Who Is the Best Power Forward in the NBA Today?
The NBA has enjoyed an influx of great power forwards over the years. The depth of talent has led to this inevitable question: Who is the best power forward in the game right now?
When it comes to holding the title of being the best at their respective position, there seems to be a general consensus over who holds the crown at the four other spots.
Since coming over from New Orleans to Los Angeles in 2010, Chris Paul has built on an already-remarkable career and established himself as the "point god." He's an elite scorer, defender and distributor as well as a perennial MVP contender.
At the other guard spot, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has held the crown for some time. His recent battle with Father Time has allowed younger candidates such as Houston's James Harden to try and dethrone The Black Mamba.
At center, Harden's new teammate Dwight Howard is regarded by many as the best. With his combination of size and athleticism as well as his prowess on the glass and on defense, D12 is the closest thing to the total package.
It seems fitting that a self-proclaimed king would find himself at the top of the small forward food chain. Miami's LeBron James towers over the league like a colossus, but the presence of Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Indiana's Paul George threaten King James' reign.
The field is more wide open at power forward. Several candidates can stake their claim at the top spot, which brings us to why we're here.
To help get to the bottom of this debate, I comprised a list of the best power forwards in the game. For each contender, a case has been made on both sides why they should and should not be considered the best.
Now, this list shouldn't be confused with rankings. The contenders are arranged in no particular order. The criteria are based on statistics, team success and the player's standing on his own team.
Since this is a democracy, the decision comes down to your choices in the comment section. Feel free to add any comments or concerns or make the case for anyone you believe was snubbed. My personal choice for the top spot can be found in the final slide.
When it came down to it, some players weren't great enough to be considered contenders but were too good to be completely ignored. Here are a handful of honorable mentions, complete with what they need to do to enter the fray down the road.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
"The Unibrow" started off his sophomore season firing on all cylinders. He showed significant development in his offensive game to go along with his already stellar defensive chops.
In 17 games this season, the former No. 1 overall pick is averaging 19.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. Did I mention that he's still only 20 years old?
He has all the makings of a potential superstar. As he grows into his role as the Pelicans' franchise cornerstone, he'll rapidly become more of a household name. The main thing that keeps "SkyNet" from the best power forward discussion is health.
Davis has the tragic tendency to get hurt right when he's gaining momentum. His rookie season was cut short by a knee injury just as he was putting together his best numbers. This year, in the midst of a possible All-Star campaign, he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his hand.
The former Kentucky Wildcat has all the tools to be the best, but he needs to put together a full season before he can earn consideration.
Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
In a couple of years, the battles in the paint between Davis and Greg Monroe are going to be must-see TV. Like Davis, Monroe is emerging as one the best young big men in the NBA.
After averaging 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game last year, he is contributing 14.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a night this season. At only 23 years old, he still has a bright future ahead of him.
The knock on him is two-fold. First, he shares the spotlight with the equally impressive Andre Drummond and free-agent addition Josh Smith. It's tough for him to separate himself in such a talented frontcourt.
Second, Monroe doesn't have Davis' elite defensive skills. He'll get his hands on a few shots, but he isn't going to produce blocks at the same rate as the Unibrow. Still, he's going to be a solid power forward for a long time, and his clashes with fellow youngsters will be something to see.
Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
It was a last-minute decision even to put Pau Gasol on the list of honorable mentions. The main reasons for his late addition were the scant hope that he finds a new home and the pressure of Hollywood's bright lights doesn't continue to hinder him.
At 33 years old, Gasol isn't what he once was. His body is starting to quit on him, and he hasn't looked comfortable in Los Angeles in quite some time. Still, he's posting a modest 15 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest.
Those aren't "elite" numbers by any means, but I'm rolling the dice on Gasol still having one more big year left in his career.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Statistics: 16.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game; 45 percent shooter from the field and just under 76 percent from the free-throw line
While his skills have started to decline, Zach Randolph is still a factor in the paint. He has been one of the Grizzlies' best offensive weapons for years with his litany of moves in the post. He combines a sneaky outside jumper with an old-school knack for putting his brute strength to good use.
He's solid on the glass as well. Excluding his injury-riddled 2011-12 campaign, Z-Bo has averaged double-digit rebounds per game for most of the last half-decade. He has played a large part in keeping Memphis competitive for the last few seasons, even without Rudy Gay.
Randolph is a bit lacking on the defensive end. His size and strength keep him from getting overpowered in the paint, but he doesn't do much to hinder opponents from scoring.
According to 82games.com, opponents are shooting 51.9 percent against Randolph this season (compared to 49.4 percent when he's off the court).
Plus, his numbers have taken a dip over the last couple of years. After averaging close to 20 and 12 a night in his first two years in Memphis, his scoring averages have been 11.6, 15.4 and 16.4 points per game each year.
His track record has been good enough to get him here. In the end, though, he's like the Robin Thicke of nominees. He's worthy of being mentioned, but he's a long shot to win.
David Lee, Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Statistics: 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game; 49 percent shooter from the field and 81 percent from the free-throw line.
David Lee is a double-double machine. He led the league in that category last season with a total of 56, which was eight better than second-place finisher Dwight Howard. This season, he is sixth with 16 double-doubles in 28 games.
Lee is one of the best inside scorers in the game, which complements his standing as a relentless rebounder. He deserves credit for his constant energy on the boards, as it's helped make the Warriors one of the league's most exciting teams.
In some ways, he is like a younger, better version of Zach Randolph. He's even surprisingly solid at the charity stripe for a big guy, with a career free-throw mark of 78 percent.
Like Randolph, Lee's biggest weakness is defense, although he possesses an effective field-goal percentage allowed of 47.9 percent, according to 82games.com. He isn't going to block a ton of shots, and his lack of ideal height puts him at a disadvantage against taller forwards.
Additionally, it is tough to stand out when he shares the basketball with one of the game's best scorers in Stephen Curry. As long as Dell's son is on the court, Lee will play second fiddle at best.
Now, that's not Lee's fault. It's just tough to establish himself as the best at his position when he has to fight for touches in such a star-studded lineup.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Statistics: 14.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game; 51 percent shooter from the field (including a surprising 35 percent from three) and nearly 79 percent from the free-throw line.
Serge Ibaka is one of the league's more well-rounded power forwards. He can score around the basket, he's tenacious on the boards, and he's an elite shot-blocker. Of those traits, his knack for swatting shots is his bread and butter.
He has led the league in total blocks in the last three seasons and in blocks per game in the past two. This season, his 2.4 swats per game put him third behind Anthony Davis and Roy Hibbert. His offensive game has improved in the last two seasons, including hitting the occasional trifecta.
His recent exploits as a poor man's stretch 4 notwithstanding, Ibaka doesn't have many offensive weapons. He can drain an outside shot every now and then, but he's at his best when he stays in the paint.
Teams that play the Thunder don't game-plan on how to stop Ibaka on the offensive end. That's because their focus is on Ibaka's more high-profile teammates, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
For all of his talents, he is more of a contributor than a potential star. He defends the position as well as anyone in the league, but his offensive limitations make his case for the top spot pretty tough.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Statistics: 21.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game; 49 percent shooter from the field (including nearly 40 percent from behind the arc) and 92 percent shooter from the free-throw line.
Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest German import to hit U.S. soil since Beck's and is arguably the best three-point-shooting big man in NBA history. He's 26th all-time in career three-pointers and is 87th all-time in career three-point percentage.
Even at 35 years old and on a team that is a shell of what it once was, Nowitzki still manages to put up impressive numbers. He's 15th in the league in scoring, and his near-40 percent conversion rate from three puts him among the top 40 in the category.
He's also money from the free-throw line, which is remarkable for a 7-footer. He is currently sixth in the NBA with a 92 percent mark from the charity stripe.
He continues to build on a legacy that includes 11 All-Star appearances, four All-NBA First Team selections, an MVP and a NBA championship.
Nowitzki has never been much of a defender. He's not the walking turnstile that some of his colleagues have become over the years, but he doesn't instill the same fear that a Serge Ibaka or Anthony Davis does.
Also, since averaging 9.7 boards per game in the 2004-05 season, his rebounding numbers have dropped nearly every season. His 6.1 rebounds a game this season is behind the likes of guards such as Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner.
Yes, it is natural for a guy entering his 16th season to lose a step or two, but a guy with Nowitzki's size and uncanny quickness should be a little better on the glass.
Overall, he's an excellent scorer and dangerous shooter, but he has to prove he can still be more than that to gain ground at a very deep position.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Statistics: 25.2 points and 13.7 rebounds per game; 45 percent shooter from the field (including 38 percent from the three-point line) and nearly 83 percent from the free-throw line.
Kevin Love has made up for his athletic shortcomings by utilizing impeccable instincts. Few players are better at predicting where the ball will bounce off the rim than the former UCLA standout. As a scorer, he can light it up in a variety of ways.
He possesses a solid post-up game but can also beat you deep (career 36 percent shooter from three). Since he's so good at cleaning the glass, he's been able to pad his stats thanks to second-chance opportunities.
His 25.2 points per game are good for third in the NBA, and he leads the league with 13.7 rebounds per game. If not for Minnesota's putrid 13-14 record (as of Dec. 22), Love would not only be in the discussion as the league's best power forward but as its Most Valuable Player as well.
A few things hinder Love's case for the top spot. For one, his defense is lacking, to say the least. According to 82games.com, opponents are shooting 52.8 percent with Love on the court this season (compared to 50.8 percent when he's off).
For all of his instincts, he doesn't block many shots or come up with many steals.
Next, health has become an issue over the last few years. He's played in 73 games combined in the last two seasons, which are as many as he played during the entire 2010-11 campaign.
Last season, he managed to play in only 18 games due to myriad injuries. It's tough to trust a player with the "best power forward" crown if he can't stay on the court.
Lastly, for all of his greatness, his teams aren't successful. Prior to this season, here is how Minnesota has finished each year since Love came on board:
- 2008-09: 24-58
- 2009-10: 15-67
- 2010-11: 17-65
- 2011-12: 26-40
- 2012-13: 31-51
Even with the best supporting cast he's had since he became a pro, the Timberwolves are still a game under .500. How can a player be the best at his position when his team is 113-281 in the first five years of him being there?
Love has the talent and numbers to make a strong case, but his season has to start extending past April.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Statistics: 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game; 51.5 percent shooter from the field and 67.5 percent from the free-throw line.
You can count on one hand how many power forwards have come into the league over the last decade or so with the kind of athleticism that Blake Griffin possesses. Few things get the crowd on the edge of their seats quite like Griffin awaiting a lob while running the fast break.
Since entering the league in 2009 and making his debut in 2010, he has put his athletic ability to good use on the offensive end. He's averaged at least 20 points per game in two of the past three seasons. He's also posted double digits in rebounds per game twice in that same span. Last year, he averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds in what was his "worst" statistical season.
Griffin is a fixture on SportsCenter with his daily ration of amazing dunks. His combination of size, strength, speed and leaping ability makes him a mismatch for almost any forward trying to defend him in the paint.
Even better, he's still only 24 years old with plenty of room to grow.
Perhaps our criticism of Griffin has been brought on by our own high expectations for a man with his physical gifts. As productive as he has been over the last few seasons, there is still much to improve upon.
First, he could be a lot better defensively. When you can jump higher than nearly everyone else on the court, you should be able to get your hands on a few more shots. Instead, Griffin's career high for blocks in a season so far is 50 (which, oddly enough, came in his aforementioned "down" year).
Second, there has to be more to his offensive game than dunking over everybody. His post-up game is getting better (in terms of versatility), but his jumper remains a work in progress. For Griffin to excel with all of those talents, he has to become less one-dimensional.
Next, he isn't the greatest free-throw shooter. Most elite forwards convert at least 70 percent from the charity stripe. Griffin is nailing only 67 percent of his freebies, which is way up from his career mark of 62 percent.
Again, Griffin is a victim of our own high standards. We expect a former No. 1 overall pick who is teaming with the best point guard in the league to have more success. Instead, he has become more famous for his dunks and acting chops (my personal favorite being his collaboration with Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron) than for any postseason run.
There's no reason Griffin and Chris Paul can't be this generation's Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. We've seen the sizzle. It's time to see the steak.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Statistics: 14.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game; 46 percent shooter from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line.
Five or six years ago, the title for the best power forward in the game wouldn't even be up for debate. Tim Duncan would be the winner, and it wouldn't have been close. He is the prototype for the kind of franchise big man around whom teams hope to build.
The key to his success has been a vigorous attention to detail. Watching Duncan on the court is like reading a how-to guide on playing basketball. His technique is flawless. His bank shot is up there with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook and Larry Bird's follow-through on the short list of the greatest signature shots in league history.
For nearly 17 seasons, he's been remarkably consistent as a scorer, rebounder and defender. A testament to Duncan's greatness was his ability to help guide the Spurs to an unlikely trip to the NBA Finals last season, at the age of 37.
Even as he gets long in the tooth, he's still capable of a stellar performance. He dominated the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 2 to the tune of 23 points and 21 rebounds. He even threw in a couple of blocks and a steal for good measure.
No matter how great a player is, age is inevitably going to catch up to him. After going toe-to-toe with some of the game's greats, Duncan's greatest battle has been with Father Time. While he still plays at a high level, the former Wake Forest star isn't what he once was.
He's still a formidable part of the franchise, but the Spurs have become Tony Parker's team. San Antonio has focused on conserving its legendary big man by giving him the occasional day off to keep him fresh down the stretch.
While Duncan can still hang with the best when it matters, the miles on his odometer have caught up to him. His numbers are solid but not spectacular (especially for his standards). Still, he's arguably the greatest to ever play the position, and if last season is any indication, you should never count him out.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Statistics: 23.1 points and 11 rebounds per game; 47 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free-throw line.
LaMarcus Aldridge has spent the last few seasons making a name for himself. He averaged at least 20 points per game in the previous three seasons and is scoring a career-high 23.1 points a night (eighth in the NBA) this year.
He's also posting his best numbers on the glass. Aldridge's 11 rebounds per contest make this the first time he's posted a double-digit average in boards in nearly eight years in the league. He's a versatile big man capable of playing the 4 or 5, and he has a bevy of offensive weapons.
According to NBA.com, he is shooting 41.8 percent from between 10 and 14 feet. He's also converting 46.6 percent from between 15 and 19 feet. Lastly, he is nailing 37.7 percent of his attempts from between 20 and 24 feet.
Defensively, Aldridge isn't the elite stopper that guys like Serge Ibaka or Tim Duncan are (although Aldridge's effective field-goal percentage allowed is around 49 percent, according to 82games.com). He's still a better shot-blocker than Kevin Love or David Lee, but he could be better in that area.
Also, Aldridge needs to be a bit more aggressive. Even teammate Wesley Matthews recently mentioned his unselfishness on the Amani & Eytan show on NBC Sports Radio (h/t ProBasketballTalk):
He just wants to win, he’s an extremely unselfish (player). There was a time, forgot what game it was, I think he had 16 straight points or something like that, he was just balling and not missing a shot. We passed him the ball — and he had 38 so we want him to go ahead and get his 40 — and my guy was in the corner and he kind of stunted a little bit and what I yelled was like ‘ya (sic) LA, shoot the ball” and he passed it to me because he thought it was the right play. He was open and I was open but he should have shot it. I was mad because I had to shoot it and I missed it, it was messing my percentage up and I wasn't even supposed to be shooting it (laughs).
His unselfishness can go two ways. On the one hand, he could be the consummate team player who forgoes his own personal statistics for the greater good. On the other, he could be someone who shies away from being the go-to guy when the pressure is on (a la Chris Webber with the Kings). Time will tell which description best suits the former Texas Longhorn.
Why He's My Pick
He's the leader and best player on a team that is a surprising 23-5. He's the best offensive weapon on the league's most dangerous offense. Granted, point guard Damian Lillard is probably 1B in the pecking order, but even Wesley Mathews considers Aldridge to be the best at his position: "In my opinion, LaMarcus is the best power forward in the NBA. I think that we’re winning now, it’s evident."
After rumors of Aldridge wanting out surfaced this past summer, the big man has changed course and instead become the catalyst of one of the best teams in the league. He's a potential MVP candidate and is creeping up the ranks as one of the 10-15 best players in the game.
He can score in the post or from the outside. He hits his free throws. He's remarkably durable. He rebounds well, and at 28 years old, he's in the prime of his career. There may be guys on this list with more impressive resumes or better overall records, but for my money, Aldridge is the best power forward in the game right now.