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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Examining The Power Forward Class (Sans Anthony Bennett and Cody Zeller)

In today's NBA, the power forward role has grown to be the most diverse position in the NBA. There are still some throwback post up guys, but there are plenty of more athletic combo forwards flying up and down in transition. You also have the energy guys, the big bodied rebounders, the stretch forwards, defensive specialist, and guys that contribute a little from each of the group. Because of the wide variety of power forwards, it can be hard to rank them. Different teams prefer different things based on style of play, need, and if they are ready to win right away.

In my opinion, ranking these players may not be the best way to do things. I feel it will be easier to divide them in groups and break them down that way and allowing the reader to decide which power forward would fit best for their teams needs.

At the top, there are two clear lottery talents that definitely lead the way in Anthony Bennett and Cody Zeller. I've covered both extensively already and feel that the gap between Bennett and Zeller is a lot smaller than what it is perceived by others. Kelly Olynyk is also in this group, although he isn't a lock for the lottery like Bennett and Zeller are. He could go there, but his floor certainly looks like the mid to late first round. Either way, Id like to use this platform to talk about the other power forwards in this draft who don't have much first round buzz.

*Names in italics represent a player having at least a 50/50 shot at getting drafted.*

The Bruisers

Richard Howell 
Trevor Mbakwe 
Jack Cooley
Reginald Buckner

These are the type of guys who use their physical strength to their advantage. They aren't the most skilled players, but they rebound the ball with great efficiency. There has been a history of these guys getting undervalued, but the league is steering away from the more with the evolution of the more perimeter oriented forwards. There are plenty of these guys spread throughout Europe and the D-League. Without much of an upside, it begs the question if they are even worth a second round pick given that you can pick up a more experienced one on the market somewhere. These are guys like Darnell Jackson, Josh Powell, Jeff Adrien, DJ White, Rick Jackson, and Richard Hendrix.

In my personal opinion, Richard Howell is the best of the bruisers this year. His biggest competition is Trevor Mbakwe, but Howell didn't disappear from games and his motor never stopped running. Thats what you look for in a bruiser. Howell is younger, more durable, more skilled, and doesn't have the character concerns Mbakwe has. Mbakwe though, is the bigger physical presence and has shown he can be a terror to stop at times.

The Stretch Fours

Erik Murphy
Ryan Kelly
Kenny Kadji
Grant Jerrett
Brock Motum
Christian Watford

The stretch four has came along as teams have looked to spread the court more. These guys are asked to knock down shots from behind the arc consistently, but help out in other areas enough so they are a liability. Certain teams use them more than others and good defensive systems help hide their weaknesses. They also generally need to play next to a rim protector and/or big time rebounder. Like with the bruisers, there are guys in the D-League and overseas that can perhaps do the job just as good if not better, while possessing more experience. These are guys like Maarty Leunen, Justin Harper, Rob Kurz, and Craig Brackins.

Of the guys on the list, I give Murphy the edge over Ryan Kelly because he's a better rebound and more of a fluid athlete. I also think you can make a very good argument that Murphy is the best shooter of the group as well. Along with those two, Grant Jerrett could be worth a draft pick although he is a couple of years away. Why waste a pick on a regular old stretch forward who can't contribute right away when you can sign a guy like Harper or Brackins for the minimum contract out of the D-League? Its a question to ponder when selecting in the second round.

*I covered Deshaun Thomas and Robert Covington with the small forward group, but both could also spend some time playing stretch forward in the league.

The Raw Athlete

CJ Leslie (Lacks BBIQ, strength, motor/consistency)
Tony Mitchell (Lacks motor, subpar production vs low-majors)
Amath M'Baye (Lacks skillset, position)
Norvel Pelle (Lacks skillset, experience, strength, BBIQ)
Deshawn Painter (Nondescript PF, lacks production for mid-major, strength, post game)

These are guys that possess the NBA level length and athleticism to make scouts drool, but for one reason or another, just aren't as good of players as their athleticism suggests. Whether it is energy, IQ, strength, offensive skills, or position - there is something missing that keeps these guys from being a lottery pick. Lots of teams draft these guys looking for a defensive stopper, but not all of them have that mentality to own that role. The intrigue of these guys comes from the perceived upside. Among the plethora of guys that fit this mold that are currently without a NBA contract are: Shawn James, Willie Reed, Stephane Lasme, and Chris Wright (Dayton).

Of these guys, Tony Mitchell has the best chance to make an impact in the NBA. He played in a bad situation that arguably effected his performance and could turn it on in the right situation in the NBA. He's a better gamble than CJ Leslie who has proved time and time again that he doesn't have the energy or IQ to be effective at the next level. Mitchell has more potential defensively than any other power forward in this draft.

The Skilled Big (Back to the Basket)

Brandon Davies
Jackie Carmichael

This is kind of your throw back power forward, the type that actually showed off a post game in college basketball. These aren't guys who are just bangers inside or undersized forwards, these guys have solid size and a legitimate post game to go to. In today's NBA, their games don't directly translate unless they are dominant with their back to the basket, but their skillset can be valuable on the right team. These guys usually come from college teams that featured them on offense and have a good feel for the game. Guys like Lawrence Roberts, Draymond Green, and Ryan Gomes all were this type of player in college.

For these guys to succeed at the next level, they have to be able to transform to bigger threats facing up. Guys like Gomes and Green have been able to translate their saavyness in the post to other parts of their games. Brandon Davies has already shown the same ability at Portsmouth and Carmichael also has shown the ability to pick and pop.

Undersized Energy Guys

Andre Roberson
Arsalan Kazemi
Ed Daniel
DJ Stephens
Taylor Smith
Elias Harris

There is some overlap with the bruisers in the sense that they earn their money through rebounding, energy, and defense. The difference is these guys are usually shorter and less bulky, while possessing more versatility on the defensive end. They can get up and down the court, move very well laterally on defense, and rebound the ball. These guys also generally lack much offensive skill at all, generating most of their offense off fastbreaks, cuts, and offensive rebounders. These are guys like Quincy Acy, Taylor Griffin, Demarre Carroll, and plenty more.

Andre Roberson and Arsalan Kazemi have the best chance at getting drafted as they have been two of the best rebounders in college basketball this season. They also both have experience playing the small forward spot. While neither have shown the offensive skills to play SF, they both have shown the versatility to make you believe they can cover both forward spots on defense.

Faceup PFs

Mike Muscala
Kelly Olynyk
Romero Osby
Laurence Bowers
Keith Clanton
Mouphtaou Yarou
Dante Taylor
Jared Berggren

This is a group with more diversity than others as you have some guys on the list that are closer to combo forwards while the top guys have legit big man size. Some of these guys are considered faceup fours because they don't have the range to be a stretch forward or any other noticeable attribute to fit any of the other categories. For most of these guys, they are pretty nondescript as players with the thought of playing in the NBA as a long shot. There are countless amounts of these types that have flirted with being drafted.

For guys like Muscala and Olynyk however, they are on this list because along with shooting from the outside, they can also take defenders off the dribble or work in the most. Unlike the other ones who aren't stretch forwards because they lack range, these two aren't stretch forwards because they can offer teams more than simply shooting from beyond the arc. And since the faceup PF is the most common among all the PFs in today's NBA, Muscala and Olynyk both already have their role carved out for them. Their transition to the NBA is a lot easier to see than a lot of guys in other groups, which is why both of them could potentially go in the first round.

Summary:

Overall, none of these guys look like potential stars and few will end up as starters. But there is value in each of the draftable players that a coach can make use of if he understands what they bring to the table. In today's game, a starting power forward is generally a guy that you can put in multiple categories from above. Whether it is a bruising power forward that plays with a relentless amount of energy (Faried, Millsap), a skilled big with a faceup game (David West), a bruising rebounder who can stretch the floor (Kevin Love), an athlete with tenacious energy (Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith), a skilled big with a bruising body (Al Jefferson), or an athletic forward with a faceup game (Thaddeous Young). Lots of these guys could be thrown into even more of the categories and that is what makes them special players.

In this draft (excluding Zeller and Bennett), maybe there are some players that are able to bring multiple things to the table and become starters. Muscala and Olynyk could both develop into even better shooters and become even more deadly with added NBA 3-pt range. Tony Mitchell could be a Josh Smith-type if he adds the necessary energy to his game. Richard Howell already is a bruiser with a relentless motor, but does he do anything else at a NBA level? Jackie Carmichael is certainly a skilled post player and could evolve to a nice do-it-all type of player ala David West? These are the guys that have the potential to break out be at least key rotational guys, if not good starters.

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