*any stats come from ESPN.com & Basketball-Reference.com*
We are two positions in now as both the point guards and shooting guards article are available for viewing. I put this in the last article but I will reiterate once again; after I published my point guards article, I decided to change something up. For instance, James Harden was a shooting guard last year but will be a point guard this year. My original plan was to put him in the shooting guard list because most of his minutes and stats came from the two guard position last year. I then decided to change that because James Harden will not be a shooting guard this year so why would I put him in the shooting guards list? So, with that being said, James Harden’s name will not be seen in this article, nor will I change the first article to put his name in there. These rankings are based on two ideas. I compared all the stats from the point guards’ regular season and postseason. I also looked at their possibilities for them to improve this coming season, though it was not as important last year’s stats. Now that I put that for everyone to see, let’s dive into this article to answer the question; who are the top five small forwards heading into 2016-2017?
I went back and forth and thought harder about this spot than any other spots in my articles. This spot could have easily belonged to Carmelo Anthony. When you compare the two forwards’ stats you can see why this was a hard decision. Anthony edged out Butler in scoring and rebounding with 21.8ppg and 7.7rpg compared to Butler’s 20.9ppg and 5.3rpg whereas Butler edged out Melo in assisting and stealing with 4.8apg and 1.6spg compared to Anthony’s 4.2apg and 0.9spg. Melo shot better from the three point line (.339% vs .312%) while Butler shot better from the field as a whole (.454% vs .434%) and the free throw line (.832% vs .829%). The last two statistics I took a look at showed Jimmy with the better numbers. Butler finished last season with a 4.0 Box Plus/Minus and contributed 9.1 Win Shares. Anthony finished last season with a 2.6 Box Plus/Minus and contributed 6.4 Win Shares. Advantage: Butler. Neither of these teams were good enough to make the playoffs last season. I believe Jimmy’s combination of offense and defense gives him enough credibility to edge out Carmelo for the #5 spot in my rankings. Both teams should be an improvement from where they were last season and I believe Jimmy should improve enough this coming season to warrant my decision to put him over Melo.
If we are talking strictly talent then there is no way Kevin Durant is lower than #2 on this list. His stats last year back up being #2 best small forward in the league no doubt. The thing is, you take any of the players you will find in the article off their team due to injury, the team they are on will struggle immensely. You take Kevin Durant off this team due to injury and they are still a 73 win team from last year. Now I know a lot of the players from last year had to move on to bring in Durant but there’s a good portion on this team that were here last year like Steph, Klay, and Green. Durant is going to put up numbers don’t get me wrong. He’s just not that important. Last season for the Thunder, Durant averaged 28.2ppg, 8.2rpg, 5.0apg, 1.2bpg, and 1.0spg while shooting .505% from the field, .386% from the three point line, and .898% from the free throw line. He posted a 7.9 Box Plus/Minus and contributed 14.5 Win Shares. Those are some serious numbers. Numbers that are not expected and might not be achieved to that extend with the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green on the team. That is why I have three small forwards ahead of him that are more important to their respective teams.
Duncan is retired and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are feeling the effects of Father Time so Leonard, this Spurs team is yours. Leonard is an extreme talent and shows it on the offensive and defensive side of the courts. He is a 20+ point scorer that can lock you down on defense. He finished last season with averages of 21.2ppg, 6.8rpg, 2.6apg, 1.8spg, and 1.0bpg while shooting .506% from the field, .443% from the three point line, and .874% from the three point line. He posted a 8.3 Box Plus/Minus and contributed 13.7 Win Shares Oh, and he won Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard maintained his healthy amount of stats in 10 games in the postseason where he averaged 22.5ppg, 6.3rpg, 2.8apg, 2.6spg, and 1.4bpg while shooting .500% from the field, .436% from the three point line, and .824% from the free throw line. The small forward position is just so deep. If Leonard was listed as a shooting guard, there would be no doubt he would be my #1 shooting guard. He’s a quiet player that handles his business on the court. He’s a perfect San Antonio Spurs player.
Paul George wants to win MVP this season. In a quote that comes from HoopsHype.com, George was in an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio when he said, “I want to be MVP. I definitely want to be MVP this year. It’s tough as always. It will be a challenge, but with the coach Nate (McMillan) and the guys that I got here, I’m in a position to move into that spot as long as I remain being me, being a leader, being aggressive and wanting that. It’s not mine for the taking, I gotta go get it and this is my year to go get it.” The Pacers made a flurry of moves that they hope will benefit their team. With all the pieces moved around this offseason, they still have PG13. Last season George averaged 23.1ppg, 7.0rpg, 4.1apg, and 1.9spg while shooting .418% from the field, .371% from the three point line, and .860% from the free throw line. He posted a 4.5 Box Plus/Minus and contributed 9.2 Win Shares. In 7 games in the postseason he improved those numbers, averaging 27.3ppg, 7.6rpg, 4.3apg, and 2.0spg while shooting .455% from the field, .419% from the three point line, and .953% from the free throw line. If he really wants to win MVP like he says, watch out for an explosion from Paul George this season.
Is this a surprise at all? LeBron is arguably the best player in the NBA so obviously he is the top small forward in the NBA. LeBron averaged 25.3ppg, 7.4rpg, 6.8apg, and 1.4spg while shooting .520% from the field, .309% from the three point line, and .731% from the free throw line in the regular season. In 21 games in the postseason, most of those averages jumped up to 26.3ppg, 9.5rpg, 7.6apg, 2.3spg, and 1.3bpg while shooting .525% from the field, .340% from the three point line, and .661% from the free throw line on his way to leading the Cavaliers to their first championship ever. Down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to three straight wins to win the series 4-3. Once again, The Cavaliers look to be the favorites to come out the Eastern Conference as LeBron looks to reach the NBA Finals for an impressive seventh time in a row.