by Ryan Sterling
The Big men! My favorite because nothing opens up the three point shot like a great big man who demands attention. The power forward position has transformed in the last fifteen years to include pick and pop and stretch four men.
In my opinion there is still nothing better than a power forward who has a back to the basket game and can hit the 16-foot jumper. These were a little more difficult to come up with because each of these guys can bring different things to the table and there is no one standard to which they can be held.
Here are the rankings for the power forward position in the NBA.
1 – Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan reminded us all last season what a force he can still be in the NBA. He turned back the clock in a spectacular NBA Finals putting up 20.5 ppg and 12.3 rpg. Duncan blocked 6.4% of opponents two-point shots, the highest such number of his career. He made Chris Bosh look like a high-schooler for most of the NBA Finals. It seems like we all tend to forget Duncan is two time MVP, Rookie of the Year, three time Finals MVP, fourteen time All-NBA selection (10 first-team) and a fourteen time All-NBA Defensive Team selection (eight first-team).
Duncan in my opinion is the best power forward to ever play the game. At 37 years old Duncan is on the decline, but his game is not built upon his explosive leaping ability or his superior quickness. He has aged well in the NBA and has one, maybe two more years of high quality basketball left in him. Age has forced Duncan to play at a pace a little slower during regular season, but in the playoffs as the games begin to mean more and more we still have the pleasure of seeing Tim Duncan play like Tim Duncan of old.
2 – LaMarcus Aldridge
Over the last three years few players in the NBA have been as consistent as Aldridge. He has averaged 21.8 ppg, 21.7 ppg, and 21.1 ppg to go with 8.8 rpg, 8.0 rpg, and 9.1 rpg. Aldridge is exactly what you look for in your prototypical four man. He can play with his back to the basket and he an stretch out his jumper to about 18 feet. He shoots 50 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the free throw line. Aldridge throws out more assists than he does turnovers and his assist numbers have gone up every season he has been in the NBA.
Aldridge has plateaued in what he is going to do in this league and the only route for him to improve his status as a big man is to make a couple runs in the playoffs. Aldridge has accomplished everything in his career playing in obscurity in Portland. Fortunately for Aldridge, the Trailblazers have provided him a competitive roster with the additions of Robin Lopez and CJ McCollum. Lopez will allow Aldridge to play the power forward, which is his more natural position. Look for Aldridge to put up his usual 21 and 8 during this season, but you will pay more attention because the Trail Blazers will be a much better team.
3 – Dirk Nowitzki
I do not care what people say, Dirk can still play. He battled through knee troubles and played the fewest minutes of his career since his rookie year. He still went for 17 points and 7 rebounds per game. You could say Dirk started the transition from back to the basket power fowards to more of the pick and pop, stretch power forward with his style of play.
For his career Dirk has dropped 22.6 ppg, grabbed 8.2 boards and shot over 38 percent from deep. He is a twelve time All-NBA selection and has both a Finals and a Regular Season MVP. At 35, Dirk will be looking for a rebound year and I think he will have it. Dirk struggled all of last season with conditioning while trying to recover from knee issues. With a full off-season not interrupted by attempting to play for the German National Team, Dirk will be at full strength and that is not a good thing for the rest of the NBA.
4 – David West
West is the perfect player to lead the Pacers and his demeanor and leadership ability is a huge reason why the Pacers were able to take the Heat to the brink of elimination in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. Before his knee injury during the 2010-11 season West was arguably a top three four-man in the NBA. He had two seasons where he put up 20 ppg, 8 rpg and 3 apg. After a season recovering from that knee injury where he saw his numbers drop considerably, West got back on track scoring 17.1 ppg and grabbing 7.7 rpg.
Playing alongside Roy Hibbert gives West one-on-one situations in the post where he can go stretches being unguardable. West can step out and hit a 17 footer and hits over 80 percent from the foul line for his career. West will age well as his game is more Tim Duncan-esque allowing for him to play below the rim and be effective. West is the emotional center of the Pacers and brings a culture of toughness few in the league can match. The Pacers rewarded West with a three-year deal worth 36 million dollars and he will be worth every penny. Look for West to continue an upward trend in his third season since his serious knee injury.
5 – Zach Randolph
Another player on this list who plays the game below the rim. Randolph had been stuck in the mud in Portland, Los Angeles (Clippers), and New York, but he has found some traction in Memphis. Randolph had five seasons of 20 point, 10 rebound per game earlier in his career and while those types of numbers are no longer in the cards for the native of Marion, Indiana, he can still put up some excellent stats. Randolph has come a long way from being part of a deal that saw him traded from New York for Quentin Richardson straight up in 2009.
Playing alongside Marc Gasol has given Randolph a running mate who compliments his game and allows Randolph free reign of the paint. The only problems with Randolph’s game are his inability to knock down mid-range jumpers and he can check out mentally on occasion. Those problems aside Randolph will be a force this year as the Grizzlies will look to build off their Western Conference Finals appearance last season.
6 – Kevin Love
I really am not a fan of putting Love here, but when healthy Love has the ability to be the best power forward in the game. He only played 18 games last season, and has never played in the playoffs, but there is no denying the man can flat play the game. In 2011-12 Love averaged 26 ppg and 13.3 rpg while shooting .372 from three. In 55 games in 2011-12 he had 48 double-doubles, which led the NBA. In 2010-11 Love had 64 double-doubles in 73 total games, which was second best in the NBA and was the highest percentage in the NBA. In 2011-12 Love finished second in rebounding and fourth in scoring in the NBA, the last player to do that? The man atop this list, Tim Duncan.
Love’s game is a fusion of what power forward play in the NBA used to be and the new breed of pick and pop 4-men. Above all Love has the best outlet game in the world. No one throws an outlet pass off a board like he can. With the improvement of center Nikola Pekovic, Love can play with more space to work and has a front court mate who can actually play. Look for Love to have a standout year after recovering from a fractured hand.
7 – Kevin Garnett
One of the best power forwards to ever play the game. Unfortunately, he has no off switch and plays full out every second of every game. So unlike Tim Duncan, who can turn it off and on and still show flashes of greatness, Garnett is who he is at all times and pays the price. Granted, this season will be Garnett’s 18th, but he has seen significant drop off in his numbers since he joined the Celtics in 2007.
After nine straight 20-point, 10-rebound seasons Garnett has not put up a season with 16 points and 9 boards. The decline in numbers is evident, but the fire is still there. Perhaps we will see a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett this season joining the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have far more depth at the forward position than Boston has had the last few years and with less minutes we could see more of the Kevin Garnett we grew up watching.
8 – Blake Griffin
The most exciting big man in the league, Griffin has given more highlight plays than any other player in the NBA. Too bad for Griffin highlights are not a stat I am using to determine this list. Griffin has many holes in his game that his athleticism covers up. He is a below average shooter and when taking on premiere power forwards his post defense can be lacking. Griffin already has two seasons of 20 and 10 under his belt and his ceiling is higher than any other on this list. What Griffin can do cannot be taught and that is run and jump.
Griffin needs someone to work with him to develop more of a consistent offensive game. If he can work to get a legitimate mid-range game to go along with some back-to-the-basket moves, Griffin can be scary good. If he does not develop that portion of his game, Griffin will not be on this list for as long as he should as athleticism is not forever. Look for Griffin to be his usual self, putting up high teens scoring numbers and somewhere around twelve boards per game. As Chris Paul correctly stated the Clippers only chance of being a championship contender is if Griffin plays up to his potential.
9 – Chris Bosh
I gave serious thought to not putting Bosh on this list. He has lost who he is as a basketball player. The compass he uses to determine his direction is constantly pointing southwest. Bosh has all the skill in the world. He can board, he can score, and he is an above average defender. Unfortunately, his numbers have gotten worse and worse each year since joining the Heat. He is only 29 years-old and has an opportunity to turn it around and take the image of him getting abused by David West, Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan out our memories.
Chris Bosh is a 20 and 10 talent who seems confused about his role. LeBron and Wade need to have a sit down with Bosh and let him know what he needs to do. Stop shooting threes and get back to playing back-to-the-basket with a great face-up game. Bosh can be the player he was in Toronto he just needs help to get pointed back in the right direction.
10 – Josh Smith
Another player who forgets who he is from time-to-time. Hopefully in Detroit, Smith will get to play the power forward spot, which is where he would be most effective. Unfortunately, with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond also on the roster, he likely won’t get that chance. He is a freak athletically and can be dominate if given the right opportunity. Shooting threes is not a part of his game that should be on display at any point.
Smith is capable of playing All-NBA basketball. He can be nonchalant at times and disappears from the stat sheet. If Smith can find some consistency and become a player who a team can depend on game in and game out, he can move up this list. If not, there are very capable players who will pass him by. Right now, he is on the border of not deserving a spot on this list, but his potential to be a perennial all-star gives him the nod.