Even the most casual basketball fans would be able to tell you a little bit about some of the best power forwards in the game today. Players like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis have been dominant at the position in recent years. Veteran guys like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have put together Hall of Fame careers and even in the latter stages of their playing days have been very productive as well. Those guys represent some of most accomplished power forwards in the game today. However, there are a number productive four men who may get as much recognition as the players mentioned above but still play a key role to their respective team.
This list will take a look at five power forwards who are sometimes overlooked and may not be getting the attention they deserve.
Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
In his five years with the Bulls, Gibson has become one of the most consistent contributors on the team. His role throughout his career has been primarily as a sixth man, a role that he has embraced and excelled in. Despite coming off the bench for the most part, Gibson has still been one of the Bulls’ top scorers and rebounders. This past season, he averaged a career-best 13 points to go along with 6.8 rebounds. While he is certainly counted on for his scoring and rebounding, his defense is what makes Gibson such an important asset for the Bulls. He has great lateral quickness for a player of his size, allowing him to switch easily and hold his own against smaller players. Also, he is very active around the rim; this past season, he blocked 1.7 shots per game and has averaged two blocks per game throughout his career. The combination of Gibson and center Joakim Noah down low are the backbone behind the Bulls’ outstanding defense.
The Bulls will enter 2014-15 with one of the deepest frontcourts in the league, as the team added Pau Gasol through free agency and is bringing Nikola Mirotic over from Europe. Head coach Tom Thibodeau will have a number of different combinations he can use, allowing the Bulls to handle just about any frontcourt match up they face. Gibson will almost surely continue to come off the bench, but will remain an integral piece as the Bulls make the push toward a title.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
When you think about the Rockets’ frontcourt, the first name that comes to mind is obviously Dwight Howard. While Howard might be the star of the team’s frontcourt, he is getting some great support from soon-to-be third-year player Terrence Jones. After playing in only 19 games as a rookie, Jones saw his role increase dramatically in his second season, starting in 71 games alongside Howard. Jones thrived in his new role and became a steady contributor on a nightly basis. He provides a nice contrast to what Howard does, as Jones is quick enough to take his man off the dribble and has the ability to knock down short-to-medium range shots. Jones had a great second season and quickly rewarded the Rockets’ confidence in him, thriving in his new role. He finished the year with the third-highest PER on the team (19.1) behind only Howard and James Harden. Still growing as a player, Jones has the chance to be even better this upcoming season and may not be underrated much longer.
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
Between the tragic loss of his girlfriend prior to the start of the season and a mid-season neck injury, Anderson had a rough year and played in just 22 games during the 2013-14 season for the Pelicans. However, when he was on the court, he showed just how valuable of a player he can be. As one of the top stretch-fours in the game, Anderson allows the Pelicans to space the floor like few other teams can. He has become a remarkably good three-point shooter. Even with shooting nearly eight threes a game last season, he still maintained an impressive three-point percentage of 40.9 percent.
The Pelicans acquired Omer Asik during the offseason, giving them a very solid frontcourt rotation of Asik, Anderson and Anthony Davis. With Asik in the fold, Anderson may not start but still figures to play big minutes. Anderson underwent successful surgery on his neck and has just recently been cleared for contact. All signs point to him being ready to go for the Pelicans’ season opener.
Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Morris had a breakout year during the 2013-14 season for the Suns. He became one of the league leaders in scoring off the bench and developed into one of the Suns’ top offensive threats. He came off the bench for all 82 games, but like Taj Gibson, that doesn’t diminish his importance. The Suns relied heavily on Morris to provide a scoring punch for their second unit, especially when Eric Bledsoe was injured and Gerald Green was forced into the starting lineup. Morris managed to deliver all season long, and even had his name mentioned in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. With Channing Frye off to Orlando, Morris may have the chance to step into the starting rotation this upcoming season. After what he showed last season, more minutes for Morris certainly seems like a good idea.
Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers made it a top priority to bring back their young and talented big this offseason, signing Hill to a two-year, $18 million deal. Some might have thought this price was a little steep, but when you consider the type of production he has provided, especially when his minutes have been limited at times, it could prove to be a wise deal for the team.
Last year, Hill started in only 32 games for the Lakers and played, on average, just 20.8 minutes per game. But when he was on the court, outside of Pau Gasol, Hill was the Lakers’ most dynamic big. He averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds. This may not seem overly impressive, but if you take a look at his per 36 minutes numbers – 16.7 PPG and 12.8 RPG – there is no reason to think that Hill won’t be a major contributor if given more minutes. With Mike D’Antoni out of the picture in L.A. and Brian Shaw taking over, the Lakers will likely go with a much more traditional lineup this year. Expect Hill to play a much bigger role this upcoming season.
The power forward position appears to be in great hands with a number of talented, up-and-coming players throughout the league. These guys might not be at the level of some of the league’s best, but they certainly deserve some praise for their strong play.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN