Everyone loves player rankings, so let’s rank power forwards, the ever evolving position that now features three of the top six players in the NBA.
In order to remove bias from my own ranking, I have decided to put together a formula to generate a new ranking. The list below isn’t my personal opinion on who’s better than who. Rather, it shapes my opinion on who provided the most value last season. For example, I know that Draymond Green is better than Dario Saric and Aaron Gordon, but for a variety of reasons, Green will rank lower than the latter two.
First, let me explain my logic and reasoning in crafting this list:
Methodology and Criteria
Going into the exercise, I knew I wanted to rank the most valuable players from last season, rather than the best players. I decided to rank the following six components of a power forward’s game to varying degrees:
- Scoring and facilitating, i.e. how effective the player was at generating points with the ball in hand.
- Number Production, i.e. how many points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks the player accumulated.
- Offensive Efficiency and Role, i.e. how frequently did a player score, and what level of volume did the player score with.
- Defensive efficiency and role, i.e. how frequently was the player tasked with defending opposing shot takers, and how frequently did they force a player to miss.
- Team Impact, i.e. how well did the team perform when the player was on and off the floor.
- Advanced Metrics, i.e. how effective do the advanced metrics say the player is in the moment and over the course of the season.
In order to turn each of these categories into a single number, I acquired per 100 possession data, point creation data, efficiency and usage data, defensive numbers, net ratings, and advanced numbers for all small forwards to appear in 30 or more games. A giant thanks to Jacob Goldstein of The BBall Index, Adam Fromal of NBA Math, and Jeremias Engelmann of ESPN for their metric data.
The ranking is entirely statistical, but it doesn’t rely on just advanced metrics or basic points and assists numbers. It blends the above concepts into a composite ranking and adjusts for a player’s role and minutes played.
Let’s get into it.
- While many former small forwards are now classified as power forwards on this list, the same is true for power forwards turning into centers. Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, Larry Nance, Mike Muscala, and Montrezl Harrell are among a variety of bigs that officially play the 5 most frequently.
- A number of players didn’t have the requisite number of games played, including Danilo Gallinari, Jonathan Isaac, Juancho Hernangomez, and others.
Just Missed the Cut:
- Joe Johnson was a revelation for the Utah Jazz at power forward the year before. Last year, he was awful, and he was just as bad with the Houston Rockets. Here’s to seeing him return to past glory.
- Patrick Patterson was an analytical darling in 2016-17. He lost that coming off the bench in OKC but has an opportunity to start now that Carmelo Anthony’s gone.
- Kenneth Faried clocked in at 54, a fall from grace for a borderline top 10 power forward just a couple of years ago. He will now fill a backup role in Brooklyn where he should thrive.
- Dragan Bender was just indirectly picked by the Phoenix Suns over Marquese Chriss when Chriss was traded a couple days ago. I believe in Bender figuring it out, but so far, he hasn’t.
Average Backups (player - 2017-18 team)
50. Jonas Jerebko - Utah Jazz
49. Jarell Martin - Memphis Grizzlies
48. JaMychal Green - Memphis Grizzlies
47. Maxi Kleber - Dallas Mavericks
This tier for power forwards is surprisingly small because the depth at the position has improved greatly. It extends from 47 all the way to 60th where Patrick Patterson resides, as so many of the power forwards provide some modicum of benefit.
Starting with Jonas Jerebko, the Jazz used Jerebko as a floor spacing power forward off the bench for the majority of the season. He didn’t play a large role most nights, but he shot 41.4% from 3 on limited attempts and provided a little defensive switch-ability while he was in there.
Jarell Martin and JaMychal Green both played sizable roles for the Grizzlies, but neither was effective. Both are likely to give way to Jaren Jackson Jr. at some point if they can’t space the floor next to Marc Gasol.
Finally, Maxi Kleber played his rookie season and was basically an interchangeable big next to Dirk Nowitzki, who played more center. Kleber won’t have nearly the role he did due to DeAndre Jordan’s arrival, but he has potential to carve out a full-time rotation spot.
Above Average Backups
46. Ryan Anderson - Houston Rockets
45. Marcus Morris - Boston Celtics
44. Luc Mbah a Moute - Houston Rockets
43. Ed Davis - Portland Trail Blazers
42. Skal Labissiere - Sacramento Kings
41. Ivan Rabb - Memphis Grizzlies
39. Marquese Chriss - Phoenix Suns
38. Nemanja Bjelica - Minnesota Timberwolves
37. Mike Scott - Washington Wizards
36. Frank Kaminsky - Charlotte Hornets
This tier showcases the true variety of talents at power forward and a changing of the guard of sorts. Ed Davis and Trevor Booker were valuable reserves for their respective teams in a more traditional power forward mold. Ryan Anderson was the prototypical stretch 4 for so long, though his weaknesses defensively have made that archetype of power forward less valuable. Anderson graded 55th out of 65 graded power forwards defensively. Mike Scott was even more efficient this year coming off of Washington’s bench, and he should reprise that role with the Clippers. Nemanja Bjelica is a similar veteran mold, though he graded out far more average across the board than one might expect. Frank Kaminsky is a similar pick and pop big, but he’s likely to play that from the center position going forward.
New versions of the power forward role are popping up though. Marcus Morris and Luc Mbah a Moute represent forwards with more switch-ability on the perimeter defensively, which were perfect fits for their championship caliber squads. Skal Labissiere, Ivan Rabb, and Marquese Chriss are tall bigs with the size to player center in some situations but a matchup problem at power forward for smaller players with their athleticism. Either way, all of the above players provide interesting advantages when used correctly.
Below Average Starters
35. Jabari Parker - Milwaukee Bucks
34. Jerami Grant - Oklahoma City Thunder
33. Lauri Markannen - Chicago Bulls
32. Zach Randolph - Sacramento Kings
31. Al-Farouq Aminu - Portland Trail Blazers
30. Carmelo Anthony - Oklahoma City Thunder
29. Marvin Williams - Charlotte Hornets
28. Ersan Ilyasova - Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers
27. Kyle Kuzma - Los Angeles Lakers
25t. Serge Ibaka - Toronto Raptors
25t. Anthony Tolliver - Detroit Pistons
24. Davis Bertans - San Antonio Spurs
23. Pascal Siakam - Toronto Raptors
22. Michael Beasley - New York Knicks
21. Markieff Morris - Washington Wizards
20. Trey Lyles - Denver Nuggets
18t. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Brooklyn Nets
18t. Bobby Portis - Chicago Bulls
This group of 17 players is the largest I’ve dealt with thus far, and it clears represents why so many small forwards have moved to power forward in today’s NBA. The ball handling and scoring forwards in Carmelo Anthony, Jabari Parker, and Michael Beasley provide less value today than they previously had. All are skilled in the midrange area, but it’s not enough anymore to be a one-dimensional scorer. Parker is improving his outside shooting, but he was trash defensively.
In addition, some offensive and defensive minded players would have played the 3 in past years but are all lumped at the 4 now. Offensively, Kyle Kuzma, Davis Bertans, and Anthony Tolliver would have made sense as spacing threats. At power forward, Kuzma and Bertans have grown their game, especially Kuzma, while Tolliver has found his niche as a bench sniper, posting the best efficiency marks at the position on the shoulders of a 43.6% mark from 3 on 365 attempts, tied with Kyle Korver for the best bench shooting mark in the NBA. Defensively, Jerami Grant, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all provide excellent versatility because of their agility and perimeter skills. RHJ in particular is a stud at just 24 years old. If he ever improves his jump shot, he’s a dark horse to become a top 10 power forward.
There are some veterans that contribute reasonably well. Zach Randolph wasn’t great this year, but his productivity as a scorer and passer boosted his ranking, probably higher than it should be. Marvin Williams, Serge Ibaka, and Markieff Morris all play similar roles in Charlotte, Toronto, and Washington, albeit on different calibers of team. All three are pick and pop power forwards with the size to play some center in faster lineups. All three are merely solid defensively, with Williams giving up the most there. This archetype is useful but definitely not one to increase the ceiling for a team.
Finally, young players like Lauri Markannen, Pascal Siakam, and Trey Lyles all provided value in different ways. Markannen was productive as a scorer and decently efficient, but other parts of his game were merely average or subpar for the position. Siakam was the exact opposite. His scoring and efficiency were subpar, but his passing, rebounding and defensive production, and team impact were through the roof. Hot take alert: Siakam will play more minutes than Ibaka by the end of the season. He’s going to be really good as a glue guy in a starting lineup. Lyles held above average marks across the board save for team impact and minute count, which should encourage Nuggets fans about his continued growth. He may never start in Denver, but he’s becoming a key cog on the bench unit and providing starter value.
17. Taj Gibson - Minnesota Timberwolves
16. Thaddeus Young - Indiana Pacers
15. John Collins - Atlanta Hawks
14. Kristaps Porzingis - New York Knicks
13. Paul Millsap - Denver Nuggets
12. James Johnson - Miami Heat
11. Draymond Green - Golden State Warriors
10. Aaron Gordon - Orlando Magic
9. Dario Saric - Philadelphia 76ers
8. Derrick Favors - Utah Jazz
7. Nikola Mirotic - Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans
6. Blake Griffin - Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons
5. Julius Randle - Los Angeles Lakers
This is another large group, and one placement is sure to trigger people, so let’s start with it. Draymond Green is an elite player, definitely All-Star caliber and possibly All-NBA caliber still. Of course, he has two deficiencies that, in today’s NBA, are difficult to overcome for any team not named the Golden State Warriors. He was the 54th most productive scorer out of the 65 ranked power forwards, and his 46th ranked efficiency score didn’t help matters. He may be 11th here, but raise that scoring production from 54th to 30th (average) and the efficiency from 46th to 30th, and he moves from 11th to 5th immediately. These rankings were meant to emphasize productive scorers and passers with few weaknesses, so it’s no wonder than Draymond, who willing gives up scoring to better options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, drops a bit.
As for the rest, these are all starters except for James Johnson, who’s by far the best bench power forward in the league when he’s not starting. As a top 5 passer for the position with no distinct weaknesses other than perimeter shooting, Johnson is a great player to have under contract for a playoff team with an offensive-minded frontcourt, just not the Miami Heat. Beyond Johnson, role player starters like Taj Gibson, Derrick Favors, and Nikola Mirotic fill vastly different roles successfully. For this exercise, Mirotic comes out the best because scoring and efficiency is emphasized. He also had an elite team impact score, partially because of the advantage he provides, partially because he played mostly with Anthony Davis at center in New Orleans. Gibson was the defensive anchor in Minnesota, and while he wasn’t as effective as most of these guys, he had the highest minute count of all but the top four guys. Favors was a defensive anchor for Utah and was very productive in his role defensively while providing the 10th best efficiency in a moderate role.
John Collins was incredibly productive in his first season in Atlanta. On top of being insanely productive rebounding the ball, he put up the 4th best efficiency mark and the 6th best blocks mark among power forwards. 62.0 TS% is no joke, and the only players to match his TS% and BLK% in the entire NBA were starting caliber centers and Kevin Durant. His rim protection and efficiency from the power forward position are intriguing, and if his three-pointer comes along, we may be looking at a top 10 PF for awhile.
Thad Young, Aaron Gordon, Dario Saric, and Julius Randle fill another category of simply solid players. None of them are perfect fits for the modern style, but they each provide distinct advantages. Young had the 6th best metric score and contributed heavily to a solid defense. Gordon was top 25 in everything but efficiency, which may improve in a better situation. Saric was top 30 in everything but defense, but his peaks were better than Gordon’s. Randle is a shocker to some, I’m sure, but only he, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and LeBron James posted top 10 marks in scoring, passing, and efficiency. In New Orleans this season, he has a big opportunity to capitalize on that foundation with some improvements defensively. If he does that, 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and a 60.0 TS% seems like a solid goal and would solidify such a lofty position.
Kristaps Porzingis and Paul Millsap were both injured throughout the season, which limits the amount of true value they can provide. That being said, both posted 10 defensive marks at the position despite missing time, and Porzingis’ scoring production and Millsap’s versatility kept them in this tier. I expect Millsap to remain in the solid starter tier next season, while Porzingis’ first full season back from injury should be here, followed by multiple seasons of All-Star or All-NBA caliber performances.
Finally, Blake Griffin gets a lot of crap, but his skill set is undeniable. He will never get very far in Detroit if paired with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, and he’s never been optimized with another big man that can really shoot from distance. His efficiency and defense were average for the position, but still, his scoring and passing production were both elite marks, and he graded out 7th by the metrics, so this is about the range I would expect.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge - San Antonio Spurs
The power forward position has a ton of starting caliber talent and depth, but at the top, only four players stand out as All-Star caliber talent or better, including LaMarcus Aldridge. I had a big internal debate about whether to make him a power forward or center. This is one of the only years of his career in which he could be considered a center, but he was a 4 and will likely go back to being a 4 with Pau Gasol and Jakob Poeltl at the 5. So, I decided that he’s a 4.
And what an amazing player he was last year. He didn’t crack any of the top 3 in terms of categories, but he was 4th in point production, metrics, and team impact, while his lowest score was 23rd mark in passing score. The Spurs were a top five defense last year, and while he had immense help from lengthy perimeter defense in Dejounte Murray and Danny Green, he anchored the unit for much of the year, which deserves praise in its own right.
3. Anthony Davis - New Orleans Pelicans
2. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks
People are gonna freak out about this, but hear me out.
Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of the King? LeBron James took the Cavaliers to a 4 seed basically by himself?! And it’s true. He did. He ranked first overall in a number of categories as well, including passing, metrics, efficiency score, and minute load. That being said, Giannis ranked top five in every single category but team impact, which is where LeBron faltered (along with slightly worse defense). For the first time in his career, LeBron teams were barely better with him on the floor than off of it. Also, Giannis simply tried harder than LeBron defensively.
If I had my druthers, I’d reevaluate my evaluation system to try and figure out whether Giannis’ defensive abilities truly make up for the gap offensively. My guess is that in reality, they do not, but it’s at least reasonable in my estimation to say that, at least during the regular season, they were pretty close to tied.
Also, Anthony Davis was JUST behind the two of them. Davis posted top three marks among power forwards in everything but passing score. Top three in such a variety of categories is absurd, and I bet he could function as a passer in addition to that. Still, it wasn’t his role last season with Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, AND Jrue Holiday on the team. Now, with just Holiday left, his game may open up in ways we haven’t seen. If that’s the case, he will have a legitimate claim for best player in the NBA.
The three are top six players in the NBA in my mind, to go with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Stephen Curry. Durant spends a ton of time at power forward as well, which should show just how strong the position is today.
Here’s how I see the top 10 rankings playing out next season:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Anthony Davis
- LeBron James
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- Draymond Green
- Blake Griffin
- Paul Millsap
- Dario Saric
- Nikola Mirotic
- John Collins
The big thing is that Giannis and AD officially overtake LeBron in the ranking, which I think is reasonable. I don’t think James cracks 70 games played this season in Los Angeles and that he will conserve his body for a time when the Lakers can acquire another star. This will give both Giannis and AD time to solidify their claim on the future of the position (AD may play more minutes at C next year, in which case he won’t be on this list).
I don’t think Kristaps Porzingis will qualify, or else he would surely be here.
Green, Griffin, and Millsap are truly remnants of the old guard at the position, but I think they will do enough to hold off the young players. I also think Saric and Collins continue to take steps to improve, while Mirotic will play next to AD well.
One must remember that these rankings are about total value, not total skill or highest potential. If there are any questions on the formulation, please comment below or start the conversation on Twitter (@NBABlackburn).
Centers next week.
Assuming all three are power forwards next season, what order will the three players rank after 2018-19?
This poll is closed
1. LeBron 2. Giannis 3. AD
1. LeBron 2. AD 3. Giannis
1. AD 2. LeBron 3. Giannis
1. AD 2. Giannis 3. LeBron
1. Giannis 2. LeBron 3. AD
1. Giannis 2. AD 3. LeBron