Ranking the Most Imposing Power Forwards Remaining in the NBA Playoffs
One of the most exciting first rounds in postseason history is in the books. Eight teams managed to impose their will and power forward into the second round, which, of course, begs the question: Who are the most imposing power forwards?
All eight starting 4s are ranked here, based on three criteria: performance, experience and leadership.
Both regular and postseason stats were considered. While the postseason is “where it matters,” looking at postseason stats uniquely can be deceptive, especially if it’s just one series.
That’s because you have the same opponent each game, and for some players, that works out better than for others. Bradley Beal was guarded by Jimmy Butler for his series. Wesley Matthews was “guarded” (and I use that word loosely) by James Harden. Let’s just say that one had a slightly more difficult task than the other.
In regards to experience, I considered how many times the player had been to the postseason and how far they had advanced.
I also considered how much of a role they played in their team advancing. Are they leaders or role players? Udonis Haslem has three rings, and Paul Pierce only has one, but Haslem doesn’t have a Finals MVP to his credit, nor has he never been a primary scoring option, so I gave more credit to Pierce than Haslem.
Some positions are debatable and ambiguous, so to simplify things, the current starter listed by the ESPN’s depth chart is listed. They are ranked here according to the standards above, worst to best.
8. Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat
Udonis Haslem is last on this list, but that doesn't mean he’s insignificant. He’s not a statistical monster. Even at his best he was never the guy who was filling up box scores. His best season, he averaged just 12.0 points and 9.0 rebounds, and that was a long time ago, in 2008.
His last 20-point game was Nov. 11, 2010.
But he brings it on defense. If he’s guarding a player, that player knows he’s going put in work. Teammate Dwyane Wade described his play.
"He’s just a tough cookie, man. He don’t look at height. He don’t look at weight. He don’t look at athleticism," Wade said, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post. "He just looks at it as you’re a man, I’m a man — and he goes out there and puts everything he has on the line.”
He's just been there and done that. Haslem has three rings on his hand, and while he might not have been the most essential part in getting them, but he was a factor in winning. He's the grit guy every champion needs.
He might be the least imposing player on this list, but that doesn't mean he’s unimposing.
7. Nene, Washington Wizards
If Nene continues to play like he did in the first round against Joakim Noah, the freshly minted Defensive Player of the Year, he’s going to make his placement here look bad.
Against the Chicago Bulls, Nene shot .548 while averaging 17.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game—up from his regular-season averages of 14.2 and 5.5. It’s not too often that a player picks up his numbers against the second-ranked defense in the league while being guarded by the reigning DPOY.
It’s hard to place him higher, though, because it’s just one series compared with a fairly moderate regular season. However, he’ll be facing the vaunted Indiana Pacers defense next round, which was the best in the NBA this season. If he continues what he started in the first round, he’ll emerge as one of the biggest stars of the postseason.
The battle between him and David West will be pivotal to who advances to the Eastern Conference Finals.
6. David West, Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers made it a goal to win the No. 1. seed in the Eastern Conference this year, and they just eked it out at the end. Then, they came close to losing in their opening-round series, falling behind to the Atlanta Hawks, three games to two.
In a closely contested battle in Atlanta in Game 6, David West played his best game of the postseason, arguably saving the series for his team. West posted 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 11 rebounds and six assists. The Pacers won the game, and then came home and took Game 7 handily.
This is who West is. He’s the epitome of the reliable, grizzled and wily veteran. He’s not going to “out-athletic” many opponents at this point in his career, but he has an array of skills. He can score in the post, and he can stretch the court with the jumper. He plays smart defense. He makes the right plays. Most importantly, he leads.
He’s tough. He sets hard screens. When he fouls, opponents know it. He plays physically.
He’s the kind of guy who is going to give you good, but not great, numbers. He always makes his presence felt, both statistically and literally. When it’s over, half his mark on the game is the time his counterpart spends in the ice bath.
5. Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets
Paul Pierce is still new to this whole power forward thing, having spent most of his career as a small forward. But when starting center Brook Lopez went down and the Brooklyn Nets’ season was spiraling into oblivion, Jason Kidd shook up the lineup. The Nets went small, starting three guards and moved Pierce to the 4.
It worked. The Nets turned their season around, and now they’re in the second round of the playoffs. Based on the starting lineups log at Basketball-Reference.com, the Nets were 33-7 when Pierce started at the 4.
He offers a unique set of challenges for opposing power forwards. He can stretch the court. He shot .373 from deep in the regular season. He also has more ability to drive the ball from the perimeter than most power forwards are used to seeing.
Pierce does give up a little defensively at the 4, but he tends to win the battle. He has a 20.7 player efficiency rating (PER) as a power forward, while giving up an average PER of 18.1 to his opponents, according to 82games.com.
Most power forwards are going to struggle defending him, but the Miami Heat will probably switch up LeBron James on him frequently. Considering the deep “affection” those two have developed for one another over the years, this is a series worth seeing.
4. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Anyone want to guess what Serge Ibaka’s favorite toy was when he was a kid? My guess is he was always playing with blocks. That hasn’t changed because he’s still playing with them for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lots and lots of them.
Just five years into his career, he’s only three shy of 1,000. Only 10 players in history have accrued them more quickly.
He’s led the NBA in total blocks for each of the last four season—a total of 900. That’s nearly twice as many as anyone else in the NBA over that span. JaVale Mcgee is second with 482. Roy Hibbert, with 476, is the only other player who reaches half of Ibaka’s total.
But Ibaka, as ominous to opponents as his defensive presence is, is no longer just a weak-side blocker. He’s developed as an offensive threat as well. This year, he averaged career highs in points (15.1), rebounds (8.8) and assists (1.1). He shot .536 from the field and .383 from deep.
His last two seasons are the only two in history when a player recorded 200 blocks, made 20 three-pointers, shot .500 from the field and .350 from deep.
In other words, Ibaka is emerging into one of the best two-way power forwards in the game. He isn't just a defensive threat anymore. Still, his rim protection has lost none of its intimidation.
3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin’s guns are so big he can only legally wear short-sleeved shirts in open-carry states. Physically, he’s the most imposing power forward in the NBA. His combination of size, strength and athleticism are only matched by Dwight Howard and LeBron James.
Until this season, though, he’s been viewed as a player whose skills lagged behind his physical attributes. He was considered a great dunker who didn’t bring much else to his game. That wasn’t entirely fair. He did average 10.4 boards and 3.6 assists through his first three seasons.
He also had Tweedledum, aka Vinnie Del Negro, as a coach. His first year with a real coach, Doc Rivers, his game showed instant improvement. Coincidence? I think not.
Griffin notched 24.1 points a game this year. He improved his jump shot, lifting his average from .330 to .348. He raised his free-throw percentage from .660 to .715. His true shooting percentage went from .572 to .583.
He also carried the Clippers when Chris Paul was injured. His defense improved considerably too.
He has matured as a player and finished third in the MVP voting, per NBA.com.
But there’s one concern I have about Griffin. Every year, he disappears from the glass in the playoffs. Two years ago, his rebounding fell off from 10.8 in the regular season to 6.9 in the postseason. Last year, it fell from 8.3 to 5.5. This year, it has dropped from 9.5 to 6.3.
In a series as tight as the one with the Oklahoma City Thunder is expected to be, games will come down to one or two possessions, and those one or two rebounds could make the difference. Griffin will have to show up on the glass for the Clippers to win this series.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Statistically, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers is arguably the best power forward left standing. Although, Blake Griffin has a good argument, too. However, Aldridge, on the strength of his postseason, gets the nod over Griffin.
In his first-round series against the Houston Rockets, Aldridge averaged 29.8 points and 11.2 rebounds. That’s enough to make him the third-leading scorer this postseason and fourth-leading rebounder.
So you might be arguing, then why isn’t he top on the list?
Yes, the argument can be made that Aldridge is the best power forward left in the playoffs. Being the best doesn’t mean he’s the most imposing, though. This is just his first trip to the second round. He doesn’t have the legacy to keep opponents up at night, especially if that opponent is Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.
Who do you see losing more sleep over their next opponent, Aldridge or Duncan?
This is the ultimate case of the young champion going up against the seasoned warrior and captain of the guard. It’s not impossible for Aldridge and the Trail Blazers to win, but even if they don’t, the experience of having gone against Duncan for a series will have its own value for Aldridge.
And going up against the Spurs will benefit Portland. These are the types of series young, building teams like the Trail Blazers need to pass through to become champions. They’re the kinds of experiences burgeoning superstars like Aldridge need to lead them there.
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
I could literally just post, “Because he’s Tim Duncan” here and fully justify why he’s the most imposing power forward left in the postseason.
No, his play is not what it once was, but it is still close to an elite level. His PER this year was 21.3. And he is the most daunting power forward in the NBA.
He isn’t good. He’s great. He’s at a point in his career where it’s not just about his play; it’s about the shadow he casts.
He’s been winning 50-game seasons since some of the best in the league were still in diapers or playing with Legos. He was accumulating championships while they were playing for their YMCA youth teams. He is the guy they grew up watching on TV and wanting to be.
Going against a legend is more imposing than going against the best. Going against the best is just a battle on the court. Going against a legend is a battle on the court and a war in your head.
Duncan has four championships, three Finals MVPs, two MVPs and one All-Star Game MVP. He’s been named an All-Star 14 times. He’s been named to eight first-team All-Defensive teams and six second-team All-Defensive teams. He’s been All-NBA 13 times, 10 of those he was first-team.
The only player in history with more points, rebounds and blocks is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
That’s a legacy, and going against that legacy is downright scary, no matter who you are. Duncan is the most imposing because he is the greatest to ever play his position.