Much is made about the decline of the modern-day big man. Many, mistakenly, take that to be about the center position, but in reality, it’s the power-forward spot that’s suffered it the most.
Losing a talent like Chris Bosh, who would have been perfectly suited for the spaced-out version of basketball we see today, certainly didn’t help matters. Also hurtful for the position is seeing versatile players who can shoot from deep and create for teammates, like Anthony Davis and Al Horford, being better-suited to anchor the 5-spot instead of the 4.
Nevertheless, there are a few star-level talents that adorn the top of this list, as well as various promising up-and-comers sprinkled in throughout the rest of it. Some of these players are purely floor-spacing snipers, while others prefer to handle the rock, cause mismatches and rack up assists. Some are elite defenders, who thrive either protecting the paint or defending on the wing, while others are more focused on the point-producing aspect of basketball.
Without further ado, below, we project the Top-30 power forwards for 2018-19.
30. JONATHAN ISAAC, ORLANDO MAGIC
Orlando Magic 4-man Jonathan Isaac’s rookie season ended up being a wash, considering he missed 55 games with lingering ankle issues. During his time on the floor, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his play, either. Isaac averaged just 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest in his first season, shooting a paltry 37.9 percent from the floor, 34.8 percent from three, and failing to find any sort of flow offensively for most of the year.
However, Isaac did manage to make a huge impact on the other side of the floor, serving as an outstanding multi-positional defender for Orlando. The former Florida State Seminole is long, agile and has great instincts on the point-stopping end, which helps him not just lock down opposing isolation attempts, but also protect the rim and disrupt passing lanes. The stats back that up, too. According to NBAWowy, with Isaac on the floor, the Magic gave up 106.8 points per 100 possession. If prorated for the year, that would have amounted to around a league-average defense. On the other hand, when Isaac sat, Orlando allowed 112.9 points per 100 possessions, which, if extrapolated for the season, would have been the worst mark in the NBA by more than two full points.
So even if Isaac isn’t quite there yet offensively (and don’t get it twisted: He’s still just 20, so his upside on that end remains massive), his defense more than makes up for it. And next to new Magic big man and rim-protecting stud Mo Bamba, the tandem should terrorize opposing offenses for years to come.
29. JORDAN BELL, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
What a luxury for the Golden State Warriors that maybe the eighth guy in their rotation can still crack the rankings for the league’s top power forwards despite his limited role. But Jordan Bell flashed that brightly during his rookie year, and with the big-man exodus “suffered” by the Warriors this offseason, he should be in line for more playing time in 2018-19.
Even with more game action, Bell will likely never become much of a scorer. (In summer league last month, he scored eight total points over two games in Las Vegas.) Additionally, the odds of him confidently attempting and knocking down shots from beyond the arc next year are pretty slim. Nevertheless, the Oregon product is an absurdly impactful defender who doesn’t just rack up steals and blocks (2.5 blocks and 2.5 steals per contest in summer league), but can also aptly guard positions 3 through 5, and even some point guards and shooting guards when forced to switch, as he displayed during the playoffs.
It’s that havoc-causing defense that helps set Bell apart, and will make him a key rotational piece on the best team in the league next season.
28. JERAMI GRANT, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Syracuse product and nephew of ’90s legend Horace Grant averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 boards per contest in 2017-18, posting the best year of his career according to multiple advanced stats along the way.
His counting stats never have been – and probably never will be – very impressive, but the Oklahoma City Thunder re-signed Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27.4 million deal this summer, despite being deep into the luxury tax at the time the contract came into fruition, for a reason. Grant’s athleticism, defensive energy and rim-running on offense proved absolutely vital to Oklahoma City last season, particularly in the playoffs when he completely outplayed the starter at his position:
With a bigger role after the departure of a certain 34-year-old future Hall-of-Famer, 2018-19 might finally be the season when Grant’s stats start to match the impact he makes on a nightly basis.
27. ERSAN ILYASOVA, MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Unless they’re physical freaks, the modern power forward should be a threat from the outside to warrant a spot in the rotation. If nothing else, Ersan Ilyasova provides just that: floor-spacing from the 4-spot. This offseason, the 10-year vet made a return to the team that originally acquired him in the 2005 draft, the Milwaukee Bucks. And once the games get started, the Turkish big man should carve himself out a nice role as a frontcourt player who uses his three-point shooting to open up room for the team’s stars, primarily Giannis Antetokounmpo, to attack the paint.
During his time with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017-18, Ilyasova ranked in the 84th percentile as a spot-up shooter, according to Synergy Sports Tech, scoring an imposing 1.15 points per possession (PPP) on such looks. Should that continue next season, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t, the Bucks may wind up looking savvy thanks to the signing of the perfect (relatively) low-cost power forward to complement their roster.
26. PASCAL SIAKAM, TORONTO RAPTORS
A 6-foot-9 speedster and human pogo stick who also doubles as an advanced-stats darling, Pascal Siakam broke out in his sophomore season, turning into an important contributor on what was almost inarguably the NBA’s best bench. The New Mexico State product averaged 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest in 2017-18, using his athleticism and length to thrive in transition and defend with tenacity.
Siakam is a smart player who knows when to attack the basket and when to hit teammates with simple dump-off passes for easy finishes (3.4 assists per-36 minutes last year). If he could just become a more reliable three-point shooter (he’s at 21.6 percent for his career), there’s no doubt Siakam will warrant a full-time starting role at some point not too far down the road.
Heck, as is, Siakam makes a pretty solid case to win the starting power forward job for the Toronto Raptors in 2018-19 anyway, since he’s already extremely impactful. It’s just about Siakam making that impact translate from brief stints off the bench into a larger role. We think he can handle it.