Ranking the Top 5 Small Forwards in the NBA

By Jordan Foote
Oct. 22, 2017

Welcome to the third installment of The Best Foote Forward's "Top 5 in the NBA" series. This week, we'll be ranking the top 5 players at each position in the NBA. I've developed a scoring system for each position that varies based on the importance of each category to the position at hand. Today, we'll be focusing on the small forward position. There is a three-way tie for second place on this list, so if your rankings change from 2-4 that's a completely acceptable argument. The scoring system is explained below (out of 55 points):

Shooting: Out of 10 points. Ability of the player to efficiently shoot the ball from inside and outside the three-point arc.

Inside Scoring: Out of 10 points. Ability of the player to get to the rim and finish with , along with being able to score points under the rim in rebounding situations.

Athleticism: Out of 10 points. Overall athletic ability of the player. Graded based on top-end speed and quickness while handling the ball and vertical ability on jump shots, layups and dunks.

Defense: Out of 10 points. Ability of the player to guard opposing players. Graded based on technique, ability to steal the ball from opponents, overall IQ on defense and defensive real -minus.

Passing: Out of 5 points. Ability of the player to make routine passes, difficult passes and distribute the ball on offense. Graded not solely based on assist numbers, but the ability of the player to find the open man and make his team better. This number is out of 5 for small forwards instead of the 10 used for point guards because these guys aren't called upon to distribute the basketball as much as point guards are.

Rebounding: Out of 5 points. Ability of the player to grab offensive and defensive rebounds.

Durability/Toughness: Out of 5 points. Ability of the player to avoid injuries or play through them.

Understand the system? Good: let's get to the rankings!

5: Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Gordon Hayward finds himself just outside the top 5 - his injury not having any impact on his ranking. Paul George has recovered from a broken leg himself. He suffered his during a Team USA Olympic basketball scrimmage and returned to play six games at the end of the 2014-15 NBA season. He enjoyed his best season last year, scoring 24 points a game and grabbing 6.6 boards a contest as well. George is generally regarded as one of the best two-way players in the NBA. His combination of length, athleticism and defensive ability is very difficult to find in the NBA. George's scoring average may drop a few points in Oklahoma City, but expect him to become a much more efficient and selfless player this year. Here are PG13's ratings on the 55-point scale:

Shooting - 8

Inside Scoring - 9

Athleticism - 9

Defense - 9

Passing - 2

Rebounding - 4

Durability/Toughness - 4

Overall - 45/55

4: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

This kid is insane. Just 22 years old, the Greek Freak is already one of the best players in the NBA. Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 23 points a game on 52 percent shooting from the field and a terrible 27.2 percent clip from behind the arc. I can't think of any wings capable of scoring 23 a game without a three-point shot. Giannis also grabbed nearly 9 boards a contest and showed his ability as a passer with 5 assists per game. Nearly two steals and two blocks a game to boot, and this kid is undoubtedly a "Greek Freak" of nature. Stunning athleticism and an immense ability to get to the rim and finish with makes Antetokounmpo perhaps the most exciting player in the NBA to watch. He's on a tear to start the year; let's hope it continues. Here are the Greek Freak's ratings on the 55-point scale:

Shooting - 6

Inside Scoring - 9

Athleticism - 10

Defense - 8

Passing - 4

Rebounding - 5

Durability/Toughness - 5

Overall - 47/55

3: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

It's not necessary to justify putting the Klaw in the top three, but I'm going to do it anyway. Leonard set career highs in points per game and assists per game when he averaged 25.5 and 3.5 per game, respectively, last season. Leonard did so while converting on 48.5% of his tries from the field an 38% of his tries from deep. Not only is Leonard an elite offensive weapon, but he's regarded by some as the best defensive player in the league, period. I can count on one hand how many players in the league can match Kawhi Leonard's defensive prowess. Kawhi suffered an ankle injury in the playoffs and now has a quad injury that is keeping him from playing for awhile but once he's good to go, expect Kawhi to justify his spot and show the world why he's the Klaw. Leonard's ratings on the 55-point scale are shown below:

Shooting - 9

Inside Scoring - 9

Athleticism - 9

Defense - 10

Passing - 3

Rebounding - 4

Durability/Toughness - 3

Overall - 47/55

2: Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)

For those of you that don't know, I'm not a big fan of Kevin Durant. I kept trying to think of ways to move him down on this list but in reality, there aren't very many. Regardless of his past and regardless of the (amazing) help around him, I can still agree that Kevin Durant is the second best talent in the NBA. The reigning Finals MVP averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game on 54% shooting from the field and 38% from three. It's hard to ignore his greatness. KD is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best defenders in the association as well. His passing and durability are holding him back from truly reaching his potential but regardless, KD is a treat to watch. His ratings on the 55-point scale are below:

Shooting - 9

Inside Scoring - 9

Athleticism - 9

Defense - 9

Passing - 3

Rebounding - 5

Durability - 3

Overall - 47/55

1: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

This one is the most obvious of all rankings. It'll be a sad day for the NBA when LeBron isn't regarded as the best player at his position. The King averaged 26 points a game last season and also grabbed a career-high 8.6 rebounds per game. Oh yeah, he dished out a career-high 8.7 dimes a game, too. Another thing, he shot 55 percent from the field. One more thing: last season was his 14th in the NBA. It's amazing watching this man play. He's still performing at peak shape and is still the best athlete in the league. When the pressure is on, he's also still capable of playing defense. LeBron should play with a chip on his shoulder this season after losing both the Finals and his understudy in Kyrie Irving. If he plays angry, the NBA better look out. Here are the ratings for King James on the 55-point scale:

Shooting - 8

Inside Scoring - 10

Athleticism - 10

Defense - 7

Passing - 5

Rebounding - 5

Durability/Toughness - 5

Overall - 50/55

That's it for the top 5 small forwards in the NBA. This is the most exciting group of players to look at as the top three could very well be the top three players in the NBA, period. It'll be interesting to see how Kawhi Leonard progresses after returning from injury and how Paul George adapts to his new role in Oklahoma City. What will be even more fun to watch is Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James leading their teams to victory each and every night on the court. LeBron is undoubtedly still the King, but Giannis might have something to say about that within the next few seasons.

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