In today’s NBA, there is so much raw talent at the center position. Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, and Nikola Vucevic. The NBA is full of great centers. However, less than a decade ago, the center lineup was considerably weaker than it is right now. It’s worth taking a look at how today’s centers stack up against the centers of 2012-2015.
Going by his All-NBA first-team selection, Tim Duncan was the best center in the league. Although Duncan is known to be a power forward, he played center for ten seasons, including 2012-2013. In the 2012-2013 season, an aging Duncan would average a decent 17.8/9.9/2.7/2.7/0.7, and the Spurs finished the second seed in the West.
The top two centers in the NBA today are undoubtedly Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, both MVP candidates. Embiid is averaging a stellar 29.8/11.3 RPG/3.2/1.4 BPG/1.2; the Sixers are the second seed in the East. Jokic is averaging a phenomenal 26.3/11/8.6/0.6/1.5, and the Nuggets are fourth in the West. Both Jokic and Embiid are putting up considerably better numbers than Duncan did in the 2012-2013 season.
Rudy Gobert is averaging somewhat similar stats to Duncan’s 2012-2013 season to put things into perspective. With the first seed in the West, Utah is playing excellent basketball. Despite this, Gobert is ranked just fourth among centers, according to NBA.com.
In the 2012-2013 season, Duncan was tied third among centers in points, tied seventh in rebounds, and tied fourth in assists. If he averaged the same numbers today, these placements would drop considerably. Duncan would rank fifth in the NBA in points among centers, tied ninth in rebounds, and sixth in assists.
2013-2014 also had a weak lineup of centers compared to today’s heavy-hitters. During this season, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, and Al Jefferson were the All-NBA members at the big man spot. A solid lineup; however, it doesn’t come close to the centers of today’s game.
According to the All-NBA teams, Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard were the league’s two best centers. Noah put up 12.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.5 BPG this season. The Bulls ended the season fourth in the Eastern Conference. Howard recorded a solid 18.3/12.2/1.8/1.8/0.8. Led by Harden and Howard, the Rockets would be the fourth seed in the West that season.
Stats-wise, Embiid and Jokic blow Noah and Howard out of the water. With how talented fives are this season, Noah and Howard would rank considerably lower than they did in the 2013-2014 season.
Based on his All-NBA first-team selection, Noah was considered the best center in 2013-2014. This season, twelve centers are averaging more PPG than Noah did in 2013-2014. Five centers are averaging more rebounds, and eight centers are averaging more blocks. Additionally, three centers have a higher plus-minus than Noah’s +232 in the 2013-2014 season.
According to the All-NBA teams, Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol were the two best centers in the 2014-2015 season. Marc Gasol averaged 17.4/7.8/3.8/1.6/0.9, and his team was the fifth seed in the West. Pau Gasol averaged 18.5/11.8/2.7/1.9/0.3 while finishing third in the East.
Once again, while they are solid averages, they don’t come close statistically to Jokic and Embiid’s averages. Jokic and Embiid average a combined 20.2 more points, 2.7 more rebounds, 5.3 more assists, and 1.5 more steals per game than the Gasol brothers. Also, Jokic and Embiid have a combined plus-minus of 576 this season, while the Gasol brothers had a combined plus-minus of 416 in 2014-2015.
It’s also worth looking to see how Marc Gasol, the best center in 2014-2015, matches up against today’s centers. Four centers average more PPG than he did. A whopping sixteen centers average more rebounds a game, and seven centers average more blocks than he did. Additionally, three centers have a higher plus-minus this season than Marc Gasol’s plus-minus of 225 in 2013-2014.
Once again, using All-NBA selections, DeAndre Jordan was the third-best center in the league this season. Jordan averaged 15 points, 11.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, and 2.2 blocks a game. In comparison, NBA.com currently ranks Nikola Vucevic as the third-best center in the league. Vucevic is averaging 24.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 0.7 blocks per game in the 2020-2021 season. As you can see, there is a massive gap between the perceived third-best center six seasons ago and today.
While 2012-2015 was a weak era for centers, The 2020-2021 season has revived the position like never before. There is a flurry of talent at the center position today, unlike anything we’ve seen in recent history. The playstyles and skills of centers have changed so much in the last decade. Big men will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the years to come, and the skillsets of centers will continue to change.