Last week, we took a look at the backcourt players on the verge of becoming NBA legends, so today, we continue with frontcourt players. I’m sure there will be some dissent from readers, but that’s fine. One thing about a list like this is that we won’t truly know its validity for at least several more seasons. By then I may have a different identity. In any case, the criteria to make the list is to have four or less seasons in the NBA and from there I look at statistics and potential.
Some players that I considered that didn’t make the top 10 include Greg Monroe, Nicolas Batum, Ed Davis, Tyler Hansbrough, Tiago Splitter, Jason Thompson, Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Thaddeus Young, DeAndre Jordan and Hasheem Thabeet (kidding). But, let’s now focus on those that did make the top 10.
10. Michael Beasley, Miami Heat (2008-10), Minnesota Timberwolves (2010-Present)
232 G; 15.9 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 2.2 APG; 0.5 3PTM; 45.7 FG%; 77.3 FT%; 0.8 SPG; 0.6 BPG; 16.2 PER
At this point Beasley is more known for his love of grass, intricate braids and face mushing at pro-am games, than his basketball skills. It’s too bad, since Super Cool Beas just came off a season where he averaged a career-high 19.2 points per contest. He complements teammate Kevin Love very well, but with the drafting of Derrick Williams, what will the Timberwolves rotation look like? I’ll assume Beasley will get the most minutes between he and Williams, if only to up his trade value.
I’m sure that Beasley isn’t the only one in the NBA that loves Mary Jane, but maybe he should ease up a bit, because last season saw him flash that skill set many people in the NBA fell in love with before he joined the Association. He showed his ability to score from anywhere on the court and a degree of maturity. Beasley has the talent to do damage and needs to stay motivated in order to truly succeed. He has the ability, and considering his youth, I’m betting on him building on last season’s success, whether it’s in Minny or not.
9. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (2007-Present; DNP during 2007-08 NBA season – overseas)
232 G; 12.6 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 2.2 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 54.5 FG%; 71.5 FT%; 0.9 SPG; 1.4 BPG; 17.6 PER
This seems about right for Gasol considering his age coming into the NBA and the presence of Zach Randolph as alpha dog in Memphis, particularly if Marc stays put. Despite that, Gasol has been a very solid NBA player after years of playing professionally overseas. He’s the type of player that can end up playing for over a decade as he doesn’t rely on athleticism and speed to produce, but on skill set.
Gasol is very good on both ends of the court and it’s possible that he still has a bit of upside. He didn’t produce quite as much in 2010-11, compared to the previous season when he averaged 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, but those are definitely attainable numbers. Gasol is one of those players that can contribute to any team he plays on. No matter where he ends up signing, Gasol has the ability to produce double-doubles moving forward.
8. JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards (2008-Present)
214 G; 7.8 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 0.4 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 52.3 FG%; 62.0 FT%; 0.4 SPG; 1.7 BPG; 17.2 PER
I’ll admit to being a big fan of McGee, which explains his placement on this list, but I had to include him because he’s oozing with potential. I still see him as the prospect with size, a long wingspan, excellent athleticism and burgeoning post moves. Oh and genetics, as both of his parents were professional basketball players. He still needs to add strength and smarts to fulfill his potential, but it can all happen. As long as Andray Blatche’s influence is kept to a minimum.
In any case, McGee is the perfect big man for teammate John Wall as he can finish a lot of Wall’s passes in transition with devastating dunkage. He has a chance to grow as a player alongside Wall and last season’s taste has to have him hungry to turn his potential into big-time production. McGee should get even more time on the court and is certainly deserving of it as he should be considered part of the young core that will turn the Wizards around.
7. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-Present; DNP during 2008-09 NBA season – overseas)
155 G; 8.2 PPG; 6.6 RPG; 0.2 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 54.3 FG%; 71.0 FT%; 0.4 SPG; 1.9 BPG; 16.7 PER
Ibaka is straight-up shredded and seems to be made of only muscle. Kudos. One thing that’s undeniable about Serge is his ability to reject opposing players. In a mere 27 minutes per game last season, Ibaka led the league in total blocks (198) and finished third in blocks per game (2.4). He’s simply a machine, and when he gets starter minutes he’ll be the most intimidating post defender not named Dwight Howard.
Offensively, Ibaka is more about athleticism than he is about skill. However, he seems like a willing student and is in a great environment where he won’t be pressured to carry the team offensively right away. Ibaka can go at his own pace, but seeing the improvement from his rookie season, particularly during the playoffs, the pace appears to be quick. Whenever the season starts, he’ll only be 22 years old and the upside is high.
6. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls (2007-Present)
266 G; 8.5 PPG; 8.4 RPG; 1.6 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 51.6 FG%; 71.4 FT%; 0.7 SPG; 1.3 BPG; 17.2 PER
Noah has a natural motor and nose for the ball, averaging a double-double the past two seasons and making the All-Defensive second team this past season. He has a goofy personality (remember the draft?), but is anything but when he’s on the court. Noah takes it seriously and without him, the Bulls are a different team. If he could ever learn to create his own shot, the Bulls would be set. At this point, Noah is going to get the hustle points and there’s nothing wrong with that.
He’s a long defensive presence that can both steal and swat the ball. Noah can run the floor and even handle the rock when necessary, having fairly good passing ability and a high basketball IQ. Given more burn on the court, Noah can be just as effective offensively on the court as his former Florida teammate, Al Horford. However, in order for this to happen, Noah will also need to stay healthy, as he’s missed 62 games over his career. Durability will be key for Noah in order to earn this rank on the list.
5. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets (2008-Present)
246 G; 17.4 PPG; 7.6 RPG; 1.6 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 50.4 FG%; 80.1 FT%; 0.6 SPG; 1.7 BPG; 19.1 PER
There aren’t many centers out there in the NBA that can average 20+ points, which is exactly what Lopez did last season (20.4 PPG). Sure, his rebounding took a dive from the previous season (8.6 RPG to 6.0 RPG), but I’ll blame it on Kris Humphries being ecstatic that he actually played significant minutes and dating a Kardashian. In any case, Lopez fell as a gift to the Nets with the 10th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft after being second overall in many mock drafts. He’s been making most teams that passed on him feel bad about themselves.
Could last season’s rebounding production be overlooked? Centers are supposed to rebound, right? Well, consider his battle with mono before the season started and maybe we can turn a blind eye. However, what can’t be ignored is Lopez’s ability to put the ball through the net. Bropez seems to be improving offensively, adding a solid jumper this past season to his very good post moves. He’s getting that polish and will only get better. Lopez is a good help defender and will get most of his blocks that way, but definitely needs to improve his footwork and decision-making when defending the pick-and-roll because he looks lost sometimes. That aside, Lopez shows excellent potential as far as skill set goes in scoring from the five position. Brook in Brooklyn will be an attraction for years to come. Unless the team trades him as part of a package for Dwight Howard.
4. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks (2007-Present)
306 G; 12.8 PPG; 9.6 RPG; 2.4 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 53.6 FG% 76.2 FT%; 0.8 SPG; 1.1 BPG; 18.1 PER
Coming out of Florida with the rest of his NCAA title-winning Gators teammates, it was Joakim Noah’s name that resonated in most people’s tongues in regards to who makes that championship team work. However, it is Horford who is proving to be the better NBA player and the glue guy for the Hawks. Horford is highly efficient on the offensive end (an impressive 121 and 118 Offensive Rating the past two seasons while averaging double-digit attempts per game) and excellent defensively.
Horford is a two-time All-Star despite his relatively less-than-stellar numbers because he’s a team player that provides an interior presence on the court and doesn’t overdo anything. Horford plays within himself and has improved from season-to-season since joining the L. This past season, Horford made the All-NBA third team as a reward for both his improvement and impact. Is there still upside to his game? No question, but as a glue guy, there’s only so much Horford can do. That’s still enough to warrant a spot on the list.
3. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves (2008-Present)
214 G; 15.0 PPG; 11.7 RPG; 1.9 APG; 0.6 3PTM; 46.1 FG%; 82.3 FT%; 0.6 SPG; 0.5 BPG; 21.4 PER
Love was simply a monster last season, averaging 20.2 points while gobbling up the glass and leading the league in rebounds with 15.2 a game. He showed he possessed solid touch from the perimeter and could handle business in the post. If Love also had a strong dose of athleticism in his bag of tricks, he’d be Blake Griffin, but with the ability to hit the trey. Despite a vertical that equals mine, Love produces because of his smarts and use of his body. His double-double streak in points and rebounds (53 straight games) says a ton about his motor and desire. He surpassed Moses Malone’s 51-game streak and was two short of tying Elvin Hayes’ 55-game streak. Impressive company.
The first-time All-Star in 2011 and current Most Improved Player award winner is a free spirit and embraces his light-hearted side. If Love played somewhere else other than Khan Country, particularly if he was on the West Coast where he grew up and played college ball, he’d be even more of a star than he already is. If the T-Wolves go up-tempo as rumored to fit Ricky Rubio’s style, Love will need to get quicker to join in on the fastbreak fun. Or he could just grab every single defensive rebound available. Don’t doubt this can happen.
2. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2009-Present; DNP during 2009-10 season)
82 G; 22.5 PPG; 12.1 RPG; 3.8 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 50.6 FG%; 64.2 FT%; 0.8 SPG; 0.5 BPG; 21.9 PER
When I hear or read the term, “beast mode,” I immediately think of Blake Griffin because that’s how he plays. His slew of highlight dunks are a testament to this. The guy can lift off and come down hard while assaulting the rim and any player unwise and unfortunate enough to get in his way. Griffin’s sample size of one season shouldn’t deter anyone from thinking that he’s not worthy of this spot because his numbers, persona and desire to be better will laugh in your face and cram a ball in your grill.
Seemingly, Griffin did it all his rookie season — All-Star berth, slam dunk title and the Rookie of the Year award. He scored, rebounded and even dropped dimes at a high rate for his position. If he can become as intimidating on defense and embed a backwards Spalding on opposing players’ foreheads on the regular, Griffin will be as complete a power forward as you could ask for. He’s one of those young talents you want to say, “I remember when he first came into the leagaue” when you’re old and gray. A modified version of Karl Malone? It’s looking like it.
1. Kevin Durant, Seattle SuperSonics (2007-08)/Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-Present)
314 G; 25.9 PPG; 6.3 RPG; 2.7 APG; 1.4 3PTM; 46.2 FG%; 88.2 FT%; 1.2 SPG; 0.9 BPG; 21.8 PER
What can you say about Kevin Durant that hasn’t already been said? He’s the prototypical good guy of the NBA — didn’t make a big deal about his contract extension last year, plays ball for the love of the game as proven by his pro-am tour around the United States and wears a backpack during press conferences. Durantula even gets tattoos in places that will be covered by his uniform and not in full display like most tatted-up ballers! Oh, and he’s pretty good on the hardwood too.
Durant has led the league in scoring the past two seasons (30.1 and 27.7 points per game, respectively), as well as during last season’s playoffs, averaging 28.6 points in 17 contests. He’s a terror on the court despite his thin frame and can score from outside, inside, in a half-court set, on the fastbreak and while filing his toenails on the bench. Yes, he’s that good. He won the Rookie of the Year award and has made the All-NBA first team and All-Star squad the last two seasons. Durantula has been in the top six in field goals made the past three seasons and led the L in free throws made the last two. The boy loves to snap nets. He’s a future MVP in the making, as well as one of the best to do it in the NBA. That’s why he’s number one on this list.
Feel free to type in all caps when disagreeing with the list above by hitting the comments section or holler at me on Twitter. I’ll be hiding under a rock as soon as I find one big enough.