NBA

NBA Player Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Small Forwards at the Halfway Point

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2017

NBA Player Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Small Forwards at the Halfway Point

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    Does LeBron James still take the cake among the NBA's top small forwards?

    There's no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar is defending his championship with another stellar season, but plenty of contenders are coming for his crown. Even with Kevin Durant qualifying for our position-by-position rankings as a power forward, James has to deal with Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, among others.

    Plus, a number of youngsters are moving up the hierarchy in an expeditious fashion. 

    By analyzing the work these players have done in 2016-17, as well as their reputations from previous seasons and the expectations going forward, we're putting the top 30 small forwards in order. The goal is to identify the players we'd most want to build around for the remainder of the campaign, so long-term upside and prowess in the distant past are irrelevant.

30. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 8.2 PER, minus-39.50 TPA, minus-2.62 RPM

            

    Before a torn labrum ended his sophomore season, Justise Winslow was showing slight signs of progress on the offensive end. 

    Though his jumper remained broken, he'd become more comfortable hitting touch shots around the basket, developing a reliance on push attempts from a few feet away. But even with those improvements, Winslow could hit only 35.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 20.0 percent of his three-point tries. 

    No matter how strong he may be on defense, he can't overcome the offensive woes without continued growth. His lack of range allowed opponents to collapse around Hassan Whiteside and limit the effectiveness of his sharpshooting teammates, making it harder for the Miami Heat to win while he was on the court. 

    Winslow has substantial upside, but he's still a long way from making a sustained positive impact. 

             

    Honorable Mentions: Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, Tyreke Evans, Chandler Parsons, P.J. Tucker

29. TJ Warren, Phoenix Suns

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    Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.0 PER, minus-27.2 TPA, minus-0.97 RPM

            

    TJ Warren was lighting scoreboards on fire throughout the opening salvo of his junior campaign. He averaged 17.7 points while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from downtown and 81.8 percent at the charity stripe during his first 13 appearances

    But he was knocked out of that 13th contest with a head injury that kept him sidelined for the Phoenix Suns' next 13 games.

    Since his return, he's had trouble finding an early rhythm. The small forward has averaged only 10.7 points during the ensuing dozen games, and they've come while he shoots 43.5 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from beyond the arc and 66.7 percent on free throws. 

    Even as his defense improves, Warren is reliant on his versatile scoring game. When the shots aren't falling, it's tough for him to hold a featured spot in the lineup. 

28. Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs

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    Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 2.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 10.8 PER, 8.34 TPA, minus-0.13 RPM

        

    Kyle Anderson is an enigma. 

    A player without top-end speed shouldn't be a great defender against the NBA's elite athletes, but that's exactly what the 23-year-old has become. According to ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus (DRPM), he's been the league's No. 38 defender, trailing only eight listed small forwards. 

    Anderson has also improved as a situational offensive threat, working on his three-point jumper and reaching a level where defenses can't just opt to leave him open. 

    But the San Antonio Spurs are still handing him only 12.9 minutes per game. It's not a reflection on his skill so much as a testament to the organization's depth on the wings. Anderson, Jonathon Simmons and Manu Ginobili all have to get run behind Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, who both deserve as many minutes as head coach Gregg Popovich can allot. 

    Until we see what Anderson can do in a featured role, it's tough to place him any higher. 

27. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

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    Age: 29

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.5 PER, 41.52 TPA, 1.24 RPM

        

    Joe Ingles has become more than a sharpshooter for the Utah Jazz, even if his ability to connect on 44.4 percent of long-range attempts remains his primary calling card. 

    When the 29-year-old isn't putting up points in threes, he's capable of doing just about anything else.

    The Jazz trust him to swing the ball around the perimeter and find cutters, which is why he's recording 3.8 assists per 36 minutes without making many mistakes. He's capable of finishing around the rim, shooting 78.1 percent from within three feet.

    And perhaps most impressively, he's earned the right to guard difficult assignments in key moments. According to NBA Math's defensive points saved (DPS), his limited playing time hasn't prevented him from adding more defensive value to the Utah cause than anyone but Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. 

26. Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 11.5 PER, minus-30.05 TPA, 0.01 RPM

        

    "I'm just getting comfortable with how we're playing and knowing guys' tendencies and knowing where I can be aggressive and what not," Luol Deng recently told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.

    "There's games where I focus on other things besides shooting the ball. There's games like [Jan. 6] I knew early, I had good looks and wanted to stay aggressive."

    It took Deng a while to settle into his new digs, but he's now providing more offense for the Los Angeles Lakers. The 31-year-old is averaging 10.5 points while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point territory during his last 15 appearances. 

    Still, it's clear the Purple and Gold didn't get the prime version of Deng when he inked a four-year, $72 million deal. They may not even have the version who spent two seasons with the Miami Heat. Deng is an old 31 after years under Tom Thibodeau on the Chicago Bulls, and that's apparent as he struggles to play top-notch defense and displays more limited mobility on offense. 

25. Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Age: 23

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.4 PER, minus-2.44 TPA, minus-0.09 RPM 

        

    Maurice Harkless has played better than this rank would indicate. He's emerged as a three-point threat for the Portland Trail Blazers while holding his own on defense—one of the few players in Rip City who hasn't been a huge defensive liability. 

    But his offense may not be sustainable. Take a peek at how much better he's shooting from every area of the court, except right around the hoop:

    Season0-3 Feet3-10 Feet10-16 Feet16-23 Feet3-Pointers
    Pre-2016 Career Average61.929.727.925.330.0
    2015-1666.029.240.033.327.9
    2016-1759.950.075.052.636.1

    When regression comes—and it will—Harkless' offense will show significant cracks. 

24. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

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    Age: 21

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.2 PER, minus-22.47 TPA, minus-0.57 RPM

           

    "If Serge Ibaka weren't here, Aaron Gordon would be my power forward," Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe before the 2016-17 campaign began. "But Serge is here. Aaron is going to be playing [small forward]. We are going to put the ball in his hands a lot. We're going to use him like Paul George."

    That's...not what's happened. 

    Gordon has been slightly more involved than in previous seasons, but his inability to serve as a facilitator or knock down jumpers has hindered the experiment. It's clear the Magic aren't maximizing his talents, though they forced themselves down this route with their plethora of rostered bigs.

    The 21-year-old remains a quality rebounder when he's allowed to work near the basket, and he has the athletic tools to hold his own as a wing defender. But until he shifts back to the 4, he'll flounder in the realm of low-level starters.  

23. Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Age: 25

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 6.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 8.7 PER, minus-14.77 TPA, minus-0.02 RPM

        

    Andre Roberson has continued developing into a valuable defender for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but his offensive backsliding is cause for concern. 

    The 25-year-old has never been a dangerous marksman from beyond the arc, but now he's hitting just 28.2 percent of his three-point tries. What's even more concerning is his 39.7 percent shooting on freebies and his struggles to finish plays from anywhere but the restricted zone. 

    Roberson has taken just 20 shots from between three feet and the three-point arc, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. That meshes nicely with the modern ideology that you only loft attempts from the most efficient areas. 

    But he's made just two of those 20. And therein lies the problem.

22. Joe Johnson, Utah Jazz

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    Age: 35

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.2 PER, minus-18.54 TPA, minus-1.37 RPM

        

    Joe Johnson is the same player he's been for a while; he's just working a smaller role off the Utah Jazz bench. 

    The 35-year-old is averaging 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes, continuing to prove he can thrive as an inside-outside scorer with distributing chops. He's playing solid defense against opposing wings, and only one major part of his game has dwindled as he moves deeper into his 30s. 

    When Johnson attacks in a one-on-one situation, he's scoring a mere 0.83 points per possession, which leaves him in the 48.5th percentile. Despite the persisting nature of his "Iso Joe" moniker, he's been better off working away from the ball and using his spot-up ability to aid the surging Utah offense. 

    The change has left him as more of a supporting player than a star, but an effective one nonetheless.

21. Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Age: 26

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 10.1 PER, minus-7.82 TPA, 0.31 RPM

          

    Though the Philadelphia 76ers desperately need Robert Covington's three-point shooting to return as they search for some semblance of spacing, they can't be too unhappy with his defensive efforts. 

    By nearly every metric, the fourth-year small forward has thrived when asked to buckle down.

    ESPN.com's DRPM has Covington as the third-best defender among listed small forwards, trailing only Thabo Sefolosha and Giannis Antetokounmpo (whom we had to rank as a shooting guard). NBA Math's DPS shows that Covington is barely behind Joel Embiid in the race to become Philly's defensive MVP. He's also helping the Sixers allow 2.7 fewer points per 100 possessions, and opponents have shot 1.3 percent worse than normal against him.

    That, in a nutshell, is why they can live with his offensive regression. 

20. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets

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    Age: 23

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.8 PER, minus-17.92 TPA, minus-0.98 RPM

           

    If you want to give up on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jumper, we can't blame you. Even though he's in his fifth professional season and finally enjoying the luxury of health, he's hitting only 16.7 percent of his triples and 38.7 percent of his two-pointers from beyond 10 feet. 

    But despite his broken—and unfixable?—shot, Kidd-Gilchrist makes the Charlotte Hornets better when he's on the floor: 

     Offensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
    With Kidd-Gilchrist105.1102.13.0
    Without Kidd-Gilchrist106.3106.5Minus-0.2

    Yes, he's still that good at defense. 

19. Luc Mbah a Moute, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Age: 30

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 10.6 PER, 21.53 TPA, 1.55 RPM

               

    Don't look now, but Luc Mbah a Moute is having the best offensive season of his career. 

    Sure, he's still averaging only 6.5 points and 0.4 assists. It's true those numbers only go up to 9.9 and 0.6, respectively, if we analyze the per-36-minute versions. He's still never going to take over games and post gaudy totals, even as Chris Paul makes his life so much easier. 

    But he's shooting better than ever, to the point that defenders can't leave him open in the corners and force the Los Angeles Clippers to play four-on-five. Never before had Mbah a Moute posted a true shooting percentage better than 54.4, which he earned back in 2011-12 with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

    That mark is up to 57.2 percent, and it hasn't come at the expense of his defensive chops. 

18. Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets

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    Age: 29

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.0 PER, minus-28.13 TPA, minus-1.37 RPM

             

    "Wilson [Chandler] is always a mismatch nightmare, so every time we see that he has a mismatch, we're going to keep feeding him," Emmanuel Mudiay said about his small forward earlier this season. 

    The Denver Nuggets have taken that mentality to heart. 

    Even though Chandler has cooled after his torrid start, they've continued to force him the ball in a variety of situations. Some games, he'll be asked to loft up perimeter jumpers. Others, he'll attack the basket and take advantage of slow-footed defenders. 

    Head coach Mike Malone has sometimes pushed Chandler too hard, requesting he play long stretches at power forward against bigger, more physical opponents. But the 29-year-old's versatility has been key to unlocking Denver's offensive potential because he really can be that "mismatch nightmare." 

17. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

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    Age: 32

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 5.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 11.4 PER, 28.02 TPA, minus-0.21 RPM

          

    This is the fourth consecutive season in which Andre Iguodala's scoring average has dipped. As he moves further from his athletic prime, he's no longer able to elevate around the rim so easily—even more troubling in conjunction with his disappearing three-point stroke. 

    But Iguodala doesn't need to score to provide value. 

    The Golden State Warriors have enough offensive firepower from Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Instead, it's more beneficial for Iggy to focus on defense and distribution. 

    He's doing the former marvelously, just as he has throughout his career. Despite playing 25.2 minutes per contest, Iguodala's added more value on defense, per NBA Math, than all but four Warriors. And as for the latter, he's recording 4.7 assists per 36 minutes while minimizing his turnovers and helping his teammates shoot 58.9 percent off his feeds. 

16. Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks

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    Age: 32

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.2 PER, 33.12 TPA, 1.47 RPM

        

    Thabo Sefolosha was never going to keep up the hot shooting that allowed him to surge into Sixth Man of the Year whispers at the beginning of the season. But even as he's fallen back to earthmissing shots from the perimeter and failing to convert so frequently around the hoophe's remained an incredible defender. 

    Thanks to head coach Mike Budenholzer's system, which relies on many of the same principles the San Antonio Spurs use, the Atlanta Hawks are set up to play great defense regardless of who's on the floor.

    Yet they still allow four fewer points per 100 possessions when Sefolosha is playing. He drops the defensive rating to a staggering 100.1, which would lead the field in the season-long standings, narrowly edging out the aforementioned Spurs (101.0).

    But this shouldn't be surprising. Sefolosha is, after all, the No. 1 small forward in ESPN.com's DRPM, as well as the No. 7 player at any position. 

15. Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 11.7 PER, minus-12.23 TPA, 0.88 RPM

            

    Was Marcus Morris' success in 2015-16 too good to be true?

    Probably so, as he's regressed on both ends. But that slippage hasn't prevented him from continuing to assert himself as a usable two-way piece.

    This half of the Morris twins can play either forward spot, though he's typically used at the 3. And no matter where he lines up, he can contribute in a number of different areas. 

    That type of versatility is valuable since the Detroit Pistons can alter Morris' role depending on the night's matchup. Whether they need him to play quality defense against a strong scorer, work the boards a bit harder or help space the floor around Andre Drummond, he's capable of answering the call. 

14. CJ Miles, Indiana Pacers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.3 PER, minus-2.87 TPA, 0.66 RPM

        

    CJ Miles has become a distinct offensive weapon for the Indiana Pacers. 

    He's fully adapted to his role off the bench, consistently providing strong numbers. He knows he doesn't need to create many of his own looks, because if he runs around the perimeter and waits for three-point attempts, they'll come. 

    Miles has produced high-quality seasons from downtown before, but he's never reached his current level. He's firing away 4.9 times per game from beyond the arc and hitting 40.8 percent of his looks—numbers only 15 players are matching or exceeding.

    If the veteran wing could show a bit more confidence on defense, he'd boost his stock further. But given his skill set, it seems like he's maximized his potential as a low-usage sniper who's rarely going to make team-crippling mistakes. 

13. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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    Cameron Browne/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.6 PER, 14.14 TPA, 1.69 RPM

        

    Perhaps the biggest flaw in Terrence Ross' game is his willingness to showboat in the air, throwing down massive slams with unnecessary flair. He's now hurt himself twice while completing a 360-degree dunk—once in a late December game and once during an open practice before the season. 

    But so long as Ross is healthy, he's improving for the Toronto Raptors. 

    The athleticism that grants him so much hang time is evident in transition, and it's helped him become a stronger cutter and defender during his fifth professional season. ESPN.com shows that his DRPM (minus-0.1) is now far higher than it's been during any of his last three go-rounds.

    That extra effort on defense also hasn't prevented him from maintaining his three-point prowess. Knocking down 37.4 percent of his triples while taking 4.4 per game, Ross is closer than ever to becoming a true three-and-D contributor. 

12. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 21.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.2 PER, minus-87.77 TPA, minus-2.13 RPM

        

    If we're basing these rankings purely off what players have already done, Andrew Wiggins wouldn't be leading off the top dozen. Thanks to his putrid defensive contributions and inability to do much when not scoring, he might not even rank as one of the league's top 30 small forwards. 

    But in-season potential matters, and so does context. 

    Wiggins has slowly been improving as a rebounder and facilitator, which lends him more value. He's also learning how to take the right looks and improving his scoring efficiency rather than serving as an inefficient volume shooter who does more harm than good.

    Plus, the Minnesota Timberwolves aren't helping. They're relying on him to provide more offense than he should and surrounding him with negative defenders who can't make his life easier. It's too much for the 21-year-old to handle, yet that's the situation he's in. 

    At this stage, we can't call Wiggins an elite small forward, but we also can't claim he'll never reach that level. Not in the face of all those tools he has.

11. DeMarre Carroll, Toronto Raptors

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 9.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.5 PER, 32.97 TPA, 1.74 RPM

        

    DeMarre Carroll is only just getting back to full strength, and the results are telling, as Blake Murphy wrote for Raptors Republic on Jan. 3:

    Carroll is healthy enough now to have his back-to-back restriction lifted, which is a positive. Whatever the specifics of the Raptors' long-term plan for their big 2015 investment, Carroll's gone from being at something less than 100 percent in training camp to able to handle full games to now being able to handle back-to-backs.

    From a strictly medical perspective, those steps are important and encouraging. All signs point to the health and strength in his knee improving, an important consideration for his long-term outlook and his potential status for the postseason. 

    During the eight games since he was cleared for back-to-backs, Carroll's averaged 10.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from downtown. His last back-to-back outing featured a season-high 26 points against the Houston Rockets on the tail end. 

    Before long, Carroll should remind the world why he was viewed as a two-way asset before joining the Toronto Raptors. 

10. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 21.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.8 PER, 0.0 TPA, 1.25 RPM

           

    It may be shocking to see Carmelo Anthony ranked behind nine other small forwards, but don't let the luster surrounding his name distract you from declining production. 

    Anthony is still scoring 21.9 points per game, but he's doing so while shooting 42.1 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range. It would behoove him to pass up some of his looks and involve the supporting cast. 

    And even that's not as troubling as the declines in other areas. 

    The efforts Anthony made in previous seasons to serve as a facilitator? Gone. The strides he made on defense as he spent more time at the 4 and committed himself to point-preventing exertion? Fleeting as the wind. 

    He's devolved into a one-dimensional player (two-dimensional, if you include his rebounding), and that's troubling when his scoring profile is trending in the wrong direction. 

9. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.6 PER, 10.77 TPA, 1.81 RPM

             

    Even though Rudy Gay is still firing away too frequently from downtown, everything else is going right. 

    He's attacking the basket with aplomb and converting at a 68.9 percent clip from within three feet. He's taking time to involve his teammates without committing too many ill-advised turnovers. He's playing solid defense in nearly all situations, allowing him to rank No. 10 among 79 small forwards in ESPN.com's DRPM

    The total package has helped the Sacramento Kings significantly. 

    Even though Gay had carried a reputation for making teams slightly worse when he was on the floor, he's now making Sacto better than ever. When he plays, its net rating jumps by 9.3 points per 100 possessions. 

8. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.3 PER, 28.56 TPA, 3.11 RPM

           

    A three-and-D wing in previous seasons, Jae Crowder falls short in 2016-17. He's having a forgettable campaign on the preventing end by most defensive metrics.

    ESPN.com's DRPM gives him a positive score but leaves him trailing 11 players at the position. NBA Math's DPS has him slightly below average. The Boston Celtics' defensive rating is noticeably better when he's playing, but that could be because of the teammates surrounding him.

    After all, his matchups are shooting 1.3 percent better when he's guarding them. 

    But even with the decline, Crowder is hovering around average. He should improve as he continues to gain comfort on this new-look Celtics squad, and it's not like he's struggling to put the ball in the basket. 

7. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

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    Age: 31

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.4 PER, 92.07 TPA, 4.07 RPM

           

    Trevor Ariza has found his dream situation. 

    He's allowed to devote the majority of his energy to keeping the Houston Rockets from sinking on defense—a necessary endeavor when he spends so much time alongside James Harden. And when the Rockets have the ball, he can spot up on the perimeter and wait for the bearded guard to find him. 

    Ariza is scoring 12.6 points per game in 2016-17, and those are coming on an average of just 10.3 field-goal attempts. A staggering 70.4 percent of his looks have come from beyond the arc, allowing him to focus on that ultra-important niche in head coach Mike D'Antoni's schemes. 

    The two-way excellence has resulted in quite a bit of success. Houston is moving closer to the top of the Western Conference standings, and NBA Math's TPA metric has Ariza trailing only James Harden among the 16 players who have suited up in Rocket red. 

6. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards

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    Age: 23

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.5 PER, 98.63 TPA, 3.6 RPM

             

    As Jesus Gomez explains for FanRag Sports, Otto Porter's willingness to play (and thrive) off the ball has made him a strong fit in the Washington Wizards' offense: 

    Almost 80 percent of Porter's field goals are assisted, a mark that ranks fifth in the league among players who are on the court for 30 minutes of more, per NBA.com/Stats. When he's not spotting up, he's running the break for easy buckets and cutting into open lanes. He's not a creator, but that's fine in Washington. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to score his 14 points per game in an extremely efficient manner. That's just what the Wizards need next to the ball dominant Wall and Bradley Beal.

    Porter's developed into a strong rebounder and defender who can score in the right situations. The newfound ability to hit 42.8 percent of his three-point attempts makes him even more dangerous, though he doesn't need to provide points to be valuable. 

    Shot creation might be the only weakness in Porter's overall profile. At this point, he sits between two tiers of small forwards. And he's closer to joining the elites ahead of him than the second-tier players below. 

5. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.5 PER, 51.45 TPA, 1.92 RPM

           

    Paul George is averaging 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He ranks No. 43 in NBA Math's TPA standings and has helped push the Indiana Pacers into playoff position behind his hot shooting—45.3 percent from the field, 38.9 percent from deep and 92.1 percent from the charity stripe. 

    And yet, it still feels as if his season has been a bit disappointing. That's the standard George is now held to, which, in many ways, is confirmation of his status as a bona fide superstar. 

    Despite the lofty shooting percentages, he's not attacking the basket as frequently. He's also struggling to maintain his defensive superiority while handling such immense offensive responsibility. 

    He's remained a superstar, even if that's left him well short of MVP candidacy. 

4. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 22.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 22.6 PER, 96.40 TPA, 2.78 RPM

           

    Gordon Hayward has arrived as a legitimate stud. 

    Not only has he helped push his Utah Jazz toward the top four seeds in the Western Conference (though he has plenty of work left in that quest), he's submitting the finest individual numbers of his career. Though he can't be fully defined by scoring, rebounding and passing, he does join a handful of big names as one of only 11 qualified players to average at least 22 points, five rebounds and three assists. 

    Hayward can simply do everything this year. 

    Even while maintaining his responsibilities as a distributor and above-average defender, he's shooting 38.6 percent from downtown. He's comfortable breaking down defenders to create his shot or working off cuts—the Hayward alley-oop finish has become a staple in Utah's offense. 

    The 26-year-old is a new addition to the top tier of small forwards, but he's deserving. 

3. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 25.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 25.9 PER, 177.94 TPA, 7.17 RPM

           

    If the Chicago Bulls are in a close game, they're just going to hand the ball to Jimmy Butler and let him take over. 

    NBA.com defines "clutch" situations as anything occurring in the last five minutes of a game featuring a margin no greater than five points. It might as well redefine them as "when Butler thrives." 

    The 27-year-old is averaging a scorching 40.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per 36 minutes during clutch play, shooting 39.6 percent from the field, 26.7 percent from downtown and 97.4 percent from the charity stripe. Those percentages may sound lackluster, but Butler is making so many trips to the foul line that his overall efficiency level is still praiseworthy—a 59.9 true shooting percentage.

    Plus, he's helping his team outscore opponents by 11.5 points per 100 possessions in clutch moments. 

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 24.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 27.1 PER, 168.52 TPA, 5.91 RPM

        

    We know Kawhi Leonard is an unbelievable defender. He's already won Defensive Player of the Year during each of the last two seasons. Even as the leading metrics show he's declined in 2016-17, he still passes the eye test with ease.

    It's the growth of his offensive game that's been more staggering, vaulting him into serious MVP contention.

    Leonard has previously been great, to the point that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been willing to deviate from the ball-sharing system and let his small forward take over games. But he's been even better this year, shooting 47.3 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from downtown and 91.1 percent from the stripe.

    According to ESPN.com's offensive real plus/minus (ORPM), only Jimmy Butler and LeBron James have been better on offense among the 80 ranked small forwards.  

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 26.7 PER, 225.75 TPA, 5.68 RPM

           

    Surprised? Don't be. 

    LeBron James is finally getting to play like he always wanted to: thriving as a facilitator while surrounded by shooters and treating scoring like it's a secondary concern.

    The result is one of his career's most well-rounded lines, which puts him firmly in the hunt for MVP and makes him invaluable to the Cleveland Cavaliers: 

     Offensive Rating (Rank)Defensive Rating (Rank)Net Rating (Rank)
    With James113.6 (No. 1)103.2 (No. 6)10.4 (No. 2)
    Without James102.7 (No. 22)109.2 (No. 27)Minus-6.5 (No. 28)

    Even with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs are dependent on their leading superstar. He hasn't declined a bit, despite celebrating his 32nd birthday midway through the campaign. 

              

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball-Reference.comNBA.comESPN.com or NBA Math and accurate heading into games on Jan. 11. Positional designations determined by Basketball-Reference.com's minute splits at the end of 2016. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.    

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