I’ll be honest with you. I’m waiting on Tyson Chandler to not live up to this new contract. It seems inevitable: big man who has career year at 29 years old, finds himself in a perfect situation, plays great D and rebounds but has it magnified because his team finally got through the West and won a title (seriously, if Dallas loses in the Western playoffs, is anyone talking about how great Chandler is right now?). Take it for face value: a 29-year-old, injury prone big man who’s coming off BY FAR the best year of his career, a guy who’s been incredibly up and down throughout his career was just given $56 million to come save the defense in the world’s most crazed media market.
Tell me you aren’t worried right now. The one saving grace for the signing is this – New York won’t ask him to do anything crazy. They want his size. They want his shot blocking and rebounding. They want his athleticism. And I think most of all – and it’s been very overlooked so far – they want his attitude. Chandler gets major props from me because he’ll bring that locker room together. I doubt we’ll get one major negative chemistry story from them all year. The Knicks would probably trade their backcourt for UConn’s guards right now, but when you have a big man group of Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, you can get by.
So, as I posed the question last week, does that make New York the NBA’s No. 1 frontcourt? There are some other teams that may not have quite the talent, but definitely can hold down the paint. I tried to keep this including all three positions evenly; To make the list, you needed production from everywhere rather than being top heavy. The Lakers and Heat, for instance, both have two great players in the frontcourt. But their third-best starters (Joel Anthony and whoever the Lakers pick to start) are average at best. Here are the NBA’s best frontcourts:
FRONTCOURT OF THE FUTURE: Utah Jazz
They’ve been flying under the radar for a minute. Actually, they’ve been flying under the radar forever. But the Jazz have done their homework, and while I don’t think they’re a playoff team, they have a nice, young nucleus. Their frontline is especially intriguing. Gordon Hayward might still look like a little boy when he’s 30, but I’m betting he’ll still be starting even then. His numbers (5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds a night) as a rookie were pretty weak, but that’s only because they kept him chained up in the doghouse for almost half the year. Add in Al Jefferson, one of the best low-post scorers in the NBA, and Paul Millsap, who’s shown that if you get him on the floor, he’ll produce, whether it’s off the bench or from the opening tip. There’s also lottery pick Enes Kanter, and Mehmet Okur, who’s coming off an injury. There’s no way he can still move as well as he used to now that he’s 32. But you can’t lose that stroke.
And lastly, since seeing him in high school as literally the next Dwight Howard (check out his pre-draft measurements. Scary similarities), Derrick Favors hasn’t blown up. To me, he’s too nice of a kid to ever really blow up the way he probably could. But when you’re a bigger and better athlete than 95 percent of the NBA, that doesn’t really matter. You can get away with it and still be a problem.
5. Indiana Pacers
I like their potential a lot. Roy Hibbert and David West should make a killer offensive combo, and when you throw in the shooting from Danny Granger, they have virtually all you could ask for from a frontline. But I’m still waiting for them to take the next step. Are they nasty enough? We know West is. He’s one of the hardest inside players in the league today, and I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons Larry Bird went after him. Hopefully a little of that will rub off on Hibbert.
Indiana’s frontline has size, shooting ability and depth (Tyler Hansbrough will be a beast against second units). If Hibbert takes the next step in his development – he’s been improving steadily through three seasons, but last year was supposed to be his breakout – watch out.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
Marcus Camby isn’t who he once was. You might not have noticed, but he averaged a pathetic 4.7 points a night last year. For most players, that’s a major red flag. For Camby, it’s only a minor mole. Offensively, he’s awful. And while his numbers dropped on the other end as well last season, that was more simply a case of less PT. In 26 minutes a night, Camby still averaged 10.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game. Also, because Camby shoots so many jumpers, it allows Gerald Wallace to play closer to the rim. In 23 games with Portland last year, Wallace’s numbers jumped off the board. He was back to averaging nearly three combined blocks and steals a game, and his shooting percentage skyrocketed all the way to 50.
With LaMarcus Aldridge working to the edge of “franchise cornerstone,” Portland has an anchor. Camby and Wallace are the reinforcements. If we could somehow combine Nicolas Batum with Wallace, then we’d have a nearly perfect starting frontcourt.
3. Chicago Bulls
Unconventional? In a way, yes. Their small forward can’t create shots for anyone, and barely has an offensive game outside of one dribble pull-ups. Their power forward makes a ton of money, and draws a ton of hate for his T-Rex arms around the rim and the stereotype he’s been given of being a bad defender. Then, the center is just a collage of unconventionality. Nobody though Joakim Noah could keep up his energy level every night for every game of every season. But he has. His bowling ball jump shot was supposed to be impossibly ineffective. It hasn’t improved much, but every once in a while he sneaks a J or two in there. Carlos Boozer was hurt for most of last season and never really settled in. He doesn’t need to be all-world. Just himself. With Luol Deng quietly becoming one of the best role players in the NBA, the Bulls frontline is both effective and deep (with Taj Gibson as basically a fourth starter coming in off the bench).
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Was there ever a more mismatched bunch that fit so perfectly together? There’s Rudy Gay, at one time the eye test All-Star, the major college prospect and franchise leader. There’s Zach Randolph, at one time the fantasy All-Star, the head case, the black hole and team cancer. Then there’s Marc Gasol, at one time the family gene All-Star, the lil’ bro and the chubby boy. At one point or another, we never really believed in any of these cats. Somehow, I’m not sure if they grew up or we were just wrong all along, they came together to start punishing teams. While Gay certainly has some incredible talent, what makes this bunch so good is their physicality. Remember those high school drills you used to run where the coach would set up two lines under the hoop, roll the ball slowly out towards the three-point line, and then blow his whistle? “Go get it!” Then you’d have two or more guys fighting endlessly to come up with it. I doubt anyone in the NBA is beating these guys in that drill.
Add in Darrell Arthur (who might now be lost for the season with a knee injury) off the bench, one of the most underrated players in the league, and you have pieces that fit perfectly next to one another.
1. New York Knicks
I can diss them and still count them as the best in the league. They have two surefire All-Stars, two players who can take over a game at any point, and while I’m still not completely sold on how well an injury-prone Chandler will hold up as he moves into his thirties, he is the perfect complement to the two high-scoring, defensively-impaired forwards. For once, we’ll see Amar’e at his natural position with a shot blocker behind him. It probably won’t matter, but I think he’ll have more of a shot to at least not get embarrassed. Before, Mike D’Antoni was wheeling him out there by himself on an island and exposing every weakness the dude has (and he was doing this for years). Seriously, it’d be like the Celtics gameplanning around 18-foot Rajon Rondo jumpers.
The talent is there. I think the fit is there. The only thing stopping them is a backcourt that’ll have trouble both getting them the ball and providing any type of deterrent on the other end. Despite all that, this should still be the best frontline in the league this year.
Who do you think is the best frontcourt in the game?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.