Wing Wonders: The Five Best Small Forwards Of The 2010-11 NBA Season
The other position in the wing tandem is the small forward, which is usually interchangeable in most regular lineups with the shooting guard position. Unlike point guards, whose primary job is to distribute the ball, or power forwards and centers, whose primary job is to rebound the ball and protect the paint, wings come in all shapes and sizes, usually displaying their ability with their quickness, agility, and overall versatility.
Some great small forwards in history did it all.
For example, arguably one of, if not the greatest Celtics legend of modern time, Larry Bird was one such player, averaging a very impressive 24.3 points on 49.6 field goal percentage, 37.6 3-point percentage, 88.6 free three percentage, as well as 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game.
He could literally do it all, and during his career as both a player and a coach, he did.
Between winning three NBA championships, three MVP, two Finals MVP, one All-Star Game MVP, one Rookie of the Year award, and three Three-Point shootout wins, as well as 12 All-Star, nine All-NBA first team, one All-NBA second team, three All-Defensive second team during his playing time, and being named one of the NBA's 50 best players and NBA coach of the year in 1998, his resume is more impressive than 99% of all players past and present.
His only real failing is his failing to win a championship as a coach, and his inability to construct a great team as the Indiana Pacers' President of Basketball Operations.
At Larry Bird's retirement party, longtime rival and friend 'Magic' Johnson said, "Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird."
Indeed there will never be another Larry Bird, and he has truly set the bar high, but with some great small forwards coming through this year, he could one day be joined by another great small forward from this era.
Like the shooting guard position, the small forward has also become a premier position in the NBA today. Both positions are filled with amazingly talented players of all ages, many of whom are bona fide franchise players on their teams. But for the purposes of this list, there can only be five players to fill the top five spot.
On the older side, the Bobcats' Stephen Jackson averaged a healthy 20.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He has been very productive the past few years, but at 32, the 6'8" utility man's skills will undoubtedly decline.
Similarly, like the rest of his aging team, at 32, Paul Pierce is past his prime. He still delivered a respectable 18.3 points on 47.2 FG percentage, 41.4 3P percentage, and 85.2 FT percent, but as with the rest of the Celtics, he has definitely lost a step or two. He will probably still produce a moderate amount at an efficient rate, but it would be hard to put him as a top five shooting guard, especially with the other players in his position.
Another relatively older player, Corey Magette has bounced around several teams and will play with the Milwaukee Bucks next season. He averaged a very impressive 19.8 points on an efficient 51.6 FG percentage and 83.5 FT percentage, as well as 5.3 rebounds with the go-go Warriors last season. He take great care of his body and at 6'6" 225 lbs., he is built like a bulldozer. Unfortunately, on a talented Bucks team with Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, he will play second fiddle, and this time, he won't benefit from Don Nelson's run-and-gun offense, especially now that Nelson has been replaced by Keith Smart.
On the younger side, the Memphis Grizzlies' Rudy Gay will definitely push the top five, especially if he can replicate last season's production, when he averaged 19.6 point on 46.6 FG percentage, and 5.9 rebounds. But after signing a lucrative $82 million 5-year contract to stay with a middling team at best, he cannot possibly be as motivated as last year when he was pushing hard during a contract year.
Another young gun, 25-year-old Briton Luol Deng, who can play either as a small forward or a hybrid power forward a la Antawn Jamison, averaged 17.6 points, on 46.7 FG percentage, and 7.3 rebounds. The only problem is that on a team with stars like Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, and the ever-improving Joakim Noah, Deng will probably have to take a backseat.
Additionally, fresh from the FIBA World Championship, Andre Iguodala, who can play either wing position, will also push the top five. A hybrid guard-forward with the strength and athleticism to legitimately play multiple positions, this 26-year-old player averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists as the first scoring option on his team.
Unfortunately for all these men, there are just a few better players in their position, though many of these players would be deserving otherwise. It's not a question of quality in the position, but rather, the abundance of quantity.
5. Gerald Wallace
2009-10 NBA Season Statistics:
18.2 ppg, 48.4 FG percentage, 37.1 three-point percentage, 77.6 FT percentage, 2.1 apg, 10.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.1 bpg.
For years, versatile 6'7" Gerald Wallace has been one of the most statistically productive small forwards in the league. Last year, he averaged a double-double, with 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds along with 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
Like Bird before him, he literally does everything for his team.
But probably partially because he plays for the underachieving Charlotte Bobcats, this Jack-of-all-trades has been largely overlooked among members of the popular media because of his team's inability to win.
This upcoming season will probably not change much in that respect.
Despite all that, the losses are really not his fault. As his team's long-standing "franchise player", he bears the unfortunate and unfair burden of being the lightning rod whenever his team struggles. But he is already the most statistically productive player on his team, contributing in all aspects of the game and having a very good 18.39 PER.
There is no doubt that Wallace is the cornerstone for his team now and for the future. He may not earn plaudits like other media darlings on big market teams, but he is quietly one of the best players in the league.
If he was on a team in Boston, New York, or Los Angeles, he would be regularly recognized as a legitimate star and would be in contention for various awards. But at only 28-years-old, he still has time to prove himself as one of the best in the business. And this upcoming season, even if he is largely overlooked by casual and bandwagon fans, true basketball enthusiasts and experts will recognize his skill and contribution to his team, and see that he deserves a place as a Top Five small forward.
4. Danny Granger
2009-10 NBA Season Statistics:
24.2 ppg, 42.3 FG percentage, 36.1 three-point percentage, 84.8 FT percentage, 2.8 apg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 0.8 bpg.
The small forward position is full of players who can do it all.
Another stat stuffer, for a few years now, 27-year-old Danny Granger has done it all for his team, contributing 24.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game last season. Two years ago, he had an amazing year, reaching the All-Star game for the first time, averaging 25.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
A late bloomer in college and the pros, it took him a few years to really set the league on fire, but when he finally blossomed into the player he is today, he has been quite the revelation for the rest of the league.
Blessed with an athletic 6'8" frame, with long arms and an amazing vertical leap, Granger has all the tools to succeed and the body of a prototypical superstar a la Tracy McGrady, along with that former superstar's annual share of injuries. But seeing how he has developed in recent years, it really is surprising that he didn't start producing so proficiently until a few years ago.
This upcoming season, the key additions of Darren Collison and James Posey, as well as the development of big man Roy Hibbert should all lessen the offensive load on Granger.
In particular, Collison, the UCLA alum who turned out to be a revelation for the Chris Paul-less Hornets last season, can split time with T.J. Ford and bring poise and assurance to the point and take some of the scoring burden and defender attention away from Granger.
If all goes well, this could be a special season for the Pacers in general, and Granger specifically. If he continues to build on the past few seasons, people could be talking about Granger for many years to come.
3. Carmelo Anthony
2009-10 NBA Season Statistics:
28.2 ppg, 45.8 FG percentage, 31.6 three-point percentage, 83.0 FT percentage, 3.2 apg, 6.6 rpg, 1.3 spg, 0.4 bpg.
Drafted third in the 2003 NBA draft after leading Jim Boeheim's Orangemen to their first NCAA championship as a Freshman at Syracuse and winning the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player award, 26-year-old Carmelo Anthony came into the league with almost as much hype as fellow 2003 draftee LeBron James.
But having already played 7 seasons in the league, Anthony has only managed to make the All-Star team three times, during the 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2009-10 seasons, with an injury plagued season in between the last two appearances. Last season was arguably his best statistical season, when he averaged close to a lead-leading 28.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.
Ironically, his team's most successful season in ages has also been a down year for him. During the 2008-09 season, when he averaged only 22.8 points on 44.3 FG percentage shooting in the regular season, he and Chauncey Billups also led his team past the first round of the playoffs and only lost to eventual champions L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Of course he also upped his game to near astronomical levels that year, as he did last year, when his Denver Nuggets team fell to the Utah Jazz.
But this upcoming season is a season of uncertainty for the man affectionately nicknamed 'Melo'.
After basically letting the Nuggets know that he will not sign a contract extension and wants to be traded, his future is in limbo. His agents are trying to muster up a deal to send him to his ideal destinations in possible contenders New York, New Jersey, Houston, and Chicago. But the Nuggets can hold him hostage and don't necessarily have to listen to his demands, instead focusing on getting back assets for their team.
But in reality, Anthony actually holds all the cards. His contract is expiring after this year, and no team in their right mind will want to trade for him without some guarantee that he will sign an extension. So the Nuggets will have to cede something and possibly trade him for fewer assets and expiring contracts.
In any case, with his exceptional athleticism, aggressive nature, and superb finishing, 6'8" Anthony will have his pick of teams, and can and will excel wherever he goes. Whoever gets him will have added a valuable asset to his team, and he will undoubtedly have a monster year.
2. Kevin Durant
2009-10 NBA Season Statistics:
30.2 ppg, 47.6 FG percentage, 36.5 three-point percentage, 90.0 FT percentage, 2.8 apg, 7.6 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg.
The second pick in the 2007 NBA draft, 6'9" Kevin Durant was supposed to be one of two guaranteed All-Stars for many years to come. While Greg Oden's career has been somewhat stunted by injuries, Durant has set the league on fire.
He can score from anywhere, with pinpoint accuracy that extends far beyond the three-point line, and a quick first step to beat his man. Furthermore, his 6'9" frame and long limbs make it nearly impossible for even fantastic defenders to block his shot. He showed glimpses of his brilliance with the University of Texas, but on the bigger stage of the NBA, he's proven able to cope and excel among his contemporaries.
From his rookie season, when he averaged 20.3 points on 43 FG percentage, and 4.4 rebounds, to his sophomore year, when he averaged 25.3 points on 47.6 FG percentage, and 6.5 rebounds, he was already showing amazing growth and progress. Last year, he continued to build from that base and was even more impressive, averaging an eye-popping 30.2 points on 47.6 FG percentage, and 7.6 rebounds per game.
If he continues at that impossible pace for the next few years, he would be averaging in the mid- to high- 30s in points and double figures in rebounds. Then again, he has got to plateau somewhere.
During last years' playoffs, a very young Oklahoma City Thunder team pushed the defending champion Lakers to six games on the back of Durant's amazing play. Even with known shut down defender Ron Artest, he still managed to accrue 25.0 points on 34 FG percentage, and 7.7 rebounds.
But the true culmination of his achievements came this summer, when he led Team USA to the FIBA Men's basketball championship with averages of 22.8 points on 63.2 FG percentage on only 8.4 shots per game, and 6.4 rebounds on a stacked U.S. team.
And he's still only 21-years-old.
To reward him for being exceptionally amazing during his first three years, the Thunder gave him an $86 Million 5-year contract extension.
Armed with a brand new contract, and a potentially very good new big man in Cole Aldrich, as well as a quickly maturing supporting case, Durant is poised to continue his ascent towards the top of the NBA. If he continues to develop at even a fraction of the rate that he's already developed so far, he could become one of the best NBA players at a very young age, and continue to produce for many years to come.
1. LeBron James
2009-10 NBA Season Statistics:
29.7 ppg, 50.3 FG percentage, 33.3 three-point percentage, 76.7 FT percentage, 8.6 apg, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.0 bpg.
LeBron James was touted as the next big thing many years before he had even been drafted into the NBA. He was supposed to be the second coming of 'Magic' Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, all rolled into one. He could dominate with his athleticism, or his strength, and he could do it all. He was as sure a number one pick as anyone in any era, and he was supposed to revolutionize the game and dominate for many years to come.
After all, he is probably the only player since the great 'Magic' Johnson to legitimately say he could play all five positions on the court.
After seven years in the league, although he is yet to win an NBA championship, he has done everything except win an NBA title. Very rarely can a 25-year old say that he has already won an Olympic gold medal, NBA MVP twice, All-Star game MVP twice, NBA scoring champion, and been a six-time All-star, a four time All-NBA first team, two time All-NBA second team, and two time All-Defensive team.
The only real blemish in his record so far is that missing NBA championships and his unceremonious divorce from his "hometown" Cleveland Cavaliers team. In fact, his decision to join Miami in an hour-long television announcement caught so much heat that he has changed from beloved hero to hated villain overnight.
But what Cavaliers fans seem to have forgotten is that this man also single-handedly put Cleveland and their team back on the NBA map. The last time anybody outside of Cleveland cared about the Cavaliers was during the early 90s, also when they last won a playoff series pre-James, way back when Mark Price and Brad Daugherty were the best players from Cleveland.
So when judging a player on the merits of his play, and not on his personality or off-court decisions, it would be very hard to discount James. Despite leading his team last year with 29.7 points, 8.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game, James has had to endure the stigma of being a loser because he has never won the big one. And until he wins it, experts and pundits alike will always attach that stigma to him.
But when he chose to play for Miami, and join Wade and Bosh, he created a monster team that is arguably the best in the NBA. If everything goes well, and the players have good chemistry with each other, they will ultimately win the title, and possibly several titles in a row.
If there is one player right now who has the potential to be in the same conversation as Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time, it is LeBron James. He is already the best player in the NBA today. But his legacy will be forever tied to how much and how often he wins. And even then he will have his detractors. But if he does win multiple titles with Miami, he could one day be described as the best player to have played, at least until the next great one shows up.