Ranking the Top 10 NBA Power Forwards of the 1980s
Let’s start by saying we don’t have Larry Bird and James Worthy as NBA power forwards. We’ll consider former Detroit Pistons star Dennis Rodman one, although his rebounding run began in the 1990s. That said, the list of power forwards from the 1980s is a pretty thin group. We looked back at those who played the position during the ’80s, and we ranked our top 10.
No. 10: Clark Kellogg (Indiana Pacers)
Clark Kellogg is one of those what-if players.
The Indiana Pacers selected Kellogg with the eighth overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-7 forward from Ohio State didn’t disappoint.
Kellogg made the All-Rookie Team for the 1982-83 season after averaging 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. He started all 81 games he played and averaged 34.1 minutes. He followed up his rookie season with another spectacular one, putting up 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. He was also spectacular during the 1984-85 season when he went for 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds.
In his fourth season, knee problems limited him to 19 games. He was on his way to having another strong season, putting up 17.6 points and 8.8 rebounds during that stretch. Kellogg missed the entire 1985-86 season with knee issues. He returned the following year but managed to play just four games before being forced into retirement.
No. 9: Cliff Robinson (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Not to be confused with Clifford Robinson of the 1990s, Cliff Robinson played for six teams during his 11 years in the NBA. Selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 11th overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, Robinson had a solid rookie campaign (13.6 points, 7.2 rebounds) before blossoming the following season.
In his second year in the NBA, Robinson, a 6-foot-9 forward who also played some center, averaged 19.5 points while grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game. He was then traded to the Kansas City Kings, where he played just 38 games before being shipped off to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He spent three seasons with the Cavs, averaging a double-double in his two full seasons. In his first year, he put up 18.0 points and 11.1 rebounds in 77 games. The following year, he went for 17.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
He also played for the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers in the ’80s and never averaged below 14.8 points in a season.
No. 8: Tom Chambers (Seattle SuperSonics)
Tom Chambers played the first two seasons of his NBA career with the San Diego Clippers, the team that drafted him eighth overall in 1981. After averaging better than 17 points in each of his first two seasons, the Clippers traded Chambers to the Seattle SuperSonics, where he played the next five seasons.
With Seattle, Chambers averaged 20.4 points and made his first All-Star appearance during the 1986-87 season. That year, he averaged 23.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. At 6-foot-10, Chambers was a far better scorer than rebounder. For his career, Chambers averaged 6.1 rebounds.
During the 1988-89 season, Chambers returned to the All-Star Game for the first of three straight seasons. All of those came after he signed a free-agent deal with the Phoenix Suns. Chambers was named All-NBA in two of his 16 years in the league.
No. 7: Dan Roundfield (Atlanta Hawks):
One of the most underrated forwards in the NBA, Dan Roundfield averaged a double-double for six straight seasons (seven if you count the 9.9 rebounds he averaged in the 1983-84 season).
The 6-foot-8 power forward out of Central Michigan made the first of his three straight All-Star appearances during the 1979-80 season when he put up 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game with the Atlanta Hawks. He spent six seasons in Atlanta, averaging 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds during that time.
While he could put up some big numbers, Roundfield was also All-Defense five times in his 12-year career. Roundfield was also All-NBA during the 1979-80 season.
No. 6: Larry Nance (Phoenix Suns)
Larry Nance is known for his 1984 Slam Dunk title, but he also showed he could put up some big numbers.
Nance spent 13 years in the NBA, splitting his time with the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers. After playing just 14.8 minutes per game as a rookie, Nance exploded in his second year with the Suns, averaging 16.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. From there, his scoring numbers only got better each year.
During the 1984-85 season, Nance earned his first All-Star berth, putting up 19.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. Even though he averaged better than 20 points and eight rebounds over the next two years, Nance didn’t earn All-Star honors.
He returned to the All-Star Game in the 1988-89 season with the Cavaliers after averaging 17.2 points and 8.0 rebounds. Nance was All-Defense three times.
No. 5: Terry Cummings (Milwaukee Bucks)
The second overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft by the San Diego Clippers, Terry Cummings made his mark in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Cummings played two seasons with the Clippers, winning Rookie of the Year in the 1982-83 season. In his first season, the 6-foot-9 Cummings averaged 23.7 points and 10.6 rebounds.
After two seasons with the Clippers, he was traded to the Bucks, where he spent the next five seasons. In his first year with the Bucks, he earned the first of his two All-Star recognitions, averaging 23.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. Cummings was also All-NBA twice. With Milwaukee, Cummings averaged 19.4 points and 7.8 rebounds.
The Bucks traded Cummings to the San Antonio Spurs late in the decade. After six seasons with the Spurs, he returned to Milwaukee for another season.
No. 4: Buck Williams (New Jersey Nets)
Buck Williams wasted no time making an impact in the NBA after being the third overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in 1981.
He was an All-Star in his rookie season, averaging 15.5 points and 12.3 rebounds while playing all 82 games. Williams was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. He returned to the All-Star Game in his second year with similar numbers (17.0 points, 12.5 rebounds). Williams averaged a double-double for the first seven years of his career.
A durable 6-foot-8 power forward, Williams missed one regular-season game in his first six years. He also shot 54.9% from the floor in his 17-year career. He’ll go down as one of the most underrated forwards in NBA history.
Williams was All-Defense four times and finished with three All-Star appearances.
No. 3: Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)
Malone did most of his damage in the 1990s, so he slips a little on this list. Drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 13th overall pick in 1985, Malone caught fire in the last few years of the decade before carrying his big numbers into the 1990s.
In his second NBA season, Malone averaged 21.7 points and 10.4 rebounds. He teamed with point guard Johnson Stockton to become one of the league’s greatest all-time tandems. Malone earned the first of 11 straight All-Star honors during the 1987-88 season when his scoring average ballooned to 27.7 points. He also pulled down 12.0 rebounds.
Malone was All-NBA 14 times in his career. He’s a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
No. 2: Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics)
Kevin McHale found himself in the perfect situation in his first year in the NBA. The Celtics had the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft. They traded it to the Golden State Warriors (along with the No. 13 pick) for veteran center Robert Parish and the third pick. With that third pick, they selected McHale.
McHale joined Parish and Bird to eventually form arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history. For the early part of the decade, McHale came off the bench, playing behind Cedric Maxwell.
A two-time Sixth Man of the Year winner, McHale became a full-time starter for the 1985-86 season after the Celtics traded Maxwell and brought in Bill Walton. Walton replaced McHale as the sixth man. As an everyday starter, McHale averaged 21.3 points and 8.1 rebounds and earned the first of six straight All-Star honors.
McHale won three championships with the Celtics and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. He’s a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 1: Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers)
Taken fifth overall in the 1984 NBA Draft, Charles Barkley was everything as advertised. After averaging 14.0 points in his rookie campaign, Barkley strung together 11 straight seasons where he put up better than 20 points per game. He did that while averaging no less than 10.1 rebounds.
In just his third season, Barkley, all 6-foot-6 of him, led the NBA in rebounds with 14.6 per game. He also made the first of his 11 straight All-Star appearances.
Barkley played eight seasons with the Sixers before spending time with the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets. All of his time in Philly was during the ’80s. During his time with the Sixers, he averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds.
Barkley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. He also is a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.