Anyone who thinks centers are fading from relevance in the NBA clearly hasn’t consulted a fantasy basketball big board this fall.
A whopping 11 centers fall within the top 45 in terms of FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings, and another four make an appearance in the 45-to-60 range. While that reduces the pressure to use a first- or second-round pick on a center, it’s imperative for owners in 12-team leagues to have their starter at that position locked up by the end of Round 5.
Here, we’ll walk through the top 10 centers (in order), with five honorable mentions below. The rankings are based on nine-category head-to-head leagues and factor in the ability to punt certain categories.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
It sure didn’t take long for Karl-Anthony Towns to emerge as a fantasy monster, huh? As a rookie, the Kentucky product averaged 18.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.7 steals and 0.4 treys in 32.0 minutes, finishing as the eighth-best player in fantasy. With new head coach Tom Thibodeau now in Minnesota, Towns’ minutes figure to go up in 2016-17, which should lead to incremental gains in his per-game statistical output, too. A 20-10-2 campaign appears to be the floor for Towns, assuming he stays healthy, which makes him a rock-solid top-five pick in all leagues. Those in keeper leagues should give serious consideration to drafting him first overall.
2. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
With Dwyane Wade now a Chicago Bull and Chris Bosh still sidelined by blood clots, Hassan Whiteside has suddenly emerged as the face of the Miami Heat franchise. After averaging 14.2 points on 60.6 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds and a league-best 3.7 blocks per game last year, the Heat handed Whiteside a four-year max deal this summer, signaling their intention to build around him over the coming seasons. During his first two preseason games, Whiteside averaged 18.5 points on 72.7 percent shooting, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in just 24.8 minutes per night, efficiency that would make him a top-five fantasy option. Owners should begin giving him a long look toward the end of the first round.
3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Entering Year 7 of the #FreeBoogie campaign, DeMarcus Cousins could be in line for a career-best season thanks to new head coach Dave Joerger. Last year, despite the dysfunctional environment under George Karl, Boogie averaged 26.9 points on 45.1 percent shooting, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 treys in 34.6 minutes to finish as fantasy’s 20th-best player on a per-game basis. Joerger, who previously coached Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis, has plenty of experience coaxing excellence out of franchise big men. Assuming the locker room doesn’t collapse upon itself once more, Boogie will be well worth a look at the end of the first round or beginning of the second.
4. Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Al Horford doesn’t put up massive per-game numbers like Towns, Whiteside and Cousins, but he’s one of the most reliable early-round centers in the league. Last year, Horford finished as the 12th-best player overall and 16th-best on a per-game basis, averaging 15.2 points on 50.5 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.1 triples and 0.8 steals in 32.1 minutes. Assuming Celtics head coach Brad Stevens gives him the green light to fire away from deep like Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer did, Horford won’t hurt fantasy owners in any category. He’s someone to target toward the end of the second round.
5. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets figure to be a tire fire in 2016-17, but Brook Lopez will be one of their lone bright spots. Last year, the Stanford product finished as the 24th-best player in fantasy, averaging 20.6 points on 51.1 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 blocks in 33.7 minutes. Considering Lopez put up those huge numbers with Donald Sloan and Shane Larkin as his starting point guards for half of the year, the newly signed Jeremy Lin should be a godsend for his fantasy value. If Lopez can dodge the injury bug—no sure thing for him, given his history of foot ailments—he should again provide top-25 value, making him worth a look toward the end of the third round.
6. Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs
Can Pau Gasol remain an early-round fantasy force now that he’s left Chicago in favor of San Antonio? Last year, Gasol finished as fantasy’s 18th-best player, having averaged 16.5 points on 46.9 percent shooting, 11.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.0 blocks in just 31.8 minutes. With Tim Duncan having retired this summer and the Spurs lacking significant frontcourt depth, there’s little reason to believe Gasol can’t put up similar numbers, particularly given the offensive system that head coach Gregg Popovich runs in San Antonio. The 36-year-old may play slightly less this season, but he still should be drafted around the turn of the third and fourth rounds.
7. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
After exploding to the tune of 11.1 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 13.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game following the 2015 All-Star break, Rudy Gobert entered the 2015-16 campaign with second-round buzz. Instead, the Jazz center finished as fantasy’s 67th-best player on a per-game basis, having only averaged 9.1 points on 55.9 percent shooting, 11.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 31.7 minutes. In retrospect, expectations for him heading into last season were too lofty, but that shouldn’t deter owners from spending another early-round pick on him. The Stifle Tower should still come off the board by the fourth round given his upside in rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage.
8. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Speaking of a board-gobbling, shot-blocking, high-efficiency fantasy monster, DeAndre Jordan led the league for the fourth straight season last year in field-goal percentage (.703). Coupled with his 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, Jordan finished as the league’s 56th-best fantasy player, despite shooting an ungodly 43.0 percent from the free-throw line. Seeing as he isn’t likely to improve in that department, owners who aren’t willing to punt on the free-throw category can’t consider Jordan before the end of the fourth round, at the earliest. Those who are open to punting FT%, however, shouldn’t let him slip outside of the top 20.
9. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond is in a similar boat to Jordan: As long as you aren’t deterred by his ghastly free-throw shooting, he’ll be a top-20 value otherwise. Last season, Drummond set career highs in points (16.2) and rebounds (a league-best 14.8) while shooting 52.1 percent from the field and chipping in 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per night. Because of his atrocious 35.5 percent clip from the free-throw line, however, he finished as the 95th-best player in fantasy. Roto owners shouldn’t touch Drummond with a 10-foot pole before the fifth or sixth round, but head-to-head owners open to punting should grab him in the top 25.
10. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
The two words you never want to hear with big men are “navicular fracture,” but that’s exactly what knocked Marc Gasol out for the year after 52 games in 2015-16. Big Spain has since made a full recovery and told Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal that he “feels better, physically, than he’s ever felt,” but new head coach David Fizdale plans on monitoring Gasol’s minutes and sitting him out some games, according to Calkins. On the bright side, it appears as though Gasol has the green light from deep for the first time in his career, which could give him added value. Start looking for him in the late fourth or early fifth round.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Other positional rankings
All 2015-16 rankings via Basketball Monster.