Ranking the 2019-20 starting NBA centers

by Kevin Nesgoda

The center in the NBA has become such an evolved position. Growing up every center played within five feet of the basket and never even thought of drifting outside the paint, well everyone not named Hakeem Olajuwon. There is a mix of old school centers and some centers that can play in all three levels of the offensive game.

For the first time in a long time, it seems like the center position is pretty stacked and there are a couple of strong MVP contenders at the top of the rankings.

30. Thomas Bryant – Washington Wizards

Bryant comes in last in our rankings. He’s young and does have some upside.

29. Cody Zeller – Charlotte Hornets

There are too many Zeller’s in the NBA. I don’t expect much out of Cody this year or the rest of the Hornets for that matter.

28. Alex Len – Atlanta Hawks

Len has turned into a semi-serviceable center in the league. I thought after his stint in Phoenix that he’d head back to Europe and we’d never hear about him again. His points were up last year, but his rebounds and shooting percentage were down. Shooting was due to him taking more three-pointers.

27. JaVale McGee – Los Angeles Lakers

You know what you are going to get from McGee night in and night out. He’s going to hustle, get some dunks, get some boards, block a shot into the second bowl, and then make a few dumb plays that will cost the team some points. He’s a player that for sure needs to be watched. You just don’t know what might happen with him.

26. Dwight Powell – Dallas Mavericks

Powell doesn’t do anything spectacular. He goes out scores well at the rim, rebounds at a below-average clip, but he hustles.

25. Ivica Zubac – Los Angeles Clippers

There is a load of potential the Lakers were fools for trading him for basically nothing. He’s young and raw still. I do think we’ll see him jump up a little bit, but right now he sits at 25 for me.

24. Willie Cauley-Stein – Golden State Warriors

It is going to be interesting to see how Cauley-Stein operates in San Francisco. He disappears on the court for minutes at a time and if it tells you something– Kings fans were extremely happy to see him go. Let’s see what Steve Kerr can do with him.

23. Dewayne Dedmon – Sacramento Kings

Dedmon is a journeyman and never has stats that blow you away. We thought a few years ago he was going to become the next big thing for the Spurs, but he decided to go to Atlanta and improve there.

22. Wendell Carter Jr. – Chicago Bulls

Carter had a not so good start to his NBA career. He missed 38 games due to injury last year and was not all that impressive when he was on the court. If he is healthy we should see a decent jump.

21. Enes Kanter – Boston Celtics

Kanter was one of the key reasons that the Blazers made a run all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year. He posted some huge games against Denver and Oklahoma City. He still is one of the worst defenders to ever play the position and that’s saying something compared to all the bad centers the Sonics drafted back in the early 2000’s.

20. Deandre Ayton – Phoenix Suns

With Ayton, you don’t have to worry about him outside the paint and he’s never going to stretch a defense to open up the paint. He has the chance to be a 20-10 guy this season. I’m a bit skeptical because the Phoenix organization has been a dumpster fire the last few years.

19. Jonas Valanciunas – Memphis Grizzlies

Last year in Memphis Valanciunas was a 20-10 guy. He is probably going to be the go to scoring option for Memphis this year as Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant continue to develop. He’s really looking like the Top 5 pick he was supposed to be in Toronto.

18. Tristan Thompson – Cleveland Cavaliers

I am pretty sure this is way too high for Thompson. The offense is going to flow through both guards this year and then Kevin Love… as long as Love is there.

17. Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat

I think of him as Whiteside light, but without the mental blockers. He’s a solid center and I look for him to make a big jump this year.

16. Hassan Whiteside – Portland Trail Blazers

Whiteside is in a contract year and he’s playing in a system that might benefit him a little bit better. He needs to learn to develop his pick and roll chemistry with Damian Lillard as the season develops. He could easily be a 20-15 guy in Portland this year once things start to click.

15. Mitchell Robinson – New York Knicks

Robinson is still only going to get baskets via lobs and cleaning up the glass. His real value is changing a game defensively. He’s projected to block four shots a game this year. If a dude is blocking four shots a game other dudes are not coming into the paint. Robinson is basically the only reason to watch the Knicks.

14. Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons

Drummond is one of the better low post defenders in the league and can go off for a 25-20 game any time he takes the floor. I thought when Blake Griffin joined Detroit we’d see his production drop, but that hasn’t been the case.

13. Marc Gasol – Toronto Raptors

He is no longer the All-Star threat that he once was, but still remains one of the most effective centers in the game. He has such a feel for the flow of a possession and can play easily at all three levels on an offensive set. He’s also probably the best big man passer in all of the NBA.

12. Derrick Favors – New Orleans Pelicans

Favors is going to be the old man on the block with the Pels at the age of 28. He’s going to be a nice fit next to Zion Williamson (when healthy) and Brandon Ingram. He’s going to be able to do a lot of on the court coaching.

11. DeAndre Jordan – Brooklyn Nets

The dude just gets rebounds and plays solid defense. He doesn’t need to do much more than that on any of the teams he has been on. Have to see what type of chemistry he builds with Kyrie Irving this season.

10. Brook Lopez – Milwaukee Bucks

Lopez has grown year after year and he’s in a perfect system to play to his strengths. He can play inside and stroke a three with ease. He will make those around him better and create the right spacing to make sure the others have the room to operate as needed.

9. Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers

I admit that I didn’t have many expectations for Turner when he came out of Texas. He’s developed into a modern NBA center. He defends the low post, plays the pick and roll well, and can step out behind the arc.

8. Clint Capela – Houston Rockets

I am a little nervous about putting Capela this high. I am not sure how well he is going to mix with the ball-hawking guards of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. He is going to provide solid defense and catch the occasional lob from one of the guards.

7. Nikola Vucevic – Orlando Magic

It seems like every year that the Orland Magic are trying to find a replacement for Vucevic. All Nikola has done is get better and better each year. Last year he made the All-Star team and pushed potential replacement Mo Bamba down on the bench. He’s not the best defender, but he can score all over the floor and will lead the team in rebounding… again.

6. Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves

He’s a 25-15 guy waiting to happen. He’s got all the talent in the world and will continue to get better, which is scary. He’s the focal point of the offense in Minnesota and they shouldn’t be looking anywhere else. Especially at Wiggins. Well, they can look at trading him.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge – San Antonio Spurs

At some point, you’d think all those miles and minutes on his legs would start to catch up with him. It doesn’t. He might be one of the quietest 20-10 All-Stars that has ever played in the NBA.

4. Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder

The best screen setter in the NBA. He’s also a really good rebounder and looks like he’s added a three-point shot to his repertoire this offseason. I don’t think he finishes the season in Oklahoma City, but he’s going to make someone very happy in the playoffs.

3. Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year and the favorite to win it again. He does so much well and I think he makes his first All-Star team this year.

1b. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets

He is one of my top three choices for MVP this coming season. He does everything so well and could be the first center to ever average a triple-double.

1a. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is a candidate to be a 30-15 guy this year. With Jimmy Butler in Miami he’s going to see more offense flow through him. He’s also a strong contender to be Defensive Player of the Year and for MVP. If Embiid stays healthy the Sixers are a favorite in the East.

Other posts in this series:

Ranking the starting centers in the NBA
Ranking the starting power forwards
Ranking the starting small forwards
Ranking the starting shooting guards
Ranking the starting point guards

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