Photo Credit: Fadeawayworld.net
Part 4 of my Top 5 at each position takes me to the Power Forwards. This was an interesting list as more modern players sneaked into this list as the game has evolved over the years. The position that started in the 50s is not the same we see today, but the talent is still unrivaled.
Elvin Hayes was a 12 time All-Star and 6-time all NBA selection for the Rockets and Bullets. His career 21 pts / 12 reb averages during the 70s and early 80s are impressive. He never missed more than 2 games a season, was a dominant scorer with a lethal turn around and was a great rebounder.
What made me put Schayes on my honorable mention is not his scoring numbers (18 pts / 12 reb), but how he scored. He was a hybrid forward that could score with either hand, had a lethal running jumper, and was a solid set shooter from long range. He was honestly a precursor to the modern stretch 4.
The Worm had no offense whatsoever, so for Rodman to be considered one of the best power forwards of all time he had to be great on the defensive end. And as a former 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, boy was he a great defender. He averaged 7 pts and 13 rebs for his career, but it’s the 7 year stretch where he averaged 25 rebounds a game. He guarded Magic Johnson for the Bad Boys, and Shaq/Malone for the Bulls. He was one of the greatest defenders and no one would out work or out hustle him.
McHale was a defensive anchor on the 80s Boston Celtics, but it’s often that his offense gets overlooked. Playing with Larry Bird will do that but his back to the basket game is second to none. What’s funny is that he is on this list as a 2-time 6th man of the year, McHale came off the bench for more than half of his career games. His legendary footwork and low-post moves helped him average 17 pts and 7 rebs for his great 13 year career.
People hear his name and don’t understand the impact he had. Before Bob Pettit, Centers and guards were the primary scorers. Power forwards were just there to grab rebounds and defend. Pettit was the first power forward to do both as he was a 2 time MVP. Pettit never averaged less than 24 ppt / 12.4 rebs per game in a season. His career numbers are so impressive, I struggled to keep him out of the top 5. Every power forward after Pettit tips their cap to him.
The hype this former #1 overall pick came into the league which was high, and he rose to the challenge. He was a dominant low post scorer with range, guard-like passing ability and handle. People saw Webber out of Michigan and said he was a selfish player because of his swag. But he was nothing but unselfish and a fun player to root for. He was a career 20 pts / 9 reb / 4 asts player, he was the best play-making power forward we have seen.
#5 - Charles Barkley
Kids today see Charles Barkley on TNT beefing with Shaq and that’s their impression of him. They don’t know how good Barkley was in his playing days. The Former MVP was an undersized power forward in the land of giant 4s and 5s. Yet he was consistently one of the best rebounders we ever saw. He was not a role model, but if you were short and big you wanted to play like him. Not many could grab a board and go coast to coast for a thunderous dunk. Barkley’s 22 pts and 11 reb stat line is amazing in itself, only MJ could stop him from getting that championship that eluded him. Statistically, the “Round Mound of Rebound” stands up with any power forward of any era. He dominated both on the glass and as a scoring machine.
#4 - Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnet was one of the most versatile power forwards we have ever seen. Garnett was his team's best scorer, rebounder, playmaker and defender for years in Minnesota. He had the height of a center, the low-post moves of a McHale, the handles of an Iverson, and the shooting touch of a guard. The former MVP averaged 17 pts and 10 rebs per game, but his impact in Boston put him on another level. He switched his all around game and became a brillant defensive anchor and motivator for championship Boston Celtics teams in the 2000s. Garnett used to get killed for his playoff record, unfairly if you ask me, because his Timberwolves teams never did much in the postseason. But those teams wouldn’t have been in the playoffs if not for Garnett’s will and determination. It was great to see that narrative wiped away as he screamed “anything is possible” after winning his first and only championship.
#3 - Dirk Nowitzki
No one thought much of Dirk Nowitzki early in his career. He was tall and maybe could play a few years in the league. The comparisons to Larry Bird were logical because he was white and he could shoot the basketball like no other. But Nowitzki became the greatest European player in NBA history and there haven't been many players born in America as good as him either. Dirk basically gave European players a lane to drive through and really put to rest the idea that they couldn’t play in the NBA or that they were too soft. He revolutionized the game of basketball forever being a true stretch 4. His shooting range and ability alone puts him on anyone’s list. He was a career 22 pt / 7 reb player for the Dallas Mavericks. His MVP season of 2006 was amazing as he also got that championship in 2011. He is one of the greatest 3-point shooters we have ever seen. And just when you thought a 7 foot 3-point shooter was hard enough to defend, Dirk's one-legged fallaway from the post was one of impossible-to-guard moves we ever saw.
#2 - Karl Malone
This 2-time NBA MVP was built like a freight train and ran the lane like one. I don’t think any power forward ran the fast break as well as Karl Malone did in his career. He also was the most impossible pick and roll player we ever saw, as his combination of finishing at the rim but shooting touch was a nightmare. Also, it helped to play with one of the best point guards in John Stockton too. Malone was a 25 pts / 10 reb player for his career with the Utah Jazz and later with the Lakers. The Mailman could hurt you inside, from the post and from the elbow. He finished his career second all-time in scoring behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It's crazy because he was a poor shooter, especially from the free throw line, earlier in his career. But the hard work he put into his craft made him a 74% FT shooter and that’s where he made a lot of people pay for his tough inside play. It’s only the lack of championships that is a blemish in his and Stockton’s career, you have Michael Jordan to thank for that.
#1 - Tim Duncan
He is the greatest power forward we have ever seen in the NBA. Duncan is a 5-time champion, 2-time NBA MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA selection, 15-time All-Defense and Rookie of the Year. Those are the highlights, but consider Duncan never missed the playoffs in his career for the Spurs. The missed it once, the year they were so bad that they got the #1 pick overall and selected Duncan out of Wake Forest. His college career is pretty impressive also, but no one would ever think his NBA career would be as good as it was. He was a dominant low-post scorer with his back to the basket, but it was his defense that was so impressive. He was likely one of the greatest franchise players, as the Spurs built winning teams around Duncan for almost 20 years. He had new players and talent but he was the constant and they kept winning. Tim Duncan wasn’t flashy or loud, he was just a student of the game with his fundamentals and consistency. Duncan embodied everything basketball should be about as far as a team player and winner.