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April 12, 2023

Ranking every Sixers center ever

With a minimum of 200 games played for the franchise

It seems extremely possible that Joel Embiid will be earning his first NBA MVP this month. He's been one of the best players not only in the league the least few years but in Sixers history. 

As he approaches 30, and with a few years of his prime likely left in the tank, it's natural to be curious as to where he might fit in when compared to the best big men in franchise history.

With a week of no Sixers games as we wait for their first round meeting with the Nets, we decided this was the perfect time to rank every Sixer ever (within reason) at each position. In order to make this a much more manageable list of players, we limited it to those who have played enough games in Philly to have been a key contributor for about three seasons minimum, or 200 games.

Before we dive into the list, let's give a shoutout to some of the centers who did not meet our 200 games played threshold who you may know and love:

Dikembe Mutombo10611.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg
Dwight Howard697.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg
Nerlens Noel17110.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg
Shawn Bradley1439.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg
 Jahlil Okafor10614.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Richuan Holmes1567.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg
 Boban Marjonivic228.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Andrew Bynum0

The last two, of course, are a joke. Bynum was one of the worst trades in franchise history and helped set the team en route for The Process in the years that followed. And Boban — only 22 games? That can't be possible.

As far as those who did play the 200 necessary games to make our rankings, here's how our staff sees them measuring up:

1. Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68)

27.6 PPG | 23.9 RPG | 4 All-Star, 3 MVP Awards, 1967 NBA title | NBA HOF

Nick Tricome: Yeah, no surprises here. One of basketball's greatest ever, arguably basketball's greatest performance ever, and in turn, one of the sport's most iconic photos. Wilt was just on a different level back in the 1960s, one that no one may ever reach again. 

2. Moses Malone (1982-86, 1993-94)

21 PPG | 12 RPG | 4 All-Star, 1983 MVP, 1983 Finals MVP, 1983 NBA title, NBA HOF

Shamus Clancy: Moses Malone was never the otherworldly scorer that Joel Embiid is, but I will keep Malone ahead of The Process in these rankings until Embiid averages 26 and 16 during a playoff run that leads to a parade down Broad Street, like Big Mo did. 

3. Joel Embiid (2014-present)

27.2 PPG | 11.2 RPG | 6 All-Star, 2-time MVP runner up

Evan Macy: I actually had Embiid ranked second. My reasoning is that first of all, Moses is probably a better player in totality bit he was only in Philly for basically four seasons. Second, Malone anchored one of the best teams in the history of basketball, alongside Dr. J and company — is anyone saying anything close to that about the teams around Embiid? I also think the talent in the league is better right now, and it's a lot harder to be effective as a center in 2023. Embiid is my No. 3, and I think when all is said and done he'll find himself there.

4. Darryl Dawkins (1975-82)

11.2 PPG | 6.7 RPG 

Shamus: Darryl Dawkins deserves this ranking simply because of his "Chocolate Thunder" nickname and the fact that he broke a backboard mid-game in 1980 after a slam dunk. It's more than that though for the first great Dawkins (but not the last) to come through this city. He was a thrilling, high-flying player as that pre-Moses era of Sixers basketball brought ABA flair to the NBA. That iconic style is not lost on me. 

5. Red Kerr (1954-65)

14.0 PPG | 11.4 RPG | 3 NBA All-Star, 1955 NBA title

Nick: A champion with the Nationals and a very solid center in the transition from those first couple years of the relocation from Syracuse, Kerr was eventually traded to Baltimore for Wali Jones, which completed the Sixers' backcourt for the '67 championship run. 

6. Theo Ratliff (1997-01, 2008-09)

10 PPG | 6.9 RPG | NBA All-Star, All-Defense

Shamus: Is there anything better than an NBA what-if? Ratliff was an All-Star during his age-27 season in Philly, that magical 2001 campaign. He was injured, however, and was traded at the deadline for a 34-year-old Dikembe Mutombo. I totally get the trade. The Sixers needed a big body when they inevitably went against Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA Finals. If Ratliff doesn't get hurt though, he's a better running mate for Iverson during the latter half of his prime whereas Mutombo didn't last much longer in Philly. 

7. Caldwell Jones (1976-82)

7.2 PPG | 9.2 PPG | 2X All-Defense

Evan: Jones was an ABA guy who leaped to Philly around when Dr. J did, and was the starting center for the team for six seasons, leaving just before Malone arrived and they won the 1983 title. He was a good rebounder and shot 47% from the field while he was in Philly. He had some tough defensive assignments, particularly in the 1980 and 1982 NBA finals against the Lakers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also guarded Bill Walton in the 1977 finals. The Sixers lost all three of these.

8. Samuel Dalembert (2002-10)

8.1 PPG | 8.2 RPG 

Shamus: Samuel Dalembert was sneakily underrated as an above-average rim protector who just happened to play after Allen Iverson's peak in Philly. He would've been more than serviceable as a starter on a legitimate playoff team if the Sixers resembled anything like that during the wasteland of the late '00s. 

9. Mike Gminski (1988-90)

14.9 PPG | 9.0 RPG

Nick: Forming the frontcourt with Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn in the late 80s and into the start of the 90s, Gminski was an unorthodox center for his time, with a skillset reliant on shooting and passing moreso than brute force under the rim. 

10. Red Rocha (1951-56)

11.3 PPG | 7.0 RPG | All-Star, 1955 NBA title

Nick: The other center on the '55 title team from the Syracuse days, the 6-foot-9 big came out of retirement that season to rack up 11.3 points per game and an average of 6.8 rebounds.

The rest...

11Manute Bol1.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.7 BPG
12Leroy Ellis9.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG
13Spencer Hawes10.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG
14Marreese Speights7.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG
15Connie Dierking6.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG
16Clemon Johnson4.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG
17Harvey Catchings3.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG
18Scott Williams5.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG

Shamus: I voted Spencer Hawes dead last. No regrets. Watching 36-year-old Kevin Garnett tear him to shreds in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals will forever be burned into my brain. 

Evan: We had to add Bol's blocks per game because it helps to justify him being 11th. He was 7-foot-7 which is bonkers.

Nick: Mo Speights and then Spencer Hawes were from a time in Sixers basketball I'd rather not go back to – stuck in the middle is one of the worst places to be in the NBA. Speights found success after he left with Golden State's dynasty, which good for him. As for Hawes, I can't think of him without thinking of this video from the 2007 draft. Man, I miss early YouTube. 

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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