With the NBA returning in October, here is a comprehensive list of the top five power forwards in the NBA. No surprise, four of the five play in the Western Conference. My sincerest apologies to Kristaps Porzingis and Lamarcus Aldridge.
1. Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
In his fifth year out of the University of Kentucky, Anthony Davis posted his fourth consecutive year averaging a 20-point double-double, setting career highs in rebounds per game (11.8, seventh in the league) and points per game (28.0, fourth in the league). The versatile power forward had the fourth highest PER (player efficiency rating) in the NBA, trailing only MVP Russell Westbrook, Finals MVP Kevin Durant and Kiwi Leonard. So yes, he was more efficient than LeBron James. Davis also finished sixth in Estimated Wins Added at 21.7 It should be noted that the Pelicans won just 30 games in 2016.
What allowed Davis to make the jump to superstardom a season ago was the addition of an outside shot to his game. He drilled a career high 40 three-pointers in last season, after hitting just three in his first three years in the league. Forcing defenders to respect his jump shot opened up new doors for Davis on offense en route to a career year. He led the NBA in field goals made per game with 10.3, outdoing Russell Westbrook by a tenth point of a point. The former No. 1 overall pick also played in a career high 75 games last season.
2. Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers
Durability has been an issue for Blake Griffin as of late. After playing in 80 or more games in three of his first four seasons, the former Sooner has played in 96 in the past two seasons. Injuries aside, Griffin is still one of the most talented and athletic forwards in the league. The lob city phenom has expanded his game from strictly highlight reel dunks, adding a jump shot and asserting himself as a premiere passing forward in the league.
In recent years, Griffin’s rebounding numbers have declined, however, his three-point and free throw shooting has improved each season. Griffin shot a career high 76% at the charity stripe in 2016 and drained 38 trey balls. Diversifying the ways in which he can score has increased his value exponentially. While defense may still be a weakness for Griffin, his offensive talent makes up for his suspect play on the other side of the ball.
3. Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Love’s first two years in Cleveland were underwhelming, to say the least. His last year in Minnesota, the UCLA product averaged a career-high 26.1 points per game and 12.5 rebounds to go along with a career-high 190 three-pointers. His scoring average dropped nearly 10 points in his first year in Cleveland. In 2016, he bounced back, averaging his first double-double season since the ’13-’14 season with Minnesota. Love finished eighth in the league in rebounding and ranked third among power forwards in PER and Estimated Wins Added, trailing only Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin.
Love stands to gain from the Irving/Thomas trade. For one, he will be the true second option in Cleveland behind LeBron until Isiah Thomas’ his heals. Additionally, his play meshes better with Thomas who is less of an isolation player than Irving is. Similar to Griffin, Love’s defense also detracts from his value, but his gaudy rebounding numbers make up for his less than desirable defensive play.
4. Draymond Green – Golden State Warriors
The Swiss army-knife of the NBA is very much the opposite of Love and Griffin, he’s all defense and very limited on the offensive end. That being said, Green is a great facilitator, leading all power forwards last season with 7.0 assists per game, and he also tallied up five triple doubles. Granted, on a team with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, not much offense is needed outside of those three, but Green’s offensive woes in 2016 were alarming, as his numbers fell across the board.
Defensively, Green led the league in steals per game, setting a career high with two thefts per game. He also tied a career-high in blocks with 1.4 per game. Green isn’t going to wow you in any one category, but he is solid across the board.
5. Paul Milsap – Denver Nuggets
The 11-year veteran out of Louisiana Tech is still going strong. In 2016, Milsap averaged career highs in points (18.1) and assists (3.7) per game. His rebounding numbers fell slightly last season, but Milsap is still solid across the board. He is capable of draining an occasional three-pointer and is a reliable free throw shooter for a big man.
Milsap is a sound player on both sides of the ball and will be a strong veteran presence in Denver this coming season, complementing Nikola Jokic well in the front court.