In the NBA, true positions are becoming less and less defined because players are more versatile.
Point guards look to be aggressive and score. Shooting guards can bring the ball up and run the offense. Power forwards and centers often drift out and make threes.
But perhaps the most demanding position of them all is the middleman, also known as the small forward of the team. Referred to broadly as a wing, these players mean a ton to the success of their respective teams.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard certainly head the class of the league’s best, and there are plenty of up-and-coming options going into free agency.
But outside of those just named, who are the players that don’t get as much of the spotlight as they deserve?
In five years with the Raptors, Terrence Ross showed plenty of promise. His role off of the bench was the perfect fit behind DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll, but Masai Ujiri and Jeff Weltman wanted to make a splash this season to lift Toronto to that next level. Add in the emergence of Norman Powell as a key reserve and the writing was on the wall for the former eighth overall pick in 2012.
After being traded to the Magic in mid-February, Ross has enjoyed taking on a new role for Frank Vogel as a go-to scoring option. In Orlando’s starting lineup, the 26-year-old is giving the team a desperately needed boost in perimeter shooting and aggressiveness. He’s averaging 18.9 points per 100 possessions and playing 10 more minutes per game than he did with the Raptors.
Who knows what the Magic will do in the offseason, but if he sticks around, you can expect a big jump in production from Ross next year.
Stan Van Gundy has a very talented wing at his disposal in Marcus Morris. Since arriving from Phoenix, “Mook” has started in every game he’s played in for the Pistons. At 27 years old, the twin brother of Markieff is about to enter the prime of his career and is showing signs of what he can truly become in this league.
However, Morris has an Achilles heel as things currently stand right now, and that’s inconsistency. Granting that he plays for a team that doesn’t put forth the effort night-in and night-out, the Kansas product has still proven to be a fit for Detroit’s organization.
If Morris is going to make that next jump, he’ll have to contribute in other facets of the game and fine-tune his shooting.
When T.J. Warren is healthy and engaged, he’s a real problem for the opposition. In the month of March, he averaged 17.1 points per game on 53.6 percent from the field. He also pulled down eight rebounds and averaged a steal and a block each.
Warren’s in select company with those numbers, as only Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Giannis Antetokoumpo were able to accomplish the feat.
In his third season with the Suns, the 23-year-old has improved with each year and has gained confidence as he’s gotten more playing time. His perimeter shooting has regressed, but that might just be a result of his slashing success and ability to finish at the basket. Look out for Warren in the coming years with Phoenix.
For the majority of his career, Trevor Ariza has been a journeyman. Drafted out of UCLA in 2004 as a second-round pick, he’s played for six different teams and seems to always get traded when you think he’s found a home. It’s a real shame because he might be one of the most under-appreciated wings in the game today.
Ariza is the classic prototype if you’re talking about “3-and-D.” Over the last three years, he’s one of four players to average over 1.9 steals per game and shoot over 35 percent from deep. The others? Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Kawhi Leonard.
With a Mike D’Antoni-inspired fast-paced offense in Houston, the 13-year veteran feels right at home with his role and it’s showing.
Defense is the name of the game for Jae Crowder, but he’s brought a lot more than that to the table. In his third season with the Celtics, the 6-foot-6, 235-pounder is averaging career highs almost across the board.
Taking on the challenge of attempting more threes this season, Crowder has flourished, increasing his perimeter percentage by nearly six percent from a year ago. He’s gotten more efficient offensively while still locking down his opponents.
It’s tough to receive attention when you’ve got the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and even Avery Bradley in the mix in Boston, but rest assured Crowder is playing excellent ball for the first-place team in the East.
Why is Andrew Wiggins on this list? Everybody knows the kind of season he’s having under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Wolves are one of the most highly-touted young teams in the league right now. How can he be underrated?
Consider this: If things hold for the last remaining games of the year, Wiggins will become just the second player in the history of the NBA to average more than 23 points per game on over 36 percent from three at the age of 21. Kevin Durant was that other player to do so.
Going a step further, he’ll join greats like Vince Carter, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Chris Webber as players to accomplish the feat in their third year as a pro.
What’s so impressive about this is how underwhelming his jump shooting was in his first two seasons in the league. With most of the spotlight on fellow number one overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns—as it should be—many don’t seem to realize just the kind of production Wiggins has brought to the table for Minnesota.
With the hard work and dedication he’s put forth, you could be witnessing the birth of the NBA’s next pure scoring great.
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