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Breaking down the NBA free-agent center market

Keith Smith
·7-min read

While the center position has gone out of vogue, big men still have value. Teams no longer build around the post, but everyone wants a solid defender and rebounder to anchor the defense. This free-agent class features a good mix of young players with upside and solid, defensive-minded veterans.

Top free agents: Point guards | Shooting guards | Small forwards | Power forwards

Christian Wood #35 of the Detroit Pistons reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns.
Christian Wood dominated after Andre Drummond was traded last season with a stat-line of 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and one block per game. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

1. Christian Wood

Age: 25

At first glance, you might say, “Who?” But Wood had a breakout year with the Detroit Pistons. His presence as a younger (and less expensive!) option is a big part of why Detroit was willing to trade Andre Drummond. In his first season as a full-time rotation player, Wood delivered big numbers, averaging 13.1 points per game on 56.7% shooting from the floor, while he grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game in just over 21 minutes a night. Wood also expanded his range to the arc, as he knocked down 38.6% on over two three-point attempts per contest. If that wasn’t enough, Wood dominated after Drummond was traded with a stat-line of 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and one block per game. He’ll be handsomely rewarded this summer, likely by the Pistons.

Fits with: Pistons, Knicks, Hornets, Suns, Hawks

2. Andre Drummond (player option)

Age: 27

Drummond is in a bit of an interesting spot. He got only eight games with the Cleveland Cavaliers after they acquired him at the trade deadline. But those eight games, and an uncertain free-agent market due to COVID-19 have it looking like Drummond will exercise his $28.7 million player option for next season. Drummond is young enough to fit with the Cavs young core, so it’ll be one more year of growing together. After that, Drummond will hit what should be a more stable and flush with cash, market in 2021.

Fits with: Cavaliers

3. Tristan Thompson

Age: 29

Thompson has had a kind of weird career. Right as he was figuring out his place in the NBA, LeBron James returned to Cleveland and the Cavs were title contenders. A few years later, James and Kyrie Irving were gone and Thompson was a luxury for a rebuilding team. Now, he’s finally a free agent. With Andre Drummond likely the Cavs center moving forward, and Kevin Love (and his giant contract) entrenched at power forward, Thompson is probably moving on. Several contenders will lineup to add the veteran big in free agency.

Fits with: Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, Warriors, Mavericks, Rockets, Nuggets

Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors prior to the start of the game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Is this the end of the road for Marc Gasol in the NBA? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

4. Marc Gasol

Age: 35

Could this be it for Gasol? The veteran center is fully into the role player phase of his career. Gasol is now a stretch-five, as over half of his shot attempts come from behind the arc. He’s still a solid defender and rebounder, but has slipped far from his Defensive Player of the Year days. If the Raptors run it back one more year, Gasol probably comes back. If Toronto goes another direction, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gasol call it a career. Or he could go home and play in Spain to wrap up his career. If he wants to keep playing in the NBA, but not for the Raptors, several contenders will offer Gasol a role as a 15 minutes per game opener in the middle.

Fits with: Raptors, Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets

5. Aron Baynes

Age: 34

Baynes’ year with the Phoenix Suns was up and down. He missed time with injuries, but when he played, Baynes had a career-year. He nearly doubled his previous career-high, averaging 11.5 points per game, and Baynes did it by embracing the stretch-five role. He took four three-pointers per game and hit 35% from deep. If he’s willing to accept the backup center role behind DeAndre Ayton, Baynes would do well to stay in Phoenix. But as he enters his mid-30s, he might want to chase a title and should have plenty of opportunities to do so.

Fits with: Suns, Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Celtics, Nuggets, Mavericks

6. Jakob Poeltl (restricted)

Age: 25

Poeltl was the young piece in the Kawi Leonard trade. He hasn’t become the starting center San Antonio hoped he would, but that could be more about LaMarcus Aldridge playing more at the five than expected. Centers tend to take longer to develop and Poeltl is just 25. Most encouraging? His per 36-minute line shows a double-double player who can pass and block shots. Poeltl looks like your classic late-bloomer, and that’s not a guy the Spurs will let get away.

Fits with: Spurs, Hornets

7. Harry Giles

Age: 22

The Sacramento Kings blew it when they declined their fourth-year rookie scale team option on Giles. Now, Sacramento is capped at paying him just $3.9 million (the equivalent to his fourth-year option). That’s a number that other teams can, and likely will, beat easily. Giles has had health issues, but no available center offers his mix of youth, scoring, rebounding and passing. Multiple teams would do well to offer Giles a large chunk of the Mid-Level Exception and be happy with the production they get for the next few years.

Fits with: Knicks, Hornets, Pistons, Mavericks, Warriors, Celtics, Clippers

PORTLAND, OREGON - MARCH 04: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Portland Trail Blazers is all smiles during the fourth quarter of the game against the Washington Wizards at the Moda Center on March 04, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. The Portland Trail Blazers topped the Washington Wizards, 125-105. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Hassan Whiteside was perhaps having a career year with the Blazers. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

8. Hassan Whiteside

Age: 31

This may have been Hassan Whiteside’s best season. He’s played more minutes with Portland than all but one of his Miami years. He scored 15.5 points per game on 62% shooting. And he led the league in blocked shots at 2.9 per game, while also pulling down 13.5 rebounds a night. The challenge is that Whiteside still doesn’t play with fire on a regular basis and he’s done this contract-year thing before. Buyer beware!

Fits with: Hornets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks

9. Robin Lopez (player option)

Age: 32

Lopez joined his brother Brook in Milwaukee this season and was everything the Bucks hoped for. His defense and screening and passing on the second unit have helped Milwaukee maintain their excellent play when they go to the bench. Given the uncertain market, the Bucks being a title contender and getting to play with his brother, Lopez will likely pick up his $5 million player option for 2020-21.

Fits with: Bucks

10. Mason Plumlee

Age: 30

Plumlee has been the perfect backup to Nikola Jokic in Denver. His passing ability allows the Nuggets to run a lot of the same sets when Plumlee is in the game as they do with Jokic. He’s also a good rebounder and his defense has improved enough to where opponents don’t regularly target him. He got overpaid on his current contract, so he might be willing to take something team-friendly to stay with the contending Nuggets.

Fits with: Nuggets, Celtics, Clippers, Warriors

The Next Five

Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Charlotte Hornets defends against Willie Cauley-Stein #33 of the Dallas Mavericks.
Bismack Biyombo and Willie Cauley-Stein will both be on the market this offseason. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

11. Willie Cauley-Stein (player option)

Age: 27

Fits with: Mavericks, Rockets, Clippers

12. JaVale McGee (player option)

Age: 32

Fits with: Lakers

13. Dwight Howard

Age: 35

Fits with: Lakers

14. Kelly Olynyk (player option)

Age: 29

Fits with: Heat

15. Meyers Leonard

Age: 28

Fits with: Heat, Clippers, Warriors

Other free-agent centers: Bismack Biyombo, Tyson Chandler, John Henson, Willy Hernangomez, Damian Jones (restricted), Frank Kaminsky (team option), Enes Kanter (player option), Skal Labissiere (restricted), Alex Len, Ian Mahinmi, Mike Muscala (player option), Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Kyle O’Quinn, Ante Zizic

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