Which Eastern Conference frontcourt duo will come out on top for the next decade?
During the 2018 NBA Draft, it seemed that there was a revival of sorts for the classic big man, a necessity that is often overlooked by teams drafting high. Three of the first four picks were for players 6‘11 or taller, and the Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls rounded out this big man frenzy by selecting, respectively, centers Mohamed Bamba at sixth overall and Wendell Carter Jr. at seventh overall.
Both the Magic and Bulls took an exciting prospect to pair with their franchise players, the young big men Aaron Gordon and Lauri Markkanen. These combinations create potentially formidable frontcourts for both teams, something that is rare in today’s NBA. While these pieces clearly put both squads in contention for best up-and-coming frontcourt duo, it remains to be seen which will be better, as neither of them have played as pairs yet.
The Magic selected Gordon with the fourth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and recently signed him to a four-year extension. Although he has already played four seasons in the NBA, Gordon is still relatively young at just 22, and certainly has plenty of room to grow. He is already one of the most athletic players in the NBA, and while he is mostly known for being an offensive weapon, his defensive prowess is actually underrated.
Last season, opposing players shot 3.3 percentage points worse from the field when guarded by Gordon. Additionally, Gordon averaged one steal per game last season, a solid mark for a power forward.
As for Gordon’s offense, his point- and assist-per-game averages have increased every season he’s been in the league, reaching a career high at 17.6 and 2.3 last year. And although his effective field goal percentage is below average at only 50%, he has been operating as the Magic’s most skilled offensive weapon on the team by far (hopefully, Bamba will lessen that gap). His three-point shooting percentage also skyrocketed last season to about 34%, another respectable mark for a big man in this league.
First-year phenom Bamba will be Gordon’s partner for next season and beyond. At the Draft Combine, Bamba showcased his extreme athleticism, measuring the longest wingspan in the entire NBA at 7‘10” and running a faster 3/4 court time than star point guards Russell Westbrook and John Wall. Along with these insane physical characteristics, Bamba also has the skills to excel as a modern center in today’s NBA.
As should be expected with arms tailor-made for basketball, Bamba was easily the best rim protector at the 2018 Draft, exhibited by his ridiculous average of 3.7 blocks per game at Texas last season. This should fit nicely with Gordon, who lacks rim protection and operates much better as a perimeter defender. Additionally, Bamba is set up to be a rebounding aficionado and inside scoring presence, averaging over 10 rebounds per game last year and shooting about 66% within the restricted area.
Finally, Bamba has already begun to develop a three-point shot, as he made about 28% of his threes last season. Although this skill will be difficult to master based on his wingspan (most players with arms close to as long as his don’t even attempt three-pointers, let alone make a high percentage of them), just the idea that it could be an integral part of his future skill set should frighten opposing coaches trying to figure out how to stop him and Gordon both inside and outside the arc.
As for the Bulls, their frontcourt — and their franchise — is centered around power forward Lauri Markkanen. Although Markkanen has spent just one season in the NBA, his play was very promising last year, earning him a spot on the All-Rookie First Team. Although his defense was below average, he shot a decent mark from the field, including 36% from three.
Markkanen’s most obvious NBA comparison is none other than Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki (minus Nowitzki’s iconic fadeaway, of course). Both players are of European descent, are at least seven feet tall, and don’t play stellar defense but are respectable rebounders and shoot well from distance. While Markkanen has a ways to go to match Nowitzki’s offensive repertoire, he is still only 21 years old, and potentially has the luxury of playing with another dominant rim protector and overall skilled big man in the aforementioned Carter Jr., which Nowitzki did not have for much of his career or prime. (The year Nowitzki did play with a former Defensive Player of the Year in center Tyson Chandler, the two won a championship together).
Much like Bamba, Carter Jr. is expected to be a ferocious rim protector for his respective team after averaging over two blocks per game at Duke last season. However, what makes Carter different from Bamba is that his skill set is less specialized and more similar to a swiss army knife with multiple tools in his arsenal. Not only can he pass well for a center, as exhibited by his two assists-per-game average last season, but he also shoots the three astoundingly well for a player of his size and age at a remarkable 41%. While Carter Jr. may not be the defensive anchor that Bamba projects to be, his offensive versatility and genuine ability to shoot from deep will undoubtedly give fits to opposing centers trying to guard him and defend the rim simultaneously.
It’s undeniable there is sky-high potential for both of these front courts, although it’s impossible to tell yet which will prove to be more effective. While the Bulls’ duo is a safer pick to be successful from the start, the Magic’s pairing appears to have a higher ceiling. Although both Markkanen and Carter Jr. have better shooting ability, Gordon and Bamba have much more athleticism on both the offensive and defensive ends, giving them the greater ability to dominate games from start to finish.
There is more risk of bust or mediocracy with the Magic’s frontcourt, however. The Bulls have a dependable point guard in Kris Dunn to facilitate to both big men, but the Magic have nothing close to that on their roster, meaning the pairing could have trouble getting into high gear on the offensive end. Still, the possibilities for each of these blossoming duos should have Eastern Conference foes shaking in their boots.
All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
Edited by Emily Berman.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your NBA SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more NBA questions »
- Joakim Noah
- Pau Gasol
- Robin Lopez
- Taj Gibson