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Ranking NBA’s 20 best forwards: Takeaways from the league’s most versatile position group

Centers dominated the NBA for most of its early history. There are more star point guards in the NBA than any other position. But make no mistake, the current league belongs to forwards. 

The last nine Finals MVPs have fallen under that banner, and it has more regular-season MVPs this century than either guards or centers do. Four of the top five players on our list of the Top 100 players in the NBA were forwards, and the top seven players on this list all fall in the top 14. 

In honor of our Top 100 NBA rankings, let’s take a look at the top 20 forwards in basketball, keeping in mind the following rules: 

  • Rankings are based on our list of the top 100 players in the league. 
  • Players are eligible to be ranked at multiple positions. Anthony Davis, for instance, is both a forward and a center. 
  • Both small forwards and power forwards are eligible. Anyone who falls under the forward umbrella would be considered. 

And so, here are the top 20 forwards in the NBA. 

Top 20 forwards in the NBA

So, what can we take away from this list? Here are the three biggest takeaways:

1. Forwards contain multitudes

Some players on this list, like James and Green, are point guards in the shape and size of a forward. Others, like Davis and Horford, are functionally centers and will play quite a few minutes there this season. Just about every playing style is represented on this list. Typically, the idea of positionless basketball comes down to having as many forwards on the floor as possible. They represent the compromise between center size and guard ball skills. As such, this list is far more stylistically diverse than one of guards or centers would be. 

2. Teamwork makes the dream work

The No. 1 forward (James) and the No. 4 forward (Davis) are on the same team. So are No. 2 (Leonard) and No. 5 (George), and No. 3 (Antetokounmpo) and No. 11 (Middleton). Leonard played with No. 9 (Siakam) last season, and No. 6 (Green) spent the last three seasons with Kevin Durant, who may have topped this list if he was healthy. Star forward tandems are a rarity in NBA history, but they are becoming more and more common. The success of the Lakers and Clippers this season could set a template that teams follow for years to come. 

3. Who’s Next?

Only three players on this list are on rookie deals: Siakam, Tatum and Jackson. This is unsurprising considering the two-way responsibilities of the position. Forwards need to be two-way players, so developing takes longer than offensively-focused guards or rim-protecting centers. That makes it harder to predict who is coming up the pipeline. Siakam certainly wouldn’t have made this list a year ago. Now, he’s in the top 10. 

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