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After ranking the point guards and shooting guards, we’re moving on to the small forwards.

Again, I want to thank William Lou, writer of the blog Both Teams Played Soft, for helping me collect some of the stats for this one. For those that didn’t read his guest column on Raptors Republic last week, I suggest giving it a read.

Before I get to the rankings, though, let me clarify a few things after the rather controversial shooting guard rankings. First, while I am taking age into consideration somewhat, I’m also not penalizing a player for not being able to play 35 minutes a game, anymore. I’m only looking at how good that player plays when he’s on the court. There were a lot of people shocked by where I ranked Vince Carter, but the fact is that he was very good last year playing 25 minutes per game.

The thing about the shooting guard position in the NBA is it’s simply lacking real talent, so Carter was ranked as high as he was in large part due to the fact that he’s one of the few who can play both ends of the court at a relatively high level. Too many shooting guards either only really contribute on one end of the court, or don’t do much of anything at a very high level.

lebron-james-game-3-finals

Secondly, there was a lot of discussion about the fact that I apparently ignored the role each player played, which would have affected his numbers. Danny Green and DeMar DeRozan were the two most brought up examples. Green is only as efficient as he is because he is the team’s fourth or fifth option and plays with two or three Hall of Famers. And the best player DeRozan played with was Chris Bosh, and only for one season.

The gist of the discussion is what the rankings actually mean. Green was ranked 17 spots ahead of DeRozan, despite the fact that DeRozan can do things that Green simply can’t do, and is being asked to shoulder a much heavier offensive burden. So obviously I’m ignoring that, right?

Well, no.

This, of course, gets back to the ongoing argument about the value of scorers in basketball. Teams need players that can score, obviously, but they also need players to do other things (like defend). There are fewer good scorers than players who can do things like play defense, so scorers tend to be paid more. That doesn’t make them better basketball players, though. And it doesn’t make them more valuable to the team. It just makes them more in demand, hence their higher pay.

And then there’s the whole conversation about “potential”. More teams would probably value DeRozan over Green not just because he’s a “better” scorer, but because he’s got more potential than Green. And too many people mistake potential for an actual skill. It’s not. It’s the possibility of a skill. With Green, you know what you get. Even his scouting report, coming out of college, stated one of his weaknesses was his limited upside. Of course, limited upside is only a weakness if your goal is to acquire an appreciating asset, which is what most teams drafting in the first round are trying to do.

Right now, simply put, Green is better at what he does than DeRozan is at what he does. The big problem with DeRozan is that he’s a scorer, but not a particularly good one, at this point. He doesn’t have the ball handling skills to create his own shot very well, he doesn’t move very well without the ball, and he’s a bad three point shooter.

Add the fact he’s a below average defender and a below average passer, and you have to wonder why Raptor fans think so highly of him. Then, you get back to the “potential” tag.

Interestingly, while the shooting guard position is populated with many one dimensional role players, the small forward position is bursting with all around talent. There are eleven current or former All Stars at the position and the two best players in the league play the position.

With so many talented small forwards, I had a little trouble paring the list down to just thirty, and this is probably not the best thirty small forwards in the league, just thirty of the most prominent ones. There ones I excluded for various reasons, including Wilson Chandler, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer, all who might end up starting this season. So let’s jump right in.

Player
PER
Rank
WS
Rank
WS48
Rank
WP
Rank
WP48
Rank
LeBron James
31.97
1
19.3
1
0.322
1
20.0
2
0.334
1
Kevin Durant
28.47
2
18.9
2
0.291
2
20.6
1
0.317
2
Carmelo Anthony
24.64
3
9.5
3
0.184
3
2.3
29
0.044
30
Paul Pierce
19.22
4
7.2
5
0.135
12
7.8
14
0.146
17
Shawn Marion
17.79
5
5.3
17
0.127
14
10.6
5
0.254
4
Andrei Kirilenko
17.56
6
6.0
14
0.142
9
10.8
4
0.255
3
Tobias Harris
17.51
7
2.4
27
0.089
23
5.6
20
0.130
19
Paul George
16.83
8
9.0
4
0.145
8
10.2
8
0.164
14
Danilo Gallinari
16.79
9
7.2
5
0.151
6
5.9
19
0.122
22
Kawhi Leonard
16.66
10
6.2
13
0.166
4
9.3
9
0.247
5
Dorell Wright
15.95
11
4.9
18
0.132
13
6.6
18
0.177
10
Nicolas Batum
15.73
12
5.8
15
0.099
19
10.4
7
0.178
9
Rudy Gay
15.60
13
4.0
23
0.072
26
2.6
28
0.047
29
Matt Barnes
15.55
14
6.3
10
0.146
7
7.1
17
0.166
13
Jimmy Butler
15.39
15
7.0
7
0.158
5
10.8
3
0.243
6
Chandler Parsons
15.35
16
7.0
7
0.121
15
9.0
11
0.157
16
Andre Iguodala
15.20
17
5.6
16
0.097
21
10.4
6
0.180
8
Luol Deng
15.14
18
6.3
10
0.105
18
7.6
15
0.126
20
Jared Dudley
14.90
19
4.8
19
0.106
17
7.9
13
0.174
12
Jeff Green
14.83
20
4.7
20
0.099
19
4.6
25
0.098
25
Martell Webster
14.04
21
6.3
10
0.138
10
7.3
16
0.159
15
Kyle Korver
14.01
22
6.4
9
0.137
11
8.3
12
0.176
11
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
13.86
23
2.1
29
0.051
30
5.2
21
0.124
21
Al Farouq-Aminu
13.79
24
3.1
25
0.073
25
9.3
10
0.217
7
Mo Harkless
13.76
25
2.4
27
0.059
29
5.0
23
0.122
22
Metta World Peace
12.60
26
4.6
21
0.086
24
4.6
24
0.087
26
Tayshaun Prince
12.53
27
3.6
24
0.065
27
4.4
26
0.080
27
Iman Shumpert
12.23
28
1.9
30
0.094
22
2.1
30
0.102
24
Shane Battier
11.10
29
4.4
22
0.119
16
5.0
22
0.135
18
Harrison Barnes
11.0
30
2.8
26
0.065
27
2.7
27
0.062
28

LeBron and Durant are obviously head and shoulders above the rest. And I’m not going to pretend they aren’t going to be ranked #1 and #2. It gets a little murkier after that. Carmelo looks great with PER and WS, but end with a horrible WP ranking. I’m certainly not a big fan of Carmelo, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say that he should be ranked behind all but a couple of the players listed.

On the other end of the spectrum, Farouq-Aminu. PER and WS don’t treat him very kindly but WP says he’s a top 10 small forward. New Orleans should be thrilled they were able to re-sign him for so little, if that were the case.

I’m not suggesting WP is any more flawed than PER and WS. Is Tobias Harris really as good as his PER suggests? Or are his WS and WP ranks a little more realistic?

And while I think Gallinari is a good small forward, his WS suggests he’s a possible top 5, which seems a little, well, high.

For Raptor fans, PER is the only rating that is the least bit kind to Gay, and it doesn’t even suggest he’s the top ten small forward many assume he is.

The bottom of the lists holds few surprises, although basic advanced stats have never shown Battier’s true value on the court. There are stats that do apparently show his value, but we fans simply don’t have access to them.

And while Harrison Barnes had a very good playoffs, it’s important to remember his regular season was rather lackluster. Of course, that is the case with most rookies, and Barnes should improve, but it does make the signing of Iguodala a little more understandable.

Player
TS%
Rank
3PT%
Rank
TRB%
Rank
DRR%
Rank
Stl Rate
Rank
Blk Rate
Rank
Kevin Durant
64.6
1
41.4
4
11.8
6
20.3
4
1.9
13
1.9
13
LeBron James
64.2
2
40.6
6
13.1
3
20.8
2
2.4
6
2.4
6
Kyle Korver
63.8
3
45.9
1
7.4
27
13.5
16
1.6
19
1.6
19
Shane Battier
62.3
4
43.8
2
5.7
30
8.4
30
1.2
27
1.2
26
Martell Webster
60.2
5
42.3
3
7.4
27
12.2
24
1.2
27
1.2
26
Kawhi Leonard
59.8
6
37.7
14
11.1
9
17.1
9
2.7
1
2.7
1
Andrei Kirilenko
58.6
7
29.4
27
10.2
12
15.1
12
2.4
6
2.4
6
Chandler Parsons
58.5
8
38.5
10
8.3
22
13.2
19
1.4
21
1.4
21
Jared Dudley
58.2
9
39.1
8
6.4
29
8.9
29
1.8
15
1.8
15
Jimmy Butler
57.7
10
38.8
9
8.8
19
10.4
28
2
12
2
12
Nicolas Batum
56.6
11
37.2
16
8.5
20
13.2
19
1.7
17
1.7
17
Matt Barnes
56.6
11
34.2
20
10.6
11
14.5
13
2.1
11
2.1
11
Jeff Green
56.1
13
38.5
10
8.3
22
13.4
18
1.3
24
1.3
24
Danilo Gallinari
56.1
13
37.3
15
8.9
17
14.4
15
1.4
21
1.4
21
Paul Pierce
55.9
15
38.0
12
11.2
8
19.7
6
1.7
17
1.7
17
Carmelo Anthony
55.8
16
37.9
13
10.8
10
15.9
11
1.1
30
1.1
29
Shawn Marion
55.0
17
30.6
26
14.5
2
20.6
3
1.9
13
1.9
13
Dorell Wright
54.8
18
37.0
17
9.6
14
17
10
1.8
15
1.8
15
Mo Harkless
53.3
19
27.4
28
9.6
14
12.2
24
2.3
9
2.3
9
Tobias Harris
53.2
20
31.5
25
12.4
5
20.2
5
1.3
24
1.3
24
Paul George
53.1
21
36.4
18
11.3
7
19
7
2.6
2
2.6
2
Iman Shumpert
52.8
22
41.1
5
8.0
26
12.8
22
2.3
9
2.3
9
Harrison Barnes
52.6
23
35.9
19
8.9
17
14.5
13
1.3
24
0.5
30
Al Farouq-Aminu
52.3
24
22.2
29
16.9
1
26.2
1
2.4
6
2.4
6
Andre Iguodala
52.0
25
31.7
24
8.5
20
13.5
16
2.5
4
2.5
4
Metta World Peace
51.7
26
34.2
20
8.1
24
11.5
26
2.5
4
2.5
4
Luol Deng
50.9
27
32.0
23
9.4
16
12.6
23
1.5
20
1.5
20
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
50.7
28
22.2
29
12.9
4
18.9
8
1.4
21
1.4
21
Tayshaun Prince
50.2
29
40.4
7
8.1
24
12.9
21
1.2
27
1.2
26
Rudy Gay
49.4
30
32.3
22
10.2
12
11
27
2.6
2
2.6
3

Unlike the point guard and shooting guard positions, there isn’t one or two particular skills that are more valued than others for small forwards, which does make things somewhat difficult. Some small forwards do everything at a high level, whereas others do have certain skills that they rely on.

I do want to reiterate the problem when looking at blocks and steals to gauge the defensive abilities of a player. Gay is, at best, an average defender, but ranks high in those categories, whereas Shane Battier is an excellent defender, but near the bottom of the list in both categories. Sometimes, those stats can indicate how active a player is on the defensive end, but it can also mean that they gamble too much, which is often the case.

Speaking of Gay, he’s right at the bottom for true shooting percentage, which isn’t a good sign for someone who is supposed to be such a “dynamic” scorer. All the other small forwards at the bottom of that category have other strengths which help them overcome their inefficiency. Or they don’t and they are simply not very good small forwards.

Iguodala isn’t an efficient scorer and can’t hit from outside, but he’s an excellent defender and passer. George also isn’t an efficient scorer, but is nearly elite in just about every category, including defense.

Speaking of defense…

Player
PPP
Rank
Iso
Rank
P&R BH
Rank
Post up
Rank
Spot up
Rank
 xRAPM
Rank
DRating
Rank
DWS
Rank
Kevin Durant
0.8
3
0.73
6
0.66
5
0.75
7
0.87
8
2.3
4
106
9
3
7
LeBron James
0.84
11
0.82
17
0.68
7
0.56
2
0.96
17
1.6
7
103
4
3.5
3
Kyle Korver
0.84
11
0.9
26
0.52
1
0.98
27
0.98
21
-0.2
23
109
19
1.8
16
Shane Battier
0.86
18
0.86
22
0.84
26
0.73
6
0.93
15
0.1
17
112
25
0.5
26
Martell Webster
0.87
22
0.78
13
0.79
19
1.07
29
0.93
15
-0.9
29
112
25
0.3
27
Kawhi Leonard
0.82
7
0.78
13
0.71
12
0.97
25
0.87
8
1.4
10
114
30
0.1
30
Andrei Kirilenko
0.81
5
0.82
17
0.76
15
0.82
15
0.75
1
2
5
113
27
0.3
27
Chandler Parsons
0.88
24
0.78
13
0.7
10
0.88
23
1
24
0.1
17
108
18
1.7
17
Jared Dudley
0.97
30
0.79
16
0.67
6
0.87
21
1.07
27
0.1
17
105
6
2
11
Jimmy Butler
0.76
1
0.75
9
0.68
7
0.84
17
0.79
2
0.1
17
111
21
1
22
Nicolas Batum
0.86
18
0.73
6
0.8
21
1.14
30
0.97
20
-0.5
25
107
13
1
22
Matt Barnes
0.84
11
0.85
21
0.59
4
0.96
24
0.96
17
0.6
14
103
4
3.1
6
Jeff Green
0.81
5
0.73
6
0.89
28
0.72
5
0.91
11
0
21
110
20
1.6
18
Danilo Gallinari
0.88
24
0.64
2
0.69
9
0.8
12
1.1
29
1.3
11
98
1
4.1
1
Paul Pierce
0.79
2
0.65
3
0.77
16
0.8
12
0.83
3
1.8
6
107
13
2.4
10
Carmelo Anthony
0.87
23
0.89
25
0.74
14
0.64
3
1.02
26
-1.7
30
107
13
2.6
8
Shawn Marion
0.82
7
0.82
17
0.8
21
0.77
9
0.85
6
1.6
7
107
13
2
11
Dorell Wright
0.93
27
1.04
30
0.79
19
0.84
17
0.96
17
-0.6
26
101
2
3.6
2
Mo Harkless
0.94
28
0.87
23
0.96
30
0.82
15
0.98
21
-0.8
28
111
21
1.2
19
Tobias Harris
0.83
10
0.94
28
0.72
13
0.84
17
0.86
7
0
21
106
9
2
11
Paul George
0.82
7
0.76
11
0.78
17
0.87
21
0.9
10
3.1
3
111
21
0.8
24
Iman Shumpert
0.87
20
0.87
23
0.85
27
0.46
1
0.99
23
-0.3
24
111
21
0.6
25
Harrison Barnes
0.95
29
0.72
5
0.53
2
0.97
25
1.18
30
0.2
16
107
13
1.9
14
Al Farouq-Aminu
0.87
20
0.96
29
0.53
2
0.84
17
0.92
12
3.6
1
105
6
3.3
4
Andre Iguodala
0.8
3
0.58
1
0.82
23
0.8
12
0.84
5
3.3
2
113
27
1.2
19
Metta World Peace
0.85
14
0.76
11
0.9
29
0.75
7
0.92
12
1.5
9
107
13
2.6
8
Luol Deng
0.85
14
0.83
20
0.83
25
0.78
10
1
24
1.1
12
102
3
3.2
5
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
0.9
26
0.67
4
0.7
10
0.71
4
1.08
28
0.3
15
113
27
0.2
29
Tayshaun Prince
0.85
14
0.9
26
0.78
17
1.04
28
0.83
3
-0.6
26
105
6
1.1
21
Rudy Gay
0.85
14
0.75
9
0.82
23
0.79
11
0.92
12
0.7
13
107
13
1.9
14

In my previous rankings, I’ve already mentioned the difficulty with measuring defense and the problems with each of these categories. A player might have a high Spot Up Defense rating because the goal of team’s defense is to defend that shot. Other defenses might collapse when the ball goes inside, giving the other team open outside shots on purpose.

And players on good defensive teams will have good Defensive Ratings even if they might not be a strong defender. Still it gives a bit of a snapshot, and I’ve also included Defensive XRAPM rating. Like the other categories, it isn’t perfect. Does anyone really believe Faouq-Aminu is an elite defender? Conversely, Jimmy Butler is better than his XRAPM ranking suggests.

As with last week’s article, I’ve included the average for all the rankings for all the players to give an idea of where they all lie in the grand scheme of things.

Player
Rank Avg
Kevin Durant
5.21
LeBron James
5.21
Paul Pierce
10.11
Shawn Marion
11.05
Paul George
11.21
Kawhi Leonard
11.37
Andrei Kirilenko
11.47
Jimmy Butler
11.68
Matt Barnes
12.58
Al Farouq-Aminu
13.11
Danilo Gallinari
13.26
Andre Iguodala
13.32
Kyle Korver
15.47
Dorell Wright
15.74
Chandler Parsons
16.42
Tobias Harris
16.58
Nicolas Batum
16.68
Jared Dudley
16.79
Carmelo Anthony
16.79
Luol Deng
17.00
Rudy Gay
17.05
Metta World Peace
17.26
Jeff Green
17.58
Martell Webster
19.11
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
19.89
Shane Battier
20.05
Iman Shumpert
20.58
Harrison Barnes
20.95
Tayshaun Prince
21.37
Mo Harkless
21.79

Notice that LeBron and Durant’s numbers are exactly the same. In fact, they’re the only two players with the exact same average number.

A few players finish surprisingly high, including Butler, Barnes and especially Farouq-Aminu, who is either one of the most underrated players in the NBA, or the anti-Shane Battier. A player that defies statistics, but in the opposite way Battier does.

Carmelo Anthony does not come out looking like the elite player he is touted as being, at least in these rankings. So where does he finish in my rankings?

Rank Player
1 LeBron James
2 Kevin Durant
3 Paul George
4 Paul Pierce
5 Carmelo Anthony
6 Kawhi Leonard
7 Andre Iguodala
8 Shawn Marion
9 Luol Deng
10 Andrei Kirilenko
11 Danilo Gallinari
12 Rudy Gay
13 Jimmy Butler
14 Chandler Parsons
15 Nicolas Batum
16 Matt Barnes
17 Jeff Green
18 Shane Battier
19 Jared Dudley
20 Harrison Barnes
21 Kyle Korver
22 Tobias Harris
23 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
24 Dorell Wright
25 Al Faouq-Aminu
26 Metta World Peace
27 Martell Webster
28 Iman Shumpert
29 Tayshaun Prince
30 Mo Harkless

Okay, there really is no surprise at the #1 and #2 spot. Despite Carmelo’s fairly mediocre advanced stats, I couldn’t keep him out of the top five. He’s simply too good a scorer.

Raptor fans will notice I don’t have Rudy Gay in the top 10, but I simply can’t rank him ahead of the players I did. In fact, I ranked him higher than his advanced stats suggested, so it’s hard to say I under-ranked him. Still, he is, so far, the highest ranked Raptor (Lowry at 13 and DeRozan at 22), so that’s something.

A few notes:

- Leonard seems to be poised to be an All-Star, but I don’t know if it happens this year. I’d still like to see him become a better scorer.

- Jeff Green’s stats were mostly him playing at power forward, and I think he’s far more suited to small forward, so he may move up in the rankings by the All Star break.

- I’ve ranked Battier far higher than the rankings suggest I should have, but that’s because the stats don’t tell the whole story with him.

- Kidd-Gilchrist is my sleeper. If he can get a jumpshot, I think he’s a future All Star.

- Shumpert probably should have been included in my shooting guard rankings, as that’s more where he’ll play this season. And at 6’5, that’s more his natural position. He was overmatched at small forward, last season, and I think the stats reflected that.

So what are your thoughts on the rankings?