Power Ranking the Top 15 Starting Frontcourts in the NBA

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIAugust 3, 2012

Power Ranking the Top 15 Starting Frontcourts in the NBA

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    Following the sign-and-trade deal this offseason that sent two-time MVP award winner Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with Kobe Bryant, a lot of buzz has surrounded the NBA's best backcourts. But where do the best frontcourts in the NBA stack up against one another?

    Comparing the best starting frontcourts in the NBA is obviously going to be an extremely subjective process. Should a team with great players at all three frontcourt positions (small forward, power forward and center) get precedence over a team with two outstanding players and a weak link? Should veteran players and winners vault over young talent loaded with potential?

    Ranking the best starting frontcourts in the NBA depends on a variety of factors to compare, but in the end, it comes down to the overall talent of the three players.

    What three guys, in and around the painted area, would you want to go to war with in the trenches?

    Here's a ranking of the top 15 starting NBA frontcourts.

    (Note: Players in the "starting" frontcourt could be projected for next season, used throughout the majority of last season or the 2012 playoffs).

    Feel free to leave your own rankings in the comment section!

15. Golden State Warriors

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    Frontcourt: Harrison Barnes (SF), David Lee (PF) and Andrew Bogut (C)

    The projected starting frontcourt for the Golden State Warriors next season, at least at this juncture, includes rookie forward Harrison Barnes.

    The seventh overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft has already shown signs his NBA potential.

    Although the NBA Summer League isn't always the greatest indication of how a prospect will play when the actual NBA season rolls around, Barnes impressed regardless.

    After Barnes' first Summer League game, his performance prompted this article by NBC Sports' Kurt Helin, who referred to Barnes as "the complete package."

    Cleveland Cavaliers fans must be kicking themselves, especially following the lackluster Summer League showing from Dion Waiters, who often looked dazed and confused out on the court (especially on defense).

    Outside of the promising rookie, the Warriors have the double-double machine David Lee and the Aussie center Andrew Bogut.

    Although Lee is a very accomplished offensive player who averaged 20.1 points per game last season in 57 games played, he leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the court. For his career, the 6'9" power forward has averaged just 0.4 blocks per game.

    As for Bogut, the former No. 1 overall pick may be guilty of breaking a mirror on draft night.

    Whether the seven years of bad luck is a superstition down under in Australia, it appears as if bad juju has followed Bogut regardless.

    He only played in all 82 regular season games once, his rookie year. He's battled multiple injuries, including this freak accident in a game against the Phoenix Suns, where he dislocated his elbow. Bogut never seemed to be the same after that injury.

    The 7-footer is also a putrid free-throw shooter at just 57.4 percent for his career.

    A lot has to go right for the Warriors next season as far as staying healthy. However, if you believe my broken-mirror conspiracy theory, Bogut's seven years of bad luck have ended. Only time will tell on that front though.

14. Phoenix Suns

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    Frontcourt: Michael Beasley (SF), Luis Scola (PF) and Marcin Gortat (C)

    Even though the Phoenix Suns' revamped 2012-13 frontcourt locks in at No. 14 overall, they're No. 1 as far as having the most foreigners: Marcin Gortat (Poland), Luis Scola (Argentina) and Michael Beasley (Mars). (This joke is an homage to Bill Simmons, who believes JaVale McGee is from the same planet).

    Gortat has blossomed in Phoenix now that he's escaped Dwight Howard's shadow. "The Polish Machine" gained notoriety in Orlando as being the best backup center in basketball. In his first full season as the starter in Phoenix, Gortat averaged 15.4 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

    Scola was picked up by the Suns via amnesty auction after the Houston Rockets decided they'd rather free up more cap space in their pursuit of Dwight Howard by exercising the clause on Scola.

    The Argentinian forward is one of those guys you love if he's on your team, and hate if he isn't. Scola plays with a near-unrivaled tenacity and grit. He's a hustle player who gets his points and rebounds by simply out-working other players on the court.

    The 23-year-old Beasley is still trying to live up to the hype accompanied by being the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft.

    Beasley still has a boatload of untapped potential, and the upcoming season (with a new change of scenery) could be a great place to show it.

    As far as Beasley is concerned, he's ready to become an All-Star this season.

13. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Frontcourt: Caron Butler (SF), Blake Griffin (PF) and DeAndre Jordan (C)

    The Los Angeles Clippers frontcourt, although it plays host to young talent and a veteran presence, is basically carried by Blake Griffin.

    Caron Butler is still a solid NBA starter, but his game has been marred by inconsistent play at the tail end of his career. "Tough Juice" is still a gritty defender, but he certainly doesn't have the agility he once had.

    As for DeAndre Jordan, he may lead the league in chest bumps on a yearly basis, but he's still a raw basketball talent. He's a great shot blocker and has tremendous athleticism for his frame, but he just isn't quite there yet from a basketball standpoint.

    His inability to hit free throws coupled with his inept nature on offense usually prevent him from seeing court time in the closing minutes, which is a concern.

    Griffin, on the other hand, is one of the best young players in the NBA right now. However, he'd help himself greatly by developing more post moves and adding consistency to his outside jumper. His ridiculous athletic ability won't last forever, and if he can't score in multiple ways, his game will have a short shelf life.

    "The Blake Show," like his good friend DeAndre, is a terrible shooter from the charity stripe. No matter how talented he is, this makes him a liability in close games.

    The Clippers' frontcourt could still develop into one of the best in the NBA, but Griffin is the main reason for its success at the moment.

12. Dallas Mavericks

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    Frontcourt: Shawn Marion (SF), Dirk Nowitzki (PF) and Chris Kaman (C)

    Admittedly, the Dallas Mavericks' championship frontcourt with last season's Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler was more impressive than what the Mavs have now.

    Nevertheless, adding veteran center Chris Kaman is one of the more under-the-radar pickups of the summer. Kaman, a former All-Star, could raise some eyebrows in Dallas if he's able to return to form.

    Veteran Mavericks Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki are both getting up there in age. Marion lost the pep in his step some years ago and Nowitzki came into the lockout-shortened year with a lack of motivation that clearly showed early last season.

    Even so, the Mavericks' revamped frontcourt could surprise a lot of NBA fans next season (especially with its depth, considering Dallas also added Elton Brand).

    The Mavericks may be a bit underrated on this list, but as a former MVP, Nowitzki could single-handedly vault this group into the top 10.

11. San Antonio Spurs

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    Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard (SF), Boris Diaw (PF) and Tim Duncan (C)

    Whenever you have the legendary pedigree of Tim Duncan in the frontcourt, you're a team to be taken seriously.

    Although Duncan is 36 years old, he still knows how to get the job done on offense and defense. He's the veteran leader that makes the San Antonio Spurs go and he always seems to step up his game in the playoffs and lead by example.

    Boris Diaw was a late addition to the Spurs last season after he was released by the Charlotte Bobcats. His contributions weren't huge, but as a crafty veteran, he fit in well with the Spurs' lineup.

    Even though he fit in, Diaw is well past his prime. He started his career buried on the Atlanta Hawks' depth chart labeled as a point guard. It wasn't until he joined the Phoenix Suns that the Steve Nash boost tapped into his potential.

    Had Diaw not played beside Nash, we likely wouldn't think of him as the same player we do today (and he certainly wouldn't have as much money in the bank).

    That leaves Kawhi Leonard. I have to be honest, Leonard is one of my favorite young players.

    The Spurs' young forward absorbs basketball knowledge like a sponge and solidified his place in the Spurs' rotation last season because, as head coach Gregg Popovich says, "He plays defense." (Link by Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune).

    Leonard is an unassuming kid who just turned 21 years old a few days ago. Needless to say, he knows his role on this veteran team.

    Concerns leading up to the draft knocked Leonard because he was a poor outside shooter. Then all Leonard did was shoot 45 percent from downtown in the playoffs.

    Someone needs to figure out if Popovich is actually a wizard (not the ones from Washington).

10. Indiana Pacers

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    Frontcourt: Danny Granger (SF), David West (PF) and Roy Hibbert (C)

    Danny Granger is consistently inconsistent, David West is a vastly inferior player when compared with his time spent beside Chris Paul in New Orleans and Roy Hibbert doesn't appear to be worth a max contract (although the Indiana Pacers had little choice but to bring him back).

    With that said, the Pacers were the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference for a reason last year.

    They play great team defense and West brings a toughness in the paint that they've needed.

    Hibbert, after four seasons in the NBA, may finally be coming into his own and Granger, when he's on his game, is tremendous.

    I'd be lying if I said I'd want this frontcourt with an NBA championship goal in mind, but if Granger and Hibbert can finally find consistency, they could be a threat.

    There's something to be said about the Pacers' great run last year. Their tough frontcourt is a big reason for their hard-earned success.

    In spite of the Pacers' breakout year, can Granger assert himself next season as the team's alpha dog whom they can rely on in every game? Can Hibbert continue to improve, cut down on his nagging foul trouble and assert some offensive dominance in the paint?

    Only time will tell the answer to those questions, but the Pacers have a great frontcourt regardless.

9. Brooklyn Nets

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    Frontcourt: Gerald Wallace (SF), Kris Humphries (PF) and Brook Lopez (C)

    The new-look Brooklyn Nets have invested a gargantuan amount of money into their 2012-13 roster. Whether this Nets team is poised for a championship run remains a mystery; however, Nets brass has to be happy with its starting frontcourt for next season, even though it doesn’t include the name “Dwight Howard.”

    Gerald Wallace has certainly earned his nickname “Crash” by playing with an all-out, intense style of play. Wallace is one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA and he’s an underrated offensive talent.

    Kris Humphries, regardless of his waning popularity, is a walking double-double. He’s improving on the offensive end and he’s one of the league’s best rebounders.

    It’s a good thing the Nets will have Humphries cleaning the glass again next season, because Brook Lopez must think the word “rebound” is Swedish for some terrible disease.

    In 82 regular-season games during the 2010-11 season, the 7-foot center averaged just 5.9 rebounds per game. Although it was a small sample size, Lopez only grabbed 3.6 rebounds per game last season in five games.

    As a 7-foot center, you should grab more than four rebounds by accident.

    Nevertheless, Lopez makes up for a head-scratching lack of rebounds by scoring in bunches. He averaged 19.2 points per game in five games last season, and 20.4 points per game the season before.

    If he can return to form following an injury-riddled season, the Nets will be able to put up a ton of points.

8. Chicago Bulls

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    Frontcourt: Luol Deng (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF) and Joakim Noah (C)

    The Chicago Bulls had an 18-9 regular season record last season when Derrick Rose was sidelined due to injury. Although the Bulls did have solid backcourt depth with C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, the frontcourt helped carry the Roseless Bulls to victory more often than not.

    Going nine games over .500 without your best player out on the court is a tribute to D-Rose's teammates.

    The trio of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah isn't always consistent (evident by the amnesty rumors surrounding Boozer), but they're still three talented NBA players.

    Deng made his first All-Star appearance last year and has gained a reputation as one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA.

    Noah, although he has a volatile personality at times, is a great teammate and a proven winner from his college days at Florida.

    A great deal of the Bulls' playoff success depends upon the health of Rose when he returns from injury. Although an absence of D-Rose is a problem, the Bulls' frontcourt has shown in the past that it can step up without him.

7. Boston Celtics

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    Frontcourt: Paul Pierce (SF), Brandon Bass (PF) and Kevin Garnett (C)

    The fact that the Boston Celtics have two players in their frontcourt who will undoubtedly be inducted into the Hall of Fame when their playing careers come to an end should be all you need to read.

    Admittedly, Kevin Garnett is better suited and more comfortable playing power forward instead of center. However, his willingness to do anything to help his team win makes him a valuable asset and a leader.

    Paul Pierce is a scoring machine who passed Larry Bird on the Celtics' all-time scoring list last season. Pierce is a living legend who always seems to step up with clutch shots and have gigantic games when his team needs him most.

    Brandon Bass may be seen as the weak link in the Celtics' frontcourt, but just about anyone would be overshadowed surrounded by two future Hall of Famers.

    Even though Bass doesn't measure up to Pierce and KG, he stepped up in a big way last season when the Celts' frontcourt depth was decimated by injuries.

    Bass is a solid scorer who averaged 12.5 points per game last season, and his defense has improved from playing in a defensive-minded system.

    Overall, you can't go wrong with the Celtics' frontcourt, especially on the highest stage.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Frontcourt: Andrei Kirilenko (SF), Kevin Love (PF) and Nikola Pekovic (C)

    Now that Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are in their late 30s, it appears that Kevin Love has been handed the torch as the best power forward in the NBA.

    K-Love averaged 26 points per game (while shooting 37.2 percent from three-point range as a 6'10" big man) and 13.3 rebounds per game. The former UCLA Bruin is an absolute machine on the basketball court.

    Kris Humphries is a great rebounder, but Love makes Hump's efforts look pedestrian by comparison. Although Love's statistical achievements haven't led to much team success, this could be the season where all of that changes.

    Nikola Pekovic, who is built like the Sears Tower, was a breakout star for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. The fact that he'll know that he has the starting job from the start of the season, while having a full summer and a normal schedule to condition himself, should lead to a career year.

    That leaves Andrei Kirilenko, who spent the lockout-shortened season in Russia. Look for AK-47 to be among the league leaders next season in "stocks" (the name for combined steals/blocks as coined by Grantland's Bill Simmons).

    Kirilenko is a tremendous defensive player who can guard a variety of positions, which is an invaluable asset to have (especially during the postseason).

    On paper, the T-Wolves seem to be playoff bound, but we'll have to see if they can band together and make that a reality next season.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Frontcourt: Rudy Gay (SF), Zach Randolph (PF) and Marc Gasol (C)

    The Memphis Grizzlies' tremendous frontcourt is its anchor and backbone.

    After trading franchise centerpiece Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers (for what seemed like 10 cents on the dollar at the time), the Grizzlies' frontcourt is more formidable than ever before.

    Marc Gasol has blossomed into a star and one of the league's top five centers (if not top three).

    Although he has struggled to stay healthy recently, Zach Randolph is a tenacious post presence. He sometimes seems like he's a man among boys on the offensive end of the court, scoring at will in the paint and with his mid-range jumper.

    Although Z-Bo probably can't even jump over a ham sandwich, his rebounding prowess is still rivaled by few.

    Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies' leading scorer last season, is a solid all-around small forward who is usually good for 20 points per game.

    I'm a big fan of the frontcourt in Memphis, but its success hinges on whether the trio can stay healthy.

    Last season, Z-Bo missed the majority of games, and the season before that Gay was found on the sidelines in street clothes.

    Perhaps this is the year the Grizz put all of the pieces together and use their great frontcourt to their advantage yet again in the playoffs.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (SF), Serge Ibaka (PF) and Kendrick Perkins (C)

    The Oklahoma City Thunder's frontcourt is led by the three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and anchored by two defensive threats, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

    Durant is the best player in the NBA right now behind LeBron James, so his pedigree as a leader and dead-eye shooter goes without saying.

    Ibaka really grew into himself last season with the Thunder, leading the NBA with a ridiculous 3.7 blocks per game. You knew that his defensive prowess was starting to hit a new high when he did the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag and it actually looked fitting.

    Kendrick Perkins may have fit better on the slowed down, defensive-minded Boston Celtics, but it's hard to argue that getting Perk was a good pickup.

    Even so, Perkins played at a different level from everyone in the NBA finals last season. And by that, I mean he played below the level of everybody else.

    The quicker, more athletic guys on the Miami Heat simply blew by Perkins on what seemed like every possession. The player we had come to respect as a great defender looked outmatched and slow.

    Perkins still brings toughness and one of the scariest scowls in sports, but the Thunder looked like a better team without him on the floor. He's not strongest part of this frontcourt, but KD covers the spread.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Frontcourt: Metta World Peace (SF), Pau Gasol (PF) and Andrew Bynum (C)

    The Los Angeles Lakers' frontcourt is held back by the weak link, Metta World Peace. Even though this frontcourt sports a guy who nearly every Laker fan has thrown in the ESPN NBA trade machine, the two-headed monster of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum makes them one of the most formidable in the league today.

    Although World Peace has slowly devolved into a totally inept offensive player, his perimeter defense is still great.

    Gasol and Bynum have almost become underrated due to the plethora of trade rumors involving both of them, but their talent simply can't be overlooked.

    Gasol has the championship pedigree from helping Kobe Bryant lead the team to two titles in 2009 and 2010. Bynum was also around for those runs, but was somewhat of an afterthought since he was an immature, raw basketball talent hobbled by injuries.

    Bynum, however, had a breakout season last year and could be poised to improve upon those numbers.

    Everyone is talking about the Lakers' tremendous backcourt (including myself) now that Steve Nash has joined forces with Bryant.

    Despite the buzz surrounding the Lakers' new point guard and revamped backcourt, don't overlook the sheer talent and skill shared among their big men.

2. New York Knicks

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    Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony (SF), Amar'e Stoudemire (PF) and Tyson Chandler (C)

    I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that the Knicks' frontcourt doesn't deserve to be this high, and you probably have a case. However, the sheer talent level between the three members of the Knicks' starting frontcourt is impossible to ignore.

    Carmelo Anthony, regardless of his attitude, is an elite scorer. Behind Kevin Durant, I'd say that Anthony is the NBA's most potent offensive talent. He just scores and scores and scores. It's in his blood. The guy puts the ball in the basket so effortlessly, it's almost unfair.

    Tyson Chandler, who was miffed by the Dallas Mavericks following a championship run, went on to win Defensive Player of the Year honors in his first season in New York. Basically, he makes up for the defensive shortcomings of his frontcourt partners.

    While Chandler gets a lot of credit for changing the Knicks' philosophy, Amar'e Stoudemire has been the subject of criticism in NBA circles, and for good reason.

    There are questions about his work ethic (which have been prevalent since his days in a Suns' uniform; read Seven Seconds or Less for more details). He didn't earn any new fans for punching the glass casing around a fire extinguisher, and his gay slur over Twitter didn't aid his popularity.

    Despite all of his negatives, the talent is there. Whether Stoudemire chooses to put the work in to embrace his gigantic ceiling, however, is entirely up to him.

    The Knicks played well at the end of last season with Mike Woodson at the helm. Their frontcourt is among the most talented in the NBA, even though they have yet to find the perfect balance among them.

    If these players can find some chemistry and band together, they could be a very dangerous team come playoff time.

1. Miami Heat

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    Frontcourt: Shane Battier (SF), LeBron James (PF) and Chris Bosh (C)

    This probably is not the frontcourt lineup you were expecting to see from the Miami Heat, but the small-ball lineup worked incredibly well for Erik Spoelstra during the NBA finals, so I see no reason for him to not continue the trend.

    Shane Battier, despite his struggles that dragged on seemingly all season, got his stuff together in the finals. He was knocking down three-point baskets like a game of "Pop a Shot" while he hounded Kevin Durant with his stifling perimeter defense. Even when Battier isn't playing his best, he's still a difference-maker on the defensive end.

    LeBron James, meanwhile, is simply the best player in the NBA right now by far. He can play any position out on the court, but truly thrived in his role as power forward (a role that continued even after Chris Bosh returned from injury).

    LBJ rebounded like a beast, played stellar defense and showed the world just how deadly he is when he incorporates his post game.

    The Heat playing LeBron at power forward creates a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. There's simply no way to adequately defend against him.

    As for Bosh, well, everyone saw exactly how important he is to this Miami team when he was sidelined in the playoffs due to injury. The Indiana Pacers were able to take advantage of the Heat's lack of size and ended up winning two games along the way.

    I'd be surprised if the Heat decided to not continue the hyper-athletic small-ball style that worked so well for them in the finals, but even a frontcourt of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony is not too shabby.

    If you're one of those Twitter folks, you can follow me @benlebo.