Power Ranking the Top 15 Starting Frontcourts in the NBA

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2013

Power Ranking the Top 15 Starting Frontcourts in the NBA

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    Despite the NBA becoming a predominantly guard-wing dominated league over the past 15 years, size will always matter for a game that's objective involves throwing a ball through a rim sitting 10 feet above the ground. 

    We don't talk about big men as much as point guards or scoring, traditional small forwards, but their impact on the game (controlling the glass, anchoring the defense, balancing the offense with post touches) remains enormous. 

    Here are the top 15 frontcourts in the league. Here we're only dealing with power forward, center combinations, and they're ranked from average to elite. 

15. Dallas Mavericks

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki, Center: Samuel Dalembert

    Since winning the championship in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks have badly wanted another superstar to lighten Dirk Nowitzki's load these past few years.

    This past summer their target was Dwight Howard, who, when healthy, is the best center in the world. They missed out on him, unfortunately, and instead signed Samuel Dalembert, another shot-blocking big man.

    Dalembert won't be able to transform Dallas' offense with brilliant pick-and-roll action like Howard could have, but he will compliment Nowitzki on the defensive end. Last season with the Milwaukee Bucks he posted two more blocks than turnovers, and among active players he has the second highest career block percentage, per Basketball-Reference.com.

    Pairing that defense with Nowitzki's still-elite offense makes Dallas a decent tandem.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt: 

    Power Forward: Ersan Ilyasova, Center: Larry Sanders

    Holding one of the deeper frontcourts in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks have perhaps the league's best shot-blocker (Larry Sanders) and stretch-four (Ersan Ilyasova) in their starting lineup. 

    Both guys have complimentary skill-sets, but both love to crash the glass. After starting slow in the first year of his big contract last season, Ilyasova finished things up by shooting 44.4 percent on three-pointers, while averaging 7.1 rebounds per game.

    Among all players in league history who've been that accurate while launching at least 200 attempts from deep, and still managing to average that many rebounds, Ilyasova's only company is Troy Murphy and Mehmet Okur, per Basketball-Reference.com.

    Sanders just signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Bucks, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard, and figures to be anchoring their defense for years to come. Both him and Ilyasova aren't even 27 years old yet.

13. Washington Wizards

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Nene, Center: Emeka Okafor

    Having a defensive-minded center and an offensive-minded power forward is becoming a trend on this list, and the Wizards are no exception.

    Once a borderline All-Star in year's past with the Denver Nuggets, Nene is still as offensively adept as any big man in the league. Last season he averaged 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per 36 minutes. 

    But what makes this duo so effective is their ultimate size on the other end of the court. In the 912 minutes Okafor and Nene shared the floor last season, Washington allowed just 97.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/Stats.

    How good is that number? Related to every other team in the league, it'd give Washington the second best defense.

12. Utah Jazz

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Derrick Favors, Center: Enes Kanter

    This summer the Utah Jazz decided to let their two best players, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, walk in free agency for nothing. Silly move, right? Well, when the two players waiting in the wings are Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, things look a little different.

    The 6'10" Favors is only 22 years old, while the 21-year-old Kanter is 6'11". There are many ways to rebuild an organization from the ground up, and on the shoulders of two young horses in the frontcourt is far from the worst.

    Last season these two shared the court sparingly, but when they did the Jazz grabbed 37.5 percent of their own missed shots, per NBA.com/Stats—an extremely impressive number. 

11. Golden State Warriors

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: David Lee, Center: Andrew Bogut

    The Golden State Warriors are Stephen Curry's team, and beside him, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes have been branded as the organization's future. 

    But in order for the Warriors to meet then exceed their franchise's all-time highest expectations, David Lee and Andrew Bogut will need to embrace their strengths and play off one another. Lee might be the worst defender at his position, but standing beside Bogut (who's no slouch protecting the rim/defending the post he needs to at least be competent.

    To make up for his shortcomings, Lee needs to somehow play even better than he did last season, when he made the All-Star team and posted averages of 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds on 51.9 percent shooting. He just might pull it off as long as opposing teams hone their focus on Curry, Thompson and newcomer Andre Iguodala

10. Chicago Bulls

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Carlos Boozer, Center: Joakim Noah

    Joakim Noah plays an infectious brand of basketball. Over the course of a 48 minute game, his intensity, desire, energy and hustle involuntarily finds itself bleeding from one teammate to the other, until everyone sharing his jersey is exhibiting the same style. 

    Most of the time this occurs on the defensive side of the ball, where perhaps no bi man in the league hedges a pick-and-roll with more force and deft skill. When Chicago is on offense, Noah needs more than intangibles to get by, and that's where Carlos Boozer comes in. 

    These two have done a great job over the past few years of feeding off one another, thanks to some fantastic high-low passing and Boozer's somehow underrated ability to score one on one. Rebounding the ball isn't exactly a weakness when they're working together, either. 

9. Houston Rockets

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: ?, Center: Dwight Howard

    The only reason a frontcourt containing Dwight Howard isn't in the top-three here is we aren't yet positive who will play beside him at power forward. When healthy, Howard is the best defensive center in the league, holding perhaps the most impact on offense too.

    But we don't know who will bang on the glass beside him, or if the Rockets simply plan on surrounding him with four shooters and playing an under-sized Chandler Parsons at the four. Omer Asik has the ability to defend either position, and there's always the chance he could be inserted into the starting lineup, either at the four or five. 

    Howard is great, but he can't do it all on his own. 

8. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Blake Griffin, Center: DeAndre Jordan

    Where this duo lacks consistency, they certainly make up for in having the ability to make thousands of jaws drop each and every night.

    Blake Griffin has potential to be an unstoppable player in both the open court and half-court game, but he still needs to develop a jumper that defense's won't happily flash a green light at. Developing anything more than an arm's length away from the basket for Jordan is out of the question, but where he can still improve is on defense, where Los Angeles badly needs someone to show and recover with some semblance of normalcy. 

    If Jordan can give Doc Rivers 75 percent of what Kevin Garnett gave him over the past six years in Boston, this Clippers team (and this duo) will finally be feared.

7. Detroit Pistons

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Greg Monroe, Center: Andre Drummond

    If we were ranking the most exciting frontcourts in the league, it'd be a coin toss between the Los Angeles Clippers and these Detroit Pistons, who'll have an absolute monster at center next season. 

    Andre Drummond can't shoot free-throws, but he has the potential to do just about everything else with unparalleled athleticism. His game is still raw, but that's typically a term more associated with the offensive end.

    If Drummond can dominate the glass and protect the paint, Detroit will be fierce. As for the polished offensive game, few big men have Greg Monroe's ability to facilitate from the elbow.

6. Atlanta Hawks

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Paul Millsap, Center: Al Horford

    We aren't positive these two will be starting at power forward and center for the duration of 2014, but it's a decent bet that when they do, they'll be successful. 

    Few frontcourts possess the same individual skill on both ends as Horford and Millsap. Scoring isn't a problem with these two. Both can be tossed the ball in just about any situation and find a way to make the possession productive.

    They lack traditional size, but the 6'10" Horford isn't seeing eye to eye with Spud Webb either. Mismatches will be created on both ends when these two share the floor, but both are incredibly smart players, and if they're given an opportunity to make things work, chances are they succeed.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Kevin Love, Center: Nikola Pekovic

    When Minnesota has the ball, it's tough to say how any defense in the league will game plan to systematically stop them from scoring for at least 40 minutes of any random game.

    Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic compliment each other so beautifully that it's almost futile to even try and stop them if Minnesota can figure out a way to keep the floor spread. Love can shoot threes and bang inside, with a virtuous instinct at grabbing loose balls off the glass.

    And Pekovic is a low post demon. A big man with brute strength and fine touch around the painted area. On the defensive side of the ball is where questions begin to sprout. But this team figures to simply outscore opponents all season long. That begins with Love and Pekovic controlling tempo.

4. San Antonio Spurs

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Tim Duncan, Center: Tiago Splitter

    One layup, one free-throw, one rebound away from becoming the most successful big man duo in basketball. That's how close Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter (Duncan, mostly) came from winning a championship last season.

    But what they should more be remembered for is remarkable consistency. When these two shared the court, San Antonio was a power house, holding opponents to a measly 92.7 points per 100 possessions (nearly four full points better than the Indiana Pacers league-best defense), per NBA.com/Stats

    This team was known for its seamless offense up high (especially in the pick-and-roll game), but Duncan and Splitter provided bruising work in the interior that shouldn't be overlooked.

3. Indiana Pacers

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: David West, Center: Roy Hibbert

    No duo has given the Miami Heat a harder time in their run to two straight NBA championships than Indiana's David West and Roy Hibbert. 

    Both players are tough, both have polished offensive games that fit nicely in with their team's scheme and both understand the defensive principles that are needed to contribute on the league's stingiest unit.

    If Hibbert can inch his development even further, eight months from now these two just might be NBA champions. 

2. Brooklyn Nets

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Kevin Garnett, Center: Brook Lopez

    Perhaps it's controversial to place a frontcourt tandem as second best in the league when they've yet to play a minute side by side. But this specific case is different. Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez were both All-Stars last season, and that's fantastic.

    But the reason they're this high on the list is just how magnificent their games are expected to coalesce. Lopez might be the best offensive center in the league, with dominant touch around the basket and surprising quickness for someone his size.

    Lopez has never been pre-eminent on the other end, though, and that's where the addition of Garnett comes in. On a possession to possession basis, Garnett is still an elite defender who gives his all in pick-and-roll coverage, attacking the glass and protecting the rim.

    Few big men in league history have possessed a more reliable jump shot, and few have played with a pass-first mentality. These two appear to be perfect for one another. 

1. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Projected 2014 Starting Frontcourt:

    Power Forward: Zach Randolph, Center: Marc Gasol

    The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the four most successful teams in basketball last season, and they would't have been nearly as fortunate without the frontcourt powerhouse tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

    These two were born to play beside one another, with flattering skill-sets that not only allow Memphis to dominate the paint, but also open things up for the rest of their teammates.

    On defense, Gasol is as good as anyone against pick-and-rolls, forcing an offense to change direction or scheme. On offense he's the best passing center in the world, with a mid-range jumper that's lethal, and a bruising body wide enough to get just about any shot he wants off near the rim. 

    Randolph is the same way with the ball, but even more dangerous when a teammate or opponent misses his shot. Nobody enjoys battling Z-Bo on the boards, and over the last three seasons he's finished fist, second and first in total offensive rebounds. 

    These two dominate basketball's primary real estate together, and as long as they're together, Memphis will be a team nobody enjoys doing battle with.