2021-22 Five-by-Five: Power Forwards
Welcome back to Five-by-Five! Every Thursday, I will be ranking the top five NBA players at each position, including power forwards this week. The power forward, or the 4, is often strongest in defense and rebounding. As one of the tallest players on the court, they must be able to defend the paint and box out opponents to grab shots off the rim. In recent years, however, more and more power forwards have become proficient shooters. This adds another layer of versatility to their team's offense and makes it that much more difficult to scheme against. Let's take a look at the five best power forwards with the 2021-22 season less than three weeks away.
5. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Green’s impact is difficult to quantify. He was one of the biggest reasons that the Warriors won three championships in four years, but he doesn’t put up traditionally gaudy stats. He’s 6-foot-6, but he played center in their “Death Lineup.” He’s lauded by his teammates, but he accumulates technical fouls prolifically. What is Draymond Green?
A leader. He’s been the heart and soul of Golden State for nine years, but he’s also a pioneer in a bigger movement, one that’s influenced an entire archetype of NBA players. That’s the rise of the versatile big man—a player that can defend all five positions, set his teammates up, and space the floor. It was once seen as sacreligious for power forwards to do anything but post up and defend fellow giants. Now, they’re the Swiss Army knives of the NBA, in large part due to the Michigan State alum. Entering his age-31 season, it’ll be another year of unselfish and fiery basketball for Green.
4. Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Randle exceeded all expectations last season, posting career highs in almost every offensive category and leading the Knicks to a top-four seed in the East. New York’s offense almost exclusively ran through him, hence his 18.6 field goal attempts and 6.0 assists per game. Randle converted 41.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, an astonishing mark compared to his first six seasons (28.4 percent).
Despite his reliability in the regular season, Randle was absolutely miserable against the Hawks in the playoffs. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has no choice but to let him keep shooting, and it just never clicked—Randle averaged 18.0 points and 4.6 turnovers on 29.8 percent shooting from the field. This season, with a bolstered Knicks roster, the Kentucky product will be able to focus on scoring with efficiency and expand his nascent playmaking ability. It’s wild to think that with seven NBA seasons under his belt, Randle is only 26 years old. His discipline is improving by the year, and it’ll be exciting to see what new benchmarks he reaches in 2022.
3. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
One of the most underrated big men—and players—in the league, the 25-year-old Sabonis has made massive strides in his last two seasons with the Pacers. With two All-Star nods to his name, Sabonis has made his money as an all-around threat. Besides averaging 19.4 points and 12.2 rebounds since 2019, the Lithuanian has dished 5.9 assists and scored on a solid effective field goal percentage of 55.7. That last stat sits higher than big names like Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond.
Though Sabonis’s ceiling may not be as high as the others on this list, his fundamentals are some of the best in the game. He’s a floor-raiser—put him on any roster and he’ll immediately help their playoff cause. Last season, he led the league in screen assists per game (6.5) and points off screen assists (15.2). It’s a lesser-known statistic that doesn’t show up on box scores but it demonstrates his proficiency in the pick-and-roll. The Pacers might not turn heads as a team this year, but Sabonis deserves recognition for his steady contributions.
2. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Few words could be accurately used to describe Williamson as a prospect coming out of Duke. He was everywhere—running the floor, hammering dunks, snatching errant passes, swatting shots into the stands. Now entering his third professional season, Williamson has dominated the league with the exact same ferocity. Last season, his 19.5 points in the paint per game were the most by a single player in almost two decades. He just bullies defenders until he gets his way, and he’s dramatically improved his finishing at the rim since turning pro.
There is one thing, however, that can stop him: injuries. Williamson played just 24 games in his rookie season after tearing his meniscus, and it was revealed that he underwent surgery on a broken foot this offseason. He should be ready for the start of the season, but there’s a good chance that he starts at less than 100 percent. Another thing: Williamson isn’t on the best terms with the Pelicans’ front office. As part of his meniscus rehab, the 21-year-old played in bursts, which frustrated him and created tension with the medical staff. It’s yet to be seen how they’ll handle his post-injury minutes this time around, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Don’t worry—we’ll still see plenty of vicious dunks and bully-ball from the phenom this year.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Simply put, Antetokounmpo is one of the best basketball players in the world right now. The Greek Freak posted another MVP-caliber season in 2021, averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game, converting 56.9 percent of his field goal attempts. He earned selections to the All-NBA First Team and NBA All-Defensive First Team, as well as his fifth All-Star team. And no one will soon forget his dominant numbers on the way to his first championship ring, averaging 30.2 points and 12.8 rebounds and dropping over 40 points in three Finals games.
It would seem that the only way is down from here, but with Antetokounmpo, anything is possible. He has plenty of room to improve his jumper, from free throws to 3-pointers. Pundits love to point out that Giannis would be unstoppable with a semi-reliable jumpshot, and they’re absolutely right. If he can score 50 points in the Finals just by driving to the paint and drawing fouls, imagine what he can do by sprinkling in three makes from deep each game. Or turning around for a midrange fadeaway with those yardsticks for arms. That’s a terrifying thought for NBA defenders. Oh yeah, and he’s just 26 years old. Good luck, league.