Ranking Kevin Garnett's Career Among NBA's Great Power Forwards

Sloan Piva@@SloanPivaCorrespondent IMay 18, 2013

Ranking Kevin Garnett's Career Among NBA's Great Power Forwards

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    As Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett's career nears its end, the comparisons to top power forwards throughout the history of the game become more prevalent.

    Garnett has moved his way up the all-time ranks in points and rebounds and proved himself as one of the best defenders to ever set foot on the hardwood.

    But is Garnett the best power forward of all time?

    The following eight slides reveal the best power forwards ever, detailing why Garnett ranked either above or below each one.

8. 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: three-time NBA Champion, seven-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA Sixth Man, one-time All-NBA First Team, three-time All-Defensive First Team

    The No. 8 spot on the list of all-time power forwards happens to be Kevin Garnett's former coach, GM and mentor, Kevin McHale.

    Like Garnett, McHale had a reputation for dominant play in the post as well as the mid-range jump shot. And like KG, his wingspan amassed nearly seven feet.

    McHale was also known for All-Defense honors, and he helped the Boston Celtics earn three championship titles during the Larry Bird era. He participated in seven All-Star games, won Rookie of the Year and earned consecutive Sixth Man of the Year honors in 1984 and 1985.

    But Garnett's legacy far surpasses McHale's based on sheer talent and longevity. At 36 years old, KG remains one of the most dominant power forwards on both ends of the floor. He anchors one of the better defensive units in the league and continues to wage inside-outside offensive threats.

    If McHale had started games toward the end of his career in the early 1990s, he might have ended up right next to Garnett in the rankings. After all, their career per-36 numbers are remarkably close.

    But Garnett did almost everything better than McHale at the peak and later stages of their respective careers. The nearly two-rebound-per-36 career advantage and the undeniable defensive impact make KG a far superior all-time pick. Give McHale the nod for “Best Low-Post Scoring Power Forward,” though.

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: one-time NBA Champion, 12-time NBA All-Star, one-time NBA Scoring Champion, three-time All-NBA First Team

    Elvin Hayes just looked like a superior power forward. His muscular body and rugged look of determination are timeless components to a big man's game. His rookie photos in 1968 look like a guy who could play—and dominate—today.

    But beyond his build, the “Big E” also had superb talent. He showed a smooth stroke with his patented turnaround jumper and racked up monstrous garbage points with his work around the rim.

    The last rookie to lead the league in scoring, Hayes posted 28.4 points per game and averaged 17.1 rebounds per game in his debut season. He continued his reign of terror on the block until he was 38 years old, good for 16 solid years of service.

    During that time, he led the Washington Bullets to three NBA Finals appearances, including winning the NBA title over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979.

    The Big E gives the “Big Ticket” a run for his money on this list, especially considering his durability. Hayes never missed more than two games in a season.

    However, his rebound numbers were inflated based on the game speed of the era prior to the shot clock and also due to the level of competition at the position during his era. KG has maintained his status as an elite power forward in the era of power forwards you'll soon read about.

    That doesn't mean Hayes is overrated, because, in fact, he seems underrated by most analysts. But the fact that he sits eighth in all-time scoring compared to Garnett (15th, second among active players) and fourth in rebounding to Garnett's 10th-place position says little about KG's in-game effectiveness.

    Not to mention, Hayes played many of his finest years alongside fellow big man Wes Unseld, while Garnett dominated with or without All-Stars by his side.

6. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Career Stats: 22.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 47.5 FG%, 38% 3PT, 87.7% FT

    Career Highlights: one-time NBA Champion, one-time Most Valuable Player, one-time Finals MVP, 11-time All-Star, four-time NBA All-First Team

    One of the greatest freaks of nature to ever grace the NBA hardwood, Dirk Nowitzki is the first and probably last 7-footer to handle the ball and shoot from distance at his level.

    Nowitzki attacks from a variety of different fronts. He can run the floor like a gazelle, dribble-penetrate on defenders big and small, shoot from long range and post up just about anybody. His fall-away jump shots, stutter-step drives and spin moves dazzle the eye.

    He has shot 88 percent from the line over his career and over 38 percent from three. If this list comprised the best offensive talents at power forward, he would probably be closer to top three.

    However, this list considers best all-around talent, so Nowitzki's ugly history of defensive play hinders him from cracking the top five.

    He may have asserted himself as one of the dynamic scorers in NBA history, but with only one championship and no defensive honors, this MVP takes a backseat to fellow MVP Garnett.

5. Bob Pettit

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

    Career Achievements: one-time NBA Champion, two-time NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year, two-time Scoring Champion, 10-time All-NBA First Team

    Speaking of MVPs, next on the list is the first Most Valuable Player in the history of the NBA. Bob Pettit practically wrote the Bible for power forwards, having dominated the position from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s.

    Unlike many early-era baseball greats, basketball legends besides Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell don't seem to get as much attention from the modern fan. That's why this ranking will largely draw the ire of most readers.

    But hear me out: Pettit played 11 seasons with the Hawks, garnering two MVPs and gaining selections to 10 All-Star teams. He averaged 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds over his career.

    And in 1958, he scored 50 points in a Game 6 to surmount the Bill Russell-era Celtics in the NBA Finals. 

    Pettit was as tough as nails and had an all-around scoring ability to go with solid defense and keen rebounding. He was the first player to eclipse the 20,000-point mark and his 16.2-rebounds-per-game career average remains third only to Chamberlain and Russell.

    He deserves the No. 5 spot based solely on the impact he made on the power forward position, and on the game of basketball in general.

4. 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: one-time NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, five-time All-NBA First Team

    As Garnett knows, it's not easy to become a legend. But Charles Barkley found a way early on.

    At just over 6'4”, Barkley quickly became one of the most formidable power forwards the NBA has ever seen. He combined intelligence, speed, agility and playmaking to make himself the main threat of an offense—and basically became one of the hardest players to defend in one of the most impressive eras of NBA basketball.

    Barkley still seems unreal, after all the highlights. How did a guy so much shorter than power forwards past and present overpower guys on the block? How did he find a way to knock down jumpers in so many defenders' faces? How did he always find a way to rip down a rebound over towering opponents and then throw down dunks in their faces?

    Somehow, he did these things. And for a bit, he was the face of the NBA. He could handle the ball, shoot the ball, dunk the ball, rebound the ball, pass the ball and pretty decently defend the ball. He won an MVP and logged countless All-NBA First and Second Team honors but never won a championship. It really sucked for Barkley to be in the era of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.

    When he retired in 2000, he was the fourth player in the history of the NBA to record 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 2,000 assists.

    Celtics fans love Kevin Garnett, but it's hard to argue that Garnett was ever a better option than Charles Barkley in his prime. Barkley could score about as well as anyone in the history of the game and had the playmaking versatility to create for opponents. There will never be another player like “Sir Charles.”

3. Kevin Garnett

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    Career Stats: 19.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.3 steals, 49.8 FG%, 79 FT%

    Career Achievements: one-time MVP, one-time NBA Champion, 15-time NBA All-Star, one-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, four-time All-NBA First Team, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team

    That brings us to the man of the hour for Boston, Mr. Kevin Garnett. Call him what you want: Big Ticket, KG, The Kid, it doesn't matter. Garnett is about the most fiery, competitive and dominant power forward to ever grace the NBA.

    His colorful career started when he was only a teenager, immediately making an impact for a relatively listless Minnesota Timberwolves squad. He won the MVP award with the Wolves in 2004, won four consecutive rebounding titles from 2004 to 2007 and almost single-handedly led them to the playoffs year after year.

    Across the league, opponents hated him, yet teammates revered him. The hardcore and rugged big man eventually became a 15-time All-Star and earned a 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award.

    When he became a part of the Celtics, he helped them win a championship in his first year (2007-08) and nearly propelled them to a second title in 2010.

    Nobody can argue Garnett's impact on the game. From his teenage years to his current age with the Celtics, he has constantly proved to be a selfless, tireless player on both sides of the floor. He arguably deserves a nod for the best team-playing power forward—meaning the kind of guy who gives it all on offense, defense and everything else in between.

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: two-time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team, three-time All-Defensive First Team

    The league's second-highest scorer of all time, Karl Malone stands as one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. With multiple MVPs and some tragic NBA Finals appearances, he will always be regarded as the best player in the Michael Jordan era next to Michael Jordan.

    He did all he could for the Utah Jazz alongside point guard John Stockton. He racked up the points on the block, off the pick-and-roll and off mid-range jumpers. He played great defense and grabbed rebounds. But against Chicago, it was never enough.

    Malone was an incredibly athletic big man who could outrun, out-hustle and out-jump opponents, highlighted predominantly by his unbelievable one-on-one exploits with counterpart Dennis Rodman during the NBA Finals. He never backed down—and with more help, he would have never been defeated.

    “The Mailman” played 19 years and saw 19 postseasons but never won a championship. But if given the spot KG had, he would have won two or three titles.

1. Tim Duncan

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    Career Stats: 20.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 blocks, 0.7 steals, 50.7 FG%, 69.3 FT%

    Career Highlights: four-time NBA Champion, two-time MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP, 14-time All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year, nine-time All-NBA First Team, eight-time All-Defensive First Team

    It's almost not even up for discussion: Two-time MVP Tim Duncan is the best power forward to ever play professional basketball.

    Anyone who has followed the game the past 20 years just recognizes the four-time champion's amazing ability to work the low post, exhibit quality defense and knock down the mid-range shot.

    There's a reason his nickname over the years remains “The Big Fundamental.” Duncan knows the ins and outs of quality basketball.

    Even after winning three Finals MVPs, his longevity has proved his dominance. Throughout the years, he has been one of the most critical parts of his team and continually finds a way to help push the Spurs through the postseason.

    Many people argue that Duncan deserves less praise based on his history with center David Robinson and standouts Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Even Americans can call that “rubbish.” Duncan's solid defense and consistently superb offense on the block as well as the face-up jumper have earned him the right of the best power forward to ever play the game.

    The biggest reason he earns the right, though, is his intelligence. Any disparaging fans haphazardly arguing they don't want Duncan on their team have not truly analyzed his gameplay throughout the years. This man defines the way the power forward position should be played and quite possibly could never be matched as long as the NBA exists.


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