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Who’s Got Next: Small Forwards

Who are the top up-and-coming small forwards entering the 2014-15 NBA season?

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The small forward position is highlighted by two of the best players in the league in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The way they go about being great is vastly different and speaks to the versatility of the position. Teams rely on their small forwards to do just about everything. James is the perfect example of the number of ways a player can impact the game from the position.

The league is littered with veteran talent at the three spot including Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Paul Pierce, Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala just to name a few. Unfortunately, the NBA will be without one of the best young small forwards in the game, with Paul George set to miss extended time due to injury.

While these players have established themselves as some of the top individuals to watch at the position, there a number of others who are ready to join the conversation. Here is a look at some small forwards who may not be getting the same fanfare as the players mentioned above, but have the chance to make a big impact going forward.

Chandler Parsons

Prior to this offseason, Chandler Parsons was expected to be a key member of a contending Houston Rockets unit for years to come. In his three years with the Rockets, he proved to be one of the most promising young small forwards in the game. The Dallas Mavericks clearly took notice of the type of player Parsons is and what he could ultimately develop into, snatching him from their in-state rival. The Mavs did so by offering Parsons, who was a restricted free agent, a three-year deal worth $46.1 million, which was too rich for the Rockets to match.

Now in Dallas, Parsons will be expected to play a major role on a veteran team that features a number of players looking to make one last title run before their career ends. In his three years in Houston, Parsons emerged as the one of the team’s top weapons outside of Dwight Howard and James Harden. This past season with the Rockets, he was Houston’s third leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game behind only Harden and Howard. Parsons was even better in the postseason, averaging 19.3 points per contest while playing just over 41 minutes a night.

Parsons will have a similar role in Dallas this season. The Mavericks will be led by the duo of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, as the two accounted for 40.7 points per night this past season. With Parsons now in the fold, the Mavericks add another perimeter scoring threat whose strengths will complement the explosive Ellis nicely. Parsons has improved his scoring, rebounding and passing numbers every year he has been in the league; expect him to continue to grow playing with a veteran group hungry for a championship.

Kawhi Leonard

You could argue that Leonard has already announced his presence as one of the better small forwards in the league after winning the Finals MVP award in the San Antonio Spurs’ most recent championship run. However, he has yet to be named an All-Star or All-NBA player, and he isn’t a household name just yet.

However, he certainly seems to be on his way and the Finals showed what the 23-year-old can do on both of the floors. Leonard not only played stingy defense on the nearly indefensible LeBron James, but also was the Spurs’ second leading scoring behind Tony Parker. His 17.8 points per game during the Finals is impressive on its own, but if you take a closer look at how efficient he was during those games it’s even more impressive. During the five-game series with the Miami HEAT, Leonard shot 61.2 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from three, which are incredible numbers considering the effort he had to exert on the defensive end.

To expect Leonard to replicate his absurd production in the Finals throughout an 82-game season would be unfair. However, look for Leonard to break out and for this to be his most productive season to date. His numbers last year were good – 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game – but they are numbers he shouldn’t have a tough time surpassing this coming season. Expect to see Leonard to be more assertive offensively and take considerably more shots than his 9.8 attempts per game last season. Looking forward, Leonard is arguably the Spurs’ most important piece. Don’t be surprised to see him really step into the spotlight this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The young Greek quickly has quickly proven to be the steal of the 2013 NBA Draft. Antetokounmpo is extremely talented and athletic. He has shown that despite being very young and very raw, he can already impact a game. His production in his rookie season doesn’t jump off the page, as he only averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in just over 24 minutes per night. However, he flashed skills that are extraordinary for a player of his size.

Antetokounmpo is a nightmare in the open court. He can glide from coast to coast with his enormous stride, is a skilled passer and has the ability to handle ball. He truly is one of the more unique players in the game today. Antetokounmpo is still developing, but with his talent he has the chance to be extremely productive as soon as this season.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has floated out the idea that Antetokounmpo may get the chance to play some point guard this year. It’s unlikely the he will ever be the team’s primary ball-handler for an extended period of time, but don’t be surprised to see Kidd use Antetokounmpo similar to how he utilized Shaun Livingston while with the Brooklyn Nets. Antetokounmpo will play the majority of his minutes on the wing, but will get the chance to initiate the offense as well.

Tobias Harris

The Orlando Magic have a number of young, talented players. One of those with the chance to have a big year is forward Tobias Harris. Harris has spent time playing both small forward and power forward, but with the addition of Channing Frye in Orlando, Harris figures to spend more minutes at the three.

At the ripe age of 22, Harris enters his fifth season in the NBA. He is coming off his most productive season as a pro after scoring 14.6 points per night while shooting 46.4 percent from the field. Harris was able to get those points in a variety of ways; he has the size to go inside and score in the paint but is also just as capable of knocking shots from the perimeter. He must work to develop a more consistent shot from the three after shooting only 25.4 percent this past season. If he can improve his efficiency from deep, Harris will be a very tough matchup for opposing forwards.

Harris is eligible for a rookie scale extension with the Magic, but all reports indicate he will not agree to an extension with Orlando prior to the Oct. 31 deadline. If he doesn’t extend his deal, Harris will be a restricted free agent following this season. This should provide a little extra motivation for Harris to have big year and prove he is worthy of a sizable increase in pay next summer.

Nicolas Batum

The Portland Trail Blazers have become one of the rising teams in the highly competitive West. Since the arrival of head coach Terry Stotts, the team has relied on an up-tempo style where the wings must be able to run and knock down shots from three. They have an ideal player for that style in Batum.

Batum has developed into a terrific all-around player over the course of his six-year career. Last season, he had his most efficient year shooting ball, hitting 46.5 percent from the field. He has the ability impact a game in a number of ways and doesn’t just rely on scoring to do so, as he also hauled in 7.4 rebounds and dished 5.1 assists last season. His offense may draw the most attention, but he does a very good job on the defensive end as well. In fact, he finished with the second highest defensive win-share on the Blazers this past season.

Going forward, the Blazers will count on Batum to be a force on both ends of the floor as they hope build off a strong season. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will lead the way, but Batum’s contributions can’t be overlooked.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to live up to high expectations after being chosen second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. His production hasn’t been great and actually decreased for the most part in his second season. On the offensive end, he’s still a work in progress since his jump shot is, well, different and he has been unable to consistently knock down perimeter shots. However, at only 21 years old, there is still plenty of room for optimism. While he has struggled on the offensive end, he has made up for it with his tough defense and ability to force turnovers. He is a tremendous athlete who is able to use that athleticism to make things very difficult for whoever he is matched up with.

Kidd-Gilchrist will likely never be a big-time scorer. Despite that, he can be a valuable piece on a team that hopes to make some noise in the East. He will have the chance to settle into a role that won’t require him to play outside of his strengths. If he can continue to play strong defense and find some easy buckets in transition, Kidd-Gilchrist will be an important player for the Hornets.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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