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The combination of small forward, power forward and center is termed in NBA circles as the frontcourt. Those three positions are typically reserved for the biggest and yet still multi-faceted players on the roster. Indeed, the small forward is required to have some type of length in order to be able to defend multiple positions but also to be able to score when mismatches present themselves.

The power forward is typically expected to be a good if not great rebounder, but also a player capable of scoring on the block as well as from the high post.

There used to be a time when a center was asked to anchor the paint both on offense and defense, but the gradual shift towards perimeter players and shooting big men has now turned the five spot into a defensive position. The expectations are that this player rebound, maybe block a few shots and run the court occasionally for easy scores.

Based on the description, many would argue that the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies or even the Miami Heat have the best frontline in the NBA and all arguments would indeed hold some weight.

Indeed, if we look at the PER figures, Miami is at the top of the class, but that comes mostly from LeBron James and Chris Bosh’s contributions. Their statistical output so far this season has been nothing short of amazing.

The Memphis Grizzlies are currently without the services of Zach Randolph due to injury, but when the former Spartan was healthy, they were obviously one of the best trios in the league given the play of Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol.

The Los Angeles Lakers have a formidable twin towers setup that makes life a living hell for opponents but Matt Barnes is a decent forward more so than anything and thus it would be tough to give them the nod of best frontline in the league.

Surprisingly, the New York Knicks measure up statistically, but given the team’s recent slide, it’s somewhat difficult to truly put them in the conversation.

That leaves one team: the Portland Trail Blazers.

The trio of Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby sport a combined PER figure of 51.2, which pales in comparison to the Miami Heat’s starting frontcourt (65), the New York Knicks’ (57.1) and the Los Angeles Lakers’ (55.2). But their play in concert more than makes up for their statistical shortcomings.

The Blazers’ advantage comes in the fact that their starting frontline offers multiple dimensions to the court. Indeed, all three players are more than capable of holding their own at both ends of the court, which obviously provides headaches for the opposition.

Gerald Wallace is a dynamic defensive player that does a good job of rebounding the ball, getting out in transition and taking advantage of smaller players on the block. In addition, he can guard shooting guards, small forwards as well as power forwards and do it without really getting exposed on the basketball court.

LaMarcus Aldridge on the other hand may just be the best power forward in the NBA that no one talks about. For all the talk about Kevin Love and Blake Griffin being the best fours in the league, the title may in fact belong to LMA. Aldridge presents a myriad of problems because he is a terrific jump shooter from every spot on the floor; but also because he has the ability to go down on the block and command a double team because of his scoring in the post.

In addition, LaMarcus has the length, size and willingness to play center on both offense and defense. Consequently, he can at times defend the paint and rebound his area in traffic. Opposing big men have trouble scoring over the big man because of his wingspan and also because he rarely gets himself out of position.

Marcus Camby may appear to be the weak link of the bunch but his seemingly low statistical output so far this season comes as a result of him playing fairly low minutes given his age and the condensed schedule. But make no mistake though, he is an integral part to the Trail Blazers’ success.

The UMASS product is a solid shot blocker, terrific rebounder and very good individual defender. He does a great job of helping out his teammates on defense by rotating to ball handlers quickly and also by picking up opposing players on switches (more on this later).

On offense, Camby rarely looks to shoot the ball, but instead understands the value of getting the rock to the team’s main scorers. As a result, the center will often hang around the free throw line area and look to feed his teammates on the low block. Because Camby is such a smart and willing passer, opposing defenses have a tough time fronting the likes of Wallace and Aldridge on the low post because once Camby flashes to the high post, he can deliver the lob pass to his teammate for the score.

Thus, this is what the Blazers frontcourt produces on average:






Gerald Wallace





LaMarcus Aldridge





Marcus Camby






The numbers may not stand out much, but the most impressive thing this unit does is play with great synergy, especially on defense. The unit understands when and where on the court they can switch when screens are set by their opponents; as a result it’s not uncommon to see Camby guard power forwards, while Aldridge gets matched up with the center; or you may even on occasion catch Aldridge defending a small forward while Wallace is stuck on a bigger man.

Last season (I have not yet seen it this season), the Blazers employed a zone defense that confused the living daylights of the opposition because the frontline was quick and smart enough to switch responsibilities on the fly. Instead of Camby defending the basket, he might jump out on the wing to cover for his man and then have Wallace protect the rim for a few and then switch again and have Aldridge at the basket defensively.

The ability to be productive at both ends of the court and play off of one another as well as together makes the Trail Blazers’ frontcourt the best in league in my estimation. Their overall impact tonight will probably decide the contest between them and the Golden State Warriors; and that’s well worth tuning in for.

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