Player rankings are some of the most divisive conversations in the NBA. Every fan wants their player to rank highly, and every fan will question why their player isn’t ranked as highly as they want. Positional rankings are also difficult due to the blending of roles and position-less basketball.
But I’m going to do it anyway.
These rankings will consist of the top 50 players at each of the five widely accepted positions in the NBA: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. There are different ways to classify it, but this is the best way to break down the talent into multiple categories.
Each list will be released on Wednesday of that week, starting with point guards and finishing with centers. A top 100 players in the NBA list could follow if the lists are well received.
Power Forward Criteria:
First, players that qualify for this list had to play predominantly power forward, based on their categorization on Basketball Reference. They will also play predominantly power forward next year.
Here are some primary players eliminated based on this criteria, as they play either small forward or center instead:
- LeBron James
- Otto Porter
- Carmelo Anthony
- Wilson Chandler
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Kelly Olynyk
- Gorgui Dieng
- Willie Cauley-Stein
Second, only players that played 800 minutes in the NBA this past season were considered, which eliminates three parties: injured players, foreign players, and rookies. This was reduced from the normal 1,000 minutes because of a smaller sample of players that played more than 1,000 minutes at power forward this year.
Here are some noteworthy players eliminated based on this criteria:
- Ben Simmons
- Thon Maker
- Dragan Bender
- Skal Labissiere
- Omri Casspi
- Lauri Markannen
- Zach Collins
- John Collins
- T.J. Leaf
The power forward position has evolved drastically over the years, moving predominantly outside the arc. There is less emphasis on post play and dominance inside from these players and more emphasis on outside spacing, gravity, and timing. A few players break this mold, but the top of this list is dominated by players that are versatile all over the floor.
With that in mind, I focused again on weighting efficiency, usage, and defense the heaviest of all categories, taking the true shooting percentage, usage rate, and ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus as benchmarks for each category. Please understand that defense is incredibly hard to quantify, and that DRPM is an imperfect system, but it’s one of the most objective ways to quantify impact in a statistical ranking. A variety of players are judged more harshly due to extenuating circumstances, like team performance and past years of data.
I also took assists, rebounds, and minutes into account, both in total and in how many games played/started. This helps adjust for super subs on various teams. I have a single number generated for all power forwards that will rank the 50 best players to play the power forward position this past season. Remember, this is statistically generated, and it’s not etched in stone that this is where these players should rank, nor how I would rank this list due to subjective biases.
Without further ado, let’s jump right into it:
Honorable Mentions (didn’t quite make the cut on the top 50):
- Mirza Teletovic signed a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks and absolutely collapsed this year. The Bucks just drafted D.J. Wilson, meaning Teletovic will likely be riding the pine by the end of the year.
- Boris Diaw signed a contract in Utah but was sorely disappointing. The French connection with Rudy Gobert was thought to provide as positive outlet for him, but being away from Gregg Popovich too long was hard for him.
- Jeff Green somehow convinced the Cleveland Cavaliers that he’s an NBA player. He’s done this to a number of teams and I’m still amazed by it.
- Dorian Finney-Smith was the worst offensive player at the power forward position last year by my calculations. That generally makes things difficult.
- Derrick Williams will always be a bust, but even he found a way to disappoint for the New York Knicks. Yikes.
Tier 1: Contextual Megastars
1. Anthony Davis - New Orleans Pelicans
The only player in this tier, Davis scored incredibly well across the board in each of the criteria I laid out. His lowest ranks were 12th in assist rate and 11th in true shooting percentage, but he was the highest ranked player in five categories. He is clearly the best power forward in the NBA right now, and he’s still only 24 years old.
Tier 2: The rest of the Elite
2. Kevin Love - Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Paul Millsap - Denver Nuggets
4. Blake Griffin - Los Angeles Clippers
5. Draymond Green - Golden State Warriors
First, let me address the elephant in the room. I don’t personally think Draymond Green is the fifth best power forward in the NBA. Unfortunately, he shot poorly this year, as his 52.2 TS% ranked 43rd among graded power forwards. That brought his score down, as did the low usage rate created by sharing the court with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. He’s an excellent player. Full stop.
Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, and Blake Griffin hold the second, third, and fourth slots in this ranking. Love’s only weakness was a poor block rate and the fact that he got hurt. He ranked no lower than 18th in the other categories, including the third best rebounding percentage. Millsap, like Green, struggled with his efficiency last year in an alpha dog role. That’s something he won’t have to repeat in Denver though, where the Nuggets will feature Nikola Jokic. Millsap tied for the second highest minutes per game and was sixth in total minutes, something the Nuggets surely took into account when looking to upgrade their forward rotation. Griffin got hurt again during the year, but he maintained above average efficiency on the third highest usage and second highest assist rate. His defense still needs work, and his block rate was atrocious, but he does enough offensively to stay in this tier.
Tier 3: Above average starters
6. LaMarcus Aldridge - San Antonio Spurs
7. James Johnson - Miami Heat
8. Serge Ibaka - Toronto Raptors
9. Amir Johnson - Boston Celtics
10. Kristaps Porzingis - New York Knicks
11. Markieff Morris - Washington Wizards
Many would have LaMarcus Aldridge in the tier above, but his numbers didn’t support that. His efficiency and rebounding experienced enough of a drop to warrant moving him down. He still does a lot of things needed out of the power forward position, and his defense remains good enough to not be a weakness, but if his efficiency keeps going the wrong way, he will drop further.
James Johnson and Amir Johnson should be discussed at the same time. James was the sixth man for the Heat this part year, but it was arguable that he was their 2nd or 3rd best player. His versatility helped win the Heat many games, and it showed up in these rankings. His only category ranking outside the top 20 was rebounding, but the collection of above average to elite play puts him here. Amir played much differently. He was the fifth starter for the Celtics and complemented the rest of the starters in an amazing way by posting the best TS% and third best DRPM among all power forwards. His main limit is his minute count, but Brad Stevens did an excellent job of maximizing his effectiveness in pockets of time. He will now move to a backup center role in Philadelphia where he should excel behind Joel Embiid.
Serge Ibaka and Markieff Morris are similar players as well. Neither really excels in anything major offensively, but the defensive impact is tangible. Ibaka posted the fourth highest block rate, while Morris posted the sixth highest DRPM score. Both guys also contributed in high volume roles on winning teams (second half for Ibaka), which gave each guy a slight pass for some inefficiencies.
Finally, Kristaps Porzingis is an incredible talent. He had the second highest block rate and an above average score with DRPM; however, he only managed to have average efficiency (though in a large role) and didn’t pass or rebound well for his position. I’d like to see what he does in a non-dumpster fire of an organization, but unfortunately, I don’t think he’s leaving the New York Knicks anytime soon.
Tier 4: Average starters
12. Trevor Booker - Brooklyn Nets
13. Taj Gibson - Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Thaddeus Young - Indiana Pacers
15. Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas Mavericks
16. Derrick Favors - Utah Jazz
17. Al-Farouq Aminu - Portland Trail Blazers
18. JaMychal Green - Memphis Grizzlies (free agent)
Many will be surprised to see Trevor Booker heading up this tier as well. After all, he played for the Brooklyn Nets, how good could he have been? Well, Booker posted the fifth best rebounding percentage and 11th best DRPM among graded power forwards, giving him a leg up on the competition. He also has no major weaknesses in his game, and had the Nets played him the volume of a Paul Millsap rather than developing younger guys, they would have won more games.
The next five guys are veterans with varying skill sets. Taj Gibson is a traditional power forward who should play well next to Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, though he will drop off quickly. Thaddeus Young has a legitimate claim as the second best player in Indiana behind Myles Turner with his excellent floor spacing and above average defense. Dirk Nowitzki is on his last legs, but he still had the sixth highest usage rate, 11th highest rebounding rate, and 14th highest assist rate. he helped generate good offense in Dallas while he was on the floor, mitigating defensive weaknesses. Derrick Favors has the talent to be in the tier above, and maybe the tier above that, but he had a down year last season. The Jazz need him to recover and help mitigate the loss of Gordon Hayward. Al-Farouq Aminu also falls into the average starter category, as his elite defense makes up for consistently subpar offense.
Finally, JaMychal Green was unquestionably third best player on the Grizzlies this season. He plays an extreme complementary role to Conley and Gasol, but he maximizes his efficiency, rebounds just below elite level, and plays average defense, good enough to make the back end of Tier 4.
Tier 5: Below average starters and strong bench guys
19. Nikola Mirotic - Chicago Bulls (free agent)
20. Ersan Illyasova - Atlanta Hawks
21. Larry Nance Jr. - Los Angeles Lakers
22. Julius Randle - Los Angeles Lakers
23. Marvin Williams - Charlotte Hornets
24. Jabari Parker - Milwaukee Bucks
25. Dario Saric - Philadelphia 76ers
26. Zach Randolph - Sacramento Kings
27. Kenneth Faried - Denver Nuggets
28. Jon Leuer - Detroit Pistons
29. Ryan Anderson - Houston Rockets
30. Marcus Morris - Boston Celtics
31. Channing Frye - Cleveland Cavaliers
32. Michael Beasley - Free agent
Holy cow, that’s a lot of players. All of them deserve to be in this tier though, which shows how convoluted the power forward position is though.
Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Illyasova are fun house versions of each other. Mirotic is basically average across the board, while Illyasova excelled at creating shots for himself and others while with the 76ers and Hawks. Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle ranking next to each other is pretty funny, but it shows that both are in the right roles. I have faith in Randle continuing to improve, but his style of play is very particular, and he basically needs Anthony Davis or Kristaps Porzingis at center.
Marvin Williams had a great year in Charlotte during the 2015-16 season, but this year, he fell back down to earth. Things likely won’t change with Dwight Howard in the fold next year and only Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum to create offense for others. Jabari Parker’s reputation is one of a chucker in the mold of Carmelo Anthony or Rudy Gay. He’s still just 22, but with terrible knees already, it’s hard to see him rising much higher on this list. Dario Saric is another young guy who struggled in a large role, but as Ben Simmons becomes a focal point in Philadelphia, Saric can slide into his best position, sixth man and playmaking 4 off the bench.
Zach Randolph played that role in Memphis, and while he passed and rebounded well on incredibly high usage off the bench (2nd overall), his efficiency was putrid and his defense might have been worse. Kenneth Faried knows a thing or two about terrible defense, and he comes in at 27 because of it. Being a one-dimensional player hurts when using this criteria, and considering he doesn’t have a large role, or pass well, or play defense, it’s not surprising that he falls.
Jon Leuer has far less weaknesses than a guy like Faried, but he has no discernible strengths. He ranked in the 20s and 30s of every category, the only ranked player to do so. Ryan Anderson has one strength (shooting efficiency) and the rest of his game is a giant weakness. Marcus Morris was either average or putrid in every category but was held up by two elite minutes scores. Channing Frye is basically extreme Ryan Anderson coming off the bench with a bit of shot blocking.
Finally, Michael Beasley is a free agent, but he put up some great offensive numbers in Milwaukee while he was there. Golden State had interest in him earlier, but he may have to wait until later to sign with an NBA team.
Tier 6: Average bench guys
33. Nemanja Bjelica - Minnesota Timberwolves
34. Aaron Gordon - Orlando Magic
35. Patrick Patterson - Oklahoma City Thunder
36. Terrence Jones - China
37. Noah Vonleh - Portland Trail Blazers
38. Bobby Portis - Chicago Bulls
39. Domantas Sabonis - Indiana Pacers
40. Davis Bertans - San Antonio Spurs
41. Trey Lyles - Denver Nuggets
42. Juancho Hernangomez - Denver Nuggets
This tier of players represents an average group of players that would fill out a bench role at power forward today. Nemanja Bjelica is the poster child for this, as he holds value as a floor spacer and switch defender, even though he does neither particularly well. Aaron Gordon had a down season playing mostly small forward last year. Here’s hoping that the Magic play him as a power forward and space the floor for him to learn how to play good offense. I was surprised that Patrick Patterson came in this low, but looking back at his numbers, it makes sense. He’s below average in every category except DRPM, where he’s only 18th.
Terrence Jones just signed a contract in China, so let’s not talk about him.
Noah Vonleh, Bobby Portis, and Domantas Sabonis are all similar player types that find a difficult time sticking at either the power forward or center position long term. All of them are young and have potential, but my guess is that only Sabonis will receive a major boost in these rankings long term playing next to Myles Turner. Vonleh will likely be a salary cap casualty for the Blazers next offseason, unless he’s hit with the same problems some free agents this year had. Portis is more difficult to peg, but I think he will stay as a backup big man long term.
The last three guys are all interesting stretch 4s. Davis Bertans played well for the Spurs last year in a fringe reserve role, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he took on a larger role as a permanent backup in San Antonio next year. Juancho Hernangomez played a similar role for Denver, and as his minutes go up, so should his ranking. He must improve defensively and as a playmaker, but if he maintains that TS% (6th highest among all PFs), he will continue to be a monster. Trey Lyles is a different beast, as he did well to get himself and others involved offensively, but he legitimately had the WORST efficiency among all power forwards. The Nuggets must believe that this is a fluke (I do too) and that one of the two will play more small forward in the future. Still, it’s interesting to see both guys next to each other, and I have a feeling one will push the other out of the rotation in the early stages of the season.
Tier 7: Below average bench guys and benchwarmers
43. Dante Cunningham - Free agent
44. Anthony Tolliver - Detroit Pistons
45. Pascal Siakam - Toronto Raptors
46. Jonas Jerebko - Utah Jazz
47. Mike Dunleavy Jr. - Free agent
48. Marquese Chriss - Phoenix Suns
49. Luke Babbitt - Miami Heat
50. Sam Dekker - Los Angeles Clippers
An interesting collection of talent resides in the last group, from young players who will surely get better to older guys who surely won’t. Dante Cunningham, Anthony Tolliver, and Jonas Jerebko fit this category perfectly. All will likely join new teams next year and fill fringe bench roles, sticking on the floor because of shooting. Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Luke Babbitt are also in this category, come to think of it.
The three young guys in this group are Pascal Siakam, Marquese Chriss, and Sam Dekker. Siakam should be looking to slot in at backup power forward in Toronto now that Patterson is gone. Dekker should be healthy this year and back up both Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin, which means he will get ample time in the starting lineup this season to improve on last year’s below average numbers (except for his average efficiency).
Chriss is another matter. I still have faith in him as a prospect, but he’s definitely more of an athlete than a basketball player at this point. If his jumper improves, he will be a legitimate weapon, considering he takes most of his shots at the rim and behind the arc. Defense is another story. Even though he blocks a ton of shots, the problem will always be his defensive IQ. He just turned 20 a month ago though, so he has time.
That wraps up the power forward rankings this week. There will be a lot of angry comments about where certain players were ranked, but I did my best to articulate the statistical reasons, and I will do so in the comments as best as I can. Let me know what you think. I can take it.
Which Denver Nuggets power forward player ranking was most surprising?
This poll is closed
Paul Millsap - 3
Kenneth Faried - 27
Trey Lyles - 41
Juancho Hernangomez - 42