Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Before we get into the 2017-18 center tiers, here are a few notes to keep in mind:
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 take into account.
Unless otherwise noted, players are listed only within the positions at which they are currently eligible in Yahoo Fantasy Basketball leagues. Tiers and season rankings are tailored to nine-category league settings.
Most players are ranked within the tiers at more than one position, rather than only their primary position, which is oftentimes arbitrary. Players who do not have multiple-position eligibility are denoted with an asterisk.
Tier I: Possible No. 1 Overall Picks
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves*
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Davis is a no-brainer, having been a top-five player every year since his rookie season.
Towns provided first round value as a rookie, and got better in six out of nine categories as a sophomore. He kept the status quo in terms of shooting percentage, and though he increased his turnovers on a per game basis, his assist-to-turnover rate improved dramatically.
Tier II: First-Round Values
Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
DeMarcus Cousins, Pelicans
Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks
Jokic averaged as many assists as Kyrie Irving and Goran Dragic last season, while Cousins took his three-point shooting to another level. Porzingis is a half-step behind Jokic and Cousins, but he is much closer to that pair than he is to the group of players in Tier III.
Tier III: Foundational Building Blocks
It wouldn’t be a major surprise if any of these players end the season ranked among the top 15 overall.
Gobert is the league’s premier shot-blocker, and he’ll have to take on a bigger offensive role this season without Gordon Hayward. Jordan and Whiteside destroy a roster’s ability to compete in free-throw percentage, but they provide so much value elsewhere that they’re still worth the trade-off – both are top-10 options for teams punting free throws.
Draymond Green is not currently eligible as a center, but he has been center-eligible in the past, and he could become center-eligible as the season goes along. If he were already listed at center, he would land in this tier.
Tier IV: They’re Not Old, They’re Distinguished
This group may feel old, but Lopez is still just 29, and none of the four are older than 32. Millsap and Lopez both join teams with better passers and superior surrounding talent, while Horford and Gasol have remained productive offensive talents for nearly a decade.
All four of these players can be the best big man on a successful fantasy squad, and each provides some value in categories that are typically dominated by guards. For Gasol, Horford, and Millsap, that’s assists. For Lopez, it’s three-pointers.
Tier V: High-Risk, High-Reward
Griffin should become the focus of the Clippers’ offense without Chris Paul, but he’s an injury risk, having missed at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons.
Vucevic is likely to rebound now that he is, once again, the clear starter, but last season was a big step backwards. Nurkic was unleashed as Trail Blazer, but his attitude has interfered with his productivity in the past, and it’s unclear how much he’s willing to work on improving his game.
Capela, Drummond, and Howard are a different kind of risk/reward calculation. The three are firmly and consistently among the worst free-throw shooters in the league, alongside Whiteside and Jordan. Howard and Drummond are so bad, and at such a high volume, that last season a team needed two of Isaiah Thomas, Damian Lillard, or Danilo Gallinari just to get back to “average”. Capela wasn’t quite as bad – a fantasy squad only needed one of those three to cancel him out.
What it comes down to is a team with Drummond or Howard is almost forced to punt free throws, and a team with Capela should strongly consider that strategy. This is the tier where their benefits start to outweigh their limitations.
Tier VI: Steady Veterans
Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves
Nerlens Noel, Mavericks
Serge Ibaka, Raptors
All three players in this tier are also power forward-eligible. As noted in the Power Forward Tiers, Dieng and Ibaka both finished last season inside the top 55 overall. Noel finished in the top 75 and starts the season in a far superior situation to the one he was in last season.
Tier VII: Post-Prime Stars (And Jonas Valanciunas)
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
Pau Gasol, Spurs
Marcin Gortat, Wizards*
Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors*
It’s been a few years since these players could carry a fantasy squad, but they’ve remained productive late into their careers. The fact that they each retain important roles on strong teams only further increases their potential value. Plus, their respective backups present minimal threats.
At 33, Gortat is not as old as Nowitzki or Gasol, but centers with his physical style of play tend to age more quickly, so it’s not surprising that he’s entered his decline.
Valanciunas is the exception in this tier, but his draft value is roughly equivalent. His minutes have declined since his second season, and the Raptors’ group of promising young bigs — as well as Ibaka — have already started cutting into Valanciunas’ opportunities. Nonetheless, he’s worth the risk in this range, considering he remains a walking double-double when the minutes are there.
Tier VIII: Justifiable Upside
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings
Ryan Anderson, Rockets
Derrick Favors, Jazz
We’re past the point where teams are likely to grab a fantasy stud, so this tier is all about players who have potential to outperform their draft spot.
Favors was a top-30 player in 2015-16, but finished outside the top 150 in 2016-17 while battling injuries. Anderson is still a capable rebounder and volume three-point shooter, and he’ll be receiving passes from two of the best passers in the league. The Rockets’ offense should operate with the kind of open space unmatched by any team other than the Warriors.
Tier IX: Glorified Roster Filler
Tyson Chandler, Suns*
Frank Kaminsky, Hornets
Steven Adams, Thunder*
Richaun Holmes, 76ers
Realistically, it’s unlikely these guys last on the roster that drafted them. Nonetheless, they each carry some potential.
Chandler could once again rank among the league leaders in rebounds. Holmes becomes a fantasy must-add if anything happens to Embiid – and, as such, he should be selected earlier in leagues with early draft dates.
Adams is a better player in real life than fantasy, but as he continues to improve , his fantasy game also benefits. Kaminsky looks buried under the Hornets’ big man log jam, but his versatility is valuable when he plays enough minutes. Plus, Howard is aging and Cody Zeller missed 20 games last season, if you really want to talk yourself into Kaminsky.
Tier X: Low-end Roster Filler
Willy Hernangomez, Knicks
Greg Monroe, Bucks
Skal Labissiere, Kings
Zach Randolph, Kings
Timofey Mozgov, Nets
Kelly Olynyk, Heat
Thon Maker, Bucks