September 30, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
Bob Pettit more or less created this one.
Big forwards can be rebounding specialists. They can be shot-blockers. They can, and have, been role players. But if you have a starting power forward plugged in to just sop up minutes and get out of the way, then your team is in trouble.
Because this is the position that needs to score. We'd like to see the position player in question do it all — score, rebound, defend, pass — but scoring is of paramount importance, especially while that 7-foot lunkhead you line up with every night is struggling to run and chew gum at the same time.
So, for your consideration, the 10 finest power forwards of the last decade.
10. Karl Malone
Malone only played until 2004, but the (arguable, if Bob Pettit's in the room) greatest power forward ever was pretty damn potent when he did suit up. Averaged in the low 20s per game, about 8.5 boards, four assists, and provided a staunch, ornery, defensive effort.
The Mailman could have easily played on after 2003-04, when he registered a 17.8 PER at age 40 while working in a new offense with the Lakers for the first time in nearly 20 years. But after a campaign that saw him miss 40 games (after missing 10, mostly by suspension, in the 18 seasons previous), a frustrated Malone moved on. To shooting things.
This spindly scorer was an immediate hit in Toronto, showcasing a veteran's knack for putting the ball in the hole almost right away. Though Vince Carter(notes) complained that the Raptors could have used a 2003 lottery pick in a trade to secure veteran talent, Raptor fans knew what they had.
He's averaged 19.6 points and nine rebounds a game so far, and he just turned 25 last March.
Remember, this list isn't a ranking of all-time power forwards, just the ones that played from 1999-00 until last season. And as great as Webber was at his peak, early in the decade, he was more or less done by late 2005-06; he missed most of 2003-04, and was one of the league's worst defenders from 2004 until his final sprint with the Warriors in 2007-08.
At that peak, though, he was masterful. An all-around terror who worked the low and high post to perfection, setting screens, finding cutters, scoring with the hook or jumper ... he was fantastic.
Wallace looked like a washout last season, and he hasn't really ventured into the post since the first George W. Bush administration, but his sound shooting and defensive aptitude made him a stalwart contributor on several great Trail Blazers and Pistons teams.
He also put those teams in peril with selfish play (under the guise of acting selfless), repeated technical fouls and a churlish attitude that left him at odds with teammate after teammate in Portland. But you can't deny his on-court accomplishments. Unfortunately.
Jamison gets a lot of stick for the things he doesn't do — move bodies in the paint, grab ferocious rebounds, dominate defensively — but he's so damn good at what he does do that you can't deny him a significant placement on this list.
He can score. About 20 a night. Eight rebounds, rarely turns it over. Very rarely — 1.7 turnovers per game on his career, in almost 37 minutes a contest. And he works defensively, while trying to find the open man. There's a reason the similarly scoring Zach Randolph(notes) didn't make the top 10, while Jamison is all the way up at No. 6, and it has to do with the lack of team-killing ideals in areas outside of putting the ball in the hole.
And unlike Wallace and Malone, Jamison is still going strong. And unlike Bosh, he put in a few years of going strong before Chris even made it to the NBA.
We're fully aware that Brand has missed nearly two full seasons recently, and that he may never return to the form that saw him mentioned as an MVP candidate in 2005-06, but his peaks were just so good that we couldn't drop him any lower.
Even in the face of constant double-teaming while stuck on lousy Bulls or Clippers teams, Brand has still averaged 20 and 10 on his career, with a combined three blocks/steals and 2.6 assists. And yet, he's unfairly maligned as if it were his fault he tore his Achilles, hired Tim Floyd or drafted Michael Olowokandi(notes).
It's an oft-repeated cliché, but it remains the truth — Shawn Marion rarely, very rarely, has a play called for him.
And yet, in a career that started the season this list began, he's averaged almost 18 points per game. It doesn't end there, as he's grabbed about 10 rebounds, averaged a combined 3.1 blocks/steals, dished two assists and turned the ball over a miniscule 1.6 times a contest. Alongside fantastic defense and an ability to spread the floor that helps a team but doesn't always show up in newspaper box scores.
This isn't a case of someone just coming into his own. Gasol's per-minute, pace-adjusted stats from last season were about what he was averaging back in 2004-05. Sure, his defense has markedly improved, to the point of being nearly dominant in the playoffs last spring. But this man has been a beast for years. Great to see the rest of the world catch up.
Gasol has averaged 18.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.2 combined blocks/steals, in 35.7 minutes per game. And he's only 28. The guy's presence in your high or low post makes your offense much, much better, even if he isn't scoring or registering an assist. That counts.
It would be a pity if Nowitzki ended his career as undervalued, overall, because it's hard to find a greater decade of power forward work in the annals of NBA history.
Nowitzki has averaged 23.6 points on about 48 percent shooting on the decade, with 8.9 rebounds, a steal, a block and a shockingly low amount of turnovers. Only about 8.5 percent of the possessions that Nowitzki has used up over the course of the decade have ended in turnovers, a sterling number.
Somehow, Dirk is topped. By a player who still doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves.
Despite the hype, the yelling, the commercials, the fawning on-air tributes from Bill Russell, and (a second time, just to be sure) all the yelling. I still don't think people appreciate how great Kevin Garnett has been over these years, especially defensively.
That's OK, though. Because, despite all the yelling (have you heard the yelling?), I don't think KG cares much. I don't think he gives a toss where he's ranked, even if he is ranked as the greatest power forward of the last decade.
Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.