Tag Archives: Andrew Wiggins

Small Forward is the New Center-piece Position 

Kevin Durant & LeBron James have revolutionized the game from the small forward position. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

In the NFL the saying goes, “If you don’t have an elite QB, you won’t be an elite team.” Which basically means you can forget about winning the Super Bowl. In the NBA, many have compared the point guard position to the single caller on the gridiron and used that as an indicator of a team’s chance at success.

Right now the NBA is the golden age of point guards. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, James Harden, Dame Lillard, Tony Parker and John Wall to name a few.

While many may say if you don’t have an elite PG you don’t have a chance at winning a title, I can argue that if you don’t have an elite small forward, you can give up any chance of holding Larry O’Brien.

To me, top elite small forwards have become as scarce as elite centers in the days of Kareem, Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, up to Shaq. In the 1980s and 90s, general managers built their teams around the big man.

In this age of position-less basketball, we are actually moving into the era of the multi-skilled small forward and GMs will do whatever it takes to acquire one. The mantra of “its a guard league”, is soon to end.

First-time NBA All-Star The Greek Freak’s potential is as wide as his wingspan. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

Look at these names; LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kwahi Leonard, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Then there are those coming up in Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Andrew Wiggins, and Giannis Antetokoumnpo. These hybrids have point guard playmaking skills, as well as the elite scoring ability on the perimeter and in the post are hard to come by.

The last five NBA Finals MVP’s have been LeBron James (2012, 2013, 2016), Kawhi Leonard (2014) and Andre Iguodala (2015). All three are multiple time all-stars, who are versatile on both the offense and defense ends of the court.

If that doesn’t wet your beak, check out these numbers from the 2016-17 John Hollinger’s NBA Player Stats. Yes it’s analytics that so many old school players and fans hate.

At the time of this post (2/17/17), two of the top five players and 5 of the 12 in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) are small forwards, the most of any position.

  • #2 Kawhi Leonard 28.23
  • #5 Kevin Durant 27.62
  • #8 Giannis Antetokoumnpo 26.71

Just barely outside the top ten at #11 and #12, LeBron James at 26.34 and Jimmy Butler 25.51, respectively.

Four of the previous mentioned are also in the top ten in Estimated Wins Added (EWA) which measures the estimated number of wins a player adds to its teams season total above what a “replacement player” would produce.

  • #3 Kevin Durant, 16.3
  • #4 Giannis Antetokoumnpo, 15.4
  • #4 LeBron James, 15.4
  • #7 Kawhi Leonard, 15.1

Just outside the top 10 in the number 11 spot is Jimmy Butler at 13.6

The Chicago Bulls are down right now, but their climb back will be headed by Jimmy Butler. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

Take a look at ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus. Once again five of the top ten are small forwards, if you count Draymond Green, who at 6’7″ is more of a small forward with his swiss-arm knife playmaking ability even though he’s listed as Golden State’s power forward. That playmaking was on full display on February 10th when Green became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double without double-digit points (12 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals, 4 points).

  • #2 Draymond Green, 6.90
  • #3 Jimmy Butler, 6.41
  • #5 Kevin Durant, 6.21
  • #7 LeBron James, 6.00
  • #9 Kawhi Leonard, 5.89

Also on ESPN’s real-plus minus, in the wins categories these small forwards hold 6 of the top 12 spots.

  • #2 Kevin Durant, 11.52
  • #5 Draymond Green, 11.38
  • #7 LeBron James, 10.94
  • #8 Jimmy Butler, 10.83
  • #10 Kawhi Leonard, 9.29
  • #12 Giannis Antetokounmpo, 9.14

These five guys make up half 2017 All-Star starters. It’s no wonder their teams have three of the best overall records in the NBA.

In the coming seasons, you’ll start to see the teams who are talented in every area but the 3-spot not being able to stay with the teams who are blessed to have a future Hall of Famer, perennial All-Star or future superstar in tow.

Take the Los Angeles Clippers for example. While the Clippers have their own all-star big three of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, their glaring hole at the 3-spot has been their downfall in the past three or four seasons. They’ve tried Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, Wesley Johnson, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green. With the exception of Barnes and Butler, all those acquisitions flamed out.

It’s why the Golden State Warriors passed them up when they acquired Iguodala and the emergence of Green, who as I mentioned early is effectively their other playmaking small forward, especially in crunch time.

As the Association continues to trend toward making post play obsolete, big men will have to improve their perimeter skills to keep up and stay on the court. That means more players coming into the draft with the body types of Antetokoumnpo, Durant, James and throw Kristaps Porzingis into that mix as well, that will also attempt to emulate their those guys style of play.

Like the old days when teams built around rare dominant 7-foot big men who patrolled the paint, teams will now scourer for the next great versatile, athletic, Swiss Army knife wingman to build their championship dreams. The present and future is in the three spot, no matter how littered the Association is with all-star PG’s.

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College Sports True King is Back!

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In my opinion, College Basketball is better than College Football.

I know I’m going to get killed for this and I don’t care! College Basketball is better than College football.

In the midst of the first week of the season, I was riveted by the 24 hours of basketball on ESPN from Akron versus St. Mary’s to Hartford at last season’s NCAA tourney darling Florida Gulf Coast aka “Dunk City”, to Michigan State versus Kentucky and Duke versus Kansas. Each and every game has brought a level of excitement and intrigue that you don’t get from early season college football games.

My opponents will say, each individual game doesn’t matter on the hardwood as much as on the gridiron. They’ll say the NBA one and done rule makes a mockery of amateur athleticism and doesn’t give college programs as chance to groom top talent and build into a true power house program. They’ll also say the college game lacks an uptempo flow because of over coaching and tightly officiated games that end in a final of 60 to 58—read my article on how to fix college basketball.

My responses to these claims will be to say true. BUT, I will say, how many times can you watch top 10 ranked teams in the country play each other in the first week of the season, knowing they still can accomplish their overall goals if they lose. The matchup between #1 Kentucky versus #2 Michigan State Tuesday night was the earliest the top 2 teams have played against each other ever, and the first time it’s happened in the regular season since 2008. That will NEVER happen in college football, even with the new playoff. Plus, how great is it to see top teams play each other and not inferior opponents they’ll beat by 30 points in an effort to remain undefeated.

The NBA one and done rule actually challenges programs to find and recruit the best talent to build a program. Take a look at defending National Championship Louisville. That roster had eight seniors and juniors. Coach Rick Pitino who has in the past recruited highly touted prospects, went a different route and offered scholarships to guys who fit his system. Then he groomed them over time together to become champions. Outside of the 2012 Kentucky Wildcat team led by Freshman Anthony Davis and the 2003 Syracuse Orange team led by an eighteen year old Carmelo Anthony, college basketball has still been ruled by rosters filled with upper class-men who’ve grown together for a couple of years. So one and done is not ruining the game.

As far as the slow paced style of play, that comes down to coaching preference based on talent available. I played in a lower level division in college where our philosophy allowed us and our opponents to play games in the the high 80s/low 90s, with the same rules as the upper level divisions. So it can be done, on any level.

The “upset factor” is another thing you get more in basketball than football. Any given night a mid major team can knock off a major. How often does that happen in Football? Maybe once a season? Appalachian State beating Michigan at the big house doesn’t happen three or four times a season. The same goes for North Dakota over Kansas State in Little Manhattan. Big upsets are a regular multiple occurrence on the hardwood season after season and then in the NCAA Tournament.

Also, more importantly, there isn’t much controversy surrounding polls and national championships. Thanks to March Madness, the champs are crowned where they should be, on the court. Right now we are in the final year of the BCS system in football, headed to a playoff. But in this final year we’re on a collision course to a nightmare with 4 undefeated teams and a one loss team in Stanford that has a better resume than all of them. You can bet if an undefeated Ohio State team—who has a weak strength of schedule, thanks to the BIG 10 and playing inferior non conference opponents—gets into the National Championship game, so called experts will be up in arms and calling fowl. That doesn’t happen with a tournament like March Madness, although I’m pretty sure the first year of the football playoff will spark controversy over what four teams deserve to duke it out on the field. But at least the Title will be decided on the field, not on computers.

Please know that I love football. I’m glued to my TV watching it every week from late August through January. My premise is based on wanting to see the best against the best whenever, wherever. College Basketball gives us that excitement for four months. I think it’s great we don’t have to wait to the end of the season to see it.