When you think of the most versatile position in basketball, you almost have to say small forward. It’s a crucial part of this league to have wings that can serve multiple purposes and fulfill different roles as assigned by their coaches.
With that being said, there are quite a few teams that have yet to find a wing to consistently keep in the rotation, so without further ado, here are the best small forwards in this summer’s upcoming free agent pool.
Kevin Durant – Player Option
The Warriors are going to have some serious decisions to make this summer.
With half of its dynamic core four and many major role players entering free agency in the 2017 offseason, Golden State’s top priority will certainly be retaining both Durant and the sure to be heavily-sought-after Stephen Curry.
There are two ways this can happen for Bob Myers and company:
A) Durant opts into his player option, makes $27.7 million next season, and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
B) Durant opts out of his player option and enters the free agent pool as a 10-year veteran for the first time in his career, where he can ask for a maximum contract valued at $36 million. The Warriors would have to open up cap space in order to make things work because they do not have his Bird rights.
Regardless of how it happens, all signs point to Durant staying in the bay area next season along with Curry. When it’s all said and done, the two teammates could be the highest paid duo in the history of the league.
Though the Warriors will lose some key pieces, it will be well worth it when it comes to Durant. Before the unfortunate knee injury he suffered in Washington, the 28-year-old superstar was flourishing for Steve Kerr.
In 59 games, Durant has the highest true shooting percentage among his teammates and is shooting the highest field goal percentage of his career thus far.
Gordon Hayward – Player Option
Could a Butler reunion be in the works between Hayward and his former college coach Brad Stevens?
The Celtics’ interest in the 26-year-old has been well known for a number of years. Going into this summer, it’s likely that they, as well as a ton of other teams, will make a huge run after him.
In his first All-Star season, Hayward has really taken the load on Quin Snyder’s offense. Across the board in points, rebounds, free throw percentage and both field goals made and attempted, he is averaging career bests in his seventh season as a pro. He’s also taken a major step forward defensively, acting as a primary wing stopper for a top-five defense.
Hayward is likely to opt out and will certainly be offered a max contract by somebody, but the Jazz would be able to match any offer and pay him more money than any other team. Hayward has stated his singular desire to play in the location that gives him the best shot at winning a ring.
Otto Porter Jr. – Restricted Free Agent
Gradual improvement has been the theme of Porter’s career, but this season has turned into a real breakout for him. In fact, if it wasn’t for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous All-Star year, the former Georgetown Hoya could’ve been the frontrunner for Most Improved Player.
It’s all started with the confidence in his jump shot. Among those who attempt at least four threes per game, Porter’s 44.8 percent clip is tied for the best in the NBA with veteran gunner Kyle Korver. Going a step further with his offensive game, Porter leads the entire league in effective field goal percentage (61.5%) with a minimum of 10 attempts per game.
John Wall and Bradley Beal are the catalysts behind the Wizards’ climb up the Eastern Conference ranks, but the impact Porter’s had as that tertiary scoring option has really pushed them to the next level.
If how he’s played in the regular season is any indication of how he’ll perform in the playoffs, Porter will get a lot of shine and teams needing a reliable wing will be lining up to sign him to an offer sheet.
Whether Washington will match those potential offers will depend on who comes after him and how much money teams would be willing to give up. If a max contract offer ($25.8 million) comes around for Porter, there could be a tough choice to make for Ernie Grunfeld.
Danilo Gallinari – Player Option
Over the last three seasons, it’s been a chore to stay healthy for Gallinari. What’s even worse is that over the span of his nine-year career, only twice has he eclipsed 70 games in a single season.
That being said, any team that lacks versatility and needs someone to score points in bunches should look no further than Gallinari. In today’s NBA, versatility between positions is a necessity. At 6-foot-10, the veteran swingman can occupy the frontcourt in multiple roles while also being a real threat on the perimeter.
Averaging 17.7 points in over 33 minutes of action per game, Gallinari’s proved to be a great fit in a high-octane offense that gets up and down the floor.
His defensive deficiencies may shy some executives away from going all in with a max deal, but with a league headed towards more and more offense it may not matter. Gallinari could make up to $30.1 million per year if that turns out to be the case.
Considering that his player option would yield him just $16 million next season, as well as an abundance of forwards on the Nuggets’ roster, the logical decision would be to opt out.
Rudy Gay – Player Option
Similar to Gallinari, the 11-year veteran has made a living in the league as an aggressive go-to scorer, and a lot of teams could use an experienced presence like Gay. Going into this season with the Kings, Gay’s mind was already made up. He was betting on himself, opting out of his current deal and hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Then, a freak accident happened. On January 18 in Indiana, Gay ruptured his left Achilles on a non-contact play. He had been battling knick-knack injuries before that point, but this one was season ending.
Needless to say, that threw a wrench into the 30-year-old’s plans for the summer, as he now stands undecided on his player option with Sacramento.
If he were to opt in, Gay would earn $14.2 million next year and become a free agent in 2018. Assuming he doesn’t, though, he still could have plenty of suitors despite the bad break. It really depends on what his agent believes regarding how much his market value will take a hit.
Andre Roberson – Restricted Free Agent
As an already-elite defensive talent at such a young age, Roberson could be the league’s best on-ball defender in the near future. He might already be, depending on who you talk to.
Though his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, Roberson will come along as long he keeps getting shots up. This season, he’s attempting two more shots per game than the previous year.
Roberson hasn’t been as successful from deep as most, but he makes up for it by contributing to other areas of the game. There are only 15 players in the NBA that average at least one steal, one block and five rebounds per game, and he is a part of that group.
A true defensive stopper has become a rarity in this league, so teams will take that into consideration when deciding their offer sheets for Roberson.
P.J. Tucker – Unrestricted Free Agent
Tucker arrived in Toronto to start the second half of the season after being traded by the rebuilding Suns.
Since coming back to “The North” where he was originally drafted, Tucker’s presence has been felt in every game already. The Raptors’ defensive rating is 94.5 with him on the court and 112.1 with him on the bench.
Add in the fact that he’s got the ability to knock down the occasional corner three, and Tucker is a solid piece to any team, especially a championship contender.
Bojan Bogdanovic – Restricted Free Agent
Another deadline acquisition, Bogdanovic is a sharpshooter who has fit in beautifully off of the Wizards’ bench. He’s a guy that comes in and shoots the lights out.
Following the move to Washington from Brooklyn, the Bosnian sniper is knocking down 43 percent of his triples. He’s not shy about letting it go, either, averaging at least five three attempts per game in only 25 minutes of action.
Bogdanovic is a confident player who would be a welcome addition to many organizations out there, but knowing where the Wizards were before adding him, Washington would be wise to match what he’s offered.
C.J. Miles – Player Option
Still in his prime at 29 years old, Miles has 12 years of experience under his belt between three teams in his career.
With the Pacers this season, he’s taken his knack for shooting threes to another level of success. On five-and-a-half attempts per game, Miles is hitting nearly 42 percent. It’s the best he’s performed in his career so far and his confidence is sky high.
A player who once was a gamble in free agency because of inconsistency has matured into one of the most dependable shooters in the league.
Andre Iguodala – Unrestricted Free Agent
With the potential two max deals on the table between Curry and Durant, it’s probable that Iguodala won’t be a part of the Warriors next season for the first time in four years.
As a savvy veteran, Iguodala can provide any young team with leadership, as well as any contender with a key piece on the court. This can be scoring, defending or whatever is asked of him. He’s been known to be outspoken at times in the press, but on the court, Iguodala has been a consummate professional throughout his 13-year career and is well respected league-wide.
Robert Covington – Team Option
With an up and coming roster full of young talent, the Sixers could decline their team option on Covington.
For another team, though, Covington would be able to contribute as a defender and a scorer if need be. In the past three seasons, he’s consistently averaged 13 points per game. He’ll also get you steals and some boards.
Joe Ingles – Restricted Free Agent
Ingles is one of those players whose numbers aren’t telling of his true meaning to the team. Sure, he’s fifth in the league in three-point percentage among those attempting at least three per game, but the real story is his unselfishness and willingness to make the right plays for the benefit of the Jazz.
Tony Snell – Restricted Free Agent
With each season, Snell’s role has increased year-by-year, but nowhere near to what it’s been for Jason Kidd and the Bucks. As a starter for the entire season, Snell has taken more shots and improved his offensive game dramatically. The market will decide his value, but Milwaukee would be wise to match if a team offers him a reasonable deal.
Justin Holiday – Unrestricted Free Agent
In his fourth season in the league, Holiday’s been on five different teams and it’s been a real journey for him to display his talents. But in the opportunities he’s gotten this season with the Knicks, the 27-year-old has shown his professionalism and has proven he can deliver when his number is called upon.
Other Notable Upcoming Free Agents:
Unrestricted: Jeff Green, Matt Barnes, Michael Beasley
Player Option: Luc Mbah a Moute, Dante Cunningham
Team Option: Jerami Grant
NBA AM: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.
Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race
Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.
When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.
More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.
Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.
He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”
Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.
“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”
Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.
“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”
Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.
“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”
Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).
The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.
When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.
“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.
He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”
There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.
“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”
Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.
NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors
The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.
The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.
Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.
Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.
Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.
Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.
Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.
Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.
There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.
At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.
We may be seeing that now.
En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have. In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.
As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.
Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.
We’ll find out in short order.
* * * * * *
As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.
Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.
On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.
A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.
If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.
While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.
For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.
Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.