Now that we’ve looked at the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards worth targeting in the early and middle rounds of fantasy basketball drafts this coming fall, let’s wrap things up with centers. Since we can’t accurately predict where each player will land in free agency or which prospects each team will draft, these rankings will operate under the assumption that all free agents re-sign with their respective teams and will not include any rookies. (Fret not: We’ll have an updated Top 150 after the first major wave of free agency dies down in mid-July.)
Outside of point guard, center is the deepest position in fantasy basketball. Ten centers could feasibly come off the board by the end of Round 4 in 10-team leagues, and five more deserve to be selected in Rounds 5 and 6. Much of their appeal comes from the scarcity of blocks among players at other positions, although the help they provide with field-goal percentage and rebounding can’t be discounted, either.
The rise of so-called “stretch 5s” only further bolsters the appeal of top-tier fantasy centers, as guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol and Joel Embiid are now draining three-pointers like they’re a foot shorter. Back-to-the-basket brutes such as Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside and DeAndre Jordan still exist, but they’re becoming increasingly rare. That said, fantasy owners must tread lightly at this position (particularly in roto leagues), as certain centers can singlehandedly sink your squad’s chances of winning the free-throw percentage category.
Here’s how the 2017-18 center fantasy landscape looks in mid-April for owners in nine-category head-to-head leagues.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns just became the first player in NBA history to rack up 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 three-pointers in a single season. He doesn’t turn 22 until November. That speaks volumes about his limitless fantasy upside, as the Kentucky product just averaged 25.1 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.2 triples and 0.7 steals in a whopping 37.0 minutes per night while playing all 82 games for the second straight season. Towns is going to be in contention for the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts this fall, joining the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
2. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was a textbook post-hype sleeper in 2016-17. A year after finishing as a minor fantasy disappointment, the French Rejection erupted for a career-high 14.0 points on 66.3 percent shooting, 12.8 rebounds, a league-leading 2.6 blocks, 1.2 assists and 0.6 steals in 33.9 minutes per night while playing all but one game. Gobert also knocked down a career-best 65.3 percent of the 5.9 free-throw attempts he averaged, a marked improvement from the 56.9 percent he shot from the charity stripe a year ago. Derrick Favors’ on-again, off-again availability contributed to Gobert’s offensive breakout, but regardless of what the Jazz do with Favors, George Hill and Gordon Hayward this offseason, the Big Brie figures to come off the board around the turn of the first and second rounds.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Those who bought the preseason hype and plunged a fourth- or fifth-round pick into Nikola Jokic this year had to be underwhelmed by the early returns. The Serbian big man proved incompatible with frontcourt partner Jusuf Nurkic, which led to him averaging just 11.0 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in 23.8 minutes across his first 22 games. Upon moving back into the Denver Nuggets’ starting lineup on Dec. 15, however, Jokic proceeded to go off for 19.2 points on 58.6 percent shooting, 10.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 triples in 29.7 minutes over his final 51 games. Jokic is one of the rare nightly triple-double threats among NBA centers, making him a no-brainer second round pick in fantasy drafts.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans
DeMarcus Cousins had carte blanche during his time with the Sacramento Kings, but his midseason trade to the New Orleans Pelicans did surprisingly little damage to his fantasy value. Despite now having to share the ball with another high-usage big man in Anthony Davis, Boogie still averaged 24.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 12.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.1 triples, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks in 33.8 minutes across the 17 outings he made in a Pelicans uniform this season. With a full offseason, training camp and preseason to grow more acclimated to New Orleans’ system, Cousins should be a safe top-15 pick as long as the Pellies retain Jrue Holiday or replace him with a comparable point guard.
5. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Hassan Whiteside blocked 107 fewer shots this year despite playing nearly 400 more minutes, but he made up for that decline with new career highs in points (17.0) and rebounds (a league-leading 14.1). Whiteside is far less versatile than the likes of Towns, Cousins and Jokic, but the advantages he gives you in rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage and points help negate his mediocre free-throw shooting (62.8 percent) and limited output in assists (0.7) and steals (0.7). If you grab a well-rounded stud like Westbrook, Harden, Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in the first round, Whiteside would make for a strong complement in the second.
6. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner often gets neglected when discussing the NBA’s budding young unicorns, but omitting him from that conversation is a glaring mistake. He’s fresh off a sophomore season in which he averaged 14.5 points on 51.0 percent shooting, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.5 triples in 31.4 minutes across 81 games, finishing with the 24th-best fantasy value on a per-game basis. If the Indiana Pacers to decide to trade Paul George this summer ahead of his date with free agency in 2018, Turner would immediately become the face of the franchise, giving him top-15 upside. Even if Indiana rolls back the same core, Turner should still come off the board early in the third round.
7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
First-year Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale has been a godsend to Marc Gasol’s fantasy owners, as he reportedly visited Big Spain over the offseason and told him to plan on attempting at least four triples per game, according to ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon. While Gasol didn’t quite reach that threshold, he did knock down 104 treys after hitting just 12 over his first eight seasons combined. Big Spain also chipped in a career-high 19.5 points on 45.9 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in 34.2 minutes, finishing with the 26th-highest fantasy value on a per-game basis. Until opponents begin paying Gasol more respect from beyond the three-point arc, he’ll be teeming with top-25 upside, making him worth a third-round pick this fall.
8. Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Al Horford is the center version of Nicolas Batum in fantasy—someone whose well-roundedness helps compensate for his relatively unimpressive scoring totals. During his first year with the Boston Celtics, Horford averaged just 14.0 points per game—his lowest in the past five years—but he added 6.8 rebounds, a career-high 5.0 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 triples in just 32.3 minutes per night, finishing with the 33rd-highest value on a per-game basis. With roughly $30 million in cap space and a guaranteed top-four pick, the Celtics could look radically different come this fall, but Horford should be a safe fourth-round pick regardless.
9. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Let’s address this right away: If Joel Embiid stays healthy throughout the 2017-18 campaign, he’s ranked about five spots too low here. But since he’s played 31 games across his first three professional seasons, fantasy owners must bake injury risk into his draft-day price. Before suffering a season-ending meniscus tear in late January, Embiid was a fantasy stud, putting up 20.2 points on 46.6 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 2.1 assists, 1.2 triples and 0.9 steals in just 25.4 minutes per game, good for the 37th-highest value on a per-game basis. That said, his lack of availability put him outside the 16th round in total value, making him a high-risk, high-reward target in the third or fourth round of drafts next season.
10. Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
There’s only a 20-game sample size by which we can evaluate Jusuf Nurkic’s 2017-18 fantasy outlook, as his stock skyrocketed once the Denver Nuggets sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers just prior to the All-Star break. Over those 20 contests, the Bosnian Bear averaged 15.2 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals in just 29.2 minutes, giving him the 44th-best fantasy value on a per-game basis over that span. With a full offseason and training camp in Portland, Nurkic could be even more of a monster next season, so owners who don’t care about getting treys from their center should hone in on him with a fourth-round pick.
11. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
12. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
13. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
14. Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks
15. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Other positional rankings
All rankings via Basketball Monster are based on nine-category leagues and are current through the end of the regular season. All ownership percentages via ESPN.com. All average draft position and ECR info via FantasyPros.