Ranking the Top 10 Power Forwards in the NBA
Don't look now, but power forward is quickly becoming one of the strongest positions in the NBA.
There's a set of veterans that still holds down most all the elite spots in these rankings, but there are a number of young guns challenging them. Anthony Davis is one, but he's not the only player on the right end of 25 starting to make an extremely positive name for himself.
But how high can The Unibrow rise? Is he a top-five player at his position despite only having a little more than a season of professional basketball under his belt? Is he even better than that?
Those are only a few of the intriguing questions that these rankings will answer.
Here's hoping your favorite team gets represented in the next 10 slides. But if not, sorry; there are only 10 spots.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come courtesy of Basketball-Reference and are current as of Dec. 19.
10. David Lee
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.0 PER
If only David Lee could play defense. Sadly, he can't.
The Golden State Warriors power forward has continued to put up spectacular offensive numbers while crashing the boards with both frequency and effectiveness, but he's still incapable of preventing the other team from scoring with relative ease.
So far, Synergy Sports (subscription required) shows that Lee is allowing opponents to score 1.0 points per possession. If you don't think that's bad, think again; no fewer than 308 players throughout the NBA have posted better marks thus far.
Despite what SportsCenter and YouTube would have you believe, both ends of the basketball court matter. Until Lee can do something positive on defense—particularly against spot-up shooters—his upward mobility is severely limited.
9. Chris Bosh
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks, 18.7 PER
Chris Bosh may line up at center for the Miami Heat more often than not, but he's still a power forward. And he's still one of the 10 best power forwards, even if he's no longer coming anywhere near the numbers he posted for the Toronto Raptors.
What makes Bosh's value linger despite the declining per-game numbers is his efficiency.
Throughout the 2013-14 campaign, he's shot 51.6 percent from the field, and he's starting to post the best three-point numbers of his career. On 1.9 attempts per game, Bosh is hitting a third of his tries, which isn't particularly shabby for a mid-range shooter in the process of expanding his arsenal.
Plus, he loves making those big shots.
Despite missing 15 shots in a row from beyond the arc, Bosh compartmentalized the past against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 18 and hit the triple that pulled Miami right back into the game during the fourth quarter. He may go through slumps, but they're exactly that.
Slumps, not trends.
Sooner or later, Bosh always gets it going.
8. David West
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 17.6 PER
David West may not put up glamorous numbers, but he continues to be the heart and soul of the Indiana Pacers.
With his deadly mid-range jumper and tough, physical defense, he sets the tone for the Eastern Conference contenders on a nightly basis. As long as West is on the court, the opponents know without a shadow of a doubt that nothing is going to come easy.
According to NBA.com, the Pacers score 106.5 points and allow 93.2 per 100 possessions when West is on the court. For those of you without a calculator, that's a difference of 13.3. But when he sits, Indiana scores only 94.8 and allows 96.9.
Not quite as impressive a difference, huh?
As the Indy Star's Curt Cavin writes, West is willing to fill any role that the Pacers need, so long as he helps produce wins.
The 33-year-old power forward might not finish plays with points, rebounds and assists as often as some other elite power forwards, but it's tough to argue with the overall impact he makes when he's on the hardwood.
7. Paul Millsap
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks, 20.0 PER
Paul Millsap was always one of the more underrated players in the NBA during his time with the Utah Jazz. The undersized forward didn't play a particularly glamorous style of basketball, and his contributions were often overshadowed by Al Jefferson and the lack of winning in Salt Lake City.
Well, he's with the Atlanta Hawks now, and he's still underrated.
Millsap has meshed perfectly with Al Horford, contributing in every way that Mike Budenholzer has asked him to. Most impressively, he's become a true stretch 4 for the first time in his career, expanding his range to include that coveted area beyond the three-point arc.
The 28-year-old power forward hasn't just been good when shooting three-pointers; he's been scorching hot, almost as though he's shooting them from the middle of the sun.
A career 27.4-percent shooter from downtown during his time in Utah, Millsap has drained 43.4 percent of his attempts thus far, and it's not like he's firing away sparingly. Au contraire, as he's letting fly 2.1 times per contest.
6. Tim Duncan
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.7 blocks, 21.0 PER
If only Tim Duncan played more.
He's doing everything in his power to break into the top five, but the minute restrictions put in place by Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are preventing him from achieving that goal. After all, Duncan is playing just 28.1 minutes per game, and that hasn't been enough time for him to establish himself as elite.
Those per-game numbers are fantastic, but the per-36-minute ones are even better: 17.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.6 steals and 2.2 blocks. So basically the same sort of numbers he's been producing throughout the later portion of his incredible career.
Defensively, Duncan is starting to take a slight step backward.
He can't close out on shooters with as much ease and he's sagging back quickly on pick-and-roll sets rather than affecting the ball-handler as much as he previously has. Still dominant against post-up players and roll men, though, Duncan has maintained most of his greatness on that end.
It might seem blasphemous to have the greatest power forward of all time at No. 6, but he just hasn't played enough to merit inclusion in the top five. The next player in the rankings, for example, has already spent 337 more minutes on the court than Duncan, and that's too much of a gap to overcome.
5. Blake Griffin
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 20.0 PER
Enough with the "Blake Griffin is overrated" claims.
The 24-year-old power forward is averaging not just a double-double, but 20.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He's adding 3.1 assists per contest and is doing so while shooting well over 50 percent from the field.
It's tough to ask much more than that, especially since Griffin has been putting new moves on display throughout the season. All of a sudden, some post moves are there, and the mid-range looks have been falling with far more consistency.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Griffin is actually scoring 0.88 points per possession on post-ups, good for the No. 40 spot in the NBA. It's the improvement we've all been waiting to see, so go ahead and enjoy seeing it rather than griping about the past.
Yes, Griffin dunks a lot. Yes, he's still struggling to become a defensive stopper, though he's taken strides forward this season. Yes, he still flops on occasion.
Despite all that, the man is a damn good basketball player.
4. Dirk Nowitzki
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks, 23.7 PER
If you hear anyone say that Dirk Nowitzki has declined, do me a favor and laugh at them. Not in a mean way, but just in an "I feel sorry for you because you clearly haven't bothered to watch him play at all this season" way.
The German 7-footer is a full season removed from the offseason surgery that kept him out in 2012-13, and he's benefiting rather significantly from playing alongside Monta Ellis. Now that he's joined by a dominant scoring threat, he can feast on the lack of defensive attention.
Dirk still isn't much of a rebounder, and he doesn't intimidate anyone when he tries to keep them from scoring. But his offense is still simply sublime.
The veteran big man and future Hall of Famer is shooting 49.5 percent from the field (his best mark since 2010-11), 41.9 percent beyond the arc (tops since 2009-10) and a career-high 92.7 percent at the charity stripe.
Yep, that's right.
Nowitzki is right on the verge of challenging for entry to the 50/40/90 club, and he's doing so while averaging 21 points per game.
3. Anthony Davis
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 3.4 blocks, 28.3 PER
Only one player in the NBA has a higher PER than Anthony Davis, and his name is LeBron James. Not exactly something to be embarrassed about, last time I checked.
After a solid but injury-marred rookie season, The Unibrow has exploded during his sophomore campaign. Showing off his ball-handling and jump-shooting skills, he's emerged as a legitimate offensive option while making massive strides on defense.
Instead of being bullied by bigger players when attempting to stop them in the post, Davis is now doing the bullying. He's been one of the league's best rim-protectors, and that hasn't prevented him from doing anything else.
A broken hand kept the Kentucky product out for a few weeks, but he surprised everyone with an early return against the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 18. All he did was come off the bench to record 24 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. After the game, he said the following, via NBA.com:
I've got to get back in a rhythm. You can work out for as much as you want and train as much as you want, but that game rhythm is a lot different. Hopefully it won't take me long to get my shot back and the plays I usually make and get back in the groove.
If he's not in the groove with that type of performance, look out NBA; there's no telling what he'll do when he is.
2. Kevin Love
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.2 points, 13.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 27.3 PER
You might be surprised to see Kevin Love's name popping up before the final spot in these rankings, especially after he dominated the Portland Trail Blazers to the tune of 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.
Bear with me.
Love puts up absolutely monstrous numbers, especially in the points and rebounds columns. He's also a fantastic passer for a player his size, particularly when Corey Brewer is leaking out for a bullet of an outlet pass that can't help but remind older fans of Wes Unseld and/or Bill Walton.
But there are still a few flaws in Love's game.
Rather than address them here, let's acknowledge that he and the No. 1 player are both supremely dominant power forwards and then move on to a more direct comparison that will highlight the holes in Love's resume.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, 23.2 PER
LaMarcus Aldridge has two big legs up on Kevin Love, even after losing the head-to-head battle on Dec. 18. It's worth noting, though, that Aldridge still posted 15 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in the loss.
The first advantage isn't entirely due to Aldridge and Love's play, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.
While the Minnesota Timberwolves sit outside of the Western Conference playoff picture with a 13-13 record, Aldridge has guided Rip City near the very top of the standings. Portland boasts a 22-5 record, one that leaves them with the No. 2 seed in the tougher conference.
There's also that little thing called defense.
Well, it really isn't so little, seeing as it's literally half the battle during any NBA game. And, as they say, defense wins championships.
Neither Love nor Aldridge is a standout defender, but two areas push the latter well ahead of the former. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Aldridge allows 0.33 and 0.19 fewer points per possession against roll men in pick-and-roll sets and spot-up shooters, respectively. He also gives up 0.06 fewer overall.
That might not seem like a huge difference, but it is when you consider the two power forwards' roles in their systems.
While the 'Wolves hide Love on a regular basis—if you look carefully, you might find him in a hopeless place—the Blazers have actively built their system around Aldridge. They force him and Robin Lopez into one-on-one matchups, assuming they can hold their own while the focus of the remaining three players shifts to the perimeter.
It's a close matchup between the NBA's two uber-elite 4s, but the two-way play of Aldridge allows him to emerge as the slight favorite. At least right now.