An NBA power forward is the ultimate goon. As an enforcer, the power forward lays down the law for his teammates with timely forearm shivers, elbows, tough screens, and fierce rebounding. Because of the physical demands of the position, the power forward is most likely to engage in rough play or even fisticuffs to mark his territory and intimidate the opposition. Think of Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis into the basket support, Dennis Rodman being Dennis Rodman, or Bill Laimbeer squaring up and going toe-to-toe with Charles Barkley at the Detroit Palace.
Beyond the underlying thuggery, the greatest NBA power forwards of all time were exceptionally skilled players. In the post, a great power forward can score at will, as he reaches into his bag of tricks to whip out a collection of spin moves, drop steps, and turnaround jumpers. In space, a talented four will go triple threat — where he can either knock down open shots in the mid-range game, or up-fake and put the ball on the floor for easy buckets.
On the defensive side of the ball, an elite power forward can hold his own against the game’s best forwards and centers. In a battle for position, the best power forwards simply outmuscle opposing players and root them out of the painted area. After forcing his man away from the basket and into a contested shot, a good power forward will box out, clean the glass and secure the rebound. From there, it is off to the races, as the big man outlets to his speedy point guard and runs the floor. Moments later, the gritty power forward is rewarded for his efforts with a bullet pass and yet another tomahawk jam in transition.
That is tough.
#10 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Dennis Rodman
A total freak, Dennis Rodman is the greatest defensive forward of all time. In his prime, Rodman could guard and shut down all 5 positions on the floor. During his career, The Worm made seven appearances on the first-team all-defensive list. Rodman’s impact on the game was immeasurable, despite the fact that Rodman only averaged more than ten points per game for one season during his 14-year career. As a winner, The Worm helped to bring home a total of five championships to Detroit and Chicago.
In Detroit, Dennis Rodman fit in beautifully with a Bad Boy unit that included fellow goons Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, James Edwards, and Isiah Thomas. As part of the Jordan Rules, this intimidating outfit was to throw his Airness into the basket support — with his every attempt to drive the lane. Besides Michael Jordan, Rodman was also unleashed to go tit for tat with the likes of Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone as the ultimate bully. In San Antonio and Chicago, Rodman’s freak show antics transformed further into his full-body tattoos, wild hair, and random kicks to the groin.
Beneath the circus act, Dennis Rodman may be described as the League’s greatest rebounder. Standing at a relatively short 6’9, Rodman relied upon his quick leaping ability and smart anticipation to play the angles on caroms off the glass. Largely through desire, Dennis Rodman owned the NBA’s rebounding crown for seven consecutive seasons between 1992 and 1998.
Dennis Rodman just wanted it more.
#9 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Dolph Schayes
Dolph Schayes is the game’s original star power forward and double-double machine.
As old school as he wanted to be, Dolph Schayes filled it up for his late 1940s to mid 60s Syracuse Nationals with his flat-footed, two-handed set shot from fifteen feet and in. When opponents crowded Schayes from the outside, he would take off and drive the ball into the lane with authority. As an offensive threat, Schayes completed his 15-year career atop the NBA scoring list with 18,438 points, which were also good for a 19-point per game average. Physically imposing for his era, the 6’7 Schayes inflicted most of his damage inside and bored his way to the charity stripe with ease. A deadly free throw shooter, Schayes led the NBA in accuracy on three separate occasions. As a rebounder, Schayes corralled 16 boards per game in 1951, before tearing through a rugged 11-season streak of double-digit rebounds.
#8 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Kevin McHale
Second only to Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin McHale possessed the best post moves and footwork of any big man. In his Torture Chamber, McHale would receive the entry pass on the low block, before wheeling and dealing with an assortment of up-fakes, spins, and power drop steps. McHale was the master of the up and under move, where he would pivot quickly and fake a short jumper, before dipping low, and laying the ball into the goal with his opposite hand. Before breaking the navicular bone of his right foot, Kevin McHale was at his best in 1987 when he dropped 26 and 10 — on the strength of 60 percent shooting from the floor and 84 percent accuracy from the charity stripe.
In Boston, McHale joined forces with Larry Bird and Robert Parish to form the imposing Big Three front line. With McHale dominating the painted area, this Celtics group went on to claim three titles in 1981, 1984, 1986.
#7 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Dirk Nowitzki
Standing at 7-feet and weighing in at 235, Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most unique athletes to ever pick up a basketball. A match-up nightmare, Nowitzki is most comfortable in space, as he brings his finesse game to the power forward position. At power forward, Nowitzki is more likely to rain jumpers from the outside than he is to set up shop down low and bang bodies. The Big German is especially dangerous in the high post — where he goes to work at the elbow area to either take the ball to the hoop or create a slither of space to knock down a mid-range jump shot. As an offensive force, Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 23 points per game during his 12-year career.
The knock on Dirk, however, remains his inability to carry the Dallas Mavericks on his back to the Promised Land of an NBA Championship. To critics, Dirk is soft, because he refuses to get down and dirty in the post and absolutely obliterate smaller opponents that have the audacity to match-up. In the playoffs, Dirk has gotten knocked off his square by the likes of Stephen Jackson, Tracy McGrady, and Dwyane Wade, as he struggles to take advantage of his size advantage versus quicker players. To a man, Dirk must lay claim to championship hardware to cement his status as an all-time great.
#6 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is intense.
Drenched in sweat, K.G. barks orders to control the back line of team interior defense, as if he were a middle linebacker. In help defense, Garnett is Blessed with the speed, length, and wiry strength to rotate off his man, protect the paint, contest a shot, and recover to box out on the glass. In his prime, Garnett was good for double-digit rebounds plus two steals and two blocks on the defensive end each night. Offensively, Garnett can always fill it up for 20 plus — with his total package of jab steps, spin moves, turnaround jumpers, scoop shots, and thunderous dunks.
In Minnesota, The Big Ticket was the only ticket over the course of 12 years. For the Timberwolves, Garnett left everything out on the floor to score, make plays for others, and shut down the post, only to be dismissed from the playoffs by the Lakers and Spurs dynasties time and time again. For relief, Garnett was part of a series of 2007 transactions that brought his services alongside those of Ray Allen to Bean Town. As part of the New Big Three, Kevin Garnett subjugated his game to immediately bring back the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Boston.
Anything is possible.
#5 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Bob Pettit
In the mid 1950s, Bob Pettit assumed the torch from Dolph Schayes as the League’s premier power forward. The 6’9 Bob Pettit starred for the Milwaukee – St. Louis Hawks between 1954 and 1965 as a devastating interior scorer and rebounder. At retirement, Bob Pettit had amassed 20,880 career points, which were a then record. In his sophomore season, Pettit topped the League in both points scored and rebounds with 1849 and 1164, respectively. In 1961, this power forward averaged a remarkable 28, 20, and 3. A star among stars, Bob Petit was to bring home one NBA Championship to St. Louis in 1958 and to claim a record four NBA All-Star Game MVP trophies.
#4 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley played the game of basketball with reckless abandon.
At 6’4, the short and husky power forward would crash the defensive boards, control the basketball, and turn up court with a full head of steam. With opponents refusing to take the charge, the Round Mound of Rebound would take a clear path to the basket and lift off for his trademark gorilla dunk. As a playmaker in the open floor, averaged 4 assists per game throughout his career. In half court sets, Sir Charles put his wide frame and explosiveness to work — to clear space and put the ball in the hole. Always in attack mode, Charles Barkley was a stat sheet stuffer who compiled 23,757 points, 12,546 rebounds, 4,215 assists, 1648 steals, 888 blocks, and one MVP award in his 16 NBA seasons.
Contrary to his rumblings against The Decision and the ring chasing of Miami Heat Super Team LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, Barkley also made moves to improve his chances for NBA title glory. After Philadelphia, Charles was traded to 1992 Phoenix for a pu pu platter of Jeff Hornacek, Andre Lang, and Tim Perry. As a Sun, however, Barkley’s Championship Dreams were again held at bay by the Great Michael Jordan. From there, Sir Charles moved on to Houston, where he would join forces with Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and eventually, Scottie Pippen. Past their respective primes, the Houston Dream Team was unable to bring more rings back to Clutch City.
In 2000, Charles Barkley was to walk away from the game of basketball after a classic offensive rebound put-back.
#3 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Karl Malone
A 6’9 250 pound muscle, Karl Malone dominated the paint at power forward.
As the franchise player for the Utah Jazz, The Mailman always delivered — in the regular season. In the post, Karl Malone walled off hapless defenders on his backside, before rising up at the rim for an easy two. In transition, Malone could get out on the break, run the floor, and finish with his trademark prettyboy dunk to fire up the crowd at Salt Lake. Over the course of his 19-year career, The Mailman rarely missed a game, claimed back-to-back MVP honors, and finished second to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in points scored — with 36,928.
For Utah, of course, Stockton to Malone was the order of the day as the duo would pick and roll you to death. Stockton to Malone on the roll for the jam. Stockton feeds Malone on the pick and pop for the 15-foot jumpshot. Stockton curls off the Malone screen and rises up for the three ball behind the arc.
Despite his regular season success, Cowboy Karl often turned to mush beneath the bright light glare of playoff basketball. Utahans will forever be haunted by images of Michael Jordan stripping a wide-eyed Karl Malone beneath the basket, before turning around to nail a dagger jumper in Bryon Russell’s face on the following possession. In 1998, it was the Chicago Bulls who walked off the Delta Center floor as Champions.
#2 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Elvin Hayes
At power forward, Elvin Hayes was a pure scorer.
As a 1968-1969 rookie, the Big E led the League in scoring as he dropped 28 a game — to go alongside 17 rebounds for the San Diego Rockets. A tough rebounder, Elvin Hayes also led the NBA in boards in 1970 and 1974. For his career, Elvin Hayes tallied 27,313 points and 16,279 rebounds on 50,000 minutes played. A winner, Elvin Hayes teamed up with center Wes Unseld to make three NBA Finals appearances with the Washington Bullets. In 1978, Hayes helped to finally bring Championship hardware to the capital city.
Classic Elvin Hayes pins his man on his backside on the baseline, before receiving a lob entry pass. From there, the Big E fakes a pivot move to create space for his patented turnaround jumper. On the turnaround, Elvin Hayes springs off the floor with perfect form to knock down the shot from fifteen feet.
Elvin Hayes was automatic.
#1 Greatest NBA Power Forward of All Time: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan has been so good for so long, that it is almost boring.
The Big Fundamental plays basketball as if he were your accountant preparing to file your tax returns. As such, Tim Duncan makes decisive, economical movements in the post or out on the floor away from the basket to move the rock and create scores. Offensively, Duncan combines the technical proficiency of Kevin McHale alongside the lateral quickness of mentor David Robinson. As a face up threat, Duncan is especially dangerous on the wings, where he can go glass and bank in jumpers from 18 feet and in. Defensively, Tim Duncan is a rangy athlete, who can smother and harass players from all three positions into mistakes. In 2002, Duncan put it all together to slap together 25-13-4 alongside 2.5 blocks per game to take home MVP honors.
As the stoic leader of a Dynasty in a military town, Tim Duncan has quietly gone about his business to lay claim to four NBA championships for the San Antonio Spurs.
Tim Duncan is the greatest NBA power forward of all time.