The NBA has evolved into an athletic, perimeter-heavy league. While this type of emphasis can excite the audience with spectacular plays, strong froncourts are still the belly of the beast for many teams. Teams that boast dominant frontcourts are a force to be reckoned with, especially in the postseason when the game slows down.
Before reading the rankings of the NBA’s best frontcourts, it should be noted that the following list is based on the three positions of center, power forward and small forward. Additionally, the rankings are based on the frontcourt’s performance one month into the season. Therefore, frontcourts of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Houston Rockets are sitting on the edge of the top 10 list and will in all probability bump a frontcourt off this list when the Omer Asik situation is resolved and health returns to Marc Gasol and in Brooklyn.
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10. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter
It shouldn’t shock anyone anymore that the Spurs will find a way to be among the best of the best year in and year out. Gregg Popovich continues to make the argument that he is the best coach in the NBA today, and the Spurs’ Big Three in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continue to prove that age is just a number. The Spurs’ frontline is all about the fundamentals, as The Big Fundamental himself, Tim Duncan, sets the tone for Tiago Splitter, who is stepping up this season on the boards (7.3 RPG). However, Kawhi Leonard has been the breakout player for the Spurs since last season, and is evolving into a big impact player in San Antonio and in the NBA.
In the first 15 games of the season, San Antonio’s frontcourt has averaged 32.3 PPG and 21 RPG on 49.4 percent shooting from the field. The Spurs are highly efficient in scoring in the paint, where they post 47.7 PPG (fourth in the NBA), per Team Rankings. The second-best defensive team in the league (92.4 defensive efficiency ranking) defends the paint quite well, giving up 40 PPG to opponents. The Spurs have been and continue to be the epitome of team ball, and their frontcourt is no different as they get the job done by working off each other.
9. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut
Golden State is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the stacked Western Conference. They feature the best shooting backcourt in the league in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson that can take over the game at any point. However, the frontcourt’s improvements on both ends of the floor have pushed them into contender status in the West. Andrew Bogut is finally healthy enough to see major minutes on the floor for Golden State, which has drastically strengthened their inside defense. The addition of Andre Iguodala not only adds yet another offensive weapon to their arsenal, but also adds that perimeter defense they desperately needed. Finally, while David Lee is not close to being an elite defender, his post play and versatility on the offensive end cannot be overlooked.
While Iguodala is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harrison Barnes has successfully stepped up in his place over the past four games. However, Iguodala’s presence in the frontcourt has been missed, as they have dropped three of their last five games without Iggy in the lineup. Yet, their frontcourt numbers remain among the top of the league. Golden State’s frontcourt puts up better defensive numbers, which isn’t too surprising, as their backcourt seems to dictate the offense. According to Hoops Stats, Golden State’s frontcourt holds the ninth-best defensive efficiency recap difference* of 6.6, while grabbing 41.1 RPG (fifth in the NBA). However, Golden State’s frontcourt is offensively efficient** with the 12th-best ranking in the NBA.
8. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez
The Portland Trail Blazers are arguably the biggest surprise team in the first month of the NBA season. The offseason moves to strengthen a previous non-existent defense and to add depth to last season’s historically weak bench have paid off so far, as the Blazers hold the third-best record (14-3) in the NBA, a record they share with the Miami Heat. Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard continues to dazzle the crowd on the hardwood, as he has shown the fans thus far that he is not a one-hit wonder.
However, the Blazer’s frontcourt has been the major reason for the team’s success early in the season. According to Hoops Stats, Rip City’s frontcourt ranks in the top 15 in rebounding, scoring, offensive efficiency, and defensive efficiency recap. While the inside defense has improved from last season primarily due to Lopez, the Blazers’ frontcourt still largely emphasizes the midrange and perimeter game. However, when you look at Portland’s starting frontcourt â€“ Aldridge, Batum and Lopez â€“ averages of 44.5 PPG and 24 RPG on 46.5 percent shooting from the field, you can understand why the Blazers are off to such a smoldering start.
7. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Oklahoma City’s frontcourt is solid and stable. While Kevin Durant’s scoring prowess and Russell Westbrook‘s athleticism tend to steal the spotlight, justifiably so, on any given night, their frontline’s consistency cannot and should not be ignored. KD’s top-notch offensive skills initially made up the bulk of his game. Yet over the past two seasons, KD has dedicated his summers to improving defensively. Match KD’s more balanced game with Serge Ibaka’s defensive skills in the post, and you have a dangerous frontcourt. Kendrick Perkins has started off the season slow, but his presence down low remains worrisome for opponents. Rookie Steven Adams has added some power to OKC’s frontcourt and has filled the gaps that Perkins’ slow start has created.
Let’s break down the numbers to see just how consistent OKC’s frontcourt truly is, according to Hoops Stats. OKC’s frontcourt boasts the fifth-best offensively efficient rankings with 75.5, while holding the third-best ranking for defensive efficiency recap of 14.4. In 14 games, the Thunder’s frontcourt scores 59.6 PPG (12th-best in the NBA), behind KD’s superb scoring average of 28 PPG. Their frontcourt is additionally solid on the glass, grabbing 33.7 RPG. Meanwhile, OKC ranks in the top 10, per Team Rankings, at scoring and defending the paint.
6. MIAMI HEAT
LeBron James, Shane Battier/Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh
Miami is currently on the challenging journey to three-peat as champions, a feat that was last accomplished by the 2002 Los Angeles Lakers. While the Heat continue their woes on the glass â€“ again the worst rebounding team in the league with 43.9 RPG â€“ the fact the best player in the game today, LeBron James, is featured in their frontcourt will automatically propel their frontline to success. In fact, their weakness on the glass last season certainly didn’t get in their way in claiming back-to-back titles. While Miami is more aptly known for being a transition and perimeter team, ‘Bron’s improved post work is extremely difficult to stop.
While being ranked in the top 10 for points in the paint is not a shocker considering their fast break game, the Heat are ranked fourth in the league, per Team Rankings, for opponent’s scoring in the paint, 35.8 PPG. Further, Miami’s frontcourt has the second-highest defensive efficiency recap in the league â€“ just behind Indiana â€“ to go along with the third-highest offensive efficiency rating of 77.9, according to Hoops Stats. Largely in part to LeBron, Miami’s frontcourt mix of James, Bosh, Haslem, and Battier post the most points in the league with 66.9 PPG, but lag behind the rest of the league’s frontcourt in rebounding by posting a weak 24.6 RPG.
5. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Samuel Dalembert
The Mavericks’ frontcourt ranking in the top five in the first month of the season is easily the biggest shocker in this analysis. The Mavs have performed much better than expected during the first month of the season, as their key offseason additions in Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert have immediately strengthened their play on both ends of the floor. The Ellis-Nowitzki two-man game, especially in pick-and-roll sets, is now perhaps the most dangerous weapon in the Mavs’ arsenal. Shawn Marion has been the definition of consistent, as he puts up solid points for a 14-year veteran (12.2 PPG) and remains a threat on the glass. Dalembert was brought in after the Mavs’ pursuit of free agent Dwight Howard did not fall Dallas’ way and they ultimately passed on risky signings of Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum. Dalembert’s main duty with the Mavs is to add an inside presence on the defensive end. Seventeen games in and Dalembert has lived up to his goal so far, grabbing seven boards per game and blocking about one-and-a-half shots per contest. Meanwhile, Dirk is still Dirk, as his averages remain in the same neighborhood as his career numbers.
If you are still apprehensive about their frontcourt’s ranking, let’s take a closer look at their frontcourt numbers. Per Hoops Stats, Dallas’ frontcourt has the best offensive efficiency (80.1) and the seventh-best defensive efficiency recap (7.4). The Mavs’ frontcourt scores 64.4 points per game (third-best in NBA) and ranks as the seventh-best rebounding frontcourt with 33.9 per game. Despite their frontcourt boasting great numbers, the Mavs are hovering around the middle of the pack in scoring and defending the paint. However, they can improve that with Brandan Wright eyeing a return in the near future.
4. DETROIT PISTONS
Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond
Detroit possesses perhaps the most intriguing frontcourt in the NBA this season. This is because the Pistons signed free agent Josh Smith this past offseason to join the frontcourt of the promising big man duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. While their frontcourt still has kinks in the gameplan to work out, the ceiling for this trio is exponential, especially given their youth.
Drummond has quickly emerged as a dominating true center in the league, posting 11 double-doubles in 16 games while shooting nearly 64 percent from the field (best in NBA). He has the body of an old-school big man, with the agility and athleticism of a small forward. Greg Monroe and Josh Smith add versatility to Detroit’s frontcourt, while legitimizing the team’s defense as dangerous, especially on the glass. Fifteen games into the season, the Pistons’ starting frontcourt is posting 40.7 PPG, 5.4 APG on 52.4 percent field goal shooting. Detroit’s frontcourt makes up for the inconsistencies and inefficiencies of the backcourt by scoring 49.5 PPG in the paint, which accounts for about half of their total offense. Detroit ranks in the middle of the pack in giving up 41.1 PPG in the paint, per Team Rankings; however, that stat should improve as the season wears on and the defensive timing and chemistry evolves as Monroe, Smith and Drummond get more floor time together, and they learn more from the tutelage of Rasheed Wallace.
3. CHICAGO BULLS
Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
Entering the 2013-14 season, the Bulls looked extremely promising, as Derrick Rose made his long-awaited return to the floor. When Rose went down again, this time with a meniscus injury, the prognosis for the team’s expectations in the East seemed lost. What fans must remember was the success the Bulls created for themselves last season without Rose in the lineup, posting a 45-win season and making it to the second round of the playoffs. That success rooted from their starting frontcourt of Loul Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.
Chicago’s sustainable defensive narrative drives the team. That will not change in the absence of Derrick Rose. What will need to change is Chicago’s frontcourt stepping up offensively in facing the void of the 2011 MVP for the entire season. Let’s break down the numbers for one of the league’s top frontcourts. Per Team Rankings, Chicago puts up solid numbers in the paint with 41.9 per game (11th in the NBA). Unsurprisingly, the Bulls excel at defending the paint, only giving up 34 PPG to opponents. While Chicago’s frontcourt is in the middle of the pack for scoring with 58.1 PPG, per Hoops Stats, they are second in the league in frontcourt rebounding, grabbing 34.7 RPG. The Bulls’ frontcourt puts up average offensive efficiency, but is ranked in the top 10 for defensive efficiency recap, according to Hoops Stats. Once again, the Bulls’ frontcourt must set the tone for the team to remain competitive in the East.
2. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
A healthy Kevin Love is proving to be one of the best players in the league, as his hot start to the season has catapulted him into the MVP conversation. Because of his past injuries, basketball fans really haven’t seen the true potential of Love’s two-man game with Ricky Rubio or with frontcourt companion, Nikola Pekovic. So far this season, that has been different, as the dynamic in Minnesota’s frontcourt has been strong and versatile. A big reason for their improved dynamic in the frontcourt has been the addition of Corey Brewer, who has seamlessly meshed with his teammates and in his new role on the team, especially with Kevin Love.
Per Hoops Stats, the Wolves’ frontcourt posts 63.9 PPG (fifth-best in the NBA), while grabbing 34.1 RPG (tied for fourth). Their frontcourt possesses the seventh-best offensive efficiency rating (73.2), but fall to the 11th rank for defensive efficiency recap. Per Team Rankings, Minnesota scores 46.4 PPG in the paint, which is the sixth-best in the NBA, but nears the bottom of the pack when it comes to defending the painted area, which has a lot to do with their inefficiency in defending the fast break. With the outside threat â€“ specifically with the corner three â€“ of Corey Brewer, the versatility of Kevin Love, and the bruising anchor in the post in Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota’s frontcourt is a threat to any opponent.
1. INDIANA PACERS
Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert
The Pacers are arguably the best team in the NBA right now with a 16-1 record as of Sunday. With Derrick Rose out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury, the Pacers are poised to run away with the Central Division title and give the Heat a run for their money to dethrone the reigning champs. While Paul George has clearly separated himself as the face of the Pacers franchise with his MVP-caliber performance thus far this season, Indiana is a throwback of a hard-nose defensive team that is dangerous due to their strong pillars in the frontcourt.
In the middle you have Roy Hibbert, who anchors the league’s best defensive team. Even though Hibbert is currently on a self-imposed campaign for Defensive Player of the Year, Hibbert cannot be ignored in the post on the offensive end. Second, David West makes a living with his midrange game, but fits in well with the team’s mission of defense. In total, the Pacers’ frontcourt is posting 47.6 PPG and 22.5 RPG on 45.6 percent field goal shooting. While Indiana only averages 36.5 PPG in the paint, they are the best in the league at defending the paint, giving up 33.9 PPG in the paint to opponents, per Team Rankings. Based on their superior performance so far in the season, the Pacers were the clear choice in employing the NBA’s best frontcourt today.
* Efficiency Recap – Opponent’s Efficiency Recap
** NBA Efficiency recap = ((Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) – ((Field goals attempts – Field goals made) + (Free throws attempts – Free throws made) + Turnovers))
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