We're essentially two-thirds of the way into the 2016-2017 NBA campaign. The statistical samples at this stage of the season are decidedly mature. Thanks to such stable numerical evidence and with John Cregan's deft December breakdown of the best fantasy backcourts in mind, we've decided to explore the top frontcourts in fantasy hoops. I lobbied to include my favorite team -- the Philadelphia 76ers -- and the young duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for theoretical consideration, but given they've played zero games together so far, I'm told this is an entirely different form of fantasy basketball.
On the doorstep of All-Star weekend, a reprieve to celebrate the league's top performers, it's fitting that we're sifting through premier frontcourts with an eye on identifying the best tandems in the league for fantasy purposes. The evaluation employed for this analysis includes a blend of traditional and advanced metrics canvassing forwards and centers; namely ESPN's signature PER -- or player efficiency rating -- and ESPN Fantasy's NBA Player Rater, a standard deviation index that evaluates relative production value at each position and amid the overall player pool. In cases of injury, such as the prominent ailment facing Kevin Love, we've still included the best performances to date with details on navigating such scenarios.
Durant's debut season in the Bay has lived up to the hype in both real and fantasy regards. The Warriors claim the highest offensive rating since the merger (114.2 points per 100 possessions), while Durant is second overall on the Player Rater. Even as he's sacrificed shooting volume, advanced metrics adore Durant; he's enjoying career bests in true shooting rate (.651), rebounding, and block percentage (3.8 percent). As for Green, he's currently averaging 1.1 made 3-pointers, 1.5 blocks, and 2.1 steals. How awesome is Green's unique blend of production? No other player in league history has ever sustained these averages over a full season.
Much like the Cavs' frontcourt, a knee injury felled the Bucks' rotation recently, with Jabari Parker suffering an ACL injury (explaining the asterisk). Buoying this group's stock is Antetokounmpo, who is 10th in PER and fourth on the Player Rater this season. If he can sustain his current pace, the "Greek Freak" would join only Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Elvin Hayes in NBA history in averaging at least two blocks, 1.7 steals and 23 points per game. With the trade deadline in fantasy leagues next Wednesday afternoon, pursuing shares of center Greg Monroe -- who enjoys a massive spike in minutes and offensive production with Parker sidelined -- could prove rewarding.
3. LeBron James and Kevin Love*/Channing Frye, Cleveland Cavaliers
Only Kyle Lowry averages more minutes than James this season, a reality that could shift now that Kevin Love has been ruled out for the next six weeks with a knee injury. James leads all forwards in touches per game (87.7) as well as time of possession per game (6.2 minutes). Sans Love down the stretch, James' already immense offensive workload should increase, consequently he's surpassed Stephen Curry on Joe Kaiser's rest-of-season ranks. Kaiser also touches on how investors can approach Love's scenario, with stretch big Channing Frye worthy of our attention in deeper fantasy formats. Frye, after all, is admirably 26th among power forwards in PER and should offer upside in 3-point production.
4. Paul George and Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Such a lofty perch might prove surprising for the Pacers' frontcourt, but this duo joins the Warriors as the only other pairing with two talents in the top 10 among forwards on the Player Rater. Turner provides the league's third-highest added value rate in blocks, while George remains a difference-maker from beyond the arc and in steals.
Towns is second only to the Pelicans' Anthony Davis on the Player Rater among centers, as he's netting nearly a 30 percent leap in scoring output with increased rebounding and 3-point production compared to his rookie opus. While Wiggins doesn't grade out as an elite on the Player Rater -- ranked 32nd among forwards -- it's worth noting he's amid a career-best offensive bender. As NBA scribe Zach Harper notes, it must be the shoes, as Wiggins is averaging 28.9 points and proves torrid from the field since adopting his new signature green sneakers. As a measure of Wiggins' unheralded scoring efficiency, he's third in the league among players with least 20 minutes per game in points per touch this season.
6. Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
This ranking might prove a bit conservative for Utah's underrated frontcourt duet; Gobert is fifth on the Player Rater among centers and leads the league in blocks, while Hayward provides positive production relative to his position in all but blocks.
7. DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Even as Ibaka has yet to play to for his new team, his distinctive ability to blend blocks, boards, and 3-pointers serves his fantasy profile well -- he's 13th among forwards on the Player Rater and 16th among power forwards in PER. Even Jonas Valanciunas merits mention thanks to ranking 18th among centers on the Player Rater. As for DeRozan, he qualifies at small forward in ESPN leagues, thus his inclusion. It helps to note DeRozan is right behind Wiggins at fourth in points per touch.
Anthony leads the league in pull-up points per game and all forwards in isolation scoring. Critics of Anthony's All-Star bid focus on his suspect defensive play and the Knicks' lack of team success, elements that simply don't deflate or influence his offensively-fueled fantasy stock. As for "The Unicorn," Porzingis is sixth in the league in blocks and already qualifies as one of the best 7-foot shooters in league history, per NBA Math.
9. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Despite his crippling free-throw rate, Jordan remains an influential specialist in blocks and boards; he ranks third in contested rebounds per game and seventh in blocks. Griffin is second only to Cleveland's James in touches per game among forwards, while he's fourth in PER among power forwards. Even as the team misses Chris Paul -- the Clips are 28th in defensive rating over the past 10 games -- the frontcourt continues to pile up rewarding fantasy results.
10. Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
Porter's breakout campaign has him positioned 11th on the Player Rater among forwards as one of the rare contributors to earn positive deviation in each of the eight statistical categories in ESPN standard leagues. An emergent member of the Wizards' core, Porter is fifth in catch-and-shoot scoring this season. Gortat is 13th among centers on the Player Rater and fourth in rebounding chances -- defined as being within 3.5 feet of a board -- fueling a career-high 11.5 pulls per game.