With The Dwight Show moving to Houston and Andrew Bynum’s hair signing with Cleveland, what is the current state of NBA frontcourts? Who has the best big man combo in the league?
As always here at numberFire, let’s take a look at the numbers. For this exercise, I projected out opening day starting lineups and see where they ranked. We use our own efficiency stat here, so if you need a refresher you can glance here.
Note: by starting frontcourt, I mean the starting power forward and starting center. The reason I did not include the small forward in the data is due to the crazy statistical prowess of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. If I included them, the Heat and Thunder would statistically have the two best “frontcourts” in the league even if they started LeBron and my two grandmothers.
#10 Houston Rockets
Projected starting frontcourt: Greg Smith & Dwight Howard
Thoughts: I only put Smith as the PF here since we don't yet know who will get the start or minutes alongside Dwight. Smith ended the year last season in that spot, but head coach Kevin McHale hasn't played him much this preseason. Omer Asik has started the last two preseason games, but it remains to be seen if he and Dwight can co-exist down low. Omri Casspi has been getting a lot of run lately as a small-ball PF, so perhaps the Rockets abandon the two-big mold and surround Dwight with shooters. Regardless, if Dwight can return to his old Superman days, then the Rockets will rocket up these rankings.
#9 New Orleans Pelicans
Projected starting frontcourt: Ryan Anderson & Anthony Davis
Thoughts: The Brow should take a huge leap this year. This preseason he has averaged 21.4 ppg, shooting 53.9/85.1 splits and 2.1 bpg. If he can continue that trend, the Pelicans should move up these rankings as well. My only concern with this tandem is they don’t have a bruiser. They both like to face up and stretch the floor, which could lead to problems when dealing with the Dwights and Gasols of the league.
#8 Miami Heat
Projected starting frontcourt: Chris Bosh & Udonis Haslem
Thoughts: This group takes a bump up due to how efficient the Miami Heat are as a whole team. Haslem will most likely get the starts as the respected veteran, but Chris Andersen aka Birdman re-signed and will split time. He should continue to be a great complement to the finesse game of Bosh like we saw in last year's playoff run.
#7 Indiana Pacers
Projected starting frontcourt: David West & Roy Hibbert
Thoughts: This tandem really came into their own as an elite defensive group during the playoffs. The Pacers wisely resigned West this offseason. If Hibbert can stay healthy and keep his game up where he was in the last half of the year last season, the Pacers should be just fine down low.
#6 Denver Nuggets
Projected starting frontcourt: Kenneth Faried & Javale McGee
Thoughts: It’s unclear how the starting lineup for the Nuggets will shake out as the season approaches, but the most effective one we saw last year was Faried and McGee. Both are solid defensively, but need to improve on their raw offensive games. The Nuggets signed J.J. Hickson from Portland and he will get his share of minutes, but at 6’9 he is an undersized center and will most likely come off the bench.
#5 Brooklyn Nets
Projected starting frontcourt: Kevin Garnett & Brook Lopez
Thoughts: The Nets pushed their chips all-in this year to make a run at the title. KG definitely brings a defensive prowess that they haven't had in the past, and more importantly takes the pressure off Lopez to expend so much energy guarding the paint. This definitely makes for a good frontcourt on paper, but KG will have his minutes closely monitored as he enters his 19th NBA season.
#4 Atlanta Hawks
Projected starting frontcourt: Paul Millsap & Al Horford
Thoughts: The Utah Jazz gutted their frontcourt this offseason sending Al Jefferson to Charlotte and Paul Millsap to the Hawks. He joins veteran Horford for a skilled, yet slightly undersized frontcourt. Last year, the Hawks had Horford at PF with Zaza Pachulia playing the center position. With Pachulia now with the Bucks, this frontcourt will have to learn how to battle the bigger guys down low this season.
#3 Los Angeles Clippers
Projected starting frontcourt: Blake Griffin & DeAndre Jordan
Thoughts: This might be a slightly surprising ranking as most people probably underrate Griffin and Jordan. Like the Heat, this duo has a definite increase in efficiency and production due to having the best PG in the world, Chris Paul. However, these two are no slouches on their own and continue to improve each season. Jordan has looked even better this preseason and with Doc Rivers in town, watch for this frontcourt to fight to justify this ranking this season.
#2 San Antonio Spurs
Projected starting frontcourt: Tim Duncan & Tiago Splitter
Thoughts: The old reliable Spurs, they seem to get it done down low every season. Timmy continues to dominate the paint as he enters his 17th NBA season and has a reliable partner with a new contract in Splitter. The Spurs have been notorious for not signing players other than the big 3 to big extension contracts, so the move with Splitter this summer shows you how much the organization values him, especially as Duncan winds down his finals years in San Antonio. I'm not sure how many more years left we'll have of Timmy, so enjoy it while you can.
#1 Memphis Grizzlies
Projected starting frontcourt: Zach Randolph & Marc Gasol
Thoughts: With the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol, it is no surprise that the Grizzlies frontcourt tops this list. Though neither Gasol or Randolph will wow you like the high flying Clippers duo, the Grizzlies tandem is the epitome of efficiency. With Z-Bo's mid-range game and Gasol's all-around offensive savvy and defensive expertise, the Grizzlies will find their way deep into the playoffs again.
The most surprising omission was the Minnesota Timberwolves. Take a look at the efficiency numbers for Kevin Love the last three years:
2011: 12.4 nERD
2012: 14.1 nERD
2013: -0.5 nERD
Thus the reason for the Timberwolves being out of the top 10 here. If Kevin Love can stay on the floor and get back to his 2011/2012 ways, then the Timberwolves will be up in the top three of these rankings by years end.
It will also be interesting to see how younger frontcourts like the Pistons with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe and the Bucks with Larry Sanders and John Henson continue to develop. So many great big-man story lines, Tuesday is almost here!