Ranking NBA's 20 best centers: Takeaways from a versatile group of young bigs that are still breaking out

Centers may not be as prominent as they once were when it comes to the roster construction, but there are still some really good ones across the league's landscape. 

Some young players have quickly established themselves among the game's best bigs, while some veterans have adapted their games in order to remain relevant in a league that places less emphasis on traditional post play than ever before. The game has changed, and so have the players. Today's centers can do it all, from pinpoint passing, to dominate defense, to reliable floor-spacing. 

So with that said, let's rank the top 20 centers in basketball, keeping in mind the following rules: 

·         Rankings are based on our list of the top 100 players in the league

·         Players are eligible to be ranked at multiple positions. Anthony Davis, for instance, is both a forward and a center. 

And so, here are the top 20 centers in the NBA

Top 20 centers in the NBA
1
Anthony Davis Los Angeles Lakers PF
Davis is a two-position player, as he logs lots of time at the power forward spot, and he admittedly prefers playing that role. However, he also plays the center spot, and is expected to see some significant time there as a Laker this season as part of a small-ball lineup. If he's considered a center, which he is on this list, then his skill set makes him the league's best.
2
Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers C
Embiid is the best pure center in the NBA, as it is his only position, and he plays it better than anyone else in the league. There isn't much that Embiid can't do out on the court, as he is a dominant defender and an elite offensive player that can punish opponents in the paint and also stretch the floor. Health [or a lack thereof] has been the only knock against Embiid up to this point in his career.
3
Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets C
With his size and skill set, Jokic is one of the most unique players in the NBA. He's not the most athletic, but he's one of the league's best passing big men, and he possess a feathery touch that helps him to score in a multitude of ways.
4
Karl-Anthony Towns Minnesota Timberwolves C
It feels like Towns has been around for a while at this point, but he's still only 23 years old, and he is one of the most skilled young bigs in the league. His offensive versatility is his best attribute, and if he can improve defensively he will jump to the top of the conversation about the league's best big.
5
Draymond Green Golden State Warriors PF
Green may be undersized for the position, but he makes it for it with endless energy and effort, and a versatility that few other players across the league's landscape possess. He can defend all five positions, and he's also able to run an offense with precision passing and a high basketball IQ.
6
Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz C
Gobert is arguably the best defensive center in the entire NBA. He anchors a Jazz defense that is consistently among the league's best. His limitations on the offensive end is the only thing holding him back from being even higher up on this list.
7
Nikola Vucevic Orlando Magic C
Vucevic has developed into an All-Star – and a double-double machine – in Orlando. His play last season was a major reason that the Magic made their first postseason appearance since 2012, and he will look to build off of that success this season.
8
Myles Turner Indiana Pacers C
With averages of 12.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game over the course of his first four seasons, Turner has already proven that he's one of the better centers in the league, and at just 23 years old, there's still room for improvement. Turner led the league with 2.7 blocks per game last season.
9
Brook Lopez Milwaukee Bucks C
Lopez has done an excellent job of adapting his game in order to stay relevant and useful in today's NBA with the increased emphasis on floor-spacing. Lopez attempted seven total three-pointers during his first six seasons in the league, and he took 512 last season alone, and he connected on 36 percent of them.
10
Clint Capela Houston Rockets C
Capela's game is limited, especially on the offensive end, but he's been a perfect fit for Houston, as he is able to do everything that the Rockets need him to: finish at the rim, generate second chance opportunities, and protect the paint. Houston again has championship aspirations heading into the 2019-20 season, and Capela figures to play a major role in their success.
11
Steven Adams Oklahoma City Thunder C
Adams has been the unsung hero in Oklahoma City for the past two seasons. While his more well-known teammates like Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony generated most of the headlines while Adams consistently provided the Thunder with a reliable post presence on both ends of the floor. With a stripped-down Thunder roster, Adams could potentially see his role – and his numbers – increase this season.
12
Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons C
You know what you're going to get from Drummond at this point in his career: a solid 14 points and 14 rebounds per game. Drummond is consistent in his production, and he is reliable, as he rarely misses games. He's certainly a nice piece, but he can't be the top option or go-to guy for a team with title aspirations.
13
Marc Gasol Toronto Raptors C
Gasol is a bit of a mix between eras of big men, as he can play with his back to the basket, but he is also a solid passer that has developed into a capable floor-spacer. He's past his prime, but as he showed last season, he can still contribute in a major way to a title team.
14
Montrezl Harrell Los Angeles Clippers PF
Harrell has improved his per-game numbers in each of his first four NBA seasons, and he appeared in all 82 games for the Clippers last season. Now that the team has legitimate championship aspirations after landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George over the offseason, expect to hear Harrell's name more on a national scale.
15
Deandre Ayton Phoenix Suns C
Ayton still has a lot of developing to do, but he flashed a whole lot of potential during his rookie season in Phoenix, during which he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per performance. With a little seasoning, Ayton could definitely develop into one of the top centers in the game.
16
Jonas Valanciunas Memphis Grizzlies C
Valcuinas averaged nearly 20 and 10 in the 19 games that he appeared in for the Grizzlies last season. If he can keep up that production over the course of the entire season in Memphis this year, he will climb up this list.
17
Bam Adebayo Miami Heat C
Adebayo only has two seasons under his belt, but he has flashed a lot of potential in that time. With Hassan Whiteside now in Portland, Adebayo should slide into Miami's starting center spot full-time, and his per-game production should see a big boost as a result.
18
Jarrett Allen Brooklyn Nets C
Allen is entering his third season in the league, and thus far he has demonstrated an ability to protect the paint and finish at the rim. He has All-Star potential, but Brooklyn's offseason addition of DeAndre Jordan could cut into his on-court opportunity a bit.
19
Kevon Looney Golden State Warriors PF
Looney's stats don't jump off of the page, but he has provided the Warriors with a reliable post presence for several years now. He may never reach All-Star level, but he has already demonstrated that he can be a worthy contributor for a Golden State team that needs all the help it can get from role players with Kevin Durant out of the picture and Klay Thompson out for most of the season.
20
Hassan Whiteside Portland Trail Blazers C
There was a time where Whiteside was one of the more promising young centers in the NBA. He even led the league in rebounding a few seasons ago. However, his play plateaued, he wore out his welcome in Miami, and as a result he has slipped way down the list of the league's best bigs. The hope is that a fresh start with the Trail Blazers in Portland will reinvigorate a once-promising career.

A couple of takeaways from this list: 

It's not the '90s anymore

Remember the 1990s when title teams, or at least championship-caliber teams, were commonly built around traditional big men? You had David Robinson in San Antonio, Patrick Ewing in New York, Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston, Shaquille O'Neal in Los Angeles, and the list goes on. Well, those days are gone, as teams don't typically build from the inside-out anymore. Only a couple of teams employ a center as their primary player, and those that do don't use them solely in the traditional sense. In short, if you're a big in the league today, you better bring more to the table then back-to-the-basket scoring.

Youth movement

Aside from a few wily veterans that have been able to adapt and adjust, this list is comprised largely of young players, who are either just entering their respective primes, or steadily approaching it. In other words, don't expect the talent in the league at the center spot to fall off any time soon. 

Michael Kaskey-Blomain covers the NBA for CBS Sports. He has covered the league in some capacity since 2009 for a variety of outlets including Philly.com, ESPN 97.3, and 247 Sports. Michael hails from... Full Bio

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