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NBA Daily: Ranking The Power Forwards

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ positional ranking series, picking the league’s best power forwards. Will anyone challenge Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Drew Maresca

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The 2019-20 NBA season was supposed to be winding down. We were supposed to be only a week or so away from the start of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Instead, we’re self-quarantining with the only basketball-related content to look forward to being ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, which follows the late ’90s Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.

To fill the void created by the COVID-19 shutdown, Basketball Insiders is busy churning out new content. Our latest endeavor involved our rankings of the best players at each position – and this writer drew the short straw. So let’s pick out the very best power forwards in the game today.

It’s important to note that due to the rise of small-ball and the ever-increasing value of the three-point shot, the power forward position has changed more than any other. Gone are the days of bully ball and the bruising power forward. But what remains is far more aesthetically pleasing –  a more skilled and versatile breed of players who defends guards in pick-and-rolls, handles the ball and shoots three-pointers. We’re not saying power forwards are better now than ever before, but it’s hard to picture power forwards of the past defending the elite stretch fours of today.

But given the rise of positionless basketball, it’s more difficult than ever to identify power forwards – some look like wings and others are built like centers. So we simply went with the distinctions made by teams. Further, as is usually the case in league-wide rankings, we made our decisions based partially on statistics, and partially on the eye-test.

Needless to say, there are lots of great power forwards currently on NBA rosters who won’t appear in the list below. Injuries and opportunities played a major role, too. Therefore, we aren’t claiming these are the eight best power forwards alive; but instead, that the following is a list of the eight best power forwards in the 2019-20 season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Antetokounmpo is the obvious first choice. In fact, the only aspect up for debate is if he can really qualify as a power forward. Remember, the Bucks used him as their starting point guard in 2016-17.  But since the Bucks presently list him as one, we’ll call him the best power forward of 2019-20.

The defending NBA MVP was in the middle of another MVP-caliber season. He averaged 29.6 points per game in 2019-20 with a league-leading 31.6 PER. He’s still just 25 years old and is just beginning to learn to shoot the three-ball –30.6% on 4.8 three-point attempts per game, up from 25.6% on 2.8 attempts last year.

Antetokounmpo’s drive to win sets him apart from the players listed below. Yes, he’s versatile. Yes, he attacks the basket like few before him. But the improvements he’s made each year weren’t predestined. He put in the work. And he did so because he wants to win that badly.

Antetokounmpo built himself into one of the very best players in the world, and it’s not really open for debate.

Statistics – 9.5 out of 10

Net effect – 9.5 out of 10

Overall score – 9.5 out of 10

Anthony Davis, Las Angeles Lakers

Like many great power forwards before him, Davis finds himself classified as a center more often than he’d like – but we really don’t care how he self-identifies. Davis is an exceptionally versatile player who can defend the rim (2.4 blocks per game), shoot the three-ball (33.5% on 3.5 attempts per game), swallow up rebounds (9.4 per game) and do pretty much anything else you’d like him to do.

His past is impressive – Davis is a three-time All-NBA and three-time All-Defensive player – but the 27-year-old was showing no signs of letting up. He took home two player-of-the-week awards in 2019-20, and he would have been a top-two MVP candidate had it not been for his teammate, LeBron James. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that we’ll see exactly how far Davis and James could lead the Lakers.

Passing Antetokounmpo as the league’s best power forward is unlikely, especially for someone who isn’t even their team’s best player – but Davis is the ying to Antetokounmpo’s yang. Statistically, it won’t appear close. But in a head-to-head match-up, Antetokounmpo will have his work cut out for him (assuming he’s tasked with defending Davis).

Statistics – 8.5 out of 10

Net effect – 8.5 out of 10

Overall score – 8.5 out of 10

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Siakam’s coming out party was last season. But even still, Siakam was a leader for the 2019-20  Most Improved Player award – he’d made THAT much progress, again.

Only this season, the training wheels were off. Last year, Siakam was the Robin to Kawhi Leonard’s Batman. This season, Batman was nowhere to be found. And yet, Siakam and the Raptors kept pace. Sure, the 2018-19 team won the 2019 NBA Championship, but the 2019-20 Raptors had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference – and the third-best record in the entire league.

And much of Toronto’s success can be attributed to Siakam’s strong play. He averaged 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Oh, and he’s an elite wing defender.

The 26-year-old appears ready to take on the responsibility of leading a contender. But we’ve seen players better than Siakam struggle to lead their respective teams to the playoffs. He currently has the help he needs; will Toronto ensure that remains the case? If so, Siakam’s star will continue to rise for at least the next few seasons.

Statistics – 7.5 out of 10

Net effect – 9 out of 10

Overall score – 8.25 out of 10

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Tatum is as smooth as Italian leather. He’s grown into an incredibly adept scorer, averaging 23.6 points in 2019-20 – making him the leading scorer on the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. The 22-year-old also averaged 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, and he’s a supremely underrated defender. Oh, and he shot a hair below 40% on 7.1 three-point attempts per game this season – making him the best marksman on this list.

Tatum’s ceiling is almost impossible to define. He’s incredibly skilled at converting tough shots, and he’s a better ball handler than some point guards. He’s definitely the most “small ball” four we’ve mentioned thus far; but at 6-foot-8 and with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Tatum can stay with just about any power forwards in the association.

Tatum and Siakam are essentially interchangeable. We gave the edge to Siakam as he is clearly the Raptors’ best player, whereas Tatum played alongside Kemba Walker this season, who could be perceived as the Celtics best player.

Statistics – 7.5 out of 10

Net effect – 8.5 out of 10

Overall score – 8 out of 10

Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks 

Like Davis, Porzingis falls into the “isn’t he a center?” category. And like Davis, his 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game support that argument. What’s more, Porzingis’s 7-foot-3 frame REALLY confuse matters.

But the unicorn is more than just a lanky big man. Porzingis was the first player in NBA history to convert 300+ three-pointers and 400+ blocks in less than 200 career games. And he’s a 35.7% career three-point shooter. But Porzingis does more than shoot. He’s also a skilled big man who can put the ball on the floor and jump over equally tall defenders.

His return from a February 2018 knee injury was uncertain, but he looked better recently than he did before being suffering a left ACL tear. After a slow start to 2019-20, Porzingis averaged 24.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 blocks per game in February and March (14 games). He might’ve ranked even higher on this list had he put up those numbers all season.

Statistics – 7.5 out of 10

Net effect – 8 out of 10

Overall score – 7.75 out of 10

Bam Adebayo, Miami HEAT

Adebayo’s breakout season was one of the worst kept secrets in NBA history. When the HEAT agreed to send Meyers Leonard to Portland in the Jimmy Butler trade, it was a clear sign that leadership in South Beach felt like they already had their big man of the future.

The HEAT may have known about Adebayo’s versatility prior to this season, but there wasn’t much tape to prove it – the third-year pro hadn’t averaged more than nine points per game in either of his first two seasons in the NBA. Well that’s no longer the case. Adebayo averaged 16.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game to go along with 5.1 assists and 1.3 blocks. He’s what you’d call a stat stuffer. He’s a uniquely versatile big man whose athleticism enables him to block shots floating far above the rim, collect the loose ball, initiate the break and finish it with a lob pass to one of his teammates.

But Adebayo’s game has one massive hole – he’s a sub-par midrange shooter (23.5%), and he’s awful from beyond the arc (7.7%). But if Adebayo becomes a serviceable shooter, he’ll have a skillset like few others before him.

Statistics – 7.5 out of 10

Net effect – 7.5 out of 10

Overall score – 7.5 out of 10

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Collins is a hard player to gauge. The Hawks underperformed preseason projections, and Trae Young’s usage was so high that it began to overshadow his teammates.  But Collin’s PER was so impressive that we couldn’t rank him lower than seventh. He posed a 23.5 PER in 2019-20, good for third-best of any power forward in the entire league.

Collins had a great individual 2019-20 season, averaging 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, while shooting 40% on 3.6 three-point attempts per game.

Collins rolls off screens exceptionally well and he has excellent hands to catch passes in traffic. He also finishes around the rim, catches lobs with relative ease and generates lots of free throws thanks to his activity and motor. It will be interesting to see how his role develops alongside Young and the up-and-coming Hawks.

Statistics – 7.5 out of 10

Net effect – 6.5 out of 10

Overall score – 7 out of 10

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Ranking the top seven power forwards was relatively easy. The eighth spot was harder. Ultimately, we went with the eye test.

If Porzingis is the unicorn, then Jackson Jr. is version 2.0. Of the players on this list, only Davis (6.2%) and Porzingis (5.6%) blocked a higher percentage of field goal attempts while on the floor; Jackson Jr. blocked 5% of all field goal attempts while in the game. And he has a knack for getting himself back in defensive position and capitalizing on his length after being pushed off of his spot.

But Jackson does a whole lot more than just defend. His overall feel for the game looks even better than Porzingis’s, as he shot 39.7% on an impressive 6.3 attempts three-point attempts per game. In total, Jackson Jr. averaged 16.9 points per game while giving the Grizzlies a little bit of everything. He possesses great footwork in the post and the ability to score with both hands around the rim.

While his game is already impressive, Jackson Jr. has the most room left to grow of anyone on this list. And that’s probably the most impressive thing anyone can say about the second-year pro from Michigan State.

Statistics – 7 out of 10

Net effect – 7 out of 10

Overall score – 7 out of 10

Honorable mention: Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers; Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets; Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers; Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic; Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder; LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

Modern power forwards are far from the burly enforcers of the 80s and 90s. The present-day power forward must still collect rebounds and set screes, but they are also expected to dribble, pass and shoot. The range of size and skill within the position makes for a number of enticing matchups. With the possibility of watching Porzingis vs. Davis, Adebayo vs. Antetokounmpo, and Tatum vs. Siakam, can you blame us for being impatient to get back to basketball?

Basketball Insiders contributor residing in the Bronx, New York.

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

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