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.

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Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

Highlighted by budding superstar Kawhi Leonard, small forward is a solid position for the reigning league champion San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15.

Leonard is the unit’s unquestioned star, while Marco Belinelli was technically his backup due to the backcourt rotation in which he played.

NBA journeyman Austin Daye rounds out the incumbents, but the Spurs added a pass-happy piece to the position during the summer.

Reviewing the performance of the aforementioned trio and factoring offseason changes will help decide what changes, if any, San Antonio needs to make for the upcoming campaign.

 

Grading 2013-14 Performance

Leonard missed 14 regular-season games due to a broken finger, but rumor has it he performed pretty well anyway. The third-year forward was recognized as a NBA All-Defensive second team honoree, the first of what figures to be many such awards.

However, Leonard really did improve after fracturing the metacarpal in his right ring finger against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 22.

And of course, Leonard had a spectacular finish and was named the 2014 NBA Finals MVP following three outstanding performances opposite LeBron James.

Belinelli was on fire to start the season, hovering around 47-50 percent from distance and leading the league in that category for a couple months. The Italian sharpshooter cooled off, but he still posted a career-best 43.0 percent mark behind the arc.

During the playoffs, Belinelli reached double digits just twice in 23 appearances compared to 49 such games through the opening 82.

Some call Daye a small forward, some call him a power forward. But whichever side of the fence you’re on, the midseason acquisition played just 115 total minutes for the Spurs, so it’s not a significant debate, regardless.

Looking back over the entire season, though, San Antonio was largely successful at the position because Leonard picked up Belinelli’s slack when it mattered the most.

Overall Grade: A-

 

What Happened This Offseason?

The Spurs did not lose any small forwards, but they added one in UCLA’s Kyle Anderson with the last selection of the first round of the NBA draft.

Granted, Anderson is basically a 6’8″ point forward because of his superior passing ability. He will be utilized in a variety of ways; spelling Leonard, who often chases the league’s best scorers around the court, is an important responsibility.

Bleacher Report’s Garrett Jochnau believes Anderson’s future with the team is very bright, citing his skill set and organizational fit.

And Anderson needs to be ready immediately, because Leonard has an unpleasant injury history. The San Diego State product has missed 58 games throughout his first three years in the league.

Though he may not necessarily be injury-prone, that label is slowly sneaking up on Leonard. No, it’s not a serious cause for concern at this point, but Anderson certainly helps lessen the impact of a potential absence.

 

Looking Ahead to 2014-15, What to Expect

Leonard is entering the final season of his rookie contract, meaning San Antonio is at least in preliminary internal discussions about an extension. The front office has until Oct. 31 to reach an agreement; otherwise the 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent next offseason.

However, the rising star isn’t worried about that. ”I’m just playing,” Leonard said, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. “The Spurs are a great organization. I’m leaving that to my agent, and I’m sure they’ll come out with a great understanding and a deal. I’m not focused on that at all.”

Belinelli is on the back end of a two-year deal, and Daye‘s contract expires after 2014-15 as well. Ultimately, San Antonio does not need to sign a small forward for its 15th and final roster opening.

As is always the case with Gregg Popovich, playing time will be a fluid situation throughout the entire season. Behind Leonard as the 30-minute-per-night starter, the Spurs’ second unit is a question due to Patty Mills’ shoulder injury and subsequent surgery.

Pop has likely been contemplating ways to replace the team’s 2013-14 breakout performer until his return, and small forward is an important part of that. With that being said, Daye won’t be a major factor and will only receive some scattered minutes.

Cory Joseph can be inserted for Mills, leaving Manu Ginobili and Belinelli in the same roles they occupied last year. This would be a well-rounded group; Joseph provides the defensive spark, Ginobili is the offensive creator and Belinelli shoots threes at a productive rate.

Or, Pop could slide Ginobili to point guard and use Belinelli and Anderson at the 2 and 3, essentially interchangeably. Defense might be a struggle since Belinelli and the rookie are below average on that end, but using Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter would help offset the weakness.

From an offensive standpoint, though, the trio could form one of the league’s best reserve units. San Antonio is known for its rapid offensive movement, and Anderson fits in seamlessly.

It wouldn’t be surprising to watch Popovich employ a few more strategies at the beginning of the year to find the most effective or efficient backcourt, whichever the mastermind prefers on a given night.

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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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Going small leads to Rockets’ big finish against Blazers

When the Rockets needed to get something going offensively late in Sunday’s game, coach Kevin McHale decided to throw something different at Trail Blazers.

Much like he did early in the season, McHale looked to his guards.

Midway through the third quarter and throughout the rest of the game, McHale played guards Pat Beverley, Jeremy Lin and James Harden together with Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard.

The smaller lineup gave the Rockets the spark they needed en route to a 118-113 overtime win over Portland.

The Rockets trailed by as many 16 points in the game and were down 12 headed to the fourth quarter.

“We had a kind of malaise going,” McHale said. “It just didn’t seem like we could generate anything. So I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go small.’”

The tactic worked as the Rockets outscored the Trail Blazers 33-21 in the final quarter — Harden had 17 of those, and Lin had nine.

“I think it is nice to be at the point where we can diversify our lineups,” said Lin, who finished wit

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Dwight Howard Leaves Lakers Looking Small, but He’s Still Got Growing to Do

LOS ANGELES—As sad as this season has been for Los Angeles Lakers fans, here is the latest shame:

The silver lining in the great free agent’s epic departure was he would forevermore serve the role of villain for a franchise that sure knows how to make the most of its rivalries.

But when Dwight Howard makes his return against the Lakers at Staples Center on Wednesday night, he has every reason to smile.

Howard arrives on a seven-game winning streak, the longest going in the NBA today; the Lakers are riding a seven-game home losing streak for the first time in franchise history. The 36-17 Houston Rockets are carrying nearly the inverse record of the 18-35 Lakers.

As if the Lakers’ desperate “STAY D12” free-agent campaign wasn’t pathetic enough—has anyone ever not looked desperate when begging someone else to “stay” in a relationship?—the old, broken-down Lakers have now reached a new level of pathetic.

Perhaps the ill will toward Howard runs deep enough that Lakers fans might—might—actually want the Lakers to win Wednesday night. So determined are so many fans to avoid dealing with the current reality that the basic plan is to think drafting some college freshman over some college sophomore will give Kobe Bryant a chance at a championship next season.

The post-Lakers Howard didn’t generate enough votes to be a Western Conference All-Star starter, but he was good enough to be chosen by the coaches for the team.

And there is a clear sense that Howard actually hasn’t played his best basketball of the season yet considering he didn’t score much early in deference to James Harden and Howard’s 1.8 blocks per game this season would stand as his worst defensive output in eight years.

No, Howard has not been totally dominant, and maybe at 28 and after back surgery he is not ascending anymore as a physical marvel, but he has been plenty strong in Houston. There have not been any reports of serious friction or discord, even though there’s little doubt Harden isn’t the easiest partner for anyone.

Harden’s quotes from his All-Star media session do read as a bit curious: “We’re doing something special in Houston. It’s going to take some time, but people are starting to recognize now that me and Dwight are the leaders. … We’re just trying to make it work. Something’s got to give. So we work with each other to make it work—somehow, some way.”

This was Howard’s take from All-Star weekend on his new partnership, with an undercurrent of his usual immodesty: “It’s going great. We’re going to continue to get better. We’re still learning ways that we can make each other better. And once we do that, it’s going to be easier for the rest of the team.

“We talk a lot; we watch film together. And the second half of the season, we will be working out together, just me and him. So we’re looking forward to doing that kind of stuff. It’s been great. He’s getting better every day.”

The truth is that wherever Howard decided to go—even if he chose to re-sign with the Lakers—he was going to give a better overall effort there. He was going to be more invested in his new path after choosing it for himself, and that has been the case in Houston.

The gist of the issue has never been about how much Howard likes to joke or have fun—Nick Young has proved this season that you can do all that while showing undeniable passion for the team, same as Ron Artest/Metta World Peace did in his first years as a Laker. Howard’s flaw is not being able to see the world from others’ perspectives and appreciate those perspectives.

Howard’s total inability to make Bryant and Steve Nash feel like he respected how much they wanted to win the 2013 NBA championship undermined the entire premise on which last season’s Lakers group was built.

Howard having that blind spot about putting himself in other people’s shoes makes it absolutely fascinating that he’s as worried as he is about what other people’s eyes see from him.

What went into his decision to post an old photo to his Instagram account of himself dunking on Bryant and the Lakers right before seeing Bryant during All-Star weekend and facing the Lakers afterward? Most likely Howard was just oblivious and liked how defined his muscles looked in the photo.

What was up with Howard mocking Harden’s lack of patch honors on his All-Star jacket? That kind of thing is right in line with the sort of self-absorption and tone deafness that makes Howard a teammate you have to accept as opposed to a teammate who accepts you.

But any Harden-Howard implosion naturally won’t happen until Howard’s goes off his post-signing best behavior and expectations actually become unmet.

Overall, Howard has few stresses as he gets ready to face the Lakers on Wednesday night. This is how he likes it; the record clearly shows he prefers to take the easy way out.

Without Howard, the Lakers loved their early-season chemistry and did steal that one game in Houston in the second week of the season on Steve Blake’s last-second shot, but it has all gone bad for them since then.

Howard’s decision to leave Bryant and Nash has been validated by their inability to stay healthy in what was supposed to be a bounce-back season for both. All realistic hope for the near future rests with Howard.

Of course Howard defaults to the role of the bigger man now.

These days the Lakers could hardly feel smaller.

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Is Small Ball the Reason Behind Brooklyn Nets’ Turnaround?

Even after a rough loss to the Toronto Raptors last night, the Brooklyn Nets are 10-2 in the year 2014. While they’ve taken out some easy opponents like the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic, they’ve also knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks (twice) and Miami Heat in that span, so it’s not as though they’ve just been beating up on a weak portion of their schedule. 

Much of the coverage of their recent rise has focused on Brooklyn’s new-found small-ball identity (though The Brooklyn Game’s Devin Kharpertian rightly points out that it’s really more like long ball), and with good reason. The five-man unit of Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett has started 10 of those 12 games, appeared in all 12, and in 111 minutes of floor time, outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to a per-possession scoring output that would rate as the best mark in the league, according to NBA.com

As Kharpertian pointed out, Brooklyn’s small lineup doesn’t exactly share many of the traits you usually associate with other teams’ small-ball lineups.

Quickness, especially in the form of increased pace, is one of the hallmarks of small lineups, but the Nets’ unit is playing at a glacially slow pace of 88.18 possessions per 48 minutes, which would rank as the slowest in the league. Brooklyn’s next most used lineup on the season (the original starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez) played more than eight possessions per 48 minutes faster. 

Teams also tend to go small to goose their offenseadding more perimeter-oriented players to the floor aids spacing and provides wider driving lanes as well as more room for shooters. But Brooklyn’s offensive output with the new starting lineup has actually been significantly lower than their season-long mark. Again, it’s the defense that’s taken off. Through January 1, the Nets had the second-worst defensive efficiency in the NBA. Since January 2, they’ve had the fourth-best mark. 

Because the primary lineup they’ve been using essentially features four wing playersLivingston, Anderson, Johnson and Piercealong with Garnett, the Nets have been able to seamlessly switch screens whenever they want, without leading to a true mismatch. Livingston is the only one of the four players who doesn’t have the requisite bulk to deal with larger players, and even he is able to make up for it with a massive wingspan. 

A switch like the one executed by Johnson and Anderson at the bottom of the screen here, one that doesn’t even have a direct impact on the play, is the type of thing that helps the Nets in multiple ways. For one, it doesn’t create a mismatch for the opposition. And second, not having to fight through every single screen saves energy.

Johnson is 32 years old with nearly 35,000 minutes under his legs. Pierce is 36 and has over 40,000 minutes on his odometer. Anderson is 31, and while Livingston is “only” 28, he’s also got a gruesome injury in his past, and saving him the trouble of fighting through everything no doubt eases the burden on his knee. 

A switch like this one is obviously more noticeable, but it accomplishes the same goals. Anderson and Pierce are spared the burden of fighting through the screen, and the Nets are able to force a miss by Salmons because Pierce seamlessly picks him up off the dribble and is able to stay with him every step of the way before he releases the jumper. Only Johnson’s poor box out allows the Raptors to score on the rebound. 

The freedom to switch when they want (as opposed to when their guards just can’t manage to fight through screens, like some other teams) has helped the Nets keep their opponents on the perimeter. Since January 2, their opponents have taken only 23.7 shots in the restricted area per game, third fewest in the league, per NBA.com. Their opponents have also made only 56.3 percent of those shots, also third best over that time span. 

Much of that low conversion rate can be attributed to Garnett, who has picked up his defense after a slow start to the season. Among the 82 players challenging at least four shots per game at the rim, Garnett has allowed opponents the 19th-lowest field-goal percentage, according to SportVU data released by the NBA and STATS LLC

On the season, Brooklyn’s opponents are making more shots per game in the restricted area with Garnett off the floor than they attempt with Garnett on the floor, despite him playing nearly half the game every night, per NBA.com

Maybe the biggest key for the Nets over this 12-game stretch, though, has been a new-found ability to force turnovers. Through January 1, only seven teams forced fewer turnovers as a percentage of their opponents’ possessions than Brooklyn did. Since January 2, though, only Atlanta has been able to do that better than the Nets, and the Nets’ rate would rank second in the league over the course of a full season, per NBA.com

All those turnovers have made up for the fact that the Nets have still been one of the most foul-prone teams in the league, even after the lineup switch. They were the fourth most foul-prone team prior to the new look, and they’ve been the fifth most foul-prone team since

By playing smaller, but putting their own spin on the usual trademarks of small-ball teams (i.e. playing slow rather than fast, using small ball to fuel the defense rather than the offense), the Nets have been able to forge a new identity in the wake of some injuries that originally looked as though they might wreck their season.

Nearly everyone thought the Nets would be able to craft a top-flight defense after trading for Garnett and Pierce, but nobody would have thought it’d come like this. 

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Los Angeles Lakers: Is LA too small for a superstar and Swaggy P?

Nick Young (Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP)
Any National Basketball Association fan remembers what Jeremy Lin did two years ago for the Knicks, but the real question is: “did you believe in ‘Linsanity?’” He broke Shaq’s record by scoring 136 points in his first five career starts and undoubtedly helped Time Warner Cable and MSG finalize their deal, but none of that seemed to matter when Carmelo returned to the starting lineup.
On a much smaller scale, Nick Young, AKA “Swaggy P,” is trying to resurrect a Los Angeles Lakers franchise that is visibly hurting without the presence of a healthy Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers haven’t had much consistency this season, utilizing players such as Ryan Kelly and Kendall Marshall sparsely, and further proving my point by signing Manny Harris to his second 10-day contract on Sunday. One thing that has been consistent is the energy that pours out of Swaggy, even though it may only be on the offensive end.
While you may have never heard someone use the name …

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Ranking the Nation’s Top 20 Small Forwards for 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

Andrew Wiggins is the movie that everyone tells you is going to be incredible and you have to try to temper expectations in your own head or you’re just going to be disappointed. 

Yes, he’s really, really, really talented. His highlight video is incredible. 

Next thing you know there will be video of Wiggins walking on water, stepping out and then jumping flat-footed over a car while pulling off a between-the-legs dunk. 

Not possible? Pshhhhhh. Social media can make this happen. 

Ask anyone around the Kansas program and they will tell you that Wiggins does not love all this attention, but he realizes it comes with the territory. And after the last year of building hype, he’s ready to step onto the stage fully realizing the expectations are out of this world. 

That self-awareness is commendable and it’s why you will find the freshman at the top of these rankings. There’s no way to justify picking someone else. That does not, however, mean the rest of the country’s small forwards are chopped liver. They’re pretty good too. So, here it is, Wiggins and the other 19. 

And in case you missed it, here are the top 20 centers and top 20 power forwards with next week’s schedule below for the rest of the rankings. 

Nov. 4: Shooting Guards

Nov. 6: Point Guards

Nov. 8: Top 100

 

All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, come from KenPom.com (subscription needed). 

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New York Knicks: No more small ball?

Last year the Knicks had a 15-1 record when Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni started in the backcourt.  The New York Knicks “small ball” lineup, with Carmelo Anthony at the Power Forward, was extremely successful.  Despite this success, Mike Woodson has decided to return to a bigger lineup.
Mike Woodson indicated on Sunday that he would use the bigger lineup to start games, although he did not rule out going to the two point guard lineup later in games.  ””I know I can always go back to [a backcourt featuring point guards] Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton, but, at this point, I’m going to try a big guard if I can and see how it plays out,” Woodson said.
The reason for the move seems to be because the Knicks have a surplus of players at the shooting guard and small forward positions.  Woodson feels that using the bigger lineup will allow him to spread minutes between Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard.  The same applies to Metta World Peace and C…

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Power Conference Transfers Most Likely to Lead Small Schools to NCAA Tournament

We’re all familiar with the up-transfers, guys who dominate for programs struggling to see NCAA tournament action and head to a more successful school for March exposure, if not always playing time.

Players like Seth Curry (Liberty to Duke) and Luke Hancock (George Mason to Louisville) are among the best examples of players who found both.

But what about the down-transfers? What about players who are unhappy or stapled to the bench on a major conference team and simply want to find a place they can play? Some of those guys have landed in decent opportunities themselves.

These seven playerspresented alphabeticallyhave a chance to play serious minutes in an NCAA tournament game this season. That’s a claim that most of them couldn’t make at their previous power conference home.

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