After finishing the point guard and shooting guard positions, we move onto the frontcourt and tackle the NBA’s best small forwards.
While not as many talented players as the guards, the ones who are on the list are some of the NBA’s premier players.
10. Harrison Barnes, DAL - 2015/16 Stats: 11.7p-4.9r-1.8a
If there is one player who’s most anticipated to have a breakout year, it’s Barnes. After spending the first four seasons of his career behind Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry, Barnes has pulled away from the organization and is set to be option 1B with Dallas.
His new home will allow him to grow more as an offensive player, and he’s developed his game in the comfort of the Bay Area — although never had much of a chance to show it. He’s strikingly athletic, giving the Mavericks a perfect slasher and someone who isn’t afraid to get out in transition. Barnes is comfortable with the ball in his hands and, even though he’s not much of a playmaker, he can get to the rack and has a jump shot that you must respect.
Furthermore, Barnes brings stout defense to the Midwest and has the body type to match up with various positions — he was a staple in Golden State’s small ball lineup, a testament to his versatility.
9. Danilo Gallinari, DEN - 2015/16 Stats: 19.5p-5.3r-2.5a
8. Carmelo Anthony, NYK - 2015/16 Stats: 21.8p-7.7r-4.2a
Once upon a time, Melo was one of the most feared offensive players in the NBA — and it’s debatable that was the most feared. He’s falling out of his prime after dealing with knee problems and posted his lowest scoring average in 11 seasons with his performance in 2015/16. Still, Anthony retained his lethality out of the triple-threat and as a knockdown shooter.
The athleticism he possessed after being drafted out of Syracuse is gone, but great scorers adapt and generally remain great until their very last seasons. He’s still an outstanding rebounder and even improved his playmaking ability last season with the arrival of Kristaps Porzingis, who alleviated some of the scoring pressure. Looking beyond all the fantastic things he does offensively, Anthony is still a mediocre defender, but that didn’t affect him much because it was never a strength of his.
With what the Knicks have done this offseason, Melo is in a position to have an improved campaign because he won’t need to carry as much of the load like he’s done in the past; he probably won’t return to scoring title levels, but noticeable efficiency improvement isn’t out of the question.
7. Andrew Wiggins, MINN - 2015/16 Stats: 20.7p-3.6r-2.0a
When Wiggins was a senior at Huntington Prep, and even as a freshman at Kansas, he was gaining nationwide attention for his gravity-defying athleticism, and was even drawing LeBron James comparisons. Those haven’t come to fruition. Nonetheless, Wiggins is on the trajectory of a very solid NBA career, and his quick development has put him in place to be a near-dominant player next year.
Comparing him to any playmaking forward is doing him an injustice because he isn’t a playmaker. He’s a scorer and a rapidly improving one. Wiggins’ game is built around his athleticism, forcing him to be above-average with the basketball so he can put himself in the position to get to the lane. More times than not, he’s going to finish strong around the basket, and he attempted 99 more free throws than his rookie year, displaying an aggressiveness that you’d love to see in a young player.
For Wiggins to go next level, however, his defense is going to need to improve vastly, both for his sake and the Timberwolves’. It won’t be too taxing on him, either, as he has Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns to help with the offense.
6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL - 2015/16 Stats: 16.9p-7.7r-4.3a
Sometimes, individuals are created and it seems that they’re made to play basketball. The Greek Freak is one of those guys and the way the Bucks plan on using him next year will make him one of the most entertaining players in the league.
He’s a point guard who’s stuck in a forward’s body, except that forward is stuck in a center’s body. With his extendo-arms, Antetokoumpo is already a game changer on the defensive end of the floor — both in the lane and on the perimeter. He swats shots and picks off passes with extreme ease, allowing Milwaukee to get in transition where he can even lead the break if he wants. His court vision is rapidly improving, and he averaged 7.4 assists per game over the final 20 games last year; if you force him to go one-on-one, chances are he’ll win that matchup by using his craftiness to get by you.
With his physical attributes and athleticism, it’s tough to contain Freak, and your safest bet is to give him a cushion and force him to shoot because it’s almost a done deal once he gets around the basket.
5. Paul George, IND - 2015/16 Stats: 23.1p-7.0r-4.1a
After what happened to PG-13 two summers ago, he shouldn’t have had the year he did. Not only did he show no signs that he even fractured his leg, but he also came back better. Every major statistical category showed improvement, and the layoff allowed George to work on a more all-around offensive game.
He’s been a reliable outside shooter since entering the league, but he shot way more, and since he’s an established outside threat, his inside game didn’t suffer at all. The mid-range portion of his game is still iffy, but George showed no reluctance to test that part of his arsenal. PG is up there with the league’s top two-way players, and his defense hardly suffered, leaving him among the NBA’s elite and seeing him voted to the All-Defensive second team.
The situation with Indiana is, fortunately, improving, and the organization has added some pieces this offseason to take some of the offensive pressures away from George.
4. Jimmy Butler, CHI - 2015/16 Stats: 20.9p-5.3r-4.8a
Dwyane Wade is the reason Butler is with the small forward group and not the guards. The position he’s at doesn’t matter, though, and Jimmy Buckets will play at an All-Star level regardless of where Chicago puts him. His transition from a defensive player to a two-way star is great, and Butler impressed as both a scorer and playmaker last season.
The oddity surrounding Butler’s improved playmaking is the lack of talent that surrounded him — I’m not saying his teammates were awful, but he did a fantastic job setting them up with easy shots. As Rajon Rondo and Wade come into the mix, Chicago’s reliance on Butler will shift to scoring predominantly, as Rondo will have almost complete control over what’s happening on the floor. Regardless, Butler’s impact will still be needed. And he’s no doubt their go-to guy.
If anything needs improvement to make Jimmy Buckets a complete player, it’s his outside shooting, without question. Rondo, a hilariously bad outside shooter, had a better percentage than Butler did from three last year, and Butler is too good an offensive player to have a mediocre jumper.
3. Kevin Durant, GSW - 2015/16 Stats: 28.2p-8.2r-5.0a
Ah, the NBA’s newest villain. Whether you hate him or still love, disregarding KD’s talent is ignorant. That talent, coupled with his decision to relocate, dropped him one spot on this list because the numbers won’t be close to what they were in OKC. His efficiency will still be the same, but his scoring and rebounding number will drop because of how the Warriors roster is constructed.
Durant will probably average more than 20 points solely on the fact that he’ll get shots that come in the flow of the game, along with the chances he gets when creating for himself. I don’t need to go into glorious detail about what he’ll do offensively because we all know, what needs to be talked about is how his defense will most likely suffer. If the Warriors don’t have the fastest pace next year, it’ll be a shock. Therefore, very little stress will be placed on defense because they can simply out-perform everyone on the offensive end of the floor.
It’s similar to what happened with the Thunder, and no one revered KD for his defense, did they?
2. Kawhi Leonard, SAS - 2015/16 Stats: 21.2p-6.8r-2.6
The Tim Duncan era is over, meaning the Kawhi Leonard era is now in full swing. Already a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard has vaulted himself into the top ranks of the NBA on his impressive two-way ability. He’s the league’s best two-way player and doesn’t expose many weaknesses because he plays within himself.
Aside from being an athletic, slashing forward, Leonard worked relentlessly on his outside shot and evolved into a lights out shooter last season, burying 44 percent of his threes. From mid-range and around the basket, Leonard is just as efficient, and can get buckets in a variety of ways — dunks, post-ups, floaters, and the like. If you had to knock him for anything, it would be the assists numbers and how low they are.
That, however, isn’t his fault. Unlike a LeBron James or Draymond Green (who isn’t on this list because he’ll be playing the four next year), Leonard doesn’t facilitate the offense, and the Spurs don’t need him to. They have Tony Parker to do that, but the Spurs also run an extremely unselfish system where it’ll take numerous passes before finding the shot, lowering the assist numbers.
1. LeBron James, CLE - 2015/16 Stats: 25.3p-7.4r-6.8a
There’s no argument for this one, especially after the show he put on in the Finals. Does that mean we’ll see the same thing for all of next year? No, but James will undoubtedly put up numbers similar to this year — maybe even better. His game hasn’t taken any steps back, and he’s still the NBA’s best all-around talent.
He’ll do all the things he usually does regarding rebounding, passing, and whatnot, but it’ll be interesting to see how he molds his offensive game around his deteriorating jump shot. Over the last few years, James’ perimeter jumper hasn’t looked crisp, but it’s hardly hampered his game. He’s improved in the post and is still proficient at attacking the basket, so the lack of jump shooting hasn’t been noticeable; since he has Kyrie Irving on his squad, Uncle Drew is accurate enough from distance to space the floor and allow more room for James to operate.
Or who knows, James might walk into next year with an improved J added to his already destructive repertoire. In any case, The King will surely be in this year’s MVP race, and it’s possible that he walks home with it.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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