Ranking the 30 Starting Small Forwards in the NBA

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IAugust 9, 2011

Ranking the 30 Starting Small Forwards in the NBA

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat is guarded by Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
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    All good things must come to an end and sadly so must this ranking of the league's top starters at their respective positions.

    Here's the 30 top starting point guards, power forwards, shooting guards and centers for some background and reference.

    Today we finish off with the 30 top starting small forwards where I was surprised to note that there was a surprising limit on quality, all-around players. Most of the players that play this position are either some of the best scorers in the league or some of the league's top defenders with only both being combined on rare occasions.

    With the top three small forwards all possibly rounding out the top seven players in the league, there was a certain deal of elite status near the top of this list, but there was definitely a significant drop-off before you even reached No. 5. It turns out that finding a quality small forward is one of the more trying tasks behind finding a quality center.

    Aside from being the top scorers and defenders, small forwards also have the benefit of possessing some of the league's best athletes. Some of the aerial assaults that we have seen these players put on have given way to some of the best highlights in the game's history.

    Let's finish this series off with a bang by putting out another controversial list of the league's top small forwards.

    You can follow John Friel on twitter @JohnFtheheatgod

30. Joey Graham

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    At 29 years old and after five years of NBA experience, Joey Graham still hasn't done too much in his time at the professional level.

    He has never averaged more than eight points or four rebounds in a season and is coming off of another sub-par season with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he only averaged five points and two rebounds per game in the 39 games he played, eight where he started. The small forward position was a tough one to judge for the Cavaliers since they had a myriad of players attempting to fill in for LeBron James.

    Graham, Alonzo Gee, Antawn Jamison and Christian Eyenga all took turns at the position with none of them really making too much of an impact. With the Cavs trading for Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi, perhaps they can start him and get some sort of positivity at the small forward position rather than switching from player to player after a certain number of games.

29. Ryan Gomes

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    A disappointing season for the 28-year-old Ryan Gomes after a few productive seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Boston Celtics. He was averaging as much as 13 points and six rebounds per game prior to joining the Los Angeles Clippers.

    In his first season with the team, Gomes struggled by averaging a career-low seven points per game on 41 percent (another career low) shooting from the field. He also averaged a career low of three boards per game as Gomes suffered a huge decrease in production with the lowest numbers he's had since his rookie season.

    Gomes is a decent shooter from the mid-range and the perimeter and a career 36 percent three-point shooter, but he lacks in many other key areas including defense, shot selection and involving his teammates.

28. James Johnson

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    After an uneventful season and a quarter with the Chicago Bulls where he failed to average over four points per game, James Johnson was eventually traded to the Toronto Raptors where he would actually begin to thrive as an actual scoring option.

    In 25 games with the Raptors, Johnson averaged nine points per game on 46 percent shooting as he was given his first significant chance to prove himself as a capable role player on a team that desperately needed some help from any source. He also showed that he could do a little bit of everything as he also brought down five boards per game to go along with three assists and a block as well.

    Johnson is athletic and could have a bright future ahead of him if he can continue to improve his game and be a considerable threat from beyond the arc and in the middle rather than just from the mid-range.

27. Chase Budinger

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    Don't expect Houston Rockets small forward Chase Budinger to be ranked this low for long because it appears that the high flyer and sharpshooter is about to become a significant part of the team's offense.

    Budinger showed a lot of promise in his second season as he not only exhibited a surprising deal of athleticism, but an uncanny ability to hit from deep as well. He spent the majority of his time behind the perimeter taking nearly four three-pointers per game (and converting one) despite only playing 20 minutes. After shooting 37 percent from deep in his rookie season, Budinger fell off a bit by only hitting 33 percent of his three-pointers.

    After impressing in his time on the bench, Budinger was given the start near the end of the season and gave plenty of reasons as to why he should be the permanent starter. In the game before he was given the start at small forward, Budinger dropped 30 points on the Cavaliers where he hit four of his eight three-point attempts. He also had 35 points in the season finale against Minnesota where he hit four of his eight three-point attempts as well.

    Budinger could use some work in a number of areas on both sides as well. As athletic as he is, he should be driving considerably more rather than spending most of his time beyond the arc. He could also use plenty of work on his defense which is severely lacking.

26. Carlos Delfino

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    If not for a two-month stretch where he was hurt, Carlos Delfino could find himself a lot higher.

    Delfino struggled in his return where he hit 20 points or more on four different occasions in the span of a little more than a month, but went through a brief stretch near the end of March where he was a Top 10- caliber small forward. He hit 19 three-pointers over three games where he scored at least 26 points and also had back-to-back 30 point games.

    The Argentinian impressed during the stretch, but he was terribly inconsistent as he would score over 20 points only one more time over the next 12 games. He averaged a career high of 12 points per game as well as hitting a near career high of 37 percent from beyond the arc.

    His inconsistency, as well as his defense, are his biggest weaknesses as he only converted on 39 percent of his field goals, the lowest it has been since his rookie year.

25. Travis Outlaw

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    After receiving a contract where he was set to make $7 million per year from the New Jersey Nets, Travis Outlaw decided to slack off after a few consistent seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers where he averaged as much as 13 points per game.

    By slacking off, I mean that Outlaw had possibly the worst statistical season of his career. Nearly all of his numbers were career lows as he only managed to average nine points per game on a career low 38 percent from the field to go along with an even more abysmal 30 percent from the arc despite taking three three-pointers per game.

    He also only managed to grab four rebounds per game on a team where the starting center is coming off of a season where he averaged six.

    Outlaw is a solid defender and a solid role player, but he was abysmal in his first year with New Jersey. He has the potential to have quite the impact with his new team if he can get it together and revert back to the form he was in while he was a member of the the Trail Blazers.

24. Marvin Williams

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    A player that just never got his career off the ground, Marvin Williams is one of the league's biggest disappointments after being selected with the second pick in the 2005 draft.

    Williams is coming off of another disappointment of a season where he averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game and did little to help out the Atlanta Hawks cause when it came to the postseason. By the end of the season, Williams was barely getting any starts or minutes as he only averaged 18 minutes per game during the team's playoff run.

    Marvin is a role-player through and through as he'll usually provide the same amount of points that your top bench player will give. He's the type of player that will hit open shots when given the chance, but don't expect him to lead the team to any victory, hit the big shot nor provide anything more than he's given over the past six seasons.

    Williams has averaged as much as 15 points per game, but has seen his production decline considerably since then. He only played 29 minutes per game last season, the lowest it's been since his rookie year.

23. Corey Maggette

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    If this was a ranking of small forwards that could win an arm wrestling match, Corey Maggette would probably be ranked in the Top 3.

    Alas, it is not and instead Corey Maggette finds himself far back from the top among starting small forwards.

    Maggette is now on his third team in three years after spending two seasons with the Golden State Warriors and one with the Milwaukee Bucks before ending up with the Charlotte Bobcats as the team's most plausible choice to be the starting small forward. He was acquired in a trade that sent Stephen Jackson to Milwaukee as the Bobcats organization now expects Maggette to be one of the team's main offensive producers.

    He has averaged as much as 22 points per game, but is coming off of an unusual season where he only played 21 minutes a night. Maggette only averaged 12 points per game on 45 percent from the field and should definitely expect an increase in all statistical categories with the high chance that he receives upwards of 30 minutes per game with his new team.

    Maggette is a quality offensive threat and not much else as he has only averaged five rebounds and two assists per game over his career.

22. Richard Jefferson

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    Set to receive $10 million per year despite entering the twilight of his career, Richard Jefferson was one of the San Antonio Spur's few mistakes when it comes to a signing.

    Signing Jefferson was the right idea, but signing him to that much was the mistake considering that he's basically a fourth scoring option behind Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

    It nearly went according to plan too as Jefferson was the team's fifth highest scorer at 11 points per game. He was solid for the most part shooting 47 percent from the field overall and hitting a career high of 44 percent from deep while converting on nearly two three-pointers per game. He was the team's second highest producer from beyond the arc.

    Jefferson was never an All-Star and he's only averaged over 20 points per game in two seasons, but he's been recognized and utilized as a role player for the majority of his career and he carried that on in his first season with the Spurs.

21. John Salmons

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    An extremely disappointing season for John Salmons after experiencing one of the best stretches of his career in the 30 games he played with the Milwaukee Bucks last season.

    Salmons was key behind the Bucks' regular season success as he led the team with a career high 20 points per game on 47 percent shooting as well as converting on nearly two three-pointers per game on 39 percent from beyond the arc. It gave the Bucks enough reason to hand over $8 million a year to Salmons as they expected a number of postseason runs led by the guard/forward.

    Once next season came around however, Salmons appeared to be a completely different player as he struggled greatly in the first half of the season. He would shoot below 30 percent for the first few months of the season before leveling off at a little below 42 percent from the field. Salmons' offensive production greatly decreased as well as he only managed to average 14 points per game.

    The disappointing season was enough for the Bucks to trade him away to the Sacramento Kings, a team that he spent two and a half seasons with before.

20. Rashard Lewis

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    By far the league's most overpaid player at over $20 million per year, Rashard Lewis is overpaid and overrated for a number of reasons.

    After three consecutive seasons where Lewis averaged over 20 points per game with the Seattle Sonics, Lewis would receive a lucrative deal from the Orlando Magic that would guarantee him over $120 million over six seasons. Lewis would produce at a high rate with his new team averaging as much as three three-pointers per game, but would see his production decline as he would average less than two three-pointers per game and convert on 37 percent of his three-pointers by the end of his tenure with the Magic.

    Lewis is now with the Washington Wizards and is set to be the team's starting small forward unless the Wizards decide that young Jordan Crawford would be a better option. Rashard was injured for the majority of his time with Washington as he would only average 11 points per game and convert on 35 percent of his three-pointers.

    It's a long fall from grace for a player that was once hitting three three-pointers per game on over 40 percent shooting from the arc.

19. Tayshaun Prince

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    One of the league's most consistent players, Tayshaun Prince is coming off of yet another solid season with the struggling Detroit Pistons.

    Prince is now a free agent and could be scooped up by a team that is actually looking to make a playoff run. It would be a shame to see him waste his remaining years on a team that is rebuilding and looking to show off young talent rather than aging veterans. At 30 years old, Prince could become one of those veterans that finds himself on the bench.

    Tayshaun averaged a near career-high of 14 points per game on 47 percent shooting to go along with near career lows of four rebounds and three assists. Prince was the Pistons' most consistent player on both sides of the ball as he utilized his lethal mid-range game on offense and his lengthy arms on defense.

    Entering his 10th season, Prince has averaged between 13 and 15 points per game since 2004 and would be an asset to any team that he could possibly join next year.

18. Trevor Ariza

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    An investment that hasn't exactly worked out, Trevor Ariza is coming off of his second consecutive season where he has averaged less than 40 percent shooting from the field.

    Since impressing in 2008-'09 as a key member of the Los Angeles Lakers' championship team, Ariza has been held in high regards by the two teams that have traded for him. He has received significant minutes starting for the Houston Rockets and the New Orleans Hornets and is coming off of a season where he averaged 11 points per game, only the second time in his career that he has averaged double-digit points.

    Ariza is also attempting to be a consistent threat from beyond the arc as he recently averaged nearly four three-point attempts per game, one season after averaging six. Trevor only managed to convert on 30 percent of his three-point opportunities.

    Ariza's offense isn't his strong suit however as it his defense that makes him a valuable asset to any of the teams that he has been a part of. He's quick enough to keep up with guards, strong enough to keep up with forwards and long enough to keep up with just about any other player that takes the challenge of trying to score on him.

17. Grant Hill

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    The ageless wonder, Grant Hill could be regarded as one of the best players in NBA history if he managed to stay this healthy during his prime years.

    Between the age of 28 and 30, Hill only played 47 games in three years. Between the ages of 36 and 38, Hill has only missed a grand total of three games and even played his first full season since 1999 (the lockout year), when he played the full 82 in 2008-'09.

    Hill is coming off of another consistent season where he averaged 13 points on 48 percent shooting as he continues to show off an impressive mid-range game. He's also demonstrated a quality post game and  converted on nearly 40 percent of his three-pointers.

    13 points, four rebounds, and three assists per game appear to be the average for any small forward in the league today, but it makes it all the more impressive once you see that Hill will be 39 years old upon the start of next season and is actually being pursued by a number of teams including the Miami Heat.

16. Dorell Wright

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    For the Miami Heat organization, this might be the one that got away.

    After spending six seasons with the Heat where he never received a legitimate chance to prove himself, Dorell Wright exploded when given the start in his first season with the Golden State Warriors. He led the league in total three-pointers with 194 after failing to average a three-pointer per game in his first six seasons. Wright converted on 38 percent of his three-pointers, and averaged 16 points and grabbed five boards per game

    He's a terrific athlete as well as carrying the potential to be a prolific scorer. He fits in perfectly with the Warriors' run and gun style of offense and can even provide some sort of defensive resistance with his length.

    With three other players on the team that have the potential to average 20 points per game, Wright's going to take what he can get when it comes to shooting opportunities.

15. Nicolas Batum

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    One of the league's most underrated players, Nicolas Batum has been steadily improving since joining the league in 2008 and could actually be considered an All-Star candidate within the next few seasons.

    At 22 years old, Batum has shown a great deal of maturity on both sides of the court. He's a terrific defender that has the agility and length to keep up with most opposing guards and small forwards and also possesses an offensive game where he can score from just about anywhere.

    After shooting 52 percent from the field in his sophomore season, Batum only managed to shoot 46 percent from the field but did attempt at least 10 shots per game for the first time in his career. He's a quality driver and post threat and can hit the shots from deep as he has shown over the past two seasons by converting on nearly two three-pointers per game.

    This season he only managed to convert on 35 percent of his four three-point attempts. He did average a career high in points however at 12 per game. The team looks at him as more of a defensive presence, but Batum brings a lot to the table including offense, youth and athleticism.

14. Andrei Kirilenko

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    I remember a time when Andrei Kirilenko was one of the league's highest-touted players. He made the 2004 All-Star game, led the league in blocks per game at a little over three and was one of the league's top defenders.

    However, ever since Kirilenko received a deal where he would be making over 10 million per season, he has struggled and has never matched the same amount of success he had between 2003 and 2006. He is coming off of another mediocre season where he managed to only average 12 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. Perhaps the most disappointing stat is blocks which has now dropped to one per game for three consecutive seasons.

    Don't forget that Kirilenko actually averaged three blocks per game from 2004 to 2006.

    He's still a quality defender and a terrific athlete, but it seems that Kirilenko will never match the same success that he had at the beginning of his career. He made $17 million last season and he'll be lucky to be making $7 million next year with the Utah Jazz or any other team for that matter.

13. Hedo Turkoglu

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    It's nice to see Hedo Turkoglu back in Orlando because those stints in Toronto and Phoenix were more awkward than a first date.

    Turk struggled greatly in Toronto two seasons ago by averaging only 13 points per game on 40 percent shooting and would only spend a year there before being traded to the run and gun Phoenix Suns. For a player that doesn't play defense and solely relies on three-pointers, Turkoglu didn't flourish as much as originally imagined. He only averaged nine points per game despite shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and 44 percent from the field as he started in only 16 of the 25 games he played.

    He made his triumphant return to Orlando in December and would feel right back at home after averaging 12 points per game and converting on 40 percent of his three-point attempts. His postseason appearance was terrifying however as only averaged nine points per game on 29 percent from the field overall and 23 percent from beyond the arc where he converted on seven of his 30 three-point attempts.

    Same Hedo Turkoglu, same deceived Orlando Magic.

12. Danilo Gallinari

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    After only three seasons, Danilo Gallinari has already begun to emerge as one of the league's top small forwards.

    Standing at 6'10", Gallinari possesses one of the league's greatest advantages as he stands above just about every other small forward in the league today. It only helps that Gallinari is primarily a shooter that spends his time beyond the arc, as it proves to be nearly impossible to defend the young Italian. Small forwards have trouble because of his height and power forwards have trouble guarding Danilo because of his quickness off the dribble.

    Gallinari recently joined the Denver Nuggets as a part of the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. He started, but didn't receive nearly as much minutes as he did with the Knicks as he averaged nearly five minutes less per game. In the 14 games he played with Denver, he averaged 15 points and five rebounds per game while converting on 37 percent of his three-pointers.

    He has a fluent and deadly shot, but he's a considerable liability on defense as most small forwards are either too quick or too strong for Gallinari to handle.

11. Ron Artest

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    After suffering the worst statistical season of his career, it appears that Ron Artest's career is just about hitting the wrong side.

    It was only three seasons ago that Artest was averaging 20 points per game with the Sacramento Kings, which makes it all the more surprising to see the Queensbridge native average a career-low nine points per game on less than 40 percent from the field. It was the first time in Artest's career that he averaged less than 10 points per game as he has averaged at least 11 per game since joining the league in 1999.

    He was still hitting consistently from deep as he managed to connect on 36 percent of his three-point opportunities.

    The Los Angeles Lakers don't look too much into Artest's offense aside from being open and hitting the occasional three-pointer, as they prefer him to play the usual, hard-nosed defense that he has been playing for over a decade. It does seem that Artest could be losing a little spring to his step however as he also averaged a career low 29 minutes per game.

10. Michael Beasley

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    Hopefully fans deviate from the fact that Michael Beasley is immature because he's still a terrific player, athlete and person overall.

    After spending two seasons with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat playing both forward positions as an attempt to find a niche, Beasley may have found a permanent residence with the Minnesota Timberwolves where he easily had the best season of his young career. Beasley was given the immediate start at small forward and impressed by averaging 19 points and six rebounds per game in his first year with the Wolves.

    Beasley is an extraordinary athlete that can penetrate and drive at will as well as possessing the capability to score from just about anywhere else on the floor. He greatly improved his mid-range and three-point shooting this season as he converted on 37 percent of his three-point opportunities, while also being recognized as an offensive threat from anywhere on the court.

    He lacks in defense and still takes some shots that shouldn't be taken, but there's no doubt that Beasley has a bright future ahead of him and can become even better if he begins to learn discipline and matures.

9. Shawn Marion

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    Fresh off of his first title victory, Shawn Marion has finally shown that hard work and patience pays off after suffering for so long with the Phoenix Suns and their disappointments late in the postseason.

    Marion played a key part in the Dallas Mavericks' first championship in franchise history by playing some of the best defense LeBron James had seen all postseason and then providing an unexpected spark on offense by scoring at least 10 points in five of the six games played in the Finals. He would also have three games where he would record eight or more rebounds.

    He's coming off of another solid season and his second overall with the Mavericks where he averaged 13 points on 52 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds. It's not much compared to the double-double he was consistently averaging with the Suns, but it was enough to support the Mavs' cause of taking home their first title.

    Some say the Mavs won mostly because of Marion's defensive influence on James. He refused to allow James to post up the entire series and played some terrific individual defense on the player that had previously been the playoff's best player.

8. Luol Deng

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    Another NBA player who received a lucrative deal after a career season, it took Luol Deng a few seasons to return back to the form he was playing at when he earned the contract that awarded him over $10 million a season.

    In only his third season at the NBA level as a 21 year old, Deng averaged 19 points per game on 51% shooting while also helping the Chicago Bulls advance to the second round of the playoffs. The postseason success of the team and the individual success of Deng that season was enough to convince the Chicago organization to give the Sudanese product a large deal the next season, where he would average 17 points per game in only 63 games.

    He would struggle the next season by only being featured in 49 games and averaging a near career-low 14 points per game.

    Deng has recently leveled off averaging 17 points on 46 percent shooting this most recent season and is also attempting to expand his consistent jump shot to beyond the arc. Deng recently attempted four three-pointers per contest, converting on 35 percent of them.

    He's a solid defender, a great shooter and as quality a role player as you can have.

7. Andre Iguodala

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    The center of trade rumors in the Philadelphia 76ers organization for what had seemed like his entire tenure with the team, Andre Iguodala is an asset that the Sixers might not want to give up for any player.

    Iguodala is coming off of a statistically low season where he only averaged 14 points per game to go along with six rebounds and six assists. The rebounding and passing totals are pretty standard for Iguodala, but the 14 points per game is the point total he has averaged since 2006, his second season in the league.

    With his Sixers teammates taking off some of the pressure of scoring, Iguodala decided to take a step back and allow them to score for him, thus the reason why he only averaged 11 shots per game compared to the 16 he was taking back in the 2007-'08 season when he was the clear star.

    Aside from his offense, Iguodala is regarded as one of the league's top defensive small forwards as he allows his speed and even more impressive strength to keep the strongest small forwards at bay.

6. Paul Pierce

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    A key member of the Boston Celtics' big three, Paul Pierce has made sure to not let age deter him from individual or team success.

    At 33 years old, Pierce is coming off of another impressively solid season where he averaged 19 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game to go along with nearly 50 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Pierce has made an excellent transition from the clear cut offensive leader of the Boston Celtics to one of three key offensive and defensive leaders. For a player that once averaged 20 shots per game, it's impressive to see Pierce flourish despite only taking 13 shots per contest.

    Most importantly, he has been consistently healthy as he has played in 71 or more games over the past four seasons, giving the Celtics hope that Pierce could possibly lead the team to one more title before the core disbands and eventually retires.

    Pierce is a solid defender and an asset to have in the clutch when you're looking for a leader and a player to make the big shot when you need it most.

5. Rudy Gay

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    One of the league's most athletic superstars, Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay could have possibly put the team over the top in the postseason had he actually played. Rather than Sam Young having to fill in for him, it could have been Gay rounding out a frontcourt of himself, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

    It was a disappointing finish for Gay who was averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game before being forced to sit out the rest of the season after suffering an injury on February 15th that would also hold him out of the postseason.

    At 24 years old, he leads a determined Grizzlies squad that could possibly create some havoc next season if he can stay healthy and stick around for another postseason run. Had he been healthy, it would have been his first appearance.

    Rudy is one of the league's top up and coming stars as he has the length and athleticism to consistently lock down opposing small forwards as well as possessing a solid offensive game where he can drive at will and shoot from the mid-range. He has been attempting to develop a three-point shot and is actually coming off of a season where he shot a career high 40 percent from beyond the arc.

4. Danny Granger

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    One of the most underrated players in the league, it came as a surprise to see that Danny Granger has only been in the league since 2005. It came as even more of a surprise to see that he was averaging only seven points per game at a time.

    It was only three seasons ago that Granger was unleashing his fury as an offensive threat averaging 26 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league. Granger had emerged as the offensive leader for the Indiana Pacers at that time as he was taking 19 shots per game from the field overall as well as attempting nearly seven three-pointers per contest.

    Despite attempting nearly seven three-pointers, Granger was still shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.

    Granger recently took a step back on offense as a result of his teammates beginning to take some of the pressure off. He only attempted 16 shots per game with five shots from beyond the arc on his way to averaging only 21 points per contest. He was still able to lead the team in scoring, as well as finishing sixth in the league when it came to the overall amount of three-pointers made.

    He's easily one of the league's top three-point shooters and is coming off of an impressive postseason where he averaged 22 points and six rebounds.

3. Carmelo Anthony

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    If you're looking for defense, you've signed the wrong player. If you're the New York Knicks or any team looking for a consistent offensive threat that doesn't give too much of an effort on defense, then you've found the right player.

    Even though Carmelo Anthony joined up with Amare Stoudemire and the New York Knicks, it's not safe to assume the possibility of Anthony leading the team to their first title game since 1999 because of the fact that he nor most of the key players on this team take defense into consideration.

    Aside from his lack of effort on that end of the floor, Anthony is arguably the league's top pure scorer as he can hit from just about anywhere on the court when given the opportunity. He has averaged as much as 29 points per game and is coming off of another impressive season as far as scoring goes, averaging 26 points in 27 games with the Knicks.

    Anthony also took the initiative of becoming a solid three-point shooter as he attempted a career-high five three-pointers per game with the Knicks, hitting on 42 percent of those opportunities.

    'Melo might not play the defense that we want to see from him, but he gives the Knicks a boost and will make them a perennial postseason threat for however long he remains with the team.

2. Kevin Durant

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    One of the league's best scorers, Kevin Durant has done so much in four seasons that it's becoming hard to keep up with just how much progress he has made in such a short amount of time.

    Durant has turned an Oklahoma City Thunder club that once started out 3-29 into a perennial championship contender that recently made its first Conference Finals since the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp era. He recently averaged 29 points and eight rebounds per game in only his second playoff appearance and could have helped the Thunder advance to their first Finals since 1996 had he and the rest of the team not lost three straight games where they held the lead in the fourth quarter.

    We'll chalk this one up to inexperience as Durant is still 22 years old if that's hard enough to believe.

    It's difficult to believe that because of just how much of a veteran Durant appears to be when playing offense. He's led the league in scoring for two consecutive seasons, has never averaged less than 20 points per game (and probably won't for some time) and is only a season removed from averaging 30 points per game.

    As arguably the league's top pure scorer, Durant has a number of moves to his offensive repertoire but it's his lethal jump shot that teams need to be most worried about. Despite not being able to bench a single time at the combine in 2007, Durant has range for miles and can score from distance just as well as any other player in the league.

1. LeBron James

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    This one was just about as easy as picking out the top power forward or center. LeBron James is easily the league's top small forward and it's really not even close as he holds so many advantages over so many players.

    James thrives on his other-worldly athleticism at all times as he uses it to speed past opposing forwards and to bully past opposing guards to get to the rim where he's one of the best in the league at finishing plays. Next to Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala, James is one of the games top athletes as he uses strength, speed and power as the main aspects of his game.

    LeBron is coming off of his first season with the Miami Heat where he led the team in nearly all statistical categories with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds per game. It's not the triple-double that we envisioned James averaging prior to the start of the season, but he did at least set a career high in field goal percentage at 51 percent. He also made impressive strides when it came to a mid-range and perimeter game as he was basically taught to shoot from deep because of the amount of time he spent away from the rim.

    He doesn't restrict his athleticism to be used just on offense either as he's also one of the league's top individual and perimeter defenders. His chase-down blocks are one of the most threatening moves that he possesses as he always leaves opposing players on the fast break with some doubt as they constantly look over their shoulders for James. 

    LeBron also came two games away from his first title in his first season with the Heat and proved that he could play with the likes of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and still flourish.