Tim Duncan. Karl Malone. Kevin McHale. These are the players we think of when we hear “power forward.” My, how things can change over the course of a generation or two.
Yes, the back-to-the-basket four-man is an ancient as the phone booth, and in fact, many of today’s best players at the position are tasked with running the offense as point-forwards. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant are all playmakers nearly as much as scorers, while each makes his money handling the ball and attacking from the perimeter. Yet, in today’s game, they’re all power forwards.
Here at CBS Sports, we’ve tried our hand at putting together a list of the top 22 power forwards in the NBA for the 2022-23 season, taking into account projected improvement and decline. It’s part of the rollout of the NBA’s Top 100 players that will be released on Tuesday.
Power forward is one of the most hotly contested positions in the league, particularly at the top, with perennial MVP candidates (and potentially future ones) littering the field. Take a cruise through the list and feel free to let us know what we got wrong. Not that you needed us to ask.
Coming off a summer with Team USA, Johnson quietly put up one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the league last year for a power forward, averaging 17 points and six rebounds per game on 47/40/76 shooting splits. He thrived in catch-and-shoot situations, landing in the 87th percentile according to Synergy, but his athleticism also allows him to attack the rim effectively. He can guard multiple positions, and was in the 83rd percentile in isolation defense last season, per Synergy. — Colin Ward-Henninger
Covington has settled in as a power forward in the NBA, and he looked at home after being traded to the Clippers midway through last season. He averaged 10.4 points and 5.1 rebounds to go along with his blistering 45 percent 3-point shooting in 23 games with Los Angeles, landing in the 93rd percentile in catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy. He also continues to be a “stocks” machine, putting up 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game between the Blazers and Clippers last season. Ty Lue occasionally used Covington as a small-ball center, and he should get more opportunities there in 2022-23. — Colin Ward-Henninger
The veteran has become a model of consistency, putting up at least 17 points on 38 percent from 3-point land in four consecutive seasons. He doesn’t offer a whole lot defensively, but if you want to play small-ball and space the floor he’s a reliable option, which is why he’s unlikely to remain in Utah much longer. As the Jazz continue their teardown, Bogdanovic is one of the next trade candidates a contender will be targeting. — Jack Maloney
Williams is exactly the kind of player who is more valuable in the playoffs. Like P.J. Tucker before him, he’s a strong, smart defender who loves hounding stars and thrives in a switch-everything scheme. He has shown he deserves respect on the perimeter — he made 41.1 percent of his regular-season 3s, 46.9 percent in the corners, 44.6 percent when left wide open — and can stay in front of smaller players. After Williams’ breakout, the Finals showed that the 23-year-old still has room to grow, in terms of his screen navigation and his in-between game. — James Herbert
Batum has turned himself into the ideal veteran role player — an elite spot-up shooter (40 percent on 3-pointers last season) and perimeter defender who can also put the ball on the floor and distribute in a pinch. After playing point guard at times during his career, Batum now has the length, quickness and strength to be a perfect four in the Clippers system. — Colin Ward-Henninger
As a power forward, Tucker’s top traits are his versatility and durability. He can guard both forward spots, and at times also serve as a small-ball center. Plus, he’s going to be out on the floor. He’s finished top 20 in total games played five different times in his career, and he’s led the league in that category three times. He’s also finished in the top 10 in total minutes played twice. The ability to be available for your team is very valuable, especially in today’s NBA. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Kuzma was given significantly more freedom last season with the Wizards, and as a result we got to see his offensive game flourish. He was already known as a hard-working defender who can guard out on the perimeter and down in the low post, but seeing him leading the break in transition, or reading the defense to deliver a well-timed assist proved that there was more to his game than what we saw with the Lakers. — Jasmyn Wimbish
Gordon was a highly efficient scorer last season, but he’s out of his depth as a No. 2 guy. This year he won’t have to be with the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter. With Gordon back in his proper gap-filling, two-way-athlete role, where he is free to eat as a cutter off Nikola Jokic and run the floor, the Nuggets, if they can stay healthy, figure to be among the league’s top-shelf title contenders. — Brad Botkin
While it wasn’t the most efficient season for Randle, he still put up 20 and 10, and his versatility as a power forward is what stands out about his game. Two seasons ago he proved that he can stretch his game out to the 3-point line, knocking down over 40 percent of his attempts, and his ability to move with and without the ball for someone at this position is a valuable asset. — Jasmyn Wimbish
Unlike the rest of the guys ahead of Finney-Smith on this list, he’s not going to rack up a bunch of points on a nightly basis, but he is going to make you pay if you leave him open in the corner. He’s also going to give a tremendous amount of effort in guarding the opposing team’s best player, and by the end of it all, you may look at the boxscore and see he finished with 12 points and five rebounds. That’s not an eye-popping stat line, but his role on the Mavericks is to knock down his shots when called upon, play tough defense and grab some boards. He checks off all those boxes on a consistent basis, and that’s all you can ask for from a guy who is playing alongside Doncic. — Jasmyn Wimbish
Will Collins settle in as the third option on this new-look Hawks team, or will a long-rumored trade finally happen? Regardless, Collins has proven now that he’s a serious offensive threat. Whether it’s diving to the rim for alley-oops or knocking down spot-up 3s, opposing defenses always have to be alert when Collins is on the floor. Last season, he was one of nine players to average at least 15 points and seven rebounds, while shooting 35 percent from 3-point land. — Jack Maloney
Harris spent some time at small forward early in his career, but he’s better suited as a power forward in today’s NBA. Last season, Harris was one of just seven power forwards to average over 17 points, six rebounds and three assists per game while shooting over 48 percent from the floor. He’s not the top, or even the second option in Philadelphia, but he’s a reliable role player capable of filling out a stat sheet. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Grant has played small forward for a lot of his career, but in the modern NBA he profiles as an incredibly versatile four who can stretch to the 3-point line, defend multiple positions and create his own offense when necessary. He’ll be tasked with less bucket-getting now that he’s flanking Damian Lillard in Portland, and should be able to slide back into a more involved version of the role in which he excelled in Denver. His prowess as a spot-up shooter and isolation defender should serve the Blazers well. — Colin Ward-Henninger
Mobley is a true 7-footer blessed with the agility of someone much shorter. As a rookie he was more of a finisher than an initiator, but it’s easy to get excited about where his offensive game might go. Ideally, his moves become less mechanical and he gets more comfortable outside the arc. And even if that takes a while, he can be a star in his defensive role, which has him roaming all over the place, blowing up actions and covering for his less versatile teammates. Mobley was third in shot contests last season, behind paint-bound rim protectors Jakob Poeltl and Rudy Gobert. — James Herbert
Jackson was a beast defensively last season — fourth in the league with 2.2 blocks per game while scorers made just 41.7 percent of shots that were defended by Jackson, the fourth tightest mark in the league. Johnson shot the lights out from 3 two seasons ago, but last year dipped to 32 percent. If he can put the shooting and defense together in the same campaign, and find a way to stay out of foul trouble, you’re looking at a potential All-Star even in the crowded Western Conference. — Brad Botkin
Green’s as hard to lump into a position as any player in basketball — offensively he’s a point guard and defensively he guards wings and centers as much as power forwards. But no matter how you categorize him, his greatness on both ends of the floor is evident. Even with his scoring diminishing to virtually nothing, Green makes the Warriors offense click with his passing, screen-setting and communication. On the other end, he was the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year last season before an injury took him out of the race. Green probably contributes to winning more than any non-scorer in the league. — Colin Ward-Henninger
With the ball in his hands, Siakam keeps the defense on edge. He uses an array of hesitation moves and spins to get into the paint, and once he gets there, he’s a crafty finisher, strong enough to take contact around the rim but just as likely to loft it in from floater range. In the Raptors‘ positionless system, he can find cutters, make timely cuts himself and play either side of the pick-and-roll. Defensively he’s built to switch onto anybody and to wreak havoc at the top of a zone. Now, at 28, heading into his seventh season, it’s about incremental improvement. Siakam shot 36.5 percent on 2.7 spot-up 3s a game last season; if that number is closer to 40, it will have a profound effect on Toronto’s offense. — James Herbert
In a recent interview with CBS Sports, Towns called himself “one of the best offensive players and talents the NBA has ever seen,” and he has a strong case, especially when it comes to big men. The only other player in league history with multiple seasons averaging at least 24 points and nine rebounds while shooting 41 percent 3-point land is Larry Bird. Now on the best team of his career, Towns will have a chance to show his skills can lead to playoff success. — Jack Maloney
It feels unfair to even put a positional label on Williamson because he’s pretty undersized for a power forward at just 6-6, but given the sheer strength he possesses, he’s capable of completely mowing down any big defender that dares to stand in his way. He does virtually all his damage around the rim, but not in the traditional back-to-the-basket sort of way. He typically acts like a point-forward, who will bring the ball up the floor and charge full speed ahead at the rim. If you allow him to get a running start at the basket, it’s over. — Jasmyn Wimbish
We’ve got LeBron slotted as a power forward. Let’s be honest: He’s the Lakers’ point guard. When control needs taking, LeBron will have the reins. But I do enjoy looking at him through the lens of a stretch four given LeBron’s increasingly heavy dependence on 3-point shooting. Last season, 34 percent of LeBron’s non-garbage-time shots were from beyond the arc, a career-high, equating to eight attempts per game. He made them at a 36-percent clip and scored over 30 points a night. Throw in more than eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block every night, and think about those numbers — not just for a soon-to-be 38-year-old; for anyone. Ever. James is still, without question, a top-10 player in the world, and even that level of qualification feels mildly insulting. — Brad Botkin
This is not your grandfather’s power forward. Based on skillset alone, Durant could be labeled a shooting guard, but his nearly 7-foot frame allows him to do things at the four that make him an even bigger matchup nightmare than he already was. Arguably the best pure scorer in basketball, KD also notched a career-high 6.4 assists per game last season and paced all forwards in points per possession including assists (min. 1,000 possessions), according to Synergy. — Colin Ward-Henninger
The versatile two-time MVP could qualify for a number of positions, but he checks in as our No. 1 power forward. Powerful and relentless, he controls the paint on both ends of the floor, shooting 80.8 percent on attempts within three feet and blocking 1.4 shots per game. But in keeping with the trends, he can also space the floor — though as a point forward rather than a shooter. — Jack Maloney