The two very best basketball players in the World play small forward. Well, LeBron James actually played power forward last season. He played 82 percent of his minutes at the four. But with the news that Cleveland has traded for a power forward named Kevin Love, James should play more minutes at small forward this year. Sure, Cleveland will play line-ups with Love at the five, and James at the four, but James will start at small forward. David Blatt has a freaking fantastic job. Cleveland already has knock-down shooters in Mike Miller and James Jones, and now you add in Love, and Cleveland really has so many possibilities on offense. Shawn Marion will more than likely sign with Cleveland, too. I know Cleveland has a poor rim protector, but they’re the best team in the East, and should be the second best team in the NBA. Now, back to small forwards… only four of them had a PER higher than 20, and it’s the four that you’d expect (James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George). Kawhi Leonard just missed out on the 20 PER or higher club. The top-5 small forwards were easy to pick, but after that it proved to be a very difficult exercise. Danilo Gallinari missed last year, so he wasn’t in consideration. Tyreke Evans, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng just missed the cut.
10. Trevor Ariza – Houston Rockets
14.4/6.2/2.5 40.7 3FG%
Ariza had a very good contract year with the Wizards. He made 45 percent of his corner 3-point attempts. He’ll do very well in Houston, especially with James Harden finding him in the corner. Ariza posted very solid offensive (113) and defensive (104) ratings last season.
9. Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay shot 38.8 percent from the field in Toronto. Gay shot 48.2 after the Raptors traded him to Sacramento. Gay definitely played better, more efficient basketball in California. His defense, however, needs work. Gay isn’t in an ideal situation with the Kings, but he’ll put up good numbers for a lottery team.
8. Andre Iguodala – Golden State Warriors
He made 1st team All-Defense last year. That alone makes you top-10 at your position. He does a little bit of everything on offense. Steve Kerr has a tough job trying to figure out where/how to best use Iguodala. George Karl made him a two-guard, and Iguodala thrived in that role as Denver finished third in the West two years ago. Expect a big year from Iggy.
7. Chandler Parsons – Dallas Mavericks
Parsons will benefit greatly from playing in Rick Carlisle’s offense. Parsons is a great rebounder and passer, so Carlisle will put him the right positions to be successful. Sure, Parsons is overpaid, and might never make an All-Star game, but he’s a 46.7 percent corner 3 shooter for his career, very crafty passer and he turns 26 in October, so he’s yet to hit his prime.
6. Nicolas Batum – Portland Trail Blazers
Batum literally does it all. He’s the best passing small forward in the NBA, and he’s prone to hitting big shots. The Blazers have a terrific core, and Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge might get all of the credit, but Batum makes everything stick. He’ll be an All-Star eventually, and he won’t be 26 until December. Batum played the sixth most minutes last year, and started all 82 games. He has great durability, and according to NBA.com he ran the most miles last season on the court.
5. Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs
Leonard made 52.2 percent of his field goals last year. He’s a versatile defender and scorer. He’s 23, so the sky is the limit for him. When Leonard was on the court the Spurs were +10.1. The Spurs lost 12 times in games Leonard played last year. He finished tied for sixth with Roy Hibbert in defensive rating. Leonard’s a special player, and it’s exciting to see how much more he can improve his game.
4. Paul George – Indiana Pacers
Despite George’s offensive struggles towards the end of last season, he remained one of the best defenders in basketball. Only Joakim Noah had more defensive win shares than George. He looked like the MVP the first month of last season, but he couldn’t possible maintain those shooting numbers. His injury just sucks because he’s 24, and hasn’t hit his prime yet, and I’m sure he’ll come back as good as ever, but you never know. Legitimate two-way small forwards are hard to find, and George played All-Star level offense and defense.
3. Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks
The third best small forward could go to George or ‘Melo. It’s close. I’m giving the edge to Carmelo because of his offense, though. Anthony shot 45.2 percent from the field despite hoisting 21 shots a game. The Knicks desperately need to do something about creating offense for other players, but that’s exactly why they hired Phil Jackson. The Knicks have nice pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr., Jose Calderon and Cleanthony Early.
2. Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
Three guys have had a season with at least 2500 points, 550 rebounds and 400 assists. Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan each did it twice. Durant did it last year for the first time. Durant turns freaking 26 in September.
1. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s weird seeing Cleveland Cavaliers next to LeBron James’ name. There’s been 16 seasons in NBA history where a player averaged at least 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists a game. James and Oscar Robertson each have six of them. Cleveland’s offense will be terrifying this year. I can’t even wait for the NBA to begin.