Nowadays, power forwards and centers are expected to be able to hit jump shots coming out of college. In the modern NBA, players like Anthony Davis have redefined the position. However, this wasn’t always the way of play. For example, if we look back to the 1990s and early 2000s, things were different. Power forwards could still be scorers, that hasn’t changed. But the points came from inside the paint more than they do today. Skills that some of the greatest power forwards share is defense, rebounding, and low post scoring. The role of a big man has changed more than that of any other position in basketball. But the greatest players of all time still deserve respect. So today we will discuss the top five power forwards in NBA history.
Top Five Power Forwards In NBA History
1. Tim Duncan (1997-2016)
To begin, we have a top ten player in NBA history. Nowadays known for being an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan was the team’s cornerstone for two decades. Duncan’s accolades speak for themselves. To start, Duncan won five NBA championships and was the MVP in three of them. He also earned an all-star birth 15 times and was on the All-NBA team 15 times as well. All of that said, Duncan’s defense and team-first attitude are what set him apart from others. Despite being a top ten player of all time, Duncan never let his ego show on the court. He was always willing to make the extra pass and never played selfishly. But if the Spurs needed Duncan to score, he could, as evident by his 30 point game in the 2013 NBA finals.
A 15-time all-defense selection as well, Duncan was as smooth and consistent as a player as there ever was.
2. Karl Malone (1985-2004)
Whereas Duncan only averaged 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, Karl Malone put up better numbers. Malone played an astounding 19 seasons in the NBA and averaged 25.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Malone simply could score from anywhere on the court. The only two seasons in which he averaged under 20 points a game came in his first and last seasons. Malone’s consistency is shown by being selected to the all-NBA first team 11 consecutive times. He was also a two time MVP like Duncan and earned 14 all-star births. Malone played tough and physical basketball, and when you watch his highlights it’s impressive. What holds Malone back from being number one is having zero NBA Finals wins, despite playing with an all-time great point guard John Stockton. Even though that holds him back, The Mailman is one of the great interior scorers we will ever see.
3. Dirk Nowitzki (1998-2019)
Next on the top five power forwards in NBA history list is the best European player ever (at the time of this writing). Dirk Nowitzki came to the NBA from Europe in a time when there hadn’t been much success for foreign players. Nowitzki shattered the barriers and proceeded to revolutionize the power forward position. He was one of the first power forwards to become a “stretch four” in large part thanks to his lethal one-legged fadeaway jump shot. For his career averages, Nowitzki put up 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and shot 47.1 percent from the floor. His accolades include 14 all-star births, one MVP in the 06-07 season, and a 12-time all-NBA selection.
Despite all of that individual success, his biggest accomplishment came by winning the 2011 NBA finals. Despite being massive underdogs against the Miami Heat’s big three, the Dallas Mavericks won and Dirk was Finals MVP. He averaged 26 points and 9.7 boards and most importantly kicked any doubters of his legacy to the curb.
4. Charles Barkley (1984-2000)
Known today for his job on Inside The NBA, it’s easy to forget how freakishly dominant Charles Barkley was in his career. Barkley was a bit undersized at six feet six inches, but that didn’t stop him. In NBA history, he ranks 12th in player efficiency rating on 22.1 points a game. He shot 54 percent from the field which tops the three players ahead of him on the list. He also put up 11.7 rebounds a night which once again tops the three players ahead of him. On 11 occasions, Barkley was an all-star and a member of an all-NBA team. Another honor on his resume is being a member of the 1992 dream “Dream Team” and shooting an incredible 71.1 percent in those games. Defensively, Barkley was also a force of nature and is second at his position in steals.
Much like Malone, owning zero NBA championships is the biggest thing that keeps Barkley from being higher on the list. Playing three fewer seasons than Duncan, Malone, and Nowitzki also brings him down slightly.
5. Kevin Garnett (1995-2016)
Finally, on the top five power forwards in NBA history, we have Kevin Garnett. During his tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett was one of the best players in the league. Garnett was always in contention for defensive player of the year (winning it in the 07-08 season) and was a 12-time member of the all-defense team and a 15-time all-star. During his 11 years with the Timberwolves, Garnett was consistently the team’s best player. Garnett was a bully in the paint and was also gifted with great athleticism. Before the start of the 2007-08 season, he was traded to the Boston Celtics. Alongside Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, Garnett finally had the help he lacked in Minnesota. This led to Garnett getting his first and only NBA Finals ring in 2008. Garnett’s longevity and chapter in Boston’s big three help propel him into the top five of this list.
Just Short Of The Top 5 Power Forwards In NBA History
Kevin McHale (1980-1993)
Dennis Rodman (1986-2000)
Elvin Hayes (1968-1981)
The Longevity Of These Players Is Underappreciated
Times have changed tremendously over the years in the NBA. Today, we have load management as a common occurrence. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was no such thing. The fact that these players have played as many seasons as they did is impressive. It is even more impressive when you think about how physical they played. These men were bruisers down low and put their bodies through massive amounts of stress. In the modern sports world where players are retiring younger, the longevity of the players of old should be appreciated and honored even more.
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