Small forward is the weakest position on the New Orleans Hornets' roster. Current starter Al-Farouq Aminu is a promising young defensive specialist, but he doesn't have much experience or offer much in terms of offense. Aminu has all of 35 starts under his belt for his career and has never averaged more than 6 points per game in a season.
The other possibility for the Hornets is offseason addition Ryan Anderson. Anderson, who was acquired in a trade with Orlando over the summer, is better suited to play power forward. However, his impressive shooting touch for a big man as well as the presence of rookie Anthony Davis at power forward could see him playing more minutes at the three.
Neither man is an ideal choice for the starting small forward job, as both have their pros and cons. The same for veteran Hakim Warrick, acquired in a trade from Phoenix this offseason. Warrick begins the season as the chief backup at small forward, but could make his case to crack the lineup with some strong play.
The case for Aminu is that he brings an element to the table that is at a premium in the league. In today's offense-friendly NBA, the need for a defensive stopper like Aminu is crucial. Aminu played so well defensively down the stretch last season that he was able to steal the starting job away from another defensive specialist in Trevor Ariza.
In a Western Conference that will see the Hornets face the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant many times, the Hornets could use Aminu in the lineup to hinder the league's best scorers. Last season, opponents shot 42.8 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from behind the arc. He also reduced opponent scoring by nearly seven points per game when he was on the court.
Solid defense like that comes at a cost, though. A team as offensively-challenged as the Hornets can't really afford to risk having one of their starters sacrifice their offense in exchange for excellent defense. The team needs someone who can take the scoring load off of the shoulders of oft-injured guard Eric Gordon.
That's where Anderson can make his case. Anderson is the anti-Aminu. He's one of the league's best shooting big men and led the league in three-pointers last season en route to winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award. With his size, rebounding ability and shooting touch, Anderson is like a homeless man's version of Dirk Nowitzki (as in, he's a step lower than a poor man's Dirk).
The problem with starting Anderson full-time at small forward is that he's the equivalent of a turnstile on defense. Quicker forwards will blow right past him because he's not skilled enough on his feet to defend them. While Anderson's offensive game may be on the perimeter, he's better served banging bodies in the paint on defense.
Having Anderson on the court with the team's other bigs, Davis and Robin Lopez, may give the team a size advantage, but it's not a rotation that works out as a permanent lineup. As for Warrick, he's too much of a 'tweener to be a starter. He doesn't shoot well enough to start at small forward and he's too light to be a true power forward. He's best suited being relegated to the second unit.
In the end, going with Aminu at small forward is the better idea. It doesn't have the same offensive impact as having Anderson in the lineup, but Aminu can only get better as a scorer. The kid is still only 22 and he's entering his third NBA season. Plus, what he brings to the table on defense can make this defense special alongside shot-blocker Anthony Davis.
Who should start at small forward for the Hornets this season?
Anderson deserves to see some time in the lineup at small forward, but he's probably best utilized as the team's sixth man. With his ability to play both forward spots and center, his versatility will come more in handy off the bench.
Granted, you may want more out of a guy that you're paying $36 million over the next four years, but the team will find ways for Anderson to justify his contract.
Aminu has earned his chance to start. Based off of last season and his showing in the Olympics, he is quickly becoming an elite defender. He's not someone you can draw offensive plays for just yet, but he can create offense in transition while making life miserable for opponents.
Aminu vs. Anderson is the classic case of defense vs. offense. As bad as the Hornets are in need of scoring, the smart move is to go with defense this time around.