Ahead of the NBA season returning, we're ranking the starters on all 22 teams that will make the trip to Disney World by position, starting with centres.
Centre is a tough position to filter through because there are a lot of power forwards who play centre in today's NBA. I looked at this through the lens of players who either log the majority of their minutes at centre or play centre exclusively. That's why you'll see JaVale McGee representing the Los Angeles Lakers, for example, not Anthony Davis.
Also, since this is a ranking of the 22 starting centres expected to play in Orlando, you'll notice that LaMarcus Aldridge is not included. The reason why? The San Antonio Spurs recently announced that he will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his shoulder. I'm assuming Jakob Poeltl will start in place of him, which is why he cracks the list instead of Aldridge.
With all that in mind, onto the rankings!
Tier 4: I Have Questions
22. Ian Mahinmi/Thomas Bryant, Washington Wizards
21. JaVale McGee, Los Angeles Lakers
20. Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs
19. Ivica Zubac, LA Clippers
18. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
17. Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings
16. Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
The one I'm guessing will get the most attention here is Whiteside, who is ranked 16th despite averaging 16.3 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game this season. There's a case to be made that he should be much higher. The reason I'm hesitant is this wouldn't be the first time a breakout season has coincided with a contract year for Whiteside and he might not even be the best centre on the Trail Blazers, the latter of which hinges on how Jusuf Nurkic rebounds from suffering a gruesome leg injury at the end of last season.
In Whiteside's defence, the on/off numbers point to him actually making a positive impact on the Blazers this season. I'm just still not sure I quite believe it.
For everyone else, there's something holding them back from joining the next tier. Holmes is having an impressive season, but he's played in only 39 games because of injuries. I like Allen's game, but there's something weird going on in Brooklyn and he might not even be starting for the Nets moving forward. Zubac and Poeltl have been two of the most effective rim protectors in the league this season, but they're limited offensively. McGee plays his role well, but he's on the court for only 16.8 minutes per game. His backup, Dwight Howard, plays more than he does.
I'm not sure if Ian Mahinmi or Thomas Bryant will start for the Wizards when the season resumes, but it's been a tough season for anyone not named Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans in Washington.
Tier 3: You Know What You're Getting
15. PJ Tucker, Houston Rockets
14. Daniel Theis, Boston Celtics
13. Maxi Kleber, Dallas Mavericks
12. Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans
11. Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies
10. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
9. Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
This was by far and away the hardest tier to sort through because of how different each player is.
Here's my train of thought: Theis has mastered how to do all of the little things, Kleber is the rare centre who can guard all five positions and stretch the floor out to the 3-point line, Favors has a history of making teams significantly better defensively (this season being no exception), Valanciunas is a walking double-double who can score against pretty much anyone in the post, Ayton has the potential to be a 20-10 guy for the rest of his career and Adams is as solid as it gets on both ends of the court.
As for Tucker, he's not a traditional centre, so it felt weird having him ahead of any of the traditional centres in this tier even though I think he's a better player than several of the players ahead of him. Until we see more of this all-in small ball version of the Rockets, I'm not sure where to place him.
Ayton might jump out at No. 10 considering he's only played 101 games in his NBA career. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt because he's already an efficient scorer who has shown some encouraging signs on defence. If he continues to develop at the rate he has so far, he deserves to be here, if not a little higher. If he doesn't, he could fall several spots.
Tier 2: The Specialists
8. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
7. Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
6. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
5. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Lopez is several years removed from making his one and only All-Star appearance, but he's a big reason why the Milwaukee Bucks have both one of the best offences and defences in the league. His ability to space the floor out to the 3-point line provides valuable spacing for everyone, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he deserves to be a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year this season on the strength of his rim protection numbers.
Turner ticks a lot of the same boxes as Lopez does. If this were about which centres have the brightest future, there's no doubt that Turner would be ahead of Lopez. Since this is more about the now, Lopez gets the slight edge.
There's an argument to be made that I'm being too generous to Gasol, who plays under 30 minutes per game and has missed a large portion of the season with injuries. (Our Micah Adams had him ranked as the 13th-best centre in the entire league for what it's worth). I just think that when push comes to shove, he's still a top-8 centre - at least among the teams that are returning this season. What he lacks in scoring he makes up for in still being one of the best passers and shooters at the centre position, and all the stats point towards him still being one of the most valuable defenders in the league.
Ultimately, I had an easier time talking myself into Gasol belonging in this tier than Tier 3.
Vucevic rounds out this tier. He's not having as good of a season as he did last season when he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, but he's still one of the best offensive centres in the league, someone who can get you a bucket in the post, space the floor a little as a shooter and set up his teammates for easy baskets. The playoffs will be a big opportunity for him to prove himself after what happened in the first round against Gasol last season.
Tier 1: Let's talk All-NBA
4. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Hopefully, this is self-explanatory - Adebayo has established himself as one of the best centres in the league this season, Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Embiid and Jokic have been fighting over the best centre in the league crown for the last couple of seasons.
The biggest thing up for debate is whether or not Embiid or Jokic deserves to be No. 1. It should be Embiid. He's arguably the best defensive player in the league when he's locked in and he's an unstoppable force on offence. However, Jokic has been the better of the two this season. It was closer between them last season, but even then Jokic was the one who ended up on MVP ballots and the All-NBA First Team, not Embiid.
That stuff matters.
This tier could look slightly different at the end of the season, though. Depending on what happens in the playoffs, Adebayo could very well surpass Gobert and Embiid could very well surpass Jokic. But going into the final eight games of the regular season, this feels right.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.