A generation ago, power forwards were some of the least skilled players in the game. They were generally big men not quite tall enough to be centers, enforcers whose primary job was to rebound, provide muscle and stay out of the way offensively.
However, as the game has become more perimeter-oriented, the position has changed with it. Both teams in the NBA Finals prefer to play small, with only one conventional big man on the floor and an All-NBA 6'9+ forward more comfortable playing on the perimeter than in the paint.
In a game revolving around throwing a ball through a hoop raised 10 feet in the air, the most effective way to defend someone is to be quicker and have longer arms. That's what makes LeBron James and Kevin Durant so hard to defend: they're too fast for power forwards and too tall for small forwards. Durant averaged 28 points a game on 49 percent shooting this year while LeBron averaged 27 points a game on 53 percent shooting.
However, change goes two ways, and as 6'9+ players moved away from the basket on offense, their defensive counterparts have begun to do the same. If offensive players no longer want to play in the low post, why bulk up to 240-250 pounds? Why not stay as lean as possible in order to emphasize lateral quickness?
The 2012 draft class, which features three 6'10+ forwards capable of defending out to the three-point line, represents the next step in the evolution of the game. Power forward is the deepest position in the draft, and it features a wide variety of players and playing styles. Anthony Davis was a center at Kentucky while Perry Jones III has tried to convince teams he's a small forward in pre-draft workouts.
But, regardless of where they'll best fit offensively, along with UNC forward John Henson, they're the first wave of defenders with a chance of matching up with someone like Durant. In a league with vanishingly few low-post scorers, the best shot-blockers are beginning to leave the paint.
1) Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Davis was absolutely dominant as the last line of defense on Kentucky's national title team, a 6'3 high-school guard who kept his foot-speed while sprouting to 6'10 and 220 pounds with a 7'4 wingspan before his senior season. However, he would need to put on a lot of weight just to be able to box out the average NBA center, and he might be better off staying light and avoiding some of the banging on the interior.
He averaged 14 points on 62 percent shooting as a freshman, but almost all his points came off rebounds, alley-oops and hustle plays. His 71 percent free throw shooting percentage indicates he has the potential to become an effective perimeter shooter, but his ability to create his own shot is still the great "known unknown" of this draft.
2) Perry Jones III, Baylor
If Anthony Davis played in the middle of a 1-3-1 zone for two seasons and never had a guard capable of or interested in passing the ball, he wouldn't be seen in quite the same light. Of course, there's no reason to look for an on-court explanation for the struggles of a top prospect; it's much easier to make baseless character attacks on a 19-year-old who has always conducted himself professionally while overcoming tremendous personal adversity.
Jones, at 6'11 and 235 pounds with a 7'1 wingspan and a max vertical of 38', is one of the most talented big men to come into the NBA in a long time. He's not as comfortable scoring with his back to the basket, but he's got excellent form on his three-point shot (30 percent as a sophomore) as well as exceptional ball-handling and passing ability. On a team with a good point guard, he would be unstoppable on the pick-and-roll.
3) John Henson, UNC
Henson has snuck under the radar for most of the pre-draft process, but there isn't all that much of a difference between him and Davis. At 6'10 and 215 pounds with a 7'5 wingspan, he operates on a higher plane than the vast majority of players, averaging 2.9 blocks and 9.9 rebounds a game.
Offensively, he's a fairly skilled player who can play with the ball in his hands (1.3 assists on 1.3 turnovers) and hit mid-range jumpers. While his lack of bulk could be an issue, he's versatile enough to play at several positions and there are very few teams with multiple low-post scorers who could punish him.
4) Royce White, Iowa State
You can call him a rich man's Boris Diaw or a poor man's LeBron James, either way, White is the most unique player in the draft. He's a 6'8, 260-pound point forward with a 7'0 wingspan who led Iowa State in points (13.4), rebounds (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.2), blocks (0.9) and field goal percentage (53.4 percent). If he had a jumper and wasn't struggling with some serious off-the-court issues, he'd be a top 5 pick.
5) Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Jones is eerily similar to Josh Smith: a skilled and athletic 6'9, 250-pound combo forward with questionable shot selection and body language. His stats took a dip this season, but that's what happens when you're playing next to two lottery picks. He's a good ball-handler for his size, an excellent finisher and weak-side shot-blocker (1.8) and he's not a bad passer either (1.3 assists on 1.6 turnovers).
6) Thomas Robinson, Kansas
It's easy to see why people are so excited about Robinson: he's an extremely athletic 6'9, 245-pound big man with a very high motor who put up eye-popping numbers (17.7 points and 11.1 rebounds on 50 percent shooting). However, I couldn't justify using a top-5 pick on a power forward who can't create his own shot, make plays for others or block shots. Watch how he struggled in his two games against Kentucky's NBA frontline and ignore his ability to destroy teams like Missouri, who didn't have a scholarship player above 6'9.
7) Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
Moultrie is an excellent complementary big man who can do everything except consistently create his own shot. He's long (6'11 and 235 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan) and athletic enough to play both interior positions, while being able to rebound (10.5), shoot from the perimeter (78 percent from the free throw line) and finish in the paint (52 percent from the floor).
8) Drew Gordon, New Mexico
Gordon, who transferred from UCLA, is a very well-rounded power forward at 6'9 and 240 pounds. He's a decent athlete who can rebound (11.1), defend his position (1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks) and shoot from the perimeter (75 percent free throw shooter). He'll never be a top-line starter, but he should be able to carve out a 10-year career in the NBA.
9) Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Sullinger, like a lot of unathletic collegiate scorers, is a one-dimensional player whose one dimension (low post scoring) isn't going to translate to the NBA. He's a "4.5" who is too slow to defend power forwards and too short to defend centers; I'll believe he can be Kevin Love when I see him defeat Kevin Durant in a three-point shootout.
10) Kevin Jones, West Virginia
Jones has two skills that should translate immediately: rebounding (10.9) and three-point shooting. His 26 percent as a senior was mostly a result of him forcing shots for a West Virginia team without a lot of scoring; his 40 percent as a sophomore on a Mountaineers team that made the Final Four is a better reflection of how he'd be used in the NBA. But at 6'7 and 250 pounds, he's a "3.5" who lacks a clear defensive position and will have to come off the bench.
Missed the cut: JaMychal Green (Alabama), Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure), Henry Sims (Georgetown), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Quincy Acy (Baylor)