We continue our look at the top players by position as we head into the 2015-16 NBA regular season with today’s ranking of the small forwards. Be sure to take a look at our top point guard and shooting guard lists to see where your favorite players at those positions rank as well.
As the league continues to shift toward having as many interchangeable players on the court as possible at a given time, the small forward position continues to require more and more versatility to be as effective:
#6 – Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz
Hayward certainly answered any questions about whether he was deserving of the max contract extension he received last summer with strong play and leadership for the Utah Jazz. Quin Snyder’s offense finally seemed to put Hayward in his most comfortable positions to excel as the team’s primary scorer all while remaining a top playmaker as well. Not only did he set a new career high in points per game (19.4), but Hayward also continued to display the all-around game (4.1 APG, 4.9 RPG) that led the organization to believe in his ability to lead a franchise in the first place. Hayward remains one of the more efficient players at the top of this position as his PER of 20.24 was the fifth highest among threes, while his true shooting percentage was a very respectable 56.7 percent.
#5 – Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks
Say what you will about Anthony being a “volume scorer” (he is), but he still remains one of the league’s top scoring options (24.2 PPG in 2014-15) at any position when healthy. The trouble is, at 31, Anthony has missed double-digit games in three of the past four seasonas for the Knicks – topped off by the 42 he missed last season due to knee issues. The former scoring champion and eight-time All Star may not be at full strength just yet, but the fact that Anthony is at least slated to participate in the non-contact drills of next month’s Team USA Camp in Las Vegas (August 11-13) is good news for Knicks fans. Anthony is far from a lockdown defender, but can still make enough of an impact on that side of the ball when focused, and he actually rebounds well (6.6 RPG) for a forward that tends to hang around the perimeter at times.
#4 – Paul George – Indiana Pacers
Whether Frank Vogel ultimately decides to go the route of playing him at the power forward at times when the team wants to go uptempo, George remains one of the league’s better two-way players at the small forward position. We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the horrific leg injury that caused him to miss all-but six games last season, but George is looking better than ever by all accounts. Even in what was considered a relatively “down year” in his last full season (2013-14), George managed to finish fourth in overall PER (20.16) at his position while maintaining a 55.5 true shooting percentage. The addition of a scoring weapon like Monta Ellis to the backcourt should actually help balance the offense and make things a bit easier for George to operate on that end of the court.
#3 – Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs
Like most things involving the San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi Leonard’s impact may actually be a bit understated among casual fans but is evident for those looking beyond the surface-level. His contributions are getting more attention lately, as the 24-year-old swingman was able to win last season’s Defensive Player of the Year award even though he missed 18 regular season games. Put simply, while his game may not be the flashiest and you aren’t likely to see very many Leonard-centered promotional campaigns, the 2014 Finals MVP shows up where it counts most: on the court. Newly-acquired power forward LaMarcus Aldridge may ultimately be the team’s high scorer and long-time veterans like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker may still get top billing, but this team goes as far as the well-rounded Leonard takes them moving forward.
#2 – Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
If ever it were appropriate and even remotely acceptable for a writer to openly “pull” for a professional athlete, consider this that time. The Thunder’s ultimate fortunes have absolutely zero impact upon my life, but I’m personally hoping to see a healthy return of Durant merely as a fan of the game as a whole. Durant is a once-in-a-lifetime talent that we would hate to see slowed any further by the ongoing foot issues that have marred the past 12 months of his career. If healthy, it will be interesting to see how Billy Donovan intends to utilize and lighten the load in terms of overall responsibilities for Durant as well as fellow star Russell Westbrook. Although Durant has displayed one of the league’s best and most complete skill sets, it might be a good idea to diversify the offensive sets and roles in order to ensure Durant’s usage rate (28.0 through 27 games in 2014-15) isn’t quite as high in order to preserve his body for the rigors of an 82-game regular season followed by what will undoubtedly be a murder’s row of a Western Conference playoff race.
#1 – LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
Do we really need to explain the reasoning behind this one? Regardless of your personal feelings about James and the way he goes about his business, it is literally impossible to deny the man’s impact on his team and on the game of basketball as a whole. Not when we just witnessed James drag a depleted group of NBA castoffs to the brink of an NBA title against one of the more complete rosters in recent years. The gap may be closing slightly as the 30-year-old James wasn’t quite as efficient (48.8 percent from the field, 35.4 percent from deep) last season, but he still remains the top player at the position. We can’t see a reason why James won’t reign supreme once again.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – Green may not be great at any singular thing out there on the court (and he tends to play multiple positions, sometimes down low), but we tend to agree with him that his ‘heart’ shines through in plenty of ways that lead to him making such an impact for the defending champions.
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors – Former stars willing to subjugate their games for the betterment of the team don’t go unnoticed by this list. Especially, when they are able to step into the moment and provide Finals MVP-level play when their team needs it most.
DeMarre Carroll, Toronto Raptors – Carroll may have cashed-in with the Raptors this summer, but Toronto has to be hoping his presence will pay the most dividends on the court.
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings – Gay may very well be a part of one of the league’s more peculiar mixes of talent and personalities, but the fact remains he is still one of the better scoring options as a swingman.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – Harris finally received the contract he deserves this summer and we see no reason why the 22-year-old won’t continue to blossom as an all-around threat in Orlando.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves – This name may surprise some, but look for Wiggins to take the next step on both sides of the ball as he continues to adjust to playing at this level in year two.
Others Within Range:
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Chandler Parsons (Dallas Mavericks), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets)
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