We continue our positional power rankings in the NBA with the top ten small forwards:
10. Nicolas Batum – Portland Trail Blazers
For the first few seasons of Batum’s career, he was given a pass for little improvements from season to season because of his age. However, this season will be his sixth in the league and he is still only 24, but it’s time for the Frenchman to finally make the big leap everyone has expected him to. His numbers throughout his career do not necessarily indicate a big jump this year, unfortunately. While his scoring has gone up four points in the last four seasons, his field goal percentage has dropped considerably in that time (from .519% in 2010 when he averaged only 10.1 points per game to .423 last season when he averaged a career high 14.3 points per game). His three-point percentage has dropped at nearly the same rate. There were a few noticeable differences in Batum’s season last year though: his assist numbers jumped from 1.4 in 2012 to 4.9 last season. His rebounding numbers went up as well and he averaged over one block and one steal per game. He is great on defense and he just needs to become a more efficient score. If he can do that, he might become an all-star.
9. Tobias Harris – Orlando Magic
Before you scratch your head at Harris’s inclusion in this list, consider this: how many 20-year-old NBA players have scored 30 points, pulled in 19 rebounds and dished out five assists in a single game over the past 25 NBA season? Just one: Harris. When Harris was traded mid-season from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Magic, it would have been crazy to consider Harris a top-ten forward. He averaged less than five points per game and only played about 12 minutes per game. But here are his numbers with the Magic after the trade: 17.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.4 BLK, 0.9 STL with a .453 FG% in 27 games. While limited in sample size, those are all-star numbers. He just turned 21 and if he gets any better, the Magic might have one of the leagues best at the position.
8. Chandler Parsons – Houston Rockets
When Parsons was selected 38th overall in the 2011 NBA draft, many expected him to put up the numbers he did in his rookie season: 9.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG with 1.0 three-pointers per game. Those are fine numbers for a second-round rookie, but not ones that will land you on the top-ten small-forward list. However, in his sophomore season, Parson’s added six points per game on top of his rookie mark, doubled his three-pointers made per game and increased all of his percentages. The 24-year-old 6′ 9″ marksman has the ability to defend too. On the Rockets, he has the pleasure of remaining out of the spotlight with Dwight Howard and James Harden as teammates. If he makes a similar leap this coming season, the Rockets are surefire NBA champion contenders.
7. Paul Pierce – Brooklyn Nets
The 36-year-old Paul Pierce is no longer the top-three forward he used to be, but he can still bring it when it matters most. Perhaps his most lethal weapon is his ability to hit clutch shots. When the game is on the line, there is perhaps no one you’d rather see taking that shot than Paul Pierce. Pierce has played his entire career with the Boston Celtics, but was traded to Brooklyn this offseason. The Nets will send out five starters all capable and likely to end up in the 15-20 PPG range, so Pierce’s numbers will dip for sure. After a slow start to last season, Pierce proved he still was one of the games best forwards. He averaged close to 20 PPG with about 6 RPG and 6 APG after the all-star break, which coincided with Rajon Rondo’s season-ending injury. He won’t get as many touches this season, and his defense is becoming worse and worse as he continues to slow with old age. But he is still better than the majority of NBA small forwards.
6. Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs
The 22-year-old small forward had an incredible sophomore season last year for the Spurs. How great Leonard can become is unclear, but if he doesn’t get any better, the Spurs have a great cornerstone to build around. Leonard has always been a defensive guru; last season he averaged 1.7 steals per game. He is one of the quickest forwards in the game and could easily become the best defensive small forward in the game. The aspect of Leonard’s game that no one saw coming was his offensive efficiency. Leonard became lethal from downtown last season, shooting .374 from 3pt range in the regular season and .390 in the playoffs. Speaking of the playoffs, Leonard was incredible for all 21 Spurs playoff games. He shot .545% from FG’s, hauled in 9.0 RPG to go with 13.5 PPG and 1.8 steals. If Leonard puts up numbers like that this season, he is an all-star. Or perhaps he becomes even better. Leonard is the future for the Spurs.
5. Andre Iguodala – Golden State Warriors
Many might consider Andre Iguodala a shooting guard, but he is without a doubt a small forward on the backcourt-loaded Warriors. He may be a bit undersized at 6′ 6″, but he is one of the peskiest defenders in the game. He is also one of the best ball-handling forwards in the game, likely the second best after LeBron James. Iguodala is an efficient scorer: .460 career FG% on only 11.6 shots per game. His career 15.1 points per game is impressive knowing he also carries rebound and assist numbers right around five-per as well. Last season he averaged 5.4 APG and 5.3 RPG. He only committed 2.6 turnovers per game. On the Warriors, Iguodala could be lethal as a ball-handler with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry to his sides. His assist numbers could go up, and he will also continue his efficiency on both ends of the court. Iguodala is one of the smartest basketball players in the game and is as well rounded as they come.
4. Loul Deng – Chicago Bulls
Luol Deng has never scored 20 points per game, but that’s not what defines his game. Last season he averaged 16.5 PPG, and his career-high is just 18.8. He pulled in 6.3 RPG and contributed 3 APG. He shot .426 from the field, only .322 from long-range and .816 from the charity stripe. These are all good numbers, but nothing to write home about. So what makes Deng so valuable? Watch Deng in a game and it will be much clearer; he is arguably the best defender in the game at any position. His 6′ 9″ frame makes him a nightmare for even the best forwards in the game. But it’s not just his defense. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau constantly praises Deng’s ability to always be in the right place at the right time — referring to Deng as the “glue” of the team. Deng has great offensive and defensive awareness, and as the 3rd or 4th option on offense, it makes him a lethal threat for wide-open looks. With Derrick Rose back, Deng’s efficiency will go up.
3. Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony is the best scorer in the game. He can put it on the floor and drive, he can heat up from long-range, he is as crafty of a scorer as you’ll ever see — but he lacks in too many categories to ever threaten Durant and James for the top spots. Anthony is a mediocre-at-best defender. He has a decent passing game, but rarely chooses to pass over taking the shots himself. He isn’t the best floor leader — did we mention how good of a scorer he is? But don’t be too enthralled by his league-leading 28.7 points per game last season; he also led the league in usage rate with a 32.2. Led the league, not all small forwards. That means in almost one-third of the Knicks’ possessions Anthony either scored via a field goal or at the free throw line, assisted on a score or turned the ball over. The ugly part of that is that he averaged just as many assists (2.6) as turnovers. A one-to-one assist to turnover ratio is terrible. For comparison’s sake, LeBron James had a usage rate of 28.2; but he chipped in 7.3 assists and only 3 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, he only averaged 1.9 points per game less than Anthony. With that said, Anthony isn’t exactly the most efficient player in the game.
2. Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
If you’re getting your fantasy basketball team in order, Kevin Durant gives LeBron James a run for his money as the best option at SF in terms of statistics. However, there are things Durant can’t do on the court that James can. He is not the passer James is, nor the lethal defender. Durant is a way better shooter, but that’s about it. He will post more points, but tally far fewer assists. Durant’s biggest fault comes at his inability to turn the Thunder’s 1-2 punch of he and point guard Russell Westbrook into the scariest combo in the game (both are considered top-five overall players in the game). However, he is only 24 and could work on that this season. If he becomes a better leader in OKC, or if he can knock off the Heat in the finals, James will have real competition for his MVP trophy.
1. LeBron James – Miami Heat
There is no question mark at number one. LeBron James isn’t just the best small forward in the game; he is the best overall player in the game. Two seasons ago, it was marginally more difficult to slot him in as the best without having won a championship, but now he has two rings and multiple MVP honors. There isn’t a thing James can’t do on the court better than almost every other player in the league. He plays every position except for center, and plays them perfectly. It’d be a surprise if the Heat didn’t win a third-straight title this year, and James didn’t win another MVP.