The NBA has been a big man’s league for a long time, dating all the way back to George Mikan and Bill Russell. But as the center position has increasingly moved to the perimeter, the emphasis has shifted to the four man. In today’s game, a great power forward is tasked with everything from blocking shots to stretching the defense and making three-pointers.
The position can sometimes be a thankless one, as night after night even the very best are assaulted from all corners. From LaMarcus Aldridge to Paul Millsap, from Tim Duncan to Ryan Anderson, there are no nights off.
Here are the ten greatest power forwards in NBA history.
[RELATED: The 10 greatest point guards in NBA history]
[RELATED: The 10 greatest centers in NBA history]
Honorable mention: Dennis Rodman
Narrowly edging out Amar’e Stoudemire, the Worm will get the call. Known as much for his flamboyant personality as his passionate play, Rodman was a contributor on two of the greatest teams in NBA history. The Bad Boy Pistons and Jordan‘s Bulls both deployed Dennis the Menace as he racked up five career championships. He wasn’t the biggest, strongest or most skilled but Rodman led the league in rebounding seven straight seasons. He flat out wanted it more, every single night.
If Rodman could’ve contributed on offense even marginally he would’ve cracked the list. But this is a guy whose career-high point per game average is 11.6. Rodman was a perfect role player, which contrary to popular belief, isn’t a negative term. He knew his job and he went out and did it on a nightly basis. He wasn’t going to take over a game but he could help control one by focusing on the things he did well: defense and rebounding.
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10. Shawn Kemp
Career Accolades: 6x All-Star, 3x All-NBA
The Reign Man was explosive; he had his generation hooked. If only he truly focused on basketball. An elite talent who had some brush-ups with the law and alleged focus issues. I always think of Michael Irvin when I think of Shawn Kemp. He was still a star but could he have been the best ever if he kept his nose clean? The Reign Man had four straight seasons of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 50 percent shooting or better. He never won a championship but he did help Gary Payton and the Seattle Supersonics push Jordan’s Bulls to a six-game series in the 1996 NBA Finals.
9. Pau Gasol
Career Accolades: 2X champion, 4X All-Star, 3X All-NBA
The accolades don’t truly commend the effort Gasol has put forth over his career. He played in the era of elite power forwards, which definitely made it harder for him to rack up the All-NBA appearances. Gasol has an elite arsenal of post moves, he has the fundamentals around the basket that every coach dreams of. When people rag on Dwight Howard for his lack of post moves, Pau Gasol is the reason why. He finishes at the rim with both hands, and is incredibly quick with the ball. He was a bordeline franchise player in Memphis but when he got to Los Angeles he really shined as the 1B to Kobe Bryant‘s 1A. Many believe he should have won the Finals MVP award in 2010 when he led the entire postseason in win shares.
8. Bob Pettit
Career Accolades: 11X All-Star, 11X All-NBA, 2X MVP, champion
He played in the early days of the league but he never missed an All-Star or All-NBA appearance over his tenure. He was the league’s first ever MVP, winning his second while Bill Russell was in the league. Like many bigs of the era, his per game statistics are egregious and his efficiency leaves much to be desired. He averaged 30 points and 17 rebounds during the 1958 Finals to secure his only championship, and the only championship the St. Louis Hawks would ever see before moving to Atlanta during the 1969-70 season.
7. Chris Webber
Career Accolades: 5X All-Star, Rookie of the Year, 5X All-NBA
The most underrated power forward of all time. His numbers are right up there with the big boys of the ’90s and ’00s yet he rarely gets his name mentioned in the conversation. Maybe it’s because he played his dominant years in a smaller market, maybe it’s because David Stern cheated him out of his title shot, who can really say? He finished top ten in the MVP voting five times, and led a pretty competitive Kings team in the West during the Shaq-Kobe era. Not an easy feat. Not unlike Pau Gasol, he could play the high post and was a very good passer for a big man. Unfortunately for Webber, the most infamous memory of his career may unfairly come from his Michigan days.
6. Kevin McHale
Career Accolades: 3X champion, 7X All-Star, All-NBA, 6X All-NBA Defense, 2X Sixth Man of the Year
McHale was fortunate to be a part of the ’80s Celtics, but the Celtics were also fortunate to have him. Larry Legend was undoubtedly the best player of those teams but McHale was likely the second-best player on those squads. He won three championships with the Celtics and really came into his prime towards the end of their dynasty. Over the ’85-86 playoffs, McHale, who had always been credited as a stalwart defender, took over, averaging 25 points, nearly nine rebounds and shooting 58 percent on the way to a ring. In the ’86-87 season, he finished fourth in the MVP voting.
5. Karl Malone
Career Accolades: 14x All-Star, 2X MVP, 14X All-NBA, 4X All-NBA Defense
The Mailman stands only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in terms of longevity. He is second all time in points scored and finished in the top ten of the MVP voting on an amazing 14 occasions. He averaged a double-double nine straight seasons and with John Stockton gave the Jazz fans the best basketball of their franchise’s existence.
However he fell down this list for two reasons. Firstly, despite spending the majority of his career with the all-time leader in assists and steals, he failed to ever rise to the top of the pinnacle and hoist that coveted trophy. Secondly, Malone’s playoff numbers drop significantly in playoff games. Malone shot almost five percent worse over his career in the postseason. His inability to closeout tough games and win the big ones cost him the ultimate prize. Even when a near retired Malone joined forces with Shaq, Kobe and Gary Payton in Los Angeles, he failed to win it all.
4. Charles Barkley
Career Accolades: 11X All-Star, 11X All-NBA, MVP
Sir Charles used to be quite the player before he became your favourite/least favourite TNT analyst of all time. He was a true franchise player, he had the grit, the hustle, and the skill to lead a contender. Unfortunately like Malone, he failed to retire a champion. His MVP may have been controversial but he did finish in the top ten for MVP voting nine times.
Barkley averaged a double-double 15 of the 16 years he played in the league. The only year he didn’t was his rookie season. As a scorer and a rebounder, Barkley was rarely if ever questioned–it was his defense that often garnered criticism. Like Malone, his efficiency dipped a bit in the playoffs but not to the same extent. Barkley had his chance with the Suns to take down the Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals but Jordan was too much to overcome.
3. Kevin Garnett
Career Accolades: 15X All-Star, 9X All-NBA, 12X All-Defense, champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year
Nineties babies were blessed when it comes to the power forward position. They grew up watching the three best guys to ever play the position. Garnett is known for his toughness, his trash-talking and his tough-nosed defense. However, he was an all-around beast. He had incredibly limited help in Minnesota and the team failed to capitalize when he did have help but he got his ring with the Boston Big Three. Unlike the other two guys ahead of him, however, he failed to clearly cement himself as the best player on a championship team. Garnett is the second-best two-way player of this generation.
2. Dirk Nowitzki
Career Accolades: 12X All-Star, 12X All-NBA, MVP, Finals MVP, champion
Four years ago, placing Nowitzki on this list would’ve been considered treasonous. But as we look back it’s hard not to stand in awe over his accomplishments. He broke barriers as a European player, and he led the Mavericks to the playoffs consistently for over a decade.
Often overshadowed by his Texas rival, he truly carried the torch for the Dallas Mavericks. Like Barkley, early in his career he was hounded about shoddy defense but those tales are slightly exaggerated. Nowitzki, after winning an MVP and truly joining the rank of superstars, carried the 2011 Mavericks to one of the most surprising championships of all time. He did so without the help of another All-Star and sent LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James all packing in one playoff run. He truly cemented himself as an all-time great with that run.
1. Tim Duncan
Career Accolades: 14X All-Star, 14X All-NBA, 14X All-Defense, 2X MVP, 3X Finals MVP, 4X champion, Rookie of the Year
The Big Fundamental has had a storybook career. He was mentored by an all-time great, has been coached by arguably the greatest coach of all time, and has been the flag ship for the NBA’s best franchise for over a decade. There is no denying Duncan has had it good over his NBA career but he is the definition of a franchise player. Loyal to his franchise, bringing home championships and individual accolades by the boat load, at 37 years old he still has the Spurs winning 62 games. He’s aged incredibly well and continues to lead his team, along with long-time teammate Tony Parker.
Duncan isn’t a talker like Garnett, he’s not in as big of a market as Nowitzki but he’s continued to raise the bar for the other two his entire career. Tim Duncan is the best two-way player of the era, as well as the best power forward of all time.
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