- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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As the NBA continues to evolve into a more athletic and fast-paced league, so have the players who used to camp out in the paint at the power forward position. It's a trend that has been growing for the past five or six years, and we now have a whole host of power forwards who can run the floor and extend the court past 15 feet on the offensive end.
The fantasy effects of this growing trend have been subtle but certainly not nonexistent. First, take a look at all the players with dual eligibility at both power forward and center this season. Center isn't so thin anymore, is it? Now, try to find a player who doesn't have center eligibility but can block shots. There simply aren't too many true power forwards that are blocking shots these days. As fantasy's most elusive category, it is more imperative now than ever that we find blocks out of our PF/C spots. And if you decide to go with a non-shot-blocking power forward, you'll need to find a way to get your blocks somewhere else.
Now, I'm not saying that you should ignore the ever-growing list of power forwards who cannot block shots, but the scarcity of the category is something that needs to be in your mind when preparing for fantasy drafts this year. Personally, I like to place a premium on bigs who can block shots, and this year that means that I'll likely have to get at least one or two of that type of player early in the draft. Luckily, there seems to be a large crop of high-upside but unproven power forward options in the mid-to-late rounds this season.
McKitish's power forward tiers
Kevin Love may not block shots, but he is a unique fantasy talent and dominant rebounder so it's easy to look the other way on his defensive deficiencies. With averages of 20.2 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 3-pointers while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 85 percent from the line, Love spent most of the season as a top-10 fantasy player. If he could somehow add some steals or blocks to his repertoire, he could easily be a top-three player. Dirk Nowitzki isn't your typical big rebounding and shot-blocking power forward, and I really wish I could play him at small forward, but he's still one of the safest fantasy investments out there. Not only is he one of fantasy's most efficient players (51.7 percent from the floor, 89.2 percent from the line), but he rarely misses games and has been a dominant fantasy force for the past decade. I always give bonus points for consistency in the early rounds, and given his history, Nowitzki might be the lowest risk of any of the players on the board. There are so few players in the league who can both block shots and hit free throws, and that is exactly what makes Pau Gasol such a valuable commodity in fantasy leagues. Granted, it helps that he can put up 18 points and at least 10 rebounds per game, but it's the combination of shot-blocking and the percentages that really separates him from the pack. Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Al Horford and LaMarcus Aldridge didn't quite make it into Tier 1, but they are all knocking on the door of elite status. Any one of these players has the potential to step into Tier 1 by the end of the season, which really shows the depth at power forward this season.
This is a growing group of power forwards who remain valuable thanks to superior scoring, rebounding and shooting percentages, headlined by Zach Randolph, who I somehow don't hate even though he's never blocked more than 0.5 shots per game in a season. It probably has to do with how he can put up 20 points and 12 rebounds with close to a steal per game and shoot lights-out from the floor. Slowed by an early-season elbow injury, David Lee was much better in the second half, posting 17.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals with his typical terrific percentages after the All-Star break. Now in his second season with the Warriors, Lee may actually be a solid value pick thanks to his struggles early last season. In a sad but true development, Chris Bosh has joined the ranks of the non-shot-blockers. Though he was never a dominant shot-blocker, Bosh was at least able to swat a shot per game during the previous few seasons. After only 0.6 blocks per game last season, Bosh can no longer be relied upon to help in the category. He'll still get us 18 and 8 with great percentages, but his days as a shot-blocker may be over. Blake Griffin may have blocked only 0.5 shots per game last season, but I wouldn't have him ranked in Tier 2 if I didn't believe that he'd improve greatly on the defensive end. With his athleticism and talent, there is no reason that he can't create a steal and block a shot per game.
The next generation
Serge Ibaka was an absolute monster after the Jeff Green trade, averaging 10.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and a ridiculous 3.0 blocks in 28 games after the All-Star break. After showing marked improvement on both ends of the floor in his first two seasons, Ibaka should be primed to break out in a big way in 2011-12. Remember, at just 22 years of age, he is only beginning to touch the surface of his potential. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Ibaka becomes a 13-15 point, 10-11 rebound, 2.5-3.0 block per game type of player in the future. DeMarcus Cousins may be raw and inconsistent, but he's also ultra-talented. With averages of 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks in 62 starts last season, it is clear that Cousins has a ton of upside. He'll likely be a fifth-round pick in fantasy leagues this year, but could provide third-round value if he progresses the way many think he will. After posting 13.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 25 games after the All-Star break, Greg Monroe has become one of my favorite targets in fantasy drafts. Monroe will be leaned on heavily in Detroit this season and has a great opportunity to build on his strong rookie campaign.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.