For the majority of basketball’s existence, a typical power forward in the NBA was made up of a similar height, frame, and skillset. An average PF has been 6’9-6’11, 250+ pounds matched with a post-centric offensive game and high-level defensive capabilities. For decades teams with great centers ran lineups featuring a four-man of similar stature and play style. Many elements of a power forward’s role have changed over time thanks to a few of the players on this list and the shift towards the space-and-pace game. Threes can play the four so naturally, fours can also play the five. The paint was once a haven for power forwards to operate out of, and it’s now become the lane for them to drive and finish in. Power forwards play on the perimeter and have the ball in their hands, operating as focal points of the offense and defensive anchors too. It’s tough to compare the power forwards of old with the new guard but, as always, this ranking will evaluate how great the player was in their era.
- Bob Petit | Years: 1955-1965 Teams: Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks
Bob Petit was one of the NBA’s first true superstar players. An all-star in all 11 seasons of his career, Petit stood out from the pack right away. Petit started as a 20 PPG scorer as a rookie before jumping up to a league-leading 25.7 PPG in his sophomore season. Petit would go on to produce high-scoring volume seasons throughout the 50s. He averaged 27 PTS on 44% shooting in 1956-64. Big Blue also bashed the boards as he produced 16.2 REB a night for his career including a season in 1961 where he averaged 20.3 REB. Petit was a beast on the brightest stage. In 25 NBA Finals games, he scored 30+ points 14 times. That’s seventh most all-time and his 56% rate on that stat ranks second among the others on that list. His great NBA Finals performances were highlighted by the 1958 Finals where Petit led the Hawks to a title over Bill Russell’s Celtics. In the six-game series, Petit scored over 30 four times and put up 50 points in the closeout game. Those numbers prove Petit’s greatness, as he was able to up his game against the famed Celtics dynasty.
- Kevin McHale | Years: 1981-1993 Teams: Boston Celtics
Known as one of the greatest sixth men in league history, Kevin McHale was a staple of the great Celtics teams of the 80s. McHale played 20 MPG and averaged 10 PPG in his rookie 1981 season on Boston’s first title of the decade. After two more seasons of increased playing time, McHale truly shined on the Celtics championship-winning 1984 squad and beyond. From 1984-90, McHale averaged 22 PTS and 8.5 REB on 63% TS. His shooting efficiency was otherworldly as McHale held an above 55% TS mark in every year of his career and led the NBA in FG% at 60.4% in 1988-89. McHale was a post-prodigy, with arguably the most unguardable up and under move ever seen. He had all-time touch at the rim as an ambidextrous finisher. McHale was a high-impact defender too, especially in the interior. With 7’5 arms and great instincts, McHale was able to bother one-on-one post threats and rotate to deter high-value rim attempts. A master of the post on both ends, McHale’s interior dominance in a team-friendly role places him among the likes of legends.
- Elvin Hayes | Years: 1969-1984 Teams: San/DiegoHouston Rockets, Washington Bullets
Elvin Hayes was the ultimate iron man not just in the NBA but in all of sports. Nicknamed the Bionic Man, he played in 80 games or more in all 16 of his seasons. He played in all 85 for half of those and in total only missed nine regular season games. Hayes should be praised too for his stellar numbers. He led the league in scoring in his first season in 1969, averaging 28 PTS on 44.7% shooting. In Hayes’ best 12-year stretch, he put up 23.6 PTS on 45% from the field with 14 REB and 2.4 BLK. The Big E was a big-time rebounder, grabbing over 16 boards a night from 69-74. He led the league in RPG in 1970 with 16.9 and in 1974 with 18.1. Hayes was known for an automatic turnaround jumper that was hard to stop because of his high release point. Most impressively Hayes was the best player on a championship-winning team in 1979. He led that team in scoring and rebounding as the Bullets defeated the SuperSonics for their lone franchise title. Elvin Hayes was a do-it-all player whose best ability was his availability, a trait that stamped his underrated career.
- Anthony Davis | Years: 2013-2022 Teams: New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers
As a Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis was heralded as one of the greatest prospects ever, and early on he backed that up. In his sophomore season, Davis put up 21 PPG, 10 RPG, and a league-leading 2.8 BPG. From then on Davis has been one of the top 5-10 players in the game. In a six-season stretch from 2015-20, Davis averaged 26 PTS and 11 REB on 59% TS. On offense, AD was incredible on and off the ball. He’s one of the best lob finishers ever while being a quality floor spacing threat. With the ball in his hands, Davis is a machine at scoring out of isolations from the post and perimeter. His ability to handle the ball at his 6’11 size has proven to be too much for 99% of the league to handle. On defense, Davis provides an elite combo of rim protection, coverage versatility, and on-ball chops. He’s a three-time blocks champion, more than any other active player. Over 30 playoff games in 2018 and 2020 Davis averaged 28 PPG & 12 RPG on 55/33/83 splits with DPOY-level defense. Davis has surpassed the hype with historically great two-way production and impact at his peak.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo | Years: 2014-2022 Teams: Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak’s rise is one of the most difficult success stories in sports history. Following three non-all-star seasons, Antetokounmpo was named MIP in 2017. Two years later he would win his first league MVP and then do it again the next season. Antetokounmpo put up a staggering 28.5 PPG, 13 RPG, and six APG on 63% TS in those two MVP campaigns with a DPOY award in 2020. Antetokounmpo is arguably the best rim finisher in NBA history, finishing at 79.5% in 2018-22. At 6’11 with 7’4 arms, The Greek Freak has enormous size and length to pair with inhuman speed and ball skills for that frame. Antetokounmpo has a strong case as the best player in the NBA due to his elite scoring production, all-time rim protection, and underrated passing talents. In his last five seasons, Antetokounmpo clocks in at 28 PTS, 12 REB, and five AST on 62% TS. The Greek Freak is also the only player in NBA history to hold two MVPs, a Finals MVP, and a DPOY before turning 27. His statistical profile and trophy case at only 27 years old put Giannis Antetokounmpo on a fast track to legend status.