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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Ranking the decade: Top 10 NBA centers of the 2010s

Ranking the decade: Top 10 NBA centers of the 2010s

The best big men
Publish Date: 12/22/2019
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Source: Orlando Sentinel

The center position underwent a significant evolution during the 2010s. The traditional big man became de-emphasized in favor of stretch fours and fives. The rise of two-way wings and athletic guards also shifted the spotlight away from the NBA’s giants. Some teams turned to small-ball lineups and enjoyed success.

Despite the center spot no longer holding the same importance it has in past decades, some noteworthy players graced the position during the 2010s, including several future Hall of Famers. This piece ranks the ten greatest centers of the decade along with several honorable mentions.

Accomplishments, such as accolades, championships, and statistics, are the primary justification for the upcoming rankings. Raw talent also plays a factor in close decisions between players, but the list does favor players with more games played.

The statistics and accolades used in this article come from the 2010-11 season and end with the numbers players accumulated by the morning of Dec. 20, 2019. The back part of the 2009-10 season does not count.

Articles covering the other four positions are in the works, so make sure to check back regularly. Now, it’s time to dig into the best centers from the past decade of NBA basketball.

*Numbers accurate as of Dec. 20 2019

15. Al Jefferson (2010-2017)

2013-14 All-NBA 3rd Team

508 games, 8,114 points, 872 assists, 4,161 rebounds, 352 steals, 586 blocks

The big man played for eight years in the 2010s. He posted five consecutive 1,000-point seasons during the decade before sharply falling off.

14. Brook Lopez (2010-present)

2012-13 All-Star

580 games, 10,064 points, 859 assists, 3,455 rebounds, 330 steals, 1,020 blocks

He didn’t win many awards, but Lopez accumulated plenty of statistics during the 2010s. That’s about all he has in comparison to the other centers on this list. Lopez topped the 1,000-point mark six times during the 2010s.

13. Tyson Chandler (2010-present)

2010-11 NBA Champion

2011-12 All-NBA 3rd Team

2012-13 All-Defensive 1st Team

Two-time All-Defensive 2nd Team

2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year

2012-13 All-Star

565 games, 4,760 points, 483 assists, 5,293 rebounds, 323 steals, 523 blocks

Chandler is quietly in his 19th NBA season. The veteran big man plays fewer than ten minutes per game now, but he was a defensive anchor at the start of the decade. Never an offensive star, Chandler served as an old-fashioned rim protector for five teams during the 2010s.

12. Nikola Jokic (2015-present)

2015-16 All-Rookie 1st Team

2018-19 All-NBA 1st Team

2018-19 All-Star

334 games, 5,450 points, 1,760 assists, 3,209 rebounds, 364 steals, 236 blocks

One quality season isn’t enough for Jokic to crack the top ten. While he does have three 1,000-point seasons, the Serbian All-Star only emerged as a premier talent last season. Jokic is the best passing center in recent NBA history, but he started this season slowly and lacks the defensive abilities of many centers around this section of the article.

11. Joakim Noah (2010-2018)

2013-14 All-NBA 1st Team

Two-time All-Defensive 1st Team

2010-11 All-Defensive 2nd Team

2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year

Two-time All-Star

449 games, 4,155 points, 1,578 assists, 4,316 rebounds, 384 steals, 599 blocks

Noah’s decade was a roller coaster that ended with a revival in Memphis and then a potentially career-ending injury. Before injuries crippled his career, Noah was an anchor for the Chicago Bulls. He only posted one 1,000-point season, but Noah was a central part of Chicago’s success early in the decade.

10. Andre Drummond (2012-present)

2012-13 All-Rookie 2nd Team

2015-16 All-NBA 3rd Team

Two-time All-Star

568 games, 8,125 points, 699 assists, 7,858 rebounds, 771 steals, 893 blocks

The most dominant rebounder of the decade, Drummond is a decent player on an underwhelming team. Despite his lack of offensive versatility and Detroit’s struggles, Drummond scored at least 1,000 points in his last six seasons. He led the NBA in total rebounds four times, and he’s leading the league in that stat again this season. He’s also on pace to lead the NBA in offensive rebounds for a seventh-straight year.

9. Karl-Anthony Towns (2015-present)

2015-16 All-Rookie 1st Team

2017-18 All-NBA 3rd Team

2015-16 Rookie of the Year

Two-time All-Star

346 games, 7,796 points, 940 assists, 4,100 rebounds, 269 steals, 510 blocks

While he isn’t the defensive stud that Joel Embiid is, Towns is one of the best players in the NBA. He’ll have a shot at being the top center for the 2020s, especially considering all he accomplished in just over four seasons. Through those four years, he showed incredible durability, playing in an average of 80 games per season. He also averaged 1,796 points per year. That production is just ridiculous, considering Towns just turned 24 a little over a month ago.

Towns leads all centers in offensive versatility. The Kentucky product’s ability to score from anywhere could turn him into a Hall of Famer someday.

8. Joel Embiid (2016-present)

2016-17 All-Rookie 1st Team

Two-time All-NBA 2nd Team

Two-time All-Defensive 2nd Team

Two-time All-Star

181 games, 4,356 points, 575 assists, 2,094 rebounds, 134 steals, 340 blocks

Drafted third overall in 2014, Embiid didn’t see action until 2016, but he quickly flashed immense potential. If he ever puts together a healthy season, Embiid could win the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. However, injuries kept Embiid to just 158 games in his first three seasons.

Despite his two All-NBA selections, Embiid’s career is still a significant “what-if” scenario. He could become one of the greatest centers of all-time and take the talented Philadelphia 76ers on a deep playoff run, or he could fizzle out after five or six seasons. Check back in a decade to find out.

7. DeAndre Jordan (2010-present)

2015-16 All-NBA 1st Team

Two-time All-NBA 3rd Team

Two-time All-Defensive 1st Team

2016-17 All-Star

721 games, 7,473 points, 733 assists, 8,540 rebounds, 474 steals, 1,253 blocks

As the third member of the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers, Jordan took on the traditional role of an interior center. In the five years from 2013 to the 2017-18 season, he accumulated 4,738 points, 5,684 rebounds, and 768 blocks.

While Jordan wasn’t consistently an elite center, he led the NBA in field goal percentage five consecutive times and took home back-to-back rebounding titles. Some of the centers below Jordan have more potential, but his contributions on one of the most exciting teams of the decade are worth the seventh spot.

6. Rudy Gobert (2013-present)

2016-17 All-NBA 2nd Team

2018-19 All-NBA 3rd Team

Three-time All-Defensive 1st Team

Two-time Defensive Player of the Year

432 games, 4,908 points, 586 assists, 4,636 rebounds, 295 steals, 941 blocks

It’s hard to figure out just how good Gobert is. He’s one of the best defensive anchors this decade. That’s undeniable, but he probably isn’t more talented than the players below him on this list.

Gobert made three consecutive All-Defensive 1st Teams and won the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He also set a career-high in points scored last season with 1,284. Despite all of his recent success, Gobert is one of the most controversial centers on this list.

5. Pau Gasol (2010-present)

Two-time All-NBA 2nd Team

Three-time All-Star

577 games, 8,702 points, 1,855 assists, 5,484 rebounds, 256 steals, 828 blocks

People forgot about the older Gasol’s success early in the 2010s. Despite turning 30 during the 2010-11 season, Gasol continued impacting teams for years. The sometimes power forward scored more than 1,000 points in five of the first six seasons of the decade before transitioning into a lesser role with the San Antonio Spurs. He played a crucial role in six playoff runs for three different teams during the decade, something most fans overlook because he wasn’t in Los Angeles the whole time.

4. Al Horford (2010-present)

2010-11 All-NBA 3rd Team

2017-18 All-Defensive 2nd Team

Four-time All-Star

582 games, 8,686 points, 2,169 assists, 4,559 rebounds, 492 steals, 712 blocks

Whether it was when he was with the Atlanta Hawks or the Boston Celtics, and now the Philadelphia 76ers, Horford played a central role on many competitive teams this decade. Even dating back to Horford’s rookie season, none of his teams have ever missed the playoffs.

Since he entered the NBA in 2007, every postseason has featured a team with Horford. The former Florida Gator does everything too. He passes, defends, shoots threes, sets screens, and sacrifices for his team. While Horford never was a superstar, he’s an underappreciated force in the league.

3. Marc Gasol (2010-present)

2018-19 NBA Champion

2014-15 All-NBA 1st Team

2012-13 All-NBA 2nd Team

2012-13 All-Defensive 2nd Team

2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year

Three-time All-Star

671 games, 10,116 points, 2,524 assists, 5,048 rebounds, 622 steals, 989 blocks

The younger Gasol went through a quiet transition during the 2010s. Starting primarily as a solid defender with a decent inside scoring game, Gasol developed a three-point shot and became one of the better passing centers in the NBA. His defensive IQ also skyrocketed, even after he won the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gasol threw together five 1,000-point seasons during the 2010s, and he never scored fewer than 850 points in a season. A classic jack of all trades but master of none, Gasol was the centerpiece of six playoff runs with Memphis before finally winning a championship with Toronto last season.

2. DeMarcus Cousins (2010-present)

2010-11 All-Rookie 1st Team

Two-time All-NBA 2nd Team

Four-time All-Star

565 games, 12,006 points, 1,832 assists, 6,131 rebounds, 805 steals, 697 blocks

From the day he entered the league, Cousins was special. His recent injuries are truly frustrating because he would be the best center of the 2010s if his health held up these past two and a half seasons. Before he went down with an Achilles injury in the middle of the 2017-18 season, Boogie’s career was trending toward the Hall of Fame. Now, he’s just trying to get back on the court.

Cousins opened the decade with eight consecutive 1,000-point seasons. He also developed a three-point shot, ball handling, and passing skills, which were on full display in New Orleans. Before his Achilles injury, Cousins amassed 1,210 points in just 48 games. That translates to 2,066 points in an 82-game season.

1. Dwight Howard (2010-present)

Two-time All-NBA 1st Team

2013-14 All-NBA 2nd Team

2012-13 All-NBA 3rd Team

Two-time All-Defensive 1st Team

2010-11 Defensive Player of the Year

Four-time All-Star

584 games, 9,774 points, 831 assists, 7,195 rebounds, 560 steals, 1,048 blocks

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Entering the decade, Howard was still the best center in the NBA. That was, of course, before suffering extensive injuries and leaving Orlando. However, Howard still put together six 1,000-point seasons and led the league in rebounds once. He also led the NBA in offensive rebounds three times.

Even as injuries sapped his athleticism, Howard posted 1,012 rebounds and 1,347 points during the 2017-18 season. Now, he’s undergone a complete body transformation and is coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers.

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