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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who Are the Five Best Power Forwards in the NBA?

ESPN's Friday NBA Countdown show went completely off the rails when Jon Barry failed miserably to do something that should not be that complicated: list the five best power forwards in the NBA. There is certainly plenty of room for debate on this subject--but there is no debating that Barry's list is ridiculous. Before I even share Barry's list with you here is Magic Johnson's immediate on air response: "Didn't you play in the NBA? That list is like you never played in the league." That is a thought that I frequently have when I listen to Barry opine about the NBA and it is refreshing that Johnson did not hesitate to call out Barry.

Here is Barry's list:

1) Kevin Love
2) Blake Griffin
3) LaMarcus Aldridge
4) Paul Millsap
5) Ryan Anderson

Magic Johnson countered with his selections:

1) Dirk Nowitzki
2) Blake Griffin
3) Kevin Love
4) Pau Gasol
5) LaMarcus Aldridge

Johnson then added a very interesting comment, calling Chris Bosh the "best all around" power forward because "He can pass, he can score and he's super smart at the game." It is not clear why Johnson did not include Bosh in his top five nor did anyone on the NBA Countdown set think to ask Johnson to elaborate about this (ESPN made a good decision to ax Stuart Scott as the host of their NBA studio show but the idea of having a studio show without any host is, to put it charitably, still a work in progress). I agree completely with Johnson's assessment of Bosh's game. As I recently wrote regarding Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh, "It has almost become a reflexively uttered cliche to call Gasol the 'most skilled big man in the game' but if you actually watch Gasol and Bosh objectively it is difficult to understand why Gasol would be considered any more skilled than Bosh."

After Johnson, Chris Broussard and Mike Wilbon took turns clowning Barry for ranking Paul Millsap and Ryan Anderson--two good players but not two of the top five power forwards in the NBA--so highly, Barry attempted to backtrack somewhat by saying that he was just talking about "right now." If that really is what Barry was doing then what is the point? Anyone can look at the small sample size of statistics from the early going of this post-lockout season and see that some good players are putting up great numbers while some great players have started slowly starts but saying that Ryan Anderson is a top five power forward based on a handful of games is just as silly as elevating Gilbert Arenas to MVP status in 2007 based on a handful of games. Arenas has some devoted fans--including at least one "stat guru" who loves Arenas so much he cannot even begin to think rationally about Arenas' true value--but intelligent conversation about player rankings/evaluations should not be driven by biased fans or people who think like biased fans; as Johnson correctly chided, Barry is a former player who should have known better than to compile the list that he did.

In my response to Chris Palmer's player ratings last summer, I listed my top five NBA power forwards:

1) Dirk Nowitzki
2) LaMarcus Aldridge
3) Kevin Love
4) Blake Griffin
5) Zach Randolph

I gave honorable mentions to Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol; Bosh suffered from playing alongside two superstars who do not play well without the ball, while Gasol has declined after playing very well as the Lakers won two NBA titles and three straight conference crowns. Dirk Nowitzki is obviously not playing like the NBA's best power forward right now but just a few months ago he outshined Miami's three stars in the clutch while leading Dallas to the championship. Nowitzki is not completely healthy and will sit out a few games to get his body back together; does it really make sense to drop Nowitzki from the top five based on the first few weeks of this post-lockout season?

The real issue is that ESPN does not have enough truly engaging and interesting material to fill all of the air time that it has allotted to various sports. During Monday Night Football's pregame and postgame shows I would much rather hear more from Steve Young about the craft of quarterbacking and less from Stuart Scott about whatever he thinks he is talking about and during ESPN's NBA coverage I would rather hear more from Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy--two guys who have been in the trenches and know what they are talking about--and less from Mike Wilbon and Jon Barry (Magic Johnson and Chris Broussard are solid commentators).

If Barry really would take Anderson and Millsap over Nowitzki then he is delusional--but if all he is saying is that Anderson and Millsap have played well in a small sample of games while Nowitzki has not played particularly well so far then Barry is simply stating the obvious.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:49 AM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 24, 2012 12:29:00 PM, Anonymous Eric said...

David,

I commend you for speaking the truth regarding the top 5 PF's. It is without question that I also find LaMarcus Aldridge to be better than Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

If the Blazers were located in a bigger market, Aldridge would get the praise and respect he deserves (and would not have gotten snubbed last year for the All-Star game).

I'm not sold yet on Blake Griffin because his offensive game is still raw.

I agree with you in that Jon Barry is a joke. NBA Countdown on ESPN is poor compared to TNT's coverage of NBA, which I find to be more insightful and obviously more humorous.

In regards to the top PF's, the 20 finalists for the 2012 Olympic squad has been named and only 12 of the 20 will be on the roster. I believe the roster should consist of Kobe (if healthy), Wade, Rose, Paul, LeBron, Durant, Carmelo, Dwight, Tyson, Aldridge, Love, and Iguodala.

Are you going to put a blog post about who you think should be selected?

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2012 4:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Eric:

I doubt that I will write very much about Team USA until after the NBA season ends. If no one gets hurt or declines selection for other reasons then your 12 man roster looks solid, though Iguodala is probably the one long shot among your choices (I suspect that Griffin will be on the roster if he wants to play and if Griffin declines then Westbrook also would probably be chosen ahead of Iguodala).

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2012 7:07:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

With defense considered, I'm surprised you ranked Love and Griffin ahead of Bosh and Gasol.

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2012 8:30:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

I've never been a fan of pre-game or half-time shows, so it would take a hostage situation or an act of God for me to watch one where Magic and Broussard are the most insightful commentators involved. Barry was atrocious as a colour guy so I'm not surprised he's just as bad in studio.

Your list of PFs is on point but how close is Bosh to cracking the top 5? His game has really opened up this season without having to defer to LeBron and Wade all the time. (Unfortunately Gasol has gone in exactly the opposite direction and seems to be satisfied with the role Bosh was relegated to last season.)

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2012 5:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

As I mentioned in the article, I wrote my list last summer in response to Chris Palmer's player ratings. I gave Bosh an honorable mention because I greatly respect his game even though James and Wade turned Bosh into a glorified Horace Grant last season; with Wade out of the lineup this season we are seeing the real Chris Bosh. I gave Gasol an honorable mention out of respect for his contributions to two championship teams but he could not put him in the top five due to his regular season inconsistency followed by his horrible postseason performance.

I have not updated the list because, unlike Barry, I don't think that a few games from a lockout-shortened season form a good basis to make definitive statements. For instance, Dirk Nowitzki has not played well so far but I would not trade him for Paul Millsap on the basis of 15 or 16 games.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2012 5:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

As I indicated in the article and in my response to Bhel Atlantic, I have a lot of respect for Bosh's game. A good case could be made for putting him in the top five and Magic is correct to note that one of Bosh's strengths is his versatility. I have been saying for years that I don't understand how anyone could put Gasol--even at Gasol's peak--ahead of Bosh in terms of having a complete skill set.

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2012 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

David,

I stumbled across your blog not too long ago and have been browsing on and off since then. I'd like to say I am a big fan of your work and I like your perspectives on many things, particularly the way you jab holes in the overhyped 'revolution' of advanced statistics.

My apologies if you had posted this earlier and I just missed it, but what is your take on Blake Griffin's game?

I see him as an immense threat due to his athleticism and good ballhandling skills (relative to others at his position) but I see him as much more of a Paul Millsap 'through-the-cracks' type of player who gets many of his points through energy, great timing, off-the-ball movement and his athleticism as opposed to technique.

His post game is raw (though improved from last season), his outside shot is erratic and he cannot be relied upon to hit free throws. His defense is also middling. What's your take on Griffin's skill set?

 
At Thursday, January 26, 2012 8:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Charles:

Griffin is already a much better player than Millsap and Griffin also has more upside (i.e., Millsap will not likely become much better than he already is, while Griffin will likely continue to improve).

Griffin actually has a pretty good outside shot, so it is a bit odd that he is not a better free throw shooter. Griffin relies a lot on his athletic ability--as many young players do--but he also handles the ball well, passes the ball well and continues to refine his back to the basket game. Griffin must improve his defense.

If Griffin continues to work on his game I think that he can become a perennial All-NBA player.

 
At Friday, January 27, 2012 10:02:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Dirk had been one of the elite players in the league for many years now and probably would have been a 2-time champion and Finals MVP if it hadn't it been for the irregular officiating in the Finals.

However, Dirk may have passed his prime and none of the others look like legitimate franchise players. At this point the list is academic because after the 5-6 franchise players, the next 30 players or so are pretty similar in ability. ALL of the players on your top 5 PF list seem to fit in this category.

It's a big drop off from players like Kobe and Lebron, then another big dropoff to guys like Howard, Durant, Dirk (if he shakes off his slump), and Rose. Then it's pretty much a free-for-all after that.

 
At Wednesday, June 13, 2012 12:19:00 PM, Blogger damion gonzales said...

In my eyes i still think tim duncan is the greatest power foward in history of the nba

Hate all yall want he has done way more things then all of these other players

 
At Thursday, June 14, 2012 12:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Damion:

I don't know of anyone who is "hating" Duncan and I agree with you that Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time.

 

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