Over the past few years, the game has completely evolved to what it has become today. The 3-point shot has arguably become the most important weapon in today’s NBA, and teams that fail or refuse to adapt to this new trend more often than not get left behind.
With the advent of this evolution, the power forward spot has changed a whole lot, with stretch 4s becoming more and more prevalent across the league. The NBA still has a handful of old-school power forwards, but being able to stretch the floor out past the 3-point line as a big man is more important than ever, which wasn’t the case in past eras.
We’re also witnessing young, freakish stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and rookie Zion Williamson do things rarely seen from power forwards, and would-be power forwards are playing point guard (LeBron James, Ben Simmons) thanks to their versatility.
While the game has changed a lot, we can’t forget about the legends who came before and paved the way for this current crop of stars. Let’s take a look at the greatest power forwards of all time.
It could be said that Dirk Nowitzki’s contributions to the evolution of the game are understated. Prior to the emergence of the Dallas Mavericks legend, few — if any — big men could shoot the ball from distance as well as Dirk. As a matter of fact, one might say that it was Nowitzki who got the ball rolling, and guys like Stephen Curry just built on what the Mavs big man laid the foundation on.
The league was not ready for a 7-footer with such accuracy from beyond the arc, and Nowitzki took full advantage. He was the very reason why the Mavs were playoff contenders year in and year out, and his efforts were rewarded by the MVP title during the 2006-07 campaign.
However, Dirk’s most memorable moment has to be his improbable title-winning run during the 2010-11 season. Nowitzki’s Mavs took down the Miami Heat’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals, and there is a general belief that this Dallas side was the last non-superteam to have won the NBA championship up until this very day.
Nowitzki also happens to be one of the handful of players of the modern era who played for a single team throughout his entire career. After 20 years with the Mavs, the 14-time All-Star finished with career averages of 20.7 points (on 47.1 percent shooting), 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 1.3 3-pointers on a 38.0 percent clip.
When it comes to all-around play, there is arguably no other power forward in history better than Kevin Garnett. A 15-time All-Star, KG had it all. In his prime, he doled out 6.0 assists per contest, proving that he was a premier playmaker despite spending most of his time down low.
Rebounding was perhaps his strongest suit considering he led the league in boards for several consecutive seasons. Here’s a fun fact: Garnett is actually the all-time leader in defensive boards with 11,453 in his career. Talking about defense, the former fifth overall pick made the All-Defensive Team 12 times and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2007-8.
Garnett was also a pretty darn good scorer, averaging 24.2 points in his MVP-winning season (2003-04). He reached the pinnacle of the sport when he won the NBA title with the Boston Celtics in the 2007-08 season (his first year with the C’s), memorably defeating Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Was there any doubt that San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan would make it on this list? While some may consider him more of a center, many believe Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. Let’s let Duncan’s credentials speak for themselves: Rookie of the Year, 15-time All-Defensive Team member, two-time MVP winner, three-time Finals MVP winner, and five-time NBA champ, just to name a few.
When talking about sustained dominance, Duncan has to be at the very top, and the fact that he made the Spurs a perennial title contender throughout his tenure with the team speaks volumes about the type of player he was during his time. In his career (19 years with the Spurs), the former first overall pick boasts averages of 19.0 points (on 50.6 percent from the field), 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2.2 blocks.
Guys like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley barely missed out on this list, and both guys have a great argument to make it into this top three. One thing is clear, though: just going through this exercise makes one miss these legends. The game has changed a lot and current and future stars may make their way on this list at some point, but we should never forget what these legends contributed to the NBA.