While the plurality of NBA centers are brutish behemoths, power forwards are the most versatile specimens the NBA displays, with some exhibiting a leopard’s athleticism, others possessing a dancer‘s footwork on a steel frame, and still more 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 center would be best suited to winning a championship with a random collection of starting-level talent. For example, if Andrew Bynum, Al Thornton, Joe Johnson, and Beno Udrih are your teammates, who would you want as your power forward?
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, David Lee, Al Jefferson, Andrea Bargnani, and Al Horford are listed as centers, as they will likely play the center position for their teams this season.
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) Kevin Garnett—Boston Celtics
Since Tim Duncan is listed as a center, Kevin Garnett assumes Duncan’s vacated hole as the best power forward in the game.
In truth, Garnett doesn’t have the chops to be a team’s franchise player as his failings in the clutch are too innumerable to count. As a support player, he’s one of the best ever.
Few players over the course of history have the defensive range and energy of Garnett. Not only can his length swallow up opposing post players, but he’s an astute help defender, and his incredible quickness allows him to hang stride for stride with guards and wings on the perimeter.
Garnett uses his remarkable wingspan to be a rebounding force. He also gets real wide on screens, though referees usually let him move through the screen. He’s a very accurate jump shooter, and his height and soft touch allows him to be a capable finisher around the basket.
As evidenced by Boston’s play with and without Garnett, he’s the player that sets their entire defense in motion, even if Paul Pierce is the team’s offensive playmaker, and individual defensive stopper.
2) Pau Gasol—Los Angeles Lakers
Gasol and the Lakers have formed a perfect marriage as Gasol’s skillset and the triangle offense are perfectly suited for each other.
Gasol is an incredibly clever offensive player, with a myriad of tricks to punish opposing defenses. He has terrific handles which allows him to be a force from the high post where he can shoot, pass, or face-and-go. Plus, his advanced footwork allows him to execute tricky spin moves and be perfectly balanced.
He’s a fantastic passer and lengthy rebounder who also understands the nuances of moving without the ball and what his teammates are doing at all times.
And if Gasol isn’t a rough-and-tumble gladiator, he’s evolved into a player who can handle physicality and not be thrown off his game. How many times have we seen Gasol get clobbered by a defender, only to complete a three-point play because he holds the ball high and won’t be distracted by contact?
Defensively, Gasol isn’t a stalwart, but his length and quickness make him a deterrent against any comer. He’s almost never out of position, is an aware helper, and can hedge screens. Gasol’s improved his defense considerably since joining the Lakers, key reasons for their back-to-back Finals appearances and, 2009 championship.
3) Dirk Nowitzki—Dallas Mavericks
The best of an underwhelming crop of flawed stars, Dirk gets a slight nod over other power forwards, less for what he is—a jump shooter who fires too many blanks in crucial moments—than what other power forwards aren’t.
True, Dirk is one of the best shooters in the game, regardless of size. He’s also an adequate rebounder and passer. However, Nowitzki’s defense is terrible, and his post up game is subpar, relying almost exclusively on fadeaway jump shots. Quick defenders who can pressure Dirk’s jumpers and force him to make decisions going to the basket take him out of his rhythm and out of the game. Plus he plays passively in second halves against good teams, meaning the Mavericks are always ripe for disappointment.
Dirk’s very good, but not as good as Mavericks’ fans need him to be.
4) David West—New Orleans Hornets
West can do nearly everything, but he didn’t do it nearly enough last season. He wasn’t nearly enough of a factor in the post, relying too much on his perimeter game despite the Hornets needing easy buckets to complement Chris Paul.
West struggled reacting to double teams, and worst of all, had too many games where he came out early with little to no energy as the Hornets stumbled into embarrassing early deficits. The lack of energy can be seen in his rebound and block totals which dipped last season. With Tyson Chandler missing so much time with injuries, New Orleans really needed West to deliver more than he produced last season.
Why is West so high on the list then? Because he’s versatile enough to knock down jumpers consistently, drive to the basket with force, and post for profit. Because he’s a solid defender across the board. Because he’s not defenseless, a creampuff, or selfish like the players below him.
5) Carlos Boozer—Utah Jazz
Boozer is a bear of an offensive player. He’s a rugged finisher when he can take his left hand from the elbow to the basket, or when he’s slipping or rolling screens. He’s grizzly around the basket, sets ferocious picks, and also has a soft touch from the perimeter.
However, except when he’s marking the backboards as his own personal territory, Boozer is in a permanent state of hibernation defensively. He doesn’t have the athleticism or the desire to be even a bad help defender, and unless he’s giving his opponent a solid shove in the post, is routinely outmatched. Whatever Boozer provides offensively is taken away defensively.
6) Chris Bosh—Toronto Raptors
Bosh is all finesse, no power. He’s a terrific elbow jump shooter, who loves to drive left along the baseline and use his tremendous quickness to blow by slower defenders. Too bad defenders who are quick enough to cut off Bosh’s drives, or are strong enough to rough him up when he drives to the basket render Bosh a non-factor.
Defensively, Bosh has poor anticipation, and is frequently outmuscled around the basket. He’s an average star; no wonder the Raptors are only an average team.
7) Elton Brand—Philadelphia 76ers
In his heyday, Brand could score on the box, knock down jump shots, rebound, pass out of doubles, and defend, all of which he did exceptionally well. At age 30, and coming off of a torn Achilles and a dislocated shoulder, it’s hard to know what Brand can and can’t do.
Even anticipating a mild deterioration in athleticism, Brand is still too wise and talented to not be a force, but he probably won’t be the elite two-way player he was with the Clippers.
8) Lamar Odom—Los Angeles Lakers
A Swiss-army knife on stilts, there’s virtually nothing Odom can’t do. Slash to the basket? Check. Finish? Check. Handle? Pass? Check. Check. Defend, rebound and shoot? Check, check, and check.
Odom’s only real drawback is that he’s always had focus issues and can spend minutes on a court with little impact. He’s also not a terrific shooter, and can be roughed up by the league’s biggest bullies. But Odom is a multi-pronged weapon instrumental to the Lakers’ success.
9) LaMarcus Aldridge—Portland Trail Blazers
Still a touch too finesse, Aldridge is a young star with a tantalizing future. He’s as good a 20-foot jump shooter as any power forward in the league not named Dirk. He’s very athletic in the post, plays well without the ball, and is a quick-footed defender who can hang with speedy four-men on the perimeter.
If he develops more power to his game, he’ll be a top-tier force in the league.
10) Antawn Jamison—Washington Wizards
Quick and clever, Jamison is more of an oversized small forward than a power forward. He’s a willing rebounder, and a skilled perimeter player with crafty moves around the basket.
Conversely, Jamison doesn’t create enough easy points in the paint because of his finesse nature and is one of the worst defensive forwards in the game.
11) Luis Scola—Houston Rockets
Smart, strong, and determined, Scola’s the epitome of what the Rockets are all about. He possesses great footwork in the post to unleash an array of hooks, spins, and up-and-unders, while having the handles to drive from the high post, and the jumper to punish defenses for leaving him uncontested.
Scola’s also a plus passer, screen-setter, and help defender if his own individual defense is only average at best.
12) Udonis Haslem—Miami Heat
One of the premier defensive forwards in the league, Haslem’s work behind the scenes is instrumental to Miami’s success. Not only is Haslem strong enough to defend power-oriented forwards, but he’s also quick enough to defend the perimeter, show on screens, and make impeccable rotations. Plus, his basketball IQ is exceptionally high.
Offensively, Haslem is a terrific mid-range jump shooter who can flood the basket from the baseline or the elbow. He’s a strong finisher who will run the break, and he’s a terrific passer to boot. He makes winning plays crucial to Miami’s success, and is a perfect Alfred to Dwayne Wade’s Bruce Wayne.
13) Antonio McDyess—San Antonio Spurs
Left for dead earlier this decade, McDyess has reinvented himself as an exceptional defender and outside jump shooter who can also hit turnarounds in the low post. Like Haslem, he’s a solid individual defender, but isn’t quite as quick defending screens or the perimeter, hence a lower ranking.
14) Paul Millsap— Utah Jazz
A rebounding monster, Millsap may be the best board man in the game not named Howard. His massive upper body gives him the strength to be a tremendous finisher, though he’s limited in creating his own offense. Defensively, he uses his quick feet and strength to reroute all but the most skilled scorers.
15) Boris Diaw—Charlotte Bobcats
Despite being a relatively limited player, Diaw’s presence opens up a team’s offense because of his remarkable court vision, awareness, and ability to distribute the basketball. Against poor defenses, Diaw allows his team to score points in harmony. Against good ones, he allows his team to manufacture points that would otherwise be unattainable.
Diaw’s evolved into a respectable post player who can hit left right hooks from the left box, and who can drive from the high post. Most importantly for Diaw, he’s evolved into a good three-point shooter, a problem for him in Phoenix because he couldn’t space the floor with his iffy jumper.
Diaw’s placement on the list is held back by his poor defense and just-average ability to create his own offense. Also, he can be too unselfish at times, giving up opportunities to score to make superfluous extra passes.
16) Carl Landry—Houston Rockets
Landry can flat out put the ball in the basket. If he’s not tall for a power forward (only 6’8“), and not particularly explosive, Landry’s adept at using angles in the paint to create lanes to finish—and finish he does well. When Landry isn’t posting up, he’s a terrific screen/roll player who can also screen/fade into mid-range jumpers.
He defends well, and rebounds even better. What he doesn’t do is start, a testament to Houston’s stable of power forwards, more than Landry’s deficiencies.
17) Josh Smith—Atlanta Hawks
This kid oozes talent, but when is he going to grow up? For all of his highlight reel dunks, steals, and shot-blocks, Smith turns the ball over, misses rotations, and gets chumped by the player he’s guarding. Plus, despite his yelling and screaming, Smith is soft, particularly on the defensive end where he’d rather fly in late hoping for a swat, than get in position to make a defender take a tough shot.
If Smith ever figures things out, the Hawks can be dangerous. Until then, they’re fodder for the better teams in the East.
18) Kenyon Martin—Denver Nuggets
Martin is an inconsistent, but usually above-average defender who can occasionally pop in mid-range line drives or jump hooks near the basket. Strangely enough, while K-Mart was touted as an offensive force during the early years of his career, it’s his defense that keeps him on the court in Denver.
19) Zach Randolph—Memphis Grizzlies
How does a player who produces as much as Randolph does end up so far down the list of best power forwards? It’s because Randolph is a loser of a player.
How many times a game will Randolph massage the ball, zone out his teammates, and force a one-on-one play that ends in disaster? How many fruitless defensive trips result from Randolph’s inability and unwillingness to make any effort on that side of the court?
Far too many.
While Z-Bo is a very capable rebounder and a dreadnought scorer, he isn’t worth the time for a team with title hopes.
20) Troy Murphy—Indiana Pacers
Murphy has the size of a center, but aside from his rebounding prowess, has the game of a small forward. While Murphy can shoot the ball from deep, and has passable handles to get to the rim, he’s a weak finisher, a non-entity in the post, and a porous passer and defender.
Plus, while his rebounding numbers are solid, he’s only average in tracking down balls outside his area.
Murphy’s too soft to be a difference maker.
21) Leon Powe—Cleveland Cavaliers
One of the most efficient players in the league, Powe carves a niche in games simply by being tougher than everybody. He’s a savage scorer and rebounder in the paint, is a strong defender, sets terrific screens, and can even knock down a few mid range jumpers. He’s injury prone, however, and doesn’t have much finesse on either end. He’d start on a number of teams, but Kevin Garnett kept him on the bench in Boston.
22) Chuck Hayes—Houston Rockets
Hayes may be the best post defending four in the game. While he isn’t tall (6’6”), he’s boulder strong and uses that strength to get great leverage on taller players. He’s nearly impossible to root out if he has position on you, and if he’s between you and a loose ball, he’s getting it.
He’d be higher on the list (and would see more playing time) if not for the fact that he’s one of the worst offensive players in basketball.
23) Anderson Varejao—Cleveland Cavaliers
Varejao’s defense is more about effort and energy than position and technique, but that isn’t to say it isn’t effective. He’s fluid for a power forward, will box out, rebound, show on screens, set sturdy picks, and run the floor hard. He also has an improving jump shot, and some rudimentary face up skills. His greatest talent though, and granted that the NBA’s referees are awful judges, is that his flops are worthy of Academy Awards.
24) Jason Maxiell—Detroit Pistons
Michael Curry forgot about Maxiell last year, but players, coaches, and scouts haven’t forgotten about Maxiell’s big time ability to block shots, grab offensive rebounds, run the floor, and finish strong at the rim. A new coach should mean a more pronounced role for Maxiell.
25) Al Harrington—New York Knicks
Harrington has wide receiver speed and can jump out of the gym. He has amazing handles for a 6’9” player, can score from all over, and can even play good defense.
Too bad, Harrington can’t play with any semblance of focus. He’ll follow up a strong defensive possession by turning his head and watching his man cut without the ball for a layup. He’ll believe the only thing to do when in a shooting slump is to take more difficult shots.
He’ll follow up important dunks at the basket with juvenile slapping the backboard technical fouls like he did twice—twice!—in the final seconds of two separate games against the Clippers.
Harrington doesn’t keep his head on straight long enough to be a winning player.
26) Charlie Villanueva—Detroit Pistons
Villanueva is an inefficient creampuff who will put up points but won’t do anything else. His defense is atrocious, he seldom gets to the free throw line, he’s useless without the ball in his hands, and he gets pushed around for rebounds. There are far better scoring options in the league.
27) Kevin Love—Minnesota Timberwolves
Love looks like he may develop into a talented rebounder, but he’s too unathletic to be a major factor. Over a tenth of his shots end up swatted because he lacks the explosion and creativity necessary to being a talented finisher.
His individual defense is porous, and he has no impact as a shot blocker. Some of that is due to general inexperience which will improve as he ages, but there’s a necessary degree of talent needed to be an impact player that Love doesn’t have.
He’s a useful role player, but not a game-changing one, and certainly not a star.
28) Drew Gooden—Dallas Mavericks
Inconsistent to a fault, Gooden doesn’t have the basketball IQ and court awareness to translate his myriad skills to repeatable successes. So while Gooden can shoot, face up, rebound, and play acceptable defense, he tends to go too many stretches firing blanks, getting beat to loose balls, and missing defensive rotations.
29) Tyrus Thomas—Chicago Bulls
Thomas is an athletic specimen who hasn’t quite put everything together. He’s a terrific weak-side shot blocker, but his defensive awareness and ability to defend his own man are subpar. He’s fantastically athletic, but he doesn’t have the handles or strength to take full advantage of it.
He’s evolved into a streaky shooter, but there’s no telling if his pull up 20-footers will split the nets or clang of the iron. In short, Thomas still needs to be further refined to becoming a championship-level player.
30) Jeff Green—Oklahoma City Thunder
Long, lean, and limber, the green Green has a world of upside. He runs like a small forward which allows him to beat most competitors to the basket with his quickness. He’s also a capable jump shooter with three-point range. Green still has to put on more muscle to become a better finisher, defender, and rebounder, but at the tender age of 23, he has a lot of time to grow.
This article first appeared on ballerblogger.com