Even with an injury to Kevin Durant that will sideline him for the start of the season and a brutal leg injury to Paul George that will leave him out of action for a long time, the small forward position will be as deep as it has been in some time. The reason for that is the addition of some of the most highly anticipated college players in a decade along with the growth of some very talented young wings.
Here is a look at who the best small forwards in the league will be for 2014-15.
15. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics: Even without consistent play at the point guard spot with the injury to Rajon Rondo, Green had the best scoring season of his career (16.9 points per game). Now that he has a year under his belt as the No. 1 option for the Celtics and some fresh new faces on the Boston roster, Green should have plenty of opportunities to be the go-to guy and do even more.
14. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks: The hype surrounding Parker has been around since his freshman year in high school and its finally time to see if he can live up to it. After an impressive freshman campaign at Duke, he landed in Milwaukee with the No. 2 pick in the draft leaving the weight of an organization squarely on his shoulders. It will take some time for him to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA game and there will be some growing pains on such a young team, but he has the skill set to carry that load.
13. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves: The complexion of his young career changed in the blink of an eye when Wiggins was traded as part of a deal for the Cleveland Cavaliers to land Kevin Love. With the Cav’s, Wiggins would have had the chance to mature and learn the NBA game as a role player while playing alongside Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. He wont have that luxury with the Timberwolves, but that actually might be a much better option for him in the long run. With so many expectations heaped on Wiggins, he needs to have a chance to be a first or second option right away. Like Parker, it will take time for Wiggins to adjust, but he will excel in the open floor and provide plenty of highlight moments as he learns the ropes.
12. Paul Pierce, Washington Wizards: After spending 15 years with the Celtics, Pierce lasted just one season in Brooklyn before moving on. Now that he is with the Wizards, he will be called upon to spread the floor and provide veteran leadership for the serious Eastern Conference contender. With so many offensive weapons on the Washington roster, he should have plenty of room for open shots and an improvement on his total output from ’13-14.
11. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors: On a team loaded on with shooters and scorers, Iguodala does his damage as a facilitator and on the defensive end. Even though his numbers aren’t anywhere close to as impressive (9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in ’13-14) as they were when he was the leader of the Philadelphia 76ers, he is still a difference maker and one of the leaders on a playoff bound team.
10. Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks: Parsons was good enough as the third option with the Houston Rockets to earn himself a huge free agent deal with the Mavericks. His effectiveness comes from his ability to both stretch the floor with his outside shooting (37 percent from behind the arc on 351 attempts in ’13-14), and to find the open man when his shot isn’t available (four assists per game in ’13-14). With a more balanced offensive unit in Dallas, Parsons will get plenty of quality looks and even more chances to set up his new teammates for easy buckets.
9. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets: After an eventful offseason saw the Rockets lose out on plenty of talented free agents, Houston was in need of a multi-faceted wing to replace Chandler Parsons. That is exactly what it got with the return of Ariza. Ariza had his best perimeter shooting season of his career in ’13-14 (40.7 percent from the 3-point line on 442 attempts) and those numbers should only improve playing next to James Harden and Dwight Howard.
8. Luol Deng, Miami Heat: Of all the wing forwards in new situations, Deng has the biggest shoes to fill as he tries to replace LeBron James with the Heat. Following a less than impressive stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers (14.3 points on 41.7 percent shooting in 40 games), chances are that he will have a much better season playing with a reloaded Miami team.
7. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz: Hayward spent most of his time in ’13-14 playing the shooting guard spot for the struggling Jazz, but showed enough (16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 77 games) to get a max contract to return to Utah. The plus for Hayward is that he should be a better fit in the new Jazz system, which will give him a much better shot to earn that contract for a rebuilding team.
6. Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons: Smith is one of the most athletic players in the league and someone who can do a little bit of everything on the floor when he gets it rolling (career averages of 15.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals a game). Now that he has had a year with the Pistons, look for him to boost his shooting numbers (a career-low 41.9 percent in ’13-14) and help push Detroit into playoff contention.
5. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers: Batum is a very efficient wing player (56.6 percent shooting from 2-point range, according to Basketball-reference.com) on the offensive end on the floor and an even better defender. After the best season of his young career in ’13-14 (13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists), helped the Blazers to a second round trip to the playoffs there is no doubt that he will be even better this season.
4. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings: Gay has been one of the best wing scorers in the game and ’13-14 was no different. In fact, he had one of his most productive campaigns after landing in Sacramento when he averaged 20.1 points on 48.2 percent shooting from the floor, including 51.6 percent from inside the arc and 83.6 percent from the free-throw line in 55 games, according to Basketball-reference.com. Now that the Kings have more of a pass-first point guard to facilitate the offense, look for those numbers to improve even more.
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: Following a solid regular season that saw Leonard average career highs in points (12.8), field goal percentage (52.2), rebounds (6.2) and assists (two), he exploded on the scene in the last three games of the NBA Finals to earn the MVP and plenty of national recognition. During that stretch, he put up 23.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, two steals and two blocks against the likes of LeBron James. With such a confidence boosting performance, look for Leonard to have an even better season in the season to come.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: The decision between who is No. 1 and No. 2 on this list was made much easier by the fact that Durant will miss the opening weeks of the season after suffering an injury. He is one of the best two players in the world thanks to his ability to score anywhere on the floor (50.3 percent shooting from the floor, including 39.1 percent from beyond the arc and 87.3 percent from the free-throw line). Durant has also elevated his stature to MVP level with his ever improving ability to pass the ball (a career-high 5.5 per game in ’13-14).
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: Following two championship rings and four consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals, he returned home in the off-season to try to provide his home town with a long sought after title. Although he brought plenty of help along with him, it will be up to James to get it done. After all, he is one of the two most complete players the NBA has seen since the departure of Michael Jordan thanks to his ability to score (27.5 career points per game), rebound (7.2 career rebounds per game), pass (6.9 career assists per game) and defend (five-time all-defensive first-team, according to Basketball-reference.com).