Over the last few years, positional labels have become more and more fluid in the NBA. While traditional power forwards have dominated for decades, big men that can step outside the arc have quickly created a league-wide movement. Today, players like the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis have helped to revolutionize the position, but there are still plenty of underrated power forwards flying under the radar.
At a position dominated since 1995 by future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, the new era at power forward has certainly arrived. While none of these players have earned an All-Star selection quite yet, they’re all key pieces to a playoff contender or an up-and-coming squad. Here are six underrated power forwards that will deserve your attention for many years to come.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Sadly, the Milwaukee Bucks’ prized power forward has been badly hampered by injury in his short three-year career, but there’s still reason to believe in Jabari Parker. After a completely healthy 2015-16 season, Parker had started to put it together alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 52.5 percent shooting, all career highs.
Before his injury, Parker was firing on all cylinders, punctuated by the 31 points, nine rebounds and seven assists he poured in during a 25-point victory over the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 28. While athletes rarely recover completely from a second torn ACL, Parker is just 22 years-old and should be a crucial piece to the Bucks’ lengthy starting lineup for a very long time.
Under the tutelage of head coach Jason Kidd, Parker averaged 1.3 three-pointers per game this season, a massive leap from his minuscule 0.5 attempts mark in 2015-16. Simply put, Parker was already a terrifyingly adept scorer who suddenly discovered his long-range stroke, a sentiment that should scare just about everybody. Overshadowed by his injuries, it’s been a tough road for Parker so far, but the talented forward from Duke has all the tools if he can stay off the trainer’s table.
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets
When Frank Kaminsky entered the draft after his senior year at Wisconsin, the writing was on the wall. As a big body that could adequately defend while also stretching the floor for the Badgers, Kaminsky was joining the league at the perfect time. It’s taken the better part of his two professional seasons to get the tank fully operational, but Kaminsky has officially put the league on notice this winter.
On the season, Kaminsky has averaged 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest, but since February, he’s failed to score in double figures on just three occasions. Even better, he’s stepping out and making a difference from deep, hitting two or more three-pointers in 18 of the Hornets’ 25 games that he’s played in.
As of today, the Hornets are winners of seven of their last 11 games, narrowly keeping their chase for the final playoff berth alive, and Kaminsky’s emergence is a huge reason why. He’ll likely never average a double-double, but with three-point shooting numbers like these — 38.2 percent since March — Kaminsky is turning into a quality building block for Charlotte.
If he can make performances like his 23-point, 13-rebound and 5-for-9 three-point effort against the Sacramento Kings in February happen more often, Kaminsky will a household name before too long.
Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets
Believe it or not, Ryan Anderson has made 1,168 three-pointers over his nine-year career, good for 60th-most in NBA history, and has already surpassed the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson in his chase. Since his rookie year in 2008-09 with the New Jersey Nets, Anderson has consistently been one of the league’s best shooters throughout his stops with the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans and now the Houston Rockets.
Even with a lingering right ankle injury, Anderson has knocked down 187 three-pointers this season, tied for 12th-most in the NBA. Although he hasn’t replicated his massive 213 three-point total from 2012-13, Anderson’s on-court abilities make him a threat to catch fire at any time.
In Houston, he’s the perfect piece next to MVP candidate James Harden. Not only does Anderson drag his defender to the perimeter, thus opening the paint for Harden to penetrate, but he’s one of the best catch-and-shoot players out there — a huge reason why the Rockets agreed to give him $80 million through 2020.
Should the Rockets get over their upcoming playoff roadblock, it’s fair to assume that the sharp-shooting Anderson will have found his stroke once again.
Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves
Admittedly, it can be easy to forget about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng given the talent around him. Even though he’s one of the franchise’s best defenders by a large margin, it’s hard not to focus on Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns — but no longer!
Dieng anchors the defense with Towns in a fluid, interchangeable frontcourt system, often doing the dirty work so his teammates can take care of the scoring efforts. Aside from staying healthy — Dieng played in 82 games in 2015-16 and is on pace to start in all of them this year — the former Louisville product has become a fantastic component in this unsolved Minnesota puzzle.
Dieng only averages 10 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, but he fills his role remarkably well, ranking 11th in the NBA for defensive real plus-minus, just a shade behind superstar Anthony Davis.
Whether it’s been his solid pick-and-roll defense or ability to help erase some of the star trio’s missteps, Dieng has certainly carved out an important role in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation. While the Wolves have disappointed all season long, Dieng has proven that his big contract extension last fall was well worth it.
He doesn’t stretch the floor like some of the players on this list do, but his defensive worth will be a huge reason why this potential-laden franchise finally turns the corner.
Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks
With an impending trip to restricted free agency on the horizon, it was Nerlens Noel that quickly became a surplus player in Philadelphia. Once lauded as a defensive game-changer, Noel had a strange season working his way back from injury and navigating what he had called “a logjam” in the frontcourt back in September. Now in his third NBA season, Noel has found a new home with the Dallas Mavericks as a potential centerpiece for the former Western Conference powerhouse.
In 61 games last season with the 76ers, Noel averaged 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, protecting the rim valiantly on a particularly bad roster. After missing out on DeAndre Jordan a few summers ago, the Mavericks have quietly built a sneaky young roster. Sure, the blossoming nature of Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry has been nice, but it’s the addition of Noel that could get the Mavericks back to contention quicker than expected.
Noel turns 23 years-old next week and he won’t be cheap to retain this summer, but he’s still got the same potential as a defensive anchor that he did back in 2014. During an 11 point win over the Los Angeles Clippers in late January, Noel put up 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks — if he could put up numbers similar to that in an expanded role for Dallas next season, it’d be money well spent for the Mavericks.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
As the NBA playoffs are set to begin soon, the eventual return of the Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors looms large. After missing the last 14 games with a bone contusion in his left knee, the underrated Favors could be just what the Jazz are missing heading into the postseason. Alongside Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, Favors forms a towering defensive frontcourt.
Favors’ impact on the defensive end is often praised, and his career averages of 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game back that up for the physical rim protector. Forced out of the spotlight with Gobert’s emergence, the versatile power forward has continued to make strides in what was an originally limited game. Favors has improved as a jump shooter in nearly every season, and he’s currently shooting 43.5 percent on shots 10-to-16 feet away from the basket in 2016-17, a career-high.
With Trey Lyles struggling to log minutes in head coach Quin Snyder’s rotation and a matchup with Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers nearly locked in, Favors’ prowess in the paint is much-needed. As the Jazz look to win their first playoff series since 2009-10, Favors’ anticipated return could not be more well-timed, so don’t be surprised if he’s a big difference maker this spring.
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