The NBA's Top Ten Small Forwards

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It’s time for part three of the first annual Celtics Town NBA positional rankings, the small forwards.

Honorable mention

In no particular order: Rudy Gay, Stephen Jackson, Tayshaun Prince

10. Josh Howard

A do-it-all type who excels at nothing but is good at almost everything, Josh Howard is always looking to get higher…on the Celtics Town positional rankings.

An odd stat about Howard: In 2008-2009, he was the second-best first quarter scorer in the NBA, with 7.6 points per first quarter (trailing only Lebron James). How can he be such a prolific scorer in the first quarter but tail to only 1.8 points per fourth quarter? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

Still, Howard is one of the more talented and productive small forwards in the NBA today.

9. Ron Artest

I’m not sure how much replacing Trevor Ariza with Ron Artest will help L.A. While Ariza was a role player who knew his niche with the Lakers and played it very well, Artest is less likely to willingly take such a backseat role to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. I don’t know if Artest’s poor shot selection and quirky – I’m being nice – behavior will fit in with L.A.

I do know, though, that his toughness will be welcomed with open arms in the city of angels. Even coming off an NBA championship, the Lakers are seen of as a soft team. About the Lakers during the ’08-’09 playoffs, Artest himself said, “Last year, what the Celtics did to them was more about manhood than basketball. They took their manhood. They took it right from under them.”

With Artest in the lineup, it won’t be as easy taking the Lakers manhood. Artest doesn’t have great shot selection and has a bit of a temper, but he’s a gritty and physical defender who’s as tough as they come.

8. Gerald Wallace

How does a guy who averaged 16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 48% from the field go almost completely unnoticed? By playing for a franchise that has never even made it to the playoffs, the Charlotte Bobcats.

If Wallace were on any other team, his all-around play and versatility would make him a star. Instead, he’s one of the most underrated players in the NBA, performing night in and night out with little fanfare.

7. Caron Butler

Another underrated small forward, Caron Butler was a late bloomer who has gotten better every year, developing into the all-star caliber player he is today. With Butler, Antawn Jamison and a presumably healthy (at least that’s what the Wizards are saying) Gilbert Arenas, plus an improved bench helped by the additions of Randy Foye and Mike Miller, the Wizards could be a darkhorse to contend for the East’s fourth seed.

And, when they do, don’t forget about Caron Butler. Often overshadowed by the looming shadow of the outgoing Gilbert Arenas, the quiet Butler keeps to himself and let’s his game do the talking. His unassuming mentality hasn’t helped him win over fans, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a hell of a small forward, either.

6. Brandan Wright

This is clearly a joke, but seriously, John Hollinger had Brandan Wright rated sixth (according to the stats) on his list of small forwards at the end of the year. Is Brandan Wright even a small forward? Do Hollinger’s stats take into account that Wright averaged a paltry 8.3 points and 4.0 rebounds last year?

When Brandan Wright is the sixth best small forward in the NBA, you may want to tweak your stats a little bit.

6. Danny Granger

After a breakout year in ’08-’09, Danny Granger firmly established himself as an NBA all-star. The Indiana Pacer has a bit of an old-school game – he isn’t flashy, doesn’t have great athleticism, and won’t wow you with most of what he does – but he just gets the job done. His team isn’t great, and has been mediocre for a long time, but that’s no reason not to appreciate everything Granger brings to the court every night.

5. Hedo Turkoglu

I had a tough time rating Turkoglu, for the simple reasons that he has a quirky game, doesn’t have great stats (16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists), and took a long time to become such a good player.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the fact that he was the go-to guy for an NBA Finals team, the fourth quarter assassin on a Magic team devoid of any other go-to guy. Turkoglu is a unique player – 6’10”, but skilled enough to handle the ball on a pick-and-roll and create offense for himself or for others. His stats aren’t off the charts by any means, but Turkoglu was worth more to his team than any player behind him on this list, and the Magic will really miss him next year (although 5 years and $53 million for a 30 year-old seconed-tier player might have been overspending).

4. Kevin Durant

The best young scorer in the league, Kevin Durant should win multiple scoring titles before his career is over. A smooth, talented and athletic 6’10” wingman, Durant can fill it up as well as just about anybody in the NBA. If the rest of the game were as advanced as his scoring, Durant would contend for next year’s MVP. As it is, he’ll have to settle for being the NBA’s most intriguing youngster.

Remember when it was a big deal that Kevin Durant couldn’t bench press 185 lbs.? I don’t care if Durant can’t bench press a feather, I’d want him on my team any day.

3. Paul Pierce

One of the NBA’s best small forwards for a long time, Paul Pierce is finally getting some recognition for being part of the NBA’s elite. For a long time, Pierce toiled on bad or mediocre teams, struggling to get his due while playing with such weak talent surrounding him.

What most people lost track of was that those teams would have been a lot worse without Pierce. Even the 24-58 team, the miserable ’06-’07 team that led to the Garnett and Allen trades, was 20-27 with Pierce. That record may not seem good, until you realize that Boston was 4-31 without him.

Even in the Celtics’ worst years, Pierce always made his teams far better by scoring timely buckets, rebounding like a bigger player, and playing underrated defense. It’s about time Pierce got his due, earning second-team All-NBA honors for the first time this past season.

2. Carmelo Anthony

Before this season, I wouldn’t have put Carmelo so high. He’s always been able to score but, before this past season, was unwilling to do the little things to help his team win. Defense was a foreign concept to Carmelo, who was more of a bull-fighter than a defender – you know, wave the red flag and let somebody by.

This past year, though? Carmelo turned himself into an all-around player. His scoring numbers were down further than they have been in years, but Carmelo had, in my eyes, his best season yet. He finally sacrificed some of his game for the good of his team, and turned the corner in becoming a force in this league.

For those of you who didn’t watch the Nuggets’ series with L.A., it was a treat to watch Kobe and Carmelo battle. Carmelo didn’t give up an inch in that matchup, demanding to guard Kobe when the game was on the line, fighting him for position on every play. If you saw that series, you know what the rest of the NBA knew throughout the whole season – Carmelo Anthony has arrived.

1. Lebron James

Surprise, surprise, King James is number one.

Lebron may not shake hands after a playoff loss, but he can do everything else on a basketball court. He’s built like a Mack Truck, drives like a Porsche, and kicks it into gear like Jeff Gordon in his prime. On top of that, he’s a fierce competitor, a great teammate and as good a passer as anybody in the NBA.

With such an enormous package of physical gifts and basketball talent, was there ever any doubt that Lebron James would be rated the NBA’s top small forward?


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