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Our second batch of positional rankings gives us a difficult choice at the top. Who is the game's greatest power forward, Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan? You can't go wrong with either, but someone has to be No. 1.
Garnett, Minnesota's stat-sheet-stuffing marvel, altered the game when he turned pro right out of high school. He changed the way contracts are structured, pioneered the now-extinct preps-to-pros jump and became the first legit 7-footer to prove he could consistently handle and set up others.
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| Owner of three titles, Tim Duncan is Tony Mejia's top power forward. (Getty Images) || |
Despite all that, plain old Tim Duncan, the fundamentally sound San Antonio star, has to get the nod. Simply put, he's up three rings on K.G. Here's the way the top power forwards line up, with Toronto's Chris Bosh and Orlando's Dwight Howard omitted because both are expected to spend significant time at center this season.
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio: It will be interesting to see how revered Duncan is 20 years down the road. Unquestionably, he's one of the top five players to grace the game over the past decade, in the same class as Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Karl Malone, two of the best ever at their positions. But because he doesn't get all up in your face and doesn't command a constant spotlight, there are those that take his greatness for granted. Some even dismiss him as boring. Memo: Fundamentals and going about things the right way, expertly, should never be trivialized.
2. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota: Because of the impact he has had on the game, it's hard to imagine Garnett looking up at anyone. Still, his team comes off its worst season in almost a decade, failing to make the playoffs a year after reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time. There's no doubt Garnett left it all out on the court last season, playing with an abandon and desire that's a rarity for most mega-stars. That has to earn your respect, but ultimately, when the team fails, he'll take the blame. He wouldn't have it any other way.
3. Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana: Now that he has had all summer to rest that ailing shoulder, he'll be back to being the dominant post presence he has been since joining the Pacers. O'Neal did more wincing than anyone else over the latter part of last season and had some uncharacteristically horrendous shooting nights during the playoffs. Rest was the only remedy, and it was a luxury Indiana couldn't afford. The double-double machine should quickly re-capture his form -- in the East, only the other O'Neal is more effective inside.
4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: He enjoyed an MVP-caliber season a year ago, helping the Mavericks overcome the loss of good friend Steve Nash. But he struggled with his jumper in the playoffs, and the Mavericks wilted as a result. After spending the summer playing for Germany in the European Championships, Nowitzki should be in excellent shape when he reports to camp and should be extremely ready for his first full season under Avery Johnson and his defense-first philosophy.
5. Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers: He has quietly starred for losing teams since coming into the league six years ago, consistently putting up 20 points and 10 boards. Despite that, he has been to just a single All-Star game, hindered by Clips syndrome and the fact he's over shadowed by the likes of Duncan, Garnett and Nowitzki. Only 26, his best days seem to be ahead.
6. Kenyon Martin, Denver: It took him some time to get adjusted out West, and whether he struggled with the altitude, foreign surroundings or change of playing style, the good news is the kinks should now be out. A dominant defender and shot blocker, Martin should join Marcus Camby to form the most feared defensive big man tandem in the league. On the offensive end, expect him to be much more comfortable, particularly if he's able to fully recover from the knee injury that hampered him.
7. Rasheed Wallace, Detroit: Wallace, after all those years caught up in controversy in Portland, has made a great home for himself. The fans love him, his teammates adore him, calling him the pulse of the squad, and he's satisfied with his role. It remains to be seen whether he changes with new coach Flip Saunders taking over.
8. Antawn Jamison, Washington: After earning his first All-Star berth in 2005, Jamison has an even bigger task ahead as he and Gilbert Arenas aim to replace the lost production of Larry Hughes. Though undersized to play the four, Jamison has consistently averaged more than seven boards per game and isn't easily pushed around by bigger foes. Offensively, his mid-range jumper has turned into a deadly weapon, complementing his skills down low.
9. Zach Randolph, Portland: He played in just 46 games last season with a knee problem, but when healthy, all he does is produce. With Shareef Abdur-Rahim gone, the Blazers' rebuilding project will undoubtedly be built around him. He and Sebastian Telfair could emerge as a potent combination once they get their chemistry down.
10. Pau Gasol, Memphis: The 7-footer opted to rest and not play for Spain in the European Championships, which was probably the right decision given his bout with plantar fasciitis that cost him time last year. He must bounce back from a disappointing season in which he was expected to become a star but was instead stuck in traction. He's too talented to be so streaky.
11. Chris Webber, Philadelphia: He'll never be what he once was, one of the most complete forwards in the game, but C-Webb still has enough juice left to be an effective second option behind Allen Iverson. He committed himself to getting healthy and getting to camp in shape, and if that part is taken care of, his game will no doubt follow.
12. Emeka Okafor, Charlotte: Though his offense is still raw, questions about his ability to succeed at the pro level were erased emphatically in his rookie season, and he'll no doubt be higher on this list next year. He led the Bobcats in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots despite hitting the wall for a spell as the season's grind got to him. That's no knock -- most rooks struggle through a dry spell -- and Okafor was able to battle through it and finish strong. Expect him to be significantly better.
13. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Sacramento: New life awaits in Sacramento, where Abdur-Rahim likely will be handed a starting spot on a playoff contender, something he has never been able to enjoy. Abdur-Rahim's versatility and post skills seem to be a perfect fit for the Kings opposite Brad Miller and could help lead an ascent back to the top of the Pacific Division.
14. Carlos Boozer, Utah: He missed 31 games with a foot injury and clashed with management in his first season since coming over from Cleveland, pitching into the Jazz's freefall to 30 games under .500. He'll look to get back on track this year, and it should help to have a healthy Andrei Kirilenko by his side. When his mind and body are right, Boozer is among the league's top rebounders and hustlers.
|Date ||Position |
|Sep. 13 ||Small Forwards |
|Sep. 20 ||Power Forwards |
|Sep. 27 ||Centers |
|Oct. 4 ||Point Guards |
|Oct. 11 ||Shooting Guards |
|Oct. 18 ||Top 50 |
15. Troy Murphy, Golden State: He's getting better and better, both on the boards and from the perimeter, quietly becoming one of the West's most consistently productive bigs. He's only this far down on the list because he isn't one of the quickest forwards out there, putting his defense at risk. First-round pick Ike Diogu should take some of his minutes, although don't expect a significant dropoff in his numbers.
16. Antonio McDyess, Detroit: He proved during the playoffs that he's still got it, having amazing bounced back from numerous knee surgeries and mentally staying strong after nearly calling it quits. If he can continue to make strides toward what he once was, the two-time defending East champs may not surrender their crown.
17. Al Harrington, Atlanta: In his first year as a starter, Harrington averaged nearly 18 points per game, pacing the Hawks -- but he shot just 21 percent from 3-point range and consistently found himself in foul trouble. He's extremely skilled and must continue to mature. It will be telling to see what Atlanta chooses to do with him having brought Marvin Williams on board, but all that's left for Harrington to do is work hard and keep improving.
18. Tyson Chandler, Chicago: The Bulls rewarded Chandler with a contract this offseason and now must get him to reach his vast potential. His offense is a work in progress and will be for a few more seasons, but defensively and on the boards, he's capable of taking over games. The problem is he doesn't often play smart, consistently finding himself in foul trouble. That needs to change; his talent and desire are certainly there.
19. Al Jefferson, Boston: How does a guy who played fewer than 15 minutes per game last season crack the Top 20? Simple. He's a beast. At 6-10 and over 270 pounds of solid granite, Jefferson is about to break out. We just thought we'd hop on the bandwagon and get a good seat before it starts getting crowded.
20. Nenad Krstic, New Jersey: The Serbian forward is slight of frame, but boy does he have some silky post moves. Only 22, he has a remarkable future considering the flashes of Kevin McHale-type footwork he put on display as a rookie. He has to become a more aggressive rebounder, but the Nets clearly uncovered a jewel with the 24th pick of the 2002 Draft.
Also considered: Drew Gooden, Cleveland; Kurt Thomas, Phoenix; Donyell Marshall, Cleveland; Stromile Swift, Houston; P.J. Brown, New Orleans; Udonis Haslem, Miami; Kenny Thomas, Sacramento; Nene, Denver.