Much is made about the decline of the modern-day big man. Many, mistakenly, take that to be about the center position, but in reality, it’s the power-forward spot that’s suffered it the most.
Losing a talent like Chris Bosh, who would have been perfectly suited for the spaced-out version of basketball we see today, certainly didn’t help matters. Also hurtful for the position is seeing versatile players who can shoot from deep and create for teammates, like Anthony Davis and Al Horford, being better-suited to anchor the 5-spot instead of the 4.
Nevertheless, there are a few star-level talents that adorn the top of this list, as well as various promising up-and-comers sprinkled in throughout the rest of it. Some of these players are purely floor-spacing snipers, while others prefer to handle the rock, cause mismatches and create for teammates. Some are elite defenders, who thrive either protecting the paint or defending on the wing, while others are more focused on the point-producing aspect of basketball.
Without further ado, below, we project the Top-30 power forwards for 2018-19.
(Editor’s note: The original version of this article had Jaren Jackson Jr. listed as the ranking’s 30th-overall player, and was missing Tobias Harris. It was an oversight on our part – one that we went back and corrected. We apologize for any confusion.)
30. JONATHAN ISAAC, ORLANDO MAGIC
Orlando Magic 4-man Jonathan Isaac’s rookie season ended up being a wash, considering he missed 55 games with lingering ankle issues. During his time on the floor, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his play, either. Isaac averaged just 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest in his first season, shooting a paltry 37.9 percent from the floor, 34.8 percent from three, and failing to find any sort of flow offensively for most of the year.
However, Isaac did manage to make a huge impact on the other side of the floor, serving as an outstanding multi-positional defender for Orlando. The former Florida State Seminole is long, agile and has great instincts on the point-stopping end, which helps him not just lock down opposing isolation attempts, but also protect the rim and disrupt passing lanes. The stats back that up, too. According to NBAWowy, with Isaac on the floor, the Magic gave up 106.8 points per 100 possession. If prorated for the year, that would have amounted to around a league-average defense. On the other hand, when Isaac sat, Orlando allowed 112.9 points per 100 possessions, which, if extrapolated for the season, would have been the worst mark in the NBA by more than two full points.
So even if Isaac isn’t quite there yet offensively (and don’t get it twisted: He’s still just 20, so his upside on that end is still huge), his defense more than makes up for it. And next to new Magic big man and rim-protecting stud Mo Bamba, the tandem should terrorize opposing offenses for years to come.
29. JORDAN BELL, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
What a luxury for the Golden State Warriors that maybe the eighth guy in their rotation can still crack the rankings for the league’s top power forwards despite his limited role. But Jordan Bell flashed that brightly during his rookie year, and with the big-man exodus “suffered” by the Warriors this offseason, he should be in line for more playing time in 2018-19.
Even with more game action, Bell will likely never become much of a scorer. (In summer league last month, he scored eight total points over two games in Las Vegas.) Additionally, the odds of him confidently attempting and knocking down shots from beyond the arc next year are pretty slim. Nevertheless, the Oregon product is an absurdly impactful defender who doesn’t just rack up steals and blocks (2.5 blocks and 2.5 steals per contest in summer league), but can also aptly guard positions 3 through 5, and even some point guards and shooting guards when forced to switch, as he displayed during the playoffs.
It’s that havoc-causing defense that helps set Bell apart, and will make him a key rotational piece on the best team in the league next season.
28. JERAMI GRANT, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Syracuse product and nephew of ’90s legend Horace Grant averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 boards per contest in 2017-18, posting the best year of his career according to multiple advanced stats along the way.
His counting stats never have been – and probably never will be – very impressive, but the Oklahoma City Thunder re-signed Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27.4 million deal this summer, despite being deep into the luxury tax at the time the contract came into fruition, for a reason. Grant’s athleticism, defensive energy and rim-running on offense proved absolutely vital to Oklahoma City last season, particularly in the playoffs when he completely outplayed the starter at his position:
With a bigger role after the departure of a certain 34-year-old future Hall-of-Famer, 2018-19 might finally be the season when Grant’s stats start to match the impact he makes on a nightly basis.
27. ERSAN ILYASOVA, MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Unless they’re physical freaks, the modern power forward should be a threat from the outside to warrant a spot in the rotation. If nothing else, Ersan Ilyasova provides just that: floor-spacing from the 4-spot. This offseason, the 10-year vet made a return to the team that originally acquired him in the 2005 draft, the Milwaukee Bucks. And once the games get started, the Turkish big man should carve himself out a nice role as a frontcourt player who uses his three-point shooting to open up room for the team’s stars, primarily Giannis Antetokounmpo, to attack the paint.
During his time with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017-18, Ilyasova ranked in the 84th percentile as a spot-up shooter, according to Synergy Sports Tech, scoring an imposing 1.15 points per possession (PPP) on such looks. Should that continue next season, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t, the Bucks may wind up looking savvy thanks to the signing of the perfect (relatively) low-cost power forward to complement their roster.
26. PASCAL SIAKAM, TORONTO RAPTORS
A 6-foot-9 speedster and human pogo stick who also doubles as an advanced-stats darling, Pascal Siakam broke out in his sophomore season, turning into an important contributor on what was almost inarguably the NBA’s best bench. The New Mexico State product averaged 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest in 2017-18, using his athleticism and length to thrive in transition and defend with tenacity.
Siakam is a smart player who knows when to attack the basket and when to hit teammates with simple dump-off passes for easy finishes (3.4 assists per-36 minutes last year). If he could just become a more reliable three-point shooter (he’s at 21.6 percent for his career), there’s no doubt Siakam will warrant a full-time starting role at some point not too far down the road.
Heck, as is, Siakam makes a pretty solid case to win the starting power forward job for the Toronto Raptors in 2018-19 anyway – he’s already that impactful. It’s just about Siakam making his impact translate from brief stints off the bench into a larger role. We think he can handle it.
25. DIRK NOWITZKI, DALLAS MAVERICKS
Father Time probably caught up to Dirk Nowitzki about three years ago. At most, the big German has one or two campaigns left before he calls it quits – he’s said as much himself…
…and yet, Nowitzki is still quite productive in a diminished role for the Dallas Mavericks.
The 20-year vet averaged 12.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 triples per contest in 2017-18, shooting 40.9 percent from three – the fourth-best rate of his career. What’s more, Nowitzki, per Synergy, ranked in the 92nd percentile as a spot-up shooter last year, scoring 1.21 PPP on those chances – the fourth-highest mark among players with at least 250 such attempts on the season. And not just that, but Nowitzki was also downright nasty from the low block; the future Hall-of-Famer scored 0.98 PPP on post-ups, the sixth-best rate among players with 150 such looks, according to Synergy. Just for reference: Nowitzki scored more efficiently from the post than guys like Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid last year, albeit on fewer opportunities.
At this point in his career, 20 years into one of the greatest runs from a big man ever, the fact Nowitzki remains so impactful – even despite having less responsibility on a nightly basis – speaks volumes about what a talent he was in his prime, and still is to this day.
24. MARKIEFF MORRIS, WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Even though his numbers took a bit of a dip last season, Markieff Morris was still an important piece for the Washington Wizards. The former Kansas Jayhawk put up 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last year, on respectable 48.0/36.7/82.0 shooting splits.
Morris provides the Wizards with toughness they would otherwise be lacking without him. He’s also a decent defender, who splits his time between guarding 3s, 4s and even some 5s, while providing Washington with roughly league-average three-point shooting. So although Morris’ contributions don’t really show up on the stat sheet, he’s still someone every coach would love to have in their rotation, and a competitor the Wizards are glad to feature in their starting lineup.
23. AL-FAROUQ AMINU, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Over half of Al-Farouq Aminu’s field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc last season (58.2 three-point attempt rate in 2017-18), which is how, despite his 39.5 percent shooting from the floor overall, he remains an effective offensive player. Aminu knocked down 36.9 percent of his triples for the year on 339 total attempts, providing an off-ball threat for the Portland Trail Blazers’ star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
A great defender and a long athlete who provides toughness in the paint, Aminu is also a plus rebounder despite his slightly undersized frame for a 4-man. Thanks to all of those factors, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that with Aminu on the floor last season, Portland outscored opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions. He’s been an important piece for the Blazers since his arrival three years ago, and that won’t change in 2018-19.
22. MARCUS MORRIS, BOSTON CELTICS
Like his twin sibling on the Wizards, Marcus Morris plays the part of enforcer on his team, the Boston Celtics, except, unlike his brother, he also contributes a bit more on the offensive end. Last year, Morris averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 three-pointers per contest, while shooting 36.8 percent from deep and 80.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Though his role on the offensive end will surely change next year with the returns of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and the emergence of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, meaning fewer isolation attempts, Morris will likely still be counted for some one-on-one buckets during stretches with the second unit on the floor. Besides his iso skills, Morris also ranks as a “very good” contributor in spot-up, post-up and hand-off situations, according to Synergy, so his production should be just fine in 2018-19, even while sharing the floor with so many talented offensive players.
21. JOHN COLLINS, ATLANTA HAWKS
An athletic specimen with great size for the power forward spot, John Collins was one of the top first-year contributors in the Association last season in what was a stacked rookie class. The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last year, while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor and 34.0 percent from three-point range.
Collins’ outside shooting as a rookie was a pleasant surprise, as he wasn’t expected to provide much of a beyond-the-arc threat in the NBA, at least not this soon, considering he attempted one measly triple over his two years in college. But Collins did shoot a decent rate from deep, displaying solid, repeatable form on his shot, with a high release point that proved hard for defenders to contest.
Along with the surprising shooting, Collins also showed that his main skill as a prospect – his bounce – wouldn’t have trouble translating to the pro ranks. The 20-year-old was a high-flying monster on both ends of the floor, capable of throwing down impressive in-traffic dunks…
…and protecting the paint from enemy forays.
Collins’ development should be an exciting one to behold.
20. SERGE IBAKA, TORONTO RAPTORS
The last few years have not been kind to Serge Ibaka, and 2017-18 looked a lot like rock bottom. The Congolese big man averaged an empty 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest last year, shooting 48.3 percent from the floor and 36.0 percent from three. Along with that, Ibaka posted an ugly -2.0 net rating to boot.
According to Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Box Plus/Minus (BPM), it was either his second- or third-worst campaign since he reached the NBA, respectively, and just by watching him play, it isn’t hard to surmise why. Ibaka has clearly lost a step athletically, causing him to lose the insane rim protection he provided at his peak, and he hasn’t been able to improve his offensive game enough for his athletic decline not to matter.
At this point in his career, Ibaka might be better served taking over the backup center role for Toronto, especially after the departure of Jakob Poeltl, as he’s not enough of a difference-maker at the 4 when playing next to a traditional 5 like Jonas Valanciunas. Plus, like we said earlier, Siakam, who had a +4.0 net rating last year to Ibaka’s -2.0, might be ready to take over the Raptors’ starting power forward role.
19. THADDEUS YOUNG, INDIANA PACERS
The 10-year vet posted another solid season in 2017-18, averaging 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals per contest. The Indiana Pacers were an astounding 8.0 points per 100 possessions better with Thaddeus Young on the floor, most likely due to his underrated defensive acumen and his ability to craftily get buckets in the painted area. Young has a solid jumper that extends out to the mid-range, and still has the quickness and ball-handling dexterity to present a mismatch against most traditional big men.
Many expected Young to test free agency this summer, but he didn’t, instead choosing to opt into the final year of his deal, worth approximately $13.8 million. If he posts another campaign similar to his 2017-18, there’s a good chance he lands himself one last long-term deal next offseason, before his age becomes too much of a hindrance to his play.
18. JAMES JOHNSON, MIAMI HEAT
James Johnson’s spot in this ranking took a bump due to his regression last season. In his first year with the Miami Heat, Johnson was a true Swiss-Army knife, capable of defending multiple positions on the less glamorous side of the floor and doing a superb job on offense as a play-maker. It also helped that the 6-foot-9 big man shot a career-best 34.0 percent from three that season, making him a legitimately versatile threat when Miami had the ball.
However, Johnson took a step back in multiple facets in 2017-18. His three-point shooting fell to 30.8 percent, his defense wasn’t as impactful and overall, his production, on either end, didn’t resemble the player from the year prior.
Johnson did have surgery for a sports hernia this summer, which could explain his lack of explosiveness last season, particularly later on in the year. If he manages to regain his pre-injury form, Johnson will get back to looking like the prototypical modern frontcourt player, able to handle a variety of roles on offense and defense. But if he can’t, the Heat may be stuck with a bit of an albatross of a contract on their books.
17. JABARI PARKER, CHICAGO BULLS
Multiple ACL tears to the same knee stunted Jabari Parker’s development at a pivotal time. Prior to the latest, the Duke product appeared to have turned the corner, exemplified by, in 2016-17, him averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest, on 49.0/36.5/74.3 shooting splits. In his return last season, though, Parker’s marks fell across the board; the 6-foot-8 forward put up 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists over 31 games in 2017-18, eventually seeing his role diminish once even further the playoffs rolled around.
Now a member of the Chicago Bulls, it’ll be interesting to see how Parker acclimates to his new surroundings. Being back in his hometown could give him a boost, but forced to share the frontcourt with Lauri Markkanen may hurt his production.
16. TAJ GIBSON, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Most of the credit for the Minnesota Timberwolves reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04 went to Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns – and deservedly so. They were the team’s two clear best players, who carried them night in and night out. But even if he would never admit it, another guy who merited some praise for the impressive feat was veteran big man Taj Gibson. The USC product quietly had a fantastic year, averaging 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest while shooting a tidy 57.7 percent from the floor.
With Gibson on the floor, the Timberwolves outscored teams by 7.7 points per 100 possessions. He provided Minnesota with toughness that they were severely lacking before his arrival, and his locker-room presence was equally important.
Gibson wasn’t just the respected elder on the team, either. He was one of the deadliest post-up players in the league last season, scoring 1.12 PPP on such looks per Synergy, the highest-rate in the league among players with 125 such chances.
Put simply: Not only does Gibson provide the vital intangibles, his tangible impact was key as well.
15. CARMELO ANTHONY, HOUSTON ROCKETS
His 2017-18 campaign was far from a rousing success, and that’s putting it kindly. Carmelo Anthony struggled mightily to acclimate with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder last year. On the season, Anthony averaged a career-low 16.2 points per contest on a career-worst 40.4 percent shooting clip. What’s more, statistically, in the playoffs, Oklahoma City was a way better team with him on the bench, as his almost-hard-to-believe -32.8 net rating goes to show.
Regardless, Anthony still warrants respect as one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen. He may not be the superstar he once was, but he can still get buckets at a decently effective rate. Additionally, there’s at least a non-zero chance he can regain some level of productiveness playing with the Houston Rockets, as their style, focused on isolation basketball and run at a slower pace than the Thunder, should be a better fit with Anthony’s skill-set.
That’s all to say, it’s still too early to completely throw in the towel on Anthony, even as he heads into his age-34 season.
14. KYLE KUZMA, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The No. 27 pick of the 2018 draft, Kyle Kuzma had a shockingly productive rookie season for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Utah product averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.1 threes per contest, shooting 45.0 percent from the floor and 36.6 percent from deep.
Kuzma displayed utmost confidence as a bucket-getting stretch-4, and playing next to LeBron James, his game should reach another level in 2018-19. His main issues are on the defensive end, where Kuzma lacks some toughness both as a ball-stopper and rebounder. But as he continues to mature physically, that should become less and less of a problem.
13. LAURI MARKKANEN, CHICAGO BULLS
Markkanen arrived to the NBA with more acclaim than Kuzma as last year’s No. 7 pick. Ultimately, though, the two floor-spacing bigs ended up having similar seasons. The Finnish power forward averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 triples nightly, on 43.4/36.2/84.3 shooting splits. He ranked in the 87th percentile in pick-and-pop jumper accuracy, scoring 1.20 PPP on such looks, per Synergy.
Although Markkanen was heralded as the best shooter in his draft class, he proved he had a lot more to his game than just spot-up prowess in his first year. The 7-foot sharpshooter had 56 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler in 2017-18, producing 0.96 PPP on those opportunities – enough to give him a “good” rating in that play-type, according to Synergy. Markkanen also received a “good” rating on put-backs, cuts and dribble hand-offs for the year, proving the big man is far from a one-trick pony.
With another offseason of training and a year of experience under his belt, Markkanen should be even better in 2018-19. Don’t be surprised if he’s putting up 20 per night for the low-key-sort-of-interesting Bulls.
12. NIKOLA MIROTIC, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
A year ago, Nikola Moritic ranking this highly among the league’s top power forwards would have been preposterous. He had some flashes early on in his career, but overall, he was way too inconsistent to warrant a second thought as a potentially game-altering big man.
But that changed in 2017-18.
For the first time since he reached the NBA, Mirotic put together a start-to-finish strong campaign, without most of the bouts of inconsistency that used to plague him, and contributing on the defensive end more than he ever had before. For the year, the Montenegrin/Spanish power forward averaged 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.5 triples per contest, shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three. It wasn’t just his regular season that was impressive, however, as Mirotic’s play got even better in playoff action. Over a nine-game postseason run with the New Orleans Pelicans, the beardless version of Mirotic put up 15.0 points, 9.6 boards, 1.7 helpers and 2.4 three-points per game, hitting a ridiculous 43.1 percent of his threes, and playing the role of third fiddle beautifully to AD and Jrue Holiday’s first and second fiddle.
Next to Davis and another player coming up on this list, Mirotic should have another productive year coming up, provided he can maintain an acceptable level of consistency. We think he will.
11. DERRICK FAVORS, UTAH JAZZ
At this point in his career, Derrick Favors should probably be playing center full-time, as his game – predicated upon a decent short mid-range jumper, tough rebounding and rim protection, and rugged post moves – translates better to a modern 5 than a 4. Favors had a chance to prove he could produce as a starting center this past season, when his frontcourt mate, Rudy Gobert, missed 11 outings in November – and he did just that. Over that stretch, Favors averaged 16.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks nightly, while converting an impressive 61.0 percent of his field-goal attempts and 77.1 percent of his free throws. More importantly, the Utah Jazz went 7-4 in that span, proving that Favors wasn’t just scoring empty baskets, but truly impacting game outcomes.
Nevertheless, even despite the evidence showing Favors should be playing one spot up the positional chart, he and Gobert manage to make things work just fine when they’re on the floor together. With their bulky frontcourt in the game, the Jazz posted a strong +8.0 net rating last season, according to NBAWowy.
So he may not be the most natural modern power forward, but Favors’ two-way impact earns him a spot in this ranking’s Top 10.
10. DARIO SARIC, PHILADLEPHIA 76ERS
A player more well-adapted to the demands of the modern power forward, Dario Saric has blossomed into a versatile, do-it-all type for the Philadelphia 76ers. In his sophomore season, the Croatian big man put up 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.0 triples per contest, on healthy 45.3/39.3/86.0 shooting splits.
There was some concern about how Saric’s poor outside shooting (31.1 percent from three as a rookie) would affect the team’s offensive output with Ben Simmons’ (a total non-shooter) arrival in 2017-18, but those worries were quelled with the improvements Saric made as a shooter over the offseason. The 6-foot-10 power forward ranked in the 78th percentile (in the “very good” range, per Synergy) as a spot-up shooter last year, a marked betterment after placing in the 31st percentile in that play-type in 2016-17.
To go with his improved outside stroke, Saric maintained his status as an underrated playmaker and defender last season, and was a big part of the Sixers posting their best year since before The Process began. He’ll be counted on heavily again in 2018-19, after Philadelphia failed to land any of this summer’s marquee free agents. We believe he’ll be up to the task.
9. TOBIAS HARRIS, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Over his first six seasons, Tobias Harris made a paltry 33.2 percent of his three-pointers. In 2017-18, he upped that mark to 41.1 percent – the 14th-highest clip in the league among players with at least 300 three-point attempts on the year. Harris’ transformation from a mediocre three-point shooter to a great one completely changed his outlook as a player.
However, Harris isn’t merely a spot-up-shooting threat. The Tennessee product also put up impressive numbers as the pick-and-roll ball-handler and when attacking in isolation, placing in the 82nd percentile and 89th percentile in the two important play-types respectively, according to Synergy.
Overall, Harris has blossomed into a well-rounded scorer, who uses his quickness and pristine shooting stroke to create mismatches against traditional big men, who, for the most part, don’t have a chance of staying in front of him. Harris does still need to work on drawing more fouls (2.7 free throws per game last year, but 82.9-percent accuracy once he got there) and his rebounding (5.6 boards per contest for his career).
Nevertheless, 2018-19 will be Harris’ age-26 season, meaning he’ll be just entering his prime, so don’t be surprised if he does improve those two minor deficiencies and becomes an even more productive player next year.
8. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, NEW YORK KNICKS
Before we begin, we’d like for it to be known that this ranking is not a reflection of Kristaps Porzingis’ abilities, but rather, very real concerns about how much of 2018-19 he’s going to miss after tearing his ACL last February. The most recent reports state that the Latvian unicorn probably won’t return at least until next February, but by then, if the New York Knicks’ season is over and the playoffs are out of reach, what would the team’s motivation to bring Porzingis back be? The safer move, depending on how his rehab progresses, may be to just let his comeback take place in 2019-20, allowing the big man a full 20 months to get healthy.
Had it not been for the injury, odds are, Porzingis would have placed in the Top 3 of this ranking, with a legitimate shot at one of the two top spots – he was that spectacular last season. The 7-foot-3 rim-protecting sharpshooter was averaging a career-high 22.7 points per contest before going down, chipping in 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.9 triples nightly as well. Want to know how many other players in league history have ever put up at least 2.3 blocks and 1.8 three-pointers per contest over a single season? None, that’s how many.
Porzingis took the challenge of being New York’s best player following Anthony’s departure head on, and excelled wonderfully at the pressure-packed task. He’s extremely productive on both ends, possesses the right mentality to become a superstar and has one of the most unique skill-sets the league has ever seen.
Now it’s all about the big man coming back as healthy as possible. We hope it happens soon, so he can prove this ranking wrong.
7. PAUL MILLSAP, DENVER NUGGETS
Versatility, defensive toughness and strong isolation prowess all define Paul Millsap’s game, and when he’s in proper form, he’s one of the top big men the NBA has to offer. The problem is, he struggled to find that form for much of 2017-18, both due to his fit with the Denver Nuggets and the wrist injury that forced him to miss 44 games.
Playing next to another ball-dominant big man, even one who loves to distribute the ball as much as Nikola Jokic, didn’t go all that smoothly for Millsap in 2017-18, as exemplified by his meager 14.5-point-per-game average, or his career-worst BPM and VORP marks from last season. The fact Millsap will be in his age-33 season next year doesn’t exactly inspire confidence about his ability to bounce back, either.
Regardless, with another summer to acclimate to his new surroundings and now that he’ll be fully healthy, Millsap should be able to get back to being one of the best power forwards in the league next year. After all, it wasn’t all bad regarding the Jokic-Millsap pairing last season. Sure, Millsap’s individual numbers did suffer, but as a team, the Nuggets had an absurd +11.2 net rating with their starting frontcourt on the floor, per NBAWowy. That mark could get even better next season.
6. JULIUS RANDLE, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
After the Lakers acquired that dude with four MVP trophies and three titles to his name, they rescinded their qualifying offer to Julius Randle, allowing him to sign with any team of his choosing without having to think, or worry, about the offer getting matched by L.A. So Randle, after an active recruitment by AD, chose the Pelicans as his next destination – a savvy move by the Kentucky product, as his skill-set should really get a chance to shine in New Orleans.
He may not be much of an outside shooter (just 37 three-point makes over the last three seasons), but Randle’s ability to grab a rebound and take the ball the length of the floor is perfect for a Pelicans team that ranked first in pace last season. Plus, a second unit with Mirotic at the 4 and Randle at the 5 should highlight both players’ strengths beautifully – the former, a floor-spacing big and the latter, a bruiser in the paint.
So even if his role is reduced a bit next season, we’re confident Randle – coming off a 16.1/8.0/2.6 season – will post another impactful campaign in 2017-18, and more than help make up for the loss of DeMarcus Cousins.
5. AARON GORDON, ORLANDO MAGIC
Coming off the best season of his career, Aaron Gordon is in line to continue the breakout in 2018-19.
The Arizona product averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 three-pointers per game last year, shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and a career-best 33.6 percent from three. That outside shooting mark will have to get even better next year, and we hope new head coach Steve Clifford doesn’t fall into the previous regime’s trap of slotting Gordon into the 3-spot, where his physical advantages get diminished.
Regardless, there’s no denying Gordon’s upside heading into next year. He’s an athletic specimen with the ball-handling chops of a guard, making him a nearly impossible cover for any traditional big man. What’s more, Gordon’s really turning into a solid playmaker, posting an 11.7 percent assist rate last year – a tremendous improvement over his rookie-season 6.3 percent assist rate.
Surrounded by more talent than he’s had in a while, and under the most stable front office and competent head coach he’s ever had, we expect Gordon to explode next season.
4. BLAKE GRIFFIN, DETROIT PISTONS
Whatever you may personally think of Blake Griffin, how many big men are putting up 21.4/7.4/5.8 campaigns these days? Because that’s exactly what Griffin did over the course of 2017-18, splitting time between the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons.
As his athleticism has dwindled (don’t get us wrong, he can still throw down…
…with the best of them), Griffin has been able to make up for it by greatly improving his outside game. The five-time All-Star shot a career-high 34.5 percent from beyond the arc last season, to go with his career-best nearly six-assist-per-game average.
The Pistons gambled a lot to land 2010-11 Rookie of the Year, both in terms of assets and cap flexibility, but as long as Griffin can maintain some semblance of health, he and burgeoning star center Andre Drummond should form one of the very best frontcourts in the NBA.
3. KEVIN LOVE, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Following LeBron’s painful departure, the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to get an important win in the form of securing Kevin Love’s long-term future with the club, re-signing the floor-spacing big man to a four-year, $120 million extension back in July.
Though it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Minnesota Kevin Love again, the UCLA product and 2016 NBA champion should get back to posting huge numbers next season, as his role will massively expand without James around. At worst, Love should be putting up 20-and-10s on a nightly basis.
Besides his outside shooting (Love was 41.5 percent from three last season), the Cavs big man also ranked as a “very good” post-up player and cutter in 2017-18, per Synergy, so expect to see Cleveland run heavy doses of the Love-from-the-low-block offense next year.
2. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
LaMarcus Aldridge experienced a major turnaround last season, going from a player with one foot out the door in San Antonio to the focal point of the team. The Texas product and former Blazer finished 12th in the league in scoring, third among true big men, at 23.1 points per contest, along with 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 blocks nightly. He also went to the line over five times per game, sinking 83.7 percent of his opportunities from the charity stripe, which, in turn, gave his efficiency a major bump from previous seasons. That’s part of how Aldridge ended up posting the highest BPM of his career in 2017-18, and the second-highest VORP.
A six-time All-Star, Aldridge possesses a fantastic post game, featuring a deadly left-shoulder hook shot and an even stronger turnaround jumper to go to as a counter, as well as a beastly knack for attacking the offensive glass and scoring on put-backs. His defense, formerly a weakness due to his not-very-quick feet and lack of explosiveness as a rim-protector, also became less problematic thanks to head coach Gregg Popovich’s point-stopping, midrange-jumper-forcing system.
The only concern we have about Aldridge heading into next season is the fact he’s entering his age-33 season, but even then, his game isn’t really predicated upon athleticism, so we expect him to maintain the productive level of play he reached in 2017-18, and carry it over into 2018-19.
1. DRAYMOND GREEN, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
A common refrain among those who dislike the Warriors is to say Draymond Green is overrated, which, well, is not just wrong, but hilariously so.
Not only is Green one of the two or three best defenders the league has to offer, who locks down opposing teams’ best players, protects the rim and racks up steals, he also doubles as an extremely impactful offensive player thanks to his distribution skills. How else would he post a stat-line as sick as this – 11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 threes nightly – over 70 games in 2017-18? Or place second in VORP among players in this ranking, despite having a much smaller role on offense than any of the other big names we’ve listed here?
Another way to think of it is this: Would any of the teams with the other Top-4 power forwards on our list – Orlando, Detroit, Cleveland or San Antonio – trade their starting 4-man for Green, straight up?
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, the answer is a clear and resounding yes, they would.
And would Golden State accept any such trade?
Almost certainly not.
Granted, yes, Green does benefit from being on a team as talented as the Warriors, but at the same time, he’s an absolute perfect fit for what they need, providing the team not just with immeasurable two-way influence, but with a passionate leader on and off the floor.
He’s the type of player you hate to play against, but would love to have on your team – a modern-day Kevin Garnett type, at least defensively, or as far as personalities go.
Green’s points per game may not measure to the other top guys on this ranking, but his impact far exceeds any of them.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.