The small forward position is one of the most star studded in the league today. Who makes the cut for the top 15 leading into the season?
Just Missed the Cut:
15. Trevor Ariza – Houston Rockets
Ariza may see his role decreased a bit this season as Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker settle in Houston. However, his versatile defense will be counted on by Mike D’Antoni to keep opposing offenses in check to allow Harden and Paul to do their thing on the offensive end. The 32-year old shot 34% from the arc last year and will need to at least sustain that rate this season to give the Rockets any chance of dethroning the Golden State Warriors in the West. Expect another solid season from Ariza and possibly a couple DPOY votes.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 11.7 RPG: 5.7 APG: 2.2 SPG: 1.8
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 9.8 RPG: 5.3 APG: 2.9 SPG: 1.7
14. James Johnson – Miami Heat
With Kelly Olynyk now in Miami, I suspect Johnson will start at the three this season. He had a breakout year for the Heat in 16-17, putting up career highs across the board and being an advanced metrics superstar, having a more positive plus/minus than star teammate Hassan Whiteside, leading the team. Johnson’s defensive versatility and offensive playmaking ability make him extraordinarily valuable in today’s NBA. Miami came just short of a playoff appearance last season after turning it on post All-Star break and challenging for the 8 seed. If Johnson and his fellow teammates perform as they did last spring, the Heat should be in the postseason this year.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 12.8 RPG: 4.9 APG: 3.6 BPG: 1.1
17-18 Projected Stats: 13.9 RPG: 5.2 APG: 4.3 BPG: 1.0
13. Andre Iguodala – Golden State Warriors
Iggy will again be an important piece to a star-studded Warriors roster this season. The 33-year old is one of the best bench players in the league and always seems to find his game come NBA Finals. Iguodala’s perimeter D and ability to run the offense when he’s on the floor should log him 20+mins a game again and get him into the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 7.6 RPG: 4.0 APG: 3.4 SPG: 1.0
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 6.9 RPG: 4.1 APG: 3.8 SPG: 1.2
12. Danilo Gallinari – Los Angeles Clippers
Gallinari joins the Clippers after being involved in the Paul Millsap sign-and-trade. Los Angeles lost Chris Paul this summer and in an attempt to continue to contend in the West, they put together a trade with the Hawks and Nuggets to acquire Danilo Gallinari. The Italian forward spent the last three years in Denver starting at small forward on a young Nugget team. Gallinari’s size and scoring ability will be valuable for The Clippers this season as they attempt to sneak into the playoffs for the 7th straight time.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 18.2 RPG: 5.2 APG: 2.1 SPG: 0.6
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 17.9 RPG: 5.7 APG: 3.8 SPG: 0.5
11. Rudy Gay – San Antonio Spurs
Gay recently signed a two-year deal with the Spurs after spending the last four seasons with the Sacramento Kings. The Connecticut product will likely come off the bench for San Antonio and give Pop and the Spurs much needed scoring in the second unit. It’s possible we see him play some power forward beside Kawhi Leonard as well, which could be a scary duo. With the Rockets becoming so much stronger this offseason, San Antonio will need Gay’s offense to win the Southwest division again.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 18.7 RPG: 6.3 APG: 2.8 SPG: 1.5
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 14.9 RPG: 5.5 APG: 3.1 SPG: 1.2
10. Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks
We’ll have to wait and see whether Melo is still in the Big Apple come opening night, though as of now he’s an aging above-average starter on the most dysfunctional team in the league. The Anthony-New York homecoming years ago has obviously not ended up panning out ideally. It’s fair to say Anthony is a bit “overrated” at this point in his career, though some of the criticisms applied to him are somewhat ridiculous. Under the right system (Mike D’Antoni), I believe Melo could be one of the best stretch fours in the league where his spot-up shooting would be showcased and his defense would be less susceptible to being exposed. The smart move for the Knicks would be to trade Anthony. If he stays, expect a similar, inefficient year. If gone, he likely will see a number decrease, though will enjoy more team success away from New York.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 22.4 RPG: 5.9 APG: 2.9 SPG: 0.8
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 19.7 RPG: 6.5 APG: 3.1 SPG: 0.9
9. Jae Crowder – Cleveland Cavaliers
Crowder was just traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a piece of the Isaiah-Kyrie deal. The forward out of Marquette shot an impressive 40% from deep last year and will be expected to bring that efficiency to the land. We all knew of Crowder’s elite defense before, but his jumpshot is really starting to come into fruition. It’ll be interesting to see if he starts at the 2 or backs up King James off the bench.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 13.9 RPG: 5.8 APG: 2.2 SPG: 1.0
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 12.8 RPG: 5.9 APG: 2.7 SPG: 1.3
8. Andrew Wiggins – Minnesota Timberwolves
Wiggins enters his 4th NBA season on one of the most star-studded teams in the league. We’ll likely see the Kansas product put up 20+PPG for the third straight year in 2017-2018. The new big three of Butler-Towns-Wiggins should get the Wolves back in the postseason for the first time in a while. For Wiggins, he’s got all the tools to someday be an MVP but must improve his shooting percentages and turnover efficiency to get to the very top.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 23.6 RPG: 4.0 APG: 2.3 SPG: 1.0
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 24.1 RPG: 4.7 APG: 3.9 SPG: 1.6
7. Otto Porter Jr. – Washington Wizards
Porter recently signed a new 4-year max contract with the Wizards this summer. He’ll stay in Washington with star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal to try and avenge their game 7 loss in the 2016 playoffs. The Georgetown product had an incredibly efficient season in 16-17 as he shot over 50% from the field and improved his percentage from deep by nearly 7%. I think we could see an increase in his numbers next year and along with it see the Wiz grab another home court playoff spot.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 13.4 RPG: 6.4 AGP: 1.5 SPG: 1.4
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 17.6 RPG: 6.9 APG: 2.4 SPG: 1.8
6. Gordon Hayward – Boston Celtics
Like Porter, Gordon Hayward signed a 4-year max deal this summer, though in this case, Hayward signed with a new team. The Boston Celtics scored big on the Butler product as he will be reunited with his college coach Brad Stevens. As the Kyrie trade recently went down, The Celts now have a big 3 of Irving-Hayward-Horford to attempt to compete with Thomas and James in the East. Hayward seems to improve by the year and now finds himself with All-Star and playoff experience as he comes to Massachusetts. If Boston stays on its game we could see a new team representing the East in the Finals this season.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 21.9 RPG: 5.4 APG: 3.5 SPG: 1.0
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 22.3 RPG: 5.8 APG: 3.7 SPG: 1.1
5. Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder
George was another star dealt this summer as he was moved from the Indiana Pacers to join Russell Westbrook in OKC and form a new dynamic duo in the West. The Thunder now look destined for another playoff appearance with their two stars. It’s likely we see George’s numbers decrease a little due to now having the reigning MVP on his team, though he’ll be happy to experience more team success and space on the perimeter in Oklahoma. It’s highly doubtful we see a down year efficiency-wise from PG-13 given he stays healthy.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 23.7 RPG: 6.6 APG: 3.3 SPG: 1.6
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 21.9 RPG: 6.7 APG: 3.2 SPG: 2.1
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
In my opinion, Giannis comes into this season with the best chance to win the league MVP. The Greek Freak has had a tremendous start to his career as the Bucks risky pick has turned into a superstar. There’s really nothing he can’t do as his body type and play style fit perfectly into today’s NBA, leading his team in all major statistical categories. The 22-year old has elite playmaking ability at nearly 7 feet tall and of course has the ability to block shots and rebound at a high level at his size. If he’s able to improve his 3-pt% as he did last season, expect Giannis to be #1 on this list in just a few years.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 22.9 RPG: 8.8 APG: 5.4 BLK: 1.9
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 25.8 RPG: 9.7 APG: 6.3 BPG: 2.2
3. Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs
Leonard and the Spurs nearly took a game against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before the superstar suffered an injury. Expect the Klaw to come back strong and ready this season to attempt to help San Antonio take home another Southwest Division title. Leonard seems to improve year by year and his scoring numbers have only gotten better as his young career has gone on. Most don’t think of Kawhi as a three point shooter, though his percentages would suggest otherwise. He’s shot an impressive 41.2% from deep over the last two seasons, improving on offense while maintaining his stellar defensive play. I’m expecting Leonard to finish at least top 3 in MVP voting this season.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 25.5 RPG: 5.8 APG: 3.5 SPG: 1.8
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 27.2 RPG: 6.1 APG: 3.4 SPG: 2.2
2. Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors
KD got his title this past June when the Warriors knocked off the Cavs to win their second title in 3 seasons. The Dubs look primed to do exactly that again this year, led by their big 4. Durant had arguably his most efficient season in 16-17, making use of the space in the middle of the floor and open shots that weren’t always there for him in Oklahoma City. He again showcased his one-of-a-kind scoring ability and also introduced us to his shot-blocking ability, logging several minutes at the 4 for Golden State. Durant and the Warriors come into this year as the heavy favorites again and barring injury, expect KD to have another MVP caliber season and lead Golden State to another championship.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 25.1 RPG: 8.3 APG: 4.8 BLK: 1.6
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 27.3 RPG: 8.2 APG: 5.0 BPG: 1.7
1. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
Although the two guys listed above the King could easily hop into this top spot or already be there, LeBron is the best bet as the #1 small forward in the league. James shows every year why he’s one of the best to ever do it by posting stellar numbers across the board seemingly all year long while grabbing his team a top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. LBJ has some new teammates coming to Cleveland in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. I’m sure he was fairly happy with the news they were getting an All-Star point guard and above average 3 in return for Irving. James will again be able to run the majority of the Cavs offense and find Thomas, Love, Smith, and Crowder out on the wing. After a messy and uncertain summer, Cleveland and LeBron look like they now have the team they’ll be going with this next season. Expect James to again have a tremendous year and for the Cavaliers to be the favorites in the East, though a second title seems like a stretch for this year.
16-17 Stats: PPG: 26.4 RPG: 8.6 APG: 8.7 SPG: 1.2
17-18 Projected Stats: PPG: 26.9 RPG: 7.9 APG: 9.2 SPG: 1.0