NBA small forwards usually have that rare combination of skill, size and athleticism that makes them a terror to defend and a spectacle to watch. They must be versatile enough to play against the most agile shooting guards, and strong enough to size up against talented power forwards. So it’s not a surprise that arguably three of the 10 best players in the NBA play the three.
As the game has grown and players have evolved, the NBA has focused less on labeling players with specific position titles. Basketball has become more offense-oriented and because of it, players are utilized in more positions than one. Teams that have a horde of athletes with copious amounts of athleticism are ditching the conventional approach to isolate the strengths of their rosters. Therefore, it’s no longer unusual to see a starting lineup with three guards and two forwards, and a prototypical center absent.
That being said, you’ll see a few omissions from this list that might surprise you because they’re hybrid players. For example, Andre Iguodala would easily be in this list’s top 10 – top five if you’re feeling bold – but he’s listed primarily as a guard, and a small forward second. Carmelo Anthony registered more minutes at the four last season, but he’s a natural three, so he’s included. Some of these players were difficult to omit, but more than likely, they’re on our other positional lists.
As part of our five-part series this week, here are the 20 best small forwards the NBA has to offer. I’m sure you can guess the top five, but there are a few surprises.
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20. DANNY GRANGER
Granger only played in five games all of last year due to a knee injury and isn’t even a lock to start this upcoming season, either, which explains why he’s ranked at 20. But if he’s available, he’ll prove a valuable commodity to an Indiana team that has all the right artillery to become legitimate title contenders.
If Granger returns to full form, he’s definitely capable of being a top-10 small forward by season’s end, which is absolutely scary considering the Pacers already have Paul George, who has morphed into one of the NBA’s most versatile players. Granger, who averages 18 points per game for his career, is the perfect complement to George, who flourishes as a pure playmaker and occasional floor general. George’s ability to penetrate and willingly find open teammates should benefit Granger, who makes his living as a perimeter sharpshooter.
19. JARED DUDLEY
Dudley isn’t a guy that can create his own shot, and that’s fine now that he’s in Los Angeles playing alongside All-Star Chris Paul. He’ll muddle around the perimeter, shooting a great percentage from deep just like he typically does (40 percent for his career), and since he’ll be in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, the Clips need Dudley to give them quality minutes at the three.
Playing for awful teams for most of his career, Dudley has often stated that all he cares about is winning basketball games and getting that elusive championship. However, if he can make a few threes a game while playing solid defense for Los Angeles, they should be in good position.
18. CARON BUTLER
Butler is an interesting case, but new scenery in Milwaukee should bode well for the two-time All-Star. The entire Bucks squad has been revamped, as Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy were all shipped out. In exchange, Butler, Brandon Knight, Gary Neal and O.J. Mayo were all brought in, as well as head coach Larry Drew and assistant coach Nick Van Exel.
Butler won’t be the primary option – to be honest, he might not be the second or third, either – but he’ll provide leadership, a solid offensive game and tenacious defense, which is something Drew will surely appreciate. After that devastating knee injury in early 2011 while playing for the eventual champions Dallas Mavericks, he no longer possesses the athleticism that made him a lottery pick in the ’02 Draft. But he looks healthy this year, and now that he’s close to home – he grew up in Racine, Wisconsin – he should have a decent 2013 campaign.
17. WILSON CHANDLER
Chandler was limited last year thanks to nagging injuries, but last week, Brian Shaw stated that the tatted-up forward would be in the starting lineup if the season started today. When given an increased role, his productivity has always been solid. From 2008-10, Chandler averaged over 15 points, six rebounds and two assists for the Knicks, and while his production dipped slightly in Denver (down to 13.5 points), his tenacious defense and penchant for attacking the basket makes him a sleeper on this list. You never want to wish injury on an athlete, but Danilo Gallinari’s ACL injury might’ve been the best thing that could’ve happened for Chandler.