NBA Draft 2012: Ranking the 5 Best Rookie Small Forwards

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2012

NBA Draft 2012: Ranking the 5 Best Rookie Small Forwards

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    The 2012 NBA draft is stocked with athletic playmakers at the small forward position.

    While teams won't be hard pressed to find quality talent, the difficult task will be deciding which of these potential stars can have the biggest impact on their franchise's future.

    Although it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between a shooting guard and small forward in today's NBA, these rankings pertain to players listed as small forwards in their scouting reports.

    Here are the top five small forwards in this year's NBA draft.

5. Moe Harkless, St. John's

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    Entering the draft after just one season at St.John's, Moe Harkless is one of the draft's most intriguing prospects.

    Standing 6'8'' with a 7'0'' wingspan, Harkless has the length and athleticism to be a difference maker at the next level.

    Although Harkless played just one season for the Johnnies, he flashed his potential, averaging 15.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the field.

    Harkless' measurements make him an ideal NBA small forward, and while his offensive game isn't polished, he will have room to improve at the professional level.

    As it currently stands, expect Harkless to be drafted somewhere in the latter stages of the first round where he will find himself a spot on an established contender.

4. Terrence Ross, Washington

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    One of the better scorers in this year's NBA draft, Washington's Terrence Ross has a very refined shooting stroke.

    As a sophomore, Ross averaged 16.4 points per game on 45.7 shooting from the field. He has remarkable range, and a three-point field goal percentage of 37.1 percent is indicative of that.

    At 6'7'', Ross has an average size for an NBA small forward. Although he is a proficient scorer, Ross does not have much else to offer on the offensive end. In the NBA, Ross is suited to play out on the perimeter where he can make an impact both offensively and defensively. 

    While he doesn't possess great length, Ross has very good instincts on the defensive end. His willingness to contribute defensively will help his cause at the next level, and he could turn into a very nice role player.

    Ross is projected to be drafted anywhere between picks No. 11 and 18. A team with established scorers would benefit Ross, allowing him to carve out a role for himself coming off of the bench in his rookie season.

3. Terrence Jones, Kentucky

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    Kentucky's Terrence Jones may not look like your prototypical NBA small forward, but he is certainly qualified to play on the wing as a professional.

    At 6'9'' and 252 pounds, Jones is a matchup nightmare for more wiry, lengthy forwards. Jones' perimeter game may not be as polished as some of his peers', but he has developed a consistent jump shot and is most feared when he operates inside of 15 feet.

    Jones is unique in that he's a small forward capable of playing power forward, and his versatility could be a key reason why he comes off of the board shortly after the lottery.

    Averaging 1.8 blocks per game in his sophomore season at Kentucky, Jones is one of this draft's most aggressive defenders, and his up-tempo style of play will serve him well in the NBA.

    Jones won't be a star as a professional, but he has all of the makings of a great role player.

2. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina

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    Harrison Barnes is as NBA-ready as they come at the small forward position. With great height (6'8''), elite athleticism and a clean jump shot, Barnes looks like a lock to be drafted somewhere inside the top five.

    Where Barnes will land in the top five is an entirely different question. After New Orleans selects at No. 1, things become very unclear. The Charlotte Bobcats could be players for Barnes at No. 2, considering they have needs at just about every position. 

    Cleveland looks like a distinct possibility at No. 4 overall, and pairing Barnes with reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving could help establish the Cavaliers as contenders in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

    A pure shooter, Barnes is capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor, whether it be out on the perimeter or down low in the post.

    In addition to his offensive prowess, Barnes is a very strong defender. His length allows him to guard especially well in isolation situations as well as off of the pick-and-roll.

1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky

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    While Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't have the most prolific freshman season, he displayed enough promise to be considered this draft's best small forward prospect.

    Full of untapped potential, Kidd-Gilchrist isn't a natural-born scorer like Harrison Barnes. Instead, Kidd-Gilchrist takes pride in being proficient in all areas of the game, not just excelling in a few of them.

    An athletic specimen reminiscent of Philadelphia 76ers' small forward Andre Iguodala, Kidd-Gilchrist is as determined as they come once he steps on the floor.

    One of the hardest workers at the college level, Kidd-Gilchrist has the ability to become one of the NBA's most well-rounded players in a short period of time. With his work ethic and tenacity, expect Kidd-Gilchrist to be in the running for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.

    Like Barnes, Kidd-Gilchrist is likely to be selected in the draft's top five picks. Where he will wind up, however, is very much up in the air.

    The Washington Wizards' recent acquisition of swingman Trevor Ariza may have them out of the running for Kidd-Gilchrist, leaving Charlotte, Cleveland and Sacramento all as very real possibilities.