On the first full week of each month this season, I’m going to rank the top 10 NBA players at each position based on how I expect them to perform in the coming month. If a player is injured and is expected to miss most of the month, then they probably won’t make the list regardless of his value when healthy. I’ll rank the point guards on Monday, the shooting guards on Tuesday… you get the picture. Your feedback is welcome, even if you want to tell me how incredibly, irredeemably clueless I am.
Today, we’re counting down the power forwards. A few explanations in advance: Carlos Boozer isn’t on the list because he’s not going to be playing this month and Pau Gasol isn’t listed because I’m ranking him as a center — I’ll explain why in tomorrow’s rankings. As for David Lee, his numbers are certain to decline on a Warriors team that doesn’t play “Nellieball” anymore and he remains one of the worst defensive big men in the NBA so he just missed the cut for the start of the season.
10. David West, New Orleans Hornets — 2009-10 stats: 81 GP, 36.4 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 7.5 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .505 FG%, .259 3P%, .865 FT%, 18.9 PER
This may seem like a low ranking for a player who appeared in back-to-back All-Star Games in 2008 and 2009, but West’s defense and rebounding have slowly declined over the past few seasons in New Orleans. He’s still a very good offensive player, with a lot of his points coming off a deadly mid-range jumper he shoots frequently off pick-and-pop scenarios with Chris Paul. But at 30 years old, it’s unlikely he’s going to return to the All-Star Game at this stage in his career.
9. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers — 2009-10 stats: 78 GP, 37.5 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 2.1 APG, 8.0 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .495 FG%, .313 3P%, .757 FT%, 18.2 PER
Great things were expected of Aldridge when he was signed to a five-year, $65 million contract extension by the Blazers last October, but he leveled off last season and it now seems like multiple All-Star Game appearances may not be in the cards. He’ll probably produce in the range of 18 points, eight rebounds and a block per game over the next few seasons, but Blazers fans were probably aiming a little high when they believed they had another Chris Bosh on their hands.
8. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves — 2009-10 stats: 60 GP, 28.6 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 2.3 APG, 11.0 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .450 FG%, .330 3P%, .815 FT%, 20.7 PER
Attention fantasy team owners! You’re looking at a probable breakout fantasy stud for the 2010-11 season. When T-Wolves GM David Kahn traded Al Jefferson, he created the opportunity for Kevin Love to earn starter’s minutes this season and show if last season’s eye-popping per-36-minute averages (17.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists) will continue when he’s actually playing around 36 minutes per game. With his improving three-point shot and surprisingly solid defense, there could be some All-Star love in the big man’s future. And don’t mind the wisecracks you might receive from your fellow fantasy owners if you take him in the second round of the draft. If Love stays healthy, you’ll probably have the last laugh.
7. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks — 2009-10 stats: 81 GP, 35.1 MPG, 14.2 PPG, 2.3 APG, 9.9 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .551 FG%, 1.000 3P%, .789 FT%, 19.4 PER
Considering that Al Horford has progressed quite nicely in his three seasons as the Hawks’ starting center — including his first All-Star Game appearance last season — I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea to move him to power forward in 2010-11. He’s become one of the better defensive big men in the game and I assume that would make him more valuable as a center. But he’s moving to the four-spot regardless and I expect he’ll do just fine thanks to an improved jumpshot and the size and footwork to guard most opposing power forwards.
6. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies — 2009-10 stats: 81 GP, 37.7 MPG, 20.8 PPG, 1.8 APG, 11,7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .488 FG%, .288 3P%, .778 FT%, 21.2 PER
Z-Bo’s ninth NBA season was his best one, and it’s safe to say not too many people saw that coming. More than ever, he’s an absolute beast as a post scorer and on the boards and there are only a handful of other players who are as reliable at giving his team 20-and-10 every game. On defense, he has the size to be decent in the post when he’s interested, but his inability to convince the Grizzlies to offer him a contract extension could lead to some disgruntlement. Then again, playing in a contract year could be just the motivation he needs to play even harder than ever.
5. Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks — 2009-10 stats: 82 GP, 34.6 MPG, 23.1 PPG, 1.0 APG, 8.9 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .557 FG%, .167 3P%, .771 FT%, 22.6 PER
Needless to say, Knicks fans have extremely high expectations for their “big catch” from the 2010 free agency bonanza. Reuniting with coach Mike D’Antoni figures to be good for him, but with all due respect to his new teammate Raymond Felton — he’s no Steve Nash. Suns fans know how inconsistent his effort can be on defense and on the boards, but if new Knick center Timofey Mozgov eventually lives up to his apparently vast potential, those areas might be taken care of. Most of all, Amar’e needs to stay healthy and on the court to win the hearts and minds of New York’s hoops faithful.
4. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics — 2009-10 stats: 69 GP, 29.9 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 2.7 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .521 FG%, .200 3P%, .837 FT%, 19.4 PER
Perhaps more than any of my October positional rankings, this one is a “hunch pick”. While reports out of Boston that he’s regained most of his mobility should be taken with a grain of salt, he ran without an apparent limp in his preseason debut against the Sixers last night. More than anything, I’m giving K.G. some credit for his leadership and obvious hunger to avenge last season’s devastating Finals loss to the Lakers. He’ll never again be the “Big Ticket” he used to be, but he’s still better than all but a few power forwards in the NBA.
3. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat — 2009-10 stats: 70 GP, 36.1 MPG, 24.0 PPG, 2.4 APG, 10.8 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .518 FG%, .364 3P%, .797 FT%, 25.0 PER
While it’s almost certain that Bosh will take a significant hit to his scoring output now that he’s playing with LeBron and Wade, it would be unwise for the Heat to only see him as a “third option” on offense because he’s become one of the most unstoppable and versatile scorers in the game. It will be very interesting to see what he can accomplish now that he won’t be facing double teams most of the time he gets the ball. It wouldn’t surprise me if his field goal percentage rose into the mid-50s this season.
2. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks — 2009-10 stats: 81 GP, 37.5 MPG, 25.0 PPG, 2.7 APG, 7.7 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .481 FG%, .421 3P%, .915 FT%, 22.9 PER
It bums me out a little to think that Dirk Nowitzki might not win an NBA title, because he’s been one of the great players of the past decade and also one of the most enjoyable to watch. While his rebounding has declined as he enters his 30s, he’s still an elite scorer and inexplicably underrated as a defender — the Mavs allowed 5.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court compared to when he was off the court last season. If there’s one thing I would change about him if I was his coach, I would advise him to jack up treys more like he did in his early years. With a 42 percent success rate beyond the arc last season, it’s puzzling that he only averaged 1.5 attempts per game.
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs — 2009-10 stats: 78 GP, 31.3 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 3.2 APG, 10.1 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG, .518 FG%, .182 3P%, .725 FT%, 24.7 PER
Before we ponder whether or not The Big Fundamental still belongs at the top of this list, we should probably determine whether he’s really a power forward or a center. Most fans think of him as a power forward, but Duncan has played most of his minutes at center in recent years. However, the signing of Tiago Splitter most likely means that Duncan will return to his preferred role as starting power forward — hopefully meaning that his body will hold up better over the course of the season. As for his placement at the top of this list, he may be a step slower and he can’t play as many minutes as he used to, but nobody on this list can match his all-around game. There’s a good reason most smart basketball minds consider him to be the greatest power forward in the history of the game.