The small forward position might be the most important position in the modern NBA because capable forwards can defend multiple positions and are often the best players on their team. That is why, over the past 10 Finals, 8 Finals MVPs have been natural small forwards. LeBron James is responsible for 4 of them of course.
But looking ahead to next season, is LeBron James still the best player in his position? With Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo likely controlling the power forward spot for 2022, The King has a very strong argument for being the best player at his position. But he will have a lot of competition, in the forms of the top-10 small forwards in the NBA for the 2021-2022 season.
Disclaimer: We will not count Kawhi Leonard because he is out indefinitely
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 19.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Anthony Edwards is a supremely confident young player, and he had a wonderful end to last season. After getting blown away in the Rookie of the Year race to LaMelo Ball, Edwards turned it up a notch to come within inches of claiming the trophy. Next season, Edwards will continue his path to becoming an All-Star.
The 6’4” scorer had a great rookie season averaging 19.3 PPG, and he should be clear of 20 PPG playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota next year. The No. 1 overall pick can shoot the three, attack the rim, and make his free throws. The next step is for Edwards to improve his efficiency, and at 20 years old, time is on his side.
10. Gordon Hayward
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 19.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Charlotte raised a ton of eyebrows when they signed Gordon Hayward to a max contract, but the swingman can still play at a high level. The 2017 All-Star had his best season since the final season of his Jazz stint, averaging 19.6 PPG and 5.9 RPG in 34 MPG. Hayward only appeared in 44 games, however, so health is still a major issue.
Going into next season, Hayward will turn 32 and will be in the final phase of his career. Hayward is a veteran on a team with young studs such as LaMelo Ball, so his presence will be needed to boost this team into the playoffs in the East. As a result, he kicks off the list as a top-10 small forward.
9. Michael Porter Jr.
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Michael Porter Jr has All-Star potential, and the Denver Nuggets believe in him so much they offered him a max contract. Porter Jr is only 23 years old but has shown the ability to be a great scoring option alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. The 6’10” forward has athleticism, shooting, and scoring ability that all come naturally to him.
Porter Jr shot 44.5% from three last year after nailing 42.2% in his rookie season, so a trend can form in his third season. The former No. 14 pick needs to improve his efficiency, defense, and playmaking abilities but the 2022 season can be a massive step up for him.
8. Andrew Wiggins
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 18.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.0 BPG
It is safe to say that Andrew Wiggins will likely never be a superstar, but his physical gifts and scoring ability make him a valuable player in the league. The 26-year old has already spent 7 years in the league, so he is a veteran with a high ceiling. Unfortunately, he might never reach that ceiling.
But even if he doesn’t, Wiggins is a great scorer and a fantastic defender who can do a lot of things well on the court. In 71 games with the Warriors last year, Wiggins had the best shooting season of his career (47.7% FG and 38.0% 3-PT FG) so Stephen Curry might be rubbing off on him a bit. Next season, Wiggins will need to get back to averaging over 21 PPG to still be considered a top-10 small forward in the game.
7. DeMar DeRozan
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 21.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 6.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Many felt that DeMar DeRozan was an All-Star snub last season, after posting a career-high in APG and basically carrying the Spurs offense at times. The 4-time All-Star is on a new team next season and at 32 years old, he has a chance to lead a young Chicago Bulls team into the playoffs.
DeRozan is a mid-range fiend who can create his own shot but is also a great offensive weapon when running the break or attacking the rim. Playing under Gregg Popovich has molded DeRozan’s all-around game, so the swingman should fit perfectly next to Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.
6. Jaylen Brown
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 24.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Jaylen Brown is a great athlete with scoring potential, but nobody expected him to become an All-Star in the manner he did last year. The former No. 3 overall pick looks like a long-term sidekick to Jayson Tatum in Boston, and at nearly 25 years old, he has a lot more to offer. At times, Brown looked like the best player on the team last year.
An ill-timed injury kept Brown out of the playoffs last year, but Boston have re-tooled with the additions of Al Horford, Dennis Schroder, and Josh Richardson among others. The Celtics are a playoff team with Brown and Tatum on the floor, but they will not be scaring the top contenders in the league even if the former is now a top-10 small forward in the NBA.
5. Brandon Ingram
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 23.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Brandon Ingram was compared to Kevin Durant early on in his career thanks to his physique and skill set, but the former No. 2 overall pick is forming his own identity now. Ingram is a great scorer and passer for his position, and alongside Zion Williamson, he should make the New Orleans Pelicans a playoff team.
Ingram equaled his career-high in PPG average last season and had the best passing season of his career. Despite this, he could not make the All-Star Team although that will likely change in 2022. At only 24 years old, Brandon Ingram can become a bonafide All-Star in the West if he continues to add different dimensions in his game.
4. Khris Middleton
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 20.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG
NBA champion Khris Middleton is a fantastic two-way player, and his growth into a bonafide All-Star was unexpected. Middleton fears no opponent, and his outside scoring has labeled him the most clutch player in Milwaukee. With no fear and a short memory, Middleton is one of the best sidekicks in the NBA.
Next season, Middleton will continue to do what he does best: score the ball and play lockdown perimeter defense. His partnership with Giannis Antetokoumpo is at the core of Milwaukee’s contention, so the Bucks will be competing for back-to-back titles as a result.
3. Jimmy Butler
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 21.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 7.1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG
It is amazing how Jimmy Butler has continued to add aspects to his game, making him a top-3 small forward in the league with ease. Butler is one of the best defensive players in the league, but he can score the ball at an All-Star level as well. His impact for Miami in 2020 was iconic, and he literally carried the Heat through 6 games against the juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers.
Jimmy Butler will enter the 2022 season as the best scorer, passer, and defender on the team thanks to his improvements in all aspects. The Heat are a contender in the East after the acquisition of Kyle Lowry, so expect Butler to make the All-Star Team as he pushes Miami into a top-4 seeding.
2. Paul George
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 23.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG
With Kawhi Leonard expected to miss the majority of next season, Paul George will likely suit up at the small forward position where he might feel most comfortable. As a two-way player, George is spectacular. He silenced the critics who bashed him after the horrid 2020 playoff showing, putting up 26.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, and 5.4 APG while leading the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals.
mediately, George should keep it together until Kawhi returns to the team. George will likely be in the MVP Race next season without Leonard by his side, and if he can somehow keep the Clippers within top-4 seeding, he has a strong argument for the award. He has some help in the returning Reggie Jackson, the recently acquired Eric Bledsoe, and the services of Marcus Morris and Terance Mann. While that core is not enough to boost the Clippers to contention immediately, George should keep it together until Kawhi returns to the team.
1. LeBron James
2020-2021 Season Statistics: 25.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG
LeBron James is turning 37 very soon but is still somehow the most dominant small forward in the NBA. It is widely believed that The King is no longer the best player in the league, as Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo are better players in this stage of LeBron’s career. But James is still the best all-around small forward in the game, and his basketball IQ as a team leader is the reason why.
James has a lot to fix with Rusell Westbrook’s inefficiencies and the inconsistent health of Anthony Davis, so there is no reason why The King cannot be in the MVP Race if the Lakers hold the best record in the West. LeBron is simply a sensational passer and can take over games on offense when needed, so expect The King to use hater fuel to continue to build his case as one of the all-time greats.