By Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the 2022-23 NBA season quickly approaches, it’s time for fantasy managers to begin digging in on preparation. Part of that process is breaking down the player pool by position and identifying targets, fades and late-round values who could end up paying major dividends over the course of an 82-game schedule.
Below, we’ve identified the top-19 targets at center in eight-category, roto leagues for the 2022-23 fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind these rankings are subject to change before we get to opening night, but they’re based on RotoWire’s 2022-23 roto league projections. To avoid confusion, we’ve opted to include each player in only one position group, even if they’re eligible at multiple spots in Yahoo leagues.
Despite two perennial MVP candidates in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid at the position, quality centers run out quickly in the NBA. If you’re in a two-center league, locking down some reliable options early is your best bet. It’s much easier to find serviceable guards and forwards on the waiver wire.
While elite options may be few and far between, there’s plenty of variety in the modern game. You can find passers like Domantas Sabonis, Bam Adebayo and Alperen Sengun. You can find 3-point shooters like Nikola Vucevic, Myles Turner and Al Horford. And there are still reliable traditional options like Rudy Gobert, Jarrett Allen and Deandre Ayton.
Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
Jokic has been the best player in fantasy for two straight seasons. That’s not expected to change this year. Having Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the fold could hurt Jokic’s scoring, but it should boost his assists. Regardless, he’s the safest option available with the No. 1 pick.
Joel Embiid, 76ers
Last season was Embiid’s healthiest, with the center playing 68 games. That allowed him to rank third in both total and per-game fantasy production. Regardless of last season’s health, Embiid’s injury-prone tag hasn’t completely diminished. Still, given his MVP-caliber production at a position of scarcity, taking him in the middle of the first round is hard to argue with.
Bam Adebayo, Heat
Adebayo improved as a scorer last season, but it came at the cost of assists, and his free-throw percentage dropped more than 4 percent. Despite the up-and-down production, Adebayo remains Miami’s second-best player, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities for big games when Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry inevitably miss time. He leads the second tier of centers after Jokic and Embiid.
Myles Turner, Pacers
Indiana has been openly shopping Turner for some time, so his fantasy value is a bit fluid given the team context. Wherever he ends up, he’s one of the better 3-and-D centers in the NBA. Over the past three years, he’s averaged 2.8 blocks and 1.5 threes.
Rudy Gobert, Timberwolves
Gobert is on a new team, but it’s hard to imagine his role changing. He remains one of the best sources of traditional big man stats – rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage. He’s ranked between 23-39 in per-game fantasy value over the past six years.
Domantas Sabonis, Kings
Sabonis’ stats hardly changed after moving to the Kings, so fantasy managers shouldn’t be too worried about much of a regression this season. He’s arguably the second-best passing center in the NBA behind Jokic and has been a reliable source of 20-and-10s over the past three years.
Nikola Vucevic, Bulls
Vucevic struggled during his first full season in Chicago. He took a hit to both shot volume and efficiency, resulting in 17.6 points per game – his lowest mark since 2017-18. It seems fair to hope for a bounce-back season. Either way, he has a high floor as the Bulls’ third option offensively.
Robert Williams, Celtics
Williams’ struggles with health are a concern, but Horford isn’t getting any younger, so Boston will need to keep relying on Williams as a shot-blocker and lob catcher. He ranked an impressive 32nd last season in per-game value behind 10.0 points on 72.2 percent shooting, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.1 combined blocks-plus-steals.
Alperen Sengun, Rockets
Sengun put up intriguing per-minute numbers as a 19-year-old rookie, and Christian Wood’s departure to Dallas opens up the starting job for him. Sengun’s passing ability and nose for the ball defensively set him up to stuff the stat sheet on plenty of nights. If he can learn to shoot the three, his upside is tremendous.
Jarrett Allen, Cavaliers
Allen is coming off his first All-Star season in which he averaged an impressive 16.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.1 combined blocks-plus-steals. Evan Mobley may take on some more responsibilities this year, but Allen’s role isn’t at much risk.
Jakob Poeltl, Spurs
Poeltl is one of the better players on the rebuilding Spurs, but he’s likely not in for as much of an offensive boost compared to guys like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Tre Jones. Still, his passing upside is intriguing, and he’s been a consistent shot-blocker.
Deandre Ayton, Suns
Phoenix seemed to begrudgingly match the biggest offer sheet in history to retain Ayton. Regardless of how committed both sides are to each other, he’s one of the better traditional bigs in the NBA. Last season, he ranked 52nd in per-game value with 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
Jusuf Nurkic, Trail Blazers
It’s been an injury-riddled past three seasons for Nurkic, who was showing intriguing upside before this tough stretch. At worst, Nurkic still projects as a consistent source of 15-and-10s, plus he can throw in a few assists and is a proficient defender.
Jonas Valanciunas, Pelicans
Valanciunas thrived with Zion Williamson out for all of last season. However, Williamson is back, and the Pelicans have plenty of other offensive weapons with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. Regression could be in store for the center.
Wendell Carter, Magic
Carter averaged a double-double and reached 1.0 threes per game for the first time in his career, but he remains a poor free-throw shooter who doesn’t add much in terms of defensive stats (1.3 combined blocks/steals). There’s reason to believe he’ll continue to improve, but Carter’s injury history (62, 54, 43, 44 games played through four seasons) must be taken into account.
Al Horford, Celtics
Horford was an integral piece of the Celtics’ run to the Finals, but he turned 36 in June and will likely have his regular-season workload closely monitored. Still, Horford was a top-65 player a year ago, so even with some built-in regression, he’ll have plenty of value.
Mo Bamba, Magic
Bamba had easily the best season of his career starting alongside Carter for most of 2021-22, but with Jonathan Isaac coming back and Paolo Banchero entering the mix, there’s reason to believe Bamba’s fantasy value could plateau, at best.
Clint Capela, Hawks
Coming off a career year in 2020-21, Capela’s numbers dipped across the board last season. He’s still a nightly double-double threat, but he’ll need to move closer to 2.0 blocks per game to return to being an annual top-50 value.
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Robinson remains a valuable shot-blocker who shoots north of 70 percent from the field, but he hasn’t been able to match the upside he displayed as a rookie when he swatted 2.4 shots per game in just 20.6 minutes.