Fantasy Basketball Center Exit Interview: Joel Embiid overtakes Nikola Jokić for top player
With the NBA Playoffs underway, it is time to take one last look back on how each position has stacked up against each other across the 2022-2023 regular season. The point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward exit interviews have been completed. That just leaves the centers.
[2022-23 Exit Interviews: PGs | SGs | SFs | PFs | Cs]
Led by two MVP frontrunners, centers dominated fantasy basketball this season. From Nic Claxton's breakout to Brook Lopez's resurgence, there was value all over draft boards to land a differentiating big man. Four of the top-12 players had C eligibility, with nine ranking in the top 25 in per-game value.
Since so many players have multi-position eligibility, I'll highlight only the centers who logged the most minutes at the C spot.
Let's dive in!
Tier 1: Elite Centers
The Sixers' big man was the top fantasy player in 9-cat leagues, breaking Nikola Jokić's two-year run as the best in fantasy basketball. Embiid dismissed any durability concerns, playing in 66 games while leading the league in scoring (33.1 ppg) for the second consecutive season. His skill set is perfect for fantasy, as he only hurts you in turnovers. He should take home MVP honors for the first time this year.
The reigning fantasy and real-life MVP had a phenomenal season, falling two-tenths of an assist shy of averaging a triple-double. His advanced metrics are off the charts and will likely be the consensus 1.01 heading into next season.
Davis somehow managed to play 56 games this year and had his best season in three years.
He and Jaren Jackson Jr. are the only players to average at least 2 blocks and 1 steal this year.
Davis won't do much from three and will have some off days from the line, but otherwise, he's still a top-10 fantasy player when healthy.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Welcome to the elite tier, JJJ. He missed the first 14 games of the season recovering from offseason foot surgery, but when he came back, he was one of the best centers in the game. He's the first player to average four stocks (3 blocks and 1 steal) in a season since 2008 and closed the year 14th in per-game value. He's a late first-round pick going into the '23-24 season.
Tier 2: All-Star Power Forwards
The Wizards are a joke, but Porzingis proved why he's a unicorn (in fantasy). He posted a career-best 23.2 points per game, had impressive shooting splits (50/39/85) and blocked 1.5 shots per game in his eighth NBA season. He'll have a player option heading into next season, so he could be extra motivated/incentivized to ball out again in '23-24.
Oddly, Sabonis led the league in fouls and foul outs (9) this year, but who cares — he was the only player besides the Joker to average at least 19 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists per game this season.
He led the league in rebounds per game, and Sabonis' 7.3 assists per game were a career-high. He's formed a lethal combo in Sacramento with De'Aaron Fox and will continue to be a top-24 player.
Tier 3: Reliable Centers
After all the trade rumors, Indiana elected to bring back their shot-blocking savant on a 2-year deal through 2024-2025. Turner finished 21st in 9-cat leagues. He quietly posted career-highs in points, rebounds, FG percentage and he's in a great situation playing with a dynamic, pass-first point guard in Tyrese Haliburton.
Adebayo could jump to the All-Star tier, but he's not quite there yet. He finished the season 33rd overall and improved his scoring in each of his first six seasons. He's an asset for steals and assists relative to the position, but he doesn't shoot threes. Nonetheless, he's a solid player who could easily be a 20 and 10 guy next year.
The Bulls have to pay him, right? They traded so many assets in exchange for Vuc that they may look foolish not to. He held up his end of the bargain in fantasy, though, finishing 26th and putting up nearly identical scoring and rebounding numbers to last season.
It's early, but Kessler showed me enough in Year 1 to make me believe he will be one of the more valuable centers in fantasy basketball. He'll compete for the league lead in blocks while also being a walking double-double.
Some might say, a better version of Rudy Gobert.
All signs point to Kessler being a cornerstone piece of the Jazz rebuild; Kelly Olynyk lost his starting gig and will be off the books at the end of the '23-24 season, so expect Kessler to fly off draft boards by the third round.
Tier 4: Value centers
I didn't see Claxton's breakout coming, but he'll be in line for plenty of minutes and opportunities with the Nets' depleted frontcourt. He was a top 30 player while leading the NBA in FG, eFG and 2-point FG percentage — an impressive feat at only 24 years old. He's one of the best young shot blockers and rim protectors and could warrant a fourth or fifth-round draft pick.
I whiffed on Lopez's epic return to fantasy basketball glory, but no one predicted he'd rank in the top 25 in his 15th season in the league. He turned back the clock, producing his best numbers across the board since 2016-2017.
He'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so if he doesn't run it back with Milwaukee, his value could change a bit before next season.
He won't wow you, but 14 points with 10 rebounds and almost 2 stocks per night is a high floor for a mid-round fantasy pick.
Capela often joins John Collins in trade rumors, but Capela outperformed his ADP (82), ranking 41st in per-game value this season. He posted his sixth straight season with a double-double and even improved his FT shooting up to 60% for only the second time in his nine-year career.
Tier 4: High-Risk, High-Reward Centers
I (like many) have been critical of Gobert in Minnesota. His preseason ADP was 28th, and while he wasn't terrible, he didn't live up to expectations. He finished 58th (still solid), but his drop-off in blocks, rebounds and FG percentage lessened his value to fantasy managers. He could fall in drafts because of his situation and decline in production, but he's still one of the game's best rebounding and blocking centers — I just won't be targeting him.
There are too many mouths to feed in Phoenix, and Ayton wasn't particularly pleased with his role throughout the season. There's a risk of "Dominayton" underperforming relative to his ADP heading into next year. Then again, he could do what he always does: 18 and 10 with strong shooting splits.
Time Lord could be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but he can't stay healthy. His minutes dipped from almost 30 per game in 2021-2022 to 23.5 this season, and his production fell off. He averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds with 2 stocks, which won't cut it when suiting up for a mere 35 games.
Fantasy managers, unfortunately, have to decide whether he's worth a mid-round pick knowing he'll likely miss a handful of games each season. But the upside (defensively) is game-changing.
Sengun is uber-talented offensively, but his struggles on the defensive end got him benched or phased out at times last season. Ime Udoka is Houston's new HC, and it was interesting to hear him say the Rockets intend on adding another big man. I over-drafted Sengun this season, thinking he would be a Sabonis/Jokić-light. Although he flashed some disgusting moves, elite footwork and playmaking, I'm concerned about his utilization. His upside is tremendous, but he won't hit value if he's in a platoon.
Tier 5: Breakout Centers
Collins is set to become the starting center for the Spurs next season, and he flashed some serious fantasy potential late in the year. Collins took over the starting gig once Jakob Poeltl was dealt to the Raptors, and he thrived, averaging 16 points with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 threes and 2 stocks with 48/40/83 shooting splits. He did all of that in under 30 minutes, too, so he's poised to put up some legit numbers next year.
The Thunder are an ascending team, and their second pick of the 2022 NBA Draft has yet to play. I can't wait to see how versatile this kid will be in today's game.
Someone has to catch lobs from LaMelo Ball, right? Williams has the highest draft capital among the centers in Charlotte, posted the highest rebound percentage among centers on the Hornets, and had a better defensive rating than Nick Richards. His per-36 numbers extrapolate out to 17 points, 13 rebounds and 3 stocks, so if he can get more than 19 minutes a night, he will be plenty busy racking up stats.
The centers could end up in a timeshare, but I'm betting on Williams' talent to rise above the competition.
Tier 6: Mid-to-Late Round Centers
Wendell Carter Jr.
Tier 7: Bench Centers
Onyeka Okongwu, Kevon Looney, Al Horford, Mason Plumlee, Daniel Gafford, Isaiah Stewart, Jusuf Nurkic, Drew Eubanks, Naz Reid, Steven Adams, Xavier Tillman, James Wiseman
Tier 8: Developmental Centers
I'm still debating what the Pistons will do with all of their frontcourt players, but I trust Paul George's assessment of Duren fitting the mold of a young Dwight Howard. He averaged 10 and 9 over the final 18 games of the season, and he could be a cheap source of points, rebounds and blocks in the later rounds next season. He's only 19, so there's still plenty of time for him to mature into a reliable fantasy big man.