The Five: Best Centers In The NBA

The re-imagined position is different now more than ever

AP Images/Lede In Illustration

With each passing year, big men in the NBA steer further away from their original genealogy. At the start of this decade, bigs spacing the floor from the 3-point line was few far and between. The 2000’s, saw a steep decline in talent, primarily at the center position, while the Duncan and Garnett’s of the world led the big man coalition. Look any further back and you will find little to no resemblance to the bigs of today and the past.

Drop steps, jump hooks, sky hooks, reverse pivots, are all relic moves of the past. Pick-and-pops, rim runs, alley-oops, and passing at the elbow are the prominent skills bigs have today. Despite the drastic change in style of play, there are plenty of bigs who rank among the elite in today’s game. Here are the five best centers in the NBA today.

5. Marc Gasol, Center, Memphis Grizzlies

Since he came into the league in 2008, Gasol has been the most consistent two-way center in the game.

There is no part of Gasol’s game that overwhelms his opponents. He doesn’t go on big scoring sprees, grab 20 rebounds, or block six or seven shots. He just does everything well.

Gasol is what you call an enigma. There has never been anything conventional about him or his game, except for the fact that he looks like your prototypical unathletic-wide bodied-tall-white center.

He can score on the low block, stretch the floor, pass from anywhere on the court, and play post defense as well as any big in the league. This season he averaged 20–6–5 and shot 38 percent from three, not your typical seven foot, 255-pound center numbers.

4. DeMarcus Cousins, Center, New Orleans Pelicans

DeMarcus Cousins is bar none the most talented big man in the game today and has been for quite some time. He has a Shaquille O’Neal type frame and a Chris Webber type game.

He can play like any old school type big and pound you on the low block and clear the boards, but he offers so much more. He can run the floor on the fastbreak, shoot from range, and pass.

Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged 26–12–4. No other center has averaged 26 and 12 over a three-year period since Shaquille O’Neal nearly 15 years ago.

The only downside to Boogie’s game is his attitude. He sulks, throws tantrums, and throws in the towel on defense from time to time. Granted he played in one of the most dysfunctional franchises for six and half seasons.

If he can find a place with good structure and a coaching staff/front office that holds him accountable, he will be the best big in the league.

3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Center, Minnesota Timberwolves

Towns was compared to All-Star center Al Horford a lot coming out of Kentucky in 2015. Another uber-talented center who can score inside out and pass the ball. It was a good comparison, only Towns is Horford on steroids.

This kid has it, plain and simple. After a phenomenal rookie season where he averaged 18 and 11 on 54 percent shooting, KAT followed that up by averaging 25 and 13 on 54 percent shooting.

He hasn’t found his way defensively, then again no one on that Minnesota teams has, but he is only 21 years old. This guy probably still drinks Bud Ice and Natty Light, just wait to he grows up and graduates to a nice IPA.

2. Nikola Jokic, Center, Denver Nuggets

This might seem a bit premature, but this guy is something special. Big men, like Jokic, are generational talents that do not come along that often.

When you talk about great passing bigs, he should be mentioned with Duncan, Walton, Webber, and the Gasol brothers. He’s that good. He gave us a small sample size this season, but his passing ability alone gets him on this list.

On top of that he scores efficiently, rebounds, plays on the fast break, stretches the floor and is deadly passing above the 3-point line. Jokic averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game this season while playing 28 minutes per game. His per 36 numbers were even more astonishing: 21.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg, and 6.3 apg.

His game might not be as pronounced as Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns from an athletic standpoint, but he is a sneaky good athlete. For as slow and dopey as he looks, know one seems to have a handle on how to guard him.

He shot 68 percent from 0–3 feet and an astounding 62 percent from 3–10 from the basket. All of which can be attributed to great footwork and touch. But it’s his patience and poise which makes him remarkable. You don’t see 21-year-old big men with that type of restraint around the basketball.

1. Anthony Davis, Center, New Orleans Pelicans

Injuries aside, Davis has no apparent weakness that would knock him off the top spot. He scores, rebounds, and defends at an elite level and he is arguably one of the five best players in the league.

Two seasons ago, he posted the 12th highest players efficiency rating of all-time at the age of 21. Unfortunately, like a lot of the other talented bigs on this list, he plays for a bad team.

His first five seasons have been marred by nagging injuries and crappy teams. If New Orleans ever gets it together or if he can find a way to get traded to a good team before his contract ends in 2021, he will change the landscape of the NBA. He’s that dominant.

Gasol has more experience, Cousins is more talented, Towns is a better scorer, and Jokic is a better passer. But no other big in the league combines to score and defend on the level that Davis does. And that is why he is the best big the game has to offer.

Follow Lede In on Twitter.