While centers may be the biggest and the strongest of the NBA giants, the supreme big men in the league today inhabit the power forward position.
The best power forwards are the most versatile specimens the NBA displays, with some exhibiting guard-like speed and leaping ability, some possessing powerful strength combined with ballerina-like footwork, and others demonstrating an uncanny combination of outside shooting, post moves, and rebounding prowess.
This list does not take into account a player’s future prospects or past salad days. The criteria is simple: Which NBA power forward is best suited to being an integral part of a championship team this year.
Due to the way some NBA lineups are presently constructed, a handful of potential power forwards will be asked to play different positions this year. For that reason, Rasheed Wallace, Al Jefferson, Udonis Haslem, Jermaine O’Neal, and Al Horford are listed as centers, while Lamar Odom, and Josh Smith are counted as small forwards,
No rookies made the list, as neither you nor I have seen them play in meaningful games against meaningful competition to know where they should be ranked.
Introduction aside, the list:
1) Tim Duncan—San Antonio Spurs
Though 32 years old, Duncan remains the standard by which current NBA big men are judged.
His post up game is exceptional, with superior footwork, balance, and upper-body strength allowing him to unleash an arsenal of precision post-up moves, ranging from quick spins, sweeping hooks, and powerful face-up drives, all capable of being executed with either hand, though he prefers his right hand from the left box.
Duncan’s face-up bankers have diminished in effectiveness, but still must be respected. He remains the premier passing big man in the NBA, as his court vision allows him to dissect double teams and find open cutters and spot-up shooters. He sets screens with earnestness, will never yield a loose ball, and is the second best rebounder in the game, aside from Dwight Howard.
What sets Duncan apart is his genius-level defensive IQ, as TD is constantly in perfect position on defense to close off whatever gap an opponent might have seen. Duncan only blocks shots as a last resort as his positioning consistently forces slashers to pass the ball, take difficult attempts, or pick up unnecessary charges.
Still, he can wait as long as possible for offensive players to shoot, allowing himself to defend his man an extra beat while still being in position to alter shots.
Duncan is not without his flaws. His ability to defend players who can turn-and-face is only average at best, as is his ability to pass after being double teamed on the move. Inconsistent free throw shooting has also been a thorn in his side.
Still, there are few players in the game, as talented, as smart, and as unselfish as Duncan, and nobody as consistently clutch in pressure situations.
2) Kevin Garnett—Boston Celtics
Garnett’s defensive strengths lie in his incredibly long wingspan that allows him to swallow up screens, front and three-quarter big men, and grab rebounds simply by being taller in a scrum. He gets real low on screens, forcing defenders on and endless journey to circumnavigate him. He’s a hard-working rebounder, and he’s one of the best jump shooters for his height (6-11) in NBA history.
However, Garnett isn’t exceptionally strong and can be pushed around by even the most modest of big men, especially on the offensive end. Garnett also has the sad tendency of not showing up in big moments of big games, riding on the coattails of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell in 2004, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in 2008 to achieve his only playoff successes.
Honestly, Garnett is one of the top three role players of all time, but isn’t the all-everything superstar fans and lazy media members make him out to be.
3) Elton Brand—Philadelphia 76ers
It’s hard to accurately rank Brand because of his ruptured Achilles tendon, and the uncertainty as to exactly what level he’ll be at when the season begins.
Before the injury, Brand was a ferocious post player, with an abundance of low post moves, a reliable short jumper, above-average passing and defensive skills, and the ability to rebound in traffic. In fact, until last season, Brand was the most feared post threat in the Western Conference not named Tim Duncan.
However, the injury questions, as well as the fact that Brand isn’t as gifted a perimeter defender as Garnett is leaves him the third spot unless he proves he is back to his 2006 playoff form.
4) David West—New Orleans Hornets
Underappreciated due to Chris Paul’s exploits, West is a triple-threat scorer—outstanding with his back to the basket, driving to the cup, and knocking down jumpers from 18-feet and in.
West is also an outstanding defender, a diligent rebounder, and a leader who sets examples for his teammates.
Powerful, explosive, and disciplined, West is one of the finest all-around players in the game.
5) Amare Stoudemire—Phoenix Suns
Stupendously athletic, Stoudemire may be faster than some NBA shooting guards. He gets his points by catching the ball at the elbow and blowing by stuck-in-quicksand defenders on hoopward drives. If his defender sags off, Amare’s mid-range jumper has developed to the point where it’s automatic if his feet are set.
Stoudemire can also curl off screens and hit jumpers, runs the floor like a gazelle, and is a freakish leaper, allowing him to block shots and corral rebounds most mortals could never reach.
With all that said, Stoudemire is one of the most immature players in the NBA, constantly griping with the media and fans alike about a perceived lack of respect.
This coming from one of the worst defenders in the NBA, with too upright a defensive stance, an appalling lack of judgment, a propensity to turn his head and lose sight of the ball, or his man—or both—and the unwillingness to improve those deficiencies. In fact, Stoudemire may be the only player in the NBA whose defense has gotten worse since his rookie year!
Plus, Stoudemire’s never learned how to box out, never accepted physical contact, and has always expected praise without putting in the work. He’s one of the most physically talented, yet unjustly celebrated players in the league.
6) Chris Bosh—Toronto Raptors
Bosh is soft, a below-average defender, a mediocre passer, a so-so rebounder, and all finesse.
What he does well is drive along the left baseline with his left hand to use his long strides and arms to gain space to flick in an assortment of nifty layups and hook shots.
Bosh can also hit jumpers out to 20-feet and will run the court looking to catch defenses before they set. If a defender is too short, or too slow, Bosh can put up prodigious numbers, but he’s really just an average NBA star.
7) Pau Gasol—Los Angeles Lakers
Like Bosh, Gasol is too soft, and too finesse to be a truly elite big man in the NBA. However, Gasol is an exceptional passer, especially out of the high post, and his presence will allow a team’s off-ball movement and halfcourt offense to proliferate if it can take advantage of his passing skills.
Gasol uses his length and an array of effective pump fakes to set up his hook shots and step-throughs. His length allows him to be an effective rebounder when not muscled away from the ball, and a useful defender against offensive players that lack explosion, or teams that lack spacing. Still, Gasol’s overall defense is worse than Bosh’s and drops him on the list.
8) Carlos Boozer—Utah Jazz
Boozer’s elbow jumpers are automatic when given space, his drives from the elbow are unstoppable when he can attack his defender without help arriving, and his assaults on the backboard are primal in their ferocity.
However, Boozer is too short and not athletic enough to be a good defender, and he becomes tentative against long defenders with help shadowing him. He’s a quality player, but he isn’t explosive enough to be elite.
9) Ron Artest—Houston Rockets
The premier wing defender in the NBA, Artest actually defends the post even better than he defends the perimeter. This is because of his inner psychological makeup of never yielding an inch, never giving less than his best efforts, and never conceding anything to anybody.
Artest is also a capable shooter, can drive with either hand, and is a respectable playmaker who generally looks to make the correct pass.
However, the same inner psyche that makes Artest such a tenacious defender, is wound too tight for him to function sanely. He needs the ball in his hands to be useful offensively, and if he doesn’t get the ball, he’ll self-destruct.
He’ll take bad shots when the mood pleases him, will feud with coaches and players who don’t adopt his overly rugged style, and is immune to attempts to coach him. Nobody else in the league is at risk for imploding and destroying locker room harmony more so than Artest is at any given moment.
10) Dirk Nowitzki—Dallas Mavericks
Slightly tougher now than a couple of years ago (but only at home), and a much more willing rebounder, Nowitzki is still, essentially, an oversized jump shooter.
Defenders who can get up in Dirk’s grill and move their feet neutralize Dirk’s ability to pull and shoot going left, and only the weakest of post defenders have difficulty pushing Dirk around near the shadow of the basket. Combined with the inability to rouse his troops when all the chips are on the table, and a complete lack of defense, Dirk barely cracks the Top Ten.
11) Shawn Marion—Miami Heat
Marion is a smart, athletic, forward who slashes to the rim like a blade, utilizing superior quickness and hops to excel in transition and in early offense. If undersized, Marion is a gutsy defender who’ll accept the responsibility of defending a team’s best player, and is as good at defending his own man as he is in coming over from the weak side to block a shot.
Because of a below average jumper, and a lack of size, Marion isn’t the type of player who can consistently get off a quality shot at the basket on a regular basket, therefore, he isn’t really a franchise player.
Also, he’s developed a reputation for grumbling in the locker room and for putting himself above his teammates. What else does it say when he desired to be traded from the first place Suns, to the going-nowhere Heat last season?
12) LaMarcus Aldridge—Portland Trail Blazers
A touch soft, Aldridge is a young, rising player with a soft right hook over his left shoulder, a feathery mid range jumper, and the ability to get low and move his feet on defense, allowing him to defend quicker, faster players along the perimeter.
As the number of years in the league and the muscles in his upper body increase, so too will his spot on the list.
13) Rashard Lewis—Orlando Magic
Lewis is a versatile player who adapts his game to the role his team needs him to perform. In Orlando, Lewis is a long-range bomber who spaces the floor so Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard can operate one-on-one, and to make help defenders travel extra long journeys to tag the players they’re sent to double.
Besides being a prolific shooter, Lewis is a strong rebounder for a small forward miscast as a power forward, can post up, is a decent defender, and is a willing, if turnover prone, passer. He’s not worth the exorbitant contract Orlando gave him last summer, but perhaps the spacing he’s opened up for his teammates is.
14) Marcus Camby—Los Angeles Clippers
Camby is a test as to which fans and media members do their homework and watch basketball games, and which simply base their opinions by looking at box scores.
Camby’s athleticism allows him to outrace or outleap landlocked rebounders to loose balls, and he’s clearly a talented shot-blocker, but that’s where his positive attributes end.
Because Camby’s constantly drooling over shot-blocking opportunities, he often focuses all his defensive attention on potential paint penetrations, losing track of his own man under the basket. Also, he overreacts wildly to ball penetration, again, resulting in open looks for his primary defensive responsibility.
Camby won’t challenge shots he can’t block—which sounds like common sense, but in reality, it means that shots that can be altered if he closed out on a shooter hard, or threw his hands up in the shooter’s line-of-vision, never get altered, and a shooter can get comfortable even in Camby’s vicinity.
Camby could never defend anybody with the strength to attack his chest, he often gets outmuscled in rebounding scrums, and he takes an alarming number of bad shots for somebody with as limited an offensive game as he possesses.
His shot-blocking ability, and athleticism are certainly deserving of respect, but Camby is one of the game’s truly overrated players.
15) Antawn Jamison—Washington Wizards
A small forward in disguise, Jamison is a streaky scorer who gets his buckets with perimeter shooting, slashing, and the occasional fadeaway jumper in the paint. Jamison is a decent rebounder, but he can’t handle physicality, can’t defend, can’t pass, and can’t do much else besides score in streaks.
16) Antonio McDyess—Detroit Pistons
A smart, capable banger, McDyess’ mid-range jumper is automatic when given space, his individual defense is solid if unspectacular, and he plays better team defense in the playoffs than he does the regular season. McDyess is a terrific rebounder, screen setter, and role-player, allowing his four more talented Pistons teammates to excel in the spotlight, while still producing in ways invaluable to the team.
17) Jason Maxiell—Detroit Pistons
An explosive rebounder, defender, and finisher, Maxiell plays with unbridled energy and anger, which he channels into sudden changes in tempo for opponents to deal with. However, at only 6-7, taller forwards will always be able to excel against Maxiell’s lack of height, and his offensive game is limited to developing post moves, and finishing on broken plays.
18) David Lee—New York Knicks
One of the best pure rebounders in the NBA, and a strong finisher, Lee is a poor defender who can’t create his own offensive looks. Smart, talented, and athletic, as his defense improves, so will his ranking on the list.
19) Drew Gooden—Chicago Bulls
Gooden can knock down mid range jumpers, has strong face-up skills, can hit turnaround jumpers in the post, can play defense, and can rebound.
However, Gooden is mistake-prone, doesn’t pay attention to detail, and repeatedly botches defensive assignments.
He also tends to disappear in games, making him maddeningly inconsistent. Those are reasons why a player as versatile as Gooden has been mentioned in trade rumors his entire career.
20) Brandon Bass—Dallas Mavericks
Bass has prime-time athleticism, and a big-time baseline jumper which he can stretch out to 20 feet. He runs the floor with abandon, can defend small forwards, power forwards, and centers effectively, and is an explosive rebounder. All he needs to prosper in the league is continued playing time and experience.
21) Ben Wallace—Cleveland Cavaliers
Like a rusted wagon, Wallace is old, breaking down, and should be permanently left in the shed. He’s no longer the agile defensive force who’d beat his opponents before a play began by outworking them on the block, denying post position and subsequent entry passes.
Instead, the current Wallace incarnation isn’t quick enough or strong enough to ball deny, and he’s much slower and weaker than at any point in his career. He’s still slightly above average defensively, and he’ll still rebound, but his diminishing skills combined with his utter lack of any offensive talent whatsoever, leave him as a ghost of what he used to be.
22) Luis Scola—Houston Rockets
A tough rebounder and a hard worker, Scola survives on guts more than athleticism. He isn’t particularly quick, but he’ll split defensive seams on twisting drives from the mid-post or the elbow.
His jumper is accurate, he’ll box out, and he sets solid screens. He’s a poor defender, falling for too many head fakes and lacking the foot speed to adequately defend the quicker power forwards in the league.
His lack of ups leave him helpless when trying to finish over bigger or stronger players near the hoop, and he misses a lot of layups, traits that keep him in the mid-twenties of the list.
23) Marvin Williams—Atlanta Hawks
Williams can hit mid-range jumpers when given time to wind up, and is athletic enough to snake along the baseline past slow defenders on his way to the hoop.
However, Williams is too lean to be a forceful post player, rebounder, or defender, and isn’t athletic enough where he’ll be a major nuisance to match up with. He’s versatile, but profoundly unspectacular.
24) Paul Milsap—Utah Jazz
Milsap punches his time card, puts on his hard hat, and rampages through any opponent not tough enough to handle his sheer physical strength and endless hunger for loose balls. His screens are pulverizing, his rebounding technique is rock solid (as are his muscles), and he’s an earnest defender, though his lack of height holds him back.
His offensive game is non-existent, but his hard work alone often wins games for the Jazz.
25) Eduardo Najera—New Jersey Nets
Najera is one of the most energetic players in the entire league, always hustling, always defending, always cutting, and always game enough to go up into crowds of opposing rebounders, only to come away with the ball.
Plus, his newfound three-point proficiency is proof that sometimes old Xoloitzcuintles (Mexican Hairless Dogs) can learn new tricks. Najera’s a consummate professional and human being, and a welcome addition to any team.
26) Zach Randolph—New York Knicks
Sure, Randolph is clever enough to know how to use angles in gaining leverage over defenders, sure he’ll rebound at a steady clip, but his defense, his screens, and his attitude are all lazy.
He’ll only pass as an emergency option, and he’s completely useless if the ball isn’t in his hands. Plus, he’ll bitch and gripe at coaches and teammates if he isn’t constantly fed the ball, or if a defender is able to bottle him up.
Fat Zach will produce on a stat sheet, but never in a win column.
27) Joe Smith—Oklahoma City TBA’s
Smith is a versatile veteran who can hit mid-range jumpers, defend some, rebound more, and out-quick slower defenders with a crafty face-up game near the basket. He gets the nod on the list for the lack of quality talent behind him.
28) Kenyon Martin—Denver Nuggets
Martin wants you to think he’s tough—why else is he screaming and yelling after every block or dunk?—but he never shows up on the road, or down the stretch, or in the playoffs against quality teams.
His quick feet and upper body strength should enable him to be a quality defender, but he makes boneheaded defensive mistakes all the time, and he shrinks against elite opponents.
Not to mention his post moves are crude, his jumper is average at best, and his most potent offensive weapon is, after a teammate comes up with a steal, to run the break and slam down a Jason Kidd lob pass. Too bad he hasn’t been able to pull off that move in four years.
29) Jeff Foster—Indiana Pacers
Foster won’t do much, but he’s an excellent rebounder and screen setter, who makes quick outlet passes, and defends earnestly. He’s dependable and reliable, if unspectacular.
30) Nick Collison—Oklahoma City TBA’s
Collison is a tough-nosed rebounder, who isn’t long enough and whose feet aren’t quick enough to enable him to be more than an average defender. He’ll fight his way for buckets under the basket, and he’ll utilize an accurate turnaround jumper while being another crafty, dependable, if unspectacular player.