The Road To To Today's Power Forward | Part I
Editor’s Note: Power forwards continue to evolve, but it's still arguably one of the deepest positions in the NBA. In Part I of this NBA All-Star series, Mark Remme looks at the current crop of power forwards that are about to take this position into a new era.
Blake Griffin had an “aha” moment while sitting in a Western Conference All-Star team meeting on Friday in New Orleans. Looking around the room, he noticed what he thought was a peculiar sight—of the 12 players on the roster, five were power forwards.
He and Kevin Love are in the starting lineup. LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki are coming off the bench. So is Anthony Davis, an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant that made the team despite that particular injury slot being open to any position across the board.
But it went to a 4—another young talent who primarily plays a position that, at least in the Western Conference, is currently incredibly deep and talented spot.
“I mean, in years past there’s like two, maybe three [on the roster],” Griffin said. “But yeah, the power forward position has been unreal. I mean, there’s even more that are out there. It’s a great time to be a power forward.”
Wolves fans see Kevin Love play every night and get a chance to appreciate just how good he is. He’s averaging 25.8 points per game (fourth in the league) and 13.8 boards (second). It’s a major reason why he’s starting in this year’s All-Star Game for the first time. But he’s not alone in this race. Griffin, for instance, is starting right alongside him. And Aldridge’s numbers suggest he’s deserving of the same honor.
It’s a fraternity of sorts here in the West. They’re all competitive, they all want to be the best they can be at their position and they’re all helping carve out a path as a new-age power forward in today’s NBA game. Some have power and force. Others have a silky-smooth mid-range. Still others are dangerous from 3-point range, protect the rim at an elite level or have an unusually strong handle.
It prompted Aldridge to joke that this group could handle all five duties on the court in Sunday’s All-Star Game if given the opportunity.
“I just played Blake, and he took it coast-to-coast and did a spinning layup,” Aldridge said. “We should have all five power forwards [out there at the same time], and he should be the point guard since he’s already going coast-to-coast. I think I would be the actual power forward, and then those guys could, you know, handle the other spots.”
All kidding aside, this crop of power forwards are paving the way for a new era of power forwards that will take the lead for this position in the West for a new generation of fans. Excluding Nowitzki, who is in the final years of his career, Aldridge is the oldest of the group at 28. Love (25), Griffin (24) and Davis (20) all have many more years and All-Star appearances ahead of them.
What makes this crop of young, talented power forwards so special?
This group is the product of the former generation at their position. It’s been an evolution from the 1980s and 1990s when power forwards worked down low on the block and played with their back to the basket. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a slow change in that trend that in part was led by Nowitzki’s ascent as a mid-range and 3-point shooter. His size and touch allowed him to hit shots from all areas of the court with such efficiency and grace, it wowed a new era of NBA fans. His one-legged fallaway jumper is still emulated to this day, and there are moments when you see that type of look at the basket in Love’s game.
Love is the poster child for Stretch 4s in the NBA today. When conversations come up about that term among players and coaches, Love’s name will almost unanimously come up. He’s a mix of both old-school and new-age power forwards, if you ask former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson. Love, Johnson said, has the grit and determination down low to fight his way to the hoop and pull down rebounds at an elite level, but he still has the touch from outside that makes him a threat beyond the arc. You’ll see that in Saturday night’s Foot Locker Three-Point Contest as well as, likely, the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday evening.
It wasn’t exactly something Kevin McHale said he saw coming when he made the draft-night trade for Love while working in the Wolves’ front office in 2008, but he did think Love would be a solid double-double guy.
It just so happened he took it to another level.
The others are in that same boat. Aldridge can fight down low but is an incredibly strong mid-range shooter. Davis is uniquely athletic—showcasing the style that sometimes mirrors a wing player while also holding the incredible ability to protect the rim.
“I say point guards and power forwards are the best two positions in the league right now,” Love said. “It seems like in the Western Conference if you look at who we have, every night is a battle. There’s a couple guys—Zach Randolph and David Lee, Pau Gasol. There’s just different players that aren’t here today that are great. It’s a very tough group of players, and I feel honored to be part of this group. It’s very good.”
These days, position lines are sometimes crossed simply because of the athleticism and evolution in today’s game. Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony are examples. Bosh often plays center as the Heat go to a small lineup, while Anthony is primarily a power forward but has the athleticism to slide down to the 3 and be just as successful—if not more so—at that spot.
“The game continues to evolve,” Bosh said. “I think we’re at a place now where we can strip away almost the F, the PF, the Cs…it’s becoming more of a situation where you can blend most guys that can play the 4 and handle the ball.”
For this group of power forwards in the Western Conference, the talent is there and the sky is the limit. But there’s something that this group has not achieved early in their careers, and they’ll try to match the group that came before them.
The last era is headlined by Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki—a hat trick of Hall of Famers who have 41 combined All-Star appearances between them. But more importantly, all of them have won an NBA title—six in all.
This group has laid the foundation to evolve the game, take the torch and successfully lead the position into the next era. The next challenge is postseason success.
“Kevin Garnett, champion. Tim Duncan, champion. Dirk Nowitzki—you know, he’s slowly creeping out—champion,” Aldridge said. “I think [our group] is good for the position, and I think we have some big shoes to fill.”