Historically, this has been one of the most competitive positions in the entire NBA. The power forward position might not have had the iconic and celebrated figures like Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson but they have more than held their place in history: Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Elvin Hayes and Kevin McHale, not to mention the recent duo of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett who are both sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famers. However, due to changes in personnel and their advanced age, Duncan moved to the center position to prolong his career, and Garnett did the same in Boston (although we ranked him here since he’s now playing next to Brook Lopez).
The newest iteration of the players in the power forward category are nothing like your father’s version. They still rebound and defend the paint, but they are also able to space the floor by becoming not just adequate jump shooters but deadly all the way from 3-point range. On top of this they also handle the rock, throw down jaw-dropping alley-oop dunks and lead their teams in multiple statistical categories.
So let’s take a look at what makes these power forwards the best in the NBA, today.
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20. TRISTAN THOMPSON
This Canadian-born forward made headlines recently for something I can’t remember any modern day NBA player doing: Thompson will be changing his shooting hand on his free throws. Strange, indeed. However, Thompson’s toughness and his willingness to defend is not so strange. Having almost averaged a double-double last season, Thompson is definitely looking to fight for his place amongst the up-and-coming fours in the league.
19. AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE
It’s a shame to see Stoudemire reduced to a shell of what he once was. The injuries to his knees and back have robbed him of the explosiveness and athleticism that made him one of the most exciting players to watch. Having missed 72 games the past two seasons, let’s all hope that Stoudemire can at least end his career on a positive note rather than fade into obscurity.
A lot of Nene’s contributions to a team don’t necessarily make it on the stat sheet: his basketball IQ, hustle, ability to rise to the occasion rather than “get his” in blowout situations. Having gone through a “pitch count” of sorts in his minutes last season due to past injuries, Nene won’t be held back at all this season. He will be counted on heavily this season as Emeka Okafor will miss significant time with his neck injury.
17. KENNETH FARIED
The “Manimal” is every teammate’s dream come true. He gives 100 percent effort on both ends of the floor, does all the dirty work and does it well. Coaches never run plays for Faried, thus allowing his teammates to get all the usage points. However, Faried always finds a way to leave his mark on the game: a crucial screen, a devastating block or just beat his man down the floor consistently. This is, of course, part of the reason why he only averaged 11.5 PPG and 9.2 RPG last season. His overall production might not spike anytime soon but there is also a reason why the Nuggets won a franchise-best 57 games last season as well.
16. ERSAN ILYASOVA
Ilyasova took a small step back last season in terms of his efficiency as his overall field goal and 3-point percentages took a dip. But his overall impact on the team, mainly his ability to space out defenses by knocking down almost two 3 pointers-a-game, along with the emergence of Larry Sanders, helped the Bucks secure a playoff slot. Ilyasova, along with Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson are the prototypical stretch power forwards that are crucial to their offensive schemes. Still only 25 years old, and with three years left on his current contract, Ilyasova is an integral cog in the Milwaukee Buck’s hope for the future.
15. ANTHONY DAVIS
The Unibrow came on the scene last season and didn’t dominate like many expert analysts predicted, but he was productive. With added strength and a year under his belt, Anthony Davis might make the biggest leap among any power forward in the league this year. His offensive repertoire will expand and he will be asked to patrol the lane while providing interior scoring to off-balance Ryan Anderson‘s outside shooting. By this time next year, there’s no question he’ll be in the top 10 of this list.
14. PAUL MILLSAP
After a productive career in Utah, Millsap was not re-signed to make room for the youth movement (Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter). Not that Jazz management didn’t struggle with this decision, I’m sure. Generously listed at 6-8, Millsap has been a bona-fide starting power forward in the Western Conference since Boozer signed with the Chicago Bulls in the summer of 2010. Now Millsap will team up with Al Horford, a consistent dual-threat All-Star (which can’t be said about Al Jefferson) to make a push for the playoffs.
13. CARLOS BOOZER
Chicago Bulls fans have been calling, emailing, tweeting and sending smoke signals to Gar Forman to amnesty Boozer and his monolith of a contract since the get-go with the team. It mostly comes from the fact that Boozer is just not a number one option guy: He’s a sporadic free throw shooter, doesn’t finish plays well and has relied more and more on a fadeaway jump shot from 10-15 feet rather than finishing at the rim. On the flip side, Boozer is a true post-threat that not many other post defenders can guard one-on-one. Plus, anyone that puts ups 17 PPG and 10 RPG in the NBA over 11 seasons is no slouch. Not good enough to crack the top 10 but good enough.
12. RYAN ANDERSON
Ryan Anderson is redefining the power forward position. Sure there have been other big guys that were deadly perimeter shooters in the history of the league: Sam Perkins, Bill Laimbeer, Channing Frye and so on. But in recent history Dirk Nowitzki has been the standard, and though Nowitzki still has one of the most unstoppable shots (the one-legged fadeaway), the most 3-point shots he ever made in one regular season was 151. Anderson, has broken that feat. Twice. In the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season of only 66 games, Anderson connected on 166. Then, after being traded to the New Orleans Hornets, Anderson made 213 3-point shots while coming off the bench for 59 games!
Now don’t let this fool you, Anderson is a capable rebounder as well. He led the NBA in offense rebounds in the 2011-2012 season and averaged almost eight total rebounds per game as a full-time starter.
11. PAU GASOL
You can blame Dwight-mare for last season, the untimely firing of Mike Brown or Mike D’Antoni‘s inability to incorporate Gasol properly into his up-tempo offense. But at the end of the day, Pau Gasol had the worst statistical year of his entire career. He is 33 years old now; maybe his body has started breaking down or the system just doesn’t fit him. Either way, Pau officially became the second fiddle in his family because younger brother Marc Gasol definitely is lead dog now. There will be plenty of interest, both internally and from other organizations, in how Gasol bounces back from the debacle known as the 2012-2013 season.
10. SERGE IBAKA
Ibaka has improved every season since joining the NBA in 2009. He has led the NBA in block shots the past three seasons and upped his scoring to 13 per game this past season. A perfect complement to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Ibaka plays hard and is ever improving and he’s just scratching the surface. Once he figures out the nuances of defending and rebounding, Ibaka should be a perennial contender for the Defensive Player of Year. He’s still only 23 years old and the Thunder have him locked up for another four seasons. This should be fun to watch.
9. DAVID WEST
After experiencing his worst statistical season in seven years, everyone assumed the worst: David West is done. After all, he had just torn his ACL and due to the lockout didn’t even sign with a team until December 11, 2011. This did not bode well, and obviously gave cause for concern. However, with a full offseason with the Indiana Pacers to rehab and gel with his teammates, West played a crucial part in pushing the Miami Heat to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not only did West pound the Heat inside but he also provided the much needed veteran leadership to a team full of young stars.
8. KEVIN GARNETT
Is he a center? A power forward. We juggled the question ourselves and it probably really doesn’t matter at this point. KG played lots of center with Boston but now playing beside Brook Lopez, one of the best pivots in the game, means Garnett will be back to his natural spot at the four. Garnett is no longer the play he once was, last year averaging his fewest minutes (29.7 per game) since his rookie year way back in 1995-96. He’s lost the ability to hit that second jump, and you can see it in his rebounding numbers. They diminished almost every year he was in Boston.
However, he’s still one of the league’s best shooting big men — last year he shot an absurd 48.8 percent from 10-15 feet and 47 percent from 16-23 feet. To give you an idea how Garnett’s offensive game has changed over the years: Last season, he made 3.4 shots from the aforementioned ranges. From nine feet and in? Only 2.6. To say Kevin Garnett is a solid perimeter offensive player at this point isn’t doing him justice. He lives there now. That’ll actually come in handy in Brooklyn, where he can play off the low-post skills of guys like Lopez and Paul Pierce. At 37, Garnett is still one of the league’s best defensive players and a very intriguing offensive threat.
7. ZACH RANDOLPH
Z-Bo’s game is not easy to appreciate by the casual basketball observer. You have to pay attention to the details: the bone crushing pick, his ability to create just enough space to launch his jumper or hook, his ability to back his man down without drawing a charge. The list goes on. Teamed up with Marc Gasol, these two form the most brutal frontcourt in the NBA. Just ask the Clippers — there was not one freebie near the lane. No layups, no dunks, no rebounds without having a body on you. Though Z-Bo’s scoring dipped some the past two seasons, his effectiveness in helping the Grizzlies from keeping other teams from scoring has not waned one bit.
6. DIRK NOWITZKI
Speaking of having down years, did Dirk just have a bad season or is this the beginning of the end? I mean he did just turn 35 years old. This is right around that age that most professional athletes start breaking down physically. He had his lowest scoring season since his rookie year. Another tell-tale sign: Nowitzki missed more games in the 2012-2013 season than his past eight seasons, combined. Mark Cuban and others surely believe otherwise because of Nowitzki’s style of play and ability to use his superior basketball IQ to be relevant for a few more years, but this league is not very forgiving to over the hill players trying to hold on.
5. JOSH SMITH
The most talented, athletic and maddening of the bunch, Josh Smith is one of the most controversial players in the NBA. He shoots too many threes and settles for jump shots a bit too often. He takes plays off and doesn’t “bring it” on a nightly basis. Just when you think he’s falling asleep, Smith will block a shot near the top of the glass or go shooting into a passing lane and throw down a dunk that most people will only see a few times in an entire season. Yet, his production remains at 17.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.2 SPG and 1.8 BPG. It should be interesting how Josh Smith responds to finally moving out of Atlanta, where he spent his first nine seasons and most of his life. Will he play up to his new contract or will he suffer through the usual complacency that comes after signing a big contract? Josh Smith is his greatest enemy. It’s only up to him as to how he chooses to be remembered by the basketball community.
Sans LeBron, there might not be a guy with a more unique combination of talent and playmaking ability in the NBA than Josh Smith. And I know what you’re thinking, but Smith is equipped with all the tools to be an elite player in this league. There are nights when he looks like a perennial All-NBA stud â€“ Smith’s 23-13-6 on 10-for-15 shooting, including 4-for-5 from deep in a 105-101 win against the Dallas Mavericks on February 11 was a masterpiece â€“ and others when his decision making is just so putridly awful, you wonder if he’s point-shaving.
Numbers don’t lie and Smith has produced since he’s arrived in the league. However, the problem lies in his identity. Is he a perimeter player? Should he be in the post? Smith is so multifaceted that it’s occasionally a hindrance to himself and his team. His strength lies 15 feet between the basket, as there are few forwards that can handle his athleticism at the elbow and on the block. When he’s in full attack mode and looking to finish at the rim, it opens up the passing lanes, and Smith is more than willing to share the rock with his teammates as he averaged a career-high 4.2 assists last year.
But more times than not, Smith drifted out behind the three-point line, throwing up desperation heaves in crunch time situations that were better suited for teammates Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague. Because Smith was shooting over 38 percent from behind the arc in the first two months of last season, he started settling for the perimeter shot instead of exploiting his inside game, his true bread and butter. He was humbly brought back down to Earth in the final 30 games as he shot 27 percent from deep.
Smith has been working with Rasheed Wallace this offseason to polish his low-post game, as well as his midrange game. If he can hit that shot consistently for the Pistons, while maintaining the other facets of his game, the Pistons could quietly sneak into the playoffs with Smith as their main option.
4. DAVID LEE
David Lee was an afterthought in the 2005 NBA Draft, the last pick in the first round sneaking to the New York Knicks. One of those four-year players at Florida under Billy Donovan, people thought he’d ride the bench at MSG, get some minutes during clean-up time and just fade into oblivion where he would return to Missouri and get a job at the local car dealership. Instead, Lee became a double-double machine, and winning over the New York faithful with his hustle and basketball IQ. Then, he was traded to the Warriors to make room for Amar’e Stoudemire in the summer of 2010. Though Lee was productive, he was mostly toiling in vain because of the overall lack of team success… that is until this past season. With the emergence of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and a healthier Andrew Bogut, the Warriors busted into the playoffs as the six seed and shocked the Nuggets, advancing to the second round. Though Curry is obviously the star of the team, all this success would not have been possible without David Lee’s contributions of 18.5 PPG, 11 RPG and 52 percent shooting.
3. KEVIN LOVE
Uncle Wes, of Pepsi Max fame or otherwise known as K-Love, had a lackluster season in 2013. I mean, it wasn’t all bad but for a man that put up 26 PPG and 13.3 RPG while making almost two 3-pointers a game, it was a drop-off. This wasn’t from a lack of effort, of course. After suffering through an injured hand, he never quite recovered and missed 64 games last season. But no reason to be alarmed, all reports in Minnesota point to Kevin Love being fully healed and apparently, is in the best shape of his career, according to multiple reports. This UCLA product should be good to go and back to his ridiculous double-double self, while challenging for the number one spot in this category.
2. BLAKE GRIFFIN
Griffin’s scoring has diminished every season in the NBA, as have his rebounding numbers. He has not led his team beyond the first round of the playoffs and he is a career 61 percent free throw shooter. He is ridiculed by other players for being a flopper and an actor. On the other hand, Griffin is the most fierce-some finisher in the league. The vision of Griffin running with a full head of steam, angling himself for a perfect alley-oop pass, is a sight to behold, unless you are the lone man back on a 3-on-1 break, of course. Your heart just caves in and secretly you want to assume the fetal position and think back to happier times.
Griffin is also learning to be productive, within a winning environment. I credit Chris Paul for this development because who cares if you average 25 PPG and 15 RPG if you aren’t making the playoffs? The level of talent that Griffin is playing with has improved, thus his minutes and production are down. But make no mistake, the Clippers will only go as far as Griffin takes them. That is precisely the reason the Clippers brought in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to space the floor to give more space for Griffin to operate and then to punish opposing teams if they double him. Griffin’s ability to pass out of the double-team and find the correct man has improved, which shows in his assist numbers and lower turnover numbers as well. But the most glaring aspect of Griffin’s game that needs to improve to help the Clippers is his defense. If not, they will be on early vacation again in May, 2014.
1. LaMARCUS ALDRIDGE
Aldridge has been the picture of consistency ever since his second year in the NBA. Known for his sweet midrange stroke and overall feel for the game, he has been the only real bright spot for the Trail Blazers organization. And rather than thinking about the mediocrity that this team has displayed since trading for Aldridge on the draft night of 2006, I’d rather look at what could have been, if he weren’t. This is the list of players that were considered the superstar of the Trail Blazers since 2006: Brandon Roy (early retirement, injuries), Greg Oden (missed multiple seasons due to injury) and Zach Randolph (off-court issues, traded in 2008). Some of the best players that Aldridge has played with are Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum and recently, Damian Lillard. Now imagine the win-loss records of team featuring Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson, Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace. Putrid. Or then again, what about a starting lineup of Andre Miller, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Joel Przybilla and a 37-year-old Marcus Camby. Playoffs? Please. So rather than think about accolades that might be missing, I’d like to think that Aldridge has been the consistent glue and go-to guy for a team that could have been horrific for the past seven seasons. Not bad considering what he had to work with. Averaging 21.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 1.1 BPG while averaging less than two turnovers a game over the last three seasons is All-Star caliber.
What do you think of this list?
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