If you don’t have at least one center on your roster by the end of Round 5 in fantasy basketball drafts this year, you’re in trouble.
You can make an argument for as many as six centers being worthy of first- or second-round picks, and at least six more should fly off the board over the ensuing three rounds. Once the big man well dries up, though, it becomes slim pickings at that position quickly.
Which centers should you be targeting toward the top of your fantasy drafts, and where should you be taking them? Assuming a nine-category head-to-head format, here’s how to break down the cream of the crop at the 5.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Though the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired a multitime All-Star this summer in Jimmy Butler, they’ll still flow through future MVP candidate Karl-Anthony Towns. The Kentucky product became the first player in NBA history last year to average at least 25 points, 12 rebounds, one block and one 3-pointer by his age-21 season, which helped him finish as the sixth-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. With Butler and new point guard Jeff Teague in the fold, Towns may not have to shoulder as much of a load offensively, but that’ll allow him to focus more on protecting the rim and getting his shot-blocking total to rise. He’s the fourth overall player on my big board and is a no-brainer early to mid-first-round pick.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic may be at the center of an ongoing Basketball Twitter war, but the fantasy community is nowhere near as divided about his value. After Jokic slid into Denver’s starting lineup in mid-December, he exploded for 19.2 points on 58.7 percent shooting, 10.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 triples in just 29.7 minutes over his final 51 games. Even with his slow start factored in, he finished last season as the 20th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. He now has an ideal frontcourt partner in Paul Millsap, may have to shoulder even more of a scoring load with Danilo Gallinari gone, and has two floor-spacers in Gary Harris and Jamal Murray who should feast off his dazzling passes. As such, he’s someone to target aggressively at the end of the first round or beginning of the second.
3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was the definition of a post-hype sleeper last season, as he rebounded from his somewhat disappointing 2015-16 campaign to set new career highs in points (14.0), rebounds (12.8), blocks (2.6), field-goal percentage (66.1 percent) and minutes (33.9) while playing in all but one game last season. Between his offensive explosion and his league-leading rejections total, the Stifle Tower finished as the 19th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues and was 13th in eight-cat. With Ricky Rubio feeding him endless lobs and Gordon Hayward gone, Gobert is due for another offensive eruption this year, making him a rock-solid early to mid-second-round pick.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans
Even though he’s splitting touches with a fellow early-round big man in Anthony Davis, there isn’t much to dislike about DeMarcus Cousins’ fantasy outlook in 2017-18. Upon his arrival in New Orleans following the All-Star break this past season, Boogie still managed to churn out top-15 value by averaging 24.4 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 12.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.1 triples, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks in only 33.8 minutes. Having already played alongside Rajon Rondo in Sacramento for a season, his familiarity with the mercurial point guard should help free him for some easy buckets off rim rolls, and the Pelicans lack established scoring talent outside of him, Davis and Jrue Holiday. He’s a safe second-round pick with top-10 upside if (when?) Davis goes down with an injury.
5. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Much like CJ McCollum two years ago, the entire fantasy community is swooning over Myles Turner this season, and it isn’t hard to see why. With Teague and Paul George no longer in Indiana, the Pacers lack a go-to option outside of Turner and the newly acquired Victor Oladipo, which suggests both of them could be in for breakout campaigns. Turner already finished as the 25th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues last season and was 20th in eight-cat after averaging 14.5 points on 51.1 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 assists in 31.4 minutes. With another uptick in playing time, a top-15 finish isn’t out of the question this time around. As such, Turner should likewise come off the board toward the middle or end of Round 2.
6. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Despite a significant drop-off in his shot-blocking numbers last season, Hassan Whiteside solidified his place as a bona fide fantasy star. He averaged a career-high 17.0 points on 55.7 shooting and pulled down a league-best 14.1 rebounds to go with his 2.1 blocks in 32.6 minutes per night, which helped him finish as the 24th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. The 3.7 blocks he averaged in 2015-16 may have been an outlier—he finished seventh overall on a per-game basis in nine-cat that season—but if he nudges his shot-swatting total back toward the 2.6 he averaged in 23.8 minutes in 2014-15, he’ll be a top-20 lock. Despite a middling free-throw percentage, he’s worth a look in the late second round.
7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Oh, hey, Marc Gasol shoots 3-pointers now. After hitting 12 triples over his first eight seasons combined, Big Spain connected on 104 of his 268 attempts from deep (36.8 percent) last year, which helped fuel his career-high 19.5 points per game. Paired with his 6.3 rebounds, career-high 4.6 assists, 1.3 blocks and 0.9 steals, Gasol finished as the 28th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. With Zach Randolph now in Sacramento, Gasol may need to attack the glass more aggressively than he has in the past, which should have him flirting with top-25 value this season. Owners should feel comfortable grabbing him toward the end of the third round.
8. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
If you’re risk-averse, Joel Embiid is not the third-round pick for you. He’s played just 31 games across his first three seasons combined, and he still has yet to be cleared for full-contact five-on-five scrimmaging after undergoing knee surgery on a meniscus tear back in March. If Embiid’s rookie season is any indication, he has league-winning upside if he remains healthy—after all, he poured in 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 26.4 minutes per game. His top-10 upside merits a third-round selection, but be mindful of his enormous downside. Perhaps no player in the top 30 is more likely to bust than Embiid.
9. Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
Embiid may be the riskiest of the top centers, but Jusuf Nurkic takes the second-place crown. Upon his arrival in Portland right before the All-Star break, the Bosnian Beast poured in 15.2 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals in 29.2 minutes, giving him top-50 value on a per-game basis over that span. During the first two-and-a-half years of his career, however, he was an often moody picture of inconsistency. He’s heading into a contract year, so he has 100-plus million reasons to remain on his best behavior, but fantasy owners must decide whether his late surge was a small-sample-size fluke. Target him in the late fourth or early fifth round in case it wasn’t.
10. Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers
Brook Lopez flew under the radar last year because he was playing for the moribund Brooklyn Nets, but like Marc Gasol, he unfurled a newly developed 3-point stroke as well. Lopez had only attempted 31 treys during his first eight NBA seasons, but he knocked down 134 of his 387 attempts last year (34.6 percent) to go with his 20.5 points on 47.4 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks in 29.6 minutes per game. Lopez has long been a subpar rebounder, but he could be poised for a career year offensively with Lonzo Ball feeding him the rock. Lopez finished 40th overall on a per-game basis in nine-category formats last season despite being without a league-average point guard for much of the year, so owners should aggressively pursue him in the late fourth or early fifth round and pray Lonzo doesn’t endure too many rookie struggles.
- DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
- Al Horford, Boston Celtics
- Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
- Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons