Hashtag Basketball 5x5: Best Power Forwards in the NBA

Part four of our five-part series on ranking the five best players at every position in the NBA. Today we showcase the NBA's top-5 power forwards.

In case you're just joining us (us being Kevin Nye and Jeremy Stevens), you're in for a treat. Earlier this week we've counted down the NBA's top-5 players at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. While we feel confident in most of our choices, Wednesday's Jimmy Butler saga clearly shows that our list would have been better suited to have him #1 at all three of the previously listed positions.

But hindsight is 20/20, and we can do nothing but carry on and keep moving forward. Today we examine a position that is hard to pin down in the ever-evolving NBA. You know a center when you see one, and you know a wing-player when you see one, but do you know a power forward at first glance? Lucky for you, we do.

With that in mind, here is today's installment of the Hashtag Basketball 5x5: the power forwards. As always, we'll count down from five to one, then add in some news and notes after we've revealed the #1 player.

Number 5: Al Horford

This is a tricky one because Kevin has been a Cavaliers fan for decades while Jeremy has been a Celtics fan.

Al Horford is a very good player who lacks the explosiveness of the guys above him or the flashy appeal of...well, a bowl of reheated french fries. Al Horford is deserving of all-star nods. He deserves his all-NBA selection. He deserves to be regarded as one of the best bigs in the NBA. He is a major part of what made Boston so dynamic offensively last year and what will keep them humming defensively this year. He is a nearly perfect piece for what Brad Stevens needs him for: His passing is extra valuable with guards who aren't pass-first, his not-outstanding rebounding is mitigated by good rebounding smaller guys, and his off-ball and defensive skills make him a huge piece of the team framework.

But to a Cavs fan, he's still a guy who was supposed to give the Cavaliers fits and did absolutely nothing against them in the playoffs. Seriously, remember when his entire Hawks team won "player of the month" because they were so good together? Horford averaged 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while getting swept by the Cavs that year.

Of course, that was a few years ago. This season's Al Horford shot 53% (!!) on corner threes and 43% overall on three-pointers. There's reason to think that's not sustainable, as his previous two seasons were around 35% overall on a similar number of attempts, but you may be starting to see a pattern here: He's hard to pin down, although he's clearly a good basketball player. That lack of clarity leaves him at #5 on this list.

Number 4: Blake Griffin

Imagine hearing in 2011 that Blake Griffin, who averaged 22 and 12 in his rookie season, would add a passable three-point shot and some legitimate passing skills to his game. Wouldn't you assume that he would be a perennial MVP contender?

He did both of those things: Griffin shot between 34% and 35% on three-pointers for each of the past three seasons while also adding a career-best 5.8 assists per game last season. And yet, he's a less exciting player than he used to be. Injuries do that to a guy, and Griffin has had several, but he is moving away from the basket and becoming less effective overall as he does it. Big men are supposed to shoot at high percentages. Blake Griffin's effective field goal percentage was 49.3% last year. For comparison, Horford's was over 55%. 

Even so, Griffin is still a really good player. He's a capable rebounder, he's one of the 3-4 best passing PFs in the league, and he can carry teams for stretches, even if the guys around him are junk - which is important because the Pistons could be junk this year. Somewhere inside him is still a freak athlete, but this never would have happened five years ago.

And yet Griffin is still only 29-years-old. If he can establish some chemistry with his Detroit teammates, it's not out of the question for them to make the playoffs in the abysmal Eastern Conference.

Number 3: LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge has fallen between numbers 3 and 5 at various points during this exercise, but the truth came out a mere 6-8 hours before the final draft was submitted. After that rocky first season in San Antonio, Aldridge had to deal with a bizarre disappearance of a superstar teammate, a misfit cast of old guys and cast-offs, a big body that was already 32-years-old, and whatever other nonsense was going on down in Texas. He turned in one of the best seasons of his career and effectively willed the Spurs to a 47-35 record.

At first glance, there wasn't a whole lot of statistical separation between Aldridge and Griffin last season. Griffin was obviously higher on the assist charts, but when looking at per-100 possessions (which helps to compare apples to apples, metaphorically), Aldridge was substantially higher in points, rebounds, blocks, and perhaps most importantly, net rating. Team rating stats factor in teammates, and you could argue that Aldridge's teammates were better and skew the numbers in his favor, but is that really an argument you want to make? 

It's unclear how he did it, but Aldridge took a skillset that would have worked a lot better 15 years ago and made his way back to being a 2nd team all-NBA player. He doesn't care about pace and space, he cares about beating dudes on the block, and that's what he did all last season. Inexplicably, he may do it again.

Number 2: Draymond Green

Draymond was the topic of some serious debate here, as his position is not exactly clear. The Warriors say they're not going to use him as a center this season, and the ever-wonderful Basketball-Reference states that he played only 1% of his minutes at center last season, but isn't he also the center you think of when you think of Golden State? Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, Green?

But we're told that he's a power forward, so he's a power forward. And boy is he a good power forward. Admittedly, Green benefits from having generational talent around him, so his teammates convert an awful lot of his assists. However, he's arguably the best passer on a team with three other surefire Hall of Famers, and he's one of the best defensive players the NBA has ever seen. Despite being small (for a power forward), Green is about as hard to beat as a brick wall. There are times that he blocks shots when he has to actually jump before the offensive player, but his instincts are so good that he gets the block anyway.

He's not as gifted a scorer as his (very) modest offensive numbers suggest, as his offensive looks come against a team's 4th best defender on most nights, but his passing + screen-setting/activity + serviceable shooting + perennial DPOY-contender defense mean he's good enough to be #2 on this list.

Number 1: Kevin Durant

Admittedly it feels unfair to have the two best power forwards in the NBA on the same team, but apparently, that's just how things go now. Durant is sometimes referred to as a small forward, but BR had him playing 77% of his minutes at power forward last year, so here we are.  (Hang on, KD played 77% of his minutes at PF and Draymond played 51% of his minutes at PF? Plus Kevon Looney, Omri Casspi, Jordan Bell, and the occasional PF minutes from David West and Andre Iguodala? How many minutes are there in a season?!)

Much like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden before him, Kevin Durant is in "what more can you say?" range. He's widely considered the 2nd best player in the NBA and it would be objectively insane to rate him anywhere lower than 5th. He would be an MVP candidate if not for the backlash of his team-up with Golden State, and even so, he's in the discussion every spring. Since the summer of 2010, here are Durant's finishes in MVP voting: 2nd, 5th, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, n/a (injury problems), 5th, 9th (missed 20 games, joined Golden State), and 7th.

He's very good. No one's touching him on this list.

Notes about the list

Finding ways to separate Griffin, Aldridge, and Horford is difficult. If you think about putting each guy on another team, it really gets complex. For example, putting Horford on a Popovich-coached San Antonio team would probably be great, as he's a great teammate and is good at everything. Blake Griffin would probably not work as well. On the other hand, putting Aldridge in Detroit would probably work about as well as Griffin (which is to say not that well), but putting Horford there would probably be better, since he needs the ball less. Lastly, Aldridge or Griffin on Boston could be a disaster because they're ball-dominant or amazing because Griffin could run the floor with a bunch of springy youngsters.

The only other player who had substantial consideration here was Kevin Love. Kevin Love is a very solid player, and it's entirely possible that he makes a huge impact for this season's Cavaliers, but there's just too much uncertainty about what kind of player he has become over the past several years of playing alongside LeBron James. He could just as easily pop up to 4th on this list as he could drop into nothingness.

The final entry, centers, is on the way by the weekend. Feel free to tell us we're wrong about everything.

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