Ranking Tim Duncan with the Best Power Forwards of All-Time

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

Ranking Tim Duncan with the Best Power Forwards of All-Time

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    Historical rankings in terms of any sport are always difficult to do, usually with one exception. Tim Duncan is and continues to be the greatest power forward of all time, at least an inch or two above the rest.

    If this is a surprise to you and I just ruined the ending then I'm sorry, but it's almost like gravity or evolution at this point—try and refute it and you look like a crazy person.

    That being said, I've always found it fun and interesting to take a look at the past every few years, just to see how the evolution of a certain position in basketball has come along.

    Where can you rank low-offense, high-defense guys like Dennis Rodman, or opposite guys like Dirk Nowitzki? How do certain generations hold up over others, and do people still even give a damn about what happened before Bill Russell invented defense in basketball's Big Bang Era?

    Plus, I always love the conversation that pops up following a list like this. They're usually a bit heated at times, but still fun nonetheless.

    Before I start out there's probably a bit of pre-ranking housekeeping that needs to be cleared up. Stats are terrific and all, but basketball analytics are not yet baseball, so you can't lean on them 100 percent.

    Plus, we have to acknowledge that Wilt Chamberlain and Shaq played two different versions of basketball. It's hard to compare the two, but it's necessary when talking about history if you want to do it right.

    So let's get going, starting with one of my favorite names to say in the history of the NBA

10. Dave DeBusschere

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    Career Stats: 16.1 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 43.2 FG%, 69.9 FT%

    Career Achievements: 2x NBA Champion, 8x All-Star, 6x NBA All-Defensive First Team

    The NBA didn't create the All-Defensive Team until the 1968 season, which all but robbed Dave DeBusschere of four or five more All-D selections, which would have put him up there with some of the greatest defensive power forwards without a doubt.

    Instead we have to go from what we know and the anecdotal evidence.

    DeBusschere isn't the scorer that you'd have seen from a lot of big men throughout the 1960s and '70s, and he didn't put up the insane rebounding numbers, but defensively he'll remain one of the greatest in New York Knicks history.

    Of course, it doesn't hurt his legacy any when you consider he was a big part of both Knicks championships in the '70s.

9. Bob Pettit

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    Career Stats: 26.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3 assists, 43.6 FG%, 76.1 FT%

    Career Achievements: 1x NBA Champion, 2x NBA MVP, 11x NBA All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Champion, 10x All-NBA First Team

    Bob Pettit is a part of a lost generation of basketball players as far as the general public goes today. Everybody knows about the likes of Babe Ruth from the days when baseball was rounding into a modern-day game, and a lot of people can recognize a name like Bart Starr or Joe Namath from the NFL, but few talk about the days of Bob Pettit, Bill Sharman and George Mikan.

    Basically, basketball started with Bill Russell and rounded into form after the three-point line was added, so Pettit gets lost in the past unless you have a deep historical interest in the game. He's a bit like basketball's Honus Wagner in that right.

    Anyway, Pettit (along with Dolph Schayes) really was the first definitive power forward, scoring and rebounding in huge numbers in a time when shots fell far too infrequently and field goal percentages suffered.

    Even though he played a completely different game, the fact that he is such an important player in the past has to give him some sort of recognition.

8. Dennis Rodman

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    Career Stats: 7.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 52.3 FG%, 58.4 FT%

    Career Achievements: 5x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2x All-Star, 7x All-Defensive First Team, 7x NBA Rebounding Leader

    For seven straight seasons Dennis Rodman led the NBA in rebounding, and he didn't do it by a tenth of a rebound per game here and there.

    The closest anybody came to dethroning Rodman in that period was his seventh year winning the award, when Jayson Williams came within 1.43 rebounds per game of Rodman in 1998, Rodman's last full season in the league.

    Think about that—as a 36-year-old man he was able to average 15 rebounds per game, something that's only been done twice since.

    Beyond that, he peaked at 18.66 rebounds per game in an era not so different than the one played today in terms of pace. That's a number that you have to go all the way back to 1972 to beat, when Wilt Chamberlain averaged 19.71 per game when shots were going up faster than at a frat house on a Friday.

    He wasn't an amazing scorer, but he didn't need to be. He was an enforcer, a rebounder and one of the most entertaining people the NBA has ever seen.

7. Elvin Hayes

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    Career Stats: 21 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 45.2 FG%, 67 FT%

    Career Achievements: 1x NBA Champion, 12x NBA All-Star, 1x NBA Scoring Champion, 3x All-NBA First Team, 

    He's got a name that sounds like he should have been one of the coolest movie stars of the '70s, but he was far too busy blocking shots and being a fierce defender and a true scorer of the '70s.

    Of course, as with any other big man in the pre-three-point line era we have to mention the pace of the game to explain his huge rebounding numbers, but his career is quite impressive nonetheless.

    Hayes was a member of the only championship team in Washington Bullets (or Wizards) history playing in the frontcourt alongside the insatiable, afro'd Wes Unseld.

    He's not a huge name like Wilt Chamberlain from the era, but he's certainly remains one of the most impressive power forwards of the era.

6. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Career Stats: 22.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 47.5 FG%, 38 3PT%, 87.8 FT%

    Career Achievements: 1x NBA Champion, 1x NBA Finals MVP, 1x NBA MVP, 11x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 

    For the longest time the conversation surrounding Dirk Nowitzki was that he would never be considered one of the tippy-top power forwards in the history of the game so long as he was without a championship. That's just the way offense-heavy, defense-light forwards are looked at these days.

    Of course, Dirk won himself a title back in 2011 and therefore found a validation for the way he's played for the duration of his career. In hindsight, he has put together one of the best careers of a big man in the history of the game.

    Along with the influx of European big men, he completely changed the way we think about power forwards as guys who should mix their talents between the low and high block on offense and lock down on defense.

    Instead, he perfected the stretch-4, and proved that it's not just a role player's spot, but a team's star player can play a stretch-4 and lead to success.

    Possibly the most impressive, non-championship related achievement of his career was his 2007 season when he joined the exclusive 50-40-90 club for guys shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line.

5. Kevin McHale

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    Career Stats: 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 blocks, 55.4 FG%, 79.8 FT%

    Career Achievements: 3x NBA Champion, 7x NBA All-Star, 2x NBA Sixth Man, 1x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-Defensive First Team

    It seems like virtually everybody who loves '80s NBA has something nice to say about Kevin McHale. Even the biggest Laker-loving, Showtime-touting, purple-and-gold-wearing Angelenos will at least shake their heads and give some sign of respect to the guy.

    It's easy to take a look at a few Youtube clips and see that he was an absolute master in the post. If Pau Gasol is today's Monet of the post, McHale was like Van Gogh. Both are masters of their craft, but Kevin Van Gogh had the roughest, yet most beautiful post moves you could ask to see.

    What really does him justice is to go back and actually watch a full game of him working alongside Larry Bird, the two of them going back-and-forth and working together to the point where it almost seems unfair that a team has to deal with the both of them.

    Nobody had more post moves perfected, and it's hard to say how long it will be before we see somebody else with as many dominant post moves again.

4. Kevin Garnett

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    Career Stats: 19.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, 50 FG%, 79 FT% 

    Career Achievements: 1x NBA Champion, 1x NBA MVP, 14x NBA All-Star, NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 4x All-NBA First Team, 9x All-Defensive First Team, 4x Rebounding Champion

    I can freely admit that when the big debate of the early 2000s was "Duncan or Garnett?" I was soundly in the Garnett camp. It was too easy to love the guy.

    It's not that I'm one of those people that saw Duncan as a boring superstar, but rather Garnett as such an outwardly dominant and impressive specimen that it was legitimately difficult to pick any other power forward over him.

    Where Duncan was the methodical, dominant, Terminator, Garnett is like the insane, rampaging Rambo.

    Always an amazing defender, Garnett's career was victimized by poor ownership while he was in Minnesota, and ultimately bad teammates.

    Even still, he dominated enough throughout his career to prove that he is one of the greatest of all time.

3. Charles Barkley

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    Career Stats: 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 54.1 FG%, 73.5 FT%

    Career Achievements: 1x NBA MVP, 11x NBA All-Star, 5x All-NBA First Team

    It seems like a guy like Charles Barkley would have walked away with a few more accomplishments in his time in the NBA, especially when you consider that he probably should have finished third in the MVP voting in 1993, but the way he played spoke more about him than the awards he got.

    Barkley, listed as 6'6" but probably a lot closer to 6'4", played a position that is historically suited for guys 6'9" and above. Yet he used his strength and surprising finesse to get to the hoop and maneuver around the bigger, more physically gifted players of his time.

    Few guys have done more with less than Barkley in the history of the league, and the fact that he was able to rebound so well, leading the league in offensive boards for three years  running in the late '80s, is downright amazing.

    Of course, he'll always be remembered as the guy with a bad attitude and the second-best power forward to never win an NBA Championships.

    Speaking of not winning titles, let's move on.

2. Karl Malone

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    Career Stats: 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 51.6 FG%, 74.2 FT%

    Career Achievements: 2x NBA MVP, 14x NBA All-Star, 11x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-Defensive First Team

    He's got the second-most points in the history of the league, a few MVP Awards and more trips to the All-Star Game than most guys have spent years in the league, but he's always going to be remembered as the guy who couldn't beat Michael.

    A lot of players in the '90s fell prey to the domination of Jordan's Bulls, and there's no shame in that, but it's rough to a legacy when you walk away without a ring. Although, scoring the second-most points in the history of the league doesn't hurt a legacy.

    There's a lot of wonder out there as to how much he would have been able to score without John Stockton passing to him for the majority of his career, but there's no question he would have continued to be a terrific scorer.

1. Tim Duncan

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    Career Stats: 20.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 blocks, 50.7 FG%, 68.9 FT%

    Career Achievements: 4x NBA Champion, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 2x NBA MVP, 13x NBA All-Star, 9x All-NBA First Team, 8x All-Defensive First Team, NBA Rookie of the Year

    There's something about watching Tim Duncan that just makes you sit back and go, "Wow," even when he's just hitting a turnaround jumper or dipping around a guy to get to the rim. There's something timeless about his game.

    Sure, he's nowhere near as dominant as he was back in 2003, but he's still the same player, due to not relying too much on athleticism throughout his career.

    Even more amazing, as a 36-year-old power forward in a young man's game, he's averaging his highest scoring total and shooting his highest percentage since he turned 33, while continuing to play great defense.

    It's impossible to count this man out until he ends up in a wheelchair or in the ground. He's just so fundamentally sound that he could end up coming back to play at 50 and be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

    If you think he's a boring player than I truly feel sorry for you. He's not the romantically beautiful basketball player in that what he does amazes and generates incredulous responses, but more of the classically beautiful, well-oiled machine that seems like it will never quit running so long as you keep changing the oil.


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