Continuing our ‘Top of the Class’ series this week, today we rank the league’s best power forwards. We’ve seen the position change quite drastically over the past several seasons with the stretch-four becoming prominent in the game. As the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan continue through the latter years of their careers, we’re beginning to see the torch being passed down to some of the game’s younger players.
Factors to determine these rankings include players’ statistics, career accomplishments and what they mean to their respective teams.
6. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks:
After signing a three-year, $60 million contract with the Hawks, Paul Millsap is now being paid like one of the top power forwards in the league. Millsap reportedly turned down a max, four-year offer from the Orlando Magic to remain in Atlanta. He would have immediately transformed the Magic into a playoff contender, but by staying with the Hawks it will ensure the team can pick up where they left off last season. They had already lost DeMarre Carroll, so losing Millsap would have been devastating to a team that won a franchise-record 60 games last season.
Millsap has played some of the best basketball of his nine-year career during his two seasons in Atlanta. He’s earned two consecutive trips to the All-Star game and averaged a career-high 17.9 points in his first year in Atlanta, and is coming off of 16.7 points per game last season. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has really utilized Millsap’s strengths as a player that can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. He knocked down 36 percent from three-point range last season and shot on 48 percent from the field.
Millsap likely opted to sign a short-term deal with the Hawks in order to take advantage of the rising cap in the next few seasons. He can opt out after the second year of the deal, when the cap is projected to rise past $100 million. With the opportunity to land an even larger contract in 2017-18, the Hawks are likely to see significant production from Millsap moving forward.
5. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies:
After 14 years in the league, Zach Randolph still remains one of the most productive big men in the game. Randolph has stepped in at times when Marc Gasol was injured, and when Mike Conley and Tony Allen missed time this past season. He finished just behind Gasol in team scoring at 16.1 points per game, and added 10.5 rebounds, which was seventh in the NBA. He joins only Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic in averaging at least 10 rebounds per game in each of the last three seasons.
Randolph represents possibly one of the best contract bargains in the league. He signed a two-year, $20 million extension last summer and will make $9,638,555 this season. Although he is 34 years old, he could have signed for much more given the rise in salary cap. He opted to leave the team with some flexibility and that paid off this summer when the Grizzlies signed Gasol to a max deal. The Grizzlies have some of the best team chemistry in the league and should be right back in the thick of the Western Conference next season.
4. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers:
Blake Griffin is coming off of an outstanding postseason run with the Clippers. He increased his 21.9 points per game average during the regular season to 25.5 in the playoffs, boosted his rebounding from 7.6 to 12.7 and his assists rose from 5.3 to 6.1 per game. It was easily his best showing in the postseason, and had it not been for an epic collapse against the Houston Rockets, he could have done more damage in the Western Conference Finals.
Griffin is beginning to change his game a bit. He’s transitioning from a player that would dunk a lot, to a player that will spot up and shoot more. He’s adding a three-point shot to his game, and converted on 40 percent of those shots (10-of-25) last season. He’s admitted that by relying on dunking and his athleticism that he’d be physically fatigued by the end of the season. By shooting the ball more, Griffin seemed fresh for what turned out to be an impressive showing in the playoffs.
The Clippers retained DeAndre Jordan this offseason and also added Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith into the mix. They went from having a disastrous offseason, to having perhaps one of the deepest teams in the league. By adding so many offensive weapons into the equation along with Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, the team may not need Griffin to drop 20-25 points a game and instead allow him to pick his spots during the regular season.
3. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers:
With a healthy Kevin Love returning to the Cavaliers, many are already penciling in the Cavs into the Finals again next season. His first year in Cleveland was statistically one of the worst of his career, but it was because he wasn’t his team’s best scoring option for perhaps the first time. Instead, he was the third option behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but still was a crucial part of the offense.
As we saw in the playoffs, Love is an important part of the Cavaliers’ offense. We’re left wondering what might have been had Love and Irving been healthy for the Finals against the Warriors. The argument can be made that at 100 percent, the Cavaliers could have defeated the Warriors.
Although his numbers took a hit in Cleveland, Love still averaged 16.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He shot 37 percent from three-point range and knocked down 144 total shots from behind-the-arc, the second-highest of his career. Questions were raised throughout the season on whether or not Love fit into the system behind James and Irving, but after missing him in the postseason, it’s clear there’s a big need for his offensive skill-set. .
2. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs:
Heading into this offseason, LaMarcus Aldridge was perhaps the most sought-after free agent on the market. Aldridge was coming off of the best season of his career and there was no shortage of suitors for his services. Once it became known that Aldridge was open to the idea of leaving the Portland Trail Blazers, it seemed all but certain that he would be signing with the Spurs.
The Spurs have always managed to contend in the Western Conference with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And even with those three playing in the last few years of their respective careers, adding Aldridge makes the West theirs for the taking. The Spurs also retained Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, which, in addition to Aldridge, gives San Antonio a promising core for the future.
With so many options on the team, Aldridge may not be asked to do as much in his first year in San Antonio as he has with the Trail Blazers, but he still may lead the team in scoring. He averaged a career-high 23.4 points last season with the Trail Blazers and would have easily been the Spurs’ top scorer as Leonard led the Spurs in scoring at 16.5 points per game. He can get it done just about anywhere on the court, as he’s a great post-up player and a player that has improved his shooting consistently throughout his career. He knocked down 37 three-point shots last season at a 35 percent rate. By signing with the Spurs, he will help transition the team into the next era of basketball after Duncan, Parker and Ginobili retire.
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans:
After playing just three seasons in the NBA, Anthony Davis signed the richest contract in NBA history last month. After signing a five-year, $145 million extension, it should come as no surprise that Davis is the league’s best power forward and perhaps one of the most non-traditional that we’ve seen. His combination of athleticism and quickness makes him one of the most dangerous players on the court at any given time.
The argument can be made that no one player is more important to his team than Davis is to the Pelicans. With Davis on the court, the Pelicans are a playoff team. It’s clear that he carries the Pelicans night in and night out. He led the Pelicans in scoring (24.4), rebounds (10.2) and blocks per game (2.94) last season and finished second in steals (1.58).
The scary part about Davis is that he’s yet to tap into his full potential. Players usually begin to play their best basketball five or six years into their careers, while Davis will be entering just his fourth year next season. It’s very possible that we’ll be talking about Davis being the NBA’s best power forward for several years to come.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks:
It’s clear that Dirk Nowitzki is no longer the player he once was. He’s coming off of a season in which he had the second-lowest scoring output of his career at 17.3 points per game. But his significance to the Mavericks is huge and they always seem to have a chance when he’s playing. He opted to take a “hometown discount” in Dallas to allow the team to stay flexible with the cap, which almost paid off big had they landed DeAndre Jordan. As long as Nowitzki is in Dallas, they won’t be in rebuild mode, but it’s clear the team could be on the outside looking in next year’s playoff chase.
Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls:
It’s possible no one saw the type of year that Pau Gasol had last year in Chicago coming. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons in Los Angeles, Gasol arrived in Chicago and looked to be the Gasol that we saw at the beginning of his tenure with the Lakers. He averaged 18.5 points, a career-high 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. He was even named an All-Star for the first time since 2011. With a change in leadership coming next season, Gasol could stand to benefit under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg and his offensive system.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs:
Tim Duncan will simply not go away. The offseason headlines for the past 3-4 years have all been whether or not Duncan will retire. Once again, Duncan decided to give it another run as he announced that he’ll be back for his 19th season. He’s coming off of another productive season with the Spurs after averaging just under 14 points, 9.1 rebounds three assists and two blocks per game. He finished with the 14th-best PER in the league at 22.69. With Aldridge joining the team, the team’s chances at winning another ring are extremely high as many have them favored to come out of the Western Conference.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz:
Derrick Favors is coming off of a career year with the Jazz last season after averaging 16 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. The Jazz could quite possibly have one of the best frontcourts in the league with Favors and Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense down low moving forward. Both players were a big part of the Jazz’s second-half success last season, where they established themselves as one of the league’s best defensive teams. With the team’s core staying put in Utah for another season, the Jazz could be in for a huge season.
Just Missed the Cut: Serge Ibaka, Jared Sullinger and Ryan Anderson.
Who do you think deserved to make this cut but didn’t? Hit up the comment section below or keep the conversation going on Twitter. Also, stay tuned for the center rankings to wrap up the ‘Top of the Class’ series tomorrow.
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