OrlandoMagic.com’s Josh Cohen projects the top 10 centers in the NBA during the 2022-23 season.
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#10 Christian Wood
On paper, Wood might be Dallas’ second-best player. You certainly could say it’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith or Tm Hardaway Jr., but Wood should benefit most playing alongside Luka Doncic. While his scoring average, not surprisingly after Houston added Jalen Green through the draft, dipped a bit last season, the 6-foot-10, 214-pounder shot over 50 percent from the field for the fourth straight season. His best scoring performance came on March 21 when he erupted for 39 points and made eight 3-pointers against the Wizards.
#9 Nikola Vucevic
While he hasn’t been quite the same since getting traded to Chicago, Vucevic had several terrific games last season, including on Feb. 4 when he posted 36 points and 17 rebounds against the Pacers. The key for the Bulls going forward is figuring out how to become a better defensive team. They ranked 23rd on that end in 2021-22. In addition to a healthy Lonzo Ball, Chicago needs improvement from Patrick Williams, their fourth overall pick in the 2020 draft.
#8 Wendell Carter Jr.
One could argue that there were more deserving Most Improved Player award candidates last season than ever before. Although he didn’t get any votes, Carter was certainly one of them, averaging career highs in points (15.0), rebounds (10.5) and assists (2.8). He also extended his shooting range, making a career-best 70 3-pointers. Some of his best performances came against the league’s top centers, including on Feb. 14 when he tallied 25 points and 12 rebounds against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
#7 Jarrett Allen
The Cavs have made a lot of good moves the last few years, which is why some consider them title contenders this season. Even though he’s no longer on the team, it all started with them selecting Collin Sexton in the 2018 draft. Then the next year, they made another great draft night decision by taking Darius Garland fifth overall. A couple years later, they got involved in the blockbuster James Harden-to-Brooklyn trade by snagging Allen in that four-team deal. A year ago, they chose Evan Mobley in the draft, and just a couple weeks ago acquired three-time NBA All-Star Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz. While it remains to be seen if Cleveland has enough to truly contend with the East’s other powerhouses, including Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, they’ve put themselves in a good spot – for this season and likely beyond.
#6 Deandre Ayton
The Suns decided to match the Pacers’ four-year, $133 million offer sheet over the summer given to Ayton, who averaged 17.2 points on a career-best 63.4 percent shooting from the floor in 2021-22. It remains to be seen how committed Phoenix is to him, but undoubtedly for them to remain in the championship conversation, they need the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder to play up to his potential. That wasn’t the case in the Suns’ playoff series against the Mavs, especially in Game 7 when he had just five points and four rebounds. He was terrific, however, in the prior series against the Pelicans, especially in the closeout Game 6 win when he scored 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
#5 Kristaps Porzingis
Porzingis, after getting traded to the Wizards, looked far more like the guy that was an All-Star before his ACL injury in 2018. He scored 20-plus points in 10 of the 17 games he played in with Washington to close out last season. Most assume the Wizards are a middle-of-the-pack team in the East, which may prove to be true. But, with a healthy Bradley Beal and Porzingis, to go along with some key veteran additions in the offseason, including Monte Morris, Will Barton and Taj Gibson, perhaps Washington is a team that could sneak up the standings.
#4 Rudy Gobert
One of the summer’s biggest storylines was Minnesota acquiring Gobert from Utah for a mix of players and draft picks. The T-Wolves gave up quite a lot for a player that doesn’t dazzle offensively, but with that said, Minnesota has struggled mightily on the defensive end for years now. Getting a three-time DPOY will almost certainly change that, but to what extent? How well will Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns mesh, and do the Wolves, after trading a bunch of their role players in the deal, have enough depth to compete with the other elite teams in the Western Conference?
#3 Bam Adebayo
A legitimate argument could be made that Adebayo is the NBA’s best defender right now. If he didn’t miss 26 games last year, perhaps he would have won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, which went to Marcus Smart. Adebayo finished in fourth place. The Heat, who came up one win short of making the NBA Finals, held opponents to a league-low 41.3 points in the paint per game in the 2021-22 regular season.
#2 Joel Embiid
Last season, Embiid became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-00 to lead the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.6 points per game. He had 13 40-plus-point performances, including on Jan. 19 when he erupted for 50 points against the Magic, his second 50-point game of his career. The reoccurring question with him is whether he will be healthy come playoff time, which wasn’t the case in either of the last two seasons.
#1 Nikola Jokic
It might surprise you to find out that the last player who won three consecutive MVP awards was Larry Bird from 1984-86. Jokic will have an opportunity to become the next player to accomplish this after claiming the honor each of the last two seasons. The 6-foot-11, 284-pounder currently has 76 triple-doubles in his NBA career and is three away from jumping Wilt Chamberlain for sixth most in league history and the most by a center. He had 19 of them last season, including on Jan. 19 – yes, the same night Embiid had his big night – when he recorded 49 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Clippers.