The game of basketball is in the middle of a revolution and the game is evolving rapidly. We are seeing traditional basketball positions – the point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center – being turned on their heads with their roles and responsibilities on the court.
The position that could be seeing its most drastic shift is the center position. The days of the “5-man” or “big man” as the position is so fondly referred to, running down the court and planting themselves around the basket to either post up or grab a rebound are over.
While some of the NBA’s all-time great centers have paved the way for the new class of big men, their style of play definitely looks outdated compared to the modern era’s best NBA centers. This article will take a look at some of today’s best centers and we will also dissect the new style of play that modern-day centers have adopted.
Today’s center can be summed up by some fairly specific roles and, while some roles are very familiar to the centers of yesterday – rebounding and blocking shots – there are new skills that centers are asked to master in order to keep the pace with today’s game of basketball.
Rebounding is always going to be an important skill in the center’s repertoire. They are commonly the tallest players on the court and, while they have begun shooting outside more, are often found under the basket. To piggy-back off of the rebound, big men often get fast breaks started by outletting the ball to a guard on the wing ready to push the ball up the court and catch the defense off-guard.
Again, something that often falls into the hands of the tallest player with the largest wingspan on the team. In today’s NBA, having a solid rim protector is key to being able to block and alter shots of the opposing team and has always been an important part of a centers job since the early days of the NBA.
This is a new, more important, skill that today’s game utilizes heavily. The center is usually one half of the pick-and-roll as they can set an effective screen and are great with the ball around the basket. Another reason is that if the center’s defender switches to the guard with the ball, it creates a mismatch for the ball-handler.
Pick-and-rolls, however, are extremely difficult plays and require great body control and hand-eye coordination to be successful. The centers of yesteryear were often less coordinated than modern-day centers and would not have been comfortable running this play as often as today’s centers do.
While good shooting is always an added bonus for centers, it has never been as prevalent as it is today. If you turn on an NBA game today, it is not unheard of for a center to take several three-pointers during the game. In fact, the top 5 NBA centers in the league average almost 4 threes attempted per game this season. Many centers from the past wouldn’t even take 4 threes for an entire season, let alone each game.
Today’s Best Centers in the NBA (2019-2020 Season)
1. Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns is a prototypical NBA center in today’s game. He averages 26.5 points per game on almost 52% shooting and takes a staggering 8.5 threes per game! What is more staggering is that he makes 42% of those attempts.
The impressive thing about Towns is his versatility. While his shooting numbers are good, his other stats are equally as impressive. He averages over 11 rebounds per game and over 1 block per game. Towns is only 24 years old and is already showing that he is not only one of the best big men, but overall players in the league.
2. Andre Drummond
Drummond is an old-school center in that he does most of his damage under the basket, however, he is extremely coordinated and versatile on the court. He is extremely efficient in his offensive production, with a career field goal percentage of 54%, he has only taken a total of 83 three-pointers in 570 total games.
Drummond does most of his damage in the rebounding and blocked shots categories. He is averaging over 16 rebounds this year and almost 14 rebounds per game for his career. If he continues this rebounding production for another decade, he will easily finish in the top ten for most rebounds ever by an NBA player.
3. Joel Embiid
The player on this list with arguably the most potential is Joel Embiid. His ceiling is endless, however, so is his basement. Issues with his in-game conditioning and injuries have slowed down his meteoric rise and some are wondering if he will ever figure out how to handle the rigors of the long NBA schedule.
Nonetheless, Embiid’s career statline is 24 points per game on an almost 50% field goal percentage. He also makes around 30% of the three-point shots he takes giving him an added weapon in order to spread the court for his team. But where he really impresses is under the hoop, serving as an all-star rebounder and rim protector. He averages just shy of 12 rebounds and 2 blocks per game.
Just imagine what types of numbers he could put up if he can increase his minutes per-game as he usually hovers around 30. That number should be better, and if/when it is, Embiid could see an MVP award in his future.
4. Nikola Jokic
“The Joker”, as many around the league refer to him as, is a great example of making the most of your physical attributes. Other than his size – he is seven feet tall – you wouldn’t think Jokic is even an athlete let alone an NBA star if you ran into him on the street. His muscles don’t show and he can barely dunk, but his basketball IQ and a knack for scoring are what makes him great.
What makes Jokic the most dangerous is his ability to find the open man when he has the ball. A team can run their offense through Jokic which puts defenders in a tough situation. Do you guard him tight to ensure that he doesn’t score or do you slouch off him so he can’t carve you up with a timely assist to a teammate?
Jokic is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game for his career. Add in an impressive 6 assists and a steal per game and you have a potential all-NBA caliber center.
5. Rudy Gobert
Another throwback center for this list, Gobert makes his money on the defensive side of the ball. Gobert doesn’t shoot threes, he doesn’t really create his own offense, and defenders don’t have to worry about trying to solve his offensive game. Where he has made a name for himself is the dirty work needed to be a successful team.
Even though Gobert doesn’t score much, with a career average of 11.4 points per game, he doesn’t hurt his team on offense. He makes over 60% of his shots and rarely takes a bad shot. He also makes up for it with his rebounding and shot-blocking, averaging 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game respectively. Gobert is the type of player who needs to be watched to fully see how valuable he can be on a winning team.
While these centers are a wide variety of gameplay and skills, there is no doubting their impact on their teams. Their numbers vary in different ways but the one constant is their consistency on the court and the numerous all-NBA and all-star awards they have compiled in their careers.
Is your favorite center on this list? Did we miss one, in your opinion? Let us know in the comments!