Power forward has arguably changed more than any other position in recent NBA history. While players in this role were historically asked to be strong rebounders and defenders, the modern power forward comes in many different forms and is equipped with a diverse skill set.
This change, as well as the small-ball revolution, resulted in the position possibly being the deepest in the league as some small forwards have adapted to play the position and more versatile power forwards sometimes play center. Players like Jayson Tatum, for example, have embraced the position and often create mismatches for their opponents as a result.
Let’s look at how the current top-25 power forwards fall into five tiers ranging from role players to superstars. If you don’t see a seemingly obvious player, that likely means he’s listed as a different position on basketball-reference.
Tier 5: Role Players
Marvin Bagley III, Brandon Clarke, Robert Covington, Lauri Markkanen
Dozens of worthy players were cut from this category as there are plenty of quality role-playing power forwards in the league today. These four, however, separate themselves with both talent, versatility and potential.
Covington is the most accomplished player of this group as he was First-Team All-Defensive in 2017-2018. His defensive prowess and ability to play bigger than his frame were pivotal to Houston’s micro-ball strategy being as effective as it was this season. Clarke also enjoyed a great year and made First-Team All-Rookie, showcasing his superb inside-out skill set while playing only 22 minutes per game. He’ll surely be a valuable piece for Memphis in the coming years.
Bagley III and Markkanen are two of the more talented power forwards in the league and should rank higher on this list, but injuries and inconsistency have held them back. Their teams desperately need them to develop if they’re to make the playoffs sooner than later, so hopefully these two can get healthy and fulfill their potential.
Tier 4: Solid
Carmelo Anthony, Davis Bertans, Aaron Gordon, Draymond Green, Kyle Kuzma, Marcus Morris, Michael Porter Jr., Julius Randle
The “Solid” tier is pretty diverse. Almost all of these players are distinctly different from one another, and most have enjoyed at least some level of playoff success.
Anthony reinvented himself in Portland this season and was a big reason the team snuck into the playoffs. Green regressed on a horrible Warriors team, but he always plays better alongside a healthy Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Kuzma, Morris and Porter Jr. were important pieces to some of the best teams in the league, with Porter Jr. showing future All-Star potential.
It’s unclear just how good Bertans, Gordon and Randle are since all three didn’t play on good teams this season but did accumulate respectable numbers. None of them are particularly formidable on defense, yet they each could likely help a lower-level playoff team achieve greater success. It’ll be interesting to see if they change teams next season.
Tier 3: Good
LaMarcus Aldridge, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, Tobias Harris, Kevin Love
Tier 3 is home to several power forwards with impressive resumes, but almost all of them are overpaid. Aldridge will likely retire in a couple of seasons, Griffin and Love have been hindered by injuries and Harris is on one of the least team-friendly contracts in the league.
Gallinari has looked as healthy as ever over the past two seasons, and he’s been playing the best basketball of his career as a result. He’s a 32-year-old free agent, so hopefully he lands in a good situation and takes a new team to the next level. Collins has also enjoyed back-to-back successful campaigns and looks poised to be a big part of Atlanta’s future alongside Trae Young.
The issue with this group is that it’s unclear if any of them are worth the price it takes to sign them. A team can find plenty of cheaper and nearly as good options at power forward, so if any of these guys are on your team, it may be more of a curse than a gift.
Tier 2: Star
Kristaps Porzingis, Domantas Sabonis, Pascal Siakam, Zion Williamson
As far as stars go, today’s power forwards are probably the worst of the league’s current stars. That’s not to say these players aren’t good — all four are versatile and pivotal to the success of their teams — but each of them have glaring weaknesses and haven’t accomplished much of anything individually.
Porzingis had some great moments this season as Luka Doncic’s sidekick, but injuries once again ended his season and left people wondering if he’ll ever stay healthy. Sabonis took his game up two notches this season and was an All-Star, yet he injured his foot right before the playoffs. Because he didn’t get to prove himself in the postseason, many have doubts about exactly how good he is as a player. He did, however, tally one of the most well-rounded stat lines of any player at his position this season and looks to only be trending upward.
Siakam had a spectacular start to the year after winning a ring in 2019 and eventually made Second-Team All-NBA. He quickly fell back to Earth in the playoffs, though, and questions about his viability as a No.1 are more unclear than ever. Williamson also started strong after returning from an offseason knee injury, but he looked out of shape in the bubble and prompted many to wonder if he’ll ever be able to play consistently at his current size.
It’ll be interesting to see how these four progress, or regress, in the years to come. They all have loads of talent and play for respectable franchises, so they’ll have every opportunity to take the next step forward.
Tier 1: Superstar
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum
These three are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the NBA’s power forwards. Each of them helped carry their teams to the playoffs by playing the best basketball of their careers. Davis and Tatum also have good chances to win it all, while Antetokounmpo led his team to the best record in the league and won his second consecutive MVP award before being upset in the second round.
As far as superstars go, this group does have plenty of questions surrounding them. Can Antetokounmpo win a championship in Milwaukee without a reliable jumper? Is Tatum good enough to lead a championship-caliver team? Is Davis even the best player on his team despite leading the Lakers in almost every statistical category?
Each of these guys have holes in their games and have yet to make the Finals, which can’t be said about most superstars at other positions. Yet they are maybe three of the most talented players in the league and have the potential to dominate the 2020s, so they could realistically replace the LeBron James and Kevin Durant-types and be the face of the league moving forward.