Angeles Lakers
Dwight has one of the best redemption arcs of any current NBA player. After dominating the NBA as the best center for years, then bouncing around from team to team, and finally winning a chip with LA, Dwight definitely has some miles on him. The Lakers will probably run different guys at center all year depending on matchups, so Dwight will see the floor, but not consistently.
There is no doubt in my mind that Andre Drummond would have been in the top 20 of this list if he was starting next season, but he is not. Andre Drummond is a stereotypical big and is great for grabbing rebounds, but can’t do much offensively. Drummond will be playing backup for Joel Embiid, who is injury prone, so he could get stints at the starting center position later in the season.
The Best Starting Centers, Ranked:
30.) Toronto Raptors - Khem Birch
2020/21: 11.9 PPG, 7.6 REB, 1.2 BLK
Khem Birch will be the Raptors starting center for the foreseeable future. The main reason he is starting is so that Chris Bouher can run the bench. Birch has improved since coming to Toronto from Orlando, but still has work to do. If Birch can improve on his perimeter shooting this season, he could position himself as a legitimate starting center, but for now he ranks last on our list.
29.) Detroit Pistons - Isaiah Stewart
2020/21: 7.9 PPG, 6.7 REB, 1.3 BLK
Stewart is coming into his second year in the league and moving into the starting center position for the Pistons. Stewart is a constant lob-threat, and adding a playmaker like Cade Cunningham will only increase his production. However, with a lot of young talent on the Pistons roster, it might be difficult to fight for consistent playing time.
28.) Oklahoma City Thunder - Isaiah Roby
2020/21: 8.7 PPG, 5.6 REB, 0.6 BLK
Isaiah Roby has one of the most interesting career paths to the NBA. Without any big offers coming out of high school, Roby attended Nebraska and was able to position himself into the NBA draft. He is still a very raw player, but has great athleticism. I think that Roby has a lot of potential to take off in the near future as a premier center, but for now he is a work in progress.
27.) Dallas Mavericks - Dwight Powell
2020/21: 5.9 PPG, 4.0 REB, 0.5 BLK
Dwight Powell missed almost the entire 2020 season after rupturing his achilles tendon. His numbers would reflect that, as last season was more of a bouncing back point for him. The Mavericks need to start building around Luka and that requires adding a consistent center. Powell can definitely be the starting center on a lot of teams in the NBA right now, but not on any winning teams.
26.) Los Angeles Lakers - Marc Gasol
2020/21: 5.0 PPG, 4.1 REB, 41% 3PT
When it’s all said and done, Marc Gasol will no doubt be considered one of the greatest international basketball players of all-time. He’s accomplished greatness on almost every level and is still contributing in 2021. The Lakers usually run different starting centers depending on the matchup, so it’s far from a guarantee Gasol will be starting every game.
25.) Orlando Magic - Wendell Carter Jr.
2020/21: 11.2 PPG, 8.2 REB, 0.8 BLK
Wendell Carter Jr. was a promising bigman coming out of Duke in the 2019 draft. After a disappointing couple of years for Chicago, he was shipped out to Orlando. WCJ has the intangibles to be a great center, but the production is never quite there. I want to see WCJ be a more consistent threat defensively in the paint. If he can improve on his interior defense and improves his jumpshot, WCJ could be one of the better centers in the NBA.
24.) San Antonio Spurs - Jakob Poetl
2020/21: 8.6 PPG, 7.9 REB, 1.8 BLK
Jakob Poetl was the forgotten piece in the Kawhi Leonard trade to Toronto. Poetl is a great fit for a Greg Popovich offense, except for his playmaking ability. The Spurs like to run a pass first offense to find the best shots and Poetl’s inability to swing the ball is a negative. He still fills the center role well for San Antonio and I envision him being the starter for the foreseeable future.
23.) Golden State Warriors - James Wiseman
2020/21: 11.5 PPG, 5.8 REB, 31.6% 3PT
James Wiseman was the consensus #1 overall pick going into the 2019 college season. After basically being forced to step away from Memphis because of financial compensation (his coach rented him a U-Haul to move years before committing to Memphis) he spent the whole year training. His draft stock didn’t take any real hit as he went #2 to the Warriors. Wiseman has the build to be one of the most dominant centers in the league, but is still very raw. If he can put his head down and spend as much time as he can learning from Draymond Green, I think that Wiseman can be a perennial all-star.
22.) Boston Celtics - Robert Williams
2020/21: 8.0 PPG, 6.9 REB, 72% FG
Robert Williams took a huge jump last season efficiency-wise and was given a bigger role on the Celtics. One of the most efficient bigs, at a mere 6’8”, he plays a lot bigger than his size. An excellent interior defender, Robert Williams will be a starting center in the NBA for years to come.
21.) Brooklyn Nets - Blake Griffin
2020/21: 11.0 PPG, 4.7 REB, 38% 3PT
The narrative of Blake Griffin changed drastically once he joined the stacked Brooklyn Nets. Many people thought he was too injury prone and old to contribute, but he proved all the haters wrong. Shooting an excellent clip from deep, Griffin has fit into his new role extremely well. Expect Blake to have another impactful year at the center position for the Nets.
20.) Charlotte Hornets - Mason Plumlee
2020/21: 10.4 PPG, 9.3 REB, 61% FG
Mason Plumlee had an efficient season for the Pistons before being traded to the Hornets this past off-season. The veteran center will be stepping into the starting role for the Hornets, and I think it’ll be a great addition. Plumlee has a great build for a center so I expect a lot of pick and roll action with LaMelo Ball.
19.) Memphis Grizzlies - Steven Adams
2020/21: 7.6 PPG, 8.9 REB, 61.4% FG
Steven Adams is probably best known as the strongest center in the NBA. The big man from New Zealand is also known as one of the nicest guys in the entire league. He should be a great addition for the pick and roll offense with budding all-star Ja Morant. Adams is a great addition to this Grizzlies locker room, which was in search of a solid vet.
18.) Los Angeles Clippers - Ivica Zubac
2020/21: 9.0 PPG, 7.2 REB, 65% FG
The Clippers have historically had some franchising altering mess-ups, but trading for Zubac was not one of those. Acquiring him from the Lakers in 2019, Zubac has become an integral part of the Clippers rotation. Playing with a big body and force, Ivica is determined to make winning plays at only 23 years old.
17.) New York Knicks - Mitchell Robinson
2020/21: 8.3 PPG, 8.1 REB, 1.5 BLK
In just his third year in the league, Mitchell Robinson is proving to be an elite interior defender. Robinson stands at 7’0 with a 7’4 wingspan and uses every bit of it to block opposing teams. At only 22, Robinson has so much room to grow and has fit into his role in New York beautifully. He is going to be a cornerstone piece for this Knicks team in the future and has the potential to be one of the league's best defenders.
16.) Sacramento Kings - Richaun Holmes
2020/2021 14.2 PPG, 8.3 REB, 1.6 BLK
It seemed like Richaun Holmes was destined for a career as a traveler, bouncing from team to team. That was until he found his home in Sacramento. Having back to back career years for the Kings, Holmes has cemented himself as a threat on both sides of the court at the center position. I think this season could be a huge year for the Sacramento Kings as they have built a good young core.
15.) Washington Wizards - Thomas Bryant
2020/21: 14.3 PPG, 6.1 REB, 42% 3PT
Thomas Bryant was having an incredible season that was sadly cut short due to an ACL injury. Bryant first came onto my radar when I watched him drop 31 points on 14-14 shooting. The Wizards will have a new look this season after trading former MVP Russell Westbrook to the Lakers. If Bryant can get healthy by the start of the season, I expect a huge year out of him.
14.) Milwaukee Bucks - Brook Lopez
2020/21: 12.3 PPG, 1.5 BLK, 34% 3PT
Few centers were able to alter their playstyle late in their career as well as Brook Lopez. In his first eight seasons in the NBA, Lopez attempted 41 total three point field goals. In last five years, however, Lopez has attempted 1,829 total three point field goals. Being able to keep up with the style of the modern NBA, Lopez extended his career a countless number of years. As a legitimate contributor on last year's Bucks championship squad, Lopez has earned himself the title of starting center on an NBA Championship team.
13.) New Orleans Pelicans - Jonas Valanciunas
2020/21: 17.1 PPG, 12.5 REB, 0,9 BLK
It’s probably safe to say that Valanciunas is the greatest Raptors center of all-time, which is sad to think about when you account for the fact that they traded him. After getting traded again this off-season, Valanciunas will find himself in New Orleans. Extremely efficient inside and a physical force, Valanciunas is feared in the paint. Hopefully he can bring some veteran leadership into a Pelicans locker room that's on the brink of collapsing.
12.) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jarrett Allen
2020/21: 12.8 PPG, 10.0 REB, 1.4 BLK
Jarrett Allen, also known as “the fro”, has been one of the most fun centers to watch develop. After helping turn around the Brooklyn Nets, he was traded to Cleveland where he earned himself a five-year, $100 million contract. No opposing player should want to go up in the paint against Allen, as he is one of the better interior defenders and rebounders in the league.
11.) Indiana Pacers - Myles Turner
2020/21: 12.6 PPG, 6.5 REB, 3.4 BLK
No center in the NBA recorded more blocks per game than Myles Turner last season. One of the best interior defenders in the league, Turner is a constant block threat. He is also one of the best shooting centers in the league, attempting over 4 three point field goals a game. Turner has never gotten the respect he deserves in the league and I think that chip on his shoulder fuels him.
10.) Portland Trail Blazers - Jusuf Nurkic
2020/21: 11.5 PPG, 9.0 REB, 1.1 BLK
Nurkic was on his way to being a top-five center in the NBA before he was sidetracked by injuries. One of the best two-way bigs in the league, Nurkic can defend the rim and be a force offensively. I think he is the legitimate difference that turns the Blazers from a play-in team to a legitimate playoff team. Hopefully he can have a healthy season and get back to his old style of play.
9.) Houston Rockets - Christian Wood
2020/21: 21.0 PPG, 9.6 REB, 1.2 BLK
There was no question who the first half of last season's most improved player was: Christian Wood. He would’ve taken home the award if his season wasn’t unfortunately cut short due to injury. Wood proved to be one of the most productive centers in the league last year, putting up career highs in every major category.
8.) Atlanta Hawks - Clint Capela
2020/21: 15.2 PPG, 14.3 REB, 2.0 BLK
The Hawks were in search of veteran leadership and they got all that and more in Clint Capela. Capela is a paint defender through and through as he led the league in rebounds last season. Alongside all-star Trae Young, Capela becomes a lob threat at all times during the game.
7.) Phoenix Suns - Deandre Ayton
2020/21: 14.1 PPG, 10.5 REB, 1.2 BLK
The big-man from the Bahamas Deandre Ayton made himself a household name this NBA postseason. A key reason the Suns made it to the finals, Ayton finds himself in the top 10 centers heading into next season. Consistency is key in this league, so if Ayton wants to be considered a top 5 center, he’s gotta show he can do it every year.
6.) Chicago Bulls - Nikola Vučević
2020/21: 23.4 PPG, 11.7 REB, 40% 3PT
The Chicago Bulls made a huge splash at the trade deadline last season, acquiring all-star center Niklola Vučević from the Magic. Vučević has proven to be one of the best offensive centers in the NBA, shooting an incredible 40% clip from deep while attempting 6 threes a game. If you don’t believe me, take Kevin Durant's word for it.
5.) Miami Heat - Bam Adebayo
2020/21: 18.7 PPG, 9.0 REB, 5.4 AST
Adebayo cemented himself as one of the best interior centers in the NBA during the bubble playoffs in Orlando. Helping lift the Heat to a finals appearance, he made game winning play after game winning play. He followed that up with an excellent season last year and he just continues to improve. Winning a gold medal this summer, Bam continues to stack up the accolades.
4.) Minnesota Timberwolves - Karl-Anthony Towns
2020/21: 24.8 PPG, 10.6 REB, 4.5 AST
After being the #1 pick in the 2015 draft, Towns has not disappointed on the stat sheet. Putting up 20+ PPG in every season but his rookie year, there is no denying his offensive talent. A lot of people don’t like giving KAT the credit he deserves because he has been labeled ‘soft’, but he is without a doubt a top five center in this league.
3.) Utah Jazz - Rudy Gobert
2020/21: 14.3 PPG, 13.5 REB, 2.7 BLK
There is no center more fearsome in the paint than Rudy Gobert. A three time Defensive Player of the Year winner, Gobert has earned the title of best center in the NBA. He had an excellent campaign this Olympics with France, taking them all the way to the silver medal. I think the Jazz have unfinished business in the playoffs, so I expect Rudy to play with a chip on his shoulder and have a beastly season.
2.) Denver Nuggets - Nikola Jokić
2020/21: 26.4 PPG, 10.8 REB, 8.3 AST
There was no center in the league last year more efficient than Nikola Jokić. Making high basketball-IQ plays and shooting the ball extremely well, Jokić earned himself MVP last season. The Serbian big man has shown constant improvement every year and he might have more in store. With star guard Jamal Murray most likely sidelined a significant portion of next season, Jokić will have to carry the Nuggets again this year.
1.) Philadelphia 76ers - Joel Embiid
2020/21: 28.5 PPG, 10.6 REB, 1.4 BLK
If it wasn’t for injuries, I wholeheartedly believe Joel Embiid would have been last season's MVP. This has been the recurring story of Embiid’s career, plagued by injuries. When he’s healthy, he is the most dominant center in the league and one of the best players in the NBA, period. If he can find a way to stay on the court, there is no doubt in my mind that he can lift Philadelphia to great heights.