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Ranking the NBA: Kevin Love in a Class of his Own among Power Forwards

Back again, in this article we break down the Power Forward position!

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

Last year, to much fanfare, our own Jacob Padilla broke down his letter grades and rankings of players at each of the positions in the NBA. This year, I'm going to do the same thing, but with two twists.

The first rankings, of the Center position, can be found here.

First, I am going to introduce a slight empirical element to this grading system. Instead of going entirely by the gut, I will base at least part of my grades on a composite ranking scale that takes into account a players ranking on four aggregate statistics from the 2013-14 season that all have slightly different emphases: Win Shares per 48 (from, ESPN's Real Plus/Minus, PER, and PoP48 (from This hopefully adds a little objectivity to the analysis. (Note: because there are players who didn't play last year, the rankings cannot be entirely based upon this.)

Second, I am taking a cue from the great Bill Simmons, who invites commentary from the infamous Cousin Sal in his NBA rankings columns, and inviting commentary from my friend and Suns junkie Julian Gottlieb. Whereas I rely on statistics to inform my grades, Gottlieb will provide gut check evaluations.

The grading system will remain roughly the same as last season:


S: Best in the Game (LeBron James)

A+: Second Best in the Game (Kevin Durant)

A: Top 5 Player

A-: Top 5 at the Position

B+: All-Star Caliber

B: Above Average Starters/Fringe All-Star Caliber

B-: Above Average Starters

C+: Average Starters

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

C-: Good Bench Player

D+: Average Bench Player

D: Fringe Rotation Player

D-: Fringe NBA Player

F: Soon to be Puerto Rican League All-Star!

NOTE: Order within the grades does not mean anything.

I am evaluating the Power Forward Position today (link takes you to the publicly viewable Google Sheets page for all position raw rankings).

A: Top 5 Player

Kevin Love (2.5)

Kevin Love is a Top 5 player right now. This for some reason is a divisive question, but I feel fairly strongly that this is true. His combination of a floor stretching shooting touch and a solid rebounding ability is entirely unique in the NBA right now, at least among players who do either well enough to get consistent minutes. The rankings also show Love as clearly a notch above his competitors: he falls out of the Top 2 in only one statistic, Real Plus/Minus, where he places 6th.

A-: Top 5 at Position

Tim Duncan (6.5); Blake Griffin (7); Anthony Davis (7.5); Serge Ibaka (8.25); Dirk Nowitzki (9.25)

Amazingly, two players in the discussion for Top 5 at the position are two of the oldest players on the list: Dirk and Duncan. These guys both had very good seasons last year, though I think Dirk's is slightly more impressive. Duncan benefits from a phenomenon I've started to notice that I am going to call the Extremes effect. Teams at the far end of the wins distribution see a bump in the performance of their players, even if objectively those players might not truly have been as good as the stats bear out. Duncan benefited tremendously from being on the Spurs. That isn't to say he isn't still a great player; it just helps explain how, even though he looked a tad slower and played fewer minutes, he still grades out as among the best.  Davis, Griffin and Ibaka are, with Love, the future of the position. Theoretically, any of the three could make the move up to Top 5 in the NBA, but if I had to put my money on who might do it this year, its Anthony Davis. He's an absolute monster on the court.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Dirk is due for an inevitable decline in production, but his tenure through the 00's has been an impressive one. Where does Dirk rank among the NBA's best foreign players? Well, if the US Virgin Islands doesn't count (and it doesn't), I have him second behind Hakeem. His former cowboy comrade Nash makes a strong case as well, but the decline since his back-to-back MVP seasons has been, well, difficult for this Suns fan to watch. I also struggle placing him above Patrick Ewing, but Ewing, a Jamaican native, spent most of his childhood in the States and Dirk's got a ring over him. In any event, he's clearly the best European player of all time.*

*Honorable mention to Detlef Schrempf and Pau Gasol, and obligatory reference to Drazen Petrovic, because Geoff made me.

B+: All-Star Caliber

Kenneth Faried (15.5); Al Horford (16.25)

I was conflicted about these two guys for different reasons. Faried is an energy guy. I think he is a notch below the guys above because he doesn't truly excel in anything. But if he can manage to transition his play from the FIBA World Championships onto the court, he could start to put himself in that conversation. The concerns about Horford are all injury related. When healthy, I think he is probably in the conversation for Top-5 at the position. When is a big question, though.

B: Above Average Starter/Fringe All-Star Caliber

Paul Millsap (19.5); LaMarcus Aldridge (19.75)

These guys both skip a few players ahead of them because of their quiet potential to impress. If their teams are successful, they are likely to get a lot of the credit, and rightfully so: these guys are both Top 10 offensive threats, according to the PER metric. If the success comes, so too likely will come the All-Star votes. Millsap is the most likely to see some regression, although the smart money seems to be on Aldridge's team to be more likely to fall below expectations.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

By Geoff's metric, LaMarcus is a bit underrated. I think he's top shelf. He put up career bests in rebounds and points last year. The guy put up 26.2 ppg in the playoffs last season and knocked off Houston in what proved to be the most exciting series. Oh and he made a guest appearance on Portlandia. He's trending up.

B-: Above Average Starter

David Lee (17.25); David West (18.5); Terrence Jones (19.75)

Lee and West are pretty safe placements here. They are long-time members of this club who have seen their peak days gone by. Of the two, West is perhaps more likely to make a case for being bumped up a tier since he will get more touches this season with the Paul George injury. Jones is a bit of an outlier. Last season was something of a coming out party for the 22 year old player out of Kentucky. Playing next to Dwight and Harden, he forms the third of what is likely to emerge as a new Big 2 and 1/2. That doesn't mean Jones is likely to regress at all. I think, considering he will still be the beneficiary of defenses over-covering on Dwight and Harden, his numbers are actually likely to increase.

C+: Average Starter

Amir Johnson (20.5); Kris Humphries (25); Markieff Morris (27); Ryan Anderson (28.25); Josh McRoberts (31.25); Patrick Patterson (32.25); Zach Randolph (32.5); Thad Young (48.25); Julius Randle

The biggest outlier here is Thad Young, who I believe was a victim of the Extreme's effect. Across every position, players on the 76ers grade out worse in the metrics than subjective analysis would lead you to believe. In his new home in Minnesota I expect him to revitalize and thrive. A case could be made for Amir Johnson in the group higher, based entirely on his aggregate ranking, but I expect both him and the Raptors to regress a bit this season. McRoberts I boost just a tad because he is going to be playing with a significantly better team, which should see his numbers increase. A surprisingly low ranking comes in for Zach Randolph, but like West and Lee above, he's a guy who saw his peak production years pass him by a few years ago. He's still a very productive player who would start on a good number of teams, but he's not better than average at this point. Randle shouldn't be a controversial slot-in here: he's going to poach minutes from Carlos Boozer right away, and he is pretty clearly better than Ed Davis. He is also going to be relied upon to score, which should keep him in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

James Johnson (21.25); Drew Gooden (24.5); Jeff Adrien (25.5); Chris Copeland (27); Draymond Green (29.25); Taj Gibson (32.75); Ed Davis (37.5); Pau Gasol (42.25); Ersan Ilyasova (61); Nikola Mirotic; Damjan Rudez

Lakers fans and the Mike D'Antoni Sucks card carrying club members would never let you believe it, but Pau Gasol was part of the problem in LA last season. Pau's offensive efficiency stats have been way down both of the last two years, and last year in particular he just wasn't putting in the defensive effort night in, night out. If he continues that way in Chicago, there could be problems between him and Coach Tom Thibodeau. Johnson and Adrien both had late blooms to their career, putting up career best years. In my mind, Adrien's was more impressive, since he did it with the Bucks, somehow escaping the Extremes effect. Draymond Green is quietly making a great case that he should be getting more minutes, perhaps at the expense of underperforming teammate Harrison Barnes. The versatile Green came in 12th in both PoP48 and Real Plus/Minus, and was only held back by a particularly unimpressive 12.7 PER. Considering the massive improvement in his shooting percentages last season, I expect him to continue to improve and make a strong case for the starting forward position beside David Lee. I expect Ersan Ilyasova to rebound this season, as he was likely a victim of the Extremes effect. The two Europeans fall here because, at least in theory, they are seasoned professionals who were brought over to compete for a starting spot. I am likely underrating Mirotic, who has played pretty well in pre-season, and overrating Rudez, who has played pretty abysmally, but this seems a fair first ranking for them.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Well, he doesn't have much to hang his hat on numbers wise, but opportunity knocks in Indiana. Unfortunately, Solomon Hill has not looked menacing enough to threaten him for minutes, and Copeland has a big shot this upcoming year (unless they make a move before the trade deadline).

C-: Good Bench Player

Nick Collison (30.5); Tyler Hansbrough (35); Boris Diaw (35.5); Steve Novak (36.5); Jeremy Evans (38.5); Tristan Thompson (42); Tobias Harris (42); Channing Frye (42.25); Jared Sullinger (42.75); Hedo Turkoglu (48.25); Mirza Teletovic (50.75); John Henson (51.75); Thomas Robinson (53); JJ Hickson (53.5); Cody Zeller (58); Mike Scott (63.75); Adreian Payne; Jarnell Stokes; Noah Vonleh

Nick Collison and Boris Diaw fans are probably screaming that these players are criminally underrated, but I am again going to make the claim that they are unwitting beneficiaries of the Extremes effect. Both of these guys play on teams that require them to play very niche roles; take them out of their niche, and I am convinced they would perform significantly less well. Thomas Robinson, Mike Scott and Cody Zeller may all seem to be over-ranked, but I contend that, as single skill guys (rebounding, floor stretching and transition scoring, respectively), these three guys represent very valuable bench players, in a similar mold with Tyler Hansbrough and Hedo Turkoglu. John Henson likely suffered from the Extremes effect. Of the rookies, I believe Stokes has the greatest likelihood of moving up, as he is the most likely to see extended playing time if Gasol and Randolph cannot stay healthy (a very real concern).

D+: Average Bench Player

Jon Leuer (37.5); Trevor Booker (37.75); Matt Bonner (37.75); Anthony Tolliver (39.5); Amar'e Stoudemire (43.5); Ryan Kelly (55.75); Quincy Acy (56.75); Carl Landry (60); Luis Scola (63.75); Carlos Boozer (66.25); Donatas Motiejunas (66.5); Jeff Green (70); Ivan Johnson

A few of these guys (Bonner, Scola, Boozer, Landry, Amar'e) are past their prime guys who have sunk to just average bench player status. Bonner grades out better likely due to the Extremes effect. Leuer, Tolliver and Motiejunas are stretch guys who could see their value increase with more exposure this season. Booker is likely the beneficiary of the Extremes effect: no one who watched him play last season could realistically claim he looked as good as the aggregate stats make him out to be. Jeff Green is a bit of an outlier. To see a starter fall this low, even on a bad team where the player is likely susceptible to the Extremes effect, is pretty bad. I've never thought much of Green, personally, but this is lower even than I would have thought. Expect to see Quincy Acy a lot in a Knicks uniform this season. Friend and BSOTS contributor Bryan Gibberman seems to think he's likely to beat out Amar'e for playing time this year.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

It was painful to see the Suns let go of one of our best power forwards in team history (behind Sir Charles and Connie Hawkins), but it is hard not to have a bit of schadenfreude for the Knicks after seeing the value they've gotten from him. Totally unrelated: do you get drunk off wine baths? Now that Amar'e has discovered his Hebrew roots, is the wine manischewitz?

D: Fringe Rotation Player

Elton Brand (39.75); Jarvis Varnado (41.5); Reggie Evans (54); Dante Cunningham (56.5); Derrick Williams (63.75); Darrell Arthur (72.25); Ekpe Udoh (72.75); Brandon Davies (73.75); Shawne Williams (78.667); Andrew Nicholson (82); Aaron Gordon

Let me start off with an aside: I love Jarvis Varnado. I really, really hope he makes a roster. Varnado is an unbelievably good shot blocker. This is his only marketable skill. Yet he's very proficient at it, coming behind only Cole Aldrich and Rudy Gobert in Block Percentage. Another aside: Derrick Williams has been woefully mismanaged as a young player. I think from a pure skill viewpoint, Derrick Williams is an NBA player. In the proper situation, I think his confidence and psyche could be salvaged. However, Sacramento likely isn't that place. Andrew Nicholson saw one of the most complete offensive collapses I have ever seen in a young player, losing almost a full 10% on his shooting percentages. That being said, there were small signs of improvement in other areas: he rebounded better and turned the ball over less. If he can regain even half of his lost scoring touch from the 2012-13 campaign, it seems likely he will be moving up in the rankings. Shawne Williams and Brandon Davies both likely suffered from the Extremes effect, but they were both pretty bad in a large minutes sample. While I think Aaron Gordon has a lot of potential, I think it is going to be a rough year for him, and I think he is going to play like a guy who shouldn't see minutes for Orlando.

D-: Fringe NBA Player

Greg Smith (43.5); Robert Covington (44.25); Brandon Bass (45.5); Kenyon Martin (49.75); Jonas Jerebko (51.75); Lavoy Allen (52.75); Luke Babbitt (57.75); Glen Davis (62); Shavlik Randolph (63.75); Rashard Lewis (65.5); Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (66.75); Udonis Haslem (69.25); Kevin Seraphin (74.25); Arnett Moultrie (85.25); Arinze Onuaku (89); Erik Murphy (89.25); Dwight Powell; Cory Jefferson; Johnny O'Bryant III; Patric Young; Grant Jerrett

I might be a tad harsh on Brandon Bass here, but this is the last year of his contract, and approaching 30, it seems likely he is going to have trouble getting a contract next season. Lavoy Allen and Arnett Moultrie are both probably both more valuable than this. Lavoy Allen saw all of his metric stats improve during his time with the Pacers, highlighting the negative impacts of playing for the 76ers. I hope Jonas Jerebko manages to get another contract after his expires this off-season. He was once a very exciting player to watch. However, his play style and lack of explosiveness after his knee injury a few seasons ago means this seems increasingly unlikely. Of the rookies, I think Cory Jefferson has the highest likelihood of seeing significant minutes this season. He played very well in the Summer League, and the Nets are thin in the front-court, meaning he is likely to get playing time.

F: Future Puerto Rican League All-Star!

Travis Outlaw (74.5); Charlie Villanueva (74.75); Lou Amundson (78.667); Antawn Jamison (87)

Outlaw, Villanueva, Amundson and Jamison are all guys who are past their prime. Jamison, at 38 and with 16 years experience, was at least once an All-Star caliber player. Outlaw, Villanueva and Amundson have had relatively long careers, but they were never all that skilled. Their past-their-prime selves are even less skilled.

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