What Does a Power Forward Do In Basketball?

Power forward is one of the most interesting positions in basketball. It sits in a middle ground between center and guard where you need to be tough and powerful, but also mobile enough to play outside defense or chase down rebounds.

In that way, it’s arguably one of the toughest positions on the court. Power forwards need to have size and power, but also a good mix of agility and quickness. We’ll explore those traits, as well as the position as a whole, below.

Power Forwards: The Basics

Power forwards, at their core, are a mix between a small forward and a center. They sit down low on the block or work around the key, but still need the ability to shoot from all different places on the court. Their defense has to be versatile too.

Most of the time, power forwards will stay around the block with the center backing them up. That allows them to stay stout when the person they’re guarding has the ball, but it also gives them the chance to react to switches and enables them to fly out to contest a three.

As you might imagine, being able to play tall and short at the same time means power forwards need to be much quicker than centers. They also have to be much stronger than small forwards.

That is why their average NBA height is 6’7 to 6’10 and their average weight sits just below mid-200-pounds. They can be taller or shorter, but that gives a good estimate of exactly where they sit.

The Many Types of Power Forwards

As power forwards can play in a variety of ways, there are a variety of different power forward styles. Traditionally, power forwards were large, stocky, and tough. Karl Malone and Tim Duncan embodied that rough style, being powerful forces that used their size to overpower opponents.

However, as with so many other positions, power forwards have become a bit more versatile as of late. While it was once fine to go hard in the paint possession after possession, that simply won’t fly in modern basketball. As such, forwards changed the way they played. 

“Stretch forwards” have come to light in the past few years. That term refers to forwards that are able to open up the court by sitting on the three-point line. They can also hit deep threes when needed, which means players have to respect them sneaking out much more than in the past.

The Rise of the Stretch

While basketball once had five set positions, those lines started to blur in the early 2010’s. Teams began to move away from two big men, which culminated in the “all small” Heat during Lebron’s time in Miami as well as the Warriors’ notorious “death lineup” during 2015.

Both teams took home multiple titles, and they each showed that you don’t need two big men down low to win. Rather, they each used smaller, more athletic power forwards as their centers. That opened up the court and created many more opportunities on the three point line.

Lebron and Chris Bosh were both big men who could shoot. While Draymond Green didn’t have the same scoring ability, his strong defense and ability to run enabled the Warriors’ deadly duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to shine from deep.

Smaller, but Still Powerful

In today’s game, power forwards need to be quicker than ever before. They also need to be able to shoot. While some are much taller than many might think, such as Kristap Porzingis at 7’2, all of them are still able to shoot outside when the time comes.

That one trait is critical, and it has completely shifted the entire position. Even more muscular big men who still rely on toughness are leaner than older guards. That allows them to be faster. Even if they don’t score, they can still run to keep up with new high-powered attacks.

That speed also leads to better quickness, which is incredibly important in modern half-court sets. Many teams rely on quick cuts or slashing. Being able to execute or defend those cuts is often the difference between wins and losses.

Final Words

Power forwards may not be as impactful on the game as they once were, but basketball is all about five on five. As such, any position makes a difference. Power forwards have gotten quicker, leaner, and faster with time, but that doesn’t make them any less deadly.

If anything, they can score more efficiently (and in more ways) than ever before. Where they once had a clearly defined role, they now have to be able to do many things at once. That’s not a bad thing. It just creates an entirely new breed that only gets more creative with time.

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