Top 5 Most Promising Frontcourts
They say you can’t teach size. They also say you can’t win a championship without affable big guys. Put those two ideas together and you’ll quickly connect the dots as to why so many teams take such huge gambles on power forwards and especially centers in the draft and in free agency.
It’s not easy putting together a young frontcourt that can help guide a team towards a championship future, but GMs and team presidents spend the overwhelming majority of their waking hours trying to do exactly that. Some have already gotten there; Dallas, for example, has one of the most dominant and most experienced frontcourts in the league. Same with the L.A. Lakers. It’s no mystery, then, why those two teams have won the last three NBA Finals.
Everybody else simply strives to assemble their own dominant frontcourt, but it ain’t easy. Today we take a look at which organizations have put together the most promising frontcourts for their team’s long and short terms. I’m focusing on young frontcourts, players that may have seen some individual success but also some that may not have. More than accomplishments, I’m looking at promise. Which tandems can, through years of playing together and reaching their potential as individuals and as a duo, potentially lead their teams to a ring someday?
I’m defining “youth” as “players who will enter the 2011-2012 season with five or fewer years of NBA experience underneath their belts.” Teams that appear to be conspicuously missing from this list may have a vet with six or more years of experience, even if their frontcourt mate coming in is a rookie. Both guys have to be below that threshold.
That said, here are the top five most promising young frontcourts in the league:
#5 – Jan Vesely (Rookie) and JaVale McGee (3 years of experience), Washington Wizards – If you’re a fan of athleticism, you need look no further than the young bigs Washington has put together to run with John Wall. McGee isn’t necessarily “great,” but that doesn’t mean he has to fall short of “very good,” and his athleticism and shot-blocking abilities alone make him one of the more interesting center prospects in the league. Add him to Vesely, who apparently jumps through the roof and could be one of the more exciting Euro players to come along in several years, and you could certainly call the duo promising. The fact that they’ve got Wall dishing to them makes it easier to believe they’ll be effective for many years going forward.
#4 – Tyler Hansbrough (2) and Roy Hibbert (3), Indiana Pacers – It would be surprising if the Pacers didn’t use some of their bountiful cap space this offseason to bring in a new starting power forward like Carl Landry or David West, but if they don’t Tyler Hansbrough certainly had his moments after the coaching change last season in Indy. If he can do that consistently with the right minutes, he’ll be a pretty solid pro. As for Hibbert, there isn’t anybody in the league right now with his combination of size and ability (on both ends of the floor), and he’s just now tapping into his potential. They aren’t the most dominant frontcourt in the league, and they probably never will be, but they deserve to be mentioned here for the strides they made last season.
#3 – LaMarcus Aldridge (5) and Greg Oden (3), Portland Trail Blazers – There aren’t a lot of power forwards with fewer than six years of experience that have shown as much development as Aldridge. He’s put on muscle, shown he can dominate offensively, and even proven he can carry a team that has lost several veterans to injury. There were a lot of games that Portland won last year simply because L.A. went nuts on the offensive end. He’s a fantastic player, and if Greg Oden had become 50% of what he was expected to, we’d probably see this tandem at the top of the list. Without a healthy Oden, however, it’s hard to rate them that high. Give us a full season of that amazing Oden defense, though, and these two would be right at the top. That alone is enough for them to crack the Top 5, but if we’re talking about potential, the combination of these two guys is just too potentially awesome to ignore.
#2 – Taj Gibson (2) and Joakim Noah (4), Chicago Bulls – While Carlos Boozer obviously is the starter in Chicago, his checkered injury history means Gibson gets plenty of time in the starting lineup as well, and anyway Gibson could be a Bull for half a decade after Boozer has retired. Gibson had his coming-out party in the 2011 playoffs, but he’s always been a humble, nose-to-the-grindstone worker bee, and alongside Noah, with his energy and fantastic passing ability, the two make a pretty excellent duo, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. They’re rated so highly here because they’re closer to anchoring a championship frontcourt than any other tandem on the list. Since that’s the ultimate goal, and they’re the closest to achieving it with so many great years left, they get some of the more significant props.
#1 – Blake Griffin (1) and DeAndre Jordan (3), L.A. Clippers – Because Griffin is the single best player on this list with the single brightest future on this list, he would only need a halfway decent running mate to take the top spot on this list. DeAndre Jordan is pretty easily that and more. While Jordan will probably never be an All-Star, his length and athleticism complement Griffin quite nicely, and Clippers fans will happily watch those two run up and down the floor together for the next ten years. If they can bring in the right point guard, the Clippers really could be a legitimate championship contender down the road. And who thought we’d ever be saying that?
Derrick Favors (1) and Enes Kanter (R), Utah Jazz – These guys didn’t make the top five for a couple of reasons, the first being that neither one has really proven anything on the professional level yet. Both were #3 picks in the draft, which means they come into the league highly-touted with huge expectations, but Favors was disappointing in his rookie campaign and nobody really has any idea what Kanter is all about. In short, they’ve got a lot to prove, and for now they’ve got to prove it as backups to Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Once they get the opportunity to start, we’ll see what they’re made of. Right now, they’re just a couple of guys with nothing but the future ahead of them. What they make of that future is still seriously up for discussion.
Jonas Jerebko (1) and Greg Monroe (1), Detroit Pistons – Monroe was easily one of the better rookies in last year’s class, only getting better and better as the season went on. He went largely unnoticed because by the time he caught fire the Pistons were an afterthought in most people’s minds (at least when Rip Hamilton wasn’t involved in some sort of trade rumor), but rest assured that Monroe is easily one of the better young centers in the conference. Pair him up with Jerebko, who also quietly had a great rookie season a year ago in Detroit, and you’ve got a couple of solid, hard-working youngsters to anchor the Pistons frontcourt for quite a while. Jerebko missed all last season with an Achilles injury, but he left as the starter, and so far nobody has come in to take that away from him. We’ll see what these guys are made of together for the first time in 2011-2012.
Tyrus Thomas (5) and Bismack Biyombo (R), Charlotte Bobcats – At this point in his career, Tyrus Thomas is what Tyrus Thomas is probably going to be. He’s an absolute thrill to watch, can dunk and block with more pizazz than anybody in the league, but he simply hasn’t been able to put everything together and contribute with any sort of positive consistency. Add him to Biyombo, who’s got absolutely zero offense to speak of, and we’re not looking at the brightest future for the Charlotte frontcourt here. Still, they’re worth mentioning because Biyombo’s ceiling is ridiculously high, and he could end up being a defensive presence along the lines of Ben Wallace someday. Combine that with the fact that fans of Tyrus Thomas will never stop believing he’s got more to offer than what he’s shown, and it’s definitely arguable that there’s some potential there. I may not personally buy into it, but there is some potential there. To not even mention them would be irresponsible.
J.J. Hickson (2) and DeMarcus Cousins (1), Sacramento Kings – The Hickson-for-Omri-Casspi trade gave Sacramento a promising young frontcourt that fans should be able to get behind (though not as much as they’ve already gotten behind Jimmer Fredette). We know that Cousins is about as sturdy an all-around center as you’ll find in this league, but Hickson has yet to prove that he can be an everyday starter and contribute the same way every night. There’s a lot to like about these two, but also a lot of question marks. As far as potential is concerned, they’re up there. Production, though, especially in the wins column, keeps them on the lower end of this discussion.
Jonas Valanciunas (R) and Andrea Bargnani (5), Toronto Raptors – Valanciunas is going to be an amazing NBA player someday, which is why he’s worth mentioning on this list, but technically by the time he’s able to play in the NBA, Bargnani will probably have six years of experience instead of five, thereby disqualifying this particular duo from my list. Pair up Valanciunas and Ed Davis, however, and we might have something.
It’s hard to say whether any of these guys will actually win a championship someday, but their bosses and owners all hope that’s the case. Predicting which young big guys will succeed is tough, but it’s a job these executives have to make sure gets done correctly. Luckily for me, I get to guess all willy-nilly, with nothing at stake but my reputation as a predictor. Better that than millions (and potentially billions) of dollars, right?