In what should be called ‘LeBron James and the rest,’ we take a look at the top 5 small forwards in the NBA heading into the 2013-2014 season, which will consist of the four-time MVP, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and two new players to our usual listings: Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs and Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Small forward is quite a deep position in the NBA, with talented players like Paul Pierce, Jeff Green and many others not too far from being included in the top 5, but the top 2 are light years ahead of the rest when it comes to overall quality; even when it comes to the NBA’s scoring champion from last season.
Number 5 – Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers
He might never become the next Scottie Pippen, but Nicolas Batum on the right team to continue and develop as one of the most unique and versatile wing players in the NBA. He averaged 14.3 points per game last season but struggled near the end of the season, playing injured instead of resting up early and giving up on the slim playoff chances the Blazers had.
Batum had an exhausting summer with the French national team, playing in the European championship (and winning gold), which might mean we’ll see a slightly slow start from the 24-year old, but the Blazers suddenly have a deep enough squad to cover for that. Batum can take more and more point-forward roles, freeing up Lillard, Matthews and McCollum for scoring duties, as an injury free season should take him another step forward en route to becoming a complete NBA player.
Number 4 – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
The decline of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili should continue in some sort of way this season, which will enable Kawhi Leonard to take an even bigger part of the Spurs’ offensive game after already becoming their best perimeter defender, not to mention one of the best in the NBA. He averaged 11.9 points per game, shooting 37.4% from beyond the arc. The difference between him and Danny Green isn’t just the age and upside. Leonard is extremely strong when he goes for the finish near the rim, and is adding more and more shots to his arsenal, being able to do a lot more than just hit open jumpers as a spot up shooter. The experience of playing LeBron James for 7 games in the finals should only make him better.
Number 3 – Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
It’s hard being Carmelo Anthony. A gifted scorer, maybe the best natural scorer (which also means one dimensional players) in the NBA, but never one that’s good enough to be the best team on a championship caliber team. Anthony might actually be better playing the power forward position, forcing big players who aren’t quick enough to guard him, helping him average 28.7 points per game, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with team play. Anthony is in a weird role of being a superstar, yet a very limited one, which is good enough to be one of the best, but never the best. It’s still better than 99.9999% of the population, but not enough to become an NBA legend.
Number 2 – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Always number 2, but maybe this year it’ll be different. There’s a chance, but it probably won’t happen. The thing about Kevin Durant is that for the first time in his career he faced some negativity from the general public of NBA fans. His attitude on the court led to a large number of technical fouls. Not in Rasheed Wallace proportions, but nothing quite like what you expect from the second best player in the NBA. He averaged 28.1 points per game while improving as an all-around player, but it’s not enough if Russell Westbrook will be out for a long time in order to challenge for the NBA title. It’ll be interesting to see how Durant deals with the constant frustration of being number 2 in everyone’s eye, and will he actually run out of patience at some point in waiting for LeBron James to finally decline.
Number 1 – LeBron James, Miami Heat
How long will this last? Hard to say. The Miami Heat might not be the best team in the NBA anymore if some pundits are to be believed, but no one is doubting LeBron James anymore. A two-time NBA champion with clutch performances and Finals’ MVP to vouch for his dominance, James is moving on to the next step: Three-peat, and maybe even taking on a bigger role in the Heat’s offense if Wade and Bosh’s decline takes on a more rapid form. For now, it seems like there’s nothing that he can’t handle, and there’s not really anyone who can keep up with him when he’s at his best.