During the early stages of the 21st-century, power forwards like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, and Rasheed Wallace dominated the NBA, taking home a combined ten championships. Even players like Chris Webber, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Jermaine O’Neal, who never won a title, consistently topped the league as regular selections to the All-NBA Team.
During the 2021-22 season, power forwards Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, and Domantas Sabonis struggled due to injury, shooting regression, or an inability to produce wins, leaving the 4 spot as barren as it’s been in the last 30 years. The days of the power forward seem to have given way to the rise of point guards and wings. Still, Giannis, Kevin Durant, Pascal Siakam, and Jaren Jackson Jr. put up excellent numbers, helping their respective squads make the postseason.
Here, we’ll rank the most effective power forwards of the 2021-22 season by category:
Scoring - Kevin Durant (29.9 PPG)
When we consider the most accomplished shooters throughout NBA history, we typically think about excellent long distance marksmen like Stephen Curry, Ray Allen, or Steve Nash. Still, there is more to shooting than just launching from deep. There are five general shooting ranges in the NBA — 0 to 3 feet, 3 to 10 feet, 10 to 16 feet, 16 feet to the arc, and a three-pointer — and when it comes to connecting from every level of the court, Kevin Durant could be the most effective of all time.
Compare Kevin Durant’s 2021-22 overall shooting performance versus Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s best individual shooting seasons:
Kevin Durant in 2021-22:
0 to 3 feet: 74.4%
3 to 10 feet: 51.6%
10 to 16 feet: 52.8%
16 feet to the arc: 57.5%
Beyond the arc: 38.3%
Michael Jordan in 1997-98 during his final MVP season when he was at the height of his all-around shooting powers:
0 to 3 feet: 64.4%
3 to 10 feet: 37.3%
10 to 16 feet: 41.6%
16 feet to the arc: 46.2%
Beyond the arc: 23.8%
Kobe Bryant during his 2005-06 season when he led the league in scoring at 35.4 points per game and was robbed at gunpoint by the NBA for the MVP Award:
0 to 3 feet: 59.8%
3 to 10 feet: 49.4%
10 to 16 feet: 45.5%
16 feet to the arc: 42.1%
Beyond the arc: 34.7%
Kevin Durant is clearly the better all-around shooter, dominating two of the most prolific scorers of all time at every range. And it’s not like KD was shooting wide open gimmies. He took the most tightly contested field goal attempts in the league during the regular season, with 13.3 shots per game with a defender within 2-4 feet of him.
Kevin Durant, at 6’10" with a 7’5" wingspan, features an unguardable mid-range jumper along with point guard dribbles and top-5 finishing abilities. KD is not only the leading scorer among all power forwards but the premier bucket-getter in the NBA this season and perhaps ever.
Playmaking - Draymond Green (7.0 APG)
To be honest, I strongly dislike (or even hate) Draymond Green. I hate the way he instigates on the court, I hate that he’s kicked three players in the nuts during his career, I hate he was suspended during the 2016 Finals (probably) costing the Warriors the title, and I really hate his nightly podcasts during this year’s Finals.
With that said, Draymond Green is one of the most skilled passers in the NBA. He knows exactly where he’ll pass the ball before it’s even in his hands, a true grandmaster playing five moves ahead of his opponent. Watch Green closely during any contest (it doesn’t matter if he’s playing in Orlando during a sweaty Monday night contest in front of 8,000 fans or in the NBA Finals. He gives 110% at all times, a remarkable quality that is actually making me question my hate.) and you’ll see he steps into his pass before he receives the ball, a skill that allows him to jettison the rock into one of his teammate’s waiting hands a split-second faster than should be possible. In a game of inches, Draymond Green’s incredible vision can be the difference between his teammate getting stuffed or making a contested three-pointer.
Stephen Curry is the all-time leading three-point shooter in NBA history and the engine of the Warriors’ attack. Still, without Green’s passing, Golden State’s offense tends to bog down into inefficient isolation sets.
Rebounding - Domantas Sabonis (12.1 RPG)
Domantas Sabonis narrowly beat Giannis for the power forward rebounding title, snagging 12.1 boards per game. Sabonis, 6’11”, 240-pounds, has a wide body and a nose for the ball, two qualities that have helped him average over 12 rebounds per contest throughout his last three seasons.
Domantas Sabonis is the rare player who excels on the defensive and offensive glass, snagging 19.5% of all available defensive rebounds and 10.3% of all available offensive rebounds during the regular season. Sabonis is one of the most talented one-and-done rebounders in the league while also pressuring opposing defenses with his ability to create second chances for his team on the offensive glass.
Defense - Draymond Green (No. 1 In Dunks And Threes DEF +/- at +5.0)
Draymond Green ranked inside the 88th percentile among all NBA players in steal percentage (2.3%), and he ranked inside the 86th percentile in block percentage (3.5%), one of only two players (along with Matisse Thybulle) to land inside the 86th percentile in both categories. Draymond Green is one of the most gifted defenders in the league, a 6’6" power forward with a 7’1" wingspan who has the length, strength, and agility to not only cover positions 1-5 on the court but to lock down speedy point guards, high-flying wings, and hulking centers.
People seem to forget that Draymond Green was the runaway leader for the Defensive Player of the Year Award behind Golden State’s hot start before he was sidelined with an injury. The Warriors raced out to a 28-6 record with Green on the court on the back of their league-leading 101.5 Defensive Rating, a number that dwarfed the Celtics’ end-of-season number one ranked defense (106.9). Conversely, while Green was injured, the Warriors went 18-16 and saw their defense drop to a 105.6 mark.
No disrespect to Rudy Gobert; he offers generational rim protection, but Draymond Green is the most impactful defender in the league. He takes charges, gets blocks, snags steals, and his defensive attitude transfuses throughout the Warriors roster, pushing his teammates to play as hard as he does. I guess I don’t hate Draymond Green after all.
Shooting - Kevin Durant (38.3 3P%)
Kevin Durant is widely regarded as one of the best scorers of our generation. In this day and age, being truly a good scorer is impossible without having a phenomenal 3-point shot. KD proved that in the 2021-22 NBA season as he shot 38.3% from three. The Brooklyn Nets superstar buried 115 long-distance daggers while maintaining his elite shooting percentage from the 3-point line.
Durant's value to the team cannot be understated as without him, the Brooklyn Nets would have probably failed to even qualify for the 2022 playoffs. It goes without saying, if KD wasn't injured for a while, he would have been utterly unstoppable from the 3-point line and could've even further improved his shooting percentage.
Finishing - Giannis Antetokounmpo (80.8% From 0-3 Feet)
Giannis concluded the season shooting 80.8% at the basket, good for seventh in the league. The six players who finished ahead of him — Zaire Williams, Maxi Kleber, Daniel Gafford, Damion Lee, Gary Payton II, and Nicolas Batum — did their rim damage mainly off cuts, lobs, or put backs, three of the easiest ways to score at the rim. Giannis, meanwhile, averaged 11.7 drives per game which every opposing team game planned to stop, packing the paint with a big man waiting at the rim. It didn’t matter. Giannis two-stepped into the lane with ease and finished over, around, or through whatever center or forward had the audacity to get in his way. Giannis was easily the premier finisher in the league.
Athleticism - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Is there any other power forward who could win this section?
Giannis isn’t nicknamed “The Greek Freak” for nothing.
Most fans thought LeBron James’s mix of speed and power would stand at the top of the NBA food chain for at least half a century, that is until Giannis transformed from a lanky 21-year-old kid into the next coming of an in-his-prime Dwight Howard (shoulders and all), with point guard handles and shooting guard agility on the perimeter. Giannis is the standard for athleticism in the NBA, an impossibly strong and nimble power forward with an ankle-breaking Eurostep, two-feet-above-the-rim hops, and Big Rig rumbles down the lane.
Clutch - Giannis Antetokounmpo
If we’re being honest, no power forward played exceptionally well during clutch situations. Kevin Durant shot 28.6% from the deep and 41.6% from the field across 113 crunch-time minutes. Pascal Siakam shot 20.0% from beyond the arc and 40.0% from the field during 158 clutch minutes. Draymond Green scored only 23 points and had only 11 assists versus six turnovers throughout his 66 clutch minutes during the regular season.
So, Giannis wins our clutch category by default. Giannis scored 80 points throughout 96 crunch-time minutes, shooting 28.6% from deep and 51.0% from the field. Giannis’s best asset during tight late-game situations is his refusal to settle from deep, instead choosing to do what he does best and punish opposing teams in the lane, drawing 38 clutch free throw attempts and converting at a solid 73.7% clip.
Efficiency - Giannis Anteokounmpo (32.12 PER)
Giannis’s 32.12 Player Efficiency Rating was the third-highest single-season mark in NBA history, trailing only Nikola Jokic, who lands first all-time with a 32.85 PER this season, and Wilt Chamberlain, who is second all-time with a 32.08 PER in 1961-62. Giannis’s 2021-22 stat line was obviously a thing of efficient beauty. He averaged 29.9 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, and 1.4 BPG while finishing the season with a 63.3 true shooting percentage, good for 12th in the NBA. Digging deeper, Giannis had a 34.9 usage percentage (3rd in the NBA) yet only turned the ball over 3.3 times per game. Overall, Giannis produced at a level that is nearly unheard of in the NBA.
Leadership - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis’s play on the court soaks up nearly all the attention, but how he handles himself off the court could be the better story. Giannis is about as rich and famous as they come. He could be off hitting the clubs, “living it up,” and enjoying the spoils of his massive success. Instead, by all accounts, he lives a monkish lifestyle, spending nearly all his free time with his family or in the gym grinding like an end-of-the-bench role player trying to stay in the league, a true class act when he has every excuse to act like an egotistical moron. Giannis’s attitude permeates the Bucks organization, making him one of the most respected leaders in professional sports.
Versatility - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Outside of LeBron James, Giannis is the most versatile player in the NBA, a 6’11" power forward with the size to guard any big man in the league and the side-to-side mobility to stifle any point guard. During the 2021-22 playoffs, Giannis held Al Horford to a 45.5% clip from the field, Grant Williams to 45.5% from the field, Jayson Tatum to 34.3% from the field, Derrick White to 0.0% from the field, and Marcus Smart to 10.0% from the field. Giannis is the most switchable defender in the league, and after averaging only 1.9 assists and 2.6 assists during his first two seasons in the league, respectively, he’s developed his playmaking ability to where he can take on some of the Bucks point guard duties.
Handles - Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam features a nasty bag of drive tricks, including a top-10 spin move in the lane, a nice Eurostep, and an excellent first step. Pascal Siakam finished 19th in the NBA in drives per game and first among all power forwards with 14.3 rim-attacks nightly, using his speed and dribble advantage over opposing power forwards to score at will.
Underrated - Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. averaged 16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 1.1 APG as the clear second-best player on the 56-26 Memphis Grizzlies, yet nobody seemed to care.
Jaren Jackson Jr. led the league in blocks at 2.3 per game and in block percentage at 7.4%, yet nobody seemed to care.
The Grizzlies were 7.7 points per 100 possessions better with Jackson Jr. on the court during the 2021-22 regular season, yet nobody seemed to care.
Jaren Jackson Jr., 22, is a top-5 defensive anchor in the league and a devastating force in the lane on offense with range out to the three-point arc (40.0% from 16 feet to the arc). It is time for fans and experts alike to stop focusing solely on Ja Morant’s heroics at the rim and give his partner, Jaren Jackson Jr., some much-deserved credit.
Overrated - Domantas Sabonis
Damontas Sabonis puts up excellent numbers. His 2021-22 stat line of 18.9 PPG, 12.1 RPG, and 5.2 APG is impressive. Outside of league MVP Nikola Jokic, nobody else in the NBA averaged over 18 PPG, 12 RPG, and 5 APG, not even Giannis, who had one of the highest PERs of all time. Still, Sabonis had a -0.6 net rating for the season, and the Pacers and Kings (he was traded midseason) were -1.6 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the court. Even more disturbing, the Pacers were 16-31, and the Kings were 5-10 with Sabonis, each squad racking up twice as many losses as wins.
Sabonis’s problems stem from his play on the less glamorous end. He offers almost no rim protection, ending the season with a 1.1 block percentage, good for 98th in the league, tied with guards Alec Burks, Kevin Huerter, Tyrese Maxey, and Caris LeVert. He’s also slow as a wandering zombie on the perimeter, one of the most un-switchable players in the league.
Domantas Sabonis is a two-time All-Star, but his court production doesn’t lead to wins, while Jaren Jackson Jr. is a zero-time All-Star who helped the Grizzlies to the second-best record in the league. Sabonis is the definition of overrated.
Overall - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis had a historic 2021-22 season. He was third all-time in PER at 32.05, 14th all-time in BPM at 11.17, and 34th all-time in WS per 48 minutes at .281. Nikola Jokic rightfully won the MVP Award, but no player in the NBA has the type of two-way impact as Giannis. He routinely guards positions one through five on the court, yet he held his assignments to a -3.2% clip throughout the season while landing 12th in the NBA in block percentage at 4.0% as the Bucks rim protector. Giannis is also a one-way wrecking crew on offense with the type of lane collapsing rim attacks that guarantee the Bucks a quality shot on nine out of ten half-court possessions.
Power Forwards Were Down But Not Out In 2021-22
Giannis was the most effective power forward in the NBA during the 2021-22 season, while Kevin Durant proved to be the most effective scorer, Damontas Sabonis was the most productive rebounder, and Draymond Green was the leading playmaker and defender. Grant Williams stepped up his game and became the top three-point shooting power forward in the league, and Pascal Siakam had the sharpest handles.
Jaren Jackson Jr. finished the 2021-22 season as the most underrated power forward in the NBA. Meanwhile, Damontas Sabonis struggled in Indiana and Sacramento as the most overrated power forward this season.