Tuesday, November 29 2022
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When you hear folks in NBA circles talking about wings, they’re usually talking about small forwards. As such, the position has become one of the most coveted in basketball due to the emphasis on versatility on both ends of the floor. Small forwards can generally shoot, put the ball on the deck and defend multiple positions, making them essential to winning in the modern NBA.

That not only makes the position strong at the top, but it also makes it deep. CBS Sports’ NBA writers have ranked the top 22 small forwards for the 2022-23 NBA season, as part of our rollout of the NBA’s Top 100 Players that will be revealed on Tuesday.

The small forward group is one of the most entertaining of any position, with stiff competition from multiple All-NBA level talents throughout the top 10. Once you get to the cream of the crop, it really becomes personal preference because the talent level is so high. Take a stroll through the list below, and let the debate commence.

Few would have predicted Wagner as an All-Rookie First Team selection given the talent in his draft class, but the Magic forward demanded a spot with his impressive all-around play. His strong showing at EuroBasket this summer (which included a 19-point, four-rebound performance in Germany’s upset win over Greece in the quarterfinals) bodes well for this season. Small forward is a deep position, but there’s a real chance his No. 22 ranking will look foolish in a few months. — Jack Maloney

Harris was limited to just 14 games last season due to ankle surgery, and his absence was an often overlooked aspect of the Nets‘ soap opera. He’s fully healthy now, though, and his return will be a massive boost as Brooklyn tries to move forward under this bizarre truce they’ve established. At his best, Harris is an elite outside shooter; in 2020-21, he led the league at 47.5 percent from 3-point land.  — Jack Maloney

We got to see Dort’s elite defensive prowess as a small forward during the 2020 playoffs, and the Thunder have since decided the postseason should take a temporary back seat to draft picks, so he’s been able to experiment with more of a primary offensive role. He isn’t the best shooter, but he plays the numbers game by hoisting nearly eight 3s per night and making two-and-a-half. Obviously, Dort’s main function on the court is defense, but he’s shown some offensive potential over the last couple of seasons that could be beneficial down the road. — Colin Ward-Henninger

The ultimate heat-check guy, Brooks induces as many shudders as cheers with his shot selection, but ultimately he’s a positive for the Grizzlies due to his ability on both ends of the floor. Memphis’ net rating was better by 7.3 points per 100 possessions with Brooks on the floor — and that’s what it’s all about, right? There are more efficient small forwards out there, to be sure, but one way or another Brooks tends to get the job done while bringing the requisite swag. — Colin Ward-Henninger

Hayward just has to stay healthy, because when he plays he’s still a productive player. Last season, he was one of just five small forwards to average over 15 points, four rebounds and three assists per game while also shooting over 45 percent from the floor. The issue is that he’s appeared in under 50 games in each of his first two seasons in Charlotte. In a talented East, the Hornets are obviously hoping that trend doesn’t continue. — Michael Kaskey-Blomain

If Herb Jones were a 90s baseball card, he’d have double arrows up in the Beckett price guide. This is everyone’s favorite hidden gem, though he’s not exactly in hiding anymore. It’s Jones’ defense that has everyone buzzing. Per BBall Index, Jones’ matchup difficulty ranked as the toughest among all rookies and fourth-toughest league-wide last season, and he saved more points defensively than any rookie wing since 2009. Jones was also No. 1 in points saved among all defensive wings and No. 7 in the whole league. He’s going to be an All-NBA level defender for years to come, and there’s plenty to suggest he has significant growth in front of him offensively as well. This time next year, Jones could well be a top-10 small forward on lists like this. — Brad Botkin

Barnes is an ideal plus-and-play guy, because you know he’s good to get you around 15 points and five rebounds a night. He doesn’t have the flashiest game in the world, but he’s a consistent scorer and you can put him at either the 3 or the 4 and he’ll do a solid job. His defense hasn’t always been great, but when he’s putting up consistent numbers each season – at an efficient rate too – you can find ways to make life easier for him on the defensive end. — Jasmyn Wimbish

Hunter, in theory, fits the two-way modern wing ideal, but the reality of his game hasn’t quite lived up to Atlanta’s high hopes. In year two, he made big leaps as a self-creator and midrange marksman, but those numbers fell off precipitously over a more trustworthy sample size last year. Atlanta envisioned Hunter becoming something closer to what Mikal Bridges has become in Phoenix, a corner-3-and-D stud with hopefully the ability to take on more creative responsibilities in time. That’s still not out of the question, but Atlanta needs to see more before it commits to a Hunter extension. — Brad Botkin

Despite the Knicks‘ horrendous spacing and his own lack of shooting gravity, Barrett is exceptional at getting to the rim. Last season, he decided on New Year’s Eve that he needed to attack the basket with even more aggression than usual. In 42 games after that, he averaged 7.7 shots in the restricted area, which ranked fourth in the league, and 7.4 free throw attempts per game, which ranked 11th. In addition to averaging 23.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists during that stretch, he served as the Knicks’ wing stopper and logged 37.1 minutes per game. This is an exceedingly difficult job, and, given the circumstances, he thrived, earning himself a four-year, $107 million extension. For that contract to look like a bargain, Barrett will have to either A) improve his finishing, in-between game and free throw shooting enough to be a primary playmaker, or B) improve his 3-point shooting (32 percent in 2021-22, down from 40.1 percent the previous year) enough to be a great secondary playmaker.  — James Herbert

Porter can get as hot as any shooter this side of Steph Curry. Two years ago he cashed 45 percent of his 3s. He doesn’t create much space with a stiff back and an even stiffer handle, but he doesn’t need much at 6-foot-10 with a high release. Coming off two back procedures that all but washed out last season in its entirety, Porter is one of the league’s biggest X-factors. If he’s the shooter he was two years ago and can provide a modicum of defense, Denver will not regret the five-year, potential $207 million max extension it gave Porter almost exactly one year ago. — Brad Botkin

Anunoby has solidified himself as a consummate 3-and-D wing, but the question is whether he can be even more. His scoring has increased every season, and he was in the 79th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations last year. Defensively, his strength and athleticism allow him to effectively guard one through four. What will allow him to climb this list is a continued progression as a playmaker and off-the-dribble scorer — areas where he’s shown ability but has yet to demonstrate consistency. — Colin Ward-Henninger

There aren’t enough Paul George-sized stars in the NBA for every team to have one. If you don’t, then the next best thing is somebody who can credibly guard those guys and complement stars on the offensive end. This is the appeal of Bridges, who also chases Stephen Curry around the court as well as anybody in the NBA. And if you catch him on the right night, like Game 5 of the Suns‘ first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, in which he scored 31 points in 47 minutes with Devin Booker sidelined, you might find yourself wondering if he has some star potential himself.  — James Herbert

With his performance in the Finals, Wiggins would probably argue that he deserves to be higher on this list of small forwards. The first-time All-Star put up an incredibly efficient year with the Warriors, knocking down a career-high 39 percent of his 3-pointers and thriving in catch-and-shoot situations. The biggest step forward, however, came on defense, where Steve Kerr relied on him to guard the other team’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis. Wiggins’ two-way ability was crucial to every step of the Warriors’ title run, and the former No. 1 overall pick appears to have finally hit his stride as an NBA player. — Colin Ward-Henninger

Coming into a Toronto team with this many options and putting up legit numbers as a rookie is no easy task, but that’s exactly what Barnes did as one of five Raptors to average at least 15 points. Throw in seven rebounds, three assists and a steal per game. He nearly shot 50 percent from the field and he’s not a guy for whom the Raptors call a lot of plays. He just knows how to play, knows how and when to attack. Next step for Barnes: Raise the 30-percent 3-point clip and get to the free throw line more than 2.9 times per game. — Brad Botkin

During All-Star weekend last year, Luka Doncic joked with DeRozan and asked him how many times he missed a mid-range shot, with the Mavericks star suggesting he’s never missed one. While that’s not exactly true, it’s not wildly ridiculous to assume. DeRozan can bring the ball up the floor five times in a row, pull up from 12 feet out and make all five. That’s just how deadly his mid-range game is. But while he may get the most attention for that area of his game, he also shot 64.2 percent in the restricted area last season, and though he averaged just under two 3-point attempts a game, he still made them at a 35 percent clip. — Jasmyn Wimbish

Ingram was one of just 11 players — all elite guys — to average 22 points, five rebounds and five assists last season. Last season he swapped out some of his 3s for more mid-range jumpers, many of them pretty heavily contested, and his efficiency dipped from the previous campaign when he shot 38 percent from deep on higher volume, but the playmaking leap Ingram made positions him as a more well-rounded threat. Each of his three years in New Orleans Ingram has sharpened his facilitation instincts, culminating in a 97th percentile 28.6 assist percentage last season, per Cleaning the Glass. — Brad Botkin

Middleton checking in at No. 6 on the small forward list says more about the depth of that position than his abilities. One of only nine players to have averaged 20/5/5 in each of the last two seasons, Middleton is extremely reliable and consistent. In a strange way, his knee injury in the playoffs last season, which kept him out of the Bucks‘ second-round loss to the Celtics, may have been what finally convinced everyone of his importance.  — Jack Maloney

Brown’s Twitter handle, “FCHWPO,” stands for faith, consistency, hard work pays off; following that mantra has helped Brown grow from a surprise selection at No. 3 in the 2017 NBA Draft into an elite wing. Last season he was one of just seven players to record a 40-point game in both the regular season and the playoffs, and he finished 13th in the league with 23.6 points per game. — Jack Maloney

Small forward is a loaded position in the NBA, so George checking in at No. 4 is a testament to his two-way prowess. Despite a down year in terms of efficiency last season, George has shown the beauty and versatility of his game throughout his career with the ability to serve as a primary scorer or play off of another star like Kawhi Leonard. Defensively, his length and quickness allow him to effectively guard a variety of perimeter threats, and his 2.2 steals per game last season would have led the league had he played enough games to qualify. — Colin Ward-Henninger

Butler ranks below Leonard and Tatum among small-forwards, and my individual rankings reflect that same hierarchy, but depending on what day you catch me I could easily be persuaded to move Butler to the top, or at least above Tatum. There probably aren’t 10 players I’d rather have come playoff time. Butler is a true two-way superstar. His pace is impervious to influence. He goes where he wants, when he wants, arriving not a single second sooner than he desires. His footwork and pump fakes send him to the free-throw line at a rate that eclipses prime James Harden. He can play as a pass-first orchestrator or a single-minded scorer. If there’s any reasonable gripe about Butler, it’s that he sometimes doesn’t unlock the latter mindset as willingly as you’d like. — Brad Botkin

Coming off a career season in which he made his first All-NBA First Team appearance and led the Celtics to the Finals for the first time in over a decade, Tatum has firmly established himself as one of the league’s best players. The perfect modern wing, he can score at all three levels, has improved as a playmaker (though he still has room to grow there) and is a high-level defender both on and off the ball.  — Jack Maloney

Should Leonard still be considered number one? If so, it’s not because the field is weak. Jayson Tatum earned an All-NBA First Team nod by making the same kind of playmaking leap that Leonard did in recent seasons. Jimmy Butler added to his list of legendary playoff performances. Leonard, meanwhile, is coming off a torn ACL in his right knee, years after an injury to his right quadriceps ended a dynasty and introduced “load management” into the lexicon. It is fair to say he needs to show he’s still in the best-player-in-the-world discussion and prove that he can stay on the floor. More than any of his challengers, though, Peak Leonard embodies what today’s teams want in a superstar on the wing. He has the size and strength of yesterday’s power forward, but can bring the ball up, create offense out of thin air and defend virtually anybody. In the playoffs, when matchups are everything and weaknesses matter more than strengths, Leonard is a matchup nightmare with no significant weaknesses.  — James Herbert

Source: CBSSports.com

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