There was a time in NBA history when big men were mostly limited to playing inside the shaded lane. Those days are gone.
The modern big men are multi-talented, quick on the feet, and with soft hands. Not only can they score inside, grab rebounds, and block shots, they now shoot from the outside with consistency, make excellent passes, and can lead or finish the fast break.
Here are the Top 10 best centers in the NBA during the 2019-20 season:
1. Nikola Jokic
There is no doubt that Nikola Jokic is the best center in the NBA today. The Denver Nuggets’ big man is known as the Joker but his game is not a joke. Last season Jokic joined Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists with a true shooting percentage of 58%. This season, Jokic has taken it a notch higher. He averaged 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and a true shooting percentage of 60.4%. Jokic and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players to post a 20-10-6 season with a TS of 60%. His length and IQ are above the charts. He has a bag full of tricks: He throws perfect outlet passes, he can lead the break, can control the boards, paly post up and can shoot the three. Name it, he does it.
2. Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is the most physically dominant center in the game today. He keeps coming at defenders with power and craft. He uses brute strength and finesse to score points. He is bull strong yet has soft hands. When you look at Embiid, perhaps his remaining weakness is the lack of a consistent outside shot. But despite his game growing every year, the Sixers have not leaped 2nd round team to legit title contenders. It’s not Embiid’s fault, for sure as he continues to be one of the most formidable forces in the league. Last season Jojo averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. Those numbers are down compared to the 2018-19 season. Not to mention he only played 44 games this year.
3. Rudy Gobert
The current coronavirus pandemic is nothing to joke about but people are saying that Rudy Gobert is the Best Defensive Player of all-time because he shut down the entire league. Kidding aside, Gobert is the reigning back to back NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the winner. He doesn’t shoot three-pointers. Nor does he have the elite passing and ball-handling skills that will qualify him as a unicorn. But Gobert is different. He exists on another plane. While every other big man is looking to become as versatile as possible, Gobert is one who makes defense his meal ticket. His ability to alter the game with his defensive skills is incredible. Not only does he blocks shots or deflects passes, but his wingspan also alters shots and prevents the opposing team from setting up their offense. This season, Gobert ranked 4th in the league in rebounding at 13.7 boards per contest and he was also averaging 2.2 blocks per game. Even though his offense is limited, he was still able to score 15.1 points per game this season.
4. Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo was one of the breakout players of the 2019-20 season. The 14th pick of the 2017 NBA draft averaged just 8.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in 23.1 minutes of playing time last season. This year, Adebayo nearly doubled his scoring average to 16.2 points while also averaging 10.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. He earned his first All-Star game ticket this season and was a key player in the rise of the Miami Heat. Adebayo is the perfect center for the modern NBA. He is a good screener, an excellent passer, and can finish the fast break. On the other end of the court, he is a very active defender who is willing to do the dirty work. Adebayo and 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only players during the 2019-20 season to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and one steal per game.
5. Karl Anthony Towns
In 2017 and 2018, NBA GMs picked Karl Anthony Towns as the player they want to build their franchise around. That was saying much about how good this 24-year old top pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. There were issues about him as spoken by former teammate Jimmy Butler but Towns’ scoring picked up when Butler left. This season, Towns averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. For a seven-footer, he shot 41.2% from behind the three-point line and was making 3.3 three-pointers per game. His free throw shooting and field goal shooting went down this season but that doesn’t take away the fact that he was one of the best big men in the league in 2019-20.
6. Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic did a fantastic job for the Orlando Magic last season as he led the team to the playoffs despite not having high-quality shot creators and playmakers. Vucevic had a career-high usage of 28.0 last season and was the guiding force behind the Magic’s offense. This season, Vucevic’s numbers slightly dropped but he still had a 20-10 season when it comes to per 36 minutes average. He is a well-rounded big man who can score in the post and who can hit the three-pointer. Vucevic has good court vision which enables him to make passes. The Magic were 30-35 this season but were still in 8th place in the East. The team was in transition trying to incorporate Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba to the mix. While the team was still adjusting, Vucevic was a steady presence for the Magic.
7. Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis was coming off a serious injury so you have to give him credit for what he did for the Dallas Mavericks this season. Add the fact that he played alongside Luka Doncic and you couldn’t have asked more from the Latvian Unicorn. Porzingis averaged 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks per game this season. At 7-3, Porzingis made a career-high 2.1 three-pointers per game although he shot the three-ball at only 34.9%. Porzingis can get off a shot from anywhere and while he doesn’t have high assist numbers, he is a capable passer. What I like about Porzingis is despite his lean frame, he isn’t afraid to defend and block shots. If Doncic weren’t in Dallas, we probably would have gotten an All-Star season from Porzingis. Not bad on your first year back from an ACL injury.
8. Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is the best rebounder in the NBA since Dennis Rodman. Rodman led the league in rebounding rate a total of six times. Drummond has led the league in four, including this season. He has led the NBA in rebounding in three out of the last four seasons. This season Drummond posted averages of 17.7 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 1.9 steals per game. The 26-year old has a massive wingspan that not only helps him get rebounds but also alters shots. He isn’t a Rudy Gobert on defense but Gobert doesn’t have his offensive skills. He doesn’t have a consistent outside shot but he has soft hands and can score pretty well around the basket.
9. Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka is no longer the defensive force that he was during his early years. But he’s become a more complete player in the last couple of seasons. Ibaka averaged a career-high 16.2 points per game during the 2019-20 season and he shot the ball at a 51.8% clip while also making 39.8% of his three-pointers (also a career-high). His 8.3 rebounds per game average were his best since 2014 when he was still with the Thunder. The thing with Ibaka is that he’s adapted to the changes around him. He played with elite offensive players like Durant, Westbrook, and Harden in OKC and he shone on defense. With the Raptors losing Kawhi Leonard this summer, Ibaka improved his scoring average and has helped out on offense more than ever in his stint with Toronto.
10. Jonas Valanciunas
At first, we didn’t think that the trade to Memphis would be good for Valanciunas. Sure, he put up great numbers last season but we thought he was going to struggle with the rebuild. But with the arrival of Ja Morant, Valanciunas has flourished and has provided the Grizzlies with a low post threat that not all teams have. He has jelled with both Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. All three are having terrific seasons. Valanciunas’ scoring average went down to 14.9 points this season but his 11.2 rebounds per game average is a career-high for him. And so was his 58.6% field goal shooting. Memphis surprised a lot of people this season and while most will point to the arrival of Ja Morant, Jonas Valanciunas’ steady post presence has helped spread the floor for Morant to flourish.