In basketball, each team starts five players; a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. Each position has its' own role and parameters that define the spot but that does not mean a head coach is required to place a specific player within that system. For example, Golden State Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, plays a smaller lineup, sometimes playing a small forward as his center. The starting lineup can then be broken down into two parts, the frontcourt and the backcourt.
The backcourt features the guards on your team. So any point guards or shooting guards are considered part of the backcourt because of where they play and where they are positioned on the court. The frontcourt is usually the big men on the team and covers all the forwards and the center. The small forward, power forward, and center are all in the frontcourt.
Between the backcourt and frontcourt, the most important of the two, especially on the defensive side of the court, is the frontcourt because it features the players that are going to be closest to the basket on both ends of the floor, at almost all times. They grab more rebounds, land more blocks, and get a better chance at the easy tip-in buckets because they are so close to the goal. They have a responsibility to protect the paint on defense, meaning the opponent should not be able to get on the goal, or even close to it.
Prior to the last couple of seasons, the NBA Champions each season all had one thing in common, at least one All-Star big man, or player in the frontcourt. You can win a NBA title without a star guard but you cannot win one without an elite forward or center. The New Orleans Pelicans just recently made a trade for DeMarcus Cousins to join Anthony Davis as the best PF-C combo in a very long time, in efforts of building a champion.
Knowing how important the frontcourt is to a franchise, let's take a look at the 8 best, and 7 worst for that matter, NBA frontcourts in league history.
15 Best: 1995-96 Orlando Magic
The 1995-96 Orlando Magic were coming off a loss in the previous season's NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets. The team was built to return to the Finals again and was primed for a long term run. That was until the summer of '96 when Shaquille O'Neal decided it was time to leave Florida and head to LA where he would become a star with the Lakers.
But before he left, the Magic put together one of their best season's in franchise history during the 1995-96 season, finishing 60-22, a record win total for the franchise. Sadly, however, a fellow named Michael Jordan made an epic return to the NBA and lead the Bulls to their fourth NBA title.
The Magic's frontcourt that season featured Dennis Scott, Horace Grant, and Shaquille O'Neal. The Magic were the only trio where all three members of the frontcourt qualified for the scoring, rebound, and assist leaderboards.
14 Worst: 1998-99 Chicago Bulls
When Michael Jordan retired after the 1997-98 NBA season, the Chicago Bulls decided it was time to move on and then traded away Scottie Pippen, leaving them with a gutted roster of backups and below-average talent. Over the next four years, the Bulls would finish with the four worst records in team history. The 1998-99 season remains their worst of all time with a record of 13-37, in a strike-shortened season. It was sad to watch the NBA's top team fall so hard but that's how it goes when moving on from a legend.
Their frontcourt that season is the major reason for the 13 win total. With Toni Kukoc as the team's star player, he manned the Small Forward spot with Mark Bryant at Power Forward and Dickey Simpkins at Center. We know what you are thinking, and we agree. Who are those other two guys? Let's just say without Toni Kukoc, this Bulls team might have won two games that year, they were that bad.
13 Best: 2000-01 Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings turned into one of the league's most electrifying offense's in the late '90s when they hired Rick Adelman to be their head coach for the 1998-99 season. That year, they went 27-23 and made the playoffs. The following year, 1999-00 season, the Kings went 44-38, making the playoffs again. But then the 2000-01 season happened and they exploded into a true contender, finishing with a franchise record at the time 55 wins.
That was also the same year, everything clicked for their frontcourt finally. Chris Webber had his best season as a NBA Power Forward, averaging 27.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. It was one of the best seasons by a King ever. He was joined in the frontcourt by Vlade Divac at Center and Peja Stojakovic at the Small Forward position. Peja added 20.4 points per game while Vlade provided 12 points and 8.3 boards too.
12 Worst: 1997-98 Denver Nuggets
How can you describe a season in which the Denver Nuggets finished 11-71 with a 15 point average defecit per loss? The team tried? How can you find words to explain that type of performance at this level? It is easy, you don't. No excuses, no explanation as to why it happened, just cut your losses and move along.
The frontcourt that season was anything short of a disaster, averaging a combined 30 points, 20 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game, mostly from LaPhonso Ellis, the team's starting Small Forward. Tony Battie and Dean Garrett were the remaining members of the frontcourt. It was not a pretty site that year and eventually, things in Denver would turn themselves around but that was well after this season and the terrible production of just about everyone wearing a Nuggets uniform.
11 Best: 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs
Sometimes, you just cannot help but realize that the team you are watching is among the greatest of all time. For the San Antonio Spurs fans, that realization occurred during the 1998-99 season, when they watched two of the NBA's greatest big men, Tim Duncan and David Robinson, play together as one cohesive unit, uneasy to stop, or even slow down. That was the first time in franchise history the Spurs won a NBA Title. Since then, they have grabbed five total and Tim Duncan was there for all of them.
But a frontcourt is more than just a PF-C combo, it is also that third guy, the Small Forward, a position that is vital to a team's success yet always seems to go unnoticed. A Small Forward is versatile, athletic, and a true scorer. For the Spurs that year, it was Sean Elliott, who averaged 11.2 points per game, but had outbursts of as many as 22 points in a game, multiple times. His addition to the frontcourt was so vital to the Spurs title run that year that he could be considered the MVP of that team.
10 Worst: 1982-83 Houston Rockets
The 1982-83 Houston Rockets are a bit of an anomaly when it comes to understanding just how they managed to finish the season 14-68. They had two future Hall of Famers in Calvin Murphy and Elvin Hayes with two gritty young stars in the making in Allen Leavell and James Bailey, both of whom averaged over 14 points per game. But they just did not seem to figure it out and the entire season crashed at an alarming rate while their frontcourt could be to blame for the terrible season.
Wally Walker was the Small Forward, Elvin Hayes was at Power Forward, and standing tall, at Center, was Caldwell Jones. Elvin Hayes was almost retired by the time he joined Houston so his age played a major role in his lack of production while Caldwell Jones was creeping towards 33 years of age. The entire frontcourt was good, on paper, but failed, in real life.
9 Best: 1978-79 Washington Bullets
Remember when we said Elvin Hayes was a member of the worst frontcourt for the Houston Rockets in franchise history? Well, before he arrived in Texas, he was a superstar with the Washington Bullets. His time playing for the Bullets lead to his one and only NBA title and was the main reason for his Hall of Fame induction. He was joined by Wes Unseld, another future Hall of Famer playing in his prime. Wes was only 6'7" tall and played Center for his entire life. He knew how to defend and rebound and, for this season, averaged 10.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.
The rest of the frontcourt was Bob Dandridge, a Small Forward that played in four All-Star games and was named to the NBA's All-Defensive team and All-NBA team during the 1978-79 season. This season was undoubtedly his greatest in his career and was a prime example of just how talented that Washington club was back then. Once he is finally inducted into the Hall of Fame, hopefully, this frontcourt could end up moving on up the list.
8 Worst: 1984-85 Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers started off in the ABA in 1967, becoming one of only two teams to remain in the ABA for all nine seasons without relocating or changing their team name. That was because the Pacers were the best team in ABA history, winning 3 titles in nine seasons. They were a huge part of the ABA-NBA merger that occurred in 1975. However, once they got to the NBA, they struggled and only made the playoffs twice over the next 13 seasons. Right in the middle of that run was the 1984-85 team featuring Clark Kellogg and Verm Fleming.
Herb Williams was their starting Center and was also one of their best players that year averaging 18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. Sadly though, his frontcourt brothers were almost the worst thing to ever happen to basketball. Tony Brown and Bill Garnett were the two Forwards that year and they combined for an average of 13 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2 blocks per game. There are about 1,000 other NBA players over the years that have single handily beaten those numbers alone.
7 Best: 1985-86 Houston Rockets
Hakeem Olajuwon is quite possibly the greatest Center in NBA history. From day one, he was a threat and a force to be reckoned with in Houston. He averaged 23.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game during the 1985-86 season, during just his second season, at 23 years old. He only got better from there, continuing to improve his game until he eventually led the Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles.
He was a part of the Twin Towers in Houston that season with his partner in crime, Ralph Sampson joining him in the paint. Rodney McCray was the team's Small Forward that year but, in all honesty, it did not matter because Hakeem and Ralph were so talented that they were able to led the frontcourt of the Houston Rockets themselves. It was truly one of the most amazing seasons in team history but it would only get better for Rocket fans.
6 Worst: 1998-99 Vancouver Grizzlies
One of the NBA's most underrated players of all time was the Vancouver Grizzlies Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He was a truly talented Forward that had the ability to play both the Small and Power Forward positions. However, he was better as a Small Forward, just based off of his yearly numbers. When the Grizzlies traded him for Pau Gasol, it was a moment that would change his career forever. He made his one and only All-Star team that year in Atlanta but then fell off the map and never produced at the same numbers again.
He was the only thing to enjoy about the 1998-99 Vancouver Grizzlies frontcourt and almost forced us to eliminate them from the list. But we just had to keep them because the other two men on that frontcourt were just plain terrible. Tony Massenburg was the Power Forward and Cherokee Parks, who just might be the worst Center in NBA history, rounded out a frontcourt that finished the season 8-42.
5 Best: 1985-86 Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are the second frontcourt from the 1985-86 NBA season, and there is still one more to make the list, so stay tuned. Seeing this many frontcourts ranked so highly on this list makes us wonder just how good the 1985-86 NBA season was, and if it should be considered the greatest of all time.
If it was the best season in NBA history, then the performance by the Philadelphia 76ers frontcourt becomes that much more impressive. For just one season we were all treated with the trio of Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, and Moses Malone. If you started a season on NBA Live, you couldn't make that happen if you traded away the entire roster back then. It was one of the first time's we were treated to a Big "3" similar to the one in Miami that changed the league forever.
4 Worst: 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks
Before Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Michael Finley, things in Dallas were getting really weird. The 1992-93 season was the moment the Mavericks hit rock bottom as a team and began the march back to prominence two years later.
The 1992-93 season remains the worst in their franchise's history and featured Derek Harper and Jim Jackson as their two best players. Beyond those two men, it got really bad. The drop-off between their second best player and third best player was a pretty wide margin. The frontcourt featured their third best player, Sean Rooks, who started at Center for 72 games. He was joined by Brian Howard, Small Forward, and Terry Davis, Power Forward. As we said earlier, defensive pressure is key for a winning frontcourt and these three combined for only 19.8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game.
That kind of lackluster starpower resulted in a 11-71 record that year, one of the worst in NBA history.
3 Best: 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers
From 2013 to 2016, the Philadelphia 76ers had a combined record of 47-199 over three seasons. That was 18 losses more than any other team in the league during those three seasons and is the worst three year total in the history of the NBA. The expansion Vancouver Grizzlies finished 48-198 between 1995 and 1998. But they used to have some stellar teams, as evident by their dominance atop our rankings.
The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers team is still one of the best seasons of any team in NBA history. They dominated just about everyone that year en route to a NBA Title with their frontcourt leading the way. Future Hall of Famer Chet Walker averaged 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while manning the Small Forward spot. He was paired with Luke Jackson, Power Forward, and another Hall of Famer, Wilt Chamberlain, Center, who averaged an incredible 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game, winning the MVP award during the season too. With Wilt alone, this team was good, but Chet and Luke simply made things even more difficult for anyone to slow them down.
2 Worst: 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats
It was not that long ago when the Charlotte Bobcats were absolutely horrible and breaking the NBA record for lowest winning percentage in a single season with a percentage of .1061 during the 2011-12 strike-shortened season. That year they went 7-59, losing 23 consecutive games to finish the season. Those seven wins were the second lowest in a season, one behind the NBA record of six held by the Providence Steam Rollers back during the 1947-48 season.
For most of the season, their frontcourt consisted of Small Forward Corey Maggette, Power Forward Tyrus Thomas, and Center Bismack Biyombo. Corey Maggette was 32 years old, well past his prime, and would retire in two years. Then you had Tyrus Thomas who was as big and athletic as they came but could not score or rebound making him virtually useless in the NBA. Finally they were starting a rookie Center named Bismack Biyombo that still had much to learn about the league. The trio failed miserably that season and combined for only 25.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. There have been 39 other times where one player finished a season with better averages.
1 Best: 1985-86 Boston Celtics
The 1985-86 Boston Celtics were arguably the best overall team in franchise history, maybe even NBA history. They were stacked all over the court, not just in their frontcourt. For the majority of the season, the Celtics starting lineup was Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. That starting five was statistically the best in the league.
The frontcourt, however, of Bird, McHale, and Parish is the greatest frontcourt in NBA history. There has never been another frontcourt to win a NBA title that featured three Hall of Famers. Any team in the NBA would love to have that same setup today. The Pelicans are one player away from building their very own frontcourt dynasty after acquiring DeMarcus Cousins. Imagine that. A lot of people are considering AD and Cousins as one of the scariest frontcourt pairings ever, and even they aren't close to the 1985-86 Celtics frontcourt. That same season, Larry Bird won the MVP award after averaging 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 2 steals per game.