Top NBA Centers All-Time and 2023
The center, also known as the five, is a key part of any basketball lineup. Most of the time, the center is the tallest player on the court for a team, making them an important part of both the team's offense and defense.
Over the course of NBA history, big men have dominated the game and produced some of the best careers ever seen. In today's day in age, centers are even more dominant due to their expanded skillset, which often includes the ability to shoot from long range. Even with that, the list of greatest centers in NBA history is made up entirely of the more traditional, back to the basket center, but there are certainly a few active players that could end up on this list one day.
Greatest Centers in NBA History
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Notable Accolades: 6x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 6x NBA MVP, 19x NBA All-Star, 10x All-NBA First Team, 5x NBA All-Defensive First Team, 2x NBA Scoring Champion, 4x NBA blocks leader, No. 1 all-time points scored
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by some to be the greatest basketball player ever, and his resume certainly supports that. His sky hook is perhaps the most unstoppable shot in NBA history, and his longevity of dominance is unlike anything ever seen before.
2. Bill Russell
Notable Accolades: 11x NBA Champion, 5x NBA MVP, 12x NBA All-Star, 4x NBA Rebounding Champion, NBA Lifetime Achievement Award
Bill Russell is perhaps the greatest winner in the history of American sports. While he was never an elite scorer, his defensive presence and all-around skill allowed him to make winning plays when his teams needed them the most.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion, 4x NBA MVP, 13x NBA All-Star, 7x All-NBA First Team, 7x NBA Scoring Champion, 11x NBA Rebounding Champion, 1x NBA Assist Leader
Wilt Chamberlain possessed a previously unseen combination of skill and athleticism at his size, and used it to make himself one of the most dominant players the game has ever seen. Let the numbers speak for themselves: he averaged 47.6 points over a two-season stretch, and totaled more than 20 or more rebounds per game for 12 consecutive seasons.
4. Shaquille O'Neal
Notable Accolades: 4x NBA Champion, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 15x NBA All-Star, 8x All-NBA First Team, 2x NBA Scoring Champion, 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team
Shaq is the most dominant player to ever play the game of basketball. He simply overwhelmed defenders with his sheer size and brute force, but also had a soft touch around the rim when he needed it. A force unlike anyone has ever seen before, some say that O'Neal was the last great true center in NBA history.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 1x NBA MVP, 12x NBA All-Star, 6x All-NBA First Team, 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 5x NBA All-Defensive First Team, 2x NBA Rebounding Champion, 3x NBA block leader
Hakeem "the dream" was a master in the post, creating and executing moves that had never been seen before. His incredible footwork and agility made him one of the greatest defensive centers ever, and he has the accolades to prove it.
6. Moses Malone
Notable Accolades: 1x NBA Champion, 1x NBA Finals MVP, 3x NBA MVP, 12x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 6x NBA Rebounding Champion
Moses Malone is one of the greatest offensive rebounders ever, as his relentlessness on the glass made him a nightmare for opposing centers. Malone is one of only eight players to win NBA MVP more than three times, and did so while playing for nine different franchises throughout his career.
7. Patrick Ewing
Notable Accolades: 11x NBA All-Star, 6x All-NBA Second Team, 3x NBA All-Defensive Second Team
Patrick Ewing was a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor. His toughness and defensive abilities were among the best in the league during his career, but playing in the same conference as Michael Jordan's Bulls made it impossible for him to ever bring a title to the Big Apple.
8. David Robinson
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion, 1x NBA MVP, 10x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 1x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 4x NBA All-Defensive First Team, 1x NBA Scoring Champion, 1x NBA Rebounding Champion, 1x NBA Block Leader
David Robinson was both an elite defender and a highly skilled offensive player, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award and leading the league in scoring just a couple years apart. Over the course of his career, Robinson averaged over 21 points and 10 rebounds per game.
9. Willis Reed
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 1x NBA MVP, 7x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA Second Team, 1x NBA All-Defensive First Team
Willis Reed is known for being the first player in NBA history to be named the All-Star Game MVP, regular season MVP, and NBA Finals MVP all in one season. One of the greatest Knicks ever, he lead the franchise to its only championship wins in 1970 and 1973.
10. Bill Walton
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion, 1x NBA Finals MVP, 1x NBA MVP, 2x NBA All-Star, 1x All-NBA First Team, 1x Sixth Man of the Year, 1x NBA Rebounding Champion, 1x NBA Blocks Leader
Bill Walton is recognized as being one of, if not the, best passing centers in NBA history. While he had his career cut short due to injury, Walton still made a huge impact on the league during his playing days, and seemed primed to accomplish much more if it weren't for injury.
Best Centers in the 2022-23 NBA Season
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
2021-22 NBA Stats: 30.6PTS, 11.7REB, 4.2AST, 1.1STL, 1.5BLK
Joel Embiid continues to grow in every area of his game, and put together another MVP-caliber season in 2021-22. A positive sign for Embiid and 76ers fans was that he played in 68 regular season games last year, the most that he has played in a season in his career. After a full offseason with James Harden under his belt, look for Embiid and the Sixers to be a serious postseason threat to the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, and Miami Heat at the top of the Easten Conference.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
2021-22 NBA Stats: 27.1PTS, 13.8REB, 7.9AST, 1.5STL, 0.9BLK
Nikola Jokic made his case for back-to-back MVPs by posting his highest career points, rebounds, steals, and blocks per game, while leading the Nuggets to the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference without Jamal Murray before falling to the eventual-champion Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
2021-22 NBA Stats: 24.6PTS, 9.8REB, 3.6AST, 1.0STL, 1.1BLK
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018 last season, and with a trio of himself, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards, they likely will be back for years to come with a chance to make real noise.
4. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2021-22 NBA Stats: 15.6PTS, 14.7REB, 1.1AST, 0.7STL, 2.1BLK
Rudy Gobert turned in another Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season this year, and was a pivotal part of a Jazz team that earned the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
5. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
2021-22 NBA Stats: 19.1PTS, 10.1REB, 3.4AST, 1,4STL, 0.8BLK
Bam Adebayo had his statistically most productive season of his career despite lingering injuries, posting a career high in points and steals while being a key piece of the No. 1 seed Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
6. DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
2021-22 NBA Stats: 17.2PTS, 10.2REB, 1.4AST
After agreeing to terms with the Indiana Pacers this past offseason, the Phoenix Suns were able to bring back the former No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft because he was a restricted free agent. With preseason talk of disputes between Ayton and Suns head coach Monty Williams dating back to their early postseason exit at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, many eyes will be on Phoenix as they look to stay among the West’s elite.
7. Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls
2021-22 NBA Stats: 17.6PTS, 11.0REB, 3.2AST
It wasn’t always pretty for Vucevic in his first full season as a Chicago Bull, but he and point guard Lonzo Ball bring a dynamic pick-and-roll duo that could create problems for Eastern Conference teams if two stars can stay healthy.
8. Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
2021-22 NBA Stats: 16.1PTS, 10.8REB, 1.6AST
While he may not be the best player on the Cavs, Jarrett Allen certainly seemed like the most important on the team last season. Not many NBA players bring as much energy to the floor as Allen does on a nightly basis, and if he can stay healthy, look for the Cavs to make some serious noise in the East.
9. Kristaps Porzingis, Washington Wizards
2021-22 NBA Stats: 20.2PTS, 8.1REB, 2.3AST
After a midseason trade from the Mavericks to the Wizards last season, Porzingis showed flashes of what he once was in New York. If the Wizards are going to want to be in the conversation this year, these flashes need to become more consistent.
10. Jonas Valanciunas, New Orleans Pelicans
2021-22 NBA Stats: 17.8PTS, 11.4REB, 2.6AST
Jonas Valanciunas came up huge for the Pelicans down the stretch of last season after the team had acquired Trail Blazers’ star CJ McCollum and made a run for the postseason. After a full offseason of their core being together and a healthy power forward in Zion Williamson, look for the Pels to surprise some people out West.
11. Wendell Carter Jr, Orlando Magic
2021-22 NBA Stats: 15.0PTS, 10.5REB, 2.8AST
In his first full season with Orlando, Wendell Carter Jr. put up career highs in points and rebounds. With a young core starting to come together, watch as the Magic aim to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2019-2020.