Point guards. Shooting guards. Small forwards. All done. Next up, we have the players that clean the glass, shoot high percentages and are inside presences on offense and/or defense. The list of power forwards was difficult to rank at the bottom, but there was no question who the top two would be. It would be a matter of preference of placement, and I believe I went the way most would have.
Here are the factors, in varying degrees, taken into account in making this ranking – statistics, impact on the game, awards and honors, longevity, playoff performance and my own gut instincts. Feel free to disagree and make cases for others in the comments.
10. Shawn Kemp, Seattle SuperSonics (1989-1997), Cleveland Cavaliers (1997-2000), Portland Trail Blazers (2000-02), Orlando Magic (2002-03)
1051 G; 14.6 PPG; 8.4 RPG; 1.6 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 48.8 FG%; 74.1 FT%; 1.1 SPG; 1.2 BPG
The Reign Man. Kemp’s placement in this top 10 list had me thinking hard because his statistics aren’t necessarily incredible and he never won an NBA title. However, it’s hard to ignore his impact on the game because of his extraordinary ability to dunk the ball. Hard, yet graceful, Kemp was a big man that looked both smooth and powerful when cramming it in. And I don’t mean off the court where he was prolific as well. Jokes aside, there were numerous times when my friends and I tried to imitate some Kemp dunk we saw on some highlight. Of course it was an 8-foot rim, but the very fact that kids would copy what a player did says a lot about that player’s impact.
Kemp only averaged 20+ points once in his career, but did average double-digits in rebounding for six straight seasons, during which he did average double-digit points. He made six straight All-Star games and was selected to three All-NBA teams. Kemp finished with a 19.1 PER and 106 ORtg for his career.
Kemp was brimming with potential coming out of Trinity Valley Community College, where he did not play basketball, basically coming into the league straight out of high school. He teamed up with Gary Payton to reach the NBA Finals with the Sonics, but after a contract dispute, Kemp was traded away where he would essentially battle weight issues the rest of his career. Imagining if he stayed with the Sonics is futile, but I have a feeling it would have been more fruitful for all involved.
9. Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (2001-2008), Los Angeles Lakers (2008-Present)
731 G; 18.8 PPG; 9.1 RPG; 3.2 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 52.2 FG%; 75.1 FT%; 0.5 SPG; 1.7 BPG
Gasol had a successful individual career while with the Grizzlies, but it wasn’t until he was stolen by traded to the Lakers that Gasol really planted the seeds that would get him on this list. Averaging double-doubles and winning a couple of NBA titles will do that. Gasol was the perfect fit for Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, as well as being the beta to Kobe Bryant’s alpha. However, there is no question that it was symbiotic relationship where both players couldn’t have won those titles without each other. Pause.
Gasol has averaged 18+ points in seven of his 10 seasons, including two 20+ campaigns. He’s averaged double-digit rebounds twice, both of which have occurred in the past two seasons. Gasol has played in four All-Star games, won NBA Rookie of the Year (2001-02) and has made the All-NBA team three times in his career, all coming in his full seasons with the Lakers. Thus far, he has the 28th best PER ever (22.1) and an excellent 115 ORtg.
Gasol was thought of as a punk when the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals a few years ago, but winning back-to-back titles will do wonders to help people forget you’re soft. That and being a murder suspect. In any case, it seems that the lovefest may be over in La La Land as Gasol is being mentioned in trade rumors regarding Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. Well, the love continues here as Gasol remains on the list. Pause.
8. Chris Webber, Golden State Warriors (1993-94; 2008), Washington Bullets/Wizards (1994-98), Sacramento Kings (1998-2005), Philadelphia 76ers (2005-06), Detroit Pistons (2007)
831 G; 20.7 PPG; 9.8 RPG; 4.2 APG; 0.3 3PTM; 47.9 FG%; 64.9 FT%; 1.4 SPG; 1.4 BPG
Sometimes I think people forget just how good Webber was. I know I have and I’ve been a fan since the Fab Five days! However, the Michigan scandal, injuries, and the timeout situation against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA title game will help make people forget how good Webber really was. He had natural charisma, ridiculous athleticism, and was a born leader. He became somewhat grumpy at the twilight of his career, but do you remember how good he was?!?!
Webber averaged 20+ points 10 times in his career, including nine straight seasons from 1994-95 to 2002-03, although he wasn’t always healthy throughout. Webber averaged double-digit rebounds six times, including leading the league during the 1998-99 season at 13.0 rebounds per game. He was selected to five All-Star games and was the NBA Rookie of the Year (1993-94). Webber made five All-NBA teams, including one first team selection (2000-01). He finished his career with a 20.9 PER and 104 ORtg.
In the end, despite the excellent numbers, it’s hard to think that Webber fulfilled his potential in the NBA. After watching the highlights I linked to, it’s obvious that Webber was super-talented and on the same level as Kevin Garnett. If you look at the stats, other than proficiency from the charity stripe, the numbers are eerily similar. Poor C-Webb, if only he could have stayed healthy.
7. Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons (1986-1993), San Antonio Spurs (1993-1995), Chicago Bulls (1995-98), Los Angeles Lakers (1999), Dallas Mavericks (2000)
911 G; 7.3 PPG; 13.1 RPG; 1.8 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 52.1 FG%; 58.4 FT%; 0.7 SPG; 0.6 BPG
It’s probably safe to say that the NBA will never see anyone like Dennis Rodman again. He was a free spirit, enigmatic and more laid back about things than a dead person. However, on the court, he put in non-stop effort, played with fire, within the team concept and wanted to win. How else do you explain a skinny 6-foot-7 player averaging 13.1 boards per game in the NBA?
In his 14 seasons, Rodman averaged double-digit points only once (11.6 PPG in 1987-88). However, he grabbed double-digit boards 10 straight seasons, although the last two seasons saw the Worm play 35 games total. That said, Rodman did lead the league in rebounding per game average for seven straight seasons from 1991-92 to 1997-98, averaging an incredible 16.7 rebounds per. He made two All-Star games and was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice (1989-1990 and 1990-91), as well as being named to eight All-Defensive teams (seven first team selections). The Worm was twice named to the All-NBA third team. He ranks 22nd overall all-time in Total Rebounds (11,954) and fourth all-time in Offensive Rebounds (4,329). Rodman’s 13.1 career rebound average is tenth-best all-time and he is tops in Total Rebound Percentage (23.4). He finished with five championship rings (two with the Pistons and three with the Bulls). Rodman had a less than stellar 14.6 PER, but had a very good 114 ORtg.
When I put Rodman on the list — he was a slam dunk to be on it by the way — I thought of Ben Wallace. If I put Rodman on the list, should I include Big Ben? In the end, despite better steals and blocks numbers, Wallace comes nowhere close to the impact that Rodman had on the game. He was an event. People paid attention to him to see what he’d do next. The five titles don’t hurt either.
6. Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics (1980-1993)
971 G; 17.9 PPG; 7.3 RPG; 1.7 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 55.4 FG%; 79.8 FT%; 0.4 SPG; 1.7 BPG
McHale was the man of a thousand moves in the post. With knuckle-dragging long arms to go with his immense skill level, McHale was a nightmare for defenders to guard. He wasn’t athletic at all and was herky-jerky with all of his head fakes, upfakes, spins and everything else, but it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as the ball goes through the net. Plus, he was almost as good with his interior defense.
McHale averaged 20+ points per game for five seasons, which happened to all come consecutively from 1985-86 to 1989-90. He never averaged double-digit boards, peaking at 9.9 per game (1986-87) and only average more than nine rebounds twice. McHale did lead the league in field-goal percentage in back-to-back campaigns (1986-87 and 1987-88), shooting at a 60.4 percent clip in both noted seasons. He averaged two or more rejections per game five times in his 13-year career. McHale played in seven All-Star games, was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1983-84 and 1984-85). He only made the All-NBA team once, but it was a first team selection. McHale was on six All-Defensive teams total, evenly split at three apiece for the first and second teams. Most importantly, he is a three-time NBA champion. McHale is the thirteenth-best shooter from the field all-time with a 55.4 field-goal percentage, and finished with a 20.0 PER and eleventh-best all-time 118.5 ORtg.
Being a Knicks fan growing up, I obviously hated the Celtics. However, I could appreciate and respect the players, despite hoping they all got one-day knee injuries that prevented them from playing New York. First man to hate was of course Larry Bird, but after that, definitely McHale. If I were a coach, I would have every big man that plays hoops watch McHale tapes everyday because he was big-time effective and one of the best post players ever.
5. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (1998-Present)
993 G; 23.0 PPG; 8.4 RPG; 2.7 APG; 1.2 3PTM; 47.6 FG%; 87.7 FT%; 0.9 SPG; 1.0 BPG
Nowitzki is the first, and most, successful jump-shooting European big man to come to the NBA. Obviously he is more than just a jump shot, but it’s that stroke from the outside that defines his legacy. Oh, and that championship ring.
Nowitzki has averaged 20+ points per game in the last 11 seasons, while never averaging double-digit boards during his 13-year career. However, he has averaged nine-plus boards five times. Nowitzki has been named to 10 consecutive All-Star games, made 11 straight All-NBA teams that include four first team selections, was named NBA MVP (2006-07) and NBA Finals MVP this past season for Nowitzki’s lone NBA championship. He’s the 14th-best free throw shooter all-time (87.7 percent), 23rd ever in total points (22,792) and 22nd in points per game average (23.0). Nowitzki owns the 15th-best PER for a career (23.7) and an impressive 117 ORtg.
Dirk seems to have at least three more very good seasons left in him, and if the coming season is played and the Mavericks can keep the same crew, Nowitzki could add another ring to his hand. He should be the paragon of every European big man with a similar game, but most importantly, they should copy Nowitzki’s determination to win. He was on the cusp of being one of those great players without a ring, but Dirk didn’t think so!
4. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves (1995-2007), Boston Celtics (2007-Present)
1195 G; 19.5 PPG; 10.7 RPG; 4.1 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 49.8 FG%; 78.8 FT%; 1.3 SPG; 1.5 BPG
Garnett came into the league as thin as any chances I may have with Mila Kunis. He transformed after a one-year adjustment into one of the best ever to play the game. Yes, I feel comfortable saying that. KG has a plethora of skills, ridiculous amounts of passion and has basically been durable his whole career. Sure, he could come off as a bit of a jerk lately, but who can honestly say they wouldn’t want him on their team? Joakim Noah’s opinion doesn’t count.
Garnett averaged an incredible 20-10-5 during six consecutive seasons from 1999-2000 to 2004-05. He averaged the 20/10 benchmark in three other seasons that includes four straight seasons when he led the league in rebounding (2003-04 to 2006-07). Garnett was selected to 14 All-Star games, including a dozen straight, and was named All-Star Game MVP once (2003). He won one NBA Defensive Player of the Year award (2007-08), as well as making the All-Defensive team 11 times that includes nine first team selections. Garnett was named the league MVP once (2003-04) and selected to nine All-NBA teams (four first team). He’s 16th in total rebounds (12,819) that includes being third overall in defensive rebounds (9,874). Garnett has the 19th highest PER of all-time (23.4) and a 111 ORtg.
When KG won his ring along with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, it helped cement Garnett’s place in the game — a versatile big man that played with palpable intensity. Coming in fourth on this list says a lot about Garnett, and if it’s any consolation, at least he has a ring the next two players don’t.
3. Charles Barkley, Philadelphia 76ers (1984-1992), Phoenix Suns (1992-96), Houston Rockets (1996-2000)
1073 G; 22.1 PPG; 11.7 RPG; 3.9 APG; 0.5 3PTM; 54.1 FG%; 73.5 FT%; 1.5 SPG; 0.8 BPG
Full disclosure, Barkley is my favorite NBA player of all-time. More disclosuring , I still own a t-shirt jersey of Barkley when he was on the Sixers that I bought back in 1987. When my wife threatened to throw it out, I threatened divorce. True story. (OK, not a true story, but you get the point.)
Barkley averaged the magical 20/10 11 times in his 16-year career and a double-double every season other than his rookie season when he averaged 14.0 points and 8.6 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game. Sir Charles led the league in rebounding average one season (14.6 in 1986-87). He was selected to 11 consecutive All-Star games from 1987-1997 and won the MVP award for the 1991 game. He also made 11 straight All-NBA teams from the 1985-86 season through 1995-1996, including five first team selections. Barkley was also named NBA MVP for the 1992-93 season. Sir Charles finished ninth in free-throw attempts (8,643), 11th in free-throws made (6,349), fifth in offensive rebounds (4,260), 17th in total rebounds (12,546), 19th in rebounding average (11.7) and 18th in total points (23,757). Barkley owns the 11th highest PER (24.6) and eighth best ORtg (119.3) in NBA history.
I considered putting Barkley in front of the next player, but it didn’t seem right. Although I could have cited that Barkley had more mass appeal, possessed more charisma, was appreciated for being outspoken and having a sense of humor. He was a role model regardless of what he said. I love that even now Barkley doesn’t take “stuff.” I don’t love his golf swing, however. Chuck, no matter what I wrote on this list, you’re the real number one!
2. Karl Malone, Utah Jazz (1985-2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04)
1476 G; 25.0 PPG; 10.1 RPG; 3.6 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 51.6 FG%; 74.2 FT%; 1.4 SPG; 0.8 BPG
Malone had a long and fruitful career, except when it came to championships. He came close with John Stockton a couple of times, but it wasn’t meant to be, thanks to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Look at the stats and you’ll see that he is one of the most boring superstars ever. (We’ll ignore the whole Rodman, DDP and Hulk Hogan thing because that was more of a joke if you ask me.) But, hey, being boring doesn’t disparage all of the things that Malone accomplished, because there was plenty.
In Malone’s 19-year career, he hit the 20/10 mark in 10 seasons and averaged 20+ points per game in 17 seasons, but never led the league in any statistical category. He played in 14 All-Star games, including 11 straight at one point from 1988-1998, and was named the MVP for the 1989 and 1993 contests. Malone was named to four All-Defensive teams, three of which were first team designations. He made 14 straight All-NBA teams that includes 11 first team selections. The Mailman was voted the MVP for the 1996-97 and 1998-99 seasons. Malone finished fourth overall in games played (1,476), second in minutes played (54,852), second in field goals (13,528) and field goals attempts (26,210), first in free-throws made (9,787) and free-throw attempts (13,188), first in defensive rebounds (11,406), sixth in total rebounds (14,968), 10th in steals (2,085), first in turnovers (4,524), second in personal fouls (4,578) and second in total points (36,928). The Mailman finished with the 14th-best PER (23.9) and a 113 ORtg.
Malone is arguably the best player in NBA history without a ring, which is a bittersweet thing to say. He was so great, but just not great enough. Still, did you see all of the stats in the previous paragraph? Geez. Plus, Malone has one of the best signature dunks in NBA history. Play on, playa. If the Mailman had a couple of those titles that he was close to, he’d probably take the top spot on this list.
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (1997-Present)
1053 G; 20.6 PPG; 11.4 RPG; 3.1 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 50.8 FG%; 68.8 FT%; 0.7 SPG; 2.3 BPG
Duncan came out in beast mode from the beginning, averaging 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks his rookie season, while playing alongside the great David Robinson, a perfect mentor for TD. In his second season, Duncan helped lead the Spurs to an NBA title, his first taste of championship success. Duncan’s four titles play a big role in Duncan’s placement here and why shouldn’t it? Was he boring like Malone? Yes. The difference is that TD won titles, so he gets that top spot.
Until last season when he averaged 8.9 rebounds, Duncan averaged a double-double every year since his NBA Rookie of the Year campaign, which includes nine 20/10 seasons. He averaged two-plus blocks per game for 10 consecutive seasons and since then has averaged 1.9, 1.7, 1.5 and 1.9 respectively. The Big Fundamental has played in 13 All-Star games, winning the MVP in the 2000 game. Duncan made 13 All-Defensive teams, which include eight first teams. He was named to 13 All-NBA teams that include nine first team selections and won the MVP award for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Duncan helped the Spurs win four NBA titles and was named the NBA Finals MVP in 1999, 2003 and 2005. He is currently ninth in defensive rebounds (8,831), 21st in total rebounds (12,013), 20th in rebounds average (11.4), ninth in blocks (2,381) and has the 15th-best blocks average (2.3). Duncan has the ninth-best PER (24.8) and has a 110 ORtg.
Duncan is an all-time great and is arguably the best power forward ever to play. The numbers and the titles make a strong case.
Feel free to leave comments and/or disagreements below or on Twitter. If I don’t tweet back quickly, it’s becasue I’m putting my Barkley t-shirt jersey back in its hiding spot.