By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
We are previewing every position ahead of the 2023-24 fantasy basketball season. Here are the centers.
As the NBA becomes more of a small-ball league, the amount of players who qualify at center is broader than ever. But, as you'll need to roster two in Yahoo Fantasy leagues, it's still important to treat the position with some urgency in drafts. The talent drop-off comes quickly, and you can easily be caught off guard late in drafts without the necessary big men.
However, as diverse as the position has become, plenty of prominent traditional centers remain. Many centers are only centers, like how many point guards are only point guards. The other positions, broadly classified as wings, are much more interchangeable.
Why does this matter for fantasy?
It matters primarily due to injuries. Many teams' plan is still, "We have Center X starting and playing 30 minutes, and if he gets hurt, then Center Y will start and play 30 minutes." That's an oversimplification, but it's a much more straightforward process compared to when someone gets injured on the wing, and any number of players could absorb their minutes and usage.
It's why drafting Andre Drummond, despite him playing 12.7 minutes per game last season, can still be considered a strategy and not insanity. What if Nikola Vučević gets hurt in the first two weeks of the season? Chicago has nowhere else to turn besides Drummond, who averaged 16.9 points, 18.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes last season.
Comparatively, if Zach LaVine suffers an injury, upwards of five players could see more minutes.
Before outlining my general guidelines for targeting specific centers, I want to clarify that you should be willing to draft anyone you view as having slipped too far. For example, the aforementioned Vučević is not one of "my guys," but if he's sitting there for me at pick 60 ... am I supposed to not draft him? Drafting is just as much about price enforcement as it is about landing your favorite options.
With that said, here are the guidelines that lead me to my favorite centers in Yahoo leagues this season:
A clear top-three role within their offense
This is especially important for centers. There are plenty of centers without scaleable usage, meaning they won't see significantly more touches when teammates suffer injuries. That severely caps upside. Most of the time, these are traditional bigs like Nic Claxton, Walker Kessler and Mitchell Robinson.
Young or in prime (younger than 33)
No overarching injury concerns (a player having four-plus seasons under 60 games is a red flag)
They also qualify at other positions to maximize flexibility
My Guys: Draft Targets
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (PF/C)
Should you draft Antetokounmpo if you're trying to win the free-throw percentage category? No. But he's a must-draft player in the first round for almost any other team construction. He'll probably miss games here and there for knee maintenance, but most stars are a lock to miss a handful of games due to load management. Drafting him is also a bit of a cheat code to get a center-eligible player early, and now he'll have Damian Lillard as his running mate.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies (PF/C)
Despite being freshly 24 years old, Jackson's injury history gives me pause at drafting him as high as 15 or 16. But he's a dominant defensive force who should see increased usage for the first third of the season while Ja Morant is suspended, and he's multi-position eligible. It would be a massive plus if he could finally see more than 30 minutes per game, especially since he figures to be the No. 2 option for the first 25 games.
Domantas Sabonis, Kings (PF/C)
Sabonis has some of the worst defensive numbers you can get from a true center (0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks last season), but he's an excellent offensive player and the closest thing you're getting to Nikola Jokić. He's a co-No. 1 option alongside De'Aaron Fox, with potential to see even more usage if Fox suffers an injury. I like the idea of pairing the two together, with Fox's ADP at 39.2.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves (PF/C)
Towns' 2022-23 season was essentially lost, as he played just 29 games due to a calf injury. The sample size playing next to new frontcourt teammate Rudy Gobert was small. But we got what we expected — fewer rebounds, fewer blocks, more threes, more assists. Yes, the fit is bizarre, and Anthony Edwards is now the team's No. 1 option, but Towns is still one of the best offensive bigs in the NBA.
Pascal Siakam, Raptors (PF/C)
Siakam is coming off a career year on offense, reaching highs in points (24.2) and assists (5.8) per game. With Fred VanVleet gone, I expect both of those categories to rise again. Some of it will depend on how well Scottie Barnes and Dennis Schröder turn out as playmakers for this team — I have my reservations — but Siakam's floor is high. Ultimately, he's now Toronto's clear No. 1 option.
Evan Mobley, Cavaliers (PF/C)
Mobley didn't take the sophomore leap many hoped for, and his upside as a rebounder and shot-blocker remains capped playing next to Jarrett Allen. However, he's Cleveland's third offensive option and should continue developing at only 22 years old. Mobley was fantastic to close the season out, averaging 18.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 0.9 steals in his final 27 appearances.
Anthony Davis, Lakers (PF/C)
Davis' multi-position eligibility is a positive, and it's impossible to ignore the stretches where he looks like the best player in the NBA. But I don't like investing a first-round pick in someone injury prone who just turned 30 years old. Davis hasn't appeared in more than 62 games since 2017-18.
Nikola Vučević, Bulls (C)
Vučević played all 82 games last season and provided third-round value on a per-game basis for nine-category leagues. But I don't want to bet on the 33-year-old center accomplishing those feats again — at least not at his current ADP. He's also only eligible at center, limiting roster flexibility.
Kristaps Porziņģis, Celtics (PF/C)
A known injury risk, Porziņģis has appeared in more than 66 games just once in his seven-year career. Plus, he goes from being a No. 2 option in Washington to being a No. 3 option in Boston this season — plus Jrue Holiday is also in the mix. The injury risk plus a reduced role makes me hesitant to invest around pick 43.
Draymond Green, Warriors (PF/C)
I don't mind Green's current ADP, so let's call this a soft fade.
He's been relatively healthy throughout his career but is closer to 34 years old than 33, and the addition of Chris Paul throws a wrench into the equation. His defensive numbers also slipped last season, with his 1.8 combined steals and blocks marking his lowest since his rookie year.
Rookies to consider
Victor Wembanyama, Spurs (PF/C)
We saw only two Summer League performances out of the No. 1 overall pick. After struggling in the first game, he responded with 27 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and a steal in 27 minutes. It remains to be seen how cautious the Spurs will be with Wembanyama, but his defensive upside alone makes him a consideration around his ADP.
Chet Holmgren, Thunder (PF/C)
Holmgren missed all of last season while recovering from a broken foot. Like Wembanyama, he's drawing early consideration in drafts due to his defensive upside. However, both his offensive and defensive ceilings are lower. Still, centers with upside for two threes and two blocks per game are rare.
Dereck Lively, Mavericks (C)
Lively was incredibly active at Summer League, especially on the offensive glass, but he averaged just 8.0 points, 0.8 blocks and 0.2 steals in 23.6 minutes. He has plenty of competition for minutes, with Dallas rostering Dwight Powell, Richaun Holmes and Maxi Kleber. It's probably not worth it to draft him in 12- or 14-team formats.