1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Anderson Varejao (2013 PER 17.05), Kevin Love (26.97), LeBron James (29.40)
Owe it to destiny, owe it to luck, or for even for you conspiracy theorists out there call it NBA scheming. Perhaps it’s a happy confluence of the three. Whatever the case may be, in less than two months the Cavs havemanaged to go from perhaps worst to first in terms of front court prowess.
Adding the best player on the planet obviously helps any teams cause. But, without the subsequent addition of Kevin Love, Cleveland would not be on this list. Together he and James form an offensive tandem that may prove impossible to defend both in transition and in the low and high post. Kevin Love provides the “spacing” element so many teams covet these days and will open up lanes for most everyone on the floor, especially with LeBron forcing double teams. That also plays in Love’s favor in terms of shooting. When James is double teams he can use his excellent passing ability and vision to find Love for open jump shots. This team could be unstoppable.
LeBron and Anderson Varejao will pick up most of the slack on the defensive side of the ball where Love has a pretty well-known reputation as being a “slacker” of sorts. But, in this system he should prove serviceable given his height and width. Love is not a rim protector by any means but he is quick on his feet and will do well to clog lanes and shuffle players to, Varejao, who is. What will help most is Varejao’s high motor and ability to adjust if, and when, team defense breaks down around him. And in help defense situations LeBron will always be there doing what LeBron does; using his speed and length to disrupt scoring and passing lanes.
2. Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah (2013 PER 20.06), Pau Gasol (19.34), Mike Dunleavy (12.62)
If this were a ranking based on front court depth, without a doubt the Bulls would be number one on this list. Behind their starters the Bulls possess in Taj Gibson one of the best defenders in the league at the power forward position. New arrivals Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic are untested but have the tools to develop into solid, if not really good, NBA players. Both have great size, shooting touch and basketball acumen that will prove invaluable in a system which emphasizes ball movement and spacing. But, the fact remains without two of the top ten players in the NBA in their front court, Chicago will have to settle for number two; certainly nothing to cry about.
What they have in their starters is ridiculous basketball IQ, two of the best passing big men the league, and size. Mike Dunleavy may not be the most athletic small forward one could ask for. But, what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with intelligence, hustle, and fundamentals. He works rather well on the ball as well as off of it; setting screens and drawing defenses away from the lane. Also, at 6’9” he has well above average size for his position. Pau Gasol’s reputation precedes him to say the least. At 7’0” he is not only a monster power forward but one of the most versatile scorers in the NBA. He can score with his back to the basket, from the pick and roll, high post, as well as step out and drain the mid-range jumper. Not to mention he brings championship experience to a team that is on the verge with no such experience to speak of. A combination of he and Joakim Noah should be the best passing big man combo in the league. Expect a lot of the offense to flow through them as the Bulls try to keep Derrick Rose’s load light early on and play a lot of inside out ball. As far as defense Pau is a solid rim defender and shot blocker but only an average defender. This team lives and dies with its engine that could in Noah. He’s not too shabby, coming off a DPOY campaign.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Tiago Splitter (2013 PER 16.58), Tim Duncan (21.40), Kawhi Leonard (19.43)
The Spurs are the “gold standard” of the NBA as Tom Thibodeau likes to say. The gold standard of that team is obviously Tim Duncan. He is their constant, their control if you will. Grumblings of Tim Duncan’s inevitable fall off started about eight years ago it seems, and we’re still waiting. So long as he remains and provides the model discipline, dedication, and team work that is the calling card of the Spurs, they will never be out of the title discussion. Even more so than Pau Gasol, Duncan’s reputation precedes him, so moving on.
Tiago Splitter is a good defender, a good passer, and an underrated versatile scorer. He doesn’t put up a ton of points per game because that’s not his role. He efficiently scores when he can, but is there to distribute from the post, set screens, and play defense. All of which he does well. Splitter does nothing really great but does most all things well. He’s perfect for San Antonio.
Kawhi is a supreme NBA defender with ideal size and strength. He has steadily improved every year since entering the league in 2011 and has proven to be a steal for the Spurs. While he’s not a franchise player to build around he is an enviable cornerstone that would be welcomed to most every team in the league. He proved in the Finals last year that if you sleep on him, he will make you pay. His motor is almost unparalleled.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Omer Asik (2013 PER 14.05), Anthony Davis (26.54), Tyreke Evans (18.43)
The Pelicans are a sleeper team to watch in 2014. Sleep on them for a second, you may wake up in the spring and find them in the playoffs. They possess one of the youngest starting rosters in the NBA full of promise, and that certainly extends to the front court. When given the opportunity Omer Asik has shown he can be one of the better defensive centers in the league. Unlike his stint with Houston, he just needs a stable situation to thrive in—and he should have that in New Orleans playing alongside another defensive juggernaut and ascending NBA low post scorer, Anthony Davis.
The general consensus in is that by years end Davis will have asserted himself as a top ten player in the NBA. With his length, shot blocking ability, athleticism and agility there’s no reason to doubt those rumors. On offense, the athleticism he possesses makes him deadly in transition. On defense, his rim protection, rebound positioning, and shot blocking ability are close to unrivaled. Scary player.
Tyreke Evans has had an up and down NBA career but came on very strong at the end of last season. He finished averaging 14.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, and 4.7 rpg—very solid numbers. Evans is still very young and hitting his prime. In the right system, he may finally rekindle the rhythm he found and lost in Sacramento. It seems he was starting to do just that last year.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Tyson Chandler (2013 PER 16.48), Dirk Nowitzki (23.68), Chandler Parsons (15.9)
This has the makings of a very solid union for the end of Dirks long and storied NBA career. Tyson Chandler is a former DPOY and the defensive counter weight of a front court that is mostly offensive minded. As he returns to the place he earned his ring, Chandler should find his groove again after being noticeably frustrated towards the end of his tenure in New York. Nowitzki is Nowitzki—almost unguardable from mid-range and above average from outside. He stretches the floor and will open up plenty of looks for newcomer Chandler Parsons.
Houston made a mistake letting Parsons walk. In hindsight, it may end up being the biggest bone head move of the 2014 offseason. A multifaceted player, Parsons plays decent hustle defense, at 6’9” has great size, and can create his own shot. Parson could end up being a very dynamic player in the NBA and will have plenty of time to transition into a star role offensively, as early on he has the option of deferring to Dirk and teammate Montae Ellis.