With the NBA season rapidly approaching here is a breakdown of the Top 5 small forwards in the NBA:
Apr 29, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng (9) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Andray Blatche (0) during the second quarter of game five of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
5. Luol Deng
2012-2013 per-game statistics: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 15.1 PER
The Chicago Bulls small forward has led the NBA in minutes per game for the last two seasons. He is the longest tenured player currently on Chicago’s roster, and he has earned this title. His stopping abilities defensively are impressive, and he has done so with a torn ligament in his wrist for the majority of the last couple of seasons. Though leading in minutes per game is impressive, doing so has not benefited Deng’s health. He will especially have to carry his team this season as Derrick Rose recovers from injuring his ACL.
Deng, a native of Sudan, shows great consistency in the paint. What he lacks in ball handling, Deng makes up for in his sheer knowledge of the game. The 6 foot 9 inch Bull also needs to work on accuracy from behind the three-point arc, as he shot 32.2 percent last season. Once he is completely healthy, Deng will be a force to be reckoned with, especially with a standing reach of 9 feet 0.5 inches.
Jun 3, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) reacts against the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter during game 7 of the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell- USA TODAY Sports
4. Paul George
2012-2013 per-game statistics: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.6 blocks. 16.8 PER
At 23, Paul George is one of the youngest players on the Indiana Pacers roster. But George has proven himself to be a true play-maker in high-pressure situations, especially during the 2013 postseason. Some consider George the best defensive small forward, and for good reason: He played the role of initial defender for a total of 1,444 plays last season, higher than anyone else in the league. His speed and footwork are exceptional. George has already improved immensely, and some say he has grown an inch or two since being drafted.
The 6 foot 8 inch Californian must improve his three-point shooting and control. When he is only shooting about six shots a game, he needs to shoot better than his 36.2 percent. George’s foul rates have been a problem, but they are already went down 2.7 from 3.5 per 36 minutes the previous year. The defensive star will have to show that he is just as effective sharing the court with Danny Granger this coming season.
May 18, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) takes a charge against New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers won 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
3. Carmelo Anthony
2012-2013 per-game statistics: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 24.8 PER
The top three small forwards should come as no surprise. While their stats and fame speak for themselves, there is much more to these stars’ play skills. Carmelo Anthony’s shooting average is second only to Kobe Bryant. The 6 foot 8 inch New Yorker took control playing both the small forward and power forward positions. Though the New York Knicks star has yet to win a championship, he has what it takes to be part of such a team.
He has yet to average less than 20 points in his nine seasons in the NBA. Anthony’s mid-range shooting remains his strong suit, but his area of consistent shooting continues to grow. Unlike Deng and George, Anthony’s defense lacks in comparison to his electric offense on the court. Last season’s scoring champion better hope that his teammates can stay healthy this year to play through the post-season effectively. Anthony will need players with more consistency around him to stand out even more, but maybe most importantly, he must learn to play beside Amar’e Stoudemire.
April 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The City Thunder defeated the Warriors 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
2. Kevin Durant
2012-2013 per-game statistics: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER
And those stats are for a 24-year-old. Kevin Durant still is not up to Lebron James’ level of play, though. Because he is just now entering his prime as a player, Durant will likely pass up James within half a decade. At 6 foot 9 inches and 235 pounds, he is more slightly built than James. Yes, he has a ways to go before passing up such a giant, but Durant is already so accurate and so skilled that it is far from unlikely. The Washington, D.C., native works exceptionally well with Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook as a potent pairing nearing the effectiveness of James and Dwayne Wade.
Durant’s drive to improve every season has paid off, most noticeably in his defensive game. From 2011-2012 to
2012-2013, the Thunder went from being the 11th-most efficient defensive team to the fourth. What Durant lacks most is simply his athleticism. To be considered in the same field as James, he will have to improve upon his 33.5 inch vertical and 3.45 sprint score from the combine. Still, the Oklahoma City powerhouse was able to shoot over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, and 90 percent at the free throw line, while going for around 18 shots per game. Very few players can boast these same stats, making Durant the second-best player in the league.
Jun 20, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James holds the MVP trophy and the Larry O
1. Lebron James
2012-2013 per-game statistics: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER
I wish I could come up with some big underrated star who you would not have thought of, but Lebron James is undoubtedly the best small forward in the NBA. As back-to-back league champion with the Miami Heat, regular season MVP and Finals MVP, James simply excels in all areas of play. His PER alone stands out for being above 30, something no one has achieved since Michael Jordan. James can be considered a small forward or a point forward, leading Miami in assists with an average of 7.3 per game.
The native of Ohio has an incredible amount of athleticism and speed for his size at 6 foot 8 inches and 250 pounds. James’ basketball intelligence is also off the charts. James does not always defend all five positions, but for someone who has carried the Heat to the Finals the last three years, no one can really blame him. When he puts in the effort, James can defend anyone at any position. He can guard Tim Duncan or Tony Parker without pause. At age 28, the Heat star is enjoying the latter half of his prime, before age and players like Kevin Durant catch up with him. As the best player in the NBA period, James easily dominates the field of small forwards.