Projecting NBA’s Top 10 Small Forwards Heading into 2014-15 Season

In today’s NBA, the small forward position represents star power. 

With five of the last six MVP awards, the last five scoring titles and the last three NBA Finals MVP awards, players at the 3 have shown that their position might be the most talent-filled spot in the league.

So let’s take a stab at who will populate the list of the NBA’s top 10 small forwards in the upcoming season. Naturally, players presumed to be out for the year due to injury, such as Paul George, are not eligible for ranking. 

We’ll also look at what each player’s statistics could look like in 2014-15. Better statistics will help a player’s ranking, but stats don’t tell the whole story. A player’s defensive ability isn’t always accurately quantified by stats, and a player’s role within his team may skew his numbers one way or the other. 

And, to clarify, ESPN.com’s player profiles will have the final say on a player’s position. For example, Carmelo Anthony plays a lot of his minutes at the power forward position, but ESPN still lists him as a small forward. 

Which 3s will rule the NBA hardwood in 2014-15? Flip to the next slide to find out.

 

Honorable mentions: Luol Deng, Danilo Gallinari, Josh Smith, Jeff Green, Nick Young

All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

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Jonas Valanciunas Injury: Updates on Raptors Forward’s Back Sprain and Return

It has been an impressive 2013-14 season for the Toronto Raptors, and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference is very much in play. 

However, Toronto received some unwelcome news on Tuesday during a game with the Atlanta Hawks, via the team’s media relations Twitter page:

Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points, five rebounds and an assist behind 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line before exiting the game against the Hawks.

On the season, Valanciunas is averaging 10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and nearly a block a night as the Raptors’ center. Considering how tight the race for the No. 3 seed is between Toronto, the Chicago Bulls, the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets, losing the big man would be of concern for Toronto.

What’s more, back issues can often linger, especially for an NBA center dealing with the physical demands of the position every night. Keep an eye on Valanciunas going forward.

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Mike Dunleavy Injury: Updates on Bulls Forward’s Eye Laceration and Return

The Chicago Bulls have been snakebitten by injuries the past two seasons. 

You can add Mike Dunleavy to that list.

Fortunately for Bulls fans, his ailment doesn’t look like one that will keep him out for an extended amount of time. That being said, it still appeared rather painful, as Rachel Nichols of CNN and Turner Sports pointed out:

The Chicago Bulls’ official Twitter page gave the details of how the injury occurred:

The Bulls are known for their gritty and physical defense, so it should come as no surprise that Dunleavy hurt himself when trying to take a charge.

Chicago is currently in a tight race with the likes of the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets for the No. 3 seed behind the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in the wide-open Eastern Conference—they can ill-afford to lose the sharp-shooter for an extended period of time.

If Dunleavy were seriously injured, it would hurt the Bulls’ already tenuous depth situation and eliminate one of their best three-point shooters from the rotation.

Check back for updates as they unfold.

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Gerald Wallace Injury: Updates on Celtics Forward’s Meniscus and Recovery

A tough season for the Boston Celtics won’t get any easier Friday, as the team announced forward Gerald Wallace will be out indefinitely.

From the team’s official Twitter account:

Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has more:

Wallace hasn’t exactly lit it up for the Celtics this season, averaging just 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game. At his current pace, the 31-year-old would see his points per game decline for a fourth straight season.

That’s particularly rough for the Celtics, as they are paying him $10,105,855 this season, according to ESPN, and he still has three years remaining on his contract. In fact, Bill Simmons of Grantland named Wallace’s contract as the second-worst in the NBA, behind only Amar’e Stoudemire.

ESPN Boston has more on how the Celtics wound up with his contract, and what they might do with it in the future:

The Celtics took on Wallace’s deal in order to facilitate the summer blockbuster that delivered three first-round picks from the Brooklyn Nets. The question now is whether the Celtics are content to ride out Wallace’s deal, or if they’d take measures to shed his cap clog sooner (would Boston use that stockpile of draft picks to entice another team to take on the bad deal?) 

At one point in his career, Wallace was a steady producer. From 2004 to 2012, he averaged double-digit points every season. His best season came in 2010-11 for the Charlotte Bobcats, when he averaged 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

But with the Celtics in rebuilding move, it would hardly be shocking if they looked to move his contract. They have two first-round picks this summer (three if the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t in the lottery, which they will be), two in 2015 (three if the Sixers aren’t in the lottery) and two in 2016.

If the Celtics are willing to part with any of those picks, they may be able to part with Wallace’s big contract as well. We may not see Wallace in a Celtics jersey again.

 

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Brandon Ashley Injury: Updates on Arizona Forward’s Foot and Return

If the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats are to stave off an upset of the Cal Golden Bears on Saturday, Feb. 1, they may have to do so without their second-leading scorer. Brandon Ashley left the game with a foot injury.

Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com reported the sophomore forward returned to the bench after going to the locker room, but he had ice on his right foot:

Antonio Gonzalez of the Associated Press reported that Ashley’s chances of returning to the game looked bleak as his foot was completely wrapped in ice:

It was later reported that he would be out for the rest of the game, per CollegeBasketballTalk’s Raphielle Johnson:

Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star reported that the sophomore had crutches and a boot on his foot. There’s no information at the moment on how bad the injury is:

Ashley is averaging 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. He’s played a big part on a Wildcats team that was 21-0 heading into Friday night.

It will be difficult for Arizona to maintain that unbeaten record if Ashley is forced to miss an extended period of time.

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Pau Gasol Injury: Updates on Lakers Forward’s Groin and Return

The Los Angeles Lakers may have a hard time getting sympathy from other squads around the NBA with all those banners hanging in the Staples Center, but they cannot catch a break in the 2013-14 season.

Pau Gasol, who has been the one consistent bright spot this year for Los Angeles, will be getting an MRI per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:

Kevin Ding, who is the Lakers and NBA national columnist at Bleacher Report, points out that there really isn’t just one specific moment that Gasol can trace the injury back to:

If Gasol’s quote to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com is any indication, Los Angeles could be without its big man for a while:

Gasol played in the Jan. 31 game against the Charlotte Bobcats and was his usual productive self with 24 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. On the season, Gasol is posting nightly averages of 16.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.44 blocks on a Lakers squad that is ravaged by injuries.

Considering the next-to-zero playoff chances the Lakers have at this point, it would probably be best for both Gasol and the organization that he takes as much time as needed to heal the injury.

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Branden Dawson Injury: Updates on Michigan State Forward’s Hand and Return

Branden Dawson must not have been happy with his previous performance. The Michigan State junior forward broke his right hand after slamming it down on a desk during a film session, according to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press.   

Rexrode reports Dawson is out “four to five weeks and will have surgery” on the hand. Dawson spoke on the matter:

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I was out with an ACL injury (his freshman) year and I came back from it.”

If things go as hoped, it’s possible he could be back as early as MSU’s Feb. 23 visit to Michigan — but he’ll definitely miss the No. 21 Wolverines’ visit to the Breslin Center on Saturday to take on the No. 3 Spartans (18-1, 7-0 Big Ten).

It’s certainly one of the strangest injuries you’ll hear this season in college basketball and is the cherry on top for what has been a crazy season for the Spartans. Just when one player gets healthy for Tom Izzo, another goes down.

Now Michigan State will very likely take on the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines without their two best rebounders. Gillian Van Stratt of MLive.com reported that Adreian Payne remains doubtful for the game after he sprained his foot.

Dawson is the team’s fourth-leading scorer (10.2 points a game). It will be important that he can return with a few games left in the regular season, so he can get back to his best in time for the NCAA tournament.

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Adreian Payne Injury: Updates on Michigan State Forward’s Foot and Return

And the Adreian Payne puns start now.

Some headlines write themselves, as the Michigan State star is in enough pain that he may miss the Spartans’ next game against the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, Jan. 25, per Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star:

Payne missed Michigan State’s 71-66 win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Tuesday night after he sprained his foot. Earlier in the week, head coach Tom Izzo said, “There’s some of me that doesn’t see him playing for two weeks,” per ESPN.com.

The senior forward is second on the team in points (16.2) and rebounds (7.7) per game.

It will be important that the Spartans get Payne back as soon as possible. They play No. 10 Iowa in one week’s time and then have a non-conference game against Georgetown after that.

That’s a tough stretch of games, one made even tougher in the event that Payne misses any more time.

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Danilo Gallinari Injury: Updates on Nuggets Forward’s Knee and Recovery

Danilo Gallinari‘s 2013-14 NBA season is over before it even began, as the Denver Nuggets forward underwent reconstructive ACL surgery on Jan. 21 and has been ruled out for the rest of the year.

Gallinari underwent the surgery Tuesday morning in a procedure performed by Dr. Steve Traina at Midtown Surgical Center, per a Nuggets team release. Denver general manager Tim Connelly released an accompanying statement noting that Gallinari’s initial knee surgery was “insufficient” and a reconstruction was necessary.    

“Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning,” Connelly said. “Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season.”

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the surgery. 

Gallinari, 25, suffered a torn ACL in April 2013 and was expected to have surgery then—ruling him out for the season. When the injury was initially announced, the Associated Press reported via ESPN.com Gallinari had not suffered any meniscal damage nor did he need any repairs to additional ligaments. 

However, the AP later announced via ESPN.com that he did suffer a meniscus injury and underwent a procedure to repair that—not his ACL. As noted by Wojnarowski, a somewhat strange decision was made to avoid the ACL surgery, leading to Tuesday’s announcement:

The unorthodox nature of the recovery, which saw Gallinari undergo non-surgical treatment, has bore itself out this season. Gallinari has not played a minute with the Nuggets, and his status has only rarely been alluded to.

Only recently did Gallinari acknowledge that missing the entire season was a possibility, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando‘s translation of a recent Spanish-language interview: 

I haven’t set a date for the comeback. It’s a decision we will take further on. Hypothesis to miss this season? Everything can happen. It’s an idea that passed through my mind. But then, maybe, I get back before.

One of the most promising shooting small forwards in the league, Gallinari averaged a career-high 16.2 points per game and shot 37.3 percent from beyond the arc last season. Despite his absence, the Nuggets have still managed to field a top-10 offense and rank among the league’s most prolific three-point shooting teams, per NBA.com.

 

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Ryan Anderson Injury: Updates on Pelicans Forward’s Status and Recovery

Ryan Anderson exited the New Orleans Pelicans’ Jan. 3 game against the Boston Celtics on a stretcher after a scary injury in the fourth quarter.

Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com explains what happened leading up to the injury:

New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson was taken off the floor on a stretcher Friday after a fourth-quarter collision with Boston’s Gerald Wallace. As the Pelicans tried to inbound the ball from under their own defensive basket, Wallace bumped into Anderson from behind, knocking Anderson to the floor.

Fox Sports’ Jennifer Hale reported that a stretcher was used to get Anderson off the court, and he was wearing a collar to stabilize his head and neck.

NBA on ESPN reported that Anderson had movement in both his arms and legs, so it doesn’t appear that he suffered any sort of major spinal injury.

He was taken to a Boston-area hospital for evaluation.

Anderson came into the night as the Pelicans’ leading scorer (20.1) and is the team’s best threat from behind the arc. He’s averaging 3.1 three-pointers a game on 41 percent shooting.

Obviously, whatever on-court impact his injury has is secondary to the injury itself. You can only hope that the stretcher and trip to the hospital were precautionary measures and that Anderson will be back for New Orleans in no time at all.

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