They used to be called hatchet men.
The blunt edges of their talents hewed out rebounds, screens, defense and the kind of selective brutality essential to any contact sport. They were later referred to as enforcers. However, in today's game, the skills and duties of power forwards cover the entire spectrum of the game.
No. 1 TIM DUNCAN
Since the retirement of David Robinson, Tim Duncan has become just a part-time power forward because come crunch-time, Robert Horry plays the four, while TD is the Spurs' center.
In any case, Duncan's virtues are well known: Nifty post-up moves (with his right-handed jump hook being his supreme weapon), sure-handed rebounding, long-armed defense, alert passes and somewhat overrated jump shooting. Although he uses his elbows as grappling hooks, the Big Fundamental plays with more finesse than actual power. Despite that fact, his ability to deliver in the clutch, resourcefulness and above all, his will to win, put him at the top of this list.
No. 2 KEVIN McHALE
Kevin McHale had the most effective variety of low-post moves of any power forward or center. Drop-steps, spins, hooks, duck-unders, face-ups, back-downs, fadeaway and turn-around jumpers — as well as some improvised moves that were beyond categorizing. His unstoppability was evidenced by McHale's leading the league in field goal percentage twice (1986-88, with identical percentages of 60.4).
He was also an OK passer, great offensive rebounder and adequate presence on the defensive glass. And McHale's defense was every bit as outstanding as his offense. He was listed at 6-foot-10, but with his long arms and high shoulders, McHale played at least five inches taller.
The Larry Bird-Robert Parrish-Kevin McHale front line is generally considered to be the most dominant of all time — and it was McHale who did most of the heavy lifting that enabled the Celtics to win three championships (1981, '84, '86) during his 13-year tenure in Boston. Indeed, all of McHale's pertinent numbers were higher during the playoffs.
Although partially hidden in Bird's shadow, McHale was a legitimate franchise player in his own right.
No. 3 BOB PETTIT
This guy rendered most of his opponents' numbers powerless. His honors included two MVPs, (1956, '59), one championship ('58), and he was selected to the All-NBA First Team from 1955-64.
Bob Pettit was a savage rebounder — his career-high was 20.3 per game in 1960-61, and he concluded his 11 seasons (with the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks) averaging 16.2. He scored with one-handed sets, mid-range springers, put-backs and hard-nosed drives to the rim. Put Pettit down for a lifetime mark of 26.4 ppg. He was a dependable (if not prolific) passer and a ferocious (if foul-prone) defender.
The bigger the game, the bigger he played.
No. 4 KARL MALONE
Why such a low rating for a two-time MVP and the second-leading scorer ever?
Because Karl Malone was a choke artist. In the clutch, he'd miss free throws and take ill-advised shots. For example, instead of pounding his way into the lane from his customary station on the left box, Malone would spin baseline and uncork a low-percentage jumper.
And don't pay any attention to his being named three times to the NBA's All-Defensive Team (1997-99). In truth, he was strong enough to move any low-post player several feet from his favorite spot. But his lateral movement was always poor, meaning any opponent who could turn and face would always wind up with a clean look. Also, Malone's pet ploy was to swipe at the ball while his opponent was preparing to shoot. Sometimes Malone was successful, but more often than not, his gamble would be futile, and he would be left exposed and off balance, placing his teammates in jeopardy.
Malone was never anything more than a good player. John Stockton's crafty passes are responsible for turning Malone into a cinch Hall-of-Famer.
No. 5 DAVE DeBUSSCHERE
Yeah, he was a terrific spot-shooter with incredible range. He could rebound, pass and drive. But Dave DeBusschere gained entry into the Hall of Fame (1983) mostly on the basis of his Velcro-chested defense.
He wasn't fond of switching on defense. He'd take care of his man and thought his teammates should take care of theirs. And his single-minded resolve to shut down his opponent (usually the other team's high scorer, often even at the small forward position) disrupted the bad guys' game plan more than if DeBusschere went out and scored 30 points.
No player was tougher, and no guy worked harder. DeBusschere was the unsung hero of both of New York's championships.
No. 6 DOLPH SCHAYES
Dolph Schayes' rough-and-tumble game was made for the pros, and indeed he was a much better player with the Syracuse Nationals than he ever was at New York University.
He put up points (18.2 over 16 seasons) with a high-arcing, two-hand set, with fearless drives into the lane and superb marksmanship at the foul line. Schayes led the NBA in free throw percentage in 1957-58, 1959-60 and 1961-62. He was also a savvy passer and determined rebounder (pacing the league in 1950-51 with 16.4 per game). Schayes may have been a belligerent (and slow-footed) defender, but most of his fouls left opponents with bruises.
As mild-mannered as he was off the court, Schayes played in a fury once the lights were switched on, How tough was he? He once broke his right arm during the prime of his career and proceeded to shoot left handed, using the cast to club his way to the basket.
Schayes was an All-NBA First Team selection six times over, and was the primary reason why the Nationals were NBA champs in 1955. He was also one of the few players who had All-Star seasons both before and after the installation of the 24-second shot clock.
No. 7 DENNIS RODMAN
Despite his zany lifestyle, Dennis Rodman was the ultimate role player. Defense, rebounding and running the court were his contributions to a slew of championships with Detroit and Chicago. For sheer athleticism, no other power forward could compare with Rodman.
Unbeknownst to many casual basketball fans, Rodman was also an incredibly intelligent player. Whereas Karl Malone could never absorb even the most basic elements of the triangle offense, Rodman mastered every intricacy in his first training camp with Chicago.
Not as physically strong as DeBusschere, and (besides put-backs and fast-break flashes) never being a scoring threat, Rodman was a more versatile defender than the Knicks' Hall of Famer in that he could throw a net over shooting guards, small forwards, power forward and centers.
Like Bill Russell before him, Rodman proved that defense wins championships
Just missing the cut:
Missing in action:
Kevin Garnett — hasn't been there, hasn't done that.
Charles Barkley — only played defense when the spirit moved him. He routinely came into training camp grossly overweight, and then chastised his teammates for being out of shape.
Elvin Hayes — awful defense, awful fundamentals, awful attitude.
Bob McAdoo — soft, selfish and defenseless.
Charley Rosen, former CBA coach, author of 12 books about hoops, the current one being A pivotal season — How the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers changed the NBA, is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.