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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