Thursday, December 2 2021

We arrive at perhaps the most loaded position the NBA has to offer: small forward.

Prior to this week, we already discussed the Top 22 point guards and Top 22 shooting guards in the Association. Now, it’s time to talk about the wings.

Top-tier modern NBA wings are expected to be experts in every field, including scoring, rebounding, creating and defending, and those that struggle in any one of those facets are quickly surpassed by the wings who can do it all.

For this exercise, we had each of our writers and editors put together their own lists of top small forwards and aggregated out the averages to rank the players.

For the record, some of the players we ranked below could have easily been considered point guards, shooting guards or even power forwards, which goes to show just how versatile modern wings are, but, as we’ll discuss below, we had specific reasons for choosing each player on this list as a small forward.

Oh, and one last thing: We didn’t rank Kawhi Leonard for this exercise due to the uncertainty regarding his return from injury. With some expecting him to miss all of 2021-22, it became too difficult to project him for our rankings.

Now, with all that said, let’s jump in.

Just missed the cut: Harrison Barnes, Joe Harris, Jae Crowder, Kyle Anderson, Lu Dort

Bojan Bogdanovic (Utah)

2020-21 stats: 17.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 2.5 3PTM, 39.0 3PT% After an explosive start in his first campaign with the Utah Jazz where he put up a 20.2/4.1/2.1 stat line and shot 41.4 percent from three, Bojan Bogdanovic’s numbers took a bit of a dip in 2020-21 as he put up marks resembling more closely his career averages. Still, 17.0 points per game and 39.0 percent three-point shooting on a team with as much scoring talent as the Jazz is nothing to scoff at, and Bogdanovic, to his credit, still ranked as a “very good” offensive player, per Synergy Sports, last season, ranking in the 71st percentile as a scorer, according to the site. Even so, Utah would undoubtedly prefer Bogdanovic regain his 2019-20 form when the Jazz were +8.0 points per 100 possessions better with the Croatian swingman on the floor. That number dipped to a somewhat concerning -0.9 points per 100 possessions last season, which could explain why Bogdanovic’s name popped up in trade rumors over the summer. The 32-year-old has two years and over $38 million left on his contract and will be among the 60 highest-paid players in 2021-22. For the latest Bojan Bogdanovic rumors, click here.

Joe Ingles (Utah)

2020-21 stats: 12.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.7 3PTM, 45.1 3PT% Our second Jazz swingman in a row, Joe Ingles in his age-33 campaign last year put up the best campaign of his NBA career according to both Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48), ranking 28th league-wide in the former metric (+3.4) and 22nd in the latter (0.180). That’s among all players, not just small forwards, showing how impactful Ingles was on both ends of the floor in 2020-21 as a member of the Jazz. What’s more, since 2016-17, among players with at least 1,000 triples attempted, Ingles ranks fourth in three-point accuracy at 42.3 percent. He’s not merely a spot-up three-point shooter, either, as Ingles has the ball-handling ability and craftiness to get to the cup out of the pick-and-roll, and the court vision to create for others, a fact that is proven by the Australian forward ranking in the NBA’s 82nd percentile out of the pick-and-roll last season (with passes included), according to Synergy Sports. Even after all these years, Ingles remains underrated, perhaps even by our own voting committee here. Ingles may not be a 20-point-per-game guy, but his shooting, playmaking and defending make him a standout player on the wing for Utah, which has been the case for nearly half a decade now. For the latest Joe Ingles rumors, click here.

TJ Warren (Indiana)

2020-21 stats (four games): 15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.5 spg, 52.9 FG% After a brilliant finish to his 2019-20 season when he dominated the Orlando bubble through confident good-old-fashioned midrange bucket-getting, TJ Warren’s 2020-21 season was cut to just four games before the Indiana Pacers wing had campaign-ending surgery for a stress fracture on his left foot. It was unfortunate for both the player and the team, and it was followed up by a whole lot of drama surrounding Warren’s name, as after going down due to the injury, Warren was the focus of various trade rumors over the six months that followed. Those appear to have gone away now that first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren was let go, but the past eight months have been mostly turbulent for the almost-28-year-old. Nonetheless, now healthy and playing for a Rick Carlisle-led team, we believe Warren will bounce back nicely this season, especially if he’s able to carry over some of that that Orlando bubble form. Warren’s effectiveness as a midrange and beyond-the-arc scorer, and the Pacers’ need for wing scoring, indicate a resurgent campaign for the former NC State standout. For the latest TJ Warren rumors, click here.

Evan Fournier (New York)

2020-21 stats: 17.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 41.3 3PT% A jack-of-all-trades but master of none, Evan Fournier is a decent scorer, shooter, rebounder and playmaker but doesn’t quite excel in any one facet at an elite level. Still, Fournier’s ability to get buckets on the perimeter – his pull-up jumper is particularly effective – and his much-improved three-point shooting (over the last two seasons, the French wing is hitting 40.4 percent of his threes, up from 37.1 percent over his first seven campaigns) make him a very impactful offensive player. And as a third or fourth option, which is what could slot into being with the New York Knicks this season behind Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Kemba Walker, he’s especially potent. For the latest Evan Fournier rumors, click here.

De’Andre Hunter (Atlanta)

2020-21 stats: 15.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 3PTM, 48.4 FG% An impactful player on both ends, injury problems have hampered De’Andre Hunter’s ability to truly break out to this point after the Atlanta Hawks made him the No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft. Nevertheless, we ranked him this highly because, from the glimpses we have seen, Hunter has all the makings of a stud two-way wing, one capable of scoring from beyond the arc or near the basket and one who can defend multiple positions on the less glamorous end of the floor. Also giving us hope about Hunter’s future as soon as 2021-22 is the fact that when he has suited up for Atlanta, the Hawks have always been a better team during his time on the floor. As a rookie, Atlanta was 4.7 points per 100 possessions better with Hunter in the game. As a sophomore, that number was +4.2 points per 100 possessions. And most excitingly of all, during his first taste of NBA playoff action, the Hawks were 17.6 points per 100 possessions (not a typo) more effective with Hunter on the floor over five games. Of course, the knock there is that the reason Hunter’s 2020-21 playoff run was merely five games long was that he suffered yet another injury, that time to his meniscus, that forced him to miss most of Atlanta’s improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Regardless, as long as he can stay healthy, we’re confident Year-3 will be the most impressive of Hunter’s career, as the flashes he’s shown so far in the NBA have been nothing short of exciting. For the latest De’Andre Hunter rumors, click here.

OG Anunoby (Toronto)

2020-21 stats: 15.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 spg, 39.8 3PT% A player whose career has been on an upward trajectory over the past couple of seasons, Toronto Raptors swingman OG Anunoby had his best year as a pro in 2020-21, putting up career marks in just about everything, including points, rebounds, assists, steals and three-point accuracy. After coming in as an athletic player with great length but lacking in terms of development, Anunoby has developed to the point that last season, Synergy Sports ranked him in the NBA’s 75th percentile as an offensive player, when he produced 1.061 points per possession (PPP) as a scorer. That’s a huge improvement from where Anunoby – an adept three-point shooter and an elite multi-positional defender – used to be, and although he still has steps to take to become a 20-point-per-game scorer or a more capable playmaker, the fact that the former Indiana Hoosier is still just 24 years old tells us he’s still got a higher ceiling to reach. And if he continues to approach that ceiling in 2021-22, Anunoby’s fifth NBA season could – and should – very well be his best as a pro. For the latest OG Anunoby rumors, click here.

Andrew Wiggins (Golden State)

2020-21 stats: 18.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 38.0 3PT% Tasked with less offensive duties than he’s had any year outside of one with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins posted one of the most efficient seasons of his career in 2020-21 with the best true shooting percentage of his time in the NBA (56.8 percent) by a wide margin. Not so coincidentally, Wiggins’ career year in scoring efficiency came in the same campaign that he had the second-lowest usage rate as an NBA player (23.3 percent), proving the many who believed the Canadian swingman would be more effective with a smaller role on offense correct. That lesser offensive role allowed Wiggins to pick his spots and attack when sensed advantages, something he did quite well last season. That’s proven by Synergy Sports, who ranked him in the 79th percentile as an isolation scorer in 2020-21 and the 65th percentile as an off-ball cutter. Wiggins also improved his playmaking last campaign, as he ranked in the 78th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler with passes included, producing 1.066 PPP on those opportunities. That’s a far cry from the 0.92 PPP (47th percentile) he produced out of the pick-and-roll with passes included in his final year in Minnesota. In all, now able to focus more of his energy on the defensive end where he flashes game-changing abilities at times, and pick his spots on offense as a member of the Golden State Warriors, Wiggins appears to have reached a higher level among the NBA’s top swingmen. For the latest Andrew Wiggins rumors, click here.

Norman Powell (Portland)

2020-21 stats: 18.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 41.1 3PT% Norman Powell’s numbers took a slight dip after his midseason trade from Toronto to the Portland Trail Blazers, but that was understandable considering he had to adjust to a brand-new role with a team that featured various high-usage scoring options. In 2021-22, we should see more of the Powell who established himself as one of the better small forwards in basketball as a member of the Raptors, one with a ton of vertical bounce, speed in transition and spot-up shooting prowess. Over his final two-and-a-half seasons with Toronto, Powell became an extremely reliable three-point shooter, hitting 41.4 percent of his threes in that span, making the 36.1 three-point percentage he posted in his half-season with the Blazers look like an outlier more than anything else. Powell may lack in size for the position (though he makes up for that some with impressive length), which is a bit of a problem for a Portland team that has a small backcourt, but based purely on his strengths, his fit with the Blazers is a strong one, so we project 2021-22 to be another strong season for the former Raptor. For the latest Norman Powell rumors, click here.

Mikal Bridges (Phoenix)

2020-21 stats: 13.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 42.5 3PT% One of the league’s premier defensive wing specialists with borderline elite three-point shooting prowess, the Phoenix Suns have done a fantastic job helping Mikal Bridges develop since acquiring him on draft night back in 2018, and it doesn’t look like the former Villanova standout is anywhere done improving quite yet. Bridges possesses prototypical size and length for the modern NBA small forward, along with the foot quickness and basketball intelligence to be able to defend multiple positions as well as the shooting touch to knock down shots with his feet set, and even off of one or two dribbles. Bridges was so impressive in his third NBA campaign that Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) had him as the No. 21 player in the league in 2020-21 while he sat 35th in BPM and 33rd in WS/48 overall. What’s more, Bridges was one of just two players last season with at least 70 steals, 60 blocks and 130 three-pointers on the campaign, joined on the list by another extremely impactful wing defender in Robert Covington. He likely won’t explode into a 20-point-per-game guy in 2021-22, but we expect another jump out of Bridges next season, an exciting proposition for Suns fans but worrisome for their rivals in the Western Conference. For the latest Mikal Bridges rumors, click here.

Jerami Grant (Detroit)

2020-21 stats: 22.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.1 bpg, 35.0 3PT% Jerami Grant’s move from the Denver Nuggets to the Detroit Pistons was at least partly influenced by his want to move one spot down the positional scale and play small forward full time as opposed to power forward. And that decision paid off for Grant in a major way, as the swingman posted the best season of his career in 2020-21, performing impressively enough to earn a spot on Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics and finishing second in Most Improved Player voting, an award he might have won had he not missed a lot of games late in the campaign and had Julius Randle not gone supernova. Still, it was a very impressive campaign for Grant, who set career marks almost all across the board, including in points, assists and three-pointers, though not one without blemishes. Grant did just shoot 42.9 percent from the floor overall and had 109 turnovers to merely 152 assists, though that was to be expected for a player whose usage rate leapt from a career 16.1 percent to 28.5 percent in 2020-21 and was playing small forward full-time for the first time in his career. With another offseason of development as a swingman, Grant should improve in the efficiency department next season, something that could be huge for the former Syracuse Orangeman who’s already so versatile on both ends of the floor. For the latest Jerami Grant rumors, click here.

Gordon Hayward (Charlotte)

2020-21 stats: 19.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.2 spg, 41.5 3PT% A top-notch three-level scorer, as well as a great rebounder and playmaker for his position, Gordon Hayward does a bit of everything on the basketball court at high levels, including knock down shots from beyond the arc. Hayward would likely rank far higher on this list if injuries didn’t hold him to just 44 appearances in 2020-21 and to miss the final two months of the campaign. If we were more certain about his guaranteed availability for the entirety of next season, Hayward probably would have snuck into the Top 10 of this ranking, he was that effective in his first campaign with the Charlotte Hornets. With Hayward on the floor in 2020-21, Charlotte was 4.2 points per 100 possessions better than without him. Meanwhile, Synergy Sports rated the Butler University legend as a very good scorer in transition, as a spot-up shooter and off of dribble hand-offs, showing how well-rounded Hayward’s offensive game is at this point in his career. Injuries will remain a concern with Hayward likely for the rest of his career after the devastating leg fracture he suffered back in 2017, which is probably why Charlotte went out and signed Kelly Oubre Jr. this offseason as insurance, but when he is available, Hayward remains one of the best swingmen the NBA has to offer. For the latest Gordon Hayward rumors, click here.

DeMar DeRozan (Chicago)

Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozanNikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan

Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan

2020-21 stats: 21.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6.9 apg, 0.9 spg, 49.5 FG% For the majority of his career, DeMar DeRozan was one of the best shooting guards in basketball. Now in his early 30s, however, the veteran ball-handler has mostly played either small forward or power forward over the past three seasons, which is why we listed him with the swingmen for our exercise. DeRozan quietly posted one of the best seasons of his career in 2020-21, at least if analytics are to be believed; both BPM (+3.2) and WS/48 (0.172) actually had 2020-21 as the top campaign of DeRozan’s four-time All-Star, one-time 2nd Team All-NBA career, and even VORP had him as the 25th most-impactful player last year. That’s pretty eyebrow-raising. Maybe that’s why the Chicago Bulls were so eager to acquire DeRozan this offseason when it didn’t seem like the 32-year-old had a huge market remaining. Regardless, even in spite of his lack of three-point shooting, DeRozan’s game is actually aging quite well. His craftiness in the midrange and high-post area helps a great deal with that, as DeRozan is no longer so dependant on his formerly elite athleticism. Now with a far more talented supporting cast in Chicago than he had in his last few seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, DeRozan might see his production take a slight dip in 2021-22, but we’re still confident he’ll see enough of the ball to post another impressive campaign next year. For the latest DeMar DeRozan rumors, click here.

Michael Porter Jr. (Denver)

2020-21 stats: 19.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 2.8 3PTM, 44.5 3PT% If we were to put together a ranking of non-All-Star players likeliest to make huge jumps in 2021-22, Michael Porter Jr. would undoubtedly finish near the top of the list, as the third-year forward has tons of untapped potential that he’s only just starting to tap. At 6-foot-10 with a decently wide frame, good quickness and ball-handling abilities unbecoming of a player with his size, Porter Jr.’s game is somewhat reminiscent of a player coming up later on our list in that he can smoothly drop in buckets from all over the floor despite being taller than most other wings. Porter Jr. still has plenty to work on, however, as the Missouri product tends to get tunnel vision with the ball in his hands, often completely shunning any sort of playmaking responsibility. Among players with at least 1,900 minutes in 2020-21, Porter Jr.’ 70 total assists were the second-fewest, trailing just Brook Lopez, a center. Of course, that could partly be just a product of the Denver Nuggets’ system, where reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is the table-setter and the rest of the team is tasked with finishing plays, but there’s no doubt Porter Jr.’s vision is something he needs to work on. Even so, there’s a ton of promise with the 23-year-old small forward, and considering he already made the jump from averaging fewer than 10 points as a rookie to nearly putting up 20 per night as a sophomore, we fully expect to see another leap from Porter Jr next season. For the latest Michael Porter Jr. rumors, click here.

Brandon Ingram (New Orleans)

2020-21 stats: 23.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.3 3PTM, 38.1 3PT% Few players were seemingly as affected by the lack of a true offseason last year than Brandon Ingram, as after showing clear upward progression over the first four campaigns of his career, Ingram stagnated mightily in 2020-21, putting up the exact same number of points nightly as the year prior while averaging fewer rebounds and seeing his true shooting percentage drop just a bit, from 58.7 percent to 58.4 percent. Luckily for the New Orleans Pelicans, even if Ingram is done developing (unlikely considering he’s still somehow just 24 years old), he’s already turned into one of the better small forwards in the league, capable of scoring at a high level while distributing and rebounding solidly enough for his position. Ingram has even turned into a reliable three-point shooter, with his feet set or off the bounce, nailing 38.6 percent of his threes over the past two seasons on over six attempts from deep nightly. You’d still like to see improved defensive impact out of Ingram considering his size and length, as well as a higher free throw rate (he shoots 86-plus percent from the foul line when he does get there), but overall, there’s no doubt Ingram is on the cusp of being one of the league’s best 3-men. For the latest Brandon Ingram rumors, click here.

Jaylen Brown (Boston)

2020-21 stats: 24.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.8 3PTM, 39.7 3PT% It speaks to the absurd depth among the NBA’s elite swingmen that a player as talented as Jaylen Brown, who continues to defy odds and show major improvement every single year, and who is coming off his first All-Star campaign, can finish eighth on the list. But that’s just how ridiculously talented and productive the players who finished ahead of him were. 2020-21 was without a doubt the best season of Brown’s career. He put up nearly 25 points per game after never having averaged more than 20.3 before. He shot a career-best 39.7 percent from the three-point line. He absolutely smashed previous career marks in BPM and VORP. And he did all of that while remaining one of the most impactful wing defenders in basketball. Synergy Sports ranked Brown as an “excellent” scorer both as a spot-up shooter and as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, proving how well-rounded of a scorer he’s become after entering the NBA very raw in that respect, and as a “very good” scorer overall, ranking in the league’s 69th percentile. If we see yet another leap out of Brown in 2021-22 like in seasons prior, there’s a chance he could make this ranking look way too conservative. But even if he remains what he was last campaign, he’ll still be one of the best swingmen in the world. For the latest Jaylen Brown rumors, click here.

Khris Middleton (Milwaukee)

2020-21 stats: 20.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.2 3PTM, 41.4 3PT% After years of questions regarding whether or not Khris Middleton was truly good enough to be a championship-level team’s No. 2 option, the naysayers were silenced once and for all in 2020-21 with the Milwaukee Bucks’ impressive title victory. Middleton was spectacular in the postseason, putting up a 23.6/7.6/5.1 stat line to go with 1.5 steals and 2.6 three-pointers. Consistently, Middleton was able to come up big in vital situations for the Bucks all postseason long, often stepping up to the challenge of scoring important baskets late in games when Milwaukee needed them most. Middleton’s smooth midrange jumper has truly become one of the tidiest in basketball, even off the dribble, and he’s even more effective with his feet set from beyond the arc. Overall, Middleton’s game, predicated on silky jumpers setting up attacks to the rim coupled with high-level perimeter defense, fills a crucial modern archetype, and without him, it’s tough to envision the Bucks becoming the contenders they’ve been for the last few seasons. For the latest Khris Middleton rumors, click here.

Jimmy Butler (Miami)

2020-21 stats: 21.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 7.1 apg, 2.1 spg, 49.7 FG% Since joining the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler’s outside jump shot has all but abandoned him. Over the past two seasons, Butler is sinking just a paltry 24.4 percent of his outside jumpers. That’s the worst percentage for any player with at least 200 three-point attempts in that stretch. That’s what makes the rest of Butler’s game so impressive, as the five-time All-Star and four-time All-NBAer still ranked among the league’s best players last season even without much of a perimeter jump shot to speak of. In VORP, Butler ranked sixth among all players last season despite missing 20 games on the year. Considering VORP is a cumulative stat, that makes that feat even more impressive by Butler. In BPM, Butler sat fourth overall, trailing just Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league MVP Jokic and Stephen Curry. And in WS/48, the Heat swingman ranked third among all players. So the idea that Butler was a poor selection for 3rd Team All-NBA in 2020-21 is downright laughable based on the statistics, even if his showing in last year’s playoffs was far from impressive. The main reasons why Butler is such an analytics darling despite his lack of a three-point shot are twofold. For starters, he got to the foul line a whole lot (his 56.5 percent free throw rate was fifth-best among all players) and once there, he was quite accurate. Butler sank a pristine 86.3 percent of his free throws in 2020-21. The other reason behind Butler’s great analytics is his defensive impact, as he led the league in nightly steals (2.1) and had a 3.1 percent steal rate, the third-highest mark in the NBA. All in all, Butler might not be the perfect player, his lack of an outside jump shot reflects that, and he might not be someone who can always be counted on in a final-shot situation, but he’s undoubtedly one of the league’s most impactful players, providing huge production on both ends of the floor on a nightly basis. For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.

Paul George (LA Clippers)

2020-21 stats: 23.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 5.2 apg, 3.2 3PTM, 41.1 3PT% Among the players who did the most to flip the narratives surrounding them in a positive direction last season was Paul George, who helped carry the Los Angeles Clippers to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, doing so in part of that impressive playoff run without Leonard, who was out with injury. George was monstrous over the Clippers’ 19-game postseason, posting a 26.9/9.6/5.4 stat line while shooting 84.4 percent from the foul stripe on over eight attempts per game. George deservedly received All-NBA honors, making the 3rd Team along with Butler, the fellow small forward who he just outranked on this list. Speaking of Butler, when discussing the best two-way players in basketball, near the top of the list are both the Heat swingman and the Clippers’ small forward, we just went with George for our exercise because we expect a huge 2021-22 out of him with Leonard set to miss most – if not all – of the campaign. You’re really splitting hairs when choosing between George and Butler, as both excel at an elite level on both ends of the floor, but we went with George as the first player to crack the Top 5 of our ranking. For the latest Paul George rumors, click here.

Jayson Tatum (Boston)

2020-21 stats: 26.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.9 3PTM, 38.6 3PT% An All-Star in 2020-21 as well as an Olympic gold medalist, Jayson Tatum has shown nothing but an upward trajectory since reaching the NBA in 2017-18, without sign of slowing down yet. And memes aside, considering he remains only 23 years old, he likely isn’t done improving. The next facet of his game Tatum has to work on is his foul-drawing prowess, as Tatum’s free-throw rate (25.8 percent, No. 94 in the NBA last season, one spot behind Marc Gasol) pales in comparison to some of the league’s other top scorers. It’s not an exaggeration to say if Tatum learns how to get to the line more often, where’s he’s a career 84.0 percent foul shooter, he could up his scoring average to the low 30s – he’s that talented of a bucket-getter overall. Tatum could also stand to attack the basket more often, as just 19.7 percent of his shot attempts last season came from within three feet of the basket, the lowest rate of his career by a wide margin. For comparison’s sake, Butler attempted 32.7 percent of his field goal from that same range. Tatum certainly possesses the ball-handling, strength and athleticism to be an effective basket-attacker, it’s just a matter of doing it more often next season and relying a bit less on difficult midrange jumpers, an area the former Duke standout does excel in, but not a part of the floor elite players should be spending so much time in. Still, we fully expect to see further improvement from Tatum in 2021-22, which is why he’s ranked as high as he is in our exercise. He’s already grown so much as a player throughout the years, and still just 23, we think that will continue next campaign. For the latest Jayson Tatum rumors, click here.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

2020-21 stats: 25.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 51.3 FG% Perhaps our most controversial ranking on this list, LeBron James checks in at third place of our Top 22 small forwards for 2021-22. For starters, we have to explain why we went with the four-time league MVP as a small forward when he’s mostly been running point since joining the Los Angeles Lakers. The reason for that was because naturally, James has always been a wing and that hasn’t changed since his arrival to Los Angeles. He makes plays for others, he scores, he rebounds and, most importantly for our purposes, he usually defends opposing wings or smaller power forwards. For those reasons, we went with James at the 3. Now, to explain why he ranked third overall behind the two players just below. James is still one of the best players in the world, and he very well might have been heading to his fifth MVP had he stayed healthy last season. The problem is now, that he’s nearly 37 years old, James has had trouble staying healthy over the past few seasons, something that might not change in 2021-22 considering the absurd mileage on his body. What’s more, according to the advanced analytics, despite James’ fantastic raw averages, 2020-21 was actually one of the weaker campaigns of his career. According to BPM, last season was the third-least impactful of James’ career. According to VORP, it was the second-least impactful. And according to WS/48, it was also the second-least impactful. The fact that James still ranked among the NBA’s Top 23 players in the league last year in each of those metrics, including in the Top 5 in BPM, speaks to his greatness. But we are starting to see some slight signs of decline from arguably the greatest player of all time. James will almost certainly be able to fight off Father Time for another few seasons, if not longer ala Tom Brady, and we still consider him one of the best players in basketball. But even if he has a similar 2021-22 to last season, we still think these next two guys will have a better campaign than him, health-provided. For the latest LeBron James rumors, click here.

Luka Doncic (Dallas)

2020-21 stats: 27.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 8.6 apg, 2.9 3PTM, 47.9 FG% Another player who we possibly could have listed as a point guard (and he probably makes a stronger case for that distinction than James), we went with Luka Doncic as a small forward due to him spending most of his time on the floor defending wings than opposing point guards. If you want to passionately debate Doncic is a point guard and we’re wrong, we won’t argue with you. Either way, for our exercise, we went with the 6-foot-7 (prototypical small forward size, by the way) ball-handler as swingman. Anyway, Doncic slots it at No. 2 in our ranking of best small forwards for next season, and it’s to see why. The Slovenian has become an unquestioned NBA superstar in just three seasons, earning 1st Team All-NBA distinction in each of the last two campaigns and finished sixth in MVP voting in 2020-21. And if he continues to improve at the rate he has since joining the Dallas Mavericks, there could very well be an MVP award in his future, perhaps as soon as next season. Early gambling odds at some sites have tabbed Doncic the early favorite for the prestigious award in 2021-22, and with a full offseason to develop and perfect his body (his biggest flaw right now), he could very well make that prediction a reality next season. That would also probably require some improvement from Dallas as a team, too, but it wouldn’t be shocking whatsoever to see the Mavericks blossom into a Top 4 seed in the West in 2021-22, Doncic is that talented and able to elevate his teammates. Doncic ranked fourth in VORP in 2020-21, eighth in BPM and ninth in Player Efficiency Rating. Most of the advanced metrics are telling us the 22-year-old is right on the cusp of being perhaps the best player in basketball. It’ll be fascinating to find out whether that can happen as soon as next season, but, as you can probably tell by our ranking for Doncic, we think it’s certainly possible. For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

2020-21 stats: 26.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.3 bpg, 53.7 FG% What’s left to be said about Kevin Durant that hasn’t been said at length. As a scorer, he’s borderline flawless. Among players with over 150 three-pointers and 300 field-goal attempts last season, Durant had the third-highest true shooting percentage at 66.6 percent, trailing just Ingles and Bridges, a couple of players already covered on this list who aren’t near the volume scorers that Durant is. Synergy Sports ranked him as an “excellent” scorer last season, his first back after a devastating Achilles injury, sitting in the 91st percentile thanks to his 1.143 PPP on scoring opportunities. That was the eighth-best mark in the league among players with at least 800 scoring possessions in 2020-21. And we all saw what he did in the playoffs, where, for long stretches, Durant looked like the best player in the world. The former league MVP put up a ridiculous 34.3/9.3/4.4 stat line in the postseason, nearly leading the Brooklyn Nets to the Eastern Conference Finals even without Kyrie Irving and with James Harden performing as a shell of its former self. It took Durant’s toe being on the three-point line very late in Game 7 for the Bucks to advance, and they were the eventual champions. Who knows what Durant would have done against the likes of Phoenix and Atlanta. Durant even followed that up with an Olympic performance for the ages, leading Team USA to a gold medal despite the roster lacking various major names and despite the Americans getting the best shots from a lot of very talented, experienced international foes. All in all, we expect more of the same from Durant in 2021-22, and if he’s able to stay healthy and miss less time than he did last season (he will still receive a good amount of load management in the regular season, there’s no doubt about that, it’s just about how many games he has to sit), we could be looking at an MVP front runner for next campaign. Either way, over the past year, Durant has proven he’s back to being the same ole’ Kevin Durant, even after the Achilles injury, and that’s why we have him projected to be the best small forward of 2021-22. For the latest Kevin Durant rumors, click here.

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Source: Yahoo Sports

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