The power forward position has evolved perhaps more than any other position over the course of NBA history. The 4-spot used to be manned by 6’11” rim protectors and rebounders, players like Karl Malone who depended on strong fundamentals. The modern game revolves much more around 3-point shooting on offense and switchability on defense, and power forward is no different. Some of the best power forwards in the NBA are guys like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant who would have been playing small forward or even shooting guard a couple of decades ago. There are some exciting prospects at the power forward position this year – let’s break them down.
|Player Name||College/International Team||Overall Ranking||NBA Comp|
|Onyeka Okungwu||University of Southern California||#9||Ben Wallace|
|Obi Toppin||Dayton University||#10||Rudy Gay|
|Precious Achiuwa||University of Memphis||#12||Jerami Grant|
|Patrick Williams||Florida State University||#13||Marcus Morris|
|Jalen Smith||University of Maryland||#23||Thomas Bryant|
|Killian Tillie||Gonzaga University||#27||Davis Bertans|
|Xavier Tillman||Michigan State University||#35||Derrick Favors|
|Amar Sylla||Filou Oostende (Belgium)||#44||Pascal Siakam|
|Isaiah Stewart||University of Washington||#47||Zach Randolph|
|Paul Reed||DePaul University||#50||Darrell Arthur|
#1 - Onyeka Okungwu: Plenty of NBA teams drafting in the lottery this year have huge defensive deficiencies and Okungwu will be coveted for his prowess on that end of the floor. Defensively, it's as though Okungwu was built in a lab as he has the athleticism and quickness to guard players on the perimeter and yet unbelievable strength, length, and anticipation to block shots at the rim. Offensively, it would be generous to say he's a work in progress as he hasn't shown any kind of consistency in scoring on anything other than put-back dunks and lobs. Okungwu could be one of the best defenders in the NBA in his first few years in the league. If his offensive game develops, he's a future All-Star.
#2 - Obi Toppin: Dayton came from out of nowhere in the NCAA this season with a 29-2 record and their first season in school history with eight straight weeks in the Associated Press top-25 poll. Toppin was the team's best player and MVP by far as he went on to win the Naismith Men's College Player of the Year and John R. Wooden awards. Toppin is a late bloomer to the game and he's already 22 years old, but if his massive improvements this last year are any indication, there is still a huge amount of untapped upside. He's a skilled face-up forward who can shoot from anywhere on the court and finish above the rim with explosiveness. Toppin has a strong future in the NBA.
#3 - Precious Achiuwa: There are a number of late-lottery prospects who are highly flawed but have a specific skill set to fall in love with. Achiuwa fits the bill as he's still a very raw player but he has one of the best motors in the entire class and is a force on the boards on both ends of the court. His decision-making and court awareness could use some improvement, but his ability to force turnovers and get out in the fast break is very valuable. If Achiuwa's shooting and finesse develop to match his explosiveness and tenacity, he has tremendous potential.
#4 - Patrick Williams: NBA contenders always need a role-playing do-it-all forward who can shoot, pass, defend, and rebound depending on what the matchup requires. Patrick Williams, a former Florida State forward, is a prototypical version of this as he plays with a chip on his shoulder and has tremendous intangible qualities. Williams isn't exceptional at any one thing, but his all-around skill set combined with a strong work rate and great leadership abilities will have teams fawning over him.
Late First-Round Picks
#5 - Jalen Smith: Every time I watched Maryland play basketball over the past couple of seasons, Jalen Smith was the guy who stood out. Even when Bruno Fernando, a 2019 2nd-round pick, shared the court with him, Smith's tenacity, athleticism, rebounding, and shot-swatting made him a highlight-reel machine. Smith may project as more of a center in the modern NBA as his shooting is still progressing and while athletic, he isn't really the type of guy you want defending on the perimeter. However, with a below-average wingspan, limited core strength, and poor body control, I don't see him being an elite defender of centers in the NBA. A couple of decades ago, Smith likely would have been highly prioritized, but I still have concerns over how he translates to the modern game.
#6 - Killian Tillie: Dedicated college basketball fans have been watching Killian Tillie for a number of years now. The Gonzaga big man was a highly-touted French teen prodigy who NCAA teams rushed to get a signature from. At Gonzaga, Tillie struggled to stay on the court as he battled injuries, particularly during his junior season in which he only played 15 games. In his senior season, though, Tillie broke through with per-40 minute numbers of 22.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. He was a career 44.4% 3-point shooter at Gonzaga and his perimeter scoring is likely to be one of his best attributes in the NBA.
#7 - Xavier Tillman: As the head coach of Michigan State, Tom Izzo has produced some wily, pro-ready veterans who have made a significant impact in the NBA. Tillman is a unique prospect in that he juggled being the leader of one of the most publicized college teams at the same time as being a husband and father. Tillman was a vocal leader for MSU and dictated their play on both ends of the floor. His ball IQ is special and his help defending and short-roll passing is where it really stands out. In the past, scouts would have been concerned about his tweener size, but he profiles as a solid-small ball center or big-bodied power forward for the NBA. His 3-point shooting needs work, but with his work ethic and proven production, there's no question he can play in the pros.
#8 - Amar Sylla: Every year, there are a few NBA prospects who are huge question marks for a variety of reasons and are seen as having a huge range of outcomes. Sylla is the top player in that mold this season as he's a late-comer to the game and is still just 18 years old. He has length for days with a 7'3" wingspan, but at 6'9", 190 lbs he clearly needs to put on some muscle. Sylla's best positional fit is still unknown, but he's an enticing long-term project for teams with an established player development staffs.
#9 - Isaiah Stewart: The former Washington big man is an old-school power forward who is one of the most physically imposing players in the draft at 6'9", 250 lbs. He also has a 7'4" wingspan which suggests he'll be a high-level rebounder and rim protector. So why do I have him as my #9 power forward? His vertical explosiveness is lacking a lot of the time and I'm not confident he has the mobility to play more than a part-time role in the NBA. Stewart's offensive game is also nonexistent outside of dominating with his size, something that won't be nearly as easy in the NBA.
#10 - Paul Reed: I won't bore you with another joke about how DePaul's best player last season was named Paul. Instead, I'll break down Reed's breakthrough junior season in which he averaged 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and put himself on the NBA's map. He also showed up as a huge defensive presence with 2.6 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. As just a three-star recruit heading into college, Reed has been overlooked for much of his career, but he should be on your radar as a potentially impactful second-round pick.