Has the torch been passed?
The new crop of elite power forwards has officially arrived. The young superstars at the position are beginning to push the aging vets out of the top spots and are cementing their status as the best in the game. While some of these changes can be attributed to new frontcourt rotations, others are a direct reflection of just how good the new crop has played, and are expected to play this season. Two of the best power forwards of all-time don’t play the position anymore (no, you won’t see Duncan or Garnett on this list). Amazingly, all position shifting aside, the average age of the top three power forwards in the game is only 24. There is not another position in basketball that has this many young studs completely setting the tone for the rest of the league.
Rewind six years ago to the 2006-2007 season. Of the top ten scorers in the league, only one was a power forward and he barely made the list (Dirk was tied with Tracy McGrady for the tenth spot). Last season? Four of the top 10 scorers in the league were power forwards – and that ratio could be even higher this year. We haven’t seen power forwards producing like this for a long time, and it looks like these guys are here to stay.
While we saw unprecedented numbers from the four spot last season, some of the most memorable moments were the ridiculous displays of athleticism from the new era of the position. These guys can run like wings and finish in ways we’ve never seen before. They also can step back and nail the three like no other crop of power forwards in the history of the league. It’s an exciting time for power forwards in the NBA, so let’s look at the best 20 at the position going into this season…
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20. NENE, Washington Wizards
The addition of Emeka Okafor in Washington allows Nene to slide to the power forward spot, which is clearly his more natural position. If Nene can stay on the court (he has a history of missing games for what some consider to be less-than-serious injuries), he’s a lock to be productive on offense and a force on defense. In his 11 games with the Wizards last season, he posted an excellent 24.2 PER and per-36 numbers of 20 points and 10.5 rebounds. And he shot over 60 percent from the field. Not too shabby for the big man.
19. LUIS SCOLA, Phoenix Suns
He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done. Yes, Phoenix Suns power forward Luis Scola fell victim to the amnesty clause this offseason, but it doesn’t mean he can’t produce. He’s one of the more crafty players in the post and has the ability to make a defender look absolutely stupid as he lays the ball in on a slick up-and-under. He’s not an elite rebounder or defender, but he’ll get the Suns 15 points a night.
18. KENNETH FARIED, Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried may be the most fun player to watch in the league. He makes up for his lack of size by playing unbelievably hard. Next time you catch a Nuggets game, keep your eyes on him for five or six straight plays. It will completely exhaust you. His rebounding numbers are way above average for power forwards and he’s good for at least one highlight reel dunk a game. It’s looking like Denver snagged the steal of the 2011 Draft when they took him at No. 22.
17. KRIS HUMPHRIES, Brooklyn Nets
Kris Humphries is statistically one of the best rebounders in the league. His 11 boards per game was the second-best clip among power forwards last season, and his 18.8 total rebounding rate was fourth. Last season was the first time Humphries averaged more than 30 minutes a game and he responded well by being one of only eight players to average a double-double in points and rebounds. The Nets will rely heavily on his rebounding prowess this season as he will have to make up for his frontcourt mate Brook Lopez, who is one of the few centers in the league that is allergic to crashing the boards.
16. DAVID WEST, Indiana Pacers
Once a back-to-back All-Star, David West’s 20 points per game seasons are clearly behind him. That doesn’t mean he’s not a solid starting four in the league, though. West is a perfect combination of toughness and intelligence. He’s a great pick-and-pop player and was among the best power forwards in the game last season from 16-23 feet out. He’s asked to do much less on the court in Indy than he was in New Orleans, but his veteran presence and leadership is crucial to this young and talented Pacers squad.
15. CARLOS BOOZER, Chicago Bulls
Once considered one of the best power forwards in the league, some question whether or not Carlos Boozer is even the best four on the Chicago Bulls at this point. While his play diminished in recent years, there is no question that the dude can still produce. He has a sweet midrange jumper and rarely takes a bad shot (53 percent from the field last season). At 30 years old, nobody expects his iffy defense to improve. The Bulls, however, are happy with his 15 points and nine boards a night (their happiness over his $15 million salary next season in another matter).
14. RYAN ANDERSON, New Orleans Hornets
Last year’s Most Improved Player, New Orleans Hornets power forward Ryan Anderson is looking to make the most of his new surroundings. He hoisted a staggering 422 threes (most attempts in the league) last season for the Magic, but converted 39 percent of them and posted a respectable 16 points a game. It’s been reported that coach Monty Williams will bring Anderson off the bench this season to be a offensive sparkplug for his young squad. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to his new role.
13. ERSAN ILYASOVA, Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks big man Ersan Ilyasova opened a lot of eyes last season as his 20.55 PER was one of the best marks for a power forward. He has excellent range (45.5 percent from three last season), but is not afraid to bang down low and scrap for rebounds. He ranked in the top ten last season in offensive rebounding rate and total rebounding rate. Ilyasova will be a big part of a Bucks team looking to avoid the lottery this season and compete for a playoff spot in the East.
12. DAVID LEE, Golden State Warriors
One guy capable of reaching the 20-and-10 plateau every year is Golden State’s David Lee. Lee is one of the better scoring bigs in the league, and is one of only five power forwards to average over 20 points a game last season. While he’s an excellent scorer and rebounder, his lackluster defense is what keeps him out of the top 10.
11. ANDREA BARGNANI, Toronto Raptors
Former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani can score the basketball. Although his rebounding numbers are far below average, his 20 points per game make him a real asset on a Raptors team that desperately wants to improve. Now that Jonas Valanciunas has arrived in Toronto, Bargnani will be able to spend a lot of time at the power forward position instead of taking a pounding night in and night out from NBA centers. Bargnani has the skills to be a top-five scoring big man in the league, and if he can stay healthy, he should do so next season.