Throughout the illustrious history of the NBA, there have been periods where one position has been more dominant than the others. This could be for a number of reasons such as a structure of rules, new developments in statistics or a heavy influx of talent at a single position.
Centers have had a couple of periods of dominance like the early Wilt and Bill Russell years and the 90s with Hakeem, David Robinson, Shaq and Ewing. At the start of this decade, it appeared that point-guards were having their time in the sun.
The rule of no hand checking meant your defender couldn’t send you one way, the increased use of the three pointer meant there was more floor spacing for ball handlers to drive to the rim and hard fouls were more likely to be called as fragrant, meaning defenders were less physical.
I, however, argue that the NBA right now is a small forwards league, and here’s why: Every single Finals MVP since 2012 has been a small forward. Most critics and commentators have three small forwards in their top five players right now and they could be 1,2 and 3.
What is it about small forwards that lead to high levels of success? Well, it’s mainly because they usually can do everything on the court. They score, they rebound, they defend, they are athletic, they can pass and they can shoot.
Since small forwards can usually do everything, then the best ones do everything really well meaning they are effective in many areas on the court which generally leads to a lot of success. So without further ado here are my top ten small forwards going into next season.
10. Harrison Barnes - Dallas Mavericks
Harrison Barnes is in a position few players find themselves lucky to be in. His first four years in the NBA were with the Warriors which saw him get a tonne of Playoff experience and a shiny ring to glitter on his fingers.
Then he signed a max deal to go be the main guy down in Dallas, and he’s thrived with this new challenge. As a 4th option with the Warriors, he averaged 10.1 points a game and was mainly just a spot up shooter.
Last season with Dallas he averaged 19.2 points a night and his efficiency has gone up a bit instead of down. He’s taking a lot more 2 point shots than he was with the Warriors and it seems to be working wonders. Hopefully, he can continue on this path next season and have the Mavericks challenging for a Playoff spot to give Dirk the postseason send off he deserves.
9. Andrew Wiggins - Minnesota Timberwolves
According to Basketball Reference, there are 16 players in NBA history to average more than 23 points a game at the age of 21. This list includes the like of Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal.
It also includes Andrew Wiggins.
In only his 3rd year Wiggins is showing that all that potential he showed in high school and at Kansas might just be fulfilled. He still has a lot to work on; his outside shot requires some more work to give himself more options on offense and he needs to add some more muscle to the wiry frame so he can become the defender we all know he can be.
The additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague this offseason should propel the Wolves in the Playoffs for the first time since 2004 and it will be a hugely valuable experience for this amazing young talent.
8. Gordon Hayward - Boston Celtics
Things must really be stinking up in Utah if I was a Jazz fan I’d still be fuming. Right when the Jazz looked to making some serious progress into getting back into contention, their best player ups and leaves for greener pastures (pun very much intended.)
Hayward had a breakout season last year, earning his first All-Star selection and averaging a career high 21.9 points a game and shooting nearly 40% from three. Offensively he’s the total package; he’s athletic, he can shoot, he can drive and he can create for his teammates.
Now, after Kyrie Irving arrived, they will form the best Big Three (Irving, Hayward, Horford) after 9 years, when the Celtics had Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
7. Carmelo Anthony - New York Knicks
Please oh please, I beg of you God, give a Melo to the Cavs trade the nod.
It simply isn’t fair for Carmelo Anthony to have to go through another season with the disaster that is the New York Knicks franchise right now. They easily have one of the most toxic environments in the NBA and a Hall of Famer doesn’t deserve to have to deal with that.
Melo is now 33 and his team in the NBA is coming to an end, but he is still one of the better scorers in the league. He still has his lightening quick jump shot and the pit bull strength to be able to bully opponents in the post.
Hopefully, he is traded very soon so that he can begin to forget the horror show of New York and start working towards getting a ring to solidify his Hall of Fame selection.
6. Paul George - Oklahoma City Thunder
The story of Paul George’s return to basketball will just melt your heart. In a scrimmage for team USA for the 2014 FIBA World Cup PG tragically broke his leg and broke it badly. He only managed to play 6 games at the end of next season and many were wondering if he’d be able to return to his All-Star form.
Thankfully he has, as he posted a career high in points per game last season with 23.7 and shot nearly 40% from three with over 6 attempts per game. George is a great two-way player, someone who is able to carry a team’s offense on a nightly basis and guard the opponent's best player as well.
Now that he’s in OKC playing with Russell Westbrook they can form a dynamic duo which should create lots of offense and hound the opposition on defense.
Paul George, the stage is set.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks
When you think of small forwards and what build they usually have you’d usually say between 6 foot 7 and 6 foot 9 in height. Anything taller and they won’t have the handles required to play on the wing, so they are a power forward on center.
But every once in awhile someone will come along and completely break that mould.
The Greek Freak is exactly that, he’s a freak of nature that looks like he was made in a secret laboratory where mad scientists wanted to create a basketball behemoth.
Giannis is 6 foot 11 with a 7 foot 4 wingspan, he’s very athletic and he’s one of the most well-rounded players in the game today.
He averaged 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks whilst shooting 52.1% from the field. He’s so good that he lead his team in all five major statistical categories, something which had only happened four times beforehand.
If he can just improve his 3 point shot to somewhere around the high 30s then he will be in very serious contention for the MVP for the next few years.
4. Jimmy Butler - Minnesota Timberwolves
“But Minnesota already has a small forward, you’ve already covered Wiggins in this article”
Yes, I see what you’re saying and yes, the Timberwolves do seem to have two stars on their roster that play small forward. I don’t control the roster for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
What I will say is that Jimmy Butler is a very versatile player who has played shooting guard for a lot of his career, so he’s definitely used to it.
Butler is a pure stud through and through and he will easily help Minnesota break its near 14-year absence from the playoffs. He’s incredible on offense and defense, he’s basically a slightly better version of Paul George. A lockdown defender, the 1st option on offense.
3. Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio Spurs
Never forget, NBA fans. Never forget.
We all know just how dominant the Golden State Warriors were in last season’s playoffs. They went 16-1 to win their 2nd title in 3 years and dismantled the Cavs in the Finals.
But if it weren’t for one devastating injury they might not have made it at all.
Something ZaZa happened when the Spurs were up 76-55 with 7:55 left in the 3rd quarter. Kawhi landed on Pachulia’s foot, twisting his ankle in the process and forcing him out for the rest of the series.
Kawhi is the best two way player in the league. He’s won two Defensive Player of the Year trophies, a Finals MVP and he averaged a career high 25.5 points last season, leading the Spurs to yet another 60+ win season.
Many though that after the Tim Duncan era the Spurs would go into rebuilding mode, but the basketball genius that is Gregg Popovich saw the potential in Leonard very early on and it’s paid massive dividends.
I expect another MVP caliber season from Leonard next year and he looks to avenge what happened to him in the Playoffs and reach the Finals once again.
2. Kevin Durant - Golden State Warriors
The greatest scorer in NBA history. That title is already reserved for Kevin Durant.
He may not score more points than the likes of Kareem, Malone and Kobe, but there is no one in NBA history who is more built for scoring than Durant.
He is a legit 6 foot 9/10 with 7 foot 4 wingspan, he’s very athletic, he has an amazing handle for a guy his size and he’s a mismatch against anyone he comes up against. He can simply shoot over smaller guys and drive past bigger ones. He can score in the post, he can finish at the rim and he’s straight money from beyond the arc and the free throw line.
A good way to determine how dominant a guard or small forward is is to look at their efficiency. There are always going to be great NBA defenses, but being able to negate them is a true sign of skill.
Michael Jordan had several seasons where he shot over 50% from the field, so did Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and LeBron James. Durant has shot over 50% for the last 5 seasons even though he is the opposition’s primary focus on defense.
In the Finals last year Durant was rightfully crowned the MVP after averaging a staggering 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists on a line of 55.6/47.4/92.7.
That. Is. Ridiculous.
KD is playing next year without all the pressure of last season which is why he’s one of the favorites to win the MVP. He can just relax and play his own game and (with a heavy heart) I think he’ll be at the top of this list at the season’s end.
1. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
You never appreciate what you have till it’s gone.
Those words will never ring truer when LeBron James finally retires. He’s the sole reason basketball is my passion, I have him to thank for all the incredible memories and experiences I’ve had with this amazing game and for that there are no words which do justice to the level of gratitude I have for this God of sports.
Despite losing heavily to the Warriors The King became the first person in NBA history to average a triple double in the Finals. Yet again he was asked to do everything for his team; he had to be the main scorer, the main facilitator, the lead rebounder and defend the opposition’s best player.
This whole situation in Cleveland where it is widely expected the LeBron will leave after next season points to the Cavs having a disappointing year. The team will have no direction, no incentive to win games. Unless something drastic happens I expect the Cavs to have a mid table finish.
LeBron has proven many people wrong time and time again in his career. He is at a level that few athletes in any sport have ever reached. Hopefully, he proves me wrong and reminds of why he will always be my top sporting icon.