Ranking The NBA’s Five Best Frontcourts

HeaderThe NBA is currently experiencing what can only be described as ‘The Golden Age of Point Guards’. Most, if not all, franchises headline at least one star PG with many boasting two. The old ‘one shooter, one distributor’ format seems to have taken a backseat to having two penetrating playmakers looking to create and push the tempo directly off the outlet.

In addition, NBA teams are shooting more three pointers than ever before.  It seems the analytics geeks suggested it would be a good idea and almost the entire league has responded in kind. Last season 20 of the league’s 30 teams averaged 20+ 3-point field goal attempts – a level of hoisting from downtown never seen before in The Association.

As a result, the art of playing off the post and the idea of dominating the paint have started to become somewhat overlooked. Fortunately, there is a seriously great crop of young big men starting to make their mark. These guys will not be overlooked for much longer!

Could this bring upon change in the NBA, from small ball back to bully ball?  A return to the glory days of Russell vs Wilt, perhaps? I think it can and ‘The Golden Age of the Bigs’ may soon be upon us.

With that in mind, below are my top 5 frontcourts for the 2014/15 NBA season.

Before we dive in, let me define the term in order to clarify the selections.  Simply, the old categorization of a team’s ‘backcourt’ involving their guards and ‘frontcourt’ consisting of their forwards and center is outdated and archaic.  These days, teams generally have multi-positional players holding down the 1, 2 and 3 spots and tend to think of their ‘frontcourt’ as their two ‘bigs’.  Thus, I have adopted a modern definition of the term ‘frontcourt’ here and have focused on only power forwards and centers.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Portland Trailblazers (LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez)
  • Atlanta Hawks (Paul Millsap and Al Horford)
  • San Antonio Spurs (Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan)
  • Washington Wizards (Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat)

 

5. Memphis GrizzliesMarc-Gasol-Zach-RandolphIt’s not all about youth, and thank god for that, says the Memphis Grizzlies fandom. For years the combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph has been getting it done in the Western Conference, consistently proving the doubters wrong by continuing to post their 20/10s.

Father time is unbeaten and will eventually catch up with these two however, I think they have one more season in them. Mark is the young legs of this combo at 29 and has dealt with his share of injuries managing only 59 games last season (and only 65 in 2011/12). That being said, he is still one of the most fundamentally-sound interior defenders and best post-passers in the NBA and possesses an array of show-stopping spin moves in the block.  It’s a combination of skills that rival centers around the league are still yet to find an answer for.

He’s small (6’9), old (33) and slow (260lbs), but Zach Randolph is going to give you near on 20 and 10 every single night. Randolph certainly has his fair share of weaknesses (and you can probably add his distaste for defense to the list above), however he has proven to be the grit and heartbeat of this Memphis franchise over the past few years.

Zach and Mark work so well together, giving each other just the right amount of space to go to work on the block while always providing a great option for one another on the weak-side, cleaning up each other’s misses and bullying opponents with a WWE style of game. This is certainly not the prettiest selection on my list and will no doubt encounter a little disagreement.  However, what cannot be denied is that the Grizzlies have managed to find their way into the ridiculously tough Western Conference Playoffs each of the past four seasons, thanks largely to the performance of their ‘Grit and Grind’ frontcourt.

 

4. Detroit PistonsDrummond-MonroeThere is a strong possibility the Pistons won’t start the season with both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in the frontcourt, but for now these two young big men are one hell of a troublesome twosome.

Winners are grinners and, accordingly, Drummond is currently enjoying the spoils of Team USA’s FIBA World Cup win.  Whilst he didn’t play a lot of minutes in Spain these past couple of weeks, Drummond was chiefly included in the USA squad for his potential.  Possessing possibly the most athletic frame and impressive length of any big man in the league, Drummond has the defensive attributes to be an annual DPOY award winner. Posting 7 x 20 rebound games last season, while playing alongside proven rebounders in Greg Monroe and Josh Smith; its fair to say the future looks bright for Andre The Giant.

Monroe is the offensive firepower of this combination. At only 24 years of age the Georgetown product posted averages of close to 15 and 10 on a team with a serious logjam in the frontcourt. Monroe’s size and ability to rebound, when paired with his ability to score in a variety of ways from the block and elbows, makes him one hell of a cover.

If the Pistons can free up enough space and organize themselves enough to unleash the big man or if he moves to a more favorable situation, Greg Monroe will be featuring on All Star teams for years to come.

 

3. New OrleansADBoasting the man most likely to be the best big in the NBA over the next 10 years, Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are well on their way to creating a playoff-bound franchise.

Davis is an exceptional talent – one of the few two way centers in The Association – and is already a very serious MVP candidate. The 21 year old has only two professional seasons of experience yet has spent the past month leading Team USA to the FIBA World Cup Gold Medal.   Davis, who possesses that rare ability to make the players around him better, averaged 20 & 10 with 3 blocks last season at 51% FG and close to 80% from the free throw line.  Quite simply, there are not many answers for shutting him down.

The thing I love most about AD, though, is that he is a winner. Sure, the Pelicans are yet to make the playoffs in the Davis era, but The Brow passes the eye-test in terms of his approach to the game. He is not of the Dwight Howard build; spiking shots into the 10th row to get the crowd cheering and chanting his name. No, he’s of the Bill Russell mold; blocking shots into the hands of his teammates to start transition (with the occasional statement spike, of course).

Davis is yet to taste NBA Playoff success, but the time is close my friends.

In addition to AD, the Pelicans have added Turkish center Omer Asik. Many have jumped off Omer’s bandwagon due to ‘Sulking-Gate’ in Houston last season. Nonethless, Asik remains one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. He won’t get above the rim and swat 3 shots per game and he won’t average 20 points either, but what Asik will do is push opposing centers off the block, change more shots than you can count, play straight-up tough defense every possession and wipe the glass clean, limiting teams to one shot per offensive possession.

This New Orleans frontcourt is a formidable pairing and with Davis continuing to improve, they’ll likely be moving up the podium over the next few years.  If this were Wall Street I’d be screaming “BUY, BUY, BUY!”

 

2. Los Angeles ClippersGriffin-JordanHow much does this Clippers frontcourt benefit from the spoon-feeding of All-Star point guard Chris Paul?  I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Either way, the combination of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan gives the Clips the league’s 2nd most dominant frontline heading into next season.

Blake was 3rd in MVP voting last season, posting numbers of 24 & 9.5 at 52% from the floor while raising his FT shooting above 70%.  Jordan, meanwhile, was 3rd in Defensive Player of the Year voting and averaged 14 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game to go with his 11 points at 67% from the field.

These two feature highly as they are not only young (25 and 26) but are improving.

There were many doubts hanging over this duo leading into last season: Can Griffin develop some moves in the block?  Can he improve his free throw shooting? Is DeAndre anything more than a catch and dunk guy who can’t shoot FTs? Both of them answered the critics emphatically with their play last season.

Blake impressed with an improved array of moves in the low block including showing off his newfound ability to tear you apart from midrange.  He also improved his FT shooting, rising from his 2012/13 clip of 66% to a career best mark of almost 72%; punishing teams for employing the Hack-a-Blake strategy that was successful during his first three seasons in the league.

Jordan, inspired by new coach Doc Rivers, took a different approach. He started dominating games from the defensive end, erasing shots by the bucket loads and making coming into the paint against the Clippers something even Marcus Aurelius would second-guess. He led the league in rebounds (13.6) and FG% (.676) and finished 3rd in blocked shots (2.48) behind only Anthony Davis and Serge Ibaka.

As mentioned earlier, Griffin and Jordan are both still improving and if this list was for the next 5 years then who knows, that number one spot may very well be theirs.

 

1. Chicago BullsNoah-GasolIf you add one of the LA Lakers’ greatest power forwards of all time to last year’s All-NBA First Team center, you’re going to end up with an extremely intimidating frontline.

That’s what the Chicago Bulls accomplished this offseason.

Under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau, the combination of Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah – both multi-time All Stars – is going to give opposing frontcourts headaches all season long.

Noah has proven to be the anchor for Chicago on both ends of the floor over the past couple of seasons, leading the Bulls with his defensive intensity, efforts on the glass and deft passing ability.

Gasol will add a seriously impressive offensive punch to this frontline. Pau is one of the few bigs in the league you can throw the ball into and say ‘go to work, big fella’, due to his mixed bag of moves in the low block. Much like Noah, Pau possesses great passing abilities, meaning that the interior ball-movement between these two will be pretty to watch this year.

This ridiculous frontline (which also includes the impressive Taj Gibson off the bench!), combined with the re-return of Derrick Rose, has me thinking that these Bulls may very well win the Eastern Conference in 2015.  Cavaliers, beware.

 

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