Frontcourts are the backbone of every successful NBA team. No team has won a championship without a dominant frontcourt since Jordan’s Bulls, and Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen could certainly play a little bit. The point guard craze has taken over the NBA, but when is that last time a team led by a point guard won the championship? You could argue Chauncey Billups with the Pistons in 2004, but other than that you have to go all the way back to Isaiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons in 1990.
Big men have ruled the NBA for years. By no coincidence, every team on this list, other than Utah, should find themselves in the playoffs this coming season. Guard play may be more flashy, but strength in the frontcourt wins championships.
On this list, there are several teams who are bringing back the same group for another run, but plenty others that have young guys stepping into new roles and still more that made big acquisitions trying to fill holes. Some teams feature bigger guys who can stretch the floor while others feature bangers who will crush you on the boards – but the best feature a little of everything.
Here are the 15 best frontcourt rotations in the NBA.
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15. UTAH JAZZ
The Jazz have one of the most intriguing front lines in all of basketball. The oldest of this starting trio is Gordon Hayward — who also plays a lot of two-guard — who just turned 23 earlier this year. Hayward made great strides in his third year in the league, posting a career-high in points per game at 14.1 while shooting a robust 41.5 percent from three. Some doubted Hayward’s athleticism coming out of Butler and wondered if he could defend, or even score, in the pros. Those questions have been put to rest after three solid years and Hayward should only continue to improve as he gets older.
Now for the young guns. Derrick Favors was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 Draft after one year at Georgia Tech with all the physical tools necessary to be a stud power forward in the league – he stands at 6-10 with a 7-4 wingspan and a 35-inch running vert. Only 56 games into his rookie season, Favors was shipped to Utah as part of the package for Deron Williams (that package also included a future first-round pick that ended up being Favors’ current frontcourt mate, Enes Kanter). Being the centerpiece for a player like Williams brings a lot of expectations, and Favors is slowly but surely filling them. He has steadily improved year by year and has put up solid numbers in the opportunities he has gotten – his per 36-minute numbers last year graded out to 14.6 points and 11 rebounds a contest. With both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap out of the equation, Favors has the opportunity to make those prorated numbers a reality. This will be Favors’ fourth year in the league, and it is time for him to show how great a player he can be.
Last but not least on this front line in Utah is Enes Kanter. Kanter has not played many minutes as of yet but has shined when he has been out there. His per 36-minute numbers are even better than Favors at almost 17 points and over 10 boards per. He also shoots a great percentage, finishing at a nifty 54.5 percent last season. The Jazz don’t have much frontcourt help off the bench – unless you include Andris Biedrins – so it’s safe to say the Jazz don’t have much frontcourt help off the bench. Utah has a very young team moving forward so will most likely (and probably want to) struggle this upcoming season. There will be growing pains, but these young bigs have a lot of talent. This ranking is admittedly based a lot on potential, but these two have a great chance to form a dynamic duo that will punish the boards on both ends and dominate on the blocks. If Hayward keeps improving — and we suspect he’ll be employed as a small-ball three often this year — this could be one of the best frontcourts in the whole league very soon.
14. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The Timberwolves have looked to be one of the most promising young teams in the league heading into each of the last few seasons. Unfortunately, injuries have decimated the roster and Minnesota has remained in the lottery. Kevin Love only played 18 games after breaking his hand twice this past season and Nikola Pekovic missed 20 games of his own (not to mention the injury woes Ricky Rubio is always dealing with).
Heading into this season, everyone looks to be healthy and the T-Wolves are ready to make a run. Rubio runs the show but this team’s success depends on the frontcourt. The power forward and center positions are set in stone, but the small forward position is wide open – and there are plenty of options. Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams, Corey Brewer, and even first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad could all lay claim to the starting position next to Love and Pekovic.
In his first year in Minnesota after three years in Houston, Budinger impressed with his ability to stretch the floor before he suffered his own injury after only 23 games. Williams has been decent thus far in his career but has not played at the level a No. 2 overall pick should as of yet. He averaged 12 a game last season but on low percentages from both the floor (43 percent) and from three (33.2 percent), considering the crazy numbers he put up in college (almost 57 percent from range). Williams has all the tools to be a beast in this league and will be a big x-factor for Minnesota this upcoming season.
Brewer is back in Minnesota after a three-year hiatus and provides the Wolves with a much-needed wing defender. Muhammad is an unknown entity coming in as a rookie – he was hyped up coming out of high school but disappointed at UCLA. He certainly has plenty of upside and perhaps his game is more suited to the NBA style and he can surprise out of the gate (alas, the same was said for Austin Rivers).
Regardless of what happens at the three-spot, there are no questions about who will fill the power forward and center positions. Kevin Love had an injury-riddled campaign last year, but the year before he put up insane numbers – 26 points a game to go along with 13.3 rebounds. In addition, he took five threes a game and hit at 37.2 percent. Love is eager to prove he can get back to the level he played in 2011-12 and carry the Wolves to their first playoff appearance since the KG era.
The Timberwolves center more or less came out of nowhere. Pekovic was drafted with the first pick of the second round in the 2008 Draft but didn’t come to the NBA until the 2010-11 season. In his first year he had very pedestrian numbers, but in the last two he has been a monster. Pekovic averaged 16.3 points per contest this past season on 52 percent shooting plus 8.8 rebounds. He looks like a huge European lumberjack and is a steamroller on his way to the basket after setting a pick, but has also shown a great touch around the basket. The bearded duo of Love and Pekovic works in great synergy, as Love can space the floor while Pekovic does the dirty work down low. The Timberwolves have a very solid front line and, provided they stay healthy, should be right in the middle of the Western Conference Playoffs.
13. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Kevin Durant is a tremendous player. If his frontcourt-mates were different players, clearly he would find himself and his team higher on this list. Durant can play the three in bigger lineups or slide to the four if the Thunder are trying to play small ball. The man would most likely have several MVPs if it wasn’t for a certain Heat forward, but for now he just has to wait for voters to get tired of voting for the same guy year after year. He has led the league in total points four years running despite not even taking the most shots on his own team. Durant also made a commitment to playing a more all-around game this past season and was successful in doing so, averaging a career-best 4.6 dimes, a whole assist a game more than his previous career-high.
Serge Ibaka also made positive strides this past season after signing his massive contract that will go into effect this season. Ibaka’s most prominent asset is his defense, as he has led the league in blocks and appeared on the All-Defensive First Team in each of the past two years. He was no slouch on offense either this past season, finishing top-5 in shooting percentage at 57.3 percent, a career-high, while raising his scoring average from 9.1 to 13.2 with the help of an extended shooting range. However, he was a big disappointment in the playoffs. It can be debated whether the Thunder chose Ibaka over James Harden, but either way the Thunder paid Ibaka and traded Harden. When Russell Westbrook got injured against the Rockets in the first round, the Thunder needed Ibaka to step up and be that second option to Durant. Rather than step up, Ibaka’s scoring numbers went down in the playoffs. The Rockets put a scare into the Thunder before they ran into a buzzsaw in Memphis and were smacked by the Grizzlies. Any team losing a player the caliber of Westbrook will struggle to some degree, but the Thunder had to be disappointed seeing Ibaka’s performance in the playoffs, especially with Harden averaging 26.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game against them.
The remaining member of the starting frontcourt group in Oklahoma City is Kendrick Perkins. Perk used to be a valuable piece who could put the ball in the cup when asked to (10.1 points per on 60 percent shooting in 2009-10) but now has turned into a mess with the basketball. His shooting percentage plummeted this past season all the way down to 45.7 percent, just not an acceptable number for an NBA big man. The Thunder continue to play him upwards of 25 minutes a game even though his only true value at this stage is as a Dwight Howard stopper (which actually could come in handy if a rematch with Houston takes place). Scott Brooks should look to play Nick Collison more minutes, as can do a little bit of everything and is an actual threat to pass and score when the ball comes to him. If this list were made at the end of last regular season, the Thunder would be higher. However, Perkins has become a liability on offense and Ibaka was a disappointment in the playoffs so this is where they stay until they can prove otherwise.