The stretch forward has become a staple in a lot of NBA offenses.
The stretch forward position isn't as much a novelty in the NBA as it is a necessity in today's league in order to form a winning team.
Gone are rugged centers that clogged the paint every possession in a grind-it-out game. Granted, there are still true centers like Andrew Bynum, Tim Duncan and to an extent, Dwight Howard. But teams now are working to space the floor and up the tempo in order to get open shots from three and create more lanes for players to slash through.
This list aims to categorize the top seven forwards in the league that can simultaneously shoot the ball while also pulling the opposing team's center or power forward away from the basket.
Most would connote that a stretch forward is a small forward trapped in a power forward's body, but there are other types as well. A big man that shoots well from mid-range and able to hit the occasional three also bodes well as a stretch player off the pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll off another player.
Because of that, the rankings left out players who play primarily with their backs to the basket like LaMarcus Aldridge,Pau Gasol and Carmelo Anthony, who functions better for his team as a power forward but is built like a small forward.
LeBron James didn't make the cut, and while he is the superior player to all of the listed, he isn't nearly the same deep threat.
This list gauges the quality of players who can shoot coming off pin downs or screens or act as the kickout option and safety valve on a pick-and-roll or baseline drive. We are looking strictly at the ability of the player on offense so defensive ability is marginalized to an extent.
Let's take a look.
One of the least talked about players in the game, Ilyasova is plenty good from the perimeter.
Ersan Ilyasova experienced his breakout season in 2011-12 due to his torrid shooting from the field and increased playing time.
Ilyasova held a superb .535 effective shooting percentage, a statistic that accounts for three-point shooting. From there, he was an unconscious 45.5 percent.
Because of his ability to stretch the floor, he was able to sign a huge contract before the season.
He has struggled through the early goings of the 2012-13 season but has started to round into shape the past couple weeks, shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc again.
Only 25, Ilyasova has become what people envisioned Andrea Bargnani would be.
Once a dominant low-post threat, Garnett has been similarly unstoppable from the perimeter.
Garnett isn’t the low-post threat he once was and has now settled into a reliable mid-range threat from all over the floor.
A stretch forward doesn’t necessarily have to step out and stand in the corners for broken-play threes. The ability to hit the long two, however much one might think it is worth, can open up lanes just as effectively.
According to Hoopdata, Garnett has shot 55.8 percent from 10-15 feet and 50 percent from 16-23 feet. Because he often plays the center position on defense, defenders are pulled away from the basket when the Celtics are on offense.
The Celtics scored 9.6 fewer points with Garnett off the floor last season. His offense is especially crucial on a team without potent scorers.
With Rajon Rondo manning the offense, there are open spots at all times on the court. Because of a lack of a low-post threat in Boston, the offense tends to stall when Pierce is unable to get going from the perimeter. Regardless, Garnett is still lethal from the pick-and-pop areas.
Bosh's inside-out game helps relieve the pressure from James and Wade on offense.
Bosh is another player that excels in the post and mid-range. His ability to even hit the occasional three makes him more dangerous on the perimeter.
With Dwyane Wade and LeBron James probing the defenses from the outside, Bosh is free to roam on the baseline for jumpers.
During Miami’s struggles at times last season, many were bemoaning Bosh’s absence as the singular cause because of his post-up and shooting ability. Simply put, he has a sweeter stroke from the floor than James and Wade.
According to Hoopdata, the Heat scored 8.6 less points on a "per 48-minute basis" with Bosh off the floor.
That makes him an indispensable player on the Heat and one of the better stretch forwards in the league.
Anderson has been even better this season without the supporting cast he had in Orlando.
The prototypical stretch forward, Anderson has the ability to essentially do nothing but shoot and make threes. The former Cal standout, Anderson has carved out a career as a player that can flat-out score despite the lack of athleticism.
Many people once believed that Anderson was the player he was because of his capabilities as a shooter opposite Dwight Howard. The constant need to double-team the ex-Orlando Magic player left Anderson open for many three-point opportunities, and he capitalized to the tune of 16.1 points per game and a 39.3 three-point field goal percentage.
However, the doubts he could find space to create for himself were gone because he has brought the same abilities to his new team, the New Orleans Hornets, averaging 19 points per game on a torrid 42.4 three-point field-goal percentage this year.
Anderson has been so good from behind the arc that the Lakers have entertained the thought of trading Pau Gasol for a package revolving around him, according to Jabari Davis of SheridanHoops.com. That’s pretty much all you need to know about how significant a stretch forward can be to a spread offense.
While he has had a slow start to the season with injuries and a minor shooting slump, Love is still one of the best shooters and floor stretchers in the game.
Once known to just grab rebounds and toss gorgeous outlet passes, he has taken his game to new heights, gaining a lethal face-up game that includes a step-back three-point shot.
Love was an equal opportunity abuser of all defenders, as he took power forwards and centers to school all year long. According to Hoopdata, he posted an effective shooting percentage of 48.8 and 51.0 against power forwards and centers, respectively.
With Ricky Rubio now coming back healthy and newcomer Andrei Kirilenko posing as another great passer, the lanes will open up, and wide-open shots will form unlike anything ever seen in Minnesota.
It will only enhance Nikola Pekovic's offensive play, as the more players go out to play Love, the more room he has to establish position down in the low block.
It is Love's ability to create spacing on the floor that lets his teammates thrive around him.
Arguably one of the greatest shooting big men of all time, Dirk Nowitzki has mastered the art of using the pinch post as a way to open up lanes for cutters and his own lethal off-leg shot.
There is no shooting stat that Nowitzki does not excel in. Shooting 48 percent from the field, 38 percent from three and 87.8 percent from the free-throw line, he is unstoppable in all phases on offense.
Earlier in his career, he struggled with long, quick forwards like Stephen Jackson—as evidenced in the Golden State Warriors upset—but that is no longer the case, as his long-range post-up game has complemented his ability to knock down the three at any time.
With Nowitzki being one of the greatest big men of all time, the Dallas Mavericks will welcome him back to their struggling team sometime in the near future.
Durant tops the list of forwards and big men that can flat-out shoot.
People sometimes mistake Kevin Durant's soft-spoken exterior as someone who spills that attitude over on the court.
That is not the case, as Durant is an absolute assassin from all points of the floor. Durant has led the league in scoring three times in his young career and is on pace to break Kobe Bryant's scoring record.
It is his ability to catch and shoot from anywhere on the floor that makes him so deadly.
A career 36.7 percent three-point shooter, the scariest part is his ability to get even better in the near future. Durant is currently shooting 42.9 percent from behind in the arc this season.
Now imagine if Russell Westbrook passes him the ball more.