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The Top 10 Power Forwards in NBA History: Is Tim Duncan No. 1?

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The Top 10 Power Forwards in NBA History: Is Tim Duncan No. 1?
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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As part of an ongoing series, we are taking a look at the ten greatest players at every position. 

Today, we’ll take a look at power forward, where Tim Duncan has led a recent crop of outstanding power forwards. Over the years, the power forward position has transcended, from mostly limited, low-post players, to the point where most power forwards today are agile, long, skilled players with the ability to face up their man, post up, or shoot jump shots. 

 

Here’s a look at our 10 greatest power forwards of all time.

 

 

 

Honorable Mention

 

Dave DeBusschere, Dennis Rodman, Robert Horry, Buck Williams, Amare Stoudemire, Horace Grant, Bob McAdoo

 

 

 

10. Jerry Lucas (1963-1974)

 

One of the greatest rebounders in NBA history, Jerry Lucas was the rare player who combined a soft shooting touch (17.0 points per game for his career) with brute physicality on the boards. 

 

Lucas is still the NBA’s fourth-best all-time rebounder, averaging 15.6 rebounds per game for his 11-year career. In the 1965-1966 season, Lucas averaged an insane 21.5 points and 21.4 rebounds, and was named to the All-NBA First Team, one of his five selections to an All-NBA team. Lucas also played in seven All-Star games, and was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1963-1964. 

 

A great winner, Lucas was the first American player to win championships in high school, college and the NBA.

 

 

 

9. Dirk Nowitzki (1999-present)

 

It killed me to put this man on my list. First off, he’s never won anything. Secondly, he is a soft, 7-foot jump-shooter. 

 

Nonetheless, it’s impossible to argue with Nowitzki’s production.  For his career, Nowitzki has averaged 22.7 points and 8.6 rebounds, including an MVP season in 2006-2007 (albeit maybe the least-deserving MVP of all-time after a dismal first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Warriors). 

 

In addition to being an extremely consistent performer, Nowitzki is an absolute matchup nightmare. For a 7-footer, his incredible shooting touch has never been replicated. Due to Dirk’s size, he can shoot over the top of anybody smaller than him, yet he is still agile enough to go by almost anybody his size. 

 

With his devastating skill set, it’s hard not to think Dirk could be even more productive than he already is, but he already is one of the top power forwards ever.

 

 

 

8. Dolph Schayes (1950-1964)

 

Dolph Schayes, a guy most youngsters won’t have even heard of, was one of the NBA’s earliest superstars. For fifteen years in the NBA, Schayes was the definition of consistency. 

 

He was a double-double machine, averaging double-doubles through each of his first twelve years in the league, and was named to the All-Star team all twelve of those years. In addition to being a twelve-time All-Star, Schayes was named to twelve All-NBA teams, including six first-team selections, and won the NBA championship in 1955 with the Syracuse Nationals. He averaged 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game for his career. 

 

Before researching for this article, I never would have put Dolph Schayes on the list, but his credentials speak for themselves.

 

 

 

7. Kevin McHale (1980-1993)

 

A Boston Celtics legend, Kevin McHale had a terrific thirteen-year career. Because of his great history of winning (McHale won three championships), the argument could probably be made that McHale should be higher on the list.  However, he was never the best player on any of those championship teams, playing second fiddle to Larry Bird. 

 

Nonetheless, McHale had an incredibly productive career. Known for his incredible post footwork, McHale was a load to stop down low. At the same time, he was unbelievable on the defensive end of the court, where his quick feet and long arms gave him the versatility to defend both big men and guards. 

 

McHale averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for his career, but the statistics alone understate his value to the Boston Celtics.

 

 

 

6. Elvin Hayes (1968-1984)

 

Elvin Hayes won the National College Player of the Year award in 1968, and didn’t miss a beat after being drafted into the NBA. For his first three years in the league, Hayes averaged over 28 points and 16 rebounds per game, a devastating three-year period of dominance. In fact, to this day Hayes is still the last rookie to lead the NBA in scoring. 

 

For his career, Hayes averaged 21.0 points and 12.5 rebounds, numbers that are deflated because he played into the twilight of his career, over the final two years of his career hardly resembling the player he once was. 

 

During his 16-year professional career, Hayes made 12 All-Star teams, six All-NBA teams, won the NBA Rookie of the Year, and took the Bullets to three NBA Finals, winning one of them. 

 

 

 

5. Charles Barkley (1984-2000)

 

The “Round Mound of Rebound,” Charles Barkley was undersized vertically and oversized horizontally. 

 

Despite his unique, at least by NBA-superstar standards, physique, Charles Barkley was an incredible power forward. Amazingly, standing at only 6’6” (and that was his listed height, probably not his real height), Barkley was able to average 11.7 rebounds, to go along with 22.1 points. 

 

He was an 11-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA performer, and the 1992-1993 NBA MVP.  While he never won a championship, he performed well in the playoffs, boosting his averages to 23.0 points and 12.9 rebounds. 

 

Additionally, on the 1992 Dream Team, arguably the greatest basketball team ever assembled, Barkley was the best player, leading the team by a large margin in scoring and finishing third in rebounding. 

 

 

 

4. Bob Pettit (1954-1965)

 

If I was doing this list merely on per game statistics, Bob Pettit would probably be #1.  Averaging an astounding 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds for his career, Pettit won two MVP’s and made the All-Star game every single year he played in the league.

 

Pettit made the All-NBA team in each of his eleven years, and was a first-team selection for his first ten years. 

 

He was a dynamic performer, and probably would have won a lot more titles (he won one) if he didn’t play in Bill Russell’s era.

 

 

 

3. Kevin Garnett (1995-present)

 

For a long time Kevin Garnett has been one of the NBA’s most productive players. 

 

Before last year, the only knock on Garnett had been that he had never taken his team won a championship. 

 

Last year, though, Garnett turned the Celtics’ franchise around and led them to their 17th NBA title. Now, there is nothing holding him back from being named as one of the NBA’s top all-time power forwards. 

 

Garnett has posted career averages of 20.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists, winning one MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year, and being named to twelve All-Star games along the way. 

 

Beyond his statistics, Garnett is one of the most intense players of all-time, bringing outstanding effort and unmatched desire every time he takes the court.

 

 

 

2. Karl Malone (1985-2004)

 

Karl Malone was one of the toughest players for me to rank. It was hard for me to rank a player this high who never won a championship. 

 

At the end of the day, though, Karl Malone was one of the most consistent, durable performers in NBA history, a guy who his team could always count on to contribute his career averages of 25.0 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was a fourteen-time All-Star, a two-time MVP, and a fourteen-time All-NBA player. 

 

His not winning a title is even somewhat excusable, as he played ruing the Jordan era, when the Bulls were hogging all the titles. 

 

He played the second most minutes in NBA history, and retired as the second greatest scorer in league history.

 

 

 

1. Tim Duncan (1997-present)

 

Though a lot of people may not appreciate his bland style, everyone has to respect Tim Duncan’s consistency and penchant for winning. 

 

Duncan has been a winner since his first year in the league, when he orchestrated what, at the time, was the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history. Since then, Duncan has led the Spurs to four championships, and been his eras greatest big man. 

 

Quietly, Duncan dominates on both ends of the floor. He kills opposing teams with his scoring and underrated passing offensively, and completely controls the paint on defense. 

 

Duncan has amassed incredible individual accolades along the way, including eleven trips to the All-Star game, two NBA MVP’s, 12 All-NBA teams and twelve All-Defensive Teams.

By being so consistent and such a great winner, Duncan has left no doubt that he is the NBA’s greatest power forward ever.


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