Small forwards have taken over the league by storm. The best players in the league now play the four positions, and this trend does not look like changing anytime soon. The small forward position can be very dominant, thanks to the size of the players who are assigned that position. They are strong, quick, and usually stout defenders to maximize their values to their respective teams.
With so many great small forwards in the game today, it will be difficult to classify them into tiers. But this must be done to distinguish which of the forwards separate themselves from one another, and ultimately who reigns on top of them all.
Here are all the NBA’s starting small forwards, ranked by their respective tiers.
Average Starters: De’Andre Hunter, Dwayne Bacon, Otto Porter, Cedi Osman, Tim Hardaway Jr, Tony Snell, Danuel House, T.J. Warren, Andre Roberson, Kelly Oubre Jr, OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
Most forwards in the league have a few specific skills that their teams need them to focus on to help their teams win games.
For Miles, Bacon, Osman, Hardaway Jr, Snell, and House, this skill is their perimeter shooting. They must be able to make shots at a respectable level in order for their impact to be recognized.
For Otto Porter and T.J. Warren, they must be able to defend and push the break respectively. Porter is still yet to become a very effective two-way player in the league despite signing a massive contract with Washington. Warren is a player who thrives on the break and is a decent shooter.
Roberson is in the NBA only due to his defense, which is elite, and nothing else. Oubre Jr. has the tools to become an all-around forward and potentially a star. He must strive to improve his game in order to realize his potential, or risk remaining an average starter.
De’Andre Hunter will be starting his rookie season and had a lot of promise. He will likely be given many chances to play heavy minutes and gain the experience he needs to make an impact in the NBA.
Quality Starters: Will Barton, Jae Crowder, Brandon Ingram, Marcus Morris, Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Rodney Hood, Harrison Barnes, Rudy Gay, Bojan Bogdanovic
Tier 4 players are quality starters who can be relied upon to play big minutes every night. These forwards can play on both ends of the floor or are simply effective scorers in a variety of ways.
Barton is a spark plug player who gives his team energy, scoring, and some nice defense. Crowder has lost his shine but is still a very good defender who can still hit three-point shots at a decent rate.
Brandon Ingram has All-Star-potential and will be given the opportunity he needs to become a main scoring option with the Pelicans. He has excellent scoring and playmaking skills and will look to move up in tier as the season progresses.
Marcus Morris is a tough defender and clutch performer who is a guy that every GM wants. He can score at a decent clip and plays well within a team’s gameplan. The Spurs will surely wish he never opted for the Knicks instead of them.
Gordon and Wiggins have All-Stat potential, yet have been unable to convince the world that they have arrived yet. Gordon is still finding his jump shot, while Wiggins is still developing his maturity level. Both guys should be All-Stars soon, and that is the expectation on their shoulders.
Hood, Barnes, and Gay are above-average scorers who can do it from the inside and outside. Barnes and Gay can also play the four position, while Hood can shift to two-guard. Their versatility and ability to score makes them quite valuable to their teams.
Bogdanovic, besides Conley, was a major addition to the Jazz this season. He plays on both ends, with excellent shooting and tough defense, and also is a clutch performer. It will be interesting to see him play alongside Conley and Mitchell.
All-Star Caliber: Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward
Tier 3 small forwards are of All-Star quality and are one of the main options on their teams.
Khris Middleton is the best two-way player on the Bucks other than Giannis. He was given a major contract due to his ability to hit three-point shots at a very high level, and also defend the opposing team’s best players. Alongside Giannis, he is the perfect type of tier 3 forward.
Gordon Hayward has yet to recover his All-Star form, but this could be the season he finally does. He needed some time to adjust and gather his confidence back, as he is a very effective swingman. He can pass, score, and use his body to defend opponents well. Hayward, when healthy, can be a legitimate second option for a championship team.
Tobias Harris will have expectations for the first time in his career. He will be tasked with being the main perimeter scorer on the Sixers, and also taking big shots when Embiid is well-covered. Harris must replicate his past season and aim to average over 20 points a game to catapult his team to the NBA Finals.
Elite Stars: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler
This next tier of players are the very best small forwards in the league. They are easily All-Star players and will most likely be featured on All-NBA teams as well.
Kevin Durant, although likely out for the season, is arguably a top-two player in the game when healthy. He is an offensive juggernaut who can score with the best players of all time. He is long, athletic, and very dominant at putting the ball in the hoop. When he is back healthy, he will hope to return to his mark as one of the world’s best players alongside his new teammate Kyrie Irving.
Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are two amazing defenders who can handle any perimeter player very effectively. They are both string, quick, and very active on the defensive end. Butler is an improving shooter and is a bulldog attacking the rim, while Kawhi has mastered both ends of the floor. He might very well be the best player in the league, if not for one man.
Best of the Best: LeBron James
The best players in the league all seem to dominate the forward position of late, and James has been the king for possibly a full decade. Despite his ineffectiveness on defense and his slight loss of athleticism, James still impacts the game better than anyone in the league.
His basketball i.q. might be the best ever, and he makes everyone around him better. If James is at full force this season with Anthony Davis, the championship might reside with the Lakers once again in their stories history.
For now, James reigns supreme. But he needs to look closely in the rear-view because there are a couple of MVP superstar players that are getting closer by the year.