Centers are no longer the interior-dominating, rebound-inhaling, shot-blocking, free-throwing and occasionally-stealing sun of a guns they used to be. Yet, while this year’s crop is a long, long way from the glory days of O’Neal, Olajuwon, Robinson, and Ewing – Fantasy icons that were usually gone before the 10th overall pick – the top of the crop are more diverse shooters who still make grabbing one of them a priority before the pack becomes hazy.
Regardless of how you shake the rankings from No. 2 on down, there is universal agreement Karl-Anthony Towns is the best at the position. In fact, one could make a strong case for using the first overall pick on the Timberwolves anchor. Just know that KAT will be BYE-BYE before the fifth overall selection. Following Towns lies a talented group with varying skills, yet it doesn’t take too long before the centers more suited for 1997 come into play, warts and all.
Be sure to see the rest of our 2017 – 2018 Fantasy Basketball positional rankings:
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves: A seven-footer averaging 25 points, 12 boards and a block per game also shoots 36 percent from 3-point range. It feels like a player your younger nephew made on NBA2K18, yet these are Towns’ numbers from last season. He recorded 62 double-doubles and even with the arrival of Jimmy Butler, Towns will continue to look for his shot outside. Try as you might, there are few flaws when it comes to drafting Towns, who would be the first pick in many a keeper/dynasty format. He’s a lock for a Top 5 selection and is worth it even if he simply duplicates his numbers from 2016-17. The scary part is that KAT is barely scratching the surface of his potential.
- Nikola Jokic, Nuggets: His play in the 2016 Summer Olympics was a precursor to his breakout, one that took its time in coming as Denver waited until December to put him into the lineup on a full-time basis. Jokic averaged more than 39 Fantasy Points Per Game with a dizzying array of all-around scoring (64 percent True Shooting as he hit 32 percent from long range and 83 percent from the free throw line), rebounding (9.8 boards per game) and passing (the 6’10″ Jokic averaged 6.1 assists in the second half), making the 22-year-old one of the league’s rising young stars. He’s not Towns, but Jokic’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the game.
- Rudy Gobert, Jazz: The Stifle Tower showed a more offensive side to his game last season and will be more aggressive with the ball in his hands now that Gordon Hayward took his scoring to Boston. He averaged 14 points per game last season and could approach 17-19 per (especially if he improves his 66 percent free throw accuracy). That doesn’t mean Gobert won’t continue to be an unholy terror in the perimeter. He’s a lock for a second straight season of double-double production per night while grabbing 12-14 boards and nearly three blocks per game. Gobert is a great consolation prize for a Fantasy owner who missed out on Towns and Jokic.
- DeMarcus Cousins, Pelicans: With each game, Cousins gets more comfortable with Anthony Davis. That’s a scary thought, as Cousins still averaged 24.4 points, 12.4 boards, 3.9 assists and 1.1 blocks per game in the 17 contests he and Davis paired up. He’ll still put up those numbers as his 3-point shooting and ability to frequently get to the line bolsters his scoring. Boogie also gets a swipe per game and with free agency on the line, expect Cousins to wolf down more than his share of double-doubles on a nightly basis while averaging more than 50 FPPG and a high usage rate.
- Hassan Whiteside, Heat: Few things are as foolish than the image of someone driving to the rack in hopes of becoming famous at the expense of Whiteside. Two words: good luck. Whiteside blocked 2.1 shots per game last season en route to also pulling down 14 boards per night while becoming more of a factor on the offensive end. He should be more fearsome defensively now that he’s adjusted to the larger role on the franchise. The free throws (63 percent last season) is a mild annoyance, but Whiteside’s boards and blocks are the foundation toward any Fantasy owner contending in both categories.
- Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: There’s little reason to expect a drop-off from The Younger Gasol, who also added a 3-point game to his scoring arsenal. Fully healthy after missing 30 games in 2015-16, Gasol averaged 19.5 points and a career-high 4.6 assists per game, the latter something of a counterbalance to his fall to a career-low 6.3 boards per night. He should revert to the 7-9 boards per game player he’s been much of his career and offers a solid yet unspectacular array of numbers that makes him valuable entering into his 1oth season.
- Joel Embiid, 76ers: How much are you willing to Trust the Process? Thirty-one games is too small a sample to completely lose control, but Embiid’s 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists are pretty damn alluring. The obvious question is whether he’s going to be healthy. He’d be a monster if he could suit up for 65-plus games, but the thought of either fading at the end of the Fantasy regular season and/or a quick exit from the Fantasy playoffs because you invested an early round pick on Embiid is a lingering question that takes serious thought. Trust is a beautiful thing, Joel. Don’t break it.
- Myles Turner, Pacers: Turner would like to forget his postseason like Hillary Clinton would like to forget last November. The difference is that Turner hasn’t written a book about What Happened. Entering his third season, Turner is brimming on the verge of a breakout as he becomes a more focal point of the revamped Pacers and should record the first double-double campaign of his career. Postseason aside, Turner should look to attack the basket (3.7 FT per game) rather than moonlighting as a 3-point shooter (34 percent). He’ll block 2-3 shots per night and could constitute a major steal if he can become more consistent with his potential.
- Jusuf Nurkic, Trail Blazers: Portland looked lethal at times after acquiring Nurkic from the Nuggets in mid-February, as he recorded eight double-doubles with his new team before a season-ending fracture of his right fibula spelled the end of his (and the Blazers’) season in late March. Nurkic, who averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds along with 1.9 blocks in his 20-game run with Portland, reportedly came to camp in impressive shape and if he picks up where he left off, there’s a possible Fantasy monster awaiting to be let loose.
- Al Horford, Celtics: Don’t be surprised if Horford equals – if not duplicates – his five assists per game from last season, as he will be surrounded by a bevy of talent that will welcome his passing skills. Horford will still get his 14-16 points per night and his usage and PER (that’s Player Efficiency Rating for those that didn’t read the guards preview) should see a rise after falling from 20.9 and 21.43 in 2014-15 to last season’s 19.7 and 17.77. His game continues to age well and while he may not have the potential to put up freakish numbers like some ranked ahead of him, Horford’s reliability speaks volumes.
- Robin Lopez, Lakers: Losing sucks, yet it has to be more tolerable to drop L’s in the City of Angels than the Land of No Sleep ‘Til. Part of the haul that came back from the trade of D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn, Lopez’s scoring (especially his newfound touch from long range) does mask the fact he rebounds like a point guard, which is odd considering he averaged 1.7 blocks per game last season. A third straight season (and fourth in his last five) of at least 20 points per night is in the offing, especially since he’ll be on the receiving end of more than his share of passes from Lonzo Ball.
- Nikola Vucevic, Magic: Limited to 65 games in 2015-16, Vucevic played in 75 contests last year and averaged a double-double for the fourth time in his five seasons. He averaged a block and a steal per game for the first time in his career and while no one knows what direction the Magic are headed, Vucevic has emerged as a reliable scorer and board presence whose numbers (14.6 points, 10.4 rebounds per game last season) could take a climb if Orlando boosts his usage rate to the level it was when he averaged a career-best 21.1 PER in 2014-15.
- Clint Capela, Rockets: He’s Old School when it comes to his scoring: 31.8 percent of his baskets came via dunks (163) while nearly 79 percent of his field goals came within three free of said basket. Capela is starting to get it, as he’s improved his free throw percentage to over 53 percent (hey…it was 17 percent two years ago, so progress) and is becoming more of a scoring presence while also averaging 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes last season. The Rockets know he doesn’t need too many plays run for him. Capela does a good job cleaning up errant 3-point attempts and ramming them home. Only 23, Capela is not too far from climbing another 3-5 spots on this list.
- DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Need another disturbing world trend? We now live in a world where Jordan is a worse free throw shooter than the aforementioned Capela. He must also adjust to life without Chris Paul both on the court and in State Farm commercials, but Jordan still can deliver some of the most violent dunks in the league while controlling the paint and redirecting shots at a solid clip. Jordan led the league in field goal percentage for the fifth straight year and in offensive rating en route to a fourth consecutive season of double-double production. He’s going to be millstone on your team’s FT percentage, but give him credit as he improved to 48 percent last season. There’s hope, folks. There’s hope.
- Gorgui Deng, Timberwolves: He’s quietly effective, yet Deng has a sneaky good offensive game to go along with his ability to block shots and hit the glass. Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins will get the headlines, but Deng fits well as the unsung player who makes his (and your) team look well. There are worse things to have in Fantasy basketball than a steady 10-point, eight-rebound banger who’s played in every game each of the past two seasons.
- Andre Drummond, Pistons: For all the grief (rightfully) laid upon Drummond’s free throw shooting, he has crossed the 20 PER barrier in each of his first five seasons and has averaged at least 13 points and 13 rebounds in each of the last four years. Drummond is active on the defensive end, recording a block and a steal per night. The reigning champion in rebounding rate, it’s easy to forget Drummond is only 24 and has yet to approach his ceiling.
- Dwight Howard, Hornets: Wanna feel old? D12 is only 31, yet it feels like he’s been playing for longer. There’s still plenty left in the tank despite the fact he’s no longer a consistent 20-point scorer. Howard has never gone under 10.5 rebounds per game in his career and there’s good reason he’ll improve upon the 8.4 shot attempts per game that he’s averaged the last two seasons with the Rockets and Hawks, respectively. Being around Michael Jordan on a daily basis could light a fire under the usually-reserved Howard. If so, there’s a value pick sitting in Charlotte.
- Steven Adams, Thunder: He looks like he’d be a good tag team partner for WWE star Roman Reigns. Just saying. While Vinny Mac and company won’t be calling on Adams anytime soon, his developing offensive game is an asset. He’s showing improvement defensively, as his 1.8 blocks in the postseason will attest. Adams probably won’t be more than a 12-point, eight-board a night kind of guy, but you’ll gladly take that guy if he’s only 24 and getting passes from Russell Westbrook.
- Willy Hernangomez, Knicks: Expect a momentary hit in his value after the Knicks added Enes Kanter in the Carmelo Anthony deal, but I think Hernangomez has the higher upside and it’s not even close. Averaging just 24.2 minutes per game after the All-Star Break, Hernangomez’s 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds translates to 16 and 13.6 per 36 minutes. If the Knicks are serious about rebuilding, they’d make the commitment to Hernangomez on Opening Night and not look back.
- Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings: Like Hernangomez, Cauley-Stein started to get it after the Break, averaging 12.9 points and 8.1 boards per game. Check out his April where Big Willie averaged 14.8 points and 10.2 boards while averaging just over 27 minutes a night. Sacramento is going to be a fun team to watch this season and Cauley-Stein is going to be a major reason why.
- Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors: What you see is what you get with Valanciunas and what you get is a banger with four straight seasons of at least 11.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those numbers, yet the only reason why he’s in this range is because the upside of players like Drummond, Hernangomez and Cauley-Stein are higher. That said, however, Valanciunas makes for a great complimentary center for any Fantasy team.
- Marcin Gortat, Wizards: Coming off a career-high 10.4 rebounds per game last season, the 33-year-old Gortat can still pull boards at a solid clip. Gortat was never a supreme scorer, yet has recorded seven straight seasons of double-digit production. Don’t expect a decline quite yet as there’s at least another campaign or two of above-average numbers from Gortat, who can still rip of a stream of double-doubles on occasion.
- Pau Gasol, Spurs: The days of being a 70-plus game workhorse are gone, but Gasol sports enough value (20.23 PER; only two seasons under 20 in his career and one was a 19.34 in 2013-14). Gasol can still give you a block or two per game and 7.8 boards per game last season came in just 25.4 minutes per night. There’s some scoring potential left, so even if Gasol misses a game or two, don’t be shy about adding him to your roster.
- Nerlens Noel, Mavericks: Do not sleep on Noel, who took his PER from 16.28 in 2015-16 to 20.40 last year. He’s got room to push it higher, especially now that he’s locked in to Dallas for the future and that he’s going to get more than 6-8 field goal attempts per night. Noel is only 23 years old and with stability in front of him, we may get to see why he was the sixth overall pick of the 2013 draft.
- Frank Kaminsky, Hornets: A poor man’s Ryan Anderson, Kaminsky can let it fly with ease now that Dwight Howard arrives as the primary rebounder. His stock could take a hit if Cody Zeller, currently listed as the second center, starts to eat away into his minutes.
- Greg Monroe, Bucks: He put up a 21.23 PER despite not starting a game last season. If Monroe was born 10 years earlier, his style of play would have made him a star. He’ll probably resume the same role this season, but the Bucks are looking for big things from 2016 first round pick Thon Maker, which will either dent Monroe’s minutes or lead to his exit.
- Kelly Olynyk, Heat: The backup to Whiteside, the former Celtic gives the bench a big who can knock down a triple and add some rebounding grit. Considering the Heat’s recent health history, it wouldn’t be a shock of Olynyk ended up with more minutes than expected.
- Tristian Thompson, Cavaliers: He’s here just for the rebounds, folks. Any added scoring from Thompson is gravy, and the advanced numbers suggest the gravy will be thin this season.
- Robin Lopez, Bulls: One thing’s for certain: the Lopez Brothers can use the day after the regular season to start planning their summer vacations. The Chicago Lopez still is an accomplished shot blocker and might see more opportunities on the offensive end. He’s worth a flier.
- Mason Plumlee, Nuggets: He was putting up solid Fantasy numbers before being traded to Denver in the Jusuf Nurkic deal, but Plumlee has appeal in deeper leagues and would see his value rise is Jokic missed significant time.
Oh, and These Guys
- Alex Len, Suns
- Cody Zeller, Hornets
- Jahlil Okafor, 76ers
- Enes Kanter, Knicks
- Bismack Biyombo, Magic
- Tyson Chandler, Suns
- Channing Frye, Cavaliers
- Timofey Mozgov, Nets
- Zaza Pachulia, Warriors
- Al Jefferson, Pacers
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