The center position in the NBA is one that has seen a major resurgence over recent years, culminating in 2020-21 with a 5-man being honored with the annual league MVP trophy.
Of course, that player will finish quite high in these rankings, but will he be No. 1?
And what about the other centers around the league, where will they be ranked by our team of writers and editors?
Find out below.
Just missed the cut: Ivica Zubac, James Wiseman, Daniel Gafford, Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl, Robert Williams
Nerlens Noel (New York)
2020-21 stats: 5.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.1 spg, 2.2 bpg, 61.4 FG%
Despite little offensive game to speak of outside of the occasional pick-and-roll finish, Nerlens Noel just cracked the Top 22 thanks to the unreal defensive impact he makes on a nightly basis.
Noel’s raw averages of 1.1 steals and 2.2 blocks are impressive enough, but factor in the fact he did that in just over 24.0 minutes nightly and you will quickly realize just how much of a destroyer Noel was on the point-preventing end of the floor.
It should come as no surprise then that even in limited playing time, Noel, thanks to his quick feet, long arms and unreal instincts as a rim protector, ranked first league-wide last season in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) and third Defensive Win Shares (DWS) while helping anchor a New York Knicks defense that was No. 4 in defensive efficiency in 2020-21.
Noel will never be a high-level scorer. He’ll never even be an average one for his position. But the former Kentucky standout is such a stout defender, one of the most impactful the league has to offer, that it does not matter.
For the latest Nerlens Noel rumors, click here.
Mitchell Robinson (New York)
2020-21 stats: 8.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.5 bpg, 65.3 FG%
What a luxury for the Knicks to have not one but two centers among the Top 22 the NBA has to offer (in our humble opinions, at least), as New York big man Mitchell Robinson comes up next on our list.
Robinson is coming off an injury-riddled 2020-21 campaign but still posted solid numbers, including a block-and-a-half per night. Robinson didn’t play enough games to qualify, but his 1.1 DBPM would have been among the league’s 25 highest scores while his 5.0 percent block rate would have landed in the Top 10.
Robinson remains raw offensively and the same might even be able to be said about his defense, which goes to show just how much potential the athletic 7-footer has.
If he can improve his hands and his defensive awareness as soon as next season, Robinson could very well outpace the ranking we have him at here.
For the latest Mitchell Robinson rumors, click here.
Steven Adams (Memphis)
2020-21 stats: 7.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.9 spg, 61.4 FG%
A steadying, bruising presence in the paint, Steven Adams has blossomed into a savvy veteran now that he’s in his late-20s, one who won’t post huge numbers but who can be relied upon to play his role at a respectable level.
Adams is at his most effective as the pick-and-roll roll man, where Synergy Sports ranked him in the league’s 64th percentile last campaign, producing 1.176 points per possession (PPP).
The big New Zealander is also an adept defender on the low block, where he uses his massive size to prevent opponent post-ups and slow down opposing rim attacks from guards and wings.
Adams is far from a star, he’s not even a great fit in the modern game due to his lack of shooting and limited defensive versatility, but as his +6.0 swing rating over the past three seasons will show you, he almost always tends to make a positive impact during his time on the floor, which is how he found himself in the Top 20 of these rankings.
For the latest Steven Adams rumors, click here.
Wendell Carter (Orlando)
2020-21 stats: 11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 bpg, 50.3 FG%
Although he hasn’t broken out and lived up to pre-draft hype once possessed quite yet, Wendell Carter still holds a lot of promise based on his three years of service so far and the fact he remains just 22 years old.
Carter already has a solid face-up game featuring a tidy mid-range jumper and solid defensive awareness, as well as a strong nose for rebounding.
The young Orlando Magic big man will need to work on continuing to extend his range out to the three-point line and on getting tougher both on the glass and as a defender, but Carter does have potential – it’ll be up to Orlando to get the most out of him as they continue on their rebuild.
For the latest Wendell Carter rumors, click here.
Thomas Bryant (Washington)
2020-21 stats (10 games): 14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.8 bpg, 64.8 FG%
The long and athletic Thomas Bryant had his season cut to just 10 games in 2020-21 due to a knee injury, but from what we saw out of him, Bryant continued to look like what we already knew he was: a very solid center.
Bryant is outrageously efficient, shooting 60.0 percent from the floor for his career thus far thanks to his elite finishing in the painted area, but he’s far from purely being a dunker.
In 211 three-point attempts over the past three seasons, Bryant has shot 37.4 percent from beyond the arc, making his shockingly high field-goal percentage look all the more impressive, as he’s not just living around the basket.
Also a capable rim-protector, it’ll be exciting to see what Bryant looks like when he does return for the Washington Wizards in 2021-22.
For the latest Thomas Bryant rumors, click here.
Montrezl Harrell (Washington)
2020-21 stats: 13.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.7 bpg, 62.2 FG%
Wizards big man Montrezl Harrell, our second Washington center in a row, followed up an awesome 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year campaign with a disappointing 2020-21 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, with his numbers dropping all across the board.
Even so, Harrell was still a dominant finisher in the paint, shooting 75.0 percent from within three feet of the basket last season.
What’s more, Synergy Sports actually paints a different picture of Harrell’s 2020-21, rating the former Louisville Cardinal as an “excellent” overall scorer for the season, putting up 1.188 PPP on all scoring chances. Harrell was at his most effective as a finisher out of the pick-and-roll, where he was in the league’s 95th percentile last campaign, producing an astonishing 1.425 PPP on those plays.
Surely set to be tasked with a bigger role in his first season with Washington, Harrell could be due for a bounceback campaign in 2021-22, though his defense, where his lack of size down low and slow feet laterally really hamper him, will more than likely remain an issue.
For the latest Montrezl Harrell rumors, click here.
Al Horford (Boston)
2020-21 stats: 14.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.9 bpg, 36.8 3PT%
Although he’s undoubtedly slowed down some in recent years, which explains why he’s a center now and no longer a power forward, Al Horford remains an effective playmaker, scorer and defender.
Horford can hit threes with his feet set, particularly from the corners, as well as face-up and get buckets in the low- to mid-post while remaining an impactful defender on the other end thanks to his sky-high basketball IQ.
Despite making just 28 appearances last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford still boasted an impressive +6.2 swing rating in 2020-21, and although that was partly a product of how young and inexperienced the rest of the Thunder lineup was without him, it also shows Horford still has something left to give on a good team.
And he’ll have the chance to prove that this season in his return to the Boston Celtics, where he’ll likely play a smaller role than his last time in town, probably backing up the explosive Robert Williams as a reserve.
For the latest Al Horford rumors, click here.
Richaun Holmes (Sacramento)
2020-21 stats: 14.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.6 bpg, 63.7 FG%
He may not be the perfect fit in the modern game due to his lack of shooting, but Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes is so explosive out of the pick-and-roll and around the basket that it really doesn’t matter.
Holmes was one of the best finishers out of the pick-and-roll last season, per Synergy Sports, ranking in the league’s 84th percentile in that play type and producing 1.301 PPP on those looks, both very strong numbers for the mobile center.
Holmes uses his elite athleticism on the less glamorous end of the floor, too, where he thrives as a rim protector. The almost-28-year-old ranked 10th league-wide last season with 1.7 blocks per game and 11th in block rate (4.6 percent).
The Kings did well to re-sign Holmes long-term this offseason, as he’s the type of big man who makes a positive impact on both ends of the floor and creates the gravity on rim-attacks to open up the floor for teammates, too.
For the latest Richaun Holmes rumors, click here.
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee)
2020-21 stats: 12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.4 3PTM, 1.5 bpg, 50.3 FG%
The only player in the NBA last season with at least 100 blocks and 95 successful three-point attempts, Milwaukee Bucks big man Brook Lopez remains one of the league’s biggest unicorns, with the size and length to defend the paint at a high level and with the three-point touch to be a legitimate threat from beyond the arc.
Lopez also puts up positive value as a post-up and pick-and-roll scorer, ranking in the 60th percentile (0.989 PPP) on the former play type and in the 58th percentile (1.152 PPP) league-wide, according to Synergy Sports, proving that he’s more than just a one-trick pony on offense.
Lopez is quite plodding, however, so his ability to switch onto guards is hindered by that, but the Bucks’ defensive scheme limits his switching as much as possible, which is why the reigning champions still ranked Top 10 in defensive efficiency last season at 110.7 points allowed per 100 possesions.
Having that Giannis Antetokounmpo guy or that Jrue Holiday locking up opposing ball-handlers more than likely attributed the most to that number, but Lopez’s rim-protecting skills helped round out Milwaukee’s tough defense.
It’s possible the Bucks could have won their championship last season without him, but Lopez’s impact on the title run shouldn’t be understated, either. He was an important piece on the best team in the league in 2020-21 and will be relied upon heavily next campaign as well.
For the latest Brook Lopez rumors, click here.
Jusuf Nurkic (Portland)
2020-21 stats: 11.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 bpg, 51.4 FG%
Were it not for the devastating leg injury he suffered early in 2019, there’s a good chance Jusuf Nurkic would rank higher in this list than he does at the moment, at No. 13.
At the time he went down, Nurkic was putting up big numbers, averaging 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 blocks while shooting nearly 51.0 percent from the floor.
But since returning, the big Bosnian hasn’t quite looked like that version of himself. Even so, Nurkic remains a sturdy force down low, battering opponents with heavy shoulders on post-up attempts and surprising foes with sneaky dimes from the elbow.
Even his rim-protecting skills remain solid, though not at the level they once were.
Perhaps another offseason of rehabilitating and training will help Nurkic find his old form – he’s still just 27 years old, after all. If that does happen, don’t be surprised to see him outperform his position in this ranking.
For the latest Jusuf Nurkic rumors, click here.
Jarrett Allen (Cleveland)
2020-21 stats: 12.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.4 bpg, 61.8 FG%
Fourth-year big man Jarrett Allen may not have a super diverse offensive game, not yet, at least, but he more than makes up for it by being so effective in his role, rendering that point moot.
Despite not even averaging 13.0 points per game in 2020-21, Synergy Sports still thought highly of Allen’s effectiveness on offense, as the former Texas standout sat in the 86th percentile league-wide last season as an overall scorer, producing 1.111 PPP on all scoring chances.
As a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Allen was especially terrific on the offensive glass, where he scored 1.361 PPP on putbacks, a mark impressive enough to be given an “excellent” rating by the analytics site.
Allen also continued to show elite rim-protecting prowess, ranking 11th in the NBA in block rate (4.3 percent) while swatting away 1.4 blocks per contest. Allen likewise sat Top 30 in the NBA in WS/48 and Top 40 in PER, thanks to his efficiency in his limited offensive touches.
The next step for the 23-year-old and what will help him silence those who say the Cavaliers overpaid when they signed him to a five-year, $100 million extension (the athletic big man will be paid like a Top-60 player in 2021-22, according to our database) is to continue expanding his offensive game, be it as a playmaker on short-roll opportunities or extending his shooting range at least to the midrange.
The fact that Allen improved his free throw percentage to 70.3 percent last season could be an indicator that he’s ready for more on the offensive end.
And for a Cleveland squad with nothing to play for next season except a spot in the play-in tournament, if that, Allen will have every chance to show everything he can do on offense in 2021-22.
For the latest Jarrett Allen rumors, click here.
Myles Turner (Indiana)
2020-21 stats: 12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 3.4 bpg, 47.7 FG%
The NBA’s premier shot-blocker in 2020-21, Myles Turner was absolutely monstrous when defending the paint last season, leading the league in blocks per contest (3.4) as well as in block rate (8.8 percent), which is the second time he’s had a campaign in which he led the league in both stats in the last three years.
And were it not for injury cutting his campaign short last April, there’s a good chance Turner would have finished the year with at least a spot on one of the two All-Defensive teams, and perhaps even with some votes as Defensive Player of the Year.
Turner isn’t merely a paint-bound shot-blocker, either, as he’s another rare big man who can swat away opponent opportunities while connecting from beyond the arc on the other end of the floor. The former Texas Longhorn is a decent 35.2 percent shooter from three for his career, hitting a career-high 38.8 percent of his outside looks back in 2018-19.
So that’s the good with Turner.
As far as the bad, we have to bring up the fact that Turner never developed past the level he’s at right now, as despite six years of NBA service, the former No. 11 overall pick has yet to be voted an All-Star or make an All-Defense team.
Turner’s best campaign, according to WS/48, came all the way back in 2016-17, his age-20 season. And per both VORP and BPM, Turner has badly regressed since his peak in 2018-19, going from a 2.4 mark in both metrics that year to barely cracking a positive scorer in BPM in either of the past two campaigns (0.1 followed up by 0.4) and not doing much better in VORP (1.0 and then 0.9 last season).
Turner’s shooting from beyond the arc is wildly streaky, he lacks toughness on the glass and he doesn’t have the strength to take advantage of mismatches near the rim.
The fact that he has to share so much playing time with another plus-player who likely should be a full-time center himself in Domantas Sabonis probably has not helped matters, but either way, Turner is what he is at this point.
And that’s a pretty good starting-caliber center and not much else.
For the latest Myles Turner rumors, click here.
Jonas Valanciunas (New Orleans)
2020-21 stats: 17.1 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 bpg, 59.2 FG%
A bruising big man with sharp elbows and shoulders that he uses particularly well in the paint, Jonas Valanciunas has developed into of the NBA’s best centers over recent years.
His fit next season, his first with the New Orleans Pelicans, will be intriguing, especially considering the fact that he’ll be tasked with starting in the frontcourt alongside another non-floor-spacer in Zion Williamson, but for New Orleans, it can’t be any worse than the Williamson/Steven Adams era, as at least Valanciunas can occasionally step outside and hit a three.
Unlike Adams, however, Valanciunas does enjoy camping out in the paint and attempting post-ups, as the big Lithuanian had the seventh-most post-up opportunities in the league last season, per Synergy Sports, so the Pelicans will have to figure out a way to get Valanciunas his looks down low without having him clog the basket area for Williamson’s forays at the paint.
Even so, Valanciunas was an effective post player, producing 1.033 PPP on post-ups, a mark healthy enough to place him in the NBA’s 71st percentile. He’s also a monster on the glass on both ends of the floor, as scoring off of putbacks was one of the big man’s specialties, ranking in the 78th percentile (1.268 PPP) last season.
So it’s clear Valanciunas will be an upgrade over Adams in the Pelicans’ starting five, it’s just a matter of how much of an upgrade he’ll be, and if first-year head coach Willie Green will be able to deploy him correctly without getting in Williamson’s way.
For the latest Jonas Valanciunas rumors, click here.
Christian Wood (Houston)
2020-21 stats: 21.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 bpg, 51.4 FG%
Although his campaign was cut short due to injury, Christian Wood had an exquisitely successful first campaign with the Houston Rockets, putting up impressive numbers as a scorer and rebounder while aptly protecting the paint and spacing the floor from beyond the arc.
Wood may be a touch lacking as a playmaker and when being forced to guard ball-handlers on switches, but overall, his breakout campaign with Houston was no fluke, as the five-year veteran had shown glimpses of vast potential prior to last season.
Now, on a Rockets team still early on in a rebuild and still in the stage of acquiring young, explosive talent, Wood will be able to grow at his own pace and continue blossoming into the productive big man he became in 2020-21.
One area Wood should see an immediate improvement in next season is as a spot-up shooter, where he ranked in the league’s 41st percentile, producing a very mundane 0.96 PPP. The technique he has on his jumper indicates he should be a more effective shooter than that, something we expect to see out of him in 2021-22.
A tidier jump shot to go with his explosive abilities as a leaper and ball-handler, especially for a center, will go a long way in making the former UNLV standout an even more impressive big man going forward in his career.
For the latest Christian Wood rumors, click here.
Clint Capela (Atlanta)
2020-21 stats: 15.2 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 0.8 apg, 2.0 bpg, 59.4 FG%
The Association’s leading rebounder in 2020-21, as well as the league leader in rebound (26.1 percent), offensive rebound (17.5 percent) and defensive rebound (34.3 percent) percentage, Clint Capela is coming off a terrific campaign.
There’s no doubting in the greatness of Trae Young in helping guide the Atlanta Hawks to their most successful campaign since 2014-15, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals before being dispatched by the eventual champion Bucks, but it’s hard to fathom that feat taking place without Capela in the lineup, the Swiss center was that impactful last season.
With Capela on the floor in 2020-21, Atlanta was an astronomical 10.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he was on the bench, a testament to how effective the rim-diving, shot-blocking big man was on the campaign.
Despite not being a high-volume scorer, Capela ranked 41st in VORP last campaign, 42nd in BPM, 13th in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and 11th in WS/48.
He also ranked as an “excellent” offensive player, according to Synergy Sports, in the NBA’s 84th percentile scoring 1.096 PPP on all offensive looks.
Capela’s specialty, obviously, was scoring out of the pick-and-roll, where he and Young created one of the league’s strongest 1-2 punches out of the all-important play type. Capela produced 1.204 PPP as the roll man, a good enough mark to put him in the league’s 71st percentile.
So even despite his poor shooting numbers from the foul line and his non-existent three-point shooting, Capela was still one of the league’s most impactful centers, and with him in the fold, the Hawks can look forward to another very strong campaign in 2021-22.
For the latest Clint Capela rumors, click here.
Nikola Vucevic (Chicago)
2020-21 stats: 23.4 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.5 3PTM, 40.0 3PT%
If one were to build the prototypical modern center, one fit for the state of the current offensive game, the end product would look a lot like Chicago Bulls 5-man Nikola Vucevic, who has developed into a dominant offensive force over the past three seasons.
Vucevic was fantastic yet again in 2020-21, ranking seventh league-wide in VORP, 13th in BPM and 18th in PER – and that was with the added burden of having to switch teams midseason following his trade from the Magic to Chicago.
Vucevic excels in just about every phase of the game with the ball in his hands, providing plus-value as an outside shooter, having the strength and touch to batter smaller opponents in the post, as well as the face-up prowess to attack slower-footed foes from the midrange, too.
Vucevic’s main flaws lie on the other end of the floor, where he doesn’t provide anywhere near as much value as a defender, at least not as much as he should based on his size and length.
The Bulls will be hoping that changes in 2021-22, and pairing him with the defensive-minded, burgeoning power forward Patrick Williams should help with that. Newly acquired point guard Lonzo Ball should also help slow down opposing guards and wings from getting to the cup, where Vucevic doesn’t have much of a presence as a shot-blocker.
Even so, Vucevic was a bold, wise gamble of a pickup for Chicago, as he’s an established All-Star center who, with the right players around him, can potentially help the Bulls get back into the playoff picture in the East.
For the latest Nikola Vucevic rumors, click here.
Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
2020-21 stats: 14.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.2 bpg, 62.6 FG%
Although his raw statistics went down in 2020-21, his third-year campaign, the advanced metrics paint a different story, one that tells us it was actually the most impactful season of Deandre Ayton’s young career.
Ayton posted career-best marks in VORP, BPM, WS/48 and Win Shares last season, playing a major part for a Phoenix Suns team that reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10 and the NBA Finals for the first time since 1992-93.
Synergy Sports rated Ayton as an “excellent” offensive player last season, one who produced 1.158 PPP on all play types and sat in the NBA’s 94th percentile as a scorer.
Ayton struggled on post-ups, which is obvious for anyone who watched a lot of Suns games last season, scoring just 0.936 PPP on that play type, per Synergy Sports, but he was absolutely dominant out of the pick-and-roll. Thanks in part to both Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s playmaking, Ayton scored 1.386 PPP as the roll man last season, the second-best mark in the NBA for players with at least 100 such opportunities, trailing just Harrell.
And although Paul and Booker do deserve some of the credit for that absurdly healthy rate, Ayton warrants even more, as his hands, length and explosive leaping ability have made him a terror on dives to the rim.
Ayton also has a tidy short mid-range jumper he likes to use on occasion, as well as a defensive presence that made the Suns a very tough team to score on in 2020-21. Phoenix ranked sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions (crazy that that’s what qualifies as a borderline-elite defense these days, but we digress), and Ayton’s impact on that mark cannot be overstated.
The 23-year-old uses his elite length and timing as a rim protector to intimidate foes attacking the paint, and possesses the foot quickness to not get totally exposed when forced to switch.
All in all, despite his raw averages going down, Ayton was more focused than ever last season, and the results were hugely positive for the Suns. Next campaign should be even better for the still-developing almost-7-footer.
For the latest Deandre Ayton rumors, click here.
Bam Adebayo (Miami)
2020-21 stats: 18.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.2 spg, 57.0 FG%
It’s a testament to both Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat franchise how far the All-Star bacm has come since being drafted as a bit of a project out of Kentucky in 2017.
Despite being a late-lottery pick that year, Adebayo was rough around the edges, looking more like a pick-and-roll big man without the skill to do much else. Adebayo took time to develop, too, averaging 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds over his first two seasons in the NBA, though while flashing impressive promise from time to time.
It took the New Jersey native until his third campaign to truly break out, but once he did, he made Miami look quite savvy for taking him at No. 11 overall in 2017 despite already having Hassan Whiteside manning the position.
Adebayo’s 2019-20 saw him average a double-double (15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds) while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor, chipping in 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, be named an All-Star for the only time in his career (though that should change in the coming years) and help lead the Heat to the NBA Finals when not many expected them to get out of the second round of that year’s playoffs.
The versatile center was even better in 2020-21 despite Adebayo just missing out on another All-Star bid, as he ranked 14th league-wide in VORP, 15th in BPM and 18th in WS/48.
Adebayo isn’t just an advanced offensive player, especially as a playmaker, where he loves to set up shooters for open looks, his defense might be even farther along than his scoring, as Adebayo can confidently guard every position on the floor at a high level, even point guards on occasion.
The next step for Adebayo will be to continue getting more confident as a bucket-getter, as the 6-foot-9 big man has the face-up game to do real damage as a scorer thanks to his ball-handling, explosiveness and shooting touch from the short midrange.
We expect to see even more of that out of Adebayo in 2021-22.
For the latest Bam Adebayo rumors, click here.
Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)
2020-21 stats: 24.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.1 bpg, 38.7 3PT%
Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns would have ranked in the Top 3 of this exercise had we done it last year, if not higher, as there was a time where the former Kentucky standout made a strong case to be considered the league’s top big man.
But for a variety of reasons, both personally and physically, Towns is coming off back-to-back down seasons by his illustrious standards. And what does it say about Towns that even in a “down” year, he can still put up a stat line as eye-catching as last year, when he put up 24.8/10.6/4.5 while shooting almost 39.0 percent from three?
Regardless, that’s the immense amount of talent Towns possesses, with elite shooting touch, ridiculous ball-handling for a center and great strength and post-up savviness down low, and it’ll be great to see him get back to that level in 2021-22.
If he does, he could very well outproduce his place in this ranking – with ease, too – and perhaps help get the Minnesota Timberwolves back in the playoff picture in the brutal Western Conference.
For the latest Karl-Anthony Towns rumors, click here.
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
2020-21 stats: 14.3 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 2.7 bpg, 67.5 FG%
The league-leader in field-goal percentage in 2020-21, Rudy Gobert continued to prove last season to be one of the best centers in basketball, doing so while averaging a measly 14.3 points per contest.
Despite being somewhat limited as a scorer, once he does receive the ball in a position to put it through the hoop, Gobert rarely flubs opportunities. With hands much more reliable than they were early on in his career, and freakish size and length that makes other NBA freakazoids at the position almost look normal, Gobert has become a dominant force on both ends of the floor.
Yes, that includes on offense.
In 2020-21, Gobert ranked in the NBA’s 96th percentile as an overall offensive player, according to Synergy Sports, producing a ridiculous 1.176 PPP on all scoring opportunities. Among the 89 players with at least 800 scoring possessions last season, per Synergy, that was the third-best mark, trailing only Michael Porter Jr. and John Collins, and just ahead of Ayton and some fellow named Stephen Curry.
As the roll man out of the all-important play-type, Gobert has become a destructive maestro, scoring 1.335 PPP out of those sets, a mark high enough to put him in the league’s 86th percentile. He likewise thrived in transition, scoring 1.339 PPP in the open floor, which put him in the 87th percentile.
We haven’t even discussed Gobert’s defensive impact, by the way, which led to him winning his third career Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020-21, tying him with Dwight Howard for second-most won by a single player in a career, with the two bigs trailing only Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo, who each won four apiece.
The most important player on a Utah Jazz team last season that led the league in win percentage (72.2 percent) and net rating (plus-9.0), Gobert posted an absolutely unfathomable swing rating, with Utah being 19.1 points per 100 possessions(!) better with the French 7-footer on the floor.
Gobert may have his shortcomings, obviously as a shooter but also due to an inability to chase around wings and guards on the perimeter, but overall, he’s one of the most impactful players in the game, and that should be without question by this point.
Just look at the numbers.
For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
2020-21 stats: 28.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 bpg, 51.3 FG%
Were it not for a knee injury suffered at a pivotal point in the season forcing him to miss weeks of action, there’s a chance Joel Embiid could have made the race for 2020-21 MVP a tighter one than it ended up being.
As is, Embiid finished second in MVP voting last season, and with good reason considering the huge numbers he posted and the impact he made every time he stepped on the floor for the Philadelphia 76ers with his absurd scoring from both inside and out and elite defensive impact.
Embiid ranked No. 11 in the NBA last year in VORP, a cumulative stat, so he would have finished higher if not for the injury, sixth in BPM and second in WS/48, behind only the player coming up next on our list.
Embiid has already shown he’s one of the league’s top players throughout his career, with a 24.8-point and 11.3-rebound-per-game career marks, four All-Star appearances and three 2nd Team All-NBAs under his belt, but with regards to 2021-22, next season will be about Embiid proving he can lead a team on a deep playoff run and be a championship centerpiece.
The team’s last three postseasons have ended prior to the Eastern Conference finals, with the middle of the three being a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Another playoff disappointment in 2021-22 could change the way we look at Embiid and potentially take him down a tier when discussing the NBA’s top players.
For now, however, it’s safe to say Embiid is one of the best centers in basketball, questionable playoff resume or not.
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Nikola Jokic (Denver)
2020-21 stats: 26.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 56.6 FG%
The greatest playmaker at center the NBA has ever seen, Nikola Jokic reached a level last season that even his most ardent supporters probably doubted he could hit, taking home league MVP honors for his contributions, a beyond deserved recognition for the insane campaign the Serbian big man had.
In 2020-21, Jokic led all players in VORP, BPM, Win Shares, WS/48 and PER, and did so without missing one game all year long and playing nearly 35.0 minutes nightly.
In the process, he also became just the third player in league history to post a season averaging a 26/10/8 stat line, becoming the first center to join the list featuring Oscar Robertson, who did it three times, and Russell Westbrook.
On the offensive end of the floor, Jokic can do it all, posting up smaller defenders when he has to, facing up against bigger ones, setting the table for teammates at an elite level, dishing insane dimes that are hard to fathom even after multiple viewings and now, even knocking down threes at an above-average rate.
Despite posting a huge usage rate, Jokic still ranked in the NBA’s 88th percentile as an overall scorer, putting up 1.126 PPP on all scoring opportunities, per Synergy Sports, the fourth-highest rate among players with at least 1000 scoring possessions in 2020-21, behind only Curry, Williamson and Kawhi Leonard.
Unsurprisingly, Jokic was most dominant as a spot-up shooter, scoring off of put-backs and in isolation opportunities, ranking in the “excellent” range in all three play types, showing how uniquely versatile and dominant he is as a player with the ball in his hands.
Even when teams would try and attack him with a hard double-team on post-up attempts, Jokic would still thrive, scoring 1.266 PPP on those occasions, per Synergy Sports, so even sending multiple players at him last season proved fruitless for opponents.
And for those wondering right now, Yeah, but what about his defense?, even those concerns seem overblown now, as with him at the helm manning the painted area, the Denver Nuggets ranked 11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last campaign, a decent enough mark that still helped them finish the year sixth overall in net rating (plus-4.8).
Jokic has done a fantastic job of improving his athleticism, particularly his foot speed, and he’s always had elite hands when it comes to picking pockets and deflecting pass attempts. He’ll never be Ben Wallace, but Jokic has become a good enough defender that it’s no longer some glaring wart on his game.
Overall, there’s no doubt Jokic was the deserving MVP last season, and it’ll be exciting for basketball fans all over to see how the 26-year-old follows up such a magisterial campaign in 2021-22.
We fully expect to see more of the same level of dominance out of Jokic next season, however, which is why he finished this ranking in this position, sitting at No. 1.
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