In a way, true small forwards are a dying breed.
Basketball has charted a new path over the past several years, one marked by the position-less style made most famous by LeBron James’ Miami Heat. The game, generally speaking, now features players who fit a less rigid identity and nomenclature: ballhandlers, wings, forwards, and centers.
That’s why average small forwards are often left behind. If they aren’t long or burly enough to defend opposing big men, a traditional 3 can be be easily exploited on defense. And if they aren’t a good enough shooter or talented enough post player to stretch the floor or draw additional defenders, it simply makes more sense to employ a player who can do those things.
James and Kevin Durant are still anomalies – all-time greats who boast the requisite combination of size, skill, and athleticism to have lineups built around them. But the league is quickly saturating with other talented, versatile, and long-limbed players. Paul George, for instance, is starting at nominal power forward for the Indiana Pacers in 2015-16. Gordon Hayward will be something close to a point guard for the Utah Jazz this season.
If a perimeter-based forward can’t occupy multiple roles on both ends of the floor, just what is his value in the modern NBA? That’s hard to say for sure, and largely dependent on team context. But that doesn’t mean 3-men in the classic sense of the term are any worse than years before; quite the opposite, in fact.
Once you get past singular superstars of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, just how do you rank present day small forwards? Do you prefer the incredibly rare two-way prowess of Kawhi Leonard? Or the preternatural scoring talent of Carmelo Anthony? Here’s NBA 2K16’s take:
We have an opinion, but that doesn’t make it any more valuable or accurate than anyone else’s. Basketball isn’t black-and-white or linear, but gray with ebbs and flows – just like the best of the league’s small forwards. And you can find that out by using their unique abilities to utmost effect when NBA 2K16 drops on September 29th.