The Five: Best Forwards In The NBA

The slightly ambiguous position with the best players in the league

AP Images/Lede In Illustration

What is a forward in today’s game? No longer a simple distinction between small and power forward, the forwards of today are even more versatile, making their spot on the floor a positionless position. They can play on the wing, handle the ball, play as a small-ball power forward and in some instances center.

By position, the NBA has more depth of talent at the guard position, but the best of the best are the swingmen on this list. Here are the five best forwards in the NBA today.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Guard-Forward-Center, Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek freak’s best and worst quality is that he does not know what he is yet. His height, length, and playmaking qualify him to play on the perimeter. Then again, his height, length, and athleticism qualify him to play inside.

If Jason Kidd and the Bucks coaching staff can find out how to exploit every last ounce of Antetokounmpo’s ability, Milwaukee will have their biggest star since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He could be the next best player in the league once LeBron abdicates the thrown.

At the age of 22, he can already call himself one of the game’s elite. His only major flaw is his jump shot. Half of his shots come from 0–3 feet from the basket, where he is “shooting” 71 percent. Beyond that, the Freak’s shooting splits are well below average.

Still, his physical makeup alone makes him one of the most impactful players today. It always seems like he is two strides away from dunking the ball or blocking a shot, no matter the distance.

4. Paul George, Forward, Indiana Pacers

There is something about Paul George’s game that seems so effortless. He never seems to be taxed by the pace of the game or his opponents. He can shoot without air space, finish above the rim over bigs, and recover on defense despite trailing the play.

With his 6-foot-10 inch frame and seven-foot wingspan, it’s hard to find a player that can physically impose George.

His gruesome leg injury two years ago might have set him back, but when push comes to shove he brings his A-game against the league’s best. Despite a lackluster start and middle of the season, he showed why he is one of the game’s elite as the Pacers nudged their way into the playoffs.

Over the last 20 games of the regular season, PG-13 averaged a shade under 29 points per game, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. Then add in the fact that he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and you have one of the best two-way players in the league.

3. Kawhi Leonard, Small Forward, San Antonio Spurs

At the spry age of 25, it is already safe to say Kawhi Leonard stands along with some of the greatest defensive players of all-time. He is cut from the same cloth as Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, and Gary Payton when it comes to perimeter defense.

In a league full of talented scoring guards and versatile forwards, Leonard has proved to be the best antidote for any opposing teams best player. His defense alone makes him one of the league’s premier players.

Then add in a much-improved jump shot and all around efficient offensive game and you have one of the best five players in the league. The most encouraging thing about Leonard is that he keep improving.

This season he has hit career highs in points and assists per game, 3-point field goals made, and player efficiency rating. At this point, only Leonard knows his ceiling. A few more defensive player of the year awards, NBA titles, and some MVP awards are all possible.

2. Kevin Durant, Forward, Golden State Warriors

He might not garner the same respect and post league leading stat lines, but Kevin Durant is still the second greatest player in the world. LeBron is 1A and KD is 1B.

Offensively, Durant is an efficient scorer, elite shooter, and a much-improved facilitator. But he is no slouch defensively. In today’s NBA, with smaller lineups and pseudo centers, he can protect the rim.

Going back to last season’s Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors 1–4 pick-and-roll was stifled by Durant’s length. He could switch and come out to guard Curry or recover and roll to defended Green at the rim.

In summation, nothing has really changed atop the NBA food chain. All Durant is missing is validation that is rewarded through winning NBA titles. It’s subjective, often times illogical, but it is how pantheon of NBA greats judge their peers.

1. LeBron James, Point Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

At this point, there is nothing you can say about LeBron that has not been said. He is putting up 26–8–8 and shooting 54 percent from the floor with 14 years under his belt.

James has turned consistent greatness and MVP worthy numbers into the norm. He does not put in the same effort during the regular season, as compared to past years, but there has been little to no decline in his game.

His playoff performances over the past two postseasons showed he is still the best player in the league, despite the rise of players like Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard.

Aside from being an all-around great player, it’s his efficiency that puts him at the top of the list. It’s unrivaled compared to players of his generation and greats that proceeded him. The greatest players maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

LeBron is not a great shooter and at times in his career, his shot has been completely broken (2015 NBA Playoffs). But he plays to his strengths, gets to the rim, and defers at the appropriate times.

Michael Jordan, another subpar shooter from range, operated in the same fashion. He lived at the rim, own property at the midrange, and vacationed at the free throw line.

Unless LeBron’s shot completely falls off and his age starts to show, he will be atop the NBA mountain for a few more years.

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