NBA centers aren’t extinct, they’ve just evolved

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Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic
Image: Getty Images

The Family Tree: Bill Walton, Yao Ming, Bob McAdoo, Arvydas Sabonis

The Descendants: Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Vučević

The Heritable Traits: Triple-double machines, high-post passing, spacing, elite footwork, court vision

The Breakdown: In every basketball play, there is an ever-changing set of variables. But for a few centers, they are the nexus being, the constant throughout them all, capable of filling any stat box. They are there for the pass: to catch it, lob it, or pinpoint it to a teammate. They can inbounds, get it right back, step back, pull up, sidestep, euro step, kick out, and score. They are a guard in a big’s body. A coach with a jersey. The team’s best defender who can give you 30, and a star who does the dirty work.

They have 20-and-10 night in their sleep. Triple doubles are what happens on an average day. At least one of them is in every season’s MVP conversation. Sometimes, like with The Joker last year, they win it. More often than not, they are foreign-born. But sometimes, they originate in North America and, like the rare unicorn, can perform magic with depleted rosters and rookie coaches. Whatever tricky predicament their teams find themselves in, it is assured, they have a MacGyver-like trick or trade to find a solution.

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