Fantasy Basketball Center Tiers: Which big man will lift you to a title?

Yahoo Sports

By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Tiers can be an indispensable draft-day tool in all Yahoo Fantasy sports. So, we made some for you in time for the Fantasy Basketball season.

A few notes before we dive in:

  • Overall, the tiers cover players projected to rank roughly among the top 120 overall.

  • Within each tier, players are generally listed in the order in which they should be drafted. Of course, come draft night, team construction and roster constraints must be considered.

  • Yahoo assigns most players eligibility at multiple positions. As such, players are included in these articles for every position at which they are eligible. Players who do not have multiple-position eligibility are denoted with an asterisk, as their single-eligibility can be a strategic disadvantage in some settings. 

  • Unless otherwise noted, players are listed only within the positions at which they are currently eligible in Yahoo fantasy Basketball leagues.

  • Tiers assume 9-category roto settings, unless otherwise noted.

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One last thing: Per-game production is valued above season-total production. For example, Chris Paul was a top-10 per game fantasy producer in 2017-18, but since he missed 24 games, he was closer to the 20-25 range by total production. While Paul’s chronic injury risk impacts his standings here, he’s still valued as roughly a top-15 player. Most leagues allow for easy and frequent substitutions, and season-total rankings are often counterproductive for head-to-head playoffs.

Tier 1A: Top-six overall picks

Anthony Davis – Karl-Anthony Towns*

The top-six players in this year’s drafts are all fantastic and very tightly grouped; almost any order you rank them is defensible. That “almost” is key, though. I just don’t see the argument for taking Towns ahead of Davis. If Davis goes first, then I can get behind taking Towns second. But in the head-to-head matchup, I’m siding with Davis 100 times out of 100.

Davis has logged back-to-back seasons of 75 games played, so the “Davis is always injured” argument is getting weaker with time, especially as Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau continues to grind one star after another’s knee-caps into dust. Towns is already playing more than 35 minutes per game, so there isn’t much room for improvement there. Davis has been pretty entrenched in his top-2 overall ranking for almost all of his career. Perhaps most importantly, the advantages Davis provides in blocks and steals are much harder to reproduce than Towns’ advantages in threes and rebounds.

Tier 1B: First-rounder, but not a top-5 pick

Nikola Jokic

If you’ve already read the Jokic blurb in the Power Forward Tiers article, then skip ahead, there’s nothing new here for you.

Jokic is a clear first-round pick, and I have him decidedly ahead of the next group of players. That said, while any of the three taken above are justifiable selections at first overall, taking Jokic any higher than sixth or seventh will probably elicit some hairy eyeballs. Jokic is an oddball combination of point-guard passing with center-rebounding, and he’s added a three-point shot without decimating his field goal percentage (*cough* Brook Lopez *cough*). But as in real-life basketball, Jokic’s poor defense is a liability, and his relative lack of steals and blocks is the primary reason he’ll struggle to rise into Fantasy’s top-six. In 8-category leagues, Jokic still doesn’t crack the top six, but the gap between him and most of Tier 2 increases.

Tier 2: Second-round staples

Joel Embiid – Rudy Gobert* – Kevin Love – Andre Drummond

Tier 2 is home to four excellent players I’d be delighted to grab at any point in the second round of a standard league, but who I wouldn’t touch inside the top-12. Furthermore, though I currently have Embiid 15th overall on my board, I wouldn’t take him with my first-round pick in a 16-team league. He comes with too much injury risk to be the cornerstone for my team.

Kevin Love gets a shot to be the man again, but is he too past his prime? (Getty Images)
Kevin Love gets a shot to be the man again, but is he too past his prime? (Getty Images)

It’s been four years since Love was a Fantasy wrecking crew with the Timberwolves, but the Cavaliers are all his now. He was a top-10 player in three of his last four seasons in Minnesota. He also has a long history with injuries, but the upside in the mid-second-round is worth it in most formats.

Drummond and Gobert are similar in that both are massive drains on a Fantasy roster’s free-throw percentage. In fairness, Gobert is nowhere near as harmful there as Drummond (or a player from the next tier, Clint Capela), but Gobert was still amongst Fantasy’s seven most harmful free-throw shooters last season. Regardless, both players have potential to lead the league in the following categories: rebounds for Drummond, blocks for Gobert. Two strategic notes on Gobert: he loses a little bit of value in 8-category leagues, since he provides positive value in turnovers. He’s also only eligible at center, potentially limiting a team’s roster flexibility.

Tier 3: The near-elite

Clint Capela – Draymond Green

Both of these players have the talent to be in Tier 2 but are unlikely to provide that much Fantasy value. For Green, the problems are the Warrior’s over-abundance of talent and the looming prospect of DeMarcus Cousins returning to the rotation.

After four seasons in the league, it seems as though Capela is simply better suited to a role in which he plays less than 30 minutes per game. The Rockets didn’t really have a backup center in 2017-18, but Capela was nonetheless limited to 27.5 minutes per game. His per-36 numbers are excellent, and if his workload increases he’ll be an excellent value. If his workload maintains, he’ll still provide fair value at this cost.

(Sizable Gap)

Tier 4: Season-defining risks

Myles Turner – Kristaps Porzingis – Hassan Whiteside*

I went into depth on Turner and Porzingis in the Power Forward Tiers, so check that out for a detailed explanation on that pair. Whiteside is only center-eligible, so he joins them here.

If the Miami Heat follow through with trading Hassan Whiteside, his fantasy value will rest upon his new situation. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
If the Miami Heat follow through with trading Hassan Whiteside, his fantasy value will rest upon his new situation. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Whiteside is in one of the strangest Fantasy-relevant situations entering the 2018-19 season. He’s 29 years old and only two years removed from a top-10 season. There was an apparent falling out between him and team personnel, and his minutes fell steadily over the course of the season. Now there are reports that the Heat may try to trade him. If he can be healthy and gets traded into a better situation, he might reasonably return to top-20 production. If not, he might be widely available on waivers.

Tier 5: High quality, every-night starters

Nikola Vucevic – LaMarcus Aldridge – Al Horford – Brook Lopez* – Marc Gasol* – Blake Griffin – Paul Millsap – DeAndre Jordan* – Steven Adams*

This tier is tightly packed. The players are listed in the order I currently have them on my board, but I expect to make a lot of changes to this order over the coming weeks.

A lot of the players in this tier are over 30, but many have made significant strides to modernize their game. As result, players like Aldridge, Horford, Lopez, Griffin and Millsap have added years to both their careers and their Fantasy relevance by extending their shooting range. Vucevic is significantly younger than those players, but he’s made the same transition.

Jordan and Adams were both top-70 guys last season, and both are also dreadful free throw shooters. In theory, Jordan will see increased responsibilities as a member of the Mavericks, though his splits with-and-without Blake Griffin over the past few seasons were not that different.

Tier 6: Starters, but not key assets

Jusuf Nurkic* – Serge Ibaka – Julius Randle – John Collins – Enes Kanter*

I’d actually draft Collins a tier lower, but I felt he needed to be higher than that crew to keep this ranking realistic. I get the appeal; second year player, looked very good after the All-Star break, tons of “best player on a terrible team” stats available. That said, the hype train has gone past funky town and transitioned into the crazy train. I’d love to talk about him as a ninth-round sleeper, but he went in the fourth in my most recent expert draft.

Ibaka may not be the second round pick he was in 2014, but he’s still a very solid Fantasy contributor. Last season he needed only 27.5 minutes to finish inside the top-75, and he’s still only 28 years old.

Tier 7: Quality low-end starters with upside

Larry Nance – Dario Saric – Dwight Howard – Deandre Ayton* – DeMarcus Cousins

Ayton is the only member of this tier who isn’t also eligible at power forward. Ayton is likely to get drafted higher than this, but historically speaking, drafting a rookie is unlikely to be worth it. Most seasons, only one or two rookies return top-70 Fantasy value, and many of those successful rookies were not the ones with the highest ADP.

Isaac’s floor is lower than that of most of this tier, but he’s also the player with the best chance to crack Fantasy’s top-30 (I’d say Nance and Tatum are more likely to hit the top 50 than Isaac, but I don’t see a path for either of that pair to hit top 30). Isaac missed a ton of games as a rookie and was limited to under 20 minutes a game when he was active. But he was a top-40 player when sorted by per-36 production and was the only qualified player in the NBA to average more than two steals and two blocks per-36 minutes. One minor downside: Isaac is one of only four players in this article with single-position eligibility.

Cousins also gets slotted in here because, as with Isaac, his floor is very low.

Demarcus Cousins goes from a great fantasy situation to an even better one with Golden State, but he’s still a center full of question marks. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Demarcus Cousins goes from a great fantasy situation to an even better one with Golden State, but he’s still a center full of question marks. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Everything said about Kristaps Porzingis three tiers up applies to Cousins, except that Cousins has already been a first-round Fantasy producer and he’ll cost even less in drafts. Cousins’ transition to the Warriors understandably makes some managers nervous, but it also increases the likelihood that Cousins returns to the floor to work himself into game shape before the Fantasy playoffs.

Tatum and Saric are both talented enough to climb a few tiers, but they play for two of the three or four deepest teams in the league. Neither the Celtics nor the 76ers need Tatum and Saric to be even the fourth-best player on their respective rosters, and both play the deepest position on the depth chart. If a manager is convinced that either should be drafted in the fifth or sixth round, I won’t try to talk them out of it; they both have that potential.

As is fitting for his entire career, I almost forgot to mention Young here. Though he is always under-appreciated, he’s only 30 and he’s been a top-80 producer since 2011.

Tier 8: High-probability upside guys

Jarrett Allen – Willie Cauley-Stein – Jonas Valanciunas – Dirk Nowitzki – Pau Gasol – Bam Adebayo – Nerlens Noel – Mohamed Bamba*

Tier 9: Low-probability upside guys

Domantas Sabonis – Dewayne Dedmon – Wendell Carter* – Derrick Favors – OG Anunoby – Jordan Bell – Kelly Olynyk

Follow Alex on Twitter @Rikleen

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