In the NBA, small forwards are generally the most versatile players. Some are pure scorers, like Danny Granger and Richard Jefferson. Others, such as Ron Artest, Tayshaun Prince, and Andrei Kirilenko gain notoriety through their defense. And obviously a number of them are complete superstars, most notably last year's Finals MVP and a certain King in Cleveland.
Here are the top 10 in the game today, based on their ability to dominate in a number of different ways.
10. Hedo Turkoglu (ORL)
There are a number of players deserving of consideration who won't be listed here. Gerald Wallace is a great dunker and defender in Charlotte, but does not have the complete game yet. Kirilenko is good at almost everything on the court, but has struggled to get solid playing time in Utah. Rudy Gay probably has the best argument, as he has turned into a potential All-Star in Memphis, but he has yet to have his game match his potential.
This leaves Turkoglu to take this spot, and he is very deserving of it. Hedo has taken on a huge role for the Magic over the past two years, scoring 19.5 PPG last season and handling the ball during a number of key moments. He is a very good shooter and is deceptively athletic at 6'10", able to dribble past his man and also crash the boards.
Turkoglu is a very good player who is finally getting national credit for his play.
9. Shawn Marion (MIA)
Marion has struggled to find his role in Miami, but still is one of the better all-around players in the league. His scoring has dipped for the Heat, but he has a career average of 18.2 PPG, and is remarkable in his ability to guard almost any position.
Marion played his best ball as part of the high-flying, up tempo Phoenix Suns in recent years, where his penchant for steals, blocks, key rebounds, and alley oops shone through. His jump shot is extremely awkward, but he is able to hit a good number of outside shots and is a career 82 percent free throw shooter.
The Heat's decision to draft Michael Beasley might mean Marion is on his way out, but with his ability to stuff the stat sheet he would be a good acquisition by any team.
8. Richard Jefferson (MIL)
Very few people realize that Jefferson was ninth in the NBA in scoring last year at 22.6 PPG, leading the Nets ahead of Vince Carter. It is easy to question Jefferson's defense and shooting, both areas in which he is inconsistent, but it is hard to deny his ability to put up points.
At 6'7" Jefferson is a great dunker and finisher, and his jumper is solid enough that he is shooting 40 percent from three-point range this season. If the Bucks hold onto him and Michael Redd, they should be a high scoring team for the next couple of seasons.
7. Tayshaun Prince (DET)
Prince might be one of the most important players to his team, but his lack of statistical production makes it harder to place him any higher on this list. Prince gained fame for his defensive and offensive play in helping the Pistons win the 2004 NBA Championship, and has continued to be a valuable cog in Detroit's system ever since.
With a long wingspan, Prince is known for his clutch blocks and rebounds, but he is a fairly productive scorer as well, averaging a career high 14.8 PPG this season. Prince is not the kind of player that can carry a team, but he has been a great second or third option for Detroit and helps make them a Championship contender every season.
6. Danny Granger (IND)
2008-2009 is quickly becoming Granger's breakout season, as he is scoring 24.4 PPG while making nearly three three-pointers per game. He settles for the jump shot too often, but luckily for the Pacers it is clearly his greatest asset, and should only improve.
Granger is not yet the defensive player or rebounder that many of the other players on this list are, but he is quickly becoming the go-to guy in Indiana and one of the elite scorers in the NBA. As long as he stays healthy, Granger should become a more complete player and lead the Pacers to the playoffs, potentially as early as this season.
5. Ron Artest (HOU)
Hate him or love him, it's hard to deny everything that Artest can bring to the basketball court. Possibly the best on ball defender in the league, he has one of the most complete skill-sets of any small forward.
If you look past some of his character issues and at his game, you'll find a player who can shoot extremely well, will shut down the opponent's best player, and brings it almost every night.
The Rockets made a great move in acquiring him, and as long as he stays out of trouble he has a good chance of leading them far into the playoffs, finally bringing some toughness to Houston.
4. Caron Butler (WAS)
It's hard to notice how good Butler has been on a 3-13 Wizards team, but he is clearly one of the better players in the East and deserving of an All-Star spot. Butler has averages this year of 21.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 4.2 APG, and is capable of going for a triple-double any night despite playing on such a depleted and struggling team.
Caron is a terrific blend of size and speed, and is one of the best in the NBA at taking his man off the dribble but also able to post him up on the block.
Perhaps it is because he plays for Washington, perhaps it is his personality in comparison to teammate Gilbert Arenas, but Butler has become one of the most underrated players in the league today.
3. Carmelo Anthony (DEN)
It is easy to compare Anthony to the other members of his draft class, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and say that he has been somewhat of a disappointment. This would be an unfair assessment, however, as "Melo" has exceeded expectations as a scorer and play-maker.
It was obvious that Anthony, who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA Championship, would be a good NBA player, but he has lifted his game to another level, going for as high as 28.9 PPG three seasons ago.
Carmelo is a deadly mid-range shooter and finisher, and is one of best pure scorers in the game. With Chauncey Billups on board, Anthony should assume even more of a scoring role, and should lead Denver to another strong season this year.
2. Paul Pierce (BOS)
Playing with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will make anyone better, but Pierce has stepped his game up to a whole other level since last season. He has always been one of the game's elite scorers, averaging 23 points per game for his career, but it was in the Finals last year that Pierce really defined his legacy as a superstar.
Pierce was outstanding in winning the Finals MVP, coming up with huge baskets and plays whenever the Celtics needed them. Garnett and Allen may have gotten Boston over the hump, but Pierce is still the straw that stirs their drink, and should only improve on his legacy in the years to come.
1. LeBron James (CLE)
Consider me a witness. LeBron is probably the most physically dominant player since Wilt Chamberlain—too quick to be stopped by any forward and strong enough to muscle his way past any guard. The numbers speak for themselves, as he is averaging 27.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 6.3 APG this season, but his game and presence extend way beyond the numbers.
LeBron's one weakness is his sometimes inconsistent jumper, but as he continues to mature and improve he is becoming virtually unstoppable. A lot of the talk is about his impending free agency in 2010, but LeBron continues to lead Cleveland towards a possible title run, as the team has gotten off 15-3 start.
LeBron has already won a number of playoff games and series almost single-handedly, and this year's club is deeper and stronger than any he has been on before, which should allow him to keep his legs fresh and prepare for another long season.
King James is the face of the NBA, and will likely remain in that office for the foreseeable future.