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Fantasy Basketball Risers at Center - 2020-21 Season Review

We're this close to the regular season, and while there is a ton of hype about the incoming rookies (check out all of our NBA Draft analysis here) we still need to reflect on the 2020-2021 season and what happened just a few months back in time. We had another short NBA offseason this year and it's time to do some evaluation on another unique season as we prepare for the 2022 campaign.

We have nearly a full season of data for most players to crunch now. It's time to reflect on the 2020-21 season to see who were our "risers" and "fallers" in the rankings. A lot of young players are naturally going to be on the rise, while some older hoopers will definitely be part of the season fallers.

In this article, I will feature some of the players labeled as Centers who took the biggest jumps in their output so you can properly assess their value entering the 2022 draft season as it heats up with tipoff-week approaching.

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Fantasy Basketball Risers - Centers

Kelly Olynyk, PF/C - Houston Rockets (now Detroit Pistons)

2020 - 165th-best overall
2021 - 50th

After a four-year spell in Boston, Miami and Olynyk agreed to terms back in the summer of 2017 and brought the big man to South Beach with another four-year deal. Then, both parties parted ways this past season with a trade involving Houston. Olynyk, though, didn't bat an eye and was as good as ever playing for the Rockets. In fact, Olynyk's 2021 fantasy campaign saw him finish as a top-50 player overall and the 10th-best pure-Center around the Association. Not bad.

Last season could very well be considered Olynyk's breakout year so far in his eight years as a pro. He played 28.5 MPG (first time above 23.4) on average for Miami and Houston, and his per-game average line got a nice 13-7-3-1 in both of those stints combined. His days in Houston, though, were actually the ones in which he truly solidified his top-10 Center abilities: 19 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 2.0 stocks per game adorned his Rockets' per-game line. Insane considering the fools he had to share the floor with in Texas.

Olynyk has put up very similar metrics on both the offensive and the defensive side of the game, can dish out dimes at a rather high rate, comes with good blocking upside, and scores in bunches even on average-at-best usage rates. Odds are Olynyk keeps up his numbers in Detroit given his basketball profile. Just so you see Olynyk's upside: only nine center-eligible players averaged a 19-8 line over the full season last year, precisely how Kelly's exploits looked like in his Houston tenure.

 

Enes Kanter, C - Portland Trailblazers (now Boston Celtics)

2020 - 175th
2021 - 51st

Another former Celtic, Kanter saw himself back in the PDX for the 2021 season after having played there in 2019 when he arrived via New York for the first time. While Kanter's improvement in terms of his overall fantasy finish (an improvement of 124 positions in the ranks) was obviously tied to his total minutes (1,758 in 2021 compared to just 983 in 2020), but his per-game and per-minute numbers also prove his worth and improvement all across the board.

After a middling season in Boston two years ago, Kanter was fantastic backing up Jusuf Nurkic and stepping up his game to cover for the latter's absence. Kanter just put up his second double-double season with an average 11-11-1 line on a per-game basis and an even better 16-16-1-1-1 line per-36 minutes of playing time. Depending on where he signs this offseason (Kanter is entering unrestricted free agency), he could very well see an uptick in his low 24.4 MPG last season to a much healthier 30+ MPG elsewhere.

A grand total of five players, Kanter included, were able to put up a 15-15 average per 36 minutes (min. 300+ minutes played), and among those Kanter was one of only four to put up a 16-16 on a per-100 possession basis. While Enes Kanter will never be a high-usage player (he just logged a 17.5% usage rate) he makes the most of his opportunities and can rack up numbers easily, which is a must for big-men in fantasy squads.

 

Christian Wood, PF/C - Houston Rockets

2020 - 106th
2021 - 99th

Wood exploded in 2020 while still playing for the Detroit Pistons... after he didn't do much during the prior four years and three NBA campaigns (he wasn't in the league in 2018) he was part of. Talk about a nice story. Wood signed with the Rockets during last summer's free agency, and even though he went from playing 62 games in 2020 to just 41 in 2021 (he missed time only because of injury) he was still able to improve his overall rank in fantasy leagues. That's pretty impressive if you ask me, even more considering where talking about a guy playing in a poisonous, developing environment in Houston.

The per-game line Wood got last season over 41 games can't look much better: 21-9-1-1-1. Actually, it can. Normalized to a 100-possession basis, Wood was one of only six players to finish 2021 with an average 30-14-21-1 line. Wood shooting numbers regressed a bit from his ridiculous 56.7/38.6/74.4 shooting splits in Detroit, but that was something to be expected if we're honest.

More encouraging is the fact that Wood found no issues in shooting in bunches while a Rocket, launching 15.6 (!) FGA per game and attempting 5.0 treys per contest. A lot of players (38) put up that volume last year; the catch? Only five center-eligible guys were shooting at that pace on a per-game basis, including Wood. Houston will keep working on its rebuilding process and there is nothing telling us Wood won't stay in town as one of the Rockets centerpieces going forward. If he can stay healthy, Wood is a lock for a top-10 finish at the position and top-50 overall next season. Lock that in.

 

Chris Boucher, PF/C - Toronto Raptors

2020 - 220th
2021 - 81st

If you thought Christian Wood's career path (read above) is incredible, then take a look at Boucher's and get socked. The NBA champ Bouch is entering just his fifth season as a pro in the NBA come 2022. He's gone from playing 1, to 28, 62, and 60 (including his first 14 starts) last year, and from an average of 1.0 MPG to 5.8, 13.2, and lastly 24.2. Improvement, improvement, improvement. Boucher finally broke for 10+ PPG last year and was able to close the season with a 13-6-1 line to go with a massive 1.9 BPG, swatting more shots per game than all but three other guys in the L.

Only four players averaged 36+ MPG last season, but pro-rating stats to that average playing time Boucher rises like cream to the top of the leaderboards with a resounding 20-10-1-1-3 line over the year. That's territory charted only by Robert Williams, Rudy Gobert, Nerlens Noel, and our man Chris Boucher.

As if all of the above wasn't enough to target Boucher in 2022 fantasy drafts, what about his shooting? Boucher's profile as a shooter is absolutely insane for his height and role. Boucher shot 51.4/38.3/78.8 splits while attempting 7.8 3PA per 100 possessions. If you need context, that was tied for the 99th-highest mark among all NBA players in 2021. Bad, right? Wrong, because Boucher was one of only 11 guys of 6-9 or higher height to attempt more than 7 treys per 100 poss and the only center along with Nikola Vucevic to score on 38%+ of those attempts.

 

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