Picking the best at their positions in these CBS SportsLine.com player rankings has been easy so far.
Shaquille O'Neal got a tip of the cap. Coming off a championship, the living legend isn't what he used to be, but he's still the best. Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard still have strides to make, while Yao Ming is only now starting to dominate. They haven't surpassed the Diesel yet.
|After leading Dallas to its first NBA Finals, Dirk Nowitzki is the power forward of the moment. (Getty Images)|
At power forward, three of the NBA's greatest players ever loom. That's right, ever. There's Tim Duncan, the machine-like, fundamentally perfect, silent assassin. He came into the league winning and never stopped.
There's Kevin Garnett, who changed how the position is viewed and may be the most gifted power forward in history. Lastly, there's Dirk Nowitzki, the best foreign product to date, 7 feet tall with a Larry Bird-like jumper.
Ranking them entering 2006-07 is impossible, but my job is to try. Yours, likely, is to disagree. Here's how I see the present best at this deep position, from top to bottom:
1. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: To be fair, this is his moment, having finally vanquished the Spurs last May and leading his team to its first NBA Finals appearance. At 28, he's in his prime, likely to contend for league MVP for the next few seasons while his team competes perennially for championships. He has changed the game, dominating from the perimeter in a way no 7-footer ever has. As for his defense, he's no longer "Irk" (no D). He's also become more of a leader, though he's still in the feeling-out process with that. There's not enough on his résumé to top either Garnett or Duncan as far as careers are concerned, but he is currently enjoying the better time of it.
|Kevin Garnett (Getty Images)|
|Tim Duncan, Spurs (Getty Images)|
4. Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers: He crossed over to elite status last season by elevating his team to an unprecedented level. His MVP-caliber year could be the start of a renaissance for the hapless Clippers organization, which used his sturdy 25-point, 10-rebound averages as the backbone of their improvement. I'll say it here first: If he leads the Clips to the Pacific Division title, give him the MVP.
5. Chris Bosh, Toronto: Don't be surprised if he benefits greatly from his stint on the U.S. national team. After a rocky start, he worked hard and really contributed defense and rebounding. Expect him to be more well-rounded in his fourth NBA season, now that he has grown comfortable with being the franchise player. Playing with buddy T.J. Ford, a pass-first point guard, won't hurt, either. Remember, Bosh is just 22 years old.
6. Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana: Still among the most gifted low-post scorers in the league, O'Neal has fallen victim to nagging injuries that have cut his past two seasons practically in half. If he's absent again this coming season, the Pacers are likely to miss the playoffs. The hope is that he'll grab the reins of a young, revamped Indiana squad and, together with good friend Al Harrington, steer it in the right direction.
7. Pau Gasol, Memphis: If he weren't out until after New Year's, he would have received heavy consideration to move up on this list. He earned that right, blossoming into one of the NBA's best 7-footers. But that broken foot really casts a shadow over the upcoming season, considering the uncertainty over his projected recovery period.
|1. D. Nowitzki||4|
|2. K. Garnett||2||SAME|
|3. T. Duncan||1|
|4. E. Brand||5|
|5. C. Bosh||-|
|6. J. O'Neal||3|
|7. P. Gasol||10|
|8. R. Wallace||7|
|9. A. Jamison||8|
|10. C. Webber||11|
|Complete 2005 rankings|
8. Rasheed Wallace, Detroit: Now more than ever, the Pistons will need 'Sheed to assert himself as the team's best player. There are times where he can take over a game, but because he's so unselfish, he has a tendency to disappear. That can't happen with Big Ben gone, because the remaining Wallace must now key the team's defense as well as pick it up on the boards. Offensively, he's still among the NBA's most versatile big men.
9. Antawn Jamison, Washington: He comes off his most productive season as a Wizard, but ranks this far down the list because he doesn't have the size to muscle up and defend his bigger peers. That makes his improved rebounding figures from 2005-06 (a career-high 9.3 rpg) impressive, but still lacking behind the game's truly dominant fours. Jamison is a combo forward who is great at what he does, but due to his stature, faces a ceiling.
10. Chris Webber, Philadelphia: He has two years left on his contract at a rate of more than $40 million dollars combined. That's frightening, but it's at least good to see that the 33-year-old isn't mailing it in. Last season was his best individual campaign in years, and he played in 75 or more games for the first time since 2000 and only the third time in his career. He's not who he was in his prime, back in those first few years with the Kings, but he's still a headache for defenses.
11. Zach Randolph, Portland: If he can ever lose the off-court baggage and discipline his on-court game, he'd be held in higher regard. He's undeniably talented on offense, unstoppable in the post and solid from the perimeter, with range out to about 18 feet. He has become increasingly reliant on his jumper, though, and still has issues with turnovers. Randolph doesn't give you much defensively or on the boards, and needs to commit himself to improving in those areas. He's only 25, so he can still maximize his potential. To his credit, he has been able to make a strong return from the same knee microfracture surgery that has substantially limited Kenyon Martin.
12. Emeka Okafor, Charlotte: The 2005 Rookie of the Year will look to bounce back from a sophomore season compromised by ankle injuries. He doesn't have to be the focal point of the offense, but he does have to be more assertive and competent in the post, so any progress he would've made last year in that area was lost. Defensively, he's a beast when healthy, able to control the boards and alter shots.
|Sept. 5||Small forward|
|Sept. 12||Power forward|
|Sept. 19||Point guard|
|Sept. 26||Shooting guard|
|Oct. 4||Top 50|
13. Boris Diaw, Phoenix: His play once arriving in Phoenix was a revelation. While there's no better place for him, you get the feeling he would've started asserting himself anywhere, given the opportunity. Diaw's passing is on C-Webb's level, combining his European influence with a deft feel for the game. It's going to be fun watching Diaw operate with a year of the Suns system under his belt and a healthy Amare Stoudemire alongside him.
14. Carlos Boozer, Utah: After nearly two full seasons of inactivity, Boozer showed flashes of getting back to his old self. It had been a while since we've seen the traits that once made him so promising, mainly a hard-nosed style and savvy play around the basket. He rarely takes a bad shot and is always active. This ranking might seem generous given his propensity for injury, but he has proven to be a significant asset capable of making a major impact when he's out there. The Jazz are still waiting on some return on the $68 million investment they made a few years back.
15. Troy Murphy, Golden State: He has averaged a double-double in consecutive years, but his numbers declined in 2005-06 and there wasn't as much interest in him on the market this past offseason as the Warriors would've anticipated. Murph doesn't give you much defensively and is a career 43 percent shooter, but he plays hard and can add a wrinkle offensively when he's feeling it from the perimeter.
16. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Sacramento: After making a career of being the best player on a bad team, 'Reef finally got to the postseason last year and made the most of it, playing inspired basketball. Maybe Abdur-Rahim has been mired without a steady role for too long, but Eric Musselman will find a way to get healthy production from him. Still just 29, Shareef is more than capable of duplicating his career averages of 19 points and seven boards if he gets consistent minutes.
17. David West, New Orleans/Oklahoma City: Coming off his best season as a pro, West finally found his niche playing the pick-and-roll game with brilliant rookie Chris Paul. West is in the mold of an Abdur-Rahim or Jamison in that he's smaller, but that doesn't stop him from mixing it up. As long as his knee holds up, he should continue making steady improvement.
Who is the NBA's best power forward?
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18. Charlie Villanueva, Milwaukee: That 48-point outburst late last season offers a tantalizing view of what could be for Villanueva if he sheds some of his inconsistency. The Bucks believed enough in his promise to part ways with T.J. Ford, so Villanueva will get every opportunity to blossom. With Michael Redd and No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut in place, Milwaukee has the makings of an explosive offense down the road.
19. Chris Wilcox, Seattle: He averaged more than 14 points and eight rebounds in his brief stint with the Sonics after coming over from the Clippers, showing enough to land a new contract. The athletic Wilcox has the physical gifts to be an explosive finisher, rebounder and shot blocker, but has to prove he can be a consistent contributor. He's not stuck behind Brand anymore, so this is his big chance.
20. Channing Frye, New York: One of the few bright spots during the Knicks' season-long nightmare was this rookie's play. He needs to be on the court gaining experience in Year 2 and should benefit from having a more clearly defined role under Isiah Thomas than he did under Larry Brown. Frye has great size, solid post moves and a nice shooting touch, so there's plenty to work with.
Others considered: P.J. Brown, Chicago, Drew Gooden, Cleveland; Anderson Varejao, Cleveland; Maurice Taylor, New York; Darko Milicic, Orlando; Al Jefferson, Boston; Udonis Haslem, Miami; Marvin Williams, Atlanta; Kenyon Martin, Denver; Joe Smith, Denver; Nene, Denver; Kenny Thomas, Sacramento; Kurt Thomas, Phoenix; Tim Thomas, L.A. Clippers; Hakim Warrick, Memphis; Juwan Howard, Houston; Vladimir Radmanovic, L.A. Lakers.