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The NBA’s Most Underrated Small Forwards

A look at five of the league’s lesser-heralded, but very talented players at the small forward position including Nick Young!

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While players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony deservedly headline most discussions about the top swingmen in the game, we’re going to take a moment to discuss five of the league’s most underrated small forwards as we head into 2014-15. This list won’t include the likes of Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward or anyone else that recently signed max deals as a result of no longer being able to be considered “underrated” by any stretch.

We continue our series that began with the point guards and shooting guards with today’s list of some of the lesser-heralded but very talented small forwards:

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors –

We can hardly fault Barnes for not quite having that breakout season many of us anticipated after such a strong second half to his rookie season, especially when you take the fact that veteran and starting small forward Andre Iguodala is still in his prime into consideration. Just the same, if Steve Kerr’s Warriors are going to finally at least make a run at a conference finals appearance, they’ll need guys like Barnes to take the next step and become the player many of us anticipate.

Although he has yet to reach his full potential, Barnes remains one of the league’s better young small forward prospects. Barnes can be an above-average defender at the position when focused. He has the size to defend some of the bigger scoring forwards, but remains agile enough to stay in front of many of the quicker swingmen as well. Consistency remains his issue, but perhaps a more defined role in Kerr’s system could help this season.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic –

The main reason Harris remains on this list is because he’s played the last two seasons – clearly the best of his career so far – playing for a rebuilding franchise in the post-Dwight Howard Orlando Magic. At 6’9 Harris has great size and is very active on the boards (7.0 RPG last season) for his position. Like others on his roster, Harris could stand to improve from beyond the arc (28 percent career three-point shooter).

While Orlando continues putting together a talented, young roster, Harris actually finds himself in a position of relative leadership. At just 22, it may sound crazy, but Harris could play a pivotal role in the development of the rest of his teammates. He averaged 14.6 PPG while coming off the bench for over half of last season, but Coach Vaughn may need to consider Harris in the starting unit exclusively with so many defensive-oriented teammates projected to start.

Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets –

Various injuries over several seasons have limited Chandler after what were some impressive offensive years during the Mike D’Antoni years in New York. Chandler nearly doubled his three-point attempts in his first season playing in Brian Shaw’s adapted version of the Triangle Offense.

His 62 games played in 2013-14 were the most he’s been healthy for in four years. His role in Shaw’s rotation is uncertain with the expected return of Danilo Gallinari, but that shouldn’t be enough to keep a reportedly fully healthy Wilson out of the mix. If Quincy Miller continues to develop, it could make for an interesting conversation around February’s trade deadline as Chandler actually has a favorable contract by today’s standards at just about $7 million per season for the next two years.

Jeff Green, Boston Celtics –

Green may have entered the league with a ton of expectations after being selected with the 5th overall pick back in 2007, but after being traded early on and being sidelined for 2011-12 season due to heart surgery it finally appears the 28-year-old has settled into his place as scoring small forward. He isn’t known for his outside shot, but Green is one of the better slashers and finishes very well in transition.

There were questions as to whether Green could lead a team as the first option on offense in his first year as a starter, but he saw significant increases in productivity in both scoring and rebounding with the additional playing time. He’ll still be called upon to provide scoring, but the addition of Marcus Smart should lighten the load in terms of playmaking responsibilities; which could result in Green simply being able to focus upon being a #1 option on a nightly basis.

Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers –

Whether due to the near-constant smile or some of his more embarrassing moments on the court, there are some that still don’t give Young the credit he actually deserves. Like so many of his contemporaries, Young isn’t necessarily one to give an equal effort and dedication to the defensive end of the court, but he is truly one of the league’s most explosive reserve scorers in 2013-14 for the Lakers.

Young is essentially a scoring specialist, but it will be intriguing to see what type of influence playing for Byron Scott and alongside the ever-demanding Kobe Bryant might have on the 29-year-old swingman. The Lakers are by no stretch of the imagination a title contender at this point, but the trick for Young will be to show that he can provide the same types of numbers as we move forward. He seemed very comfortable with his role last season, but it still remains to be seen whether he can be that type of spark on a more talented roster with heightened expectations in 2014-15.

At a time where the shooting guard position may be as weak as it has been in recent memory, that hasn’t stopped a massive influx of talent at both the point guard and small forward positions. Whether you agree of disagree, we want to hear from you! Be sure to leave a comment, or feel free to voice your opinions during any of our weekly chat sessions.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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