The concept of a prototypical NBA center has been flipped on its head in recent years. For decades and decades, it was once a position group loaded with lumbering giants who were there to clog up the lane, protect the rim, and use their size to post up and wreak havoc down low on offense.
This is how players like Greg Ostertag, Kendrick Perkins, and Luc Longley were able to maintain starting roles on championship-caliber squads for years despite their lack of athleticism, poor shooting touch, and one-dimensional skillsets.
This is not to say that there were not a lot of incredible athletes who played the position like all-time greats Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but it has only been in recent years that we have seen an explosion of next-generation centers who can shoot from outside, distribute the ball, and have the athleticism to guard any player on the floor.
With that said, who are the centers finding the most success in the modern NBA? Each one of the stars on the following list has mastered at least one, if not all, of the aforementioned skills, though they all bring their unique approach to the position. Let’s dig a little deeper, and determine who the top five centers in the NBA are heading into the 2022/23 NBA season:
5. Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo is the engine that drives the Miami Heat. He is a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor, bringing energy and intensity night in and night out. He is a huge reason why, despite having no true “superstar” on their roster (though some may argue Jimmy Butler qualifies), the Miami Heat are among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference every year.
Bam and company fell one game short of an NBA finals appearance in 2021/22, falling to the Boston Celtics in seven games. Adebayo put up solid averages across the board of 19.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. He is very efficient on offense, shooting a career 55.8% from the field, and is an elite defender.
Adebayo has only been an All-Star selection one time in his five-year career, but that is likely to change in the coming years.
4. Rudy Gobert
Gobert is the best defender on this list, and arguably the best defender in basketball. Gobert led the Utah Jazz to the playoffs last season despite missing his co-star Jamal Murray for the entire year. Gobert was in the conversation for both MVP and DPOY at times last season while averaging 15.7 points, a league-high 14.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocked shots per game while shooting a ludicrously efficient 71.3% from the field despite his somewhat limited offensive arsenal. He has, by the way, already been named NBA Defensive Player of the Year three times in his career.
The 30-year-old French big man has helped keep the Utah Jazz relevant in recent years, leading them to six-straight playoff appearances alongside Jamal Murray and more recently Mike Conley. With an even more talented group surrounding him at his new home in Minnesota, the sky could be the limit for the Timberwolves can accomplish in the coming seasons as he pushes Karl Anthony-Towns into the power forward spot. More on that in a moment…
3. Karl Anthony-Towns
We will keep Big Kat on this list because he has primarily played the center position thus far in his career, however, with Rudy Gobert coming to town he will most likely shift over the power forward spot on most nights moving forward.
Karl Anthony-Town’s career has thus far been somewhat reminiscent of another Minnesota Timberwolves great, Kevin Garnett. Despite his incredible individual skillset and performances, the Timberwolves as a franchise just seems to have an aversion to playing consistent, winning basketball.
Through his first seven seasons in the league, Towns has put up rock-solid production at 23.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting nearly 40% from three-point range. He has racked up three All-Star selections during that time. However, the team has only made two playoff appearances and achieved just two winning seasons in those seven years.
Now with a rock-solid supporting cast of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and fellow superstar big Rudy Gobert, the Minnesota Timberwolves may just have their most talented roster in franchise history. Now is the time for Karl Anthony-Towns to prove that he can lead his team to playoff success.
2. Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is the best pure scorer on this list and is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. He earned his fifth-straight All-Star appearance last season while leading the league in scoring at 30.6 points per game, along with 11.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.
The Cameroonian-French big man was the ultimate prize of the Philadelphia 76ers’ “The Process” era. Unfortunately, his young costar, Australian point guard Ben Simmons, had a falling out with the franchise, his coaches, and teammates (including Embiid himself), and the team had to hit a soft reboot. In a great stroke of luck, General Manager Daryl Morey was able to swap Simmons for James Harden, one of the greatest scorers of his generation.
The 76ers fell to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs last season. However, with the opportunity to play a full season together with his new costar, and with Harden appearing to be newly motivated and in much better shape than this time last year, Embiid and company could be an even bigger threat in 2022/23.
1. Nikola Jokic
The reigning MVP claims the throne as the top center in the NBA. Perhaps the greatest facilitator ever at his position, Jokic has kept the Denver Nuggets in contention for the past half-decade as a walking triple-double and, particularly over the past two seasons, an elite scorer.
Jokic put up spectacular averages of 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while taking home NBA MVP honors (for the second time) and earning his fourth-straight All-Star selection last season. Unfortunately, his Nuggets fell to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in their first-round playoff series.
The 27-year-old Serbian center has gotten better every year and has developed one of the most unique, well-rounded skill sets ever at his size and position. If he can lead his Denver Nuggets to further team success and eventually a championship, he will climb his way into the rankings of All-Time greats.