Is Kobe Bryant the Answer to Los Angeles Lakers’ Small Forward Problem?

Small forward poses big problems for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Unless Kobe Bryant takes ownership of this situation, too. 

Immersed in the hustle and bustle of a very active offseason, the Lakers haven’t found a lasting solution to their void at small forward. With the summer winding down, they can’t expect that to change.

Anything they do now, anyone they plug into that starting 3 spot, will be a temporary stopgap or ill-equipped to perform there. Or both. 

But as luck would have it, all hope is not lost.

Turning to Bryant, like they tend to do when facing conflict, might be just the answer—however impermanent—they need.

 

Underwhelming Alternatives 

Assembling almost an entire roster on the fly isn’t easy. The Lakers have spent their offseason trying to remain competitive without compromising any long-term financial flexibility.

Options are limited in these situations. The Lakers haven’t had their pick of the litter, and it shows in their outcast-overloaded roster. 

Lottery busts Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson are the only two legitimate small forwards the Lakers employ.

Both are mobile enough to defend wings, and Henry proved a valuable source of instant offense for the Lakers last season (10 points in 21.1 minutes per game) while Johnson resembled a competent shooter, banging in nearly 37 percent of his three-pointers.

Johnson has also been working out regularly with Bryant, according to the Orange County Register‘s Bill Oram. Bryant is the type to pick his workout partners very carefully. If Johnson is someone he’s willing to spend extra time with, something’s there.

Neither Johnson nor Henry are ideal candidates, though. Henry is slightly undersized at 6’6″, and Johnson remains too much of a specialist.

Starting someone else who’s a two-way player or allows the Lakers to experiment with various promising combinations—or both—makes more sense if afforded the opportunity.

Julius Randle, for the record, is not the player.

Even though he’ll tell you he’s that player.

“A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I’m interchangeable,” he said in June, per Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell. “I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it’s going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside.”

Watching Randle during the NBA‘s Summer League, it became clear his entire skill set wasn’t advertised adequately. He could be seen running point, taking opponents off the dribble and defending—halfheartedly at times—inside and out. There’s little doubt he could spend time at small forward…in a pinch.

Oversized lineups aren’t common for a reason. Starting Randle alongside, say, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill would be a floor-spacing nightmare. Not one of them has three-point range. Same goes for Ed Davis. 

Playing Randle at small forward should be a last resort. Ideally it’s something the Lakers won’t even entertain.

Ryan Kelly saw some time at small forward last year, but it didn’t go well. Or even close to well. He notched a 5.8 player efficiency rating there, per 82games.com.

At 6’11″, he’s more of stretch 4 who relies too much on spot-up shooting to play a small forward’s game. That he’s not quick enough to keep pace with traditionally athletic wings hurts as well.

Better alternatives aren’t found in Wayne Ellington or Nick Young. Ellington is too small at 6’4″, and Young doesn’t play enough defense to police shooting guards, let alone the deeper, scorer-stuffed small forward slot.

It’s not that the Lakers don’t have options—they do. It’s that the options they do have don’t justify not looking for something, anything, better.

 

Benefits of Bryant

This is the part of the movie when Bryant rides into Staples Center wearing a just-for-show cape ready to save the day.

Assuming health, and also assuming a lottery-doomed roster doesn’t drive him into abrupt retirement, Bryant can play small forward. Though he stands at only 6’6″, he’s a self-sufficient scorer who can double as a point forward at times.

Sliding into the 3 spot isn’t anything new for him, either. He’s logged at least 18 percent of his minutes there four times since 2000. Nearly a third of his playing time came there during his historical 2012-13 campaign, and he registered a higher PER at small forward (24.5) than shooting guard (23.1).

Most importantly, though, placing Bryant at small forward allows head coach Byron Scott to tinker with his starting five in ways he otherwise couldn’t. 

Not to mention it prevents him from making a massive mistake. 

Speaking with the Los Angeles Daily NewsMark Medina, Scott revealed he already had four of his five starters in mind: Bryant, Boozer, Hill and…Steve Nash.

You read that correctly.

Rolling with the 40-year-old Nash—no matter how healthy he seems now—over the 26-year-old Jeremy Lin reeks of an obsession with yesteryear. It isn’t smart. David Murphy of Bleacher Report recently made it his mission to tell us why: 

The issue of who should start and who should come off the bench is not about who should or should not play. It’s a question of what most benefits the team—both now and moving forward.

Everyone who has ever been a fan of basketball wants to see Nash go out on his own terms and go out successfully.

But wouldn’t helping Lin to be a better player and bolstering an already potent bench be preferable to struggling against time and a bad back to hold onto a starter’s role and minutes?

As someone who openly wants Nash to end his career on a high note, this is difficult, yet not impossible to accept.

Push come to shove, Lin should start over Nash. He’s younger, better fit to defend opposing point men—which is more an insult to Nash than compliment to Lin—and he’s the incisive handler neither Bryant nor Nash can be at this stage of their careers.

But let’s take this one step further.

Why choose?

Plugging Bryant at small forward enables Scott to start both Nash and Lin, deepening a tape-thin positional rotation in the process.

Nash shouldn’t be charged with primary point guard duties anymore. He can still direct an offense—5.7 assists per game last year—but he can be equally effective off the ball as a spot-up assassin who doesn’t move too much. He’s only one year removed (2012-13) from ranking in the top 10 of standstill efficiency, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). 

Using Nash as an undersized 2-guard also allows Bryant and Lin to operate with the ball in their hands more, which is how both are accustomed to playing.

Creating these mismatches makes them harder for opposing defenses to guard, ensuring they’re running with three established scorers rather than two, plus Johnson or Henry. And with the Lakers built to repeat their defensive performance from last season—28th in efficiency—they’ll need to score. A lot.

A whole lot. 

Moving Bryant to small forward puts them in position to concoct the strongest, most potent offense possible, diminishing the likelihood they field a below-average product.

 

Decisions, Decisions

Displacing Bryant from that shooting guard spot isn’t all dandelions and offensive euphoria. 

There are warts to worry about.

Expecting Bryant to defend opposing small forwards is ambitious.

Regardless of how healthy and spry he’s feeling, guarding the Kevin Durants and Carmelo Anthonys of the world pushes the boundaries of logic. Someone his age (36) shouldn’t defend the opposition’s best wing scorer daily. That, in part, is why Johnson calls Los Angeles home.

Seeing Nash or Lin match up against shooting guards would be just as painful. Neither player is a strong defender, and both stand at 6’3″ tall. They’ll be at severe size disadvantages nightly, waiting to be exploited off the dribble, their sheer lack of height begging opponents to shoot over them.

Under normal circumstances, teams should try to avoid such defensive detriments. 

For the Lakers, this must be viewed as a necessary evil.

Enough concerns and questions plague this team that some must be overlooked, defensive demerits being one of them. It doesn’t matter whether they install a dual-point guard lineup. The Lakers don’t have the luxury of a true, reliable small forward. If they wish to be competitive immediately, sticking with what they know is the only course of action.

And Bryant, when healthy, is someone they know can create options and offer solutions—no matter where or how he plays—that otherwise wouldn‘t exist. 

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.


Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Heat Likely Committed to Playing Small Ball

During the Big Three era of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat transcended the way traditional basketball was meant to be played. Instead of having a traditional point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center position, Miami introduced a new era of position-less basketball.
With multiple players being able to guard a multitude of positions, the Heat came away with two NBA championships and four NBA Finals appearances by playing “small ball.” During the Heat’s glorified four-year tenure, many teams tried to replicate Miami’s small ball approach to try and keep pace with the two-time champs, but to no avail.
One of the clear reasons why the small ball approach was so effective was because of LeBron’s versatility and ability to guard positions one through five, which allowed the Heat to adjust and plug any glaring holes in the system accordingly.
With James now out of the picture, Heat fans must be wondering, ‘Is Erik Spoelstra going to sti…

View full post on Yardbarker: NBA

Breaking Down Oklahoma City Thunder’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

When it comes to the small forward position, the Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant and not much else. 

In fairness, having the reigning Most Valuable Player in his prime is more than enough for any team. Durant is one of the two best players in the NBA, arguably neck-and-neck with the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ LeBron James. He’s an effortless scorer who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his excellence in the other aspects of his game. 

Durant is relentless on the glass, especially on the defensive boards. He’s finished in the top seven in defensive rebounds twice during his seven years in the league. Last season, he averaged 6.7 defensive rebounds per game, which was tied for 12th with the Memphis GrizzliesZach Randolph. He finished with 7.4 total boards per contest (34th in the NBA). 

Defensively, he’s vastly underrated. According to 82games.com, opponents had an effective field-goal percentage of 48.9 percent against Durant. His 4.4 defensive win shares were good for 10th-best in the league, and he had a defensive rating of 104.

Still, the biggest feathers in The Durantula’s cap are his offensive skills. He averaged 32 points per game last year, which earned him his fourth scoring title in seven years. He shot 50.3 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from behind the arc. He also shot 87.3 percent from the free-throw line. 

During his MVP campaign, Durant led the league in win shares (19.2), offensive win shares (14.8), win shares per 48 minutes (.295) and player efficiency rating (29.8). He also led the league in minutes played (3,122) and usage rate (33 percent), which explains why he cited fatigue as his reason for withdrawing from the Team USA prior to the start of the FIBA World Cup. 

“After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint,” Durant said in a statement from USA Basketball. “I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Last season, Brooks wrote off the idea of Durant being fatigued, per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: ”It’s nothing that I’ve talked about and worried about. Fatigue is not an issue with our group. We’re talking 39 minutes of your day. I think he (Durant) can handle that at age 25.”

Durant can clearly handle it, but for how much longer? And is it worth it to KD if he’s not hoisting a championship trophy at the end of the season? 

 

Grading Thunder Small Forwards’ 2013-14 Performances

There’s no doubt that the play of Oklahoma City’s small forwards last season is worthy of high marks. After all, the top guy on their depth chart took home the NBA’s best individual honor. However, the quality of OKC’s 3′s in 2013-14 goes beyond Durant’s excellence. 

The team added depth in March when they signed veteran Caron Butler, who was available after being bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks. While he wasn’t the same player from his glory days with the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards, the man known as “Tough Juice” gave the Thunder a reliable veteran presence. 

He logged 27.2 minutes a night in 22 games, averaging 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds. He shot 40.9 percent from the field, including 44.1 percent from three. He also contributed 1.1 steals per contest. Butler struggled to find his shot in the playoffs though, converting just 32.4 percent of his attempts (35.6 percent from three). 

He’d finish the postseason with an average of 6.3 points in 11 games, getting the starting nod in two of them. 

Former Baylor star Perry Jones III saw a little bit of playing time in the regular season. He played in 62 games (making seven starts), averaging 3.5 points per game in 12.3 minutes. Jones was barely heard from in the playoffs, averaging just five minutes a night. 

To round out the group, Ryan Gomes and Reggie Williams made a couple of cameos. Gomes appeared in five games, while Williams played in three. Neither player managed to do anything worth mentioning. 

Still, Durant’s performance alone is good enough to earn this unit a gold star. Even with his gaudy offensive numbers, his own coach thought he could do more.

Let’s face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he’s scoring now, he really could do that,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters in March. “His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does [are] all about the team.”

As a testament to Durant’s selflessness, the former Texas star actually believed he should be taking fewer shots. He told Mayberry in January that he’s “not doing enough to help” his teammates and that he’s “shooting too much”:

I think now I’m just flat out shooting too much. I have to find a way to get my teammates easier shots. I’ve been thinking these last few games in order for us to get it going I have to do it all offensively. But, nah, we have to do it together. It’s a great learning experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve really been in that type of position. But I just have to get everybody involved. I may have to pass up a few to find a better shot.

The debate over whether he’s shooting too much or not enough aside, Durant’s ability to fill a stat sheet carried over to the postseason. He led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 29.6 points and 8.9 boards in 11 playoff games. He added 1.3 blocks and a steal per contest as well. 

Durant also played 42.9 minutes per game. That, combined with the 38.5 minutes he averaged in the regular season (including a combined 130 minutes in the final three games, when the team had its playoff spot locked up), is why he was gasping for air this summer. 

That’s no fault of Durant’s. He put the team on his back and carried them as far as he could. In the end, the team came a couple wins short of making it to the NBA Finals. With Durant’s MVP season and Butler’s contributions, small forward was arguably the team’s strongest position last year.

Grade: A-

 

What’s In Flux This Season

While small forward will remain one of the team’s strong suits as long as Durant is healthy, depth is a concern for the Thunder this season. Butler is now a Detroit Piston and, in the wake of his departure, all that’s left are a group of unproven guys behind the team’s franchise player. 

Perry Jones would appear to be the most logical candidate to spell Durant. At 6’11″ with a decent outside shooting touch, Jones has a little bit of Lamar Odom to his game. However, his skills aren’t as polished as Odom’s were even in LO’s early days. Part of that is due to a lack of playing time. 

In two seasons, Jones has averaged 10.5 minutes per game. Brooks has traditionally preferred playing veterans over his young guys, as evidenced by the Butler signing last season. 

The other option for backup minutes is perimeter defender Andre Roberson. With former chief defender Thabo Sefolosha now with the Atlanta Hawks, Roberson is the most likely candidate to fill his shoes. At 6’7″, he has the size to play some small forward, but Mayberry suggests he could be in the running to start at shooting guard as well:

Roberson is made in the same mold as Sefolosha, long, athletic, gritty and defensive-minded. Since the Thunder acquired Sefolosha midway through the 2008-09 season, the team has preferred to keep a lockdown-defender type at the starting shooting guard spot. It alleviates pressure from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant defensively and allows the two stars to focus on offense.

The Thunder also used the No. 29 overall pick in this past June’s draft on Stanford small forward Josh Huestis. Like Roberson, Huestis is another long, rangy defender who could play the Sefolosha role for Oklahoma City. 

This is what Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com had to say about Huestis:

The best thing that Huestis brings to the table, and the key attribute that makes him an NBA prospect, is his defense. His size, length and athleticism gives him the ability to guard multiple positions at the college level and beyond, and he shows terrific smarts and intensity locking down opponents.

NBADraft.net added that Huestis is a “tough on-ball defender” and has “good timing as a shot-blocker.” Huestis has yet to sign to sign with the Thunder, opting for a D-League contract instead. He had a ho-hum performance during the Orlando summer league, averaging eight points a game in 19.8 minutes and shooting 12.5 percent from three.

He could be a factor for the team down the road, but he’s still another year or two away. Naturally, that doesn’t help the Thunder this season. With concerns over Durant’s workload, someone needs to step up to give the reigning MVP a breather. 

That person could be on this roster or could be added midseason like Butler last season. 

 

What To Expect This Season

Scott Brooks finds himself in a precarious position. If he continues to overuse Durant and the team’s star player breaks down, the Thunder faithful will be at his door with torches and pitchforks (figuratively, not literally…..at least, I hope not literally). 

If he scales back Durant’s minutes and the team falters, his time in Oklahoma City could be coming to an end. The Thunder have been among the NBA’s elite for some time now, but they have one Finals appearance and no championship rings to speak of. That’s why this is a pivotal year for Brooks. 

It’s also a big year in terms of Durant’s future in Oklahoma City. While free agency for KD is still two years away, every season in which the Thunder comes up short gives him more to consider as he mulls loyalty over more immediate success. 

With LeBron James returning to Cleveland with two championship rings on his hand, the focus shifts to Durant and the inevitable “Can he win The Big One?” questions. It’s a storyline that will no doubt be run into the ground until Durant hits the market after the 2015-16 season. 

The Thunder can’t worry about two years from now, though. They have to hope that either one of their young players will develop into a decent reserve behind Durant or that there’s a veteran who can be a stopgap option until the kids are ready. 

The name that is the most intriguing is Mickael Pietrus, who recently worked out for the Sacramento Kings, according to Shams Charania of RealGM.com. Despite being in the NBA seemingly forever, Pietrus is still only 32 years old. He’s a solid defender and a career 35.5 percent three-point shooter.

In other words, he’s the kind of sneaky free-agent acquisition that should interest general manager Sam Presti

Assuming the roster stays as-is, the pecking order behind Durant should be Jones, Roberson and Huestis. Roberson’s defense could propel him ahead of Jones in Brooks’ rotation, but the Thunder need to find out what they have in both players. 

The Thunder’s outlook at small forward for 2014-15 will be like it has been in recent years: Durant will get the bulk of the minutes and use his plethora of otherworldly basketball gifts to carry the team. Depth will be an issue until someone emerges, but Durant’s presence makes this a strong unit. 

 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Who Should Start at Small Forward for Los Angeles Lakers?

To say there’s not a lot of obvious depth at the small forward position for the Los Angeles Lakers is saying just a little. It’s a tale of “tweeners.”

Wesley Johnson is the clearest natural candidate, even if Mike D’Antoni did insist on using him as a vastly undersized power forward last season.

And then there’s Xavier Henry, a young, athletic slasher who played three positions in just 43 games last season as a point guard, shooting guard and small forward.

Kobe Bryant has stepped into the 3-spot on a number of occasions in the past, depending on lineups. And Nick “Swaggy P” Young is also capable of playing the position—although he’s clearly at his best when letting it rain from his natural shooting guard role.

Even rookie Julius Randle—a 6’10” bull in a china shop—thinks he can play interchangeable frontcourt positions, as he mentioned soon after being drafted, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com:

A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I’m interchangeable. I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it’s going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside.

But as Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold points out about Randle, there are inherent problems with tall trees lineups that pack the frontcourt with size:

Put a 6’10” player on the perimeter and tell him to defend a like sized player who just so happens to be able to put the ball on the floor with skill and quickness and the advantage will almost always lie with the player who possesses the ball. Big players normally lack the needed lateral quickness to stay in front of such players. Add in the advantages that come with drawing that bigger defender away from the paint and the benefits to an offense only increase via better spacing for the entire team.

During the wild and woolly D’Antoni era, even 6’11” Ryan Kelly got to try his hand at small forward.

But the small-ball innovator has moved on now, and there is a new sheriff in town. It’s hard to see Byron Scott, with his fondness for traditional interior fundamentals, playing footloose and fancy-free as guys like Randle or Kelly try to make like Lamar Odom.

There is, of course, another wild-card factor. With only 13 players on the roster, the Lakers are likely to go into the regular season with another body—especially someone who could fill an obvious positional need.

This leads us to the rumor that won’t go away until it finally, and mercifully, does go away—that Michael Beasley, who has worked out twice with the Lakers, could somehow wind up as their starting small forward.

This is a recipe ripe for disaster. 

Because what would happen if a rash of injuries were to hit and you were suddenly left with Swaggy and B-Easy playing alongside each other? Lots of buckets and unintentional hilarity for sure—but solid basketball? That’s highly unlikely.

Or, as The Great Mambino recently wrote for Silver Screen and Roll, “It’s a really stupid idea.” He elaborates further:

Michael Beasley isn’t a lottery ticket. He is a skunked bottle of wine. He’s 25 years old, sure, but has alienated himself from his last three teams in six seasons. He couldn’t stick with a Minnesota squad hurting for shooting swingmen, a rebuilding Phoenix club looking for any semblance of talent or a Heat team desperate for an explosive scorer off the bench. He would come to the Lakers needing to beat out a dozen other guys for a spot at either of the forward positions. Bringing him on isn’t just an indictment that the Lakers aren’t hitting on their reclamation projects, but an indictment of incompetence.

So take away all the positional musical chairs and the idea that Beasley could somehow shoot his way into the heart of a hardliner like Scott, and what do you have left?

It comes back full circle to Johnson—the most obvious choice for the starting small forward role. He’s got the size and the natural ability, can alter shots at the rim and is a decent perimeter defender as well.

He also has support from Scott, per Mike Trudell for Lakers.com: “I think the kid is so talented, I’m really hoping it can be a break out year for him. Now, obviously, he has to come to camp and win that spot, and that’s on him.”

As I recently noted for B/R, Johnson has been working out with the Mamba this summer. This is not a new development—per Jonah Ballow for the Minnesota Timberwolvesofficial site, the former No. 4 pick met Bryant during predraft workouts in 2010 and has been mentored by him ever since.

Still, there continues to be a need for improvement. Johnson’s 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season aren’t markedly different from his nine points and three boards during his rookie campaign.

This season will be his last best chance to prove himself as a solid contributor in the NBA. If he can’t do it with the support and encouragement of Bryant and Scott, then it really will be time for Plan B.

Just as long as the “B” doesn’t stand for Beasley.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down Milwaukee Bucks’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

While there are certainly positional debates to be had elsewhere on the roster, the scenario at small forward for the Milwaukee Bucks—given the logjam and abundance of talent—provides an intriguing one for the 2014-15 season.

Rookie Jabari Parker and second-year phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo are arguably the team’s two biggest talents, and both are most suited to play the 3.

Meanwhile, Khris Middleton is coming off a solid 2013-14 year that saw him provide the Bucks with efficient, much-needed scoring. Add Damien Inglis—who was drafted in the second round this summer—and recently acquired Jared Dudley to the mix, and it’s hard to picture enough minutes being divvied up among these players.

So, where does that leave things? In order to begin to understand, one must first look at last season.

 

Looking Back

In 2013-14, small forward was one of the team’s glaring weaknesses, even as Antetokounmpo began to emerge as a star in the making.

Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino were slated to log the bulk of minutes, but that didn’t exactly pan out. 

Butler appeared in just 34 games before being traded, and an injury kept Delfino out all season.

With Antetokounmpo and Middleton as the only remaining options, experience at small forward was sparse, to say the least.

That being said, Middleton turned out to be one of the Bucks’ most consistent players on offense, averaging 12.1 points on 44.0 percent shooting from the floor and an impressive 41.4 percent from three-point range.

Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo was not overly impressive from a numbers standpoint but turned some heads around the league with his length, defense and athleticism.

However, it was far from a position of strength.

The inexperience of Antetokounmpo was visible from time to time—shaky ball-handling, errant passes—and Middleton suffered through a terrible month of January.

But even though the young duo put together a solid stretch, small forward was not one of the better positions for the Bucks a season ago.

As the offseason has shown, things at the 3 are beginning to look better, though.

 

A Summer of Change

Dating back to last season, Antetokounmpo’s growth was becoming more and more visible. While not crystal clear, it wasn’t hard to envision the young Greek as the team’s small forward of the future.

Despite having the league’s worst record, the Bucks missed out on the draft’s top pick in June and didn’t have to make the difficult decision of choosing between Parker and Andrew Wiggins.

Instead, the Duke standout fell into Milwaukee’s lap, thus starting an interesting dynamic at the position.

Having Parker and Antetokounmpo on the same roster meant one of them would certainly have to play out of position.

Parker is capable of playing power forward but is much more suited to small forward.

And, truthfully, the same thing could be said about Antetokounmpo.

In addition to the youngsters, Middleton—who’s no veteran himself—returns in hopes of remaining an asset off the bench. 

The Bucks also recently acquired Jared Dudley in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, adding a veteran presence among a trio of young small forwards.

Antetokounmpo is clearly the most versatile of the bunch and could be slotted at either forward position, shooting guard and, as head coach Jason Kidd experimented with this summer, point guard.

In Parker’s case, he’ll be moving up to the 4 often throughout the season, especially in order to take advantage of bigger, slower power forwards on the perimeter. 

Middleton and Dudley, while not limited, will probably play the majority of their minutes at small forward without much movement up or down in the lineup.

Regardless, the Bucks made a concerted effort to strengthen the 3 over the summer.

And this doesn’t even factor in Damien Inglis, who may or may not see much playing time in 2014-15.

 

Looking Ahead

With a multitude of players capable of playing small forward, expect the Bucks to use a lot of non-traditional lineups this season.

Dudley and Middleton will both see plenty of minutes off the bench, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of them on the court with both Parker and Antetokounmpo at the same time.

Truthfully, the Bucks are fortunate to have these options.

Middleton is quick and long enough that he can play some shooting guard should the situation call for it, and with O.J. Mayo struggling a season ago, that might be a plausible scenario.

The development of John Henson will impact how the aforementioned players are utilized, as well.

If Henson continues to make strides and can become an effective two-way player, he just might solidify himself as the team’s power forward of the future.

If that occurs, Parker would slide back to small forward.

And while Antetokounmpo is still very raw, it’s hard to imagine Kidd relegating the Greek Freak to the bench.

That leaves one realistic—sorry, all you “Magic Giannison” hopefuls—possibility: Antetokounmpo playing shooting guard.

It’s hard to imagine someone who shot just 41.4 percent from the floor in 2013-14 starting at the 2, but it might be the best option, especially after his showing at the Las Vegas Summer League.

In four games, Antetokounmpo averaged 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting a very good 46.2 percent from the floor and a respectable 37.5 percent from three-point territory.

As you can see from the video above, he was able to score in a variety of ways, which was lacking from his game during his rookie year.

It all boils down to the Bucks being supremely talented at the wing.

What was a weak spot for the team a season ago has turned into an exciting one with a mix of veteran leadership and raw, youthful potential.

2014-15 will certainly be fun to watch.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down NY Knicks’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The New York Knicks are in an in-between phase of Phil Jackson’s franchise rejuvenation, and it’s apparent throughout the roster. The team’s new president administered as much roster overhaul as he could over his first summer in charge, and there are several new pieces for Derek Fisher to work into his rotation. 

At the same time, expensive, intrusive leftovers from the prior regime remain on the roster and will impede New York’s ability to prepare for the future. The presence of these holdovers—Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, namely—will have a direct impact on how Fisher handles minutes at the small forward position this season. 

Carmelo Anthony, a natural small forward over the course of his career, has enjoyed tremendous success at the power forward slot these past two seasons thanks to the matchup nightmares he presents against traditional 4s. With Stoudemire and Bargnani in the fold for 2014-15, Anthony may be bumped back down to the position for extended minutes. 

The small forward minutes will generally be taken up by the same crowd as last season—Anthony, Shumpert and J.R. Smith are all returning—while rookie Cleanthony Early will attempt to earn a role at the position as well. Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw, who were acquired from the Sacramento Kings in August, could figure into the rotation as well. 

This year is all about transition for the Knicks, as they await to make a free-agency splash in 2015. But let’s take a look back and a look forward on the small forward position’s status in the meantime.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

Position Grade: B

 

Last season wasn’t pretty for the Knicks in most aspects, but they did get positive production out of their small forward spot. Much of that had to do with Anthony, but there were bright spots from Shumpert and Smith at the position also. 

Let’s start with Anthony, though. It’s clear now that ‘Melo is better suited at the 4, and he has posted better numbers there over the last two seasons, but he is still one of the league’s best offensive talents at small forward. 

According to Basketball-Reference, Anthony logged 38 percent of his total minutes at the 3 last season, and according to 82games.com, he posted a 22 player efficiency rating and 30.2 points per 48 minutes while playing there. The bulk of those minutes came early in the season before Bargnani’s season-ending injury in January, when Mike Woodson insisted on including the two players in a bigger lineup. 

After Bargnani went down, Anthony bumped back up to the power forward position for the most part, which opened up a slot for another guard in the starting lineup. More guards with shooting range around Anthony in the lineup led to more space for him to operate, and him being matched up against 4s led to more panicky help defense by opponents, which led to more open teammates for Anthony to utilize. 

J.R. Smith, according to Basketball-Reference, played the vast majority, 72 percent, of his minutes at the 3. And while his overall numbers infer a putrid all-around season, Smith was a very solid option for the Knicks after shaking off a brutal two-month stretch to begin the year. 

After Jan. 10, Smith shot 45 percent from the field and and 43 percent from three-point range, averaging 16.5 points, four rebounds and three assists a game. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert rounded out the small forward rotation, and two of the youngest Knicks could not have gone through more different experiences. 

Hardaway, in his rookie campaign, impressed with his scoring ability but struggled in every other facet of the game, and the Knicks were a worse team with him on the floor. Shumpert went through a season-long scoring slump, posting a shooting line of .378/.333/.746, but gave the Knicks a boost in other key areas and posted the team’s best net rating aside from Anthony. 

As was the case with the rest of the team, though, there was never enough consistency beside Anthony to string together a meaningful run. The 3-slot was solid enough to keep the Knicks above water, but considering all else, that just wasn’t enough. 

 

What’s Left to Settle?

The biggest question the Knicks face heading into the year features two of their three highest-paid players. How much will Stoudemire and Bargnani factor into the rotation?

In theory, both players can help a team score in limited roles. But with both being natural 4s, unable to protect the rim and unable to coexist in the same lineup on either end of the floor, both are simply expensive nightmares for a rebuilding Knicks team.

Last season, New York was 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse with Stoudemire on the floor. Bargnani’s number was 8.1 points worse.

Here’s the conundrum the Knicks face: Carmelo is a better weapon at the 4. If Anthony is at the 4 and STAT or Bargs figure into the rotation, one will need to play the center position, effectively destroying the team’s chances on defense. If one—or God forbid both—of Stoudemire and Bargnani are playing with ‘Melo, it bumps him back down to the 3, ruining space and taking minutes away from the younger wings.

This is a dilemma that’s easy to spot, even months before the season. The way Jackson is constructing the Knicks, and with their hopes of landing a prime free agent next summer, these two players will not be a part of the future. The only thing left to settle is when Fisher will cut them out of the present.

 

The New Rotation

At least at the onset of 2014-15, it’s reasonable to assume the small forward rotation will resemble last year’s, with Anthony logging some minutes there to accommodate Stoudemire and/or Bargnani.

When Anthony is resting, two of Smith, Shumpert and Hardaway will accompany him on the wings. Over time, Early could work into the rotation at the 3 as well, but at least in the season’s early stages, Travis Outlaw may get the nod over the rookie for those spot minutes.

According to general manager Steve Mills after the Knicks traded for Outlaw and Quincy Acy (via Ian Begley of ESPN New York), Outlaw is “a mobile big that can play the 4 and the 5. He’s got a great mid-range shot. I think he’ll fit within sort of the triangle. He’s got good hands, he can space the floor and he’s got great size.”

Outlaw has averaged under 15 minutes per game over the last three seasons and will likely only be capable of spot minutes if Fisher opts not to overwork Anthony in the season’s early going. After impressing in the summer league, though, and after more practice time with Fisher’s triangle offense, it’s easy to see Early earning a role behind Anthony and the other wings. 

Acy is another player who adds depth at the position but probably won’t make all that much of an impact. He’s been an energy guy throughout his brief NBA career and by all accounts a likable teammate. He’s averaged 13 minutes per game over his two pro seasons, and judging by the talent the Knicks have at the 3, that number may decrease by the time this season is over. 

How the complete rotation at small forward ends up largely depends on Fisher’s plans for Anthony and what position he sees him fitting best in the triangle. Talent-wise, though, like last season, the position projects to be a strength for New York.

 

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down Miami Heat’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

LeBron James is out, Luol Deng is in, and the Miami Heat are facing a major change at the small forward position. But it isn‘t as simple as that.

James didn’t play 48 minutes at small forward. Also contributing to the Heat at the 3 last season were Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, James Jones and Michael Beasley in varying degrees. Even Ray Allen was used in three-guard lineups with Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers.

Of all positions, small forward is the one in which Miami faces the biggest change, giving the position a new identity and role in the team’s scheme for the 2014-15 season.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

Few teams have been in a better situation at small forward than the Heat were last season—like, in the history of the NBA. James is the most versatile, singularly dominant small forward the game has ever seen, and he was in his prime during his last season in Miami. 

James is listed as a small forward, but he often played power forward in Erik Spoelstra‘s positionless approach. According to basketball-reference.com, James played power forward 82 percent of the time. Battier, Lewis, Beasley and Jones would all be seen playing a small forward-like position at times, too. However, either forward spot’s distinction was nominal in nature. The 3 and the 4 were interchangeable in Spoelstra‘s scheme, depending on the matchup. 

As for the other small forwards on the roster, Battier looked like a guy who should have retired after the Heat won the Finals in 2013. He couldn’t close out on defense, defend 4s anymore or hit his three-pointers (just 34.8 percent last season).

That led to Spoelstra yanking him from the starting lineup in favor of Lewis, who had a nice stretch in the playoffs but couldn’t make it last into the NBA Finals. The Heat signed Beasley before the season as a low-risk, high-reward guy. He never panned out, coming in and scoring in spurts but overall being unreliable to fulfill his assignments within the scheme.

Still, with James in the fold, few teams could have asked for a better situation. When Battier was playing top-notch defense, though, the Heat as a team were also. In 2013, I would have given the 3 spot an “A+,” but I’ll settle on an “A” given the lack of depth last season.

 

What’s New?

In a word? Everything.

James, Battier, Lewis and Jones are all gone. In comes Deng, Danny Granger and James Ennis.

Deng comes over from the Cleveland Cavaliers and ensures that the small forward spot isn‘t a weakness in Miami despite the departure of James. The Heat also signed Granger, who is coming off a few leg injuries, and brought last year’s second-round pick Ennis back from Australia. Both are guard-forward tweeners with specific skill sets.

Still, going from historically excellent to above average at a position is quite the drop-off. It’s like if you replaced Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” with John Travolta.

 

What Will the Position Look Like This Season?

The only true small forward on the roster, Deng should get the lion’s share of the minutes here. In his last three seasons in Chicago, he averaged more than 38 minutes per game. Miami will probably give him a similar work load, especially if Granger has to miss time and assuming Ennis takes a while to adjust to the NBA.

It’s no secret that James mailed it in at times on defense last season. With the scoring load firmly set on his shoulders, it’s hard to blame him. Deng won’t face nearly the same demand on offense, which will allow him to do what he does best. He’ll play the best perimeter defense on the team, hustle for loose balls and rebounds while letting the game come to him on offense. He isn’t a particularly dangerous offensive player, but knows his limits.

Check out his efficiency shot chart, via NylonCalculus.com. Shot efficiency measures a player’s points per shot compared to the rest of the league, measuring not only a player’s field-goal percentage from a particular location but also the volume at which that player shot from that location. 34 percent of Deng’s attempts came near the basket, while no more than five percent of his attempts came from any other location.

Granger, then, can come in and bring the scoring punch. Looking at his efficiency chart, Granger shot better than 44 percent from four different spots beyond the arc with 13 percent of his attempts coming from the corners.

For a comparison of what the 3 spot will look like, think of the Dallas Mavericks small-forward rotation the last few years with Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Marion was the reliable starter, playing plus defense and shooting threes. Then Carter would come in to add a scoring flare. With those teams, Marion averaged about 30 minutes per game while Carter played about 25.

Because Granger’s injury concerns and Deng being used to playing nearly 40 minutes a game, figure that split to be something closer to 35-20 with Deng in the Marion role and Granger in the Carter role.

As for Ennis, it will depend on how quickly he can get accustomed to NBA action. He is, by far, the most athletic on the three. He can get in the paint and play above the rim. He is very raw and needs to learn the intricacies of the game—playing within Miami’s defense and offense—before he sees a significant playing time. For now, he figures to be seated near the end of Miami’s bench.

When judging the impact of losing James, you have to look further than simply who replaces him at small forward. James did so much for the Heat—from initiating the offense from the perimeter or the post, defending the opponent’s best player, being the scoring leader and bringing the ball up—that it will take a team effort to replace even a percentage of what he brings to the court.

When you really think about it, Miami didn’t have a true small forward for the past three seasons. Even Battier played more of a faux stretch-4. The biggest change between last season and this season will be the fact that the Heat will be playing with a true small forward for the first time since James joined the team in 2010.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Who Should Start for Chicago Bulls at Small Forward?

The Chicago Bulls have an interesting problem to deal with heading into the season. As opposed to the situation in years prior, the Bulls actually have plenty of legitimate depth that could start for multiple other teams.

The additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and prized rookie Doug McDermott could make an impact on the starting lineup, and Taj Gibson’s role could potentially change as well.

The biggest difference from last season to this upcoming year, however, is who starts at the small forward position.

Here’s Kelly Scaletta for Bleacher Report:

[Jimmy] Butler will get the nod at shooting guard and was named to the All-Defensive second team. The Bulls are hoping his offense bounces back this year after his field-goal percentage dropped below 40 percent last year, but he’ll log minutes regardless because he’s one of the best wing stoppers in the league.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. stepped into Deng’s spot after he was traded on Jan. 7. There’s a good chance he moves back to the bench at some point in the season, if not to begin it.

That means McDermott starting alongside Butler is a viable option. He’s not projected to be an elite defender, but he doesn’t need to be. In fact, he can survive as a below average one.

As a rookie, he will have a learning curve, but in this case that’s actually the reason it makes more sense to start him. And that’s also one of the keys to getting sufficient minutes to all the rotation players, counterintuitive as it may seem.

Butler can play and cover either the 2 or 3, which makes him a good fit with just about anyone on the wing. While the Bulls lack some ball-handling and distributing ability with Butler in there, he’ll defend his tail off and protect Derrick Rose at point.

Really, it’s a question of who would mesh better with the rest of the starters.

Is it Mike Dunleavy, a dangerous spot-up shooter and underrated rebounder and defender? Or is it McDermott, a player who should be more capable of creating his own shots and scoring at a higher rate?

It would seem, at least initially, that Dunleavy should be considered the heavy favorite to start opening day. He’s the veteran who understands head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive schemes, and his proven track record of being a great perimeter shooter is something the Bulls should want in the starting lineup.

The flip side of that argument, though, is that Dunleavy was much better last season coming off the bench than he was with the starters. In 21 games off the bench, Dunleavy connected on 42.3 percent of his threes compared to just 36.8 percent in 61 games as a starter. That makes sense, as it’s almost always easier to score against second-unit defenses as opposed to the first string.

That may be a bit of a small sample size, though, and Rose returning to the starting lineup should impact things quite a bit.

It’s still something to be considered, though, especially if McDermott is effective in training camp and preseason. 

Thibodeau hasn’t relied heavily on rookies in general over the years, although he’s never had a rookie as highly regarded as McDermott. The full college career and proven track record probably mean McDermott is a little more capable to contribute offensively as a rookie than someone like Tony Snell was last year.

Speaking of Snell, he’s a dark horse to contend for some minutes as well. After a strong Summer League showing, his athleticism could be a luxury if his shooting range is extended and consistent. Remember, given Butler’s offensive struggles last year, the Bulls will need someone who can at least be a threat on the wing.

There’s also the chance that Thibodeau reaches for his security blanket and tosses Kirk Hinrich some minutes at the 2 next to Rose in order to lessen his responsibilities. Again, Butler can easily play the 3, so Thibodeau has options. 

Here’s Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

The strategic wheels are already in motion for Thibodeau, who singled out Chicago’s decision to re-sign Kirk Hinrich as key in allowing Rose to spend some extra time off of the ball. Thibodeau seemed ready to welcome back a player who was still capable of displaying elite athleticism but who also has added a richer comprehension of the action.

Ultimately, it would be a surprise if Dunleavy wasn’t tabbed as the starter. He helped keep the Bulls afloat after the Luol Deng trade last year, and he’s a smart veteran player who will be able to find his role rather quickly, something that might not happen with McDermott right off the bat.

Here’s what Dunleavy told Sam Smith at Bulls.com about last season:

‘Ultimately I came here for the core beliefs and culture and the way this organization went,’ said Dunleavy. ‘They could have guys come and go and be injured and those things stayed the same. They did and that’s why we were able to have a successful season.

‘Sure, when Derrick went down and Lu was traded everyone was questioning everything,’ Dunleavy acknowledged. ‘But we stuck with it and this has been the most rewarding season I’ve had as a pro by far.’

In a sense, Thibodeau might want to reward Dunleavy with the chance to start. Even though Dunleavy has spent plenty of time in his 12-year career coming off the bench, the lack of an established player to replace him probably won’t push him there quite yet.

McDermott and Snell have to prove to Thibodeau that they’re ready for the responsibility of playing in a demanding defensive system, but Dunleavy already passed his initial test. If this is about trust more than it’s about potential, Dunleavy should get the nod.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down Charlotte Hornets’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The Charlotte Hornets are poised for a stellar 2014-15 NBA season behind a deep roster full of youth, athleticism and defensive prowess. Head coach Steve Clifford turned this team into an elite club on the less glamorous end of the floor last season by establishing a strong foundation of fundamental, unselfish basketball.

In order to make a leap this coming year, Charlotte will need a big uptick in production from one particular spot on the floor.

Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker will lock down the backcourt and the center spot with ease. At power forward, Charlotte has newcomer Marvin Williams as well as two incredibly talented top-10 draft picks in Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller.

Small forward is a very different story.

 

Last Year’s Performance

It would be tough to make a case against small forward being Charlotte’s weakest position last year. The front office tried to mitigate some of the shortcomings by offering a king’s random for Gordon Hayward in the offseason (four years, $63 million), but the Utah Jazz ultimately matched the contract and retained their restricted free agent.

Charlotte is left with much of the same. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still the starter with two years of experience under his belt. He took a step back offensively in year two, struggling to find his place with Al Jefferson in town and Josh McRoberts breaking out.

However, he thrived in Clifford’s new defensive scheme by posting a defensive rating of 103. Night in and night out, he locked onto the opposing team’s best perimeter player and wreaked havoc.

The main problem is that he is a liability on offense, continuously getting lost on that end of the floor and having almost no impact. He shot a good percentage from the floor at 47 percent last season, but he doesn’t expand his game whatsoever. In order to live up to his lofty draft status as a No. 2 pick, he has to add to his repertoire.

Behind him, things got even murkier. He is really the only prototypical NBA 3 on the roster. Jeff Taylor played just 26 games before succumbing to a ruptured Achilles, and he was mostly ineffective during his time.

Anthony Tolliver delivered some great outside shooting in his absence, and that was just about it. This wasn’t a deep position for Charlotte last season whatsoever.

In fact, Charlotte had the least productive small forward corps in the entire NBA last year, according to HoopsStats.com, posting 14.9 points, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals a night. All were worst in the league.

Overall Grade: C-

 

What Is In Flux This Offseason

From a roster standpoint, what has changed is that Tolliver is gone and Marvin Williams is in. The only problem is that Williams has played mostly power forward in recent years and should fill that role in the starting lineup, replacing McRoberts. Chris Douglas-Roberts also appears to be nearing a deal with the Clippers.

Charlotte selected P.J. Hairston in the first round, but he projected as much more of a typical shooting guard. Lance Stephenson was brought in, sliding Gerald Henderson to the bench. Neither of them have ideal size to play small forward at all. 

That leaves MKG and Taylor as the two who absolutely have to get it done. Charlotte can clearly succeed with MKG scoring seven points a game, but an improvement on his part could very well separate this team from the rest of the pack of middling playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

All this means that the main thing in flux is MKG‘s jumper. He shot 61 percent in the paint last season but under 31 percent everywhere else.

Charlotte needs him to improve offensively in order to improve the production from that position. His defensive ability is paramount to the team’s success, but a lot hinges on his ability to take the next step. This is especially true with little else on the roster in terms of small forward talent. Taylor has been cleared for practice after his injury, but he has limited upside.

 

What It Should Look Like Next Season

It is unreasonable to expect MKG to turn into an offensive threat overnight. Getting 10-12 points a night from him next year would be a big improvement. Clifford needs to get him out in the open court and have him more involved in the flow of the offense; otherwise, his growth will never come. Avoiding the growing pains will not give him the satisfaction of overcoming them.

The most beneficial scenario to employ in the present time would be to go with smaller lineups when MKG isn’t on the floor. Henderson, Hairston and Stephenson are all a few inches and a couple pounds short of being able to play extended minutes at small forward, but all make up for it with athleticism.

The NBA is trending toward smaller lineups in general, and Stephenson is more than capable of guarding players with size on him. MKG should continue to improve and see an uptick in minutes, but there will still be a small amount of time when neither he nor Taylor is on the floor and Charlotte has to make do.

The size up front gives Clifford plenty of options with his backcourt. The additions of Vonleh and Williams inject some added size into the frontcourt in order to free up some other spots.

With the way this roster is situated, Charlotte is banking a lot on MKG. He will continue to wow people on defense, but Stephenson’s presence will take an immense amount of pressure off of him. An exceptional defender in his own right, the triple-double machine will have no problem covering guys like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony for brief stretches.

This team needs to play to its strengths. Clifford’s defensive system runs plenty deep enough to accommodate a small lineup from time to time. Expect to see Walker, Henderson and Stephenson all on the court together with some regularity, because the matchup problems that backcourt would create should cancel out any slight defensive handicaps.

Clifford should have more fun with this roster since he can mix and match. Henderson, Taylor, Hairston and Gary Neal all off the bench will be a potent second unit, something Charlotte severely lacked last season.

Charlotte cannot really mess up this situation. The issue last year pertained more to the lack of overall talent and not so much the lack of small forward depth. Having MKG and arguably Jeff Taylor as the only traditional small forwards should not hold this roster back at all due to the bevy of shooting guards.

 

Follow Justin on Twitter @Hussington 

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Breaking Down Orlando Magic’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The Orlando Magic have question marks all over heading into the 2014-15 season, and the small forward position is no exception. The departure of Arron Afflalo is bound to have an impact. Can the additions of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon make up for it?

Do they actually need to?

Each team adjusts its playing style according to the personnel available. In this case, losing Afflalo and signing Channing Frye implies a paradigm shift. Orlando now has Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and the aforementioned Frye. All are able—and expected—to play a substantial part on offense, which suggests the small forwards will take a step back.

However, that will be a tiny, even minuscule step.

Players like Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris possess too much talent to lock them away behind a rigid system focused on two or three players to provide points.

To understand the importance of the Magic’s wing position, it’s probably a good idea to first take a look back at last year.

 

Grading Orlando’s Small Forwards for 2013-14

Obviously, Afflalo was the most efficient offensive player the Orlando Magic had at the 3, where he spent 50 percent of his minutes. Frankly, he was their best weapon regardless of position, period.

The veteran shot an impressive 42.7 percent from downtown and averaged 18.2 points per game in 35 minutes. Not only that, but his 3.4 assists per outing were good enough to place him third on his team in that category.

He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.

Harkless played 24.4 minutes per game and was a more defensive-minded option at small forward. He might not have been a prolific scorer with 7.4 points per game, but that was a direct result of not being used as a main weapon on attack.

In his second year at the pro level, the former No. 15 pick displayed solid shooting, connecting on 38.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sadly, his free-throw shooting lacked in quality with a meager 59.4 percent success rate.

Harris, while officially playing as power forward for the majority of his time on court, was also a big contributor from the 3. His aggressive style of play led to 4.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, of which he converted a solid 80.7 percent.

Overall, the Orlando Magic definitely had an above-average rotation at small forward in 2013-14.

 

Changes During the Offseason

The most important change was sending Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.

Orlando lost its high-scoring veteran and will now rely on others to step up. Frye’s addition means more firepower from the 4, but who can fill in at the 3?

Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.

They are used to head coach Jacque Vaughn’s system and showed a lot of potential last season. Both are still very young and will continue to improve with consistent minutes.

The Magic’s No. 4 pick, Gordon, will likely see some time at small forward, despite having been a power forward during his collegiate career. His 6’9″, 225-pound frame and athleticism place him somewhere between those positions—he will be a 3.5 if you like.

The team also acquired Fournier, who is nominally a small forward but can bring the ball when needed. He is a good shooter and can spread the floor, but his size and athleticism are not up to par with the other three candidates.

 

Orlando’s Small Forward Position 2014-15

Harkless and Harris seem set to fight for the starting spot at the 3. Both can be efficient small forwards, but they play very different roles. With Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye being the main weapons on offense, Vaughn will likely want to start Harkless for his defensive skills.

The 21-year-old can drain the open shot, but his main focus will be on the other end of the floor.

Harris can play as a small forward or a power forward, and he brings explosive offense with his reckless drives to the basket. Last season, this translated into a team-leading 33 and-1 opportunities, of which he converted 25. He would be perfect as a sixth man, providing lots of energy.

This brings us to the rookie.

Gordon will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA. He was able to dominate the paint as a power forward in college but seems more likely to succeed as a small forward at the pro level, unless he puts on more weight. The No. 4 pick certainly has a tough job ahead of him, getting used to a new position, a new system and a much more intense style of play.

The Orlando Magic will be happy if the 18-year-old manages to become an efficient player off the bench over the course of his first campaign.

Fournier, on the other hand, could turn into a valuable player very quickly.

His versatility and lack of size, however, mean that he will spend more time at the 1 and 2. If Elfrid Payton can’t get into a rhythm early on during his rookie season, the Frenchman may well end up bringing the ball up frequently.

Likewise, if Ben Gordon can’t produce, Fournier will be the main backup behind Oladipo. The 6’6″ athlete provides consistent shooting from three-point land (37.6 percent last season), and his tender age of 21 implies he still has room to develop. If he can improve his athleticism, he will eventually become an important factor for the team, regardless of position.

Despite losing Afflalo, the Orlando Magic have good options at small forward.

Effectively, three players will be able to contribute right away, even if Fournier seems somewhat undersized. Gordon will still need time to develop, but the Magic can afford to wait for him to mature.

One of the main advantages Coach Vaughn has at the 3 is the different style of play each of these three athletes can offer. If he wants aggressive defense, he can bring in Harkless. For the same aggression on the offensive end, Harris is the perfect choice. If in need of a good ball-handler who can spread the floor with his shooting, on comes Fournier.

The small forward position may have lost some punch with Afflalo‘s departure, but Orlando’s fans don’t need to be concerned.

The young guns are ready to take over.

 

All stats and info taken from NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com unless stated otherwise.

You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Next Page »