NBA Position Rankings: Top 15 Power Forwards for Season's 2nd Half

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2018

NBA Position Rankings: Top 15 Power Forwards for Season's 2nd Half

0 of 11

    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Come one, come all: You're just in time to attend the official midyear appreciation fest for the NBA's best power forwards.

    Sorting through the league's top 4s is an enlightening exercise. The sheer variety of talent at the position is overwhelming—in a good way.

    Traditional bigs. Conventional stretch bigs. Small-ball wings. Unicorns. Indecipherable whatchamacallits. Power forward plays home to them all, mostly because it sits in the crosshairs of the small forward and center slots, making it something of a positional bridge.

    Adam Fromal and I have made it our mission to formulate a chain of command for the players who fall under this umbrella. Will bigs, both contemporary and more traditional, dominate the field? Will the small-ball 4 reign supreme? Or has the Association struck a balance between every possible archetype?

    Before we get underway, let's review some ground rules.

    Like the point guardshooting guard and small forward, power forwards will be evaluated as if we're trying to acquire them for the rest of the current season while assuming health. Candidates will only be eliminated due to injuries if they're not expected to play again this year. Paul Millsap can thank us later.

    Cleaning The Glass' extensive position data will be used to determine who qualifies as a 4. Starting-lineup designations don't matter. Total volume is the apple of our affections. Bear this in mind as we plow on so you're not offended by the inclusion of Thabo Sefolosha or exclusion of Kevin Love.

15-11: Johnson, Mirotic, Young, Sefolosha, Aminu

1 of 11

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    15. James Johnson, Miami Heat

    Age: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, 49.1 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 15.5 player efficiency rating, 27.63 total points added, 1.81 real plus-minus

    James Johnson is the same Swiss army knife he was last season, albeit in smaller doses. The Miami Heat's frontcourt rotation is weird, and his share of the offense has dipped even with Dion Waiters watching from the sidelines.

    But he's still their most versatile player—and among the most multifaceted in the league. He can switch across almost every position on defense, direct pick-and-rolls, act as the primary rim-runner and lead the charge in transition.

    If he could shoot league average from three—or even match last year's accuracy on long twos—he'd leapfrog more than a few names currently in front of him.

                 

    14. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

    Age: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 48.6 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 22.9 PER, 14.76 TPA, 1.44 RPM

    Call this an optimistic hedge. Nikola Mirotic's production won't hold all year. He's fewer than 25 games into his season and flashing featured-option appeal uncharacteristic of anything he showed through his first three years.

    Then again, Mirtoic has never enjoyed the freedom the Chicago Bulls are gifting him now. This could be a case of opportunity redefining potential. Heck, if we were positively certain he'd finish the season with Chicago, in this exact role, his onset explosion would be worth an even better spot.

                 

    13. Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers

    Age: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 48.0 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 14.1 PER, 26.04 TPA, 0.66 RPM

    Thaddeus Young just keeps chugging along. He is neither spectacular nor insignificant. He's predominantly switchy on defense, puts down just enough of his three-pointers to decongest the paint, works as a pick-and-roll diver and can initiate half-court sets as the primary ball-handler.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, Robert Covington, LeBron James and Otto Porter are the only other wings who match his per-36-minute scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and effective field-goal percentage. Really, Young is the perfect mid-end tweeter—a quiet, yet effective, contributor almost across the board.

                  

    12. Thabo Sefolosha, Utah Jazz

    Age: 33

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 48.4 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, 23.13 TPA, 2.64 RPM

    Thabo Sefolosha is a low-key monster. The Utah Jazz have unlocked new dimensions to their offense and defense by sticking his 6'7" frame at power forward. They're appreciably better at both ends when he's in the game—equal parts switchier and spacier.

    Consider the list of players matching his defensive value per 100 possessions and three-point percentage (minimum 50 attempts): Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Al Horford, LeBron James, Otto Porter and Jayson Tatum. So, yeah, maybe Jazz head coach Quin Snyder should resist ever giving any of Sefolosha's minutes to Jonas Jerebko.

                  

    11. Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 41.3 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 11.8 PER, 16.47 TPA, 0.33 RPM

    Al-Farouq Aminu is the Portland Trail Blazers' silent hero. He adds a little extra oomph to all of their best lineups with his cross-position defense and improved three-point shooting. He plays the role of wing and big depending on the opponent, and Portland struggles to make waves without him.

    Look no further than his impact on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. When they play without him, the Blazers have the net rating of a lottery team. When they run with him, though, Portland tallies what would be a top-five point differential per 100 possessions.

10. Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors

2 of 11

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.6 blocks, 49.4 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 16.0 PER, 2.02 TPA, 0.71 RPM

    Serge Ibaka helped turn the shot-swatting, floor-spacing anomaly into a coveted player archetype. In more ways than one, he is the OG of what we now reflexively, if exhaustively, refer to as unicorns.

    As the NBA's towers, both incumbent and incoming, have acquainted themselves with this bag of tricks, Ibaka's own sparkle has dulled. His skill set is no longer an abnormality but rather the new standard for marquee bigs—and the most basic one at that.

    Stretchy 4s and 5s should now be putting the ball on the floor. They should be setting up teammates. They should be switching pick-and-rolls and defending in space. Their rotations around the rim should be portraits of pinpoint timing.

    Ibaka isn't that guy. Nor will he ever be. He isn't an expert passer or self-sufficient shot-maker, and the Toronto Raptors don't want him guarding opponents on an island. The influx of wing-sized 4s has even detracted from his rim protection. He's contesting noticeably fewer looks around the iron than three years ago, and opponents shoot better than 60 percent when he challenges their point-blank attempts.

    To his credit, Ibaka remains a master of his original craft. He sends back a good number of shots despite spending more time on the perimeter, and every team wants a forward-center who nails close to 37 percent of his treys. This season specifically, he's more comfortable and efficient working off the dribble—proof he's in no danger of letting the game pass him by.

9. Tobias Harris, Detroit Pistons

3 of 11

    Brian Sevald/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 46.0 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 17.9 PER, 33.17 TPA, 2.25 RPM

    Around 80 percent of Tobias Harris' minutes come at the 4, the second-highest share of his career, according to Cleaning The Glass. Incidentally, he's never been a more dynamic offensive weapon.

    Matching up against slower opponents helps. He ranks among the league's most efficient one-on-one scorers, his first step like Kryptonite for traditional bigs. And when he faces off with opposing wings, he has the size, at 6'9", and strength to bully-ball his way to points from the elbow and in.

    But the Detroit Pistons' lineup configurations are just partially responsible for Harris' elevated profile. Cleaner polished shot selection and improved decision-making are his bread and butter. He's traded in long twos for threes, which he's hitting both off the catch and while pulling up, and he's posting the lowest turnover rate of his career amid apex usage.

    Defense continues to be his Achilles' heel. He sticks close to his man off the ball and seldom helps when his assignment is one pass away, making it difficult to burn him from standstill positions. But he's limited elsewhere. He can get brutalized on the block and lacks the sideways motility to gum up off-the-bounce attackers.

    Run him out beside enough shooters, and those defensive hiccups don't matter. The Pistons are unguardable when he has room to work. Watch him play opposite Luke Kennard. You'll get it.

8. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

4 of 11

    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 49.8 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 16.7 PER, 63.96 TPA, 2.13 RPM

    Jayson Tatum is everything teenage newbies aren't supposed to be: polished and poised and precise, with superstar efficiency.

    People have been waiting for his three-point clip (46-plus percent) to plummet since day one. They're still waiting. He's not yet comfortable on stop-and-fire missiles, but he's money off the catch, and legend has it he's never missed from the corners.

    Disregard the pull to typecast him as a product of the Boston Celtics' Mariana Trench-deep roster. He's at his best when working without pause in the half court, but his stop-and-go game will come around. He's shooting north of 65 percent in transition, better than 55 percent on pull-up jumpers and almost 50 percent when using between three and six dribbles. 

    Head coach Brad Stevens already trusts him to run without superstar safety nets. And while the offense sputters during these stretches, he's slashing 46/48/76 when Al Horford and Kyrie Irving are on the bench.

    Tatum even turns heads on the defensive side. Having Horford, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart around helps, and he'll get tossed aside on the block. But he's a conscious off-ball pest and holds firm versus playmaking artists. 

    In other words: Tatum is no specialist, just really good.

7. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

5 of 11

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 48.0 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 19.1 PER, 28.83 TPA, 0.44 RPM

    Pay no attention to the Orlando Magic's plunge following an 8-4 start. Look only at Aaron Gordon, who has stayed on the up-and-up amid their descent into oblivion.

    Honing his three-point touch has opened up new offensive doors. He's jacking more triples per 36 minutes than Dirk Nowitzki and converting them at a higher clip than more renowned forwards such as Ryan Anderson, Carmelo Anthony, Serge Ibaka and Kristaps Porzingis. 

    Gordon isn't solely capitalizing on idle spot-ups, either. Among more than 60 players who've attempted at least 35 shots off screens, his effective field-goal percentage ranks fourth, just behind Wayne Ellington, Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver.

    "He's not just a spot-up shooter," head coach Frank Vogel said, per the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins. "He's a pindown shooter. That says a lot about his development, quite frankly."

    Everything Gordon does suddenly has new meaning. Defenses have to respect his pop-outs off screens, rendering him a more dangerous pick-and-roll diver. And when they crowd him off the catch, he'll showcase his on-ball foot speed; he's shooting better than 54 percent on twos when chewing through two to six dribbles.

    Something has to give for Gordon's defense. Can he be a consistent switcher? How about a rim protector? The answers to those questions will determine how fast his star rises. But make no mistake, it is rising—just in time for restricted free agency.

6. Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets

6 of 11

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.3 blocks, 44.6 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 17.6 PER, 10.52 TPA, 0.51 RPM

    Good news: Paul Millsap's recovery from wrist surgery is right on schedule.

    "Not to get too excited, not to put the cart before the horse, but [the medical staff] said initially that All-Star break, before or after, was the timeline [for Millsap's return]," Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said, per the Denver Post's Gina Mizell. "I think he's still on that timeline, so things are moving in the right direction."

    Better news: This gives us license to include Millsap in these rankings without fear, or the assumption, of a setback.

    Even better news still: He played well enough before going down to earn top-end consideration.

    It took some time for Millsap to grow comfortable in his new digs, but true to his adaptable form, he eventually started leaving his mark. His work next to Nikola Jokic specifically drives up his placement. He's shooting 48 percent off passes from the Serbian superstructure, and the Nuggets have outpaced opponents by 9.7 points per possessions whenever they share the floor.

    Denver is also a different defensive team when Millsap plays. His rotations are a godsend for its wings, while Jokic is free to take more risks. The Nuggets have defended like a top-10 unit with Millsap on the court, so even with Trey Lyles' emergence, he remains their ticket to two-way lethality.

5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

7 of 11

    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 43.2 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 20.8 PER, 48.49 TPA, 0.91 RPM

    Declining efficiency and the usual helping of bad-luck injuries can only hold back Blake Griffin so much. After all, we have to account for the circumstances.

    Griffin is working with a supporting cast ravaged by absences (Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, etc.) and a post-Chris Paul learning curve. His usage rate has never been higher, his offensive role never tougher.

    Post-ups have become the Los Angeles Clippers' late-shot-clock failsafe—so much so that Griffin shooting over 40 percent on his back-to-the-basket sets is a minor miracle. Los Angeles turns to his face-ups in the same vein. He's averaging more than two attempts per game inside four seconds of the shot clock—second-most among 200-something forwards, just behind the first-place LeBron James.

    The Clippers' dependence on him doesn't stop there. Griffin is cycling through more possessions than ever as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. They have him running, on average, three such sets per game—about the same volume as a higher-usage backup point guard.

    Give him Lou Williams and a healthy Gallinari, Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic, and Griffin must still serve as the Clippers' end-all. Most other 4s cannot walk this line. That Griffin is good for 20 points and five assists while spearheading top-seven offensive returns in this situation speaks to his superstar standing. 

4. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

8 of 11

    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.2 blocks, 43.5 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 20.9 PER, -13.32 TPA, 1.83 RPM

    Kristaps Porzingis is crashing into a midseason wall. His shooting percentages have careened into rock bottom since he missed two games in the middle of December, over which time the New York Knicks offense has croaked more than purred with him on the court.

    "I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm so tired right now," Porzingis said at the beginning of January, per the New York Post's Marc Berman. And who can blame him?

    Tim Hardaway Jr. hasn't played since the beginning of December, and Porzingis' usage rate has ballooned in his first season as the Knicks' unchallenged No. 1. Playing power forward isn't helping matters. He spends more time flying around the perimeter, while also trying to help and recover around the rim. His head is on a swivel to begin with, and a turnstile starting five merely exacerbates his exhaustion. 

    None of which has stopped Porzingis from delivering a star's performance. His true shooting percentage sits above his career average despite a mega-uptick in volume, and he rates as the most effective rim protector among players who've harassed 150 or more close-range looks.

    Subtle improvements are peppered throughout the rest of his game as well. He's more comfortable using his skyscraper size (7'3") to shoot over opponents and recognizing when he's better off putting the ball on the floor. He'll never run fast breaks like Giannis Antetokounmpo or dish out double-digit assists, but he's a more opportunistic passer.

    Whatever becomes of the Knicks' roller-coaster season, Porzingis has ensured they'll exit 2017-18 knowing they house a superstar. 

3. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

9 of 11

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 46.7 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 17.4 PER, 102.70 TPA, 4.31 RPM

    That's Draymond "I have more career triple-doubles than anyone in Golden State Warriors franchise history" Green to you. 

    And you know what? Let's begin here, with Green's 21 career triple-doubles. They hold significance, even in the age of do-everything forwards who collect them like Pokemon. As Golden State of Mind's Brady Klopfer wrote:

    "On the one hand, triple-doubles are an overhyped stat. It's an arbitrary statistical cutoff that really only exists because we like round numbers. We often put a little bit too much stock in them.

    "On the other hand, triple-doubles have, for Green, been an indicator of when his contributions are really taking over in all facets of the game. In the 21 games that Green has recorded a triple-double, the Warriors are undefeated."

    This franchise record would ring hollow if Green was, in fact, a system player. He's not. The Warriors' go-with-the-flow defensive schemes exist largely because he can guard all five positions, and they post a better net rating than the Celtics when he gets spin independent of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. (Related: Whoa.)

    Not unlike his All-NBA brethren, Curry and Durant, Green is a star for the era. This marks the third time he's eclipsing seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block. Only one player has ever matched these touchstones even once: LeBron James (four times).

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

10 of 11

    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 25.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.1 blocks, 56.1 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 28.5 PER, 116.86 TPA, 4.31 RPM

    Remember when Anthony Davis was next in line to grab the best-player-alive tinfoil badge from LeBron James? Good times. But the basketball world at large appears immune to his nightly detonations nowadays.

    Smatterings of injuries haven't helped. Nor has James' refusal to vacate the NBA's top-most mantle. Ditto for the discovery of life on other planets (aka Giannis Antetokounmpo).

    But no amount of numbness or incuriosity (or martians) can actually rip Davis from this particular superstar discourse. At worst, if he's surrendered his rights as James' successor, he still belongs in the top-five-player argument.

    Sporadic absences and the New Orleans Pelicans' annual averageness should not warp views of Davis' trajectory. He's not the same player he was two or three years ago. He's better—a snapshot of all-around brilliance.

    Points, rebounds, blocks, blah, blah, stinking blah. Davis is quietly averaging a career-high in assists per 36 minutes. And he's shooting a personal best from downtown on peak volume. 

    If the Pelicans were more than a fringe playoff squad, Davis would be an MVP candidate. And he should probably receive residual recognition anyway. New Orleans posts a top-five differential per 100 possessions with him on the court—and a top-two mark when he plays without DeMarcus Cousins—compared to a bottom-two net rating whenever he takes a breather.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

11 of 11

    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 28.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 55.2 percent shooting

    Advanced Metrics: 30.1 PER, 197.47 TPA, 5.07 RPM

    Properly capturing the unprecedented life form that is Giannis Antetokounmpo remains an impossible task. The words to describe his do-everything-times-everything-plus-more-of-everything style have yet to be invented.

    So, in lieu of context befitting his singularity, let us instead scratch at the surface of all he does. 

    Antetokounmpo is:

    This could go on. It should go on. But our time and space are finite—you know, unlike Antetokounmpo's ceiling.

                       

    Unless otherwise cited, all stats are courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and current leading into games on Jan. 10.

    Dan Favale and Adam Fromal cover the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow them on Twitter, @danfavale and @fromal09.  

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.


X