Forward Progress: The 5 Greatest Power Forwards in NBA History

Cecil RileyCorrespondent IIJune 12, 2011

Forward Progress: The 5 Greatest Power Forwards in NBA History

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    SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 20:  Forward Bruce Bowen #12 and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs defend Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 20, 2009
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Watching Dirk Nowitzki dominate during these NBA playoffs makes you realize how much the power forward position has truly evolved through the game's history.  In today's game, the role of power forward is multifaceted and requires an array of skills to adequately play the position. 

    Dirk is a great example of the change.  With the ability to shoot from distance and put the ball on the floor, he may be the most unorthodox player to ever excel at the position.  Who are the NBA's greatest power forwards?

5. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Nowitzki's great footwork and soft shooting touch makes him virtually unguardable.
    Nowitzki's great footwork and soft shooting touch makes him virtually unguardable.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Some may scoff at Dirk making this list at No. 5, but one thing is clear: no one has ever played power forward quite like Nowitzki. 

    The 7'0" German is a complete offensive weapon.  For his career, Nowitzki carries a healthy average of 23 points per game.  He can face up and maneuver on the block.  His superior coordination and feathery shooting touch allow him to make awkward, off-balance shots routinely.  Dirk has also perfected the art of getting to the free-throw line and his 88 percent conversion rate helps minimize off shooting nights.

    Much maligned for his lack of toughness, Nowitzki can still do the dirty work required from NBA power forwards.  His career 8.4 rebounds per game are impressive for a player that routinely floats out to the perimeter.

    What truly separates Dirk from all the rest is his tremendous shooting range.  Few players in league history—much less big men—possess Dirk's long-range ability.  A career 38 percent three-point shooter, Dirk currently sits at No. 39 in career three-point makes.

    Dirk's unique skill set earned him league MVP honors for the 2007 season.  He has earned All-NBA honors 11 times and is currently one win away from his first NBA championship.    

4. Kevin McHale

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    McHale was a  technician on the low block.
    McHale was a technician on the low block.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Kevin McHale's numbers do not jump out at you at first glance.  Career averages of 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while solid, are not eye-popping.  His play, however, was much greater than his numbers. 

    A member of perhaps the greatest front line in NBA history, McHale was flanked by fellow greats Larry Bird and Robert Parish for much of his career.  His greatness was obvious, however.  Possessing as polished a post game as the NBA has ever seen, Kevin dazzled defenders with an array up-and-under moves, drop steps and jump hooks.  Watching McHale was like watching a clinic on how to score on the low block.

    Limited in shooting opportunities due to playing with Bird and Parish, McHale made the most of opportunities shooting .554 from the floor for his career.  Twice he shot over 60 percent from the floor in the '87 and '88 seasons.  He was also efficient from the charity stripe, converting at an 80 percent clip. 

    McHale was an opportunist, adapting to any role he was given.  He was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in both the '84 and the '85 seasons.  Defensively, McHale was equally great, earning a spot on the All-Defensive first or second team seven times.

    McHale's truly defining accomplishments are the three NBA championships he earned as a member of the Boston Celtics.  Kevin's career numbers are actually better in the postseason—evidence that he was a true champion. 

3. Kevin Garnett

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 09:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics reacts after a foul is called on the Miami Heat in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 9, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER
    Elsa/Getty Images

    When Kevin Garnett's name is mentioned, one word instantly comes to mind: intensity.  Even at this advanced stage in his career, few can question "The Big Ticket" and his desire to win.  The 6'11" forward made the jump straight from high school in 1995 and has been a source of inspiration for every team he has played on.

    Along with the energy, KG brings a complete game.  With career averages of 19.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, Garnett has been a dominant plate in this league for 15 years.  Garnett developed range that extends out to 20 feet, as well as a quality post game.  Garnett is a rugged rebounder, taking four straight rebounding titles from 2003 through 2007.  He is also a brilliant passer, averaging over an assist per game for his career.  

    His banner year was 2004, where his 24.2 points and 13.9 rebounds per game earned him the NBA Most Valuable Player award.

    Along with offense, Garnett is one of the greatest defenders in league history.  In his prime, Kevin was able to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, earning All-Defensive honors 11 times throughout his career.  After being traded to the Boston Celtics, Garnett stepped back his scoring to fortify the defensive end, taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008.  That was also the year Garnett earned his first NBA championship.

2. Karl Malone

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    Malone currently sits second on the NBA scoring list.
    Malone currently sits second on the NBA scoring list.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Karl Malone was as consistent a player as there ever has been in the NBA.  Still sitting at No. 2 on the all-time scoring list, "The Mailman" never failed to deliver.  The 6'9", 250 lb. forward is one of the NBA's greatest finishers averaging 25 points per game for his career.  Blessed with the gift of durability, Malone did not miss significant time due to injury throughout his 19 seasons until his final year with Los Angeles.

    Malone's 36,928 points and 14,968 rebounds rank him second and seventh, respectively.  He also sits at 45th in career assists and 10th all time in steals.  He was named to 14 All-NBA teams and four All-Defensive teams.  He was named the NBA MVP in 1997 and again in 1999.

    The only missing piece in this great career is an NBA title, which Malone failed to secure in his three opportunities.

1. Tim Duncan

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    Duncan has earned four NBA titles in his career.
    Duncan has earned four NBA titles in his career.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    There is very little argument against Duncan as the top player on this list.  Nicknamed "The Big Fundamental," the 6'11" forward has set the standard for all others.  The two-time league MVP has been a dominant force in the NBA since his rookie year in 1998.  Whether it's throwing up a hook shot in the lane, crashing the boards for a putback or facing up and unleashing a 12-foot bank shot, Duncan quietly gets it done. 

    Duncan's numbers, while impressive, don't do his talent justice.  Averaging 20.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game for his career, Duncan has been named to 13 All-NBA teams.  He is currently 10th all time in blocked shots and has been named to the All-Defensive team 12 times. 

    The true measure of Duncan's greatness is his championships.  Duncan led the Spurs to four titles, in which he was named NBA Finals MVP three times.  While not possessing the flash or flair others may have, Timmy has quietly earned the position as the greatest power forward in NBA history.