Until 2011, it was easy to dismiss Dirk Nowitzki when discussing the best power forwards in NBA history. Sure, he'd been an extraordinary offensive player and a league MVP, but he'd never won a title. (Of course, neither did Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, but at least they had Michael Jordan as an excuse.) Nowitzki was ripped for being too soft to be a champion. Then, all of a sudden, in his 13th NBA season, he wasn't. By carrying the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 title, showing fierce resolve and fighting through a dislocated finger, he made us reconsider his place in the game. So, where does he rank now?
Dennis Rodman (1986-2006)
Has anyone ever gone after missed shots with more relish than Rodman? Despite below-average size (6-foot-8, 220) for a power forward, he led the league in rebounds seven straight years, usually by wide margins. He also was one of the best defenders in NBA history, able to hound and annoy players at all five positions. His increasingly outrageous antics obscured the fact that he had a tremendous basketball IQ. The dude understood his role and played it to perfection on five championship teams — two in Detroit, three in Chicago.
Dave DeBusschere (1962-74)
Rugged and physical at both ends of the floor, DeBusschere averaged 16.1 points and 11.0 rebounds while making six All-NBA Defensive first teams. He helped the Knicks win titles in 1970 and 1973 and eventually joined teammates Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Willis Reed in the Hall of Fame.
Kevin McHale (1980-93)
When McHale received an entry pass in the low post — the area he called his "torture chamber" — pity his poor defender. What would McHale do? Jump hook? Short fadeaway? Spin right? Spin left? Up and under? He abused countless opponents with an arsenal of moves unmatched by any big man in history other than Hakeem Olajuwon. He was also an outstanding defender and a terrific complement to Larry Bird. Together they battled the Lakers throughout the '80s and won three championships.
Bob Pettit (1954-65)
Pettit and Dolph Schayes were the premier power forwards in the early years of the NBA, with Pettit getting the nod for his dominant play during that era. In 11 seasons, all with the Hawks, he made the All-NBA team 10 times, won two MVP awards and averaged 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds. Though his career came during the heart of the Celtics dynasty, he did beat Boston and Bill Russell in the 1958 Finals, scoring 50 points in Game 6.
Elvin Hayes (1968-84)
The "Big E" had the ideal physique of a power forward, plus a sweet turnaround jumper that helped him lead the league in scoring as a rookie in 1968, something that hasn't been done since. Hayes was a force of nature throughout his 16-year career and still ranks among the league's top 10 scorers and rebounders. Along with center Wes Unseld, he led the Bullets to three NBA Finals, including the 1978 title over the SuperSonics.
Kevin Garnett (1995-present)
Garnett nearly wasted his whole career in Minnesota, which would have made it difficult to evaluate his place in history. After all, what do you say about someone who did nothing but put up big numbers on mediocre teams? That's why the 2007 trade to Boston was a godsend for KG. It allowed him to show that his versatile offensive skills, defensive tenacity and intense leadership were indeed championship-quality all along. Like any NBA star, he just needed a few talented teammates to prove it.
Dirk Nowitzki (1994-present)
He's the best shooter and one of the top scorers among power forwards in NBA history, but we already knew that. What we found out in 2011 is that Nowitzki could will his team to a championship as well. In our eyes, that amazing postseason run, in which he utterly outplayed the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, allows him to leapfrog Hayes and Garnett, who have similar career credentials and also won one title each.
Charles Barkley (1984-2000)
There may never be another NBA player like Barkley, who measured in at just under 6-foot-5, yet had all of the power you'd want in a power forward, plus the speed, agility and skill of a guard. How many times did Barkley rip down a rebound, dribble the length of the court and finish with a ferocious dunk? For 10 straight seasons in Philadelphia and Phoenix, he made the All-NBA first or second team, winning the MVP in 1993. Though he never won a title, thanks mainly to Michael Jordan, Barkley remains ahead of Nowitzki due to superior rebounding, defense and all-around impact.
Karl Malone (1985-2004)
Like Barkley, "The Mailman" never delivered a championship. (Again, thanks Mike!) But that only slightly diminishes the 18 incredible seasons he played with John Stockton for the Utah Jazz. A devastating finisher in transition and on pick-and-roll plays, Malone made 11 All-NBA first teams, won two MVPs and even made three All-Defensive first teams. No NBA player has shot and made more free throws, none have pulled down more defensive rebounds and only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has scored more points.
Tim Duncan (1997-present)
Several power forwards have been better rebounders than Duncan. A few have been more prolific scorers. Others have won multiple championships and been as good on defense. But no player at his position has provided the complete package of Duncan, whose understated demeanor and playing style can't obscure an amazing body of work: four titles, two MVPs, nine All-NBA first teams, eight All-Defensive first teams and three NBA Finals MVPs. He was never the flashiest or loudest power forward. He was simply the best.