5. AARON GORDON, ORLANDO MAGIC
Coming off the best season of his career, Aaron Gordon is in line to continue the breakout in 2018-19.
The Arizona product averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 three-pointers per game last year, shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and a career-best 33.6 percent from three. That outside shooting mark will have to get even better next year, and we hope new head coach Steve Clifford doesn’t fall into the previous regime’s trap of slotting Gordon into the 3-spot, where his physical advantages get diminished.
Regardless, there’s no denying Gordon’s upside heading into next year. He’s an athletic specimen with the ball-handling chops of a guard, making him a nearly impossible cover for any traditional big man. What’s more, Gordon’s really turning into a solid playmaker, posting an 11.7 percent assist rate last year – a tremendous improvement over his rookie-season 6.3 percent assist rate.
Surrounded by more talent than he’s had in a while, and under the most stable front office and competent head coach he’s ever had, we expect Gordon to explode next season.
4. BLAKE GRIFFIN, DETROIT PISTONS
Whatever you may personally think of Blake Griffin, how many big men are putting up 21.4/7.4/5.8 campaigns these days? Because that’s exactly what Griffin did over the course of 2017-18, splitting time between the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons.
As his athleticism has dwindled (don’t get us wrong, he can still throw down…
…with the best of them), Griffin has been able to make up for it by greatly improving his outside game. The five-time All-Star shot a career-high 34.5 percent from beyond the arc last season, to go with his career-best nearly six-assist-per-game average.
The Pistons gambled a lot to land 2010-11 Rookie of the Year, both in terms of assets and cap flexibility, but as long as Griffin can maintain some semblance of health, he and burgeoning star center Andre Drummond should form one of the very best frontcourts in the NBA.
3. KEVIN LOVE, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Following LeBron’s painful departure, the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to get an important win in the form of securing Kevin Love’s long-term future with the club, re-signing the floor-spacing big man to a four-year, $120 million extension back in July.
Though it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Minnesota Kevin Love again, the UCLA product and 2016 NBA champion should get back to posting huge numbers next season, as his role will massively expand without James around. At worst, Love should be putting up 20-and-10s on a nightly basis.
Besides his outside shooting (Love was 41.5 percent from three last season), the Cavs big man also ranked as a “very good” post-up player and cutter in 2017-18, per Synergy, so expect to see Cleveland run heavy doses of the Love-from-the-low-block offense next year.
2. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
LaMarcus Aldridge experienced a major turnaround last season, going from a player with one foot out the door in San Antonio to the focal point of the team. The Texas product and former Blazer finished 12th in the league in scoring, third among true big men, at 23.1 points per contest, along with putting up 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 blocks nightly. He also went to the line over five times per game, sinking 83.7 percent of his opportunities from the charity stripe, which, in turn, gave his efficiency a major bump from previous seasons. That’s part of how Aldridge ended up posting the highest BPM of his career in 2017-18, and the second-highest VORP.
A six-time All-Star, Aldridge possesses a fantastic post game, featuring a deadly left-shoulder hook shot and an even stronger turnaround jumper to go to as a counter, as well as a beastly knack for attacking the offensive glass and scoring on put-backs. His defense, formerly a weakness due to his not-very-quick feet and lack of explosiveness as a rim-protector, also became less problematic thanks to head coach Gregg Popovich’s point-stopping, midrange-jumper-forcing system.
The only concern we have about Aldridge heading into next season is the fact he’s entering his age-33 season, but even then, his game isn’t really predicated upon athleticism, so we expect him to maintain the productive level of play he reached in 2017-18, and carry it over into 2018-19.
1. DRAYMOND GREEN, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
A common refrain among those who dislike the Warriors is to say Draymond Green is overrated, which, well, is not just wrong, but hilariously so.
Not only is Green one of the two or three best defenders the league has to offer, who locks down opposing teams’ best players, protects the rim and racks up steals, he also doubles as an extremely impactful offensive player thanks to his distribution skills. How else would he post a stat-line as sick as this – 11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 threes nightly – over 70 games in 2017-18? Or place second in VORP among players in this ranking, despite having a much smaller role on offense than any of the other big names we’ve listed here?
Another way to think of it is this: Would any of the teams with the other Top-4 power forwards on our list – Orlando, Detroit, Cleveland or San Antonio – trade their starting 4-man for Green, straight up?
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, the answer is a clear and resounding yes, they would.
And would Golden State accept any such trade?
Almost certainly not.
Granted, yes, Green does benefit from being on a team as talented as the Warriors, but at the same time, he’s an absolute perfect fit for what they need, providing the team not just with immeasurable two-way influence, but with a passionate leader on and off the floor.
He’s the type of player you hate to play against, but would love to have on your team – a modern-day Kevin Garnett type, at least defensively, or as far as personalities go.
Green’s points per game may not measure to the other top guys on this ranking, but his impact far exceeds any of them.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.