With tonight’s matchup against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves are getting their names bandied about as conversation turns to the inevitable Best Power Forwards in The Game. At Hardwood Paroxysm, Andrew Lynch circles around the arguments that favor Love and pit him against LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers as the game’s best four. (It should be pointed out to some of our commenters that Blake Griffin gets even more cursory acknowledgement than Dirk) The real game changer is saved for the final third of the article…
The arguments against LeBron James as a power forward are reasonable, indeed. For the vast portion of his career, he’s been a small forward. Until last season with the Heat, it was easily the most common position he’d played in both Cleveland and Miami. Beyond that, it seems somewhat short-sighted to proclaim James any position, let alone power forward. Where positionality has become a moving target in a league increasingly focused on putting the best possible combination of players and skill sets together, James stands as the shining example of the superfluous nature of positional labels. Depending on the context, he’s a point shooting small power forward capable of switching onto centers and doing a fair job of defending them. The position that LeBron James plays is LeBron James, the best position there is.
And, not for nothing, James’s supreme domination across various roles and positions can make for fairly reductive arguments. It’s not very fun if every discussion of the best player in a given situation circles back to the same answer. To declare Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge the best power forward in the league “if we assume LeBron isn’t a power forward” is simply a tacit acknowledgement of that fact, even if it’s not openly stated.
So yes, James has largely played small forward for his career. Yes, Shane Battier often defends opposing power forwards. And yes, the conversation can get a little stagnant when LeBron is the answer to every question. But at this moment in space and time, LeBron James is the power forward for the defending world champions. And he’s the best damned power forward in the NBA.