This article is part of our Centers of Attention series.
The NBA regular season is coming to a close quickly with only four weeks left on the schedule. While many fantasy owners are in the middle of hopefully making a championship run in their league, some owners in keeper or dynasty formats have already planned for their seasons to be over by now.
If you are planning out your strategy for next season, here are some young centers who could each make waves in fantasy leagues next season:
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Of all the players in this group, Randle is the most established talent. He is currently in his fourth season in the league, but don't forget, he's just 23 years old. The Lakers are a rebuilding franchise with eyes on clearing out cap space with the hopes of luring a superstar or two to Los Angeles.
Randle may not have been in their future plans at the start of the season, but he's making a case for the Lakers to bring him back. He's taken on an increased role since Larry Nance Jr. was traded to the Cavaliers, averaging 21.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 33 minutes per game since the All-Star break. He doesn't provide fantasy owners much in the way of defensive stats, but he is shooting 57% from the field and 70.1% from the charity stripe this season.
Where Randle lands will play a key role in determining his fantasy value for next season. Returning to the Lakers might not necessarily be a good thing depending on what other players they bring in over the summer. If Randle finds himself playing around 30 minutes per game wherever he ultimately ends up, he could be a force in fantasy again next season.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls
Portis is also just 23 years old and is currently in his third season with the Bulls. The Bulls drafted Lauri Markkanen in the first round last year, but Portis is still a big part of the team's future at both power forward and center. They traded away Nikola Mirotic at the deadline this year and have reduced Robin Lopez's playing time, leaving Portis with the most significant minutes of his career.
He's taken advantage of his new opportunity, averaging 13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 three-pointers per game this season. His field goal percentage isn't great at 46.8%, but it's encouraging that he has the second highest usage rate (26.3%) on the team.
The Bulls clearly want to build around Markkanen, but would likely love to trade away Lopez this summer. With only one year left on Lopez's contract, he might be easier to move than he was at the deadline this season. Even if he stays or the Bulls add another big man in the draft, Portis should still have a significant role next season. Of note; though: Portis is not a shot blocker, which hinders his value as a center. And the looming possibility of Chicago landing one of the prized big men in the 2018 draft class could complicate Portis' future.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Whether it's been because of others on the roster or foul issues, Collins has had a hard time seeing extended minutes this season. He generally produces when given the opportunity, averaging 13.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the six games this season in which he's played at least 30 minutes.
He's seen his most extensive run in March, averaging 28 minutes in seven contests. Not only has he provided value with increased counting stats, but he is also shooting 57.6% from the field and 85% from the charity stripe during the month.
The Hawks will have another high pick in the draft next summer, but likely won't be a marquee destination for free agents. Fellow center Dewayne Dedmon has a player option for next season, but Collins should be in line for an expanded role even if he does return. He has the ability to develop into a double-double threat who shoots for high percentages as early as next season.
Jordan Bell, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors may have ended up with one of the steals in last year's draft, acquiring Bell -- then as a second-round pick -- for cash from the Bulls. Bell has flashed his defense prowess this season, averaging 0.7 steals and one block in only 14 minutes per contest.
Bell has been limited to just 43 games due to injury, but it's encouraging that he has received as much playing as he has considering the talent on the Warriors' roster. He is also an excellent fit for their style of play based on his ability to get up and down the floor. Bell succeeds as a small-ball five in the same way Draymond Green has for the past few seasons.
A clearer path to playing time could open up for him next season. Zaza Pachulia will be a free agent and the Warriors don't have the cap space to go out and sign a big time center. Bell could form a formidable defensive duo up front with Draymond Green. If you own him in a dynasty league, don't be surprised to start receiving dividends from Bell already next season.