No position in the game has transformed more over the past couple of decades than power forward. It’s no longer to have brute strength and a low post game. Since coach Rudy Tomjanovich and Robert Horry introduced the stretch-four in Houston, the position and the game has changed dramatically.
So as we wrap up our countdown of the top players at each position, based on numbers, past performance and just personal preference, there’s a mixture of many different styles at power forward:
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: After signing a five-year, $145-million contract extension prior to the 2015-16 campaign, Davis hit the court and took a small step backward last season. Granted, he was playing with a supporting cast that provided virtually no support. But his numbers dipped slightly and combined with the Pelicans drop from playoff team to the cellar of the Southwest Division, it cost Davis a $25-million bump for not being named a MVP, an All-Star starter or a member of any of the three All-NBA teams. He took a career-high in 3-point shots, as new coach Alvin Gentry wanted. He also was less of an overwhelming force at the defensive end. At just 23, he’s still the all-around talent you’d love to build your team around. However durability remains a question. He's never played more than 68 games in a season and missed 21 games in 2015-16 after having left shoulder surgery.
2. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: So how do you make Green even more annoying to players and fans on opposing teams? Put Kevin Durant with him on the Warriors front line and let everybody try to stop him now. Yes, he’s often out of control on and off the court. Yes, the angry man act has worn thin on many occasions. But the fact is that the live wire with the versatile bag of tricks is playing in the perfect basketball era to make an impact any time he steps onto the floor. He's the best passing forward in the game (and led all forwards in assists), finishes with ferocity, rebounds fiercely and is as antagonizing on defense as anybody in the NBA. It continues to amaze that the guy who fell so far on Draft night could have risen this high.
3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: There was the quad injury that put him on the shelf after Christmas Day and then the broken hand that resulted from punching out an assistant equipment manager. But what got overlooked in a lost and foolish season was that Griffin had been playing some of the best basketball of his career during the first two months of 2015-16. He’s come so far from being just the dunk machine that jumped over cars and now is an all-around threat on offense. He’s been working to take his shooting range farther from the hoop while also working with his new mentor, Kevin Garnett, perhaps to put a bit more snarl and smarts into his game. Only Green is a better pure passer among power forwards. If any team in the West has a chance of taking down Golden State, it’s the Clippers if Griffin and Chris Paul can stay healthy.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs: Supposedly the dirty little secret is that his production dropped from 23.4 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game in Portland to 18.0 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game in his first season in San Antonio. That has led to recent speculation that he’s unhappy with his diminished role on the Spurs and is already looking for an exit door to escape Kawhi Leonard’s shadow. Of course, all of this comes before the opening tip of the first season in nearly two decades without Tim Duncan, when coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs will need him to be more productive. Lost in those diminished stats from a year ago was the fact that Aldridge had his most efficient NBA season with a true shooting percentage of 56.5 and also became a much better team defender. Having found a comfort zone in the Alamo City, this should be a time to shine.
5. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks: Here’s another testament to outperforming the scouting projections coming out of college. Millsap has gone from the 47th pick in the 2006 Draft to a guy that opponents can count on to give them a headache every time out of the gate. After so many years flying beneath the radar, he’s finally getting the recognition due. Last season’s numbers of 17.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.7 blocks per game were an across-the-board standard for a season that had been reached by only a dozen other players in the history of the league. While the names higher on the list get the headlines, Millsap just gets it done.
6. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz: The big man is a throwback in the era of the stretch-four, hanging around the basket to score his points and acting as rim protector along with Rudy Gobert in the Jazz’ strong defensive front line. It’s been a slow and steady work in progress to coax the 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game that Favors delivered a year ago. Now there are some impatient fans in Utah that might be inclined toward Trey Lyles and his shooting range. But it would be unwise to turn the page on Favors just when he’s hitting his stride. He's strong, lengthy and, perhaps most notably, doesn’t mind at all mixing things up on the inside and doing the dirty work. There could be a breakout season waiting to happen.
7. Serge Ibaka, Orlando Magic: It’s easy to just look at the stats and say Ibaka’s production had plummeted ever since the Thunder signed him to the long-term contract. But that had a good deal to do with the way he was used in recent OKC seasons, his game moved farther out on the floor to accommodate the big man tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Those two -- and the departure of Kevin Durant -- did make Ibaka expendable. But now he most to the Magic where he can back to being the two-way force down low. His rebounding and defense will likely shine again at his new address.
8. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers: Just call him the Cleveland Whipping Boy. Lost games, leaky roof, clogged shower drains at The Q? Blame it on Love. That seems to be the role he fills best these days. It’s certainly no secret that Love isn’t that double-double machine from his Minnesota days. But he doesn being a lot to the table. He’s an excellent rebounder. He can post up defenders to score. And he remains one of the best shooting fours in the league.
9. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: On one hand, he averaged just 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots as a rookie. On the other hand, he also played only 28.4 minutes per game as a rookie. Forgive us for not getting caught up in the hype of the two potentially-over-the-hill imports from Chicago in Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, but Porzingis is the future of the franchise and the one to watch in New York. The big man has added some muscle to his frame and with Carmelo Anthony looking to win now and give up some of the scoring load, his numbers and his impact on the Knicks’ season could be on the rise.
10. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: Go ahead, point out that he’s 38 years old. Mention that he’s been around almost since before the Berlin Wall came down. But we’re talking about a 13-time All-Star, the 2007 MVP, 2011 Finals MVP and a 7-footer who revolutionized the position. It’s one season at a time now. It doesn’t look like he’s going to get another shot at playing for another championship in Dallas. But he still loves the game, loves the Mavs. The step-back, one-footed jumper is on my list as long as he’s lacing up his sneakers.
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