The talent and skill level at the small forward position in the NBA currently is widespread from top to bottom. As we move into the Top 12 or 13 players on today’s list, they have already established themselves as stars or they have the most potential to. The small forwards you see here are the complete package. What holds true for most of the Top 25 is that these are the guys that will go out and get you a bucket or get a big stop on defense when you need it. The small forward position is loaded with talent and potential talent with some of the best young, and old, players in the game.
The usual suspects will be on the list. LeBron James has held the top spot for at least 15 seasons straight now. Kawhi Leonard will make a return to the list after sitting out all of 2021-22 recovering from knee surgery. Jayson Tatum might take a massive leap after leading Boston to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career. There are these familiar faces plus many up-and-coming players who have yet to tap into their full potential. With competition as stiff as what the small forward position brings, this list is sure to spark some debate.
Without any further ado, here are the Top 25 small forwards for the 2022-23 season.
25. Cam Johnson
2021-22 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Headed into 2022-23, look for Cam Johnson’s role with the Suns to grow even more than it already has. He is the near-perfect prototype for the modern-day 3 and D wing player. After a couple of years as mainly a catch and shoot option, Johnson expanded his game and became one of the best bench players in basketball. He finished 3rd in Sixth Man of the Year voting as he developed his shot creation skills and finished 5th on the Suns in scoring.
The 2022-23 season will be Johnson’s 4th in the league and he has already made Suns GM James Jones look like a genius for taking him 11th overall in 2019. Johnson will continue to be valuable on both ends of the floor next season. His three-point shooting at 42.5% last season was among the best in the entire NBA and his 5.9 attempts per game were among the highest for bench players. He also provided strong defense on the perimeter to contribute to the Suns 3rd ranked defense last year. Cam Johnson could have the type of season that makes me regret putting him this low.
24. Jonathan Kuminga
2021-22 Stats: 9.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Jonathan Kuminga will turn 20 years old just a few days before the 2022-23 season begins. At 19 years old on Golden State's run to the NBA championship last season, he showed that their dynasty may be in good hands moving forward. Kuminga showed flashes of potential stardom multiple times during the regular season and playoffs last season. In February, he averaged 15.4 PPG for the month and 4.8 RPG after it was to be expected that he'd ride the bench as a project last year. In the postseason, he became just the 4th teenager to score at least 18 points in a playoff game joining Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and Tony Parker.
Expect Kuminga’s minutes and role off of the bench in 2022-23 to expand a bit more. We already know that no moment is too big for the young man and his skills continue to develop at a rate even the Golden State Warriors are surprised with. He has developed his shot creation skills as well as his outside shooting and his defensive ability continues to grow under Steve Kerr and the Warriors’ vets. I believe that Kuminga will continue to silence the doubters in 2022-23.
23. Kelly Oubre Jr.
2021-22 Stats: 15.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Kelly Oubre Jr. was as solid as it gets for the Charlotte Hornets off of the bench last season. Although he could be inconsistent at times, Oubre Jr. still turned in a solid 2021-22 campaign. He was a solid disruptor on defense with the second-most deflections on the team behind LaMelo Ball. He scored big in spurts with 12 games with at least five 3-pointers made and a few 30+ point performances. As much as fans liked to hang some losses on bad decisions on his part, Oubre still won them some games as well and was a big reason why the Hornets even made the play-in tournament.
As we head into next season, Oubre Jr. is entering the final year of a two-year deal with Charlotte. In a lot of ways, you can expect more of the same, especially offensively. Oubre Jr. has been the same type of player for a few years now in a few different cities. You can expect solid minutes and production off of the bench for anywhere from 55 to 75 games. Where I think he will continue to grow and make an even bigger impact is with his defense. Oubre Jr. can provide a spark they need defensively off of the bench with his quick instincts and hands to continue to disrupt opposing offenses.
22. Gordon Hayward
2021-22 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Gordon Hayward enters 2022-23 as one of the highest-paid small forwards in the entire NBA. He will make just over $30 million in 2022-23, making him the 10th highest-paid player at the position. When healthy, Gordon is an asset to any team trying to contend. The problem lies in the fact that he just can’t stay on the floor. In his 2 years in Charlotte, he has played less than 50 games in each season, making his place on this list one of the most difficult to find.
Some of the success of the Hornets will ride on Hayward’s health in 2022-23. With Miles Bridges’ situation and the uncertainty surrounding that, The Hornets will be looking for another big playmaker and scorer alongside LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. How do you predict what a guy is going to do next season when we have just 1 season’s worth of work squeezed into 2? I hope for Hayward and Charlotte’s sake that he does stay healthy because I do believe that Charlotte can be competitive in a tough Eastern Conference. There is just no way to tell if that will be the case moving forward.
21. Buddy Hield
2021-22 Stats: 15.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG
With split time between the Kings and Pacers last season, Buddy Hield continued to be one of the best shooters in the league from beyond the arc. Prior to being traded to Indiana, Hield's role was diminished by the Sacramento Kings. When he got a fresh start in Indiana, he took full advantage of it. Hield and Tyrese Haliburton were given full reign of the offense and we saw Hield start all 26 games for the Pacers. Hield became a more efficient and creative scorer, taking more shots from inside the arc and delivering 18.2 PPG in his 26 games as a Pacer.
Hield’s name once again was swirled around in trade rumors all off-season. It should come as no surprise to Hield, as this is something that has been going on with him since his 2nd year in Sacramento. If Hield is to stay in Indiana, he will play a big role in their success as a team in 2022-23. He should be one of their primary scoring options and their best 3-point shooter. His playmaking also took a massive leap with the Pacers, which could take a lot of pressure off of Haliburton and deliver more bursts to Hield’s numbers. I don’t think the Pacers will be incredibly competitive in 2022-23, but I do expect big seasons from Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton.
20. Dillon Brooks
2021-22 Stats: 18.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Dillon Brooks was set to have a massive 2021-22 season after showcasing his talent in the 2021 playoffs. Unfortunately for Brooks, he missed out on a lot of the fun Memphis had in 2022, as he missed 50 total games due to injury. When healthy, Brooks still showed that he was a true secondary scoring option behind Ja Morant, as he averaged a career-high 18.4 PPG. He scored 20 or more points 15 times and 30 or more twice in 32 games in 2021-22. He was still the defensive pest he had shown he could be during the 2021 playoffs and, along with his scoring, are his strongest attributes.
Brooks should be a huge part of the plans for the 2022-23 Memphis Grizzlies. Coming off of their best regular season in franchise history and the growth as a team they displayed last season, there are very high expectations in Memphis. Brooks has been their spirit at times. The guy who can rally a team with solely his energy and the example he sets on the court. If he can continue to improve his scoring and Memphis continues to grow as a defensive unit, look for Brooks to have a huge breakout year.
19. Nassir Little
2021-22 Stats: 9.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.9 BPG
I am all aboard the Nassir Little hype train. Little is entering his 4th season with the Portland Trail Blazers and it is fixing to be a breakout one for the young man. He saw his role increase in 2021-22 as he made 23 starts in 42 appearances before his season was cut short in January due to a shoulder injury. In that month, Little was hitting his stride as he averaged 13.1 PPG and grabbed 5.7 RPG. He shot 40.2% from three on 3.1 attempts per game. Little began to expand his game and accept his role, and in return, he began to blossom.
His ball handling, playmaking, and scoring all improved in 2021-22 before the injury. The biggest contribution that Little made off of the bench was his energy on defense. The Trail Blazers are going to rely heavily on that energy next season as well as the continued development in every other area. It is unknown if he or Josh Hart will get the starting spot at small forward next season, but Little seems primed to take it if he shows up to camp ready to work. Expect Little to be in the Most Improved Player conversation in 2022-23 if he is able to remain healthy.
18. De’Andre Hunter
2021-22 Stats: 13.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG
De’Andre Hunter finds himself in a peculiar position headed into 2022-23. Many still expect him to take that big leap that high draft picks usually take by their 4th season while others remain skeptical if he even will. The regular season was another painful one for Hunter as he saw it disrupted yet again by injuries that cost him 29 games. He then found something special in the playoffs averaging 21.2 PPG in 5 games against the Miami Heat. Hunter needed that kind of individual momentum headed into a pivotal season for him.
This season could make or break Hunter’s status as one of the cornerstones of the young Hawks. Hunter has been relied upon on both offense and defense to provide a spark for Atlanta when they need it. Sometimes he has delivered and other times he has not. He will be the starter for Atlanta and should have some decent opportunity to increase his offensive numbers alongside Trae Young and newly acquired Dejounte Murray. If he can avoid another setback in his development, I think Hunter can and will make that leap we have all come to expect him to make.
17. Saddiq Bey
2021-22 Stats: 16.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.8 APG , 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Unlike the last few players we have talked about, Saddiq Bey has been one of the more reliable small forwards to stay healthy the past 2 seasons. He made his time productive as well, becoming the Pistons’ 3rd leading scorer behind Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham in 2022. Bey became more of a complete player in 2021-22, attacking the basket and taking shots from inside the arc more than he had in his rookie season. As he looks to make his game as complete as he can heading into 2022-23, look for his role to expand even more.
Bey has a big opportunity to be the guy behind Cade Cunningham and beside rookie Jayden Ivey. With Jerami Grant being traded to Portland earlier this offseason, the Pistons’ youth movement is in full effect with those 3 players. Cunningham will bring the pace, scoring, and playmaking along with Ivey who can score in droves as well. Bey will be relied upon to create opportunities for himself as well as be a guy that Cunningham can rely on to be in the right spots at the right time. If what we have already seen from Bey is any indication, he should have no problem being one of the key cogs in Detroit's hopeful turnaround.
16. Herb Jones
2021-22 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
I don’t think anyone expected the rookie impact that Herb Jones would provide in 2021-22, but man did he deliver. Jones really showed his worth on the defensive side of the ball and is a big reason why so many expect the Pelicans to make a huge leap next season. Among rookies, Jones ranked first in steals with 130, second in games played with 78, and third in blocks with 60. He also got to show off his versatility on offense, as he was creative as a finisher and performed really well in transition.
Jones provided a big spark for New Orleans in the playoffs, showing crazy close-out speed on perimeter defense, giving Phoenix a tough time to get up their threes. He showed that he is someone you have to have your eye on in fast break situations, scoring and passing in transition like a veteran rather than a rookie. With his hard-working attitude and abilities to expand his game, Jones is a big part of the Pelicans’ future as they try to build a legitimate contender. Look for Jones to keep the starting role he took over in November of 2021 and improve even more on both sides of the floor.
15. Bojan Bogdanovic
2021-22 Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG
There is still a rising uncertainty about where Bojan Bogdanovic will play in 2022-23 as the Utah Jazz continue their fire sale this offseason. They have made it known that he is available for trade and they would like yet another first-round pick in return. What kind of player would a team be acquiring if they were to pull the trigger on a deal? You’re getting an 18.0 PPG scorer who excels at shooting the three ball and moving without the ball to set up the offense.
Someone with Bogdanovic’s skill set is something that would be welcomed by all 29 other teams. He shoots the ball at a 45.7% clip overall and 39.2% from three. He can spread the floor with his shooting but also open things up with his slashing and creation off of the dribble. His size makes him an even bigger threat to shoot over taller defenders but also back down smaller ones should the opportunity arise. Wherever he lands, he will be immediately in the plans to help whichever team it is to contend. If he stays in Utah, it could feel like a wasted last year of his deal as the team continues to bring in a bunch of different moving parts and rebuild.
14. Franz Wagner
2021-22 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Franz Wagner is another rookie in a loaded 2021 class that showed a ton of promise in his first season. Wagner established himself as a starter almost immediately and showed great attention to detail on both ends of the floor. As the season wore on, Wagner improved his accuracy as a finisher and ability to take control of possessions when asked to. He also proved to be a worthy isolation defender, able to keep up with some of the fastest and craftiest wings in basketball. When the dust settled, Wagner finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting, something he can build upon mightily in 2022-23.
They are building something special out there in Orlando and Franz Wagner is at the center of it. Now that they drafted Paolo Banchero in this year’s draft, Orlando sports one of the tallest lineups in the NBA that are loaded with talent. Wagner will continue to build on his strong offensive game and should be afforded more opportunities with Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, and Banchero around him. His playmaking showed a vast improvement over the course of the season last year as well and should continue to improve. They may not be competitive this season, but look out for Orlando in 2 to 3 years.
13. Keldon Johnson
2021-22 Stats: 17.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG
For the first time in his career, Keldon Johnson will most likely have full reign of the Spurs' offense. With the departure of Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray, Johnson will be asked to be San Antonio's guy as they go into rebuilding mode. In his 3rd year, Johnson improved greatly, especially in the shooting department, as he knocked down 39.8% of his 3-point shots and shot 46.6% overall. He was the 2nd most valuable player on the Spurs last season with his much improved offensive game and rebounding skills from the forward spot.
The Spurs need Johnson to improve in a couple of more areas to call his leap into success complete. First, he needs to expand his on-ball offensive package and become more of a shot creator. He also needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball where he really doesn’t have an identity currently. If those 2 things improve and he fulfills the entire 3 and D archetype, he will surely be who they build around moving forward.
12. Michael Porter Jr.
2021-22 Stats: 9.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG
There are questions aplenty when it comes to Michael Porter Jr. as we head into the 2022-23 season. Porter Jr. missed 75 games last year with a back injury that has plagued him since college. Is his back healthy enough to hold up for at least 70 games in Denver? Will he be productive once he hits the floor two years removed from a 19.0 PPG and 7.3 RPG season? Is he even healthy enough to contribute right now to the expected return of the Denver Nuggets to contender status? Those are just not the questions you want to be asking yourself headed into an important season.
Despite those worries, Porter Jr. can be a vital piece to the championship aspirations in the Mile High City. He is as deadly of a shooter as any small forward in basketball when he gets going and sports a career 41.9% 3-point shooting percentage. He also provides aggression on the boards that can get a team going and hand them crucial possessions. Porter Jr. and the Nuggets staff seem very committed to getting him and keeping him healthy for an extended period of time and if they do so, the Nuggets are a scary and dangerous team in the Western Conference. For Denver’s sake and competitive basketball’s sake, I hope they figure it out.
11. OG Anunoby
2021-22 Stats: 17.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG
OG Anunoby is the kind of player that every team that is serious about contending needs. Anunoby may have not taken the leap into All-Star status that some predicted, but he still proved to be one of the more valuable players at the small forward position in the league. He provides stellar on and off-ball defense that usually leads to easy transition buckets. He also improved his offensive game, becoming much more aggressive at attacking the basket and taking more shots from inside the arc for better efficiency.
Anunoby will continue to prove his value as the Toronto Raptors build on an unexpected playoff run last season. He can be the guy a team relies on when Siakam or VanVleet need a rest. Anunoby can be the guy who steps up when those guys are on the court but struggling. He can also be yet another defensive cog in the Raptors’ booming defensive system. Anunoby is on the cusp of great things in this league and Toronto should feel lucky to have him.
10. RJ Barrett
2021-22 Stats: 20.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG
RJ Barrett is one of the players I was talking about when I spoke about the small forwards with superstar potential. Barrett took yet another leap in 2021-22, becoming the Knicks' primary offensive weapon. He even emerged as the team’s best perimeter defender, often taking the assignment of an opposing team’s best player in late-game situations. He became the Knicks' go-to guy in clutch situations too, commanding the ball in 4th quarters of close games and delivering on the spot.
Barrett’s continued improvement as he heads into his 4th season in New York could make him an All-Star in 2022-23. The pressure to create for others is off of him with the addition of Jalen Brunson in free agency. In fact, it should open up more scoring opportunities for Barrett as well because defenders will not be able to just let Brunson do what he wants. With the improved pace for the Knicks, Barrett should see a bunch of opportunities in the open court as well. Look for Barrett to snag an All-Star selection this year should all go well for New York.
9. Mikal Bridges
2021-22 Stats: 14.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.4 BPG
With a near Defensive Player of the Year award-winning season for Mikal Bridges, he proved that he is one of the most valuable players for the Phoenix Suns. Bridges has no problems going toe-to-toe with the league’s best perimeter players and throwing most of them off their game nightly. He showed newly found versatility on offense, attacking the basket with much better results than in previous efforts. Bridges’ ability to defend the 1-3 positions effectively and even some smaller power forwards is his biggest weapon.
The only weakness he showed on defense in 2021-22 was in the playoffs. Mavs guard Luka Doncic had his way with Bridges using his size to wear down Mikal and deliver an upset victory. Bridges will look to take on more of those challenges in 2022-23 as we see an influx of size on the perimeter every year. If Bridges can repeat the same impact he had on the Suns last year on offense and defense, look for him to be back in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and maybe even an All-Star selection.
8. Andrew Wiggins
2021-22 Stats: 17.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Do you remember when fans and media pundits were making fun of Andrew Wiggins and calling him the worst All-Star ever? Yeah, me too. By the end of 2021-22, Wiggins had made the critics look foolish, showing just how valuable he can be for a championship-winning team. Wiggins had a tremendous playoff run on both sides of the ball to disrupt the rhythm of the likes of Luka Doncic and Jaylen Brown. His intensity on the glass was a huge boost for the Warriors.
Looking ahead to 2022-23, I think we can expect more of the same productive play from Andrew Wiggins. I think he will get more open looks this season with the development of Jordan Poole and of course, the attention that Stephen Curry gets on offense. Wiggins has maximized his shot-creation and shooting, making him a versatile weapon on offense that could bring the Warriors right back to another championship. Wiggins could once again be the anchor to an NBA Finals run.
7. Khris Middleton
2021-22 Stats: 20.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Khris Middleton is coming off of his 3rd All-Star campaign in the past 4 seasons as he continues to be an invaluable piece to the contention of the Milwaukee Bucks. Middleton continued to be the 2nd most important offensive option behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. His ability to hit shots down the stretch with zero fear of the moment and ability to create for himself has proved to be something irreplaceable for the Bucks. The wrist injury that caused him to miss the playoffs could be the reason that we aren’t sitting here talking about the Bucks as back-to-back champions.
If Middleton can remain healthy, that takes the pressure on offense off of Giannis and Jrue Holiday, which bodes well for the success of Milwaukee. There is no reason that Middleton can’t head back to the All-Star Game once again with plenty of opportunities to build on what he has already been doing. His secondary offense to Giannis led to a Bucks offense that ranked 3rd in the league. With Middleton healthy, look for the Bucks to be right back in the thick of things for an NBA championship.
6. Brandon Ingram
2021-22 Stats: 22.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.6 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Brandon Ingram has officially broken out and has the Pelicans in the best position they have been in since Anthony Davis was in town. Ingram proved he was ready for the next steps necessary to be taken to make the Pelicans contenders and he took them in a big way. In the first postseason appearance of his career against the West’s top seed, Ingram led all scorers with 27.0 PPG and was often the best player on the floor. If he carries that into 2022-23, the Pelicans can make some serious noise.
Ingram has become a much more dangerous 3-point shooter since joining New Orleans. In 2021-22, he became a much more dangerous shot creator from the mid-range and at the rim as well. He finally used his size and length for more than something at the three-point line and tapped into his aggression. I think most of the league is on notice that Ingram, Zion, and CJ McCollum are ready to take things to the next level in New Orleans.
5. DeMar DeRozan
2021-22 Stats: 27.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG
DeMar DeRozan is coming off of an MVP-caliber season for the Chicago Bulls that ended poorly for all involved. We watched DeRozan become one of the more dangerous scorers in the league, posting the 2nd-most PPG among small forwards behind LeBron James. He also became one of the most clutch players in the league, delivering big performances seemingly every night. DeRozan’s play had the Bulls feeling better than they have about their chances in a long time.
Chicago is going to need DeRozan to continue to perform at this level in order to keep competing in a loaded Eastern Conference. The offense should run through him and Zach LaVine once again. Going into a 2nd season together should prove to be fruitful as they continue to build chemistry together that will win them many games. Look for DeMar to continue to be the aggressive scorer he is and the go-to guy for the Bulls when they need a bucket the most.
4. Jimmy Butler
2021-22 Stats: 21.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Jimmy Butler continued to provide the leadership and two-way play that led the Miami Heat on yet another deep playoff run. Butler had the Heat just 1 game from another trip to the Finals, losing in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Even though he shot an abysmal 23.3% from three during the regular season, he still finished with a 59.2% true shooting percentage which shows his value as a finisher and mid-range shooter. Whether Miami needed a big play on defense or a clutch performance to extend a playoff series, Jimmy Butler is their guy to turn to.
The Heat failed to land another big-time scorer this offseason to put next to Butler and take a little pressure off of him. However, there is no reason that Miami can’t run it back with the same team from a year ago. Butler is going to continue to be the team leader and best player. He will bring out the best that guys like Victor Oladipo, Max Strus, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo have to offer. Many seem to be down on Miami and where they may finish this season in the standings. I say to never, ever count out a Jimmy Butler-led team.
3. Jayson Tatum
2021-22 Stats: 26.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG
What more can be said about the tremendous season that Jayson Tatum had in 2022? He led the Celtics to the NBA Finals at just 23 years old and looks primed for more appearances moving forward. Don’t get me wrong, there were struggles for the Celtics and Tatum early on, but once they figured it out, there was no stopping them. Tatum broke out of his shooting and scoring slump in the second half of the season, but it was his defense that took center stage. He played an enormous role in their No. 1 ranked league defense. If you don’t believe that, just ask Kevin Durant about the first round of the playoffs.
Tatum continues to show the world why he is capable of bringing the Boston Celtics back to days of glory as NBA champions. He is as talented as ever on offense, becoming more aggressive at creating shots closer to the basket. His efficiency took a bit of a drop, but that is not a trend that is expected to continue. He does need to work on his turnovers as we saw in the playoffs, but that will come with just a bit more time in Ime Udoka’s system. I think Jayson Tatum has a serious chance at a Top 5 MVP finish in 2022-23 and maybe a return trip to the NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics.
2. Kawhi Leonard
2021-22 Stats: N/A
Kawhi Leonard is coming off of a season in which he missed its entirety, recovering from knee surgery. When we last saw Leonard, he was having an all-time great playoff run with the Clippers. His return has sparked expectations of a championship run along with the return to health for Paul George and the acquisition of John Wall. From all reports, Leonard is ready to go and ready to take the Clippers to new heights.
Leonard should be feeling the pressure of delivering on his promises of a championship for Los Angeles. On the court, he should feel little pressure getting adjusted with other shot creators and defenders next to him. He is at his best when he is aggressive on offense and defense. As one of the best two-way players of the past decade, those skills will be the catalyst for any sort of deep playoff run. We already know that he is up to the challenge. Can the rest of the Clippers back him up?
1. LeBron James
2021-22 Stats: 30.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.1 BPG
LeBron James may be coming off of one of his most disappointing seasons team-wise of his entire career. AT 37 years old, it was one of his best individually. As he and other Lakers battled injuries and inner turmoil, James nearly took home a scoring title and had the best 37-year-old season in history. The Lakers performed miserably even with LeBron on the court, but without him, it could have been an even bigger catastrophe.
If we know anything about LeBron, it is that he is going to be on a mission to get the Lakers back to the postseason in 2022-23. A motivated LeBron is a dangerous LeBron, and that is probably the best thing that the Lakers have going for them. James will continue to orchestrate the offense his way and that can be successful for Los Angeles if the other guys step up. Anthony Davis needs to remain healthy and Russell Westbrook needs to bounce back in the biggest way. If LeBron James has anything to say about it, he will have the Lakers back in the playoffs, hopefully contending for his 5th championship.