In forty nine seasons, the Portland Trail Blazers have had seventy eight centers. Most of them not lasting more than a year on the team. But, there are a handful of them who not only endured, but made a lasting impression on the team and fans. Some of them helped lead the Blazers deep into the playoffs, to the finals, and even to the championship. Some were All Stars. Some reached the highest plains, a place in an elite class, the hall of fame, with the greatest players in NBA history. I have compiled this list using a variety of stats and achievements. Some of the players here may surprise you.
Here are the top 10 Blazers centers in Trail Blazers franchise history.
*There are several players who played predominantly at PF who also played at center who may deserve to be on this list. Those players will show up on the top 10 PF list to come later.
10. Robin Lopez
(2013-15) 2 Seasons 7’0
141 GP 10.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.3 spg, 1.6 bpg, .545 FG% .802 FT%
Totals Blazers: 1474 points, 1094 rebounds, 128 assists, 41 steals, 223 blocks
Offensive Rebound Season Leader – 326 Season Offensive Rating – 128.1
A defensive minded big man, Lopez also brought offense at the rim, recording nearly 30 double doubles in his first season with the Blazers. The same season he set a franchise record for offensive rebounds with 326, which still holds today. He was exactly what the Blazers needed in a roster that included Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, and Wesley Matthews. The Blazers were touted as a dark horse contender in Lopez’s second and final season with Portland, but it wasn’t to be so, after injuries cost Portland their reach at the promise land. The victim of a rebuild, Lopez walked away in free agency after the 2014-15 season.
9. Sam Bowie
(1984-89) 5 Seasons 7’1
10.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.5 bpg
NBA All Rookie First Team (1985)
Ah, Sam Bowie, the Blazers most infamous center, drafted ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft (a pick acquired by trading center Tom Owens) and never was able to stay healthy. The real life Mr. Glass, suffered multiple breaks in both legs throughout the span of his time in Portland, crippling what could have been a more than exceptional career. In five seasons he played in only 139 out of 410 games, missing the entire 1987-88 season. Imagine if he had remained healthy, hard to take I know.
That said, his career while healthy was accomplished in itself. He averaged sixteen points and ten rebounds at his best. He had the potential play even better. But, the fragility of his body never allowed it. The Blazers traded him to the Nets for Buck Williams, fearing that Bowie would never be the center he should have been. He had his four best years in New Jersey, never missing more that twenty games a season. His injuries later returned to limit his abilities to play, and he retired after two seasons in LA.
8. Tom Owens
(1977-1981) 4 Seasons 6’10
319 GP 13.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.6 bpg
.520 FG%, .167 3PT%, .766 FT%
Totals Blazers: 4437 points, 2310 rebounds, 795 assists, 173 steals, 195 blocks
Achievements: Top Win share 1978-79 – 10.4
The big man from New York spent most of the first half of his basketball career in the ABA after being drafted out of the University of South Carolina. He drifted between the Pacers, Rockets, and Spurs before he made it to Portland, but the Blazers became the pinnacle of his career. He remains one Portland’s highest scoring centers off the bench. In his second season with the Trail Blazers he averaged 18.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He had the highest win share that season for the Blazers at 10.4., the highest win share for a season of a Portland center to date. He was a big part of the Blazers runs, following their championship, with Dr. Jack, to try and win it all again. That never materialized, but Tom Owens remains one of Portland’s top centers.
7. Leroy Ellis
(1970-71) 1 Season 6’10
74 GP 15.9 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 3.2 assists .443 FG% .801 FT%
Totals (Blazers): 1,179 Points, 907 rebounds, 235 assists
Achievements: NBA Champion (1972, Lakers)
Ellis was only in Portland for one season, but he left his mark. He was one of the Blazers first centers, drafted by Portland in the 1970 expansion draft. He started in the inaugural game, on October 16th 1970, against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ellis gave the Blazers a defensive stop with moments left, blocking a shot to help give the Blazers their first win. He had a handful of high scoring games, hi best 33 points to go with 20 rebounds in a game against the 76ers. He was an agilely mobile big man, who made a place for himself in Portland lore, and this list.
6. Steve Johnson
(1986-1989) 3 Seasons 6’10
194 GP 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.8 bpg .540FG% .620 FT%
Totals Blazers: 2713 Points, 1166 rebounds, 317 assists, 86 steals, 152 blocks
Achievements: 1x All Star
The Oregon State University star was drafted in 1981 and journied through three other teams in his first five seasons in the league, before being traded to the Blazers in 1986 for Mychal Thompson. Johnson was supposed to be Portland’s new starting Power forward next to Sam Bowie, but we know how that went. In Bowie’s absence, Johnson was played instead at center, where he enjoyed the best season of his career, averaging about 17 points and 7 rebounds a game. He would replace the again inured Bowie the following season as the starting center, but fell victim to the injury bug himself. He was replaced by Kevin Duckworth.
When he returned from injury, the Blazers tried to play him alongckworth, but it impacted the team and both players abilities in the post negatively. Johnson was later stolen in the 1989 expansion draft by Minnesota. He played with several other teams, but couldn’t find the comfort he had once had in Portland, and his play depreciated. He was chosen as an All Star in 1988, but was injured and couldn’t play in the All Star game. Was another Blazers centers career cut short by the injury “curse” or was it just bad dynamics and poor judgment at the hands of the Blazers? Either way, Johnson was a talented big man, and rightfully so belongs on this list.
5. Jusuf Nurkic
(2017- present) 2.5 Seasons 7’0
158 GP 14.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.5 bpg .458 FG% .584 FT%
Totals Blazers: 2343 Points, 1516 rebounds, 393 assists, 147 steals, 237 blocks
Achievements: 2014-15 NBA All Rookie Second Team (1985)
Portland’s current starting center, Jusuf Nurkic is young in his career, but he already has earned a place on this list for himself. In three seasons with the Blazers he has put up some of the best numbers of any Blazers center. He is having his best season at 15.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. Nurkic is one of two Blazers to accomplish a triple double with five blocks (10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 5 blocks). The other is Bill Walton. Nurkic also recorded the third 5×5 in Trail Blazer history, the second by a Portland center, and is the first and only player to have done so with 20 points and Rebounds. (24 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 5 blocks)
Nurkic has a great trove of potential, that will be unlocked with experience. He is dominant at the hoop on both ends of the floor, and is a very adept passer. He plays in the vein and reminds of a young Arvydas Sabonis. The talent is there, the question is whether Portland will allow time for Nurkic to show us his true promise.
4. Kevin Duckworth
(1987-1993) 6 Seasons 7’0
527 GP 13.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg .475 FG% .746 FT%
Totals Blazers: 7188 Points, 3327 rebounds, 498 assists, 255 steals, 243 blocks
2x NBA All Star (1989, 1991)
Most Improved Player (1988)
2 NBA Finals Appearances, Blazers (1989-90, 1991-92)
Duckworth, one of the most beloved centers in Portland lore, spent the majority of his career in Rip City. He was here for the golden years of the late eighties and early nineties where the Blazers reached two finals with a WCF appearance in between. He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in the 1987-88 playoffs. He was chosen as an all star twice, in 1989 and 1981. He earned the 1988 NBA Most Improved player award after taking over center duties from inured Sam Bowie and Steve Johnson. His defense received a notable boost along with rebounding and shooting, securing him the distinction.
Though he struggled in his latter years in Portland, his numbers slipping, he still remains among the best centers in Portland’s franchise history. After his playing career. He was an ambassador for the Blazers and help host basketball camps for kids. He sadly, passed away at the young age of 44.
3. Mychal Thompson
(1978-86) 7 Seasons (Didn’t play 79-80 Season) 6’10
551 GP 16.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.4 spg, 3.0 bpg ,505 FG% .640 FT%
Totals Blazers: 9215 points, 4878 rebounds, 1848 assists, 504 steals, 768 blocks
2x NBA Champion 87 – 88-Lakers
NBA All Rookie 1st Team 1979
Blazers Career Blocks Leader – 768
Thompson played the first eight seasons of his career with the Blazers, starting in both front court positions, albeit mainly at center. Though, he would go on to win two championships with the Lakers, his best years were played in Portland. The Trail Blazers drafted Thompson with the 1st pick in the 1978 draft. He made the NBA All Rookie 1st team after averaging 14.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. In one of his second game with the Blazers, he put up an amazing 37 points against the Kansas City Kings In his fourth season, the best in his career, he averaged 20.8 Points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. That season he had a 26 point, 20 rebound, 11 assist, 6 block game against the Knicks, the first of several triple doubles in his career. His career high in points came ironically against the Lakers in which he scored 38 points to go with 21 rebound, in a what was to be a loss to the Blazers greatest foe, and his future team. He missed the 1979-80 season with a leg injury.
2. Arvydas Sabonis
(1995-01, 2002-03) 7 Seasons 7’3
470 GP 12 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.1 bpg 0.8 spg,
.328% 3pt .520 FG% ,786 FT%
Totals Blazers/Career: 5629 Points, 3436 rebounds, 964 assists, 370 steals, 494 blocks
Naismith Hall Of Fame
Olympic Gold Medalist
9X FIBA/Euro/Russian/Spanish Champion
NBA All Rookie 1st Team 1995
“JÄ—ga! JÄ—ga! JÄ—ga!”
The big man from Lithuania was taken by the Blazers with the twenty fourth pick in the 1986 draft, but didn’t come over to join the Blazers until 1995, nine seasons later, and it’s a shame. The broken Sabonis the Blazers finally got was not the dominate force they drafted. By the time he arrived in Portland, his knees were shot, crippled by years of international basketball, the years in-between had taken a toll on him. But, he was still an amazing player and one of Portland’s best centers.
The Blazers got seven years out of him He averaged 12 points and 7.3 rebounds, with 16 and 10 in his best season. In the playoffs, after his rookie season, he averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds. He had a 32 point 20 rebound game agaisnt the Bucks in his third year. He remains Portland’s best passing center. He could shoot all over the court including from the arc, and his remembered for his famous hook shot. If only Portland could have gotten the young version of him in ‘86. He would have no doubt been the best center to ever play in the NBA. Think of him with those golden Blazer teams that made the finals against the Pistons and Bulls. He no doubt would have pushed the Blazers over the top.
1. Bill Walton
(1974-1978) 4 years 6’11
209 GP 17.1 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1 steal, 2.6 blocks .510 FG% .674 FT%
Totals Blazers: 3,578 points, 2822 rebounds, 923 assists, 204 steals, 533 blocks
Naismith Hall of Fame
NBA Champion: 1977 Blazers, 1986 Celtics
Finals MVP 1977 Blazers NBA MVP 1978
2X NBA All Star (1977,1978) All NBA 1st Team 1978, 2nd team 1977
2X All Defensive 1st Team 1977, 78 NBA Sixth Man 1986
NBA Blocks/Rebounding Leader 1977
First Blazer 5×5
#32 retired by the Trail Blazers
Bill Walton, a two time NCAA champion, played perhaps better in college than any NBA center, accumulating a multitude of accolades along the way. He was the star of John Wooden’s Bruins. He played for Team USA at 17. He was on a steady path to become not just an NBA superstar, but a legend.
He was picked by the Blazers in the 1974 draft with the 1st pick, one of if not the best moves the Blazers have made to date as a franchise. He led the Blazers to their only championship in 1977, sweeping the Kareem Abdul Jabbar led Lakers in the WCF’s to get there. He helped a very unconventional Portland team, beat out the star studded 76ers for the trophy. He earned the Finals MVP for his efforts and contributions to the series.
He probably would have led them to more had his feet not gone to hell, not to mention the horde of other injuries he amassed. Name something he didn’t break. A rebellious relentless force, unstoppable by virtually any player, thwarted by his own body, one block he could not circumvent.
His best game as a Blazer came against the Hawks in his sophomore season where he put up 36 points and 22 rebounds. One of the most versatile centers to play the game, he could a little but of it all. A dunk here, a block there, add an assist and there’s a rebound. How about a steal! Along with Jusuf Nurkic, he is one of two Blazers centers to pull off a 5×5 game. He is unanimously the Blazers best center in the history of the franchise, (not including the young Sabonis they never got) and one of the best centers in the history of the NBA.
Roberson was only with the Blazers for a single season (1973-74), but that season was a statement. He averaged 13.5 points and 10.2 rebounds in 69 games. He amassed 933 points and 701 rebounds. He had an uncanny speed and agility possessed by few big men. At 6’9 he was one of the Blazers shortest centers, and one of the shortest centers in the NBA at the time. He allowed 10+ less points a game then the centers the year before him. An aggressive force, he earned a career high of a scorching 37 points after returning from leg injuries. It’s a wonder the Blazers traded him the following season. Perhaps, they feared his injuries would further plague him and the team. They would have been right. Lingering issues with his legs limited his play and shortened his career. He lasted two years after he left the Blazers. Still, he was a talented player in his own right. It is only fitting he should be on this list.
Schlueter was one of the Blazers first centers. He was taken by the Blazers in the 1970 expansion draft and played in Portland for three seasons, the first two of which were the best years of his career. He averaged 9.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. In his second season he averaged 11 points and nearly 11 rebounds a game. He helped Portland to win more games in their inaugural year than either the braves and cavaliers who also joined the league that year. After he retired, he remained an ambassador for the Blazers for the rest of his life. He is a Blazer forever, and the list wouldn’t be right without him,