As a preview to our final poll (whew!) on all time NBA greats allow me to make a few comments about the position of power forward. I am reminded of that proverbial judge who supposedly once said of pornography, "I can't define it but I know what it is when I see it." So it is with power forwards. We know they are a post player or low block player. Usually they are the second tallest player on the team. On rare occasions they are tallest player on the team, or, in even rarer occasions, they are the second shortest. Sometimes we think of them as slightly faster than a center but not as quick as a small forward. Their build is usually muscular.
O.K., so what do they do? To me this is even more ambiguous because it depends on the needs of the team. Some power forwards act as a kind of policeman around the boards. They can physically intimidate (O.K., not really, no NBA player is ever actually intimidated, but it just seems like it from a fan point of view) or they can eat up rebounds or they can dish it up to their play making partners. Think Dennis Rodman. If you want to know if Dennis Rodman was effective look at this simple fact. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan. The only team any of these players had a losing record against was the Dennis Rodman led Detroit Pistons.
But this only begins to get at the question of how hard it is to define a power forward. Some power forwards are formidable scoring machines yet few of them have the kind of name recognition that our other position players have. Georgia Tech fans certainly know the name Chris Bosh but as good as he is he will have to play a few more years before we know whether or not he is one of the all time greats at this position.
All of which brings me to the totally unsatisfying way this position is talked about among the sports writing experts. I will be the first to admit I am no expert on these things. I am just a fan and not even a particularly knowledgeable fan. But if one does a word search for greatest power forwards the list that comes up seems terribly unimaginative and the same names are repeated. "Surely," you say, "This simply means there is a consensus among the experts." No, I say the parrots are simply talking to each other.
Let me give you two examples to illustrate this. This first example is controversial so I am letting myself in for some true fan hate here. Tim Duncan is listed as a power forward. He is a center. All of those NBA All Star appearances, all of those accolades, would not have come to him if the program guide for the San Antonio Spurs listed him as center. Stay with me here. When Tim Duncan was drafted the Spurs already had a center in David Robinson. Duncan played some as a back up center or more regularly as the "second center" in a two center offense. For those of you old enough to remember think back to the University of Jacksonville which attempted to join the basketball elite by putting two seven foot centers (Artis Gilmore and Permbroke Burroughs) in the line up at the same time. It worked. Jacksonville was the smallest enrollment school in history to make it to the final four and to the championship where they lost to UCLA. But back to Tim Duncan. Though he was a center, the Spurs listed him as power forward. When David Robinson left even though Tim was now the tallest player on the team he was still listed as power forward. As he is to this day. He is a center. He plays like a center, he guards the opposing center, he is a center. But he gets more recognition by matching his stats not against a Kareem or a Chamberlain or an Olajuwon, but against a Dennis Rodman.
My second example is even more frustrating. I think a case could be made that Dan Issel is one of the greatest if not the greatest Power Forwards of all time yet he is never mentioned as one of the all time great power forwards. Always under appreciated, coming out of college the knock on him was that he was either too slow or not muscular enough to take the pounding. To be sure he was no Charles Barkley (Round Mound of Rebound) in terms of physical bulk. But in my subjective opinion neither was he as slow as Paul Pierce or Matt Harpring.
Here is all did. Drafted by the ABA (yes, just like "Dr. J" you have to include ABA stats to get the full picture) he promptly put up a 29.9 point scoring average and won rookie of the year honors. The next year his average went up to 30.6. Championships and honors followed. Later when the two leagues merged he ended up with Denver where he was their only representative to the NBA All Stars. When Dan Issel retired he was the fourth leading scorer in professional basketball history only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving.
I solicit, nay, I covet your comments.