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Ranking The Best Power Forwards Of All-Time

Neither Barkley nor Malone is the best PF ever, but deciding who ranks higher is a great debate.This is the third installment, coming on the heels of Small Forwards and Centers. Stats obviously don’t translate very well from era to era, but we can examine the basic attributes we know about the game’s best at the PF position. Keeping things as straight-forward and objective as possible, here’s my ranking of the NBA’s 7 best power forwards ever.


To help clarify exactly what these “Best (Position) Of All-Time” lists are, each one is a ranking of the players at that position who could best improve a team's ability to succeed, both in the regular and post-season; when I say “players at that position,” I mean the guys whose careers best fit into the expectations and role of one particular position, not the players who were the best at being that position (so versatility is indeed quite important).



1. Tim Duncan

one of the best defensive anchors of all-time
extremely clutch, had numerous huge games/series when they counted most
one of the top 2-5 smartest players of all-time, never made bad decisions
consistently put up huge numbers for years while remaining team-centered
consistently great rebounder (unquestionably superior to Shaq in this dept.)
one of the most versatile offensive big men ever


only average-ish FG% (career: 51%)

had numerous little injuries that prevented even more titles



2. Kevin Garnett

most contagiously fired-up teammate of all-time
absolute defensive beast who altered his clubs' defense in a huge way
outstanding rebounder for a 5 year stretch
carried his clubs really far in the playoffs in '04, '08, '10, and '12
carried a so-so Minnesota club to respectability for years
extremely versatile offensive game


playoff success was famously bad for years (bounced in First Round for 7 straight seasons)
didn't seem to know when to take over when surrounded by inferior talent (too unselfish?)
multiple incidents made him look petty – pretend “bad guy”



3. Bob Pettit

most relentless and hard-nosed low-post banger/warrior in NBA history
1 of only 2 stars to thrive before & during the NBA's massive speed increase from '57-'61 (Cousy)
ridiculously huge scoring & rebounding stats year-after-year from '55-'64
phenomenal in the playoffs – best player on the only non-Boston champ between '57-'66
extremely durable and injury-free

slow, unathletic, couldn't jump (makes what he did during Russell/Wilt more impressive)
below-average to bad defender



4. Karl Malone

consistently great regular season numbers from '87 to '00, particularly scoring
best pick-n-roll big man of all-time
decent-to-good defender
durable – played less than 80 games/season only twice (at ages 35 and 40)


biggest beneficiary of NBA's huge dip in talent for most of the '90's
notoriously poor performer when it mattered most (late in games, playoffs)
top-5 in rebounding only 4 times and never higher than 4th
a lot of his statistical success is owed to Stockton
dirty player



5. Charles Barkley

great in numerous playoffs from '86 to '96
carried bad Philly clubs to relatively good success during Boston/Chicago/Detroit era ('85-'91)
was a very efficient scorer (54% FG), career 22 ppg on 14.5 shots/gm
top-4 rebounder six times (including top-2 four times)
one of the best offensive rebounders and fast break finishers ever
early-career power/nimbleness combo very similar to LeBron James today


very bad defender despite good steal totals
could have been much better if he kept himself in shape, especially after he hit 30
repeatedly hurt Suns in playoffs by stupidly trying to do too much
Malone clearly got the better of him head-to-head, most notably in '97 & '98 playoffs



6. Dirk Nowitzki

consistently good points-rebounds-3FG% combo for about 10 years
best outside shot of any big man ever
had numerous great crunch-time moments
was a far better rebounder late in games and in the playoffs
completely carried Dallas to 2011 championship (they were 2-7 without him)
even without a consistent set of teammates around him, kept Dallas near-.700 for a decade


rebounding was only above-average, never great (except in clutch situations)
even with great 3-point shooting, shot too many long-2's to have a good eFG% (career 51%)
very bad defender



7. Kevin McHale

unstoppable array of low-post moves (career 55% FG)
outstandingly versatile defensive player – could guard almost anyone one-on-one
great in playoffs
very team-oriented – never challenged Bird's alpha-dog status
quite athletic


only an OK rebounder for a big man
massive foot/ankle problems ruined durability over last 5-6 years
remained a 28-33 minutes/game reserve until Cedric Maxwell's injury late in KM's 5th season



Next group in approximate order:
8. Dennis Rodman
9. Tommy Heinsohn

I'm not sure if I should rank Elvin Hayes, Jerry Lucas, and Bob McAdoo or not. All 3 had huge numbers and are in the HOF, but they were all traded for very little during their primes and didn't seem to play any particularly integral/HOF-worthy role on good teams. It's like no one really wanted them around, especially not contenders who expected anything when it counted (that's a direct knock on Hayes, who had a notorious reputation for being terrible in the 4th quarter of any game that mattered). Who's next if not them? Pau Gasol? Tom Chambers? Horace Grant? Buck Williams? Rasheed Wallace? Robert Horry? The impossibly slow Dolph Schayes? I honestly don't know, but whoever it is doesn't crack the top 9.

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Reader Comments (8)

absolutely disgusting kevin garnett #2? We talkin all time buddy first off kg never had a season anywhere near barkley in his prime and yea barkley never won a championship but posted some ridiculous playoff numbers. kg is intense but a fake tough guy completely overated at #2 no doubt deserves to be on here not that high at least you got some love for rodman great defender best undersized rebounder all time you said bird was possibly best sf rebounder over rodman thats a joke go jerk off and watch celtic pride again

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterzach blott don't know ball

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

You do realize that when peak Barkley had the most talent around him (in Phoenix), he sabotaged his team in the playoffs by trying to prove he was a do-it-all great? You do realize that when he was the best Sixer leading that club, the two best teams they beat in the playoffs were the 48-34 Bucks ('91) and the 42-40 Cavs ('90) -- both of whom lost in the 1st round the year before, lost in the 1st round to Philly that year, and didn't make the playoffs the next year? Even the good teams the Suns did beat while he was there look really immature and lacking in retrospect ('93 Sonics, '94 Warriors, '95 Blazers).

For all of Barkley's post-season success, his teams beat exactly one higher-seeded team in his entire career after his rookie season (when they had Moses, Dr J, Toney, and Cheeks), and it was over that '91 Bucks team in a 5-seed-over-4-seed matchup that are never exactly upsets. Sure Barkley was carrying some teams, but not further than expected in the playoffs.

KG's Minnesota teams often underperformed in the playoffs, but the Kings team they beat in '04 ranks as a better club than virtually every single one Barkley ever beat in the playoffs, and that was on the back of KG's insane series (24 ppg, 15 rpg, 3.4 bpg -- plus he lead the Wolves in apg that playoffs, as well). And then later his loaded Boston club kept falling apart without him. And keep in mind he was BY FAR the C's best player in this last playoffs (tops in ppg, rpg, bpg, and FG%), which would have resulted in another trip to Finals if not for the refs absolutely handing the Heat Game 2 (17 to 2 FT disparity over last 9 minutes of OT game).

So thanks for the great response, and better luck next time understanding what players did in the playoffs.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

"...resulted in another trip to Finals if not for the refs absolutely handing the Heat Game 2 (17 to 2 FT disparity over last 9 minutes of OT game). "

hmmm...i saw thing s a little different. the C's were tired and reeling from Miami's 14-0 run. the Heat were attacking while the C's were jumpshooting...so the ref's did not hand anything over. actually, the same thing happened to the C's in the 2010 game 7 Finals.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterloungefly74


What was that about the Celtics not driving and Heat not fouling?

September 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

Put Kevin McHale on Dallas / Utah or some team where he was the focal point of the offense and a starter and he averages 27+ a year 12-15 boards and 2-3 blocks. McHale was the most unstoppable post player this side of Kareem. He was traded to a winning team with 3-4 other Hall of Famers and thus doesn't have the gaudy numbers of some of the other forwards (Malone most notably).

Tim Duncan is a center.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMoulie

For starters, don't use racially offensive language on BTB, even as your name. I get it that you're probably just another racist Bostoner, but don't be so on this site

I don't know where you come up with the idea that McHale was ever going to average 12-15 rpg. He was rarely a strong rebounder, and his Rebound%'s were usually around 13 to 13.5, which is the same as LaMarcus Aldridge. McHale had the best post moves ever, but he also had the space to execute them consistently because of who he was surrounded by. And I'm not sure simply putting him on another team makes him a starter - he was stuck on the bench for 5 years BEHIND CEDRIC MAXWELL. I couldn't tell you why, but that's a little bit of a red flag when you're talking about an all-time great. This isn't like Sam Jones getting stuck behind Bill Sharman for years.

December 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

I saw Pettit play over his whole career. He was not a poor defender; he was a very good defender. He could guatr tough power forwards like Schayes, Jerry Jucas and Gus Johnson; and go into the middle and hold his own with Wilt and Russell. He certainly could jump and was very athletic. In those days players didn't dunk much because the opposing player took it as a put down and knocked the dunker on his butt. It was a tougher league then. It sounds like the person who wrote the negatives never saw big Bob Pettit play. I'd rate him a close second to Duncan among power forwards. And Duncan has the advantage only because of 3" in height.

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Thanks so much for your comment. I must admit I've seen VERY little of Pettit and had to go heavily with all the things I'd read about him. When you say he was "very athletic," to what degree are we talking? How'd he do with fast breaks and guarding quicker players of the time? If he was brought up in today's tons-of-coaches-and-AAU-from-real-young America so that his athleticism could flourish, what type of an athlete would he be compared to Kevin Love?

Again - thanks a lot for your comment. I'd love to hear more.

January 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

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