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Ranking all 30 starting small forwards in the NBA

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Danilo Gallinari had a great season for the Denver Nuggets last year, though it finished with an injury and only 53 games played. Did he do enough to earn a top ten spot at the small forward position?

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan's Position ranking Series

This list was fun.

There are so many great small forwards in this generation of NBA players. There are guys who handle the ball, guys who shoot at an elite rate, guys who play incredible defense, and guys who are just solid all-around.

Danilo Gallinari falls into that last category. Last season, he enjoyed something of a breakout year, averaging 19.5 points per contest, the highest total of his career.

Did it earn him a solid ranking though? Continue reading to see where the Rooster ended up on my list.

1. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .242 9.79 +9.1
Career .240 9.22 +9.2

Forget statistics for a second. Forget rings. Understand what LeBron James has done to the game of basketball. He has fundamentally changed how we view success in basketball. With six straight visits to the NBA Finals, he will go down (at least in my mind) as the greatest small forward in NBA history. He is a top five player of all time, and he's only 31.

2. Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio Spurs

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .277 8.07 +8.3
Career .207 6.22 +5.9

Before people go crazy that Kevin Durant isn't here, Kawhi Leonard is absolutely deserving of this ranking. Is there a more feared defender in the entire NBA at this point than Leonard? He absolutely envelops the opposition through great movement for his size and getting his hands on every ball with his bear claw hands.

His offense has expanded to new heights under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich. He has never had a True Shooting percentage under .567, which is really good as a small forward. This past season, he was an 87.4 percent mark at the free throw line away from a 50/40/90 season. While Durant accomplished that in 2012-13, Kawhi almost did while being the lynch pin of the best defense in the entire NBA.

3. Kevin Durant - Golden State Warriors

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .270 6.48 +7.9
Career .214 5.70 +4.8

As mentioned above, many people would rank Durant second, and while I rank him third, what's really important is that the Golden State Warriors now have three top five players at their respective positions according to my rankings. I suspect they will have a fourth by next week.

Durant truly is an incredible scorer. He was the best scorer in the NBA before Stephen Curry came along, but he's been amazing for much longer. If not for a lost season in 2014-15, he may be approaching 20,000 points in just nine short years. As it stands, Durant is currently ranked 79th all-time in points over the course of a career, and I bet he finishes somewhere in the top ten.

4. Paul George - Indiana Pacers

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .157 4.93 +4.5
Career .150 3.84 +4.0

(*George's injury season of 2014-15 was not counted because he only played 91 minutes total.)

Paul George is such a great story. He was at the top of the mountain, then he fell all the way to the bottom after his leg injury. What does he do? Rises all the way back up to the top.

The Indiana Pacers had no business keeping up with the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs last year, but George played incredible basketball and almost won the series with the team on his back. There are now some better offensive pieces around him, including Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, so the world should be able to appreciate the greatness that is Paul George for longer in the playoffs.

5. Jimmy Butler - Chicago Bulls

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .177 4.01 +4.0
Career .169 3.48 +3.1

It's weird putting Butler in the small forwards category, but given the decisions of the Chicago Bulls this offseason, I almost have to do it. Butler would likely have been my second best shooting guard, but the strength of the small forward position bumps him down to fifth here.

Butler is a great two-way player, but he needs the ball in his hands to be the most effective player he can be. With Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo starting in the backcourt, there seems to be an issue of too many facilitators in the starting lineup. My guess is that because of this, the Bulls will struggle this year to come up with chemistry, and it will knock Butler down a peg or two next year.

6. Carmelo Anthony - New York Knicks

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .121 2.24 +2.6
Career .135 2.60 +1.5

For all the flack Carmelo Anthony gets on the New York Knicks, he's been effective as their first option on offense. He's seventh in the NBA among SFs in RPM, and on high usage as well. That's a hard combination to maintain, but then again, there aren't many scorers like Melo.

In my opinion, I think the Knicks should trade Melo to a team that can pay them in backcourt prospects, but based on their trade for Derrick Rose and signing of Joakim Noah, it looks like they will try and contend. Hopefully, Melo can make it work with Rose, but I have my doubts.

7. Gordon Hayward - Utah Jazz

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .147 2.90 +2.5
Career .115 2.66 +1.6

This is a very solid ranking for Gordon Hayward. He combines high ratings in advanced statistics with reasonably high usage as the main offensive playmaker for the Jazz. He is very similar to Danilo Gallinari, but he's a touch more effective and twice as healthy.

Can Hayward be a first option on a championship team? It's not likely, but I believe he can lead the Jazz to the playoffs this year because of the veterans they added combined with a defensive identity. Hayward deserves a ton of credit though. He's the face of their franchise and has been for a long time.

8. Danilo Gallinari - Denver Nuggets

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .165 1.72 +1.2
Career .135 1.85 +1.1

Here's where Danilo Gallinari falls for me Nuggets fans. Even with the introduction of Jimmy Butler into the small forward category, Gallo rounds out the top ten with a strong performance this past season. His 19.5 points per contest were by far the highest of his career, and a strong month of January with over 22 points per game truly shows what kind of scorer he can be.

Many Nuggets fans have been turned off by Gallo's injury issues, and they are very real. Even still, he ranks 11th among players on this list in total win shares at 6.3, which would go all the way up to 8.9 if he played 75 games, tying him with Gordon Hayward. All of his advanced metrics are high quality, which gives me confidence to rank him so high.

It's blatantly clear that Gallo will be a valuable commodity on the free agent market in 2017 as he will likely opt out of his player option. The Nuggets will need to decide if they can really get a better small forward than they already have. I very much doubt it.

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .121 1.11 +2.4
Career .096 0.28 +0.7

Giannis Antetokounmpo. Such a cool name for such an interesting player. The Greek Freak always looks like he's operating with arm extensions like Mr. Fantastic, and when you find a player who can Euro Step dunk from the free throw line, you hold on to him.

Oh, and they still want to play him at point guard because he did well. Right now, I have them starting Matthew Dellavedova at point guard, but hey, I don't think anyone will complain if they start Giannis. #NBALeaguePass

10. Nicolas Batum - Charlotte Hornets

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .097 1.22 +2.0
Career .118 0.69 +2.9

Nicolas Batum was traded to the Charlotte Hornets during the offseason. The team performed well while he handled the ball from the wing, but an injured small forward prevented the Hornets from reaching their ceiling before they lost in the first round in a matchup between a 3 seed and a 6 seed.

Oh, right, not Andre Iguodala, but Nicolas Batum.

Batum performed admirably for the Hornets, and he rewarded them by re-signing long term. I really wish the Nuggets could have grabbed him, but in retrospect, it makes little sense.

11. Jae Crowder - Boston Celtics

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .152 3.00 +2.8
Career .110 1.49 +1.1

Jae Crowder is an advanced statistics stud. Brad Stevens has truly brought out the best in his starting small forward by allowing him to pester opposing forwards on defense while letting offense come to him. His three point shot still needs work, but I suspect that he will get better in that regard.

Consider him the Danny Green of the small forward position: a defensive player who benefits from the scheme and quality players around him. The real question is if there's more to Crowder than what he's initially shown. Could he make a Paul Millsap type jump with his best years in his late twenties and early thirties? Or is this basically the ceiling? Time will tell.

12. Otto Porter - Washington Wizards

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .119 1.51 +1.8
Career .099 -0.25 +0.3

I have confidence in Otto Porter. It may be irrational, and it may have something to do with the weak 2013 draft class, but I think Porter is incredibly underrated. His defensive contributions help make him a positive on the court no matter what he does offensively, and he is now starting to figure out the offensive game. His RPM career number is affected by a small sample size of poor basketball in his rookie season.

With John Wall and Bradley Beal likely dominating the ball, Porter must shoot nearly 40 percent from three in order to maximize his contribution. That being said, in a bad situation last year, Porter showed that he has some game to be unlocked. Washington head coach Scott Brooks has an interesting piece though.

13. Chandler Parsons - Memphis Grizzlies

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .114 0.60 +1.9
Career .118 1.48 +2.4

Chandler Parsons just vacated Dallas to go play for the Memphis Grizzlies, who are going all in on injury prone veterans to see if they can advance to the second round of the playoffs. Parsons will be a big part of whether they can do that or not. He's usually healthy for about 70 games a season, but loses effectiveness if he's out for an extended amount of games.

Parsons is pretty solid offensively. The main issue with him is that he's a revolving door on defense. He's in a great situation in Memphis where he's surrounded by four positive defenders, and it will be the first time in his five year career. This will likely elevate his profile defensively for next year. As long as he stays reasonably healthy, expect his effectiveness to jump.

14. Tobias Harris - Detroit Pistons

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .126 0.61 +1.0
Career .106 -1.30 -0.5

I struggled to figure out whether Marcus Morris or Tobias Harris is the small forward for the Detroit Pistons because their roles are so similar. I decided to go with Harris, so Morris will show up at power forward on next week's edition.

Harris still has a ton of potential to be unlocked in Detroit by Stan Van Gundy. His defense began to slip a bit from what I thought he had the potential to become, and he shot a lower percentage from three (33.5 percent) than what I hoped. That being said, he played really well under Van Gundy, and I can't wait to see what the Detroit Pistons look like this year.

15. DeMarre Carroll - Toronto Raptors

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .074 0.09 +0.2
Career .115 1.24 +1.3

DeMarre Carroll started off his tenure with the Toronto Raptors poorly with only 26 games played, but it ended reasonably well. The Raptors ended up making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they ran into a brick wall named LeBron. This was the second time in a row that Carroll has been eliminated by James, and in each series, the talent level has been drastically one-sided.

Carroll didn't earn his contract this past year, and given what the Raptors are paying DeMar DeRozan and what they will have to shell out for Kyle Lowry, it's reasonable to say that Carroll (or Jonas Valenciunas) will be traded within the next year. The Raptors will be capped out unless they make a move, and Carroll is a likely trade candidate given the presence of Norman Powell.

16. Harrison Barnes - Dallas Mavericks

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .116 -1.28 -0.2
Career .098 -1.20 -0.7

The Black Falcon, as he was dubbed during the playoff series with the Denver Nuggets in 2013, Harrison Barnes is about to prove if potential can meet production. Signed by the Dallas Mavericks to a max contract, he's about to be one of the most interesting players to follow in the NBA.

Considered the fourth option in the offense for the Golden State Warriors and the fifth best player in the vaunted Death Lineup, Barnes now changes teams to become a potential first option. He will initially be assisted by Dirk Nowitzki, but for how long? After that, the next biggest offensive threat on the roster is Wesley Matthews.

We are about to see what Harrison Barnes is made of. Will he live up to his contract? My gut says no, but stranger things have happened.

17. Trevor Ariza - Houston Rockets

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .090 0.57 +1.5
Career .097 1.03 +1.6

Trevor Ariza is an interesting player. Of all the players to play with James Harden, the "thought" of Trevor Ariza is a perfect complement. That said, Ariza struggled on the defensive end of the floor this year, something he has a reputation of being elite at. This made be him getting older, or it may be a fluke, or compensation for Harden's ineffectiveness.

Either way, he struggled. He's been pretty solid offensively, and that will never be the issue, but on a team where Harden and Ryan Anderson plan to spend a high number of minutes, Ariza needs to not just be okay, but great defensively.

18. Aaron Gordon - Orlando Magic

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .139 0.63 +1.8
Career .116 -0.95 +0.4

I'm not sure what the Orlando Magic are doing. The additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismarck Biyombo make sense, but not when the team already had Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. That affects my ranking of Aaron Gordon here. Each of his advanced statistics are pretty good, but I don't see him having the same effectiveness at small forward as he had at power forward.

That being said, I would be remised if I didn't talk about him. He was a very effective defensive player and truly can guard at least shooting guards through power forwards well. Offensively, he does things that a power forward does well, but he has very few small forward skills. He's great at receiving the ball from a creator, but he does little by himself. That, combined with his limited range right now, will hinder him for the future on that side of the floor.

19. Andre Roberson - Oklahoma City Thunder

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .105 0.07 +1.4
Career .094 0.28 +0.7

Andre Roberson is a funny case. He probably has more offensive game than he was allowed to show with both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in town, but now that Victor Oladipo has replaced Durant and Serge Ibaka is gone, I suspect Roberson will be included in the offense more.

He's already a solid defender, and while he defended mostly guards last year, he has the size to be just as effective against small forwards and even power forwards in small ball lineups. I'm excited to see what Roberson can do now that Durant is gone. The Oklahoma City Thunder ceiling is probably lower, but Roberson's just went up.

20. P.J. Tucker - Phoenix Suns

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .066 0.10 +0.6
Career .089 -0.24 +1.0

P.J. Tucker has a lower profile than his ranking here. Most people see P.J. Tucker's name in the starting lineup and they believe there's an advantage there. This isn't the case nearly as often as opposing teams think. He's always a positive defender, and while he struggled offensively this past year, he's usually a solid outside shooter.

Tucker benefits from being a hard-nosed player, getting involved in rebounds whenever he can and just being a physical player. He's not really skilled, but he makes up for it with constant grit. This is probably the highest he will show up in rankings like this at 31 years old, but that simply makes him a solid contributor.

21. Rudy Gay - Sacramento Kings

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .078 0.17 -0.4
Career .085 0.70 +0.5

Rudy Gay takes a hit in the small forward rankings. Many Sacramento Kings fans will expect him higher, but it's proven that high volume players usually take a hit in the advanced metrics. This is the case here.

Gay's impact ultimately comes down to if he can play solid team defense and work within the confines of the offense. There is a time and place for isolation possessions, but Gay just isn't that good at it. Among the 32 players who accumulated greater than 150 isolation possessions, Gay ranks 13th in frequency (less time doing other things) and 27th in efficiency (he's bad at it). Until he improves this, he will not be a good offensive player.

22. Andrew Wiggins - Minnesota Timberwolves

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .069 -1.17 -2.1
Career .051 -1.42 -2.2

I could probably rank him lower, but decided to give Wiggins the benefit of the doubt that he was working with an interim head coach all year. Plus, his raw statistics are much better than this ranking. The biggest thing with Wiggins offensively will be his range. Nick Sciria did a Twitter post string, which is a must read about Wiggins.

Overall, his potential is still sky high, but his limited feel for the game will always hinder his advanced metrics. If he improves in that regard, I expect he will rise to at least a top ten position on these rankings before his rookie deal expires.

23. Kent Bazemore - Atlanta Hawks

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .094 -1.34 +0.3
Career .062 -3.42 -1.2

Kent Bazemore was a career backup before 2015-16. He got an opportunity to replace DeMarre Carroll and succeeded. He had a pretty solid year from an advanced metric perspective, and he earned a large contract to re-sign with the Atlanta Hawks.

The question with Bazemore will be if he has anything more to add to his game. Right now, he's a spot up shooter and a slasher with the ball in his hands. He doesn't create for others, and his pick and roll skills are lacking. He was okay on the defensive end, but a downgrade from Carroll for sure. We will see if Bazemore has hit his ceiling this year or not.

24. Evan Turner - Portland Trailblazers

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .085 -1.61 -0.7
Career .053 -1.92 -2.0

Evan Turner's fit with the Portland Trailblazers is also a questionable one. On a team where there are already three players in the starting lineup who can initiate offense in Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Mason Plumlee, adding a fourth player like that scares me. He has zero range on his jump shot, and his defense is merely passable, but nothing to write home about.

It was difficult to pick the starter in Portland. Maurice Harkless makes so much more sense with Al Farouq Aminu as the power forward in my opinion. That said, money talks, and I doubt the Blazers are paying Turner as much money as they are to be a bench player, especially since they are doing the same thing with Allen Crabbe.

25. Justise Winslow - Miami Heat

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .054 -0.90 -0.6
Career .054 -0.90 -0.6

Justise Winslow is going to be a great NBA player if he can navigate an NBA pick and roll or space the floor at a high rate. That being said, he does neither of those things in the slightest way right now. This is partially because he fell into a situation in Miami where he didn't need to, but also because he didn't have the skill to do it either.

His defense is already rock solid, and he's only 20 years old. He will get even better in that regard next year as he gets acclimated in his second year. The real question will be, as I said, if he can improve his outside shot. The most likely starting lineup involves Dion Waiters, so Winslow needs to step up that part of his game.

26. Wesley Johnson - Los Angeles Clippers

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .076 0.93 +0.5
Career .037 -1.42 -1.2

Wesley Johnson is an interesting piece. Ideally for the Clippers, he gets up to shooting close to 40 percent from 3 while continuing to trend up his defensive numbers. Unfortunately, he was not good enough offensively. His defensive metrics are good, and it's clear he's put in time on that end, but it's not enough to offset such poor percentages.

He's a solid player, but he just didn't add anything to the Clippers while he was out there. They need more shooting at the small forward position, which is why there's such a revolving door there. They haven't been able to find it, and I don't believe Johnson will last the year as the starter unless he shoots better.

27. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Brooklyn Nets

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .094 0.49 +1.2
Career .094 0.49 +1.2

There is no more intriguing, young wing defender than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the NBA right now in my opinion. When he was selected in the 2015 NBA Draft, he was taken for his defense, and it was even better than expected. RPM graded his defense to be the third best among shooting guards, right behind Danny Green and Tony Allen. That's great company.

He ranks this low because he only accomplished that over 29 games before going down with an injury. He also will likely start at small forward with Joe Johnson no longer in the fold, and he has shown little offensive skill to speak of. He was a rookie last year, so I have a feeling he will improve. Right now though, he doesn't deserve a higher ranking.

28. Solomon Hill - New Orleans Pelicans

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 .117 0.14 0.0
Career .084 -1.15 -0.4

Solomon Hill is the lowest ranked player who's not a rookie. He somehow earned a four year, $52 million contract, and while he grades out reasonably well statically this year, he didn't even play 1,000 minutes.

Could he be a good small forward for the New Orleans Pelicans? Absolutely. He hasn't had a lot of time to prove himself, and maybe he experiences a jump in production. That being said, he hasn't earned anything, having played mostly spot minutes this year. I very much doubt that he will earn the contract New Orleans gave him.

29. Ben Simmons - Philadelphia 76ers

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 NA NA NA
Career NA NA NA

Ben Simmons is the first of two rookies to show up on this list, and he ranks among the bottom two, as I did with Buddy Hield on the list of shooting guards.

Simmons is going to be solid in advanced metrics though. His defense is going to be good, and he's going to create so much gravity on offense that other players will benefit massively. I'm excited to watch Ben Simmons. He will need to take some time, but his final product could be legendary.

30. Brandon Ingram - Los Angeles Lakers

Time Period WS/48 Real +/- Box +/-
2015-16 NA NA NA
Career NA NA NA

Brandon Ingram comes in behind Simmons here. The Los Angeles Lakers will likely start Ingram, but believe it or not, Luol Deng would be pretty high up on this list given his advanced metrics are near elite. That said, if the Lakers want to try and develop the D'Angelo Russell-Brandon Ingram combo together, they will start both players.

Like Simmons, I'm very hopeful for this long, lanky small forward. He's going to need some time to get better, but I see about 14 points per contest right off the bat. The question is if he can do it efficiently as well as elevate his teammates during the process.

***

So that's it for this edition. Make sure to tune in next week for the power forwards edition of this article. Did you agree with the rankings? Was Danilo Gallinari ranked well? Let me know in the comments section.