All-Star Analysts

The top centers in the NBA

Published August 12, 2022, 12:30 PMWillie Wilson
Willie Wilson

All-Star Analyst Willie Wilson lists down his picks for the best centers heading into the 2022-2023 NBA season.

The center position was in bad shape several years ago, but the last couple of seasons have shown that the position is far from being a thing of the past. The last two MVP awards were won by the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, with Philadelphia 76er big man Joel Embiid finishing as the runner-up twice. 

The center position has undergone a major transformation. It started to change during the inception of the Golden State Warriors’ death lineup—where small ball was the future, turning big men into nothing more than rim-running lob-finishers—to now where the NBA is starting to realize the value of size and athleticism when it is properly combined with skill. 

Here are my top centers in the NBA heading into next season. 

5. Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves

2021-22 season averages: 15.6 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG

A three-time defensive player of the year, his trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves shows just how sought after his elite rim protection is in the league. 

4. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings 

2021-22 season averages: 18.9 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 5.2 APG

One of the most underrated big men in the NBA today, Sabonis is a triple-double threat every game. He already has 18 in his career so far. 

3. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

2021-22 season averages: 19.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 SPG

Adebayo is one of the best defenders in the NBA today. He’s an undersized center at 6’9, but he makes up for the lack in height with brute strength displayed through his physicality. He is also a freak athlete being one of the more athletically gifted players in the league. Because of that athleticism, he’s one of the best bigs at switching on to guards and locking them up. He is one of a handful of players who can legitimately defend every position on the floor, unlocking Miami’s top five-ranked defense. 

You’re probably telling me that Gobert is the best defensive player of his generation. I won’t argue that, but what I will say is that Gobert is stepping into a new situation in Minnesota, while Adebayo is still in a system that features him defensively and he’s gone on the record expecting his shot attempts to go up next season. Adding his playmaking ability makes him my choice here at number three. I’m expecting his numbers to continue to rise across the board, and with good health this season, he’s my pick to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

2021-22 season averages: 27.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.9 APG, 1.5 SPG

Jokic is the greatest playmaker at the center position the NBA has ever seen. 

The back-to-back MVP is a juggernaut on offense. He is changing the game of basketball much in the way Stephen Curry has done. In basketball courts all over the world, coaches are looking for the next Jokic to run their offense and we are seeing kids everywhere making no-look backdoor passes and shouting “Jokic!” as they make the pass. We have the tallest kids all around the world trying to be facilitators now and it's all because of the Joker. 

He’s not known as an elite defender, but what many miss out on is the fact that Jokic is a great communicator much in the way Marc Gasol was. During Gasol’s Defensive Player of the Year run, he anchored the defense from the back line, making sure all of his teammates knew where they were supposed to be. In the same way that he knows what will happen on offense in advance, Jokic uses that same superpower on defense to always be a step ahead. 

Why do I have Jokic ranked number two? He has two All-Star level players in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. coming back next season so he won’t have to put up superhuman-level statistics next season. He may be ranked only second, but that won’t stop him from leading his team to a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

2021-22 season averages: 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG 4.2 APG, 1.5 BPG

Joel Embiid can go down as an all-time great player, not just an all-time great center. Yes, he is that good. 

He has no weaknesses on either side of the ball. The 7-footer's only weakness is his inability to stay healthy. We all hold out hope that this season can be different and I have him at number one because I believe this season will be the year he puts it all the way together. He will have a full year of being fed easy baskets from James Harden, so the wear and tear on his body will be less. His focus will be on stacking numbers individually as well as his team’s win numbers. 

As we’ve seen throughout his career, he will come into the season much more improved. He’s added a few new post moves to combine with his always improving 3-point shot and passing skills. These skills are paramount to his team's success as he’s constantly facing double and triple teams. He’s also equally as effective on the defensive end as a true rim protector. 

Embiid is truly a throwback center with a full low-post offensive arsenal, coupled with high-quality paint protection. Then there’s the bonus modern aspect part to his game – his 3-point shooting. If he can stay healthy next season, I see Embiid running away with his first of possibly many MVP awards.

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