Positional Evolution: 'SF' Has a New Meaning in the NBA
Allow me to begin by saying that the small forward position has always been played in a variety of ways. Havlicek and Barry shot sweet as sugar, Dr. J and 'Nique took to the skies, and Bird retains the top spot with his combination of stroke and size.
Then came your Pippens, your Hills, your Piereces, playing their sick all-around games. Now a new strain has emerged.
Long have I struggled to come up with a suitable moniker for the type of player I'm about to describe. They're athletic even more-so than their predecessors, but "hero" is kind of overdone; they absolutely stuff every corner of the stat sheet, but "stud" just isn't descriptive enough.
No, I need something more outlandish, suitable for the way these guys make jaws all over the world drop. How about the "Supa Flys?" Yeah, and it can be abbreviated "SF" to make things simple...
I guess I'll just settle for what first ran through my mind: an amalgam of the colloquial term "three" and an honest description of what these men are, "freaks."
This slide-show (or is that sideshow?) puts on display this emergent breed of what I will call "threaks." They are not only the do-alls and be-alls of the court, but they are easily the most electric bunch in today's L. They block shots despite relatively small size, the hound the ball as though they've got a bit of Gary Payton in them, and they out-rebound the giants, all from the spot traditionally labeled "small forward."
Here you will not find those with silky Js, like Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, or Luol Deng. Neither are all-purpose scorers like Richard Jefferson, Stephen Jackson, or Carmelo Anthony present.
No, this is the place for the guys who, when they were drafted, were said to be able to "jump out of the gym." Perhaps when they came into the pros their actual basketball fundamentals were still a bit raw, but now they are approaching the game like MMA fighters: They're capable of getting any job done with their unique set.
I think exactly what I mean will become more clear as you move on down the list. And so, in no particular order, here are these marvels of nature.
Shawn Marion, Dallas Mavericks—The Original Threak
When "The Matrix" first came into the league back in '99, he confounded me. I just did not understand.
How could a guy, listed at 6'7" and playing the small forward position, be rebounding in the double-digits and be considered one of the best weak-side shot-blockers in the game?
Now, obviously, I was a bit naive at this point; I'd been into the sport for a mere four years, and was just starting to appreciate the nuances of each position. I had been fed a steady diet of Glenn Robinson, Jamal Mashburn, and Juwan Howard to this point, and while delicious and nutritious, I'd missed out on some of the wild flavors that wing players have to offer.
I had to watch Marion a lot—that ugly jumper, but also that awesome way he leaves the court with almost no effort—before I began to understand. Shawn was something I hadn't entirely seen before, but I could learn and adapt.
Shawn was a freak. He not only did things that small forwards don't typically do, but he did them better than he did the normal small forward things.
If that makes any sense.
Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats—The Prototypical Threak
Don't worry. I'll get out a decent explanation of the oxymoron that is G-Force's title before your head explodes.
How can a man be a "prototypical freak?" By basically doing my job of defining this new breed of small forward for me.
Absorb his '08-'09 stats for a second: 16.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 1.0 BPG.
Perhaps even more telling are his career highs in each of those categories: 42 points (v. NYK, Jan. '07); 17 rebounds (v. MEM, Mar. '07); 10 assists (v. PHI, Jan. '08); eight steals (v. MIL, Jan. '06); and six blocks (twice). Plain and simple, he does it all.
And to go along with that, he's got ridiculous speed for a man of 6'7" and leaping ability that ranks right up there with Spud Webb and Wolverine.
Wallace produces in every category, every night for the 'Cats. If only the lights shined brighter down in Charlotte.
Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz—Threak on the Edge
Whether you're one of the many who has written AK's career off or you're part of my resistance that believes he still has game, you must admit: They invented the five-by-five for this man.
Some say it's artificial, come up with just to make the threaks feel better about their inability to blow us away in any one category. I say putting at least five in five different statistical categories is the way to play the friggin' game.
Kiri obviously is more of the long-limbed type of small forward than the athletic monstrosity, but he belongs on this list due to what he's done in the past. In '04, he was the leader of the Jazz and an All-Star. Back then, he had a sort of omnipresence on the court—always in a passing lane, always contesting a shot, etc.
Then, Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, and a few more were brought in to help him out, and the pressure turned up too much. Yes, yes, he allegedly cried at the end of a Playoff series. You'd be tired too!
If Andrei gets his mind right, he could recapture the late '03-to-early '06 form that saw him putting up 15, seven, four, two, and two nightly.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers—Threak on the Verge
Warning, Mr. Granger: A few more steps in that direction and you won't have the "threak" designation anymore.
Shoot, you won't need it. You'll be a superstar.
Danny has massively improved his game the past couple seasons, and while that's led most noticeably to an upping of his scoring output (25.8 last year!), he'll never truly leave his freakish roots behind.
After all, to go with that top-10 average, he had five boards, three dimes, a steal, and a block per. Danny's ridiculously chiseled frame just bounds all over the place with nary an effort.
Coming out of the University of New Mexico, Granger was highly regarded for his—you guessed it—athleticism, but not so much for his basketball-specific abilities. Now he's got both, and if Indy can pick up some pieces and the other Pacers can catch his work ethic, we might have to pay attention to that team.
Andre Igoudala, Philadelphia 76ers—The Ridiculed Threak
Igoudala's case is similar to that of AK47 in that there's a divide in public opinion. Can he, or can he not, be a No. 1 for a team?
This of course implies a larger question for me: Can a threak be a No. 1?
You bet I'm on the positive side of this one, just as I am with Andrei.
Over and over again, Iggy hears people say that he is at best a sidekick for a better player. He hears that the Sixers putting their hopes on him and a couple complementary pieces is a recipe for first-round exits and no more.
They say he's a Pippen, and ask where his Jordan is. Fair enough, but the prevailing attitude towards the City of Brotherly Love's "new A.I." should be sunny, not this negative vibe that hangs around.
I look at Andre's numbers from last season (you know, just your casual 19, 5.5, and 5.5) and I see all that is right with the world. Take a hint from his new commercials, and don't be criticizin'.
Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies—The Threak Next Door
There's something unsuspecting about Rudy Gay. I mean, the guy's name is Rudy.
What he's doing in Memph goes by largely unnoticed, because, well, it's occurring in Memphis, but the way he goes about leading this young squad is anything but incognito. He was in the dunk contest a couple years back for a good reason.
His leaping ability is outstanding, but besides that, he plays around the basket and in driving lanes pretty much like he was born doing it. His handle is sweet, his positioning unnaturally good for a guy this fresh, and he's doing it all with no backup.
If you want to try to throw the "but he plays for a garbage team" argument at me, I'm just going to plug my ears and not listen. Take a look at the defensive stats—the 6'9" guy getting both a block and a steal per—and tell me he would have no place on a winning squad.
No, it would not be the same place he has on the Griz. But any club would appreciate a freak like this.
Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets—Threak on the Come-Up
Can a guy who just won a championship and cashed in with a huge free-agent contract really be considered "on the come-up?"
Dude's profile is lower than anyone else's on this list (not that that's saying all that much), so I guess so. It certainly was humble beginnings for Trev, who was drafted 43rd overall in '04 by the Knicks.
Some knew about the jackrabbit hops and point guard-like foot-speed, and it was nice that he did alright in about 60 games with the '07 Magic. But understandably, people wondered what was to come—a journeyman backup career, or something more?
Eh, a little bit something more, maybe like a 'chip. Not only did he team well with both Kobe and Lamar (that's darn impressive in and of itself), he proved his worth by doing little things, like getting in passing lanes, running out breaks, and D-ing up whoever he was assigned to with tenacity.
Now it's time to take over for Ron-Ron in H-town. Rockets typically go up, don't they?
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks—The Threakshow
My hometown hero Smoove cops the climactic final spot because he not only is a freak who plays the three, but, as his moniker insinuates, he flaunts his abilities the most of any of these players.
Jay Bilas doubted him on national TV when the Hawks drafted him, and Josh proceeded to, ahem, "defecate" all over him.
Smith won the dunk contest in '05, bringing a ray of light during a dark, dark time in the ATL. Note that he jumped over somebody a full year before Nate Rob did.
He helped get my Hawks to the playoffs in '08, then got a fat extension for a guy who came out of high school and went 17th overall. Sure, maturation is still an ongoing process, but I can deal.
Looks like he'll be tomahawkin' it in Philips for a while. Either that, or snaring rebounds from players with six inches on him. Or maybe coming from literally out of nowhere to swat a perimeter shot by an opponent.
With Josh, we don't need a Dikembe to funnel driving ball-handlers to, nor do we need a long-armed four like KG to grab boards. We have our own threaky three who'll do it all.
Before You Ask...
Yes. The King most certainly is a threak. But he's more than that, and I could go on and on about it, so I'll just leave his mention to this.
And as for your other question, yes. Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade are both freaks and do way more than your average player, but neither plays small forward (though both probably could if they really wanted to). So their mentions remain like so.
Finally, looking for the next round of threaks? Peep a certain Al Thornton, Rodney Carney, and Jamario Moon. Boys' games are just...freaky.