Fantasy Basketball: Center draft tiers

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By Nick Whalen / Alex Barutha, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Separating players into tiers is a popular method of draft prep, and it de-emphasizes the idea that you must draft a player because his projections come out slightly more favorably than those of another player. Often, the difference between a player ranked, say, 30th, and a player ranked 45th is smaller than you think.

Tiers help account for those discrepancies by grouping players with similar risk/reward profiles, empowering the fantasy manager to choose for themselves. Tiers are also a great way to stay organized and disciplined while drafting. The default queue is a good place to start, but tiers add a personal touch and allow for more precise roster management as a draft plays out.

Some notes on methodology:

Tiers take into account players with top-120ish upside. Essentially, players who could reasonably come off the board in a standard draft.

Players within tiers are not ranked in a specific order. Ideally, everyone in a tier has an argument to be taken over by anyone else in that tier.

Plenty of players are multi-position eligible, but to avoid confusion and redundancy, each player only appears at what we assume to be their primary position.

Tiers are based on 8-category, rotisserie scoring. Without further ado, here are the centers.

Tier 1

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

In addition to cruising to the MVP award, Jokic was the clear-cut best player in fantasy. With Jamal Murray (knee) likely out for at least half the season, Jokic will actually have potential to improve upon last year’s 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and 1.3 steals. On top of the elite all-around production, Jokic has been among the league’s most durable stars since entering the league in 2015-16.

Tier 2

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

Towns has played just 85 games across the past two seasons, but he’s still on track to be one of the top-three fantasy centers yet again this year. He’s ranked inside the top 10 in per-game production since his second year in the league with averages of 24.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks.

Joel Embiid, 76ers

Embiid finished second in MVP voting last season behind 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.0 steals. His injury history remains an issue — he’s never played more than 64 games in a season — but he ranked fifth in per-game fantasy production last season, which was his second time in the top 10. If/when Ben Simmons is moved, Embiid will likely be asked to shoulder even more responsibility on both ends.

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers
Even with his injury history, Joel Embiid is still an elite fantasy option. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Tier 3

Bam Adebayo, Heat

Adebayo is coming off the best fantasy season of his career, with the center averaging 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.0 blocks. The addition of Kyle Lowry may take away from Adebayo’s playmaking responsibilities, but it could lead to increased efficiency due to pick-and-roll conversions.

Nikola Vucevic, Bulls

Vucevic ranked a surprising fourth in total fantasy production last season due to great numbers and near-perfect health. However, his usage may take a step back this year due to the additions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball to the Bulls’ offense. Still, the center should be a nightly 20-and-10 threat with assist upside.

Tier 4

Myles Turner, Pacers

Turner was limited to just 47 games last season due to multiple injuries, but he managed to lead the league in blocks per game (3.4) for the second time in his career. He also contributed 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assists. He’s one of the league’s best 3-and-D centers, though his efficiency from distance (35.4% over the past three years) is simply above average.

Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Gobert has been one of the most consistent fantasy options over the past half-decade, and he’s averaging 14.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.5 assists since the 2016-17 campaign. Nothing should change this season.

Christian Wood, Rockets

Wood was impressive in his first season as a starter, averaging 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.2 blocks. Injuries limited him to 41 games, but he ranked 61st in per-game production. He should continue to be a focal point of the Rockets’ rebuild moving forward.

Deandre Ayton, Suns

A better team around Ayton meant he was able to take on a smaller role last season, with his 14.4 points and 10.5 rebounds resulting in a per-game fantasy rank of 60th. However, his worth became clear in the postseason when he improved upon those averages (15.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG) and shot 65.8 percent from the field. There’s a chance he can take on an expanded role this season, but the Suns’ team structure hasn’t changed.

Clint Capela, Hawks

Capela led the NBA in rebounds (14.3 RPG) last season while also averaging 15.2 points and 2.0 blocks. He’s one of the better traditional centers in the NBA and is a potent pick-and-roll partner with Trae Young.

Tier 5

Jonas Valanciunas, Pelicans

The center is coming off the best season of his career with key averages of 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds on 59.2 percent shooting. He was dealt from the Grizzlies to the Pelicans during the offseason. Having to share the frontcourt with Zion Williamson could hurt Valanciunas’ effectiveness, and the Pels may want him shooting more threes. Still, he should continue being a nightly 15-and-10 threat.

Richaun Holmes, Kings

Holmes has been a top-60 fantasy player in per-game production over the past two seasons, averaging 13.3 points on 64.5 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. His role shouldn’t change in 2021-22 unless the Kings surprisingly decide to start giving Marvin Bagley and Tristan Thompson significant minutes at center.

Jarrett Allen, Cavaliers

Allen’s production has been relatively stagnant over the past three seasons — 11.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 blocks — but the Cavaliers rewarded the 23-year-old center with a five-year, $100 million contract. He’s made marginal strides in self-creation and shooting, but it hasn’t yet led to any substantial statistical increases. That said, he’s a constant threat for 15-and-10 with two blocks, so he’s a useful fantasy center.

Jusuf Nurkic, Trail Blazers

Nurkic dealt with injuries and couldn’t find much of a rhythm last season, averaging just 11.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.1 combined steals-plus-blocks. The 2021-22 campaign will be a real bounce-back opportunity for him if he can stay healthy. In his two prior seasons, Nurkic averaged 16.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.9 combined steals-plus-blocks.

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Chris Boucher, Raptors

Boucher started last season red-hot but immediately cooled down and proceeded to be relatively up-and-down for the remainder of the campaign. The Raptors also brought in Khem Birch late last year, and he’ll be competing with Boucher for center minutes. It seems fair to expect Boucher to repeat last year’s numbers of 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks.

Robert Williams, Celtics

Williams was the seventh-best per-minute fantasy player last season, as he needed just 18.9 minutes to rank 90th in per-game production behind 8.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks. Health has been a struggle, but if Williams can start seeing minutes in the upper-20s, he’ll be a candidate for Most Improved Player.

Tier 6

Brook Lopez, Bucks

Lopez’s fantasy value took a step back last season largely due to a decline in blocks stemming from the Bucks focusing less on using him primarily as a rim protector on defense. He still ranked 107th in per-game value behind 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 27.2 minutes. His role shouldn’t change this season.

Jakob Poeltl, Spurs

Poeltl’s performances really took off in late March, about a month after LaMarcus Aldridge played his final game for San Antonio. In his final 27 appearances, he averaged 10.8 points on 62.1 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 3.0 combined blocks-plus-steals in 30.4 minutes. That led to him ranking 60th in per-game production during that stretch. He should see that type of role this season.

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks

Robinson and teammate Nerlens Noel seem to be locked in a near timeshare at center, so his upside is relatively capped. He ranked 102nd in per-game production last season behind 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1.1 steals in 27.5 minutes.

Nerlens Noel, Knicks

Noel is sharing time with Mitchell Robinson, so his upside is capped. Still, he has a high floor as a defender. In 24.2 minutes per game last season, he averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 1.1 steals.

Al Horford, Celtics

After two years away from Boston in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, Horford returns to the Celtics. He’ll be sharing center minutes with up-and-comer Robert Williams, though Horford could also see some minutes at power forward. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged 13.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks in 29.0 minutes. He could certainly hit those numbers again in 2021-22.

Isaiah Stewart, Pistons

The center started 11 of his final 19 appearances last season, and during that span, he averaged 11.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.1 assists in 26.5 minutes. He’s in a position to see that sort of workload again this season, and it’s certainly possible he garners 30 minutes per game.

Next up: Andre Drummond, Thomas Bryant, Khem Birch, Daniel Gafford, Wendell Carter, Ivica Zubac, Steven Adams, Mo Bamba, Mason Plumlee, Montrezl Harrell, James Wiseman

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