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NBA Small Forward Tiers: 37-Year Old LeBron James Is Still The Best In The League

NBA Small Forward Tiers: 37-Year Old LeBron James Is Still The Best In The League

The small forward position might be the most important spot in the game today because most of the players combine size with athleticism and skill at an elite level. That is why we have seen multiple Finals MVPs over the past few years compete at the small forward spot, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Andre Iguodala among others. Since small forwards have the size to play power forward and bang in the paint as well, shooting and playmaking make these players extremely valuable.

So which small forwards are the best in the game right now? Since Kevin Durant is competing at the power forward spot for the majority of the season, he will not be included in this tier. Other than Durant, the names that immediately come to mind at the small forward spot are LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, and Jimmy Butler. But which one of these stars are the best in the league at their position? Here are all the best small forwards in the NBA divided into tiers.

Tier 5: Average Starters

De’Andre Hunter, Max Strus, Pat Connaughton, Franz Wagner, Terrence Ross, Dorian Finney-Smith, Cameron Johnson, Cam Reddish

Tier 1 small forwards are considered at the bottom of their class as starters, although they do their job at the basic level. They are all worthy NBA professionals who contribute on the court without making too much impact and are often looked over on the stat sheet.

De’Andre Hunter has a ton of potential as a two-way swingman because he stands 6’8” with a ton of versatility as an athlete. The Hawks starter going forward is putting up 13.2 PPG and 3.4 RPG on 40.9% shooting from three, solid numbers for a player finding his groove. Hunter will have better production in due time, which will see him climb the tiers.

Max Strus is not a household name, but he can certainly space the floor at an above-average level. The 6’5” small forward is getting plenty of open looks playing alongside Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry; which is why he is draining 41.0% of his threes. Alongside Duncan Robinson, Strus is a key floor-spacer for the best team in the East right now.

Pat Connaughton is not a household name either, but he is a perfect floor-spacing role player in today’s game. Anytime a superstar like Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the floor, fielding a player like the 6’5” Connaughton is a smart thing to do. The forward is putting up 10.2 PPG and 4.5 RPG on 41.4% shooting, solid numbers for a player who has only started 18 games this season.

Rookie Franz Wagner has been quite a surprise, averaging 15.7 PPG and 4.5 RPG on 35.1% shooting from three. A 6’9” floor-spacer with natural scoring ability, Wagner has been one of the few bright spots for the Magic this season. The No. 8 overall pick in the draft, Wagner’s production has been impressive considering he is only 20 years old.

Terrence Ross has been a solid starter for the majority of his career because he can score the ball when he is hot and can generally find some form of offense for his team. Ross is getting up in age at 31 years old, which is why his production is starting to wane. But the swingman is still averaging 11.1 PPG this season for the Orlando Magic.

Dorian Finney-Smith is mainly known for his defensive ability because he is at least above-average in that regard. But the Mavericks’ swingman can also shoot the three decently well (36.0%) and is getting more comfortable in Dallas’ offense alongside Luka Doncic. Finney-Smith is putting up 10.1 PPG and 4.8 RPG, decent numbers for a solid player.

Cam Johnson is a 6’8” shooter with a ton of potential and upside, which is why he is getting the opportunity to prove himself on a talented Suns squad this year. Playing 26.1 MPG, Johnson is putting up 12.0 PPG and 4.3 RPG while shooting 43.6% from three. If he continues his growth, Cam Johnson will soon be climbing the tiers.

Cam Reddish is a 6’8” swingman that will soon be an excellent two-way starter in the NBA. The former No. 10 overall pick is averaging 11.2 PPG and 2.4 RPG on 36.9% shooting, solid numbers for a young man who is still trying to find his groove on the court while healthy.

Tier 4: Quality Starters

Kelly Oubre Jr, Gordon Hayward, Normal Powell, Saddiq Bey, Buddy Hield, Matisse Thybulle, OG Anunoby, Jalen Green, Luguentz Dort, Mikal Bridges, Bojan Bogdanovic, Keldon Johnson, Dillon Brooks

Small forwards in tier 4 compete at a high level every night and are considered above-average talents at their spots. While the separation between Tier 5 and Tier 4 is not as large as Tier 3 players, it is still quite clear which players are more valuable starters than ordinary players.

Kelly Oubre Jr is a bundle of talent, because he combines size (6’6”) with athleticism and all-around versatility. As a member of the (likely) playoff Charlotte Hornets, the swingman is putting up 16.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG while shooting a career-high 35.1% from three. At only 26 years old, there could be plenty more to come from Oubre Jr.

Gordon Hayward used to be a bonafide All-Star that would easily be in Tier 3, but those days are long gone. The swingman has played very well since joining the Hornets, putting up 16.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG on 39.0% shooting from three. Hayward might never make another All-Star Team, but he is certainly an above-average small forward.

Normal Powell has been playing extremely well this season for the Trail Blazers, putting up 18.9 PPG on 40.9% shooting from three. The swingman is an above-average defender who can stroke the three, which is why the Los Angeles Clippers’ acquisition of him is a massive deal. Powell alongside Paul George and Kawhi Leonard would form a dynamic trio on both ends of the floor.

Saddiq Bey has a chance to be a starter for the rest of his career because he is playing extremely well at only 22 years of age. The talented swingman is averaging 15.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.7 APG while starting every game for the Pistons this year. Bey has great size (6’7”, 215 lbs), so he can be a very solid two-way player for the next decade at a minimum.

Buddy Hield was finally traded by the Kings, and he will take his shooting talents to Indiana this season. Hield is putting up 14.4 PPG and 4.0 RPG on 36.8% shooting from three, great numbers for a player who only started 6 times. Coming off the bench, that kind of production makes Hield a valuable contributor on the floor and easily a starter in the modern NBA.

Thybulle is nowhere near a consistent offensive threat and his season averages look pedestrian at best, putting up 5.7 PPG and 2.3 RPG on 30.1% shooting from three. But the swingman is an elite defensive player with a chance to be the very best at his spot if he continues his growth. Thybulle has long arms and a natural defensive IQ, so his value as a starter will be recognized in Tier 4.

OG Anunoby can play basketball at a high level, and he does it on both ends almost every night. The 6’7” swingman is putting up 18.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.7 APG for the Raptors while shooting 35.7% from three. Toronto are climbing the Eastern Conference standings as they currently hold the 6th seed, and Anunoby’s two-way play is a massive reason for that.

Jalen Green is very raw, and does not have a clue about playing winning basketball. But there is no doubt the young man has plenty of natural talent and scoring ability, along with elite athleticism. Green is putting up 14.4 PPG and 3.3 RPG, decent numbers for a 19-year-old kid in his first season. Jalen barely cracks Tier 4 because his talent is All-Star level at the very least.

Dort has built off his solid play during the 2020 Bubble postseason, becoming the starting-caliber player we knew he could be. The swingman is averaging 17.0 PPG and 4.2 RPG on 84.7% free-throw shooting, all career-highs. Even if Dort continues to be somewhat of a liability from three, he has certainly improved.

Mikal Bridges is one of the most underrated players in the league, mainly because his game isn’t necessarily flashy. A consistent shooter and excellent defensive player, there is no way Phoenix made the Finals last year without Bridges. The 6’6” swingman is putting up 12.9 PPG and 4.3 RPG on 37.2% shooting this season, and he will be critical for the Suns’ title chances again this year.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert receive most of the credit whenever the Utah Jazz play well, but Bojan Bogdanovic might be the best player in Tier 4. The bruising swingman is consistent with his outside shooting and scoring, and has the size to be a factor on defense as well. Bogdanovic is putting up 17.9 PPG and 4.3 RPG on 38.1% shooting from three, very solid numbers for a player that is generally 4th in the pecking order behind Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, and Mike Conley in the offense.

The Spurs always seem to find a talented player out of nowhere, and Keldon Johnson isn’t the exception. The talented forward is very versatile in what he brings to the game, on offense and defense. The 6’5” swingman is putting up 15.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG on 43.1% shooting from three for San Antonio, a franchise that already has an All-Star in Dejounte Murray. If Johnson can improve like Murray did, things can start looking better in San Antonio.

Despite being injured for a while now, Dillon Brooks is easily a starting-caliber small forward in the NBA. The sharpshooter is putting up 18.4 PPG this season, excellent numbers for a player who can also handle his own on defense. At only 26 years old, his partnerships with Ja Morant and Desmond Bane means the Grizzlies have a solid core for the future.

Tier 3: All-Star Caliber

Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Edwards, Khris Middleton, Brandon Ingram

Tier 3 small forwards are players who are All-Star talents that will be considered on All-Star teams this season. Thanks to their very effective play on a consistent basis, these guys can be the best player on their teams at moments but are usually the second or third option on championship teams.

Andrew Wiggins made his first All-Star Team this year, even becoming a starter for the Western Conference All-Stars. While his selection as a starter is still being debated, the swingman has seemingly done enough to earn his spot on the All-Star squad. An above-average defender, Wiggins is putting up 18.1 PPG and 4.3 RPG on 41.5% shooting from three. While Stephen Curry and Draymond Green deserve the bulk of credit for the Warriors’ great season, Wiggins also deserves his respect.

Anthony Edwards is an All-Star in the making, even if he didn’t make the team this year. The talented scorer is putting up 22.2 PPG for the Timberwolves, nailing 36.0% of his threes. A capable scorer with elite athleticism, Edwards should be part of an All-Star pairing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota for years to come.

One of the best sidekicks in the league, Khris Middleton is an elite two-way All-Star. The reigning NBA champion made his 3rd All-Star Team this season, putting up 19.4 PPG and 5.6 APG on 38.0% shooting from three. Middleton is a perfect teammate for Giannis Antetokounmpo because he plays excellent perimeter defense and is a natural marksman. Not to mention, Khris is one of the most clutch players in the league.

Brandon Ingram probably feels disrespected by not getting consideration for the All-Star Team this year, but he is an All-Star talent nonetheless. Ingram is averaging 22.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 5.5 APG on 34.8% shooting from three while carrying the Pelicans all season long. Without Zion Williamson, Ingram has had to endure a tough stretch with an average roster. The arrival of CJ McCollum will probably help Ingram find easier ways of scoring.

Tier 2: Elite Stars

Jayson Tatum, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, Paul George

This next tier contains the very best small forwards in the league. They are easily All-Star players and some will be featured on All-NBA teams as well. All 3 players in this tier are superstars and are having excellent seasons on the stat sheet for their teams as their impact on the game is clear as day.

No matter what critics have to say about Jayson Tatum, there is no doubt he is a superstar offensive player in the making. The Celtics franchise star is having a great year on paper, putting up 25.6 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 4.1 APG. A go-to scorer with natural skills, Tatum is one smooth player to watch. That is why he has made his 3rd straight All-Star Team as he continues to learn how to play winning basketball. At only 23 years of age, the sky's the limit for the former No. 3 overall pick.

DeMar DeRozan is having his best season yet, putting up 27.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 5.1 APGon 50.6% shooting from the field. Nobody expected this kind of production from the 4-time All-Star, especially with the way he has been leading the Chicago Bulls all season long. Winning times seem to be back in Chi-town, and DeRozan’s clutch play has been a big part of that. Any basketball fan would love to see the Bulls make it to the Eastern Conference Finals at least, because DeMar’s play has been amazing to watch.

Jimmy Butler’s attitude and competitiveness is what made him a now 6-time All-Star. One of the best defenders in the league, Butler has also elevated his offensive game to superstar level thanks to his hard work and basketball IQ. Jimmy “Buckets” is averaging 21.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 6.2 APG as the best player for the best team in the East. As long as Butler can help Miami hold the number one seed, he has a shot for making All-NBA First or Second Team.

Paul George got off to a tremendous start with the Los Angeles Clippers this year, putting up 24.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 5.5 APG in 26 games. Unfortunately, George suffered an injury setback that could see him miss the rest of the season. An elite two-way player and certainly an All-Star, PG13 will be key to the Clippers’ successes in the future. With Kawhi Leonard probably out for the year, it makes sense to shut George out until next season.

Tier 1: Best of the Best

LeBron James

Since Kevin Durant has occupied the power forward spot for the season, there is no doubt that LeBron James is the best small forward in the NBA. The King might be in year 19, but he is still an amazing superstar who impacts the game as a top-5 player in the world. James is averaging 29.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 6.4 APG on 52.3% shooting from the field; unreal numbers for a man who is 37 years of age.

Unfortunately for LeBron, his Los Angeles Lakers squad is struggling this year which is why The King won’t be in the MVP conversation by the end of the year. There should be little to no blame on the part of James for his team’s struggles, because The King has been the most dominant small forward in the game by a wide margin. It has been a blessing to see a player at age 37 produce the way James has been all season long, which is why The King is still the best at his position. 


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