One could make a pretty strong argument that small forward is not just the strongest position in the NBA at the moment, but also the most important.
It’s not just due to the superstar talent that sits atop this ranking, either, but also because of the players ranked No. 10 through No. 30, and even some of the ones who missed the cut.
In the modern NBA, the most highly sought-after complementary archetype is the 3-and-D wing – guys who can defend the opposition’s best players, as well as knock down triples on the offensive end. That type of player can thrive in any system or scheme, and the best teams have multiple guys who can fill the all-important role.
Additionally, outside of the 3-and-D wing, many of the Association’s top small forwards also double as primary playmakers, who can not just score, but set up easy chances for their teammates, as well.
Today’s 3-spot is diverse, deep and loaded up top, which made deciding this ranking a difficult exercise. But it had to be done.
Below, we project the 30 best small forwards in the NBA heading into 2018-19.
30. PJ TUCKER, HOUSTON ROCKETS
His raw averages – 6.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest – are meek, but PJ Tucker is one of the top wing defenders the league has to offer, and that’s where almost all of his value comes from. Add the fact he’s become a league-average three-point shooter over the past two years (36.6 percent), and you can understand why he just made the cut on our list.
Tucker’s addition helped transform the Houston Rockets from being a good team to a great one, mostly thanks to his tough-nosed, point-stopping prowess, and due to the departure of Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, he’ll be even more heavily depended on next season to get important stops late in games. We believe he’ll be up to the task.
29. JUSTISE WINSLOW, MIAMI HEAT
His offensive game is far from perfect, but Justise Winslow still has upside as a stout two-way wing with uncanny distribution skills on the offensive end. The fact he’ll be entering merely his age-22 season in 2018-19 doesn’t hurt his case, either.
Last season, Winslow averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest while shooting a career-high 38 percent from three. As long as that outside stroke doesn’t go away, at the very least, Winslow should blossom into a strong 3-and-D type, thanks to his powerful frame, quick feet and the overall competitiveness he possesses on the less glamorous end of the floor.
Winslow’s main issue last year was with his finishing around the rim, where he shot a paltry 54.7 percent – the 13th-worst mark among qualified players. If he can clean that up, which shouldn’t be too difficult considering he’s a plus athlete and has prototypical size for a modern wing, he could be headed for a breakout campaign in 2018-19.
28. MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
After a couple of injury-plagued campaigns, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been able to suit up in 81 games and 74 games in the last two seasons, respectively. And that’s been important for the Charlotte Hornets, as the Carolina-based franchise has been a better team with their defensive-minded wing on the floor.
For his career, Charlotte boasts a +5.3 net rating with Kidd-Gilchrist in the game – one of the better marks on the team – and had it not been for some mitigating circumstances, it’s possible the Hornets could have been a pretty interesting team the last few years. But that’s neither here nor there.
Overall, Kidd-Gilchrist is an elite perimeter defender with some offensive pop as a cutter and put-back machine. He only averaged 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest last season, but he’s still someone you want to have on your side, especially late in games. And the stats back that up.
27. TAUREAN PRINCE, ATLANTA HAWKS
Under previous head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Atlanta Hawks produced various interesting wings, with the most recent one being Taurean Prince. After being drafted in 2016, Prince hasn’t quite put it all together just yet, but 2017-18 was certainly a step in the right direction. The Baylor product averaged 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, on decent 42.6/38.5/84.4 shooting splits.
He still has to get more refined on both ends of the floor, but already you can see the makings of an impactful 3-and-D type. As long as his outside shot continues to improve, his production should only get better and better because his flashes defensively, even just in his first two seasons, have been pretty exciting.
26. DEMARRE CARROLL, BROOKLYN NETS
DeMarre Carroll’s two years with the Toronto Raptors were pretty forgettable, but he bounced back nicely last season in his first campaign with the Brooklyn Nets. The 6-foot-8 wing averaged a career-high 13.5 points per game while chipping in 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 triples nightly, and providing a strong locker-room presence for the young and inexperienced Nets.
With his contract set to expire next summer, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Carroll become a coveted trade target at some point in 2018-19, particularly for a team looking seeking a defensive-minded forward with decent three-point touch.
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