|It was just a few years ago that the NBA's power forward position was one of glamour. Oh sure, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki are still three of the top 10 players in the league. And if Jermaine O'Neal bounces back healthy, he could fit into that category, too.|
Is the four spot still the class of the league?
Well, maybe, but it isn't as certain as it was just two years ago.
Chris Webber has gone from All-NBA caliber with the Sacramento Kings to being traded to Philadelphia and still struggling from micro-fracture surgery.
Pau Gasol got a maximum contract and was the centerpiece in Memphis — but it looks as if his game has maxed out long before his contract will reach its apex.
Then again, it wouldn't be a stretch to look at Chris Bosh as a superstar in the making; the Toronto Raptors sure need that to happen. The same can be said for the top two picks in the 2004 draft and their struggling teams — Dwight Howard in Orlando and Charlotte's Emeka Okafor — as their two teams battle to reach a state respectability.
But more than anything else, you look at Duncan, Garnett and Nowitzki and see such an uncommon blend of talent, size and leadership … and it leaves you thinking perhaps the best players in the NBA still play at the big forward and make teams go.
|Tim Duncan has three titles and three finals MVP awards under his belt. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via / Getty Images)|
Duncan again led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA title, despite three ankle sprains that put a damper on a good portion of his regular season performance. Nonetheless, he didn't miss a beat in the playoffs and won his third finals Most Valuable Player award in seven years.
And then there was Garnett. The 2004 MVP had the first knee issues of his career, which didn't even compare to the chemistry issues that saddled the Minnesota Timberwolves as the most disappointing team in the league last season.
That leaves us with Nowitzki, the most incredible shooting 7-footer ever seen. He will enter this season for the first time in his career without either one of his two former partners — Steve Nash enters his second season in Phoenix and Michael Finley is down the road in San Antonio.
All of it makes for interesting fodder as we watch how much the Western Conference will teeter this season based on the performances of these three guys. They aren't the end all, but chances are they will have a major say in who represents the West in the 2006 finals.
Taking it a step further, O'Neal and the Indiana Pacers will have a say in the East, as will Rasheed Wallace and the Detroit Pistons.
Actually, all of these calculations add up to just one thing — the power forwards, generally speaking, still rule the league. There just happens to be a few more players these days who refuse to listen.
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Ht./Wt.: 6-11, 260
Numbers: 20.3 pts., 11.1 reb., 2.7 ast.
When he won his third NBA Finals MVP in seven years, Duncan joined Michael Jordan (six), Shaquille O'Neal (three) and Magic Johnson (three) as the only ones to have accomplished the trifecta. And you say Manu Ginobili should have gotten it? Would the Spurs have won without Duncan?
2. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Ht.Wt.: 6-11, 230
Numbers: 22.2 pts., 13.5 reb., 5.7 ast.
Two years ago, he won the MVP and the T-Wolves got to the conference finals. Instead of it being a breakout year for the team, it was an aberration — and they're back to being a bunch of ordinary guys around the only player in history to average at least 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in six consecutive seasons.
3. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Ht./Wt.: 7-0, 250
Numbers: 26.1 pts., 9.7 reb., 3.1 ast.
He was playing at an extraordinary level through the All-Star break, but his body began to show some wear and tear, and he struggled shooting in the playoffs. He's another incredible talent with size, agility and shooting ability from everywhere. Better passing is the next phase.
4. Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana Pacers
Ht./Wt.: 6-11, 250
Numbers: 24.3 pts., 8.8 reb., 1.9 ast.
He remains right on the cusp of the top three, but injuries and erratic play against the other elite players still keeps him a cut below. Should he stay healthy, play stronger and the Pacers get back into the title chase as expected, maybe he will be included with the rest.
5. Elton Brand, Los Angeles Clippers
Ht./Wt.: 6-8, 270
Numbers: 20.0 pts., 9.5 reb., 2.6 ast.
Were he not playing for the Clippers, everyone would see what a consistently effective player Brand is. His freakish wing-span allows him to block shots; plus, his great hands and instincts have him in the right spot all the time. He doesn't have much range, but he's good enough considering where he is in the offense.
6. Rasheed Wallace, Detroit Pistons
Ht./Wt.: 6-11, 240
Numbers: 14.5 pts., 8.2 reb., 1.8 ast.
On a pure talent and unselfish scale, he's right there with Garnett. But he doesn't have the motivation or mental consistency to play at the same level every game or even throughout the game. But he's a terrific shooter from any angle out to 3-point range, underrated passer and one of the best team defenders of any big man in the game.
7. Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 235
Numbers: 16.8 pts, 8.9 reb., 1.9 ast.
Even before the Raptors traded Vince Carter to the Nets, Bosh was clearly the most valuable player on the team. He has great explosiveness to the rim, quickness out on the floor and surprising touch from a variety of angles. And he's still only 21.
|For various reasons, Chris Webber has seen his value drop over the past couple years. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via / Getty Images)|
8. Chris Webber, Philadelphia 76ers
Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 250
Numbers: 19.5 pts., 9.1 reb., 4.7 ast.
Now we'll find out precisely what Webber has left. He's had another full season to recover from the micro-fracture knee surgery, and he'll have all of training camp to get more accustomed to the Sixers and Allen Iverson. Most of all, he'll have a sincere coach in Mo Cheeks to work with him. Webber's star is flickering, and this is the season it will either rekindle or go dark.
9. Antawn Jamison, Washington Wizards
Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 240
Numbers: 19.6 pts., 7.6 reb., 2.3 ast.
Although Jamison is better suited physically to play small forward, his skills work better from the power forward position. Besides, they traded power forward Kwame Brown, with small forward Caron Butler coming in return. Young Jarvis Hayes is another talented small forward they're developing. So expect bigger numbers from Jamison this season.
10. Zach Randolph, Portland Trail Blazers
Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 255
Numbers: 18.9 pts., 9.6 reb., 1.9 ast.
Zach had a rough season with the turnover on the team, the coaching staff and more serious knee surgery than anyone imagined. But the word is that he's bounced back strong and is likely to get back on the 20/10 track. Keep in mind, he's still only 24, and new coach Nate McMillan will be very adept at creating space and shots for his gifted low-post scorer. Also given consideration were: Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies; Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Sacramento Kings; Carlos Boozer, Utah Jazz; Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats; Kenyon Martin, Denver Nuggets; Kurt Thomas, Phoenix Suns; Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic; Troy Murphy, Golden State Warriors; Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat. Veteran NBA writer Mike Kahn is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.