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Building a Championship Frontcourt: Do the Jazz Have It?

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While Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson’s future in a Jazz uniform is unsure, there is no doubt around Jazz nation that the future keys to the frontcourt will be handed to Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. With that in mind, there has been much criticism around the Twitter-verse about the effectiveness of this frontcourt lineup (and with reason). Favors shows much promise defensively, but still has quite a ways to go offensively—which means Kanter will have to help fill that offensive void. And with the recent showing in Summer League, his lack of athleticism has become a major concern among fans.

Now the question I’m raising is: do we even need an athletic center? How much value should championship-hopeful teams place on athleticism? To answer this, we need to understand the fundamentals of building a championship caliber team.

There are many big men in the league right now and they can all be split into 2 main categories; banger and finesse. A "banger" is the prototypical true big: someone who likes the contact and can serve as an anchor down low for rebounding and defensive purposes. A "finesse" player is one who is able to be mobile around the court, setting screens and possibly stretching out the opposing defense. Though we don’t necessarily hear the terms finesse/banger very often, we do hear the terms power forward/center a lot—and it turns out the two sets of terms are completely synonymous. The textbook definition of a center is "a player who is close to the basket, usually near the baseline; traditionally the slowest and biggest player on the team" (in other words, a banger). For a power forward, the textbook definition is "a player who can dominate with athletic prowess, defensive skills, and get set up for mid-range jump shots." (which is a finesse style of play).

You see, when building a quality championship team, you want to get a mix of both banging and finesse. If you have two banger players, then the paint becomes too clogged up offensively and they are not able to shuffle their feet quick enough on defense. If you have two finesse players, then the opposing team will overpower you and rebounding will usually suffer because there are there are less people around the basket. When you have a healthy combination of both, the two bigs can play off each other easier while getting the best of both worlds offensively and defensively.

With this being said, many of you are probably skeptical since this is not entirely what is happening in the NBA right now—and you are right. Basketball is currently going through an evolution, particularly in the PF/C positions. The NBA is becoming centered more around athleticism and not so much in terms of skill set. Athletic point guards are prospering, and the big men are moving further away from the basket. Players like Channing Frye and Ryan Anderson are getting more hype, creating a disillusion among fans that you can win with only these kind of big men. You can’t. Just like in the retro-NBA where there was Thorpe-Olajuwon or even an Ostertag-Malone, the best chance of winning is staying true to the heart of the frontcourt and integrating both a banger/finesse lineup. I prepared a table with the recent frontcourts of championship caliber teams down to 2002-03. As you can see, each team had a designated banger and finesse player (I highlighted finesse players in blue, bangers in orange). Note that there are a few exceptions to this guideline, such as the 2011-12 Miami Heat who had overwhelming athleticism. Also, there are some rare players that were able to play both finesse and banger roles, in which I marked with an asterisk (*).


(Click to enlarge)

Now that we see how a championship frontcourt lineup is built, let’s take a look at the Jazz’s future situation.

With Derrick Favors and his unreal athleticism, he fits that finesse player category. He is able to dominate his matchup by overwhelming him with his athleticism, but he isn’t very capable of spreading the floor with a mid-range jumper (at least not now he isn’t). Enes Kanter on the other hand, fits the banger role. He is a big body who is serving as the baseline anchor; pushing opposing big men out of their sweet spot and positioning himself to grab rebounds (a banger doesn’t need to play above the rim; all he is needs to do is serve as a big body to clog the paint--that's how Shaq maintained his value at the tail end of his career.) On the offensive end, he'll use that big body to plow his way into the paint, positioning himself for an easy shot using some developed craftiness. He also has a unique ability for a banger to hit that mid-range jumper consistently.

So what on earth do we have? The Jazz have a distinct banger and distinct finesse player, but they each have a little specialty of their own that dabbles into each other’s category. Derrick Favors is able to play big (praying off weak side blocks), while Kanter has a finesse characteristic which is his sweet jump shot. Though their respective skill sets aren’t developed enough to have an asterisk by their name like Tim Duncan, it’s still more well rounded than a lot of the other bigs in the league.

Jazz nation should be excited for the future (as if they weren’t so already). We just have to be careful to not be quick to judge and allow our young players to develop. Becoming great doesn’t happen for years (let alone a single offseason), and we should just trust that KOC knows what he’s doing. And judging from the projected style of players he brought in for the future, the Jazz are in good shape.

(Author's side note: with my excessive use of "banger" and "banging", I can only hope this article gets featured on Moni's UDQM)

You can follow me on twitter @AlecLam14