SLAMOnline’s newest blogger, AllenP, ranks the 90′s best power forwards.
by Allen Powell
What makes a power forward special? Is it outstanding rebounding numbers or an insane scoring touch? How much weight should be given to players who make their name as defenders, or glue guys? Can you really be one of the dominant players in a decade if you only play for three, four or five years?
Some of the greatest power forwards of all-time either made their marks, or their debuts, in the 90’s. In addition to the names we all know and love, there are some other players whose stars shone brightly, if briefly. Take a gander at who got the job done.
With all due respect, Charles Barkley sounds stupid whenever tries to leapfrog Karl Malone in the best power forward of all-time discussion.
Barkley had the shoes, commercials and video games, but it was Malone who was killing the game softly like Roberta Flack.
The statistics are mind-blowing. After averaging 31 and 11 at the start of the decade, Malone would never average fewer than 23 points for the next ten seasons, while typically supplying 10 boards and 3-4 assists. Before he retired, Malone had a legit shot to catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time scoring title.
But, to really appreciate Malone’s dominance it’s important to consider the weaknesses scouts initially saw in his game.
There were questions about his jump shot. Malone became the most dependable pick and pop player in the league. People wondered if he had the physical tools to thrive. Malone built himself into arguably the most impressive physical specimen in NBA history. Throughout his career, people wondered whether Malone was smart enough, polished enough or savvy enough to succeed. They forgot that the Mailman always delivers.
Before he became the butt of every fat joke on TNT, Charles Barkley was That Guy.
The guy who spit on little girls. The guy who ended bar fights with free trips through plate glass windows. The guy who had no problem reminding Americans that they needed to raise their kids, not him. And, the guy who gobbled rebounds and big men like they were Krispy Kreme donuts fresh out of the oven.
Barkley was the face of big men in the 90s, and he sent shockwaves through the League with every rim-rattling “Gorilla Dunk” or outlandish antic.
The Chuck Wagon’s really ridiculous numbers came in the 1980s when he was a wild man trying to fit in with the staid Sixers’ vets, but he was no slouch in the 90s. Regularly topping 23 points a game with 11 boards, Barkley’s only flaws were an indifference to defense, conditioning and decorum. On the 1992 Dream Team, Barkley was described by observers as a “force of nature.”
Call him Hurricane Chuck. Aye Bay, Bay.
Chris Webber is underrated.
Think about it for a minute. Webber’s legacy, in many eyes, is one of failure. The infamous timeout as a Wolverine, the multiple choke jobs in Sacramento and the limping jump shot heavy debacles in Philadelphia, Detroit and Golden State. Some NBA fans have “heard” that Webber was once amazing, but many of them don’t really believe it.
Well run tell this: Chris Webber was the third best power forward in the 90’s, and honestly it wasn’t even close.
The numbers are stellar. Webber made it his business to average 20 points and 10 boards most years, but he also dished out 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Yeah, the free throw shooting was ugly, but anybody who saw Webber hitting a cutting Vlade Divac with a behind-the-back pass from the post knows that was the only ugly part of Webber’s game.
Before his knees betrayed him, Webber had jump shots, baby hooks and pretty dimes in spades. And I’m not talking about Tyra Banks. Sure, he bumped heads with Don Nelson (Who hasn’t?) and disappointed fans in D.C. (Marijuana is a helluva drug), but there can be no question he was a dominant force in the 90s and into the 2000s.
Everybody hates who?
This was the toughest spot to rank.
Shawn Kemp’s ridiculous alley-oops and crotch-grabbing antics are permanently ingrained in every 80’s baby’s brain. The tale of Derrick Coleman’s squandered potential is part of NBA lore.
But, it had to be The Worm.
Dennis Rodman is easily the most controversial player in NBA history, and that’s without discussing his wedding dress, tattoos and piercings. His game is enough to spark intense debates about what’s truly valuable, and how much weight should be given to “specialists.”
Rodman didn’t really score, only cracking double figures once. By the 90s he had bulked up, and even the pretense of caring about buckets was abandoned. But, Rodman’s elite rebounding and defense, along with his ability to ignite his team and provoke opposing players into horrible mistakes was astounding.
Most people remember Jordan stripping Malone before his iconic final shot. But what they don’t remember is Malone flopping horribly after the strip because Rodman had taken up residence in the Mailman’s mind and had him whining to the refs. Rodman never tantalized fans with superstar scoring potential, but he did force viewers to appreciate that there are other ways to dominate a game.
Now somebody get this man into the Hall of Fame.
Was there a more beautiful sight in the 1990’s than watching Shawn Kemp take flight to cram through another off-target alley-oop from Gary Payton? Who didn’t marvel as Kemp trademarked the phrase “nuts on the nostrils” while emasculating plodding earthbound suckers trying to contain him?
Outside of the high wire act occurring nightly in Chicago, nothing compared.
Kemp made it rain when Weezy was still in magnet school. Before Allen Iverson hit the scene, Kemp and his classic Southside Houston bald fade embodied the hip-hop aesthetic on the hardwood. A prep-to-pro star before the elaborate support systems, Kemp’s game always maintained a rawness that made it even more appealing.
But, sometimes the memory can play tricks. Even with his descent into cocaine and obesity, Kemp has a stellar rep among fans, yet he only averaged 20 points for one season in his career. True, 19 points and 10 boards is still impressive, and Kemp was a terror facing up opposing power forwards and giving them his loosey-goosey crossover, but there is a clear separation between his game and the game of the true dominant players of his decade.
Turns out some things really are better on You Tube.
Derrick Coleman had Game, and the capital “G” is intentional.
Handles, post moves, jumpers, rebounding and defense were all part of Coleman’s package, with a nasty streak for good measure. Most NBA analysts agree that there have been few more players talented than Coleman, and for once, they’re right.
So, what happened?
Life happened, or more accurately, the NBA life happened. Coleman exploded in his first five seasons in the League posting a silky smooth 20 and 10 most years, and even garnering an invite to embarrass foreigners in the 1994 World Championships.
But, Coleman’s game would steadily erode over the remainder of his career as the temptations and a foul attitude conspired to prevent him from joining the all-time greats. He began to rely far too much on jumpers, as evidenced by his plummeting shooting percentage, and spend way too much time at bars and steakhouses.
Coleman had all the tools to join the pantheon, he just didn’t seem that keen on using them.
Nobody made dunking in a dress and granny glasses look cooler than Larry Johnson.
Then again, who else tried it?
Grandmamma, as LJ was once known, had a game as exuberant as his gap-toothed smile, and if chronic back problems hadn’t robbed him of his explosiveness he could have easily been higher on this list.
Johnson was introduced to the public via a brash UNLV squad that was almost as racially divisive as O.J. Simpson, but when he got to the NBA all that angst disappeared. Johnson’s fun-loving attitude and ferocious game quickly made him a fan favorite and a nightmare for opposing coaches. Although undersized, Johnson would earn Rookie-of-the Year by punishing players on the block thanks to broad shoulders and a wide base. Plus, once he faced up on most big men, it was curtains thanks to an insane first step.
By the time he left Charlotte for New York, Johnson’s burst was gone, but thanks to an underrated understanding of the game and impeccable work ethic he was still a key cog in the last relevant Knicks teams. Remember Johnson hitting that ridiculous three pointer against Indiana that sent the Knicks to the 1999 Finals? The foul call was bogus, but the shot was still wet.
L.J.’s game was no fairy tale.
Biggie said “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” and Juwan Howard would probably agree.
After taking a year to prove that the Fab Five wasn’t all about Chris Webber, Howard was reunited with his former partner-in-shine when the Wizards picked him fifth in the 1994 Draft.
Sadly, the two big men would see their reunion marred by injuries, holdouts and arrests. Despite that, Howard’s first two seasons were stellar, particularly year two when he averaged 22 points and eight boards and was third team All-NBA.
However, that offseason the Bullets and Heat engaged in a bidding war for Howard’s services, with the Wizards ultimately making him the NBA’s first $100 million man. That contract, and circus surrounding his signing, would dog Howard for the rest of his career as he could never live up to the demands of being paid like “The Man.” Howard posted solid averages of about 18 and 8 for the next few years, but his career would be defined by his quiet intelligence more than a dominating game.
The man affectionately dubbed “T-Rex” because of his stubby and ridiculously cut arms is kind of a forgotten player.
Younger fans likely remember him solely as an old guy with a bad haircut on the Raptors and Spurs, but in his heyday Willis was a bonafide beast for the Atlanta Hawks banging alongside high-flyer Dominique Wilkins.
Willis bounced between the forward and center positions, but by the 90’s he had cemented himself as a terror on the glass averaging 15.5 boards in 1991, while managing to score 18 points a game. The only reason Willis isn’t ranked higher is because by the middle of the decade he had settled into the role of solid journeyman after a decade putting in work.
A lottery pick in the famed 1984 draft, Willis built his reputation on being in peak physical condition, which allowed him to contend with younger players into his 40s. Although he struggled with injuries at times, Willis was known as a rugged defender and locker room leader until he retired.
Was Clifford Robinson a power forward? The incomparable Red Auerbach said it’s ridiculous to classify forwards as “small” or “power.” Mr. Celtic said the only important measure is if a player gets the job done.
Who can argue with Red?
Robinson doesn’t have the rebounding numbers of a power forward, nor does he have the shooting percentage. He’s known more for his three point shooting than his post moves, even though Robinson attempted fewer than 150 three pointers in his first five seasons combined. With his height, soft touch and lack of handle, Robinson was more Bob McAdoo than Grant Hill.
But, it would be idiotic to focus on what Uncle Cliffy couldn’t do, when there is so much he did well, starting with winning. Robinson only missed the playoffs once in his 18 year career, and he was a key cog off the bench for a Portland Trailblazer team that was a constant contender in the West. Robinson topped 20 points per game multiple times in his career, and is the oldest player to ever score 50 points.
Positions are overrated.
Yes, Kevin Garnett was drafted in 1995. Yes, he came fresh out of high school and only averaged 10 points and 4 boards his rookie year.
After a one-year to get his mind right, Garnett was putting up 17 and 8 on 50 percent shooting and by the end of the 90s he was a certified 23 and 12 with five assists, a block and a steal. There is a reason the Minnesota Timberwolves exploded the NBA salary structure to keep Da Kid around…
Including Garnett on this list meant a worthy power forward like Tom Gugliotta, Christian Laettner, Horace Grant, Antonio McDyess and Danny Manning couldn’t make the cut, but Garnett’s impact and numbers would not be denied. Three years removed from the prom he was among the best at his position, within five years he was arguably the best. His unique combination of size, speed, athleticism and heart have made him one of the most popular and wealthy NBA players ever. Even with the general douchery associated with Boston sports, Garnett maintains a certain level of respect.
The Big Ticket is worth the price of admission.
Allen Powell II is a reporter at the Times Picayune in New Orleans, La. A graduate of Howard University and the University of Maryland-College Park, he’s maintain an abiding love for basketball and SLAM Magazine since taping a picture of Tim Duncan sitting on a throne of basketballs to his bedroom wall. In fact, SLAM was the first magazine he ever subcribed to. “Highlights” doesn’t count since his parents paid for the subscription.