2017 NBA Five Percenters: Small Forwards
Small Forwards are the best players in the NBA. They are complete athletes that can score, rebound, defend, and anything else you need them to do on the basketball court. They're agile enough to play on the wing and big enough to bang in the paint if need be.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors - 62 games, 25 points, 8.3 boards, 5 dimes, 53% FG
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers - 74 games, 26.1 points, 8.7 dimes, 8.6 boards, 54% FG
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs - 74 games, 25.5 points, 48% FG, 6 boards
4. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder - 75 games, 23.7 points, 6.6 boards, 46% FG
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks - 80 games, 23 points, 9 boards, 5.4 dimes, 52% FG
Kevin Durant jumped LeBron James for best small forward after trumping James head-to-head in the NBA Finals. Not much separated these two, but KD made sure he left his mark during the 2017 NBA Finals, averaging 35 points a game. By winning the championship, Durant proved that he made the right decision by joining the Warriors. I still think his jumps to GSW will tarnish everything that he has and will accomplish for the rest of his career. While I disagree with his decision and will always criticize him for it, I can't deny his talents on the court. For the ninth consecutive season, he averaged 25 points, four seasons behind all-time leader LeBron James. A year removed from his infamous decision and a whole season under his belt with Steph, Klay, and Draymond, how will he look this season for him?
LeBron James is still the greatest player of this generation. I am one of his biggest critics, but I give credit when it's due. LeBron is going into his 15th season and will turn 33 in December, will this be the year he slow down? Last season he led the league in minutes played (averaged 39 minutes for his career), which caused him to voice his opinion to the front-office about the team's depth on the bench. This season James will have a deep roster which should allow him to protect his health as he climbs the age ladder. This will be the story for James and the Cavs this year. He hasn't had any major injuries over his career but he may miss the season-opener against Boston with an ankle injury. Could this be the sign of things to come?
If someone wanted to put Kawhi Leonard at the top of the small forward list, I wouldn't argue. Leonard has outplayed the two guys ahead of him on the biggest stages, specifically James, who is considered the best player in the world. The only thing missing from Leonard's resume is an MVP trophy, and that could be coming very soon. The Claw finished third in the MVP race last season and second in 2015-16 when Curry was the named the unanimous winner. With Russell and Harden gaining more help, plus Curry and KD canceling each other MVP chances, Leonard is the only one of the bunch that has the freedom to be selfish enough to make MVP plays. If Leonard can snag the MVP crown this year, then the crown for best in the league will be his.
Paul George gets a fresh start in OKC this year. This will be the best roster George has been a part of in his eight-year career. George returned from his gruesome 2014 ankle injury with back-to-back 20+PPG seasons for the first time in his career. George joining Carmelo Anthony and Westbrook could help elevate his game to new levels. This will the first time he has others that he can rely on, not having to be the guy every single play. What really makes George special is his versatility to play shooting guard or small forward, which will come in handy playing with another great small forward in Anthony, who will likely play the four.
Kevin Durant recently gave praise to Giannis Antetokounmpo, saying he could end up being the best player ever; a very strong statement from the reigning Finals MVP. The Greek Freek had a breakout season last year, being voted to his first All-Star Game, (where he scored 30 points in 22 minutes). He also elevated his playoff numbers from 11 points in 2015 to 25 points last season. He still hasn't seen the second round but it's hard not to notice the progression he has made. Only 22, Antetokounmpo already has 250 starts under his belt in four seasons. He is the future.
Carmelo Anthony, OKC Thunder - Melo was ousted by the young boy in Milwaukee, which isn't a bad thing. Melo still has the tools to be considered top-five, he just needs a fresh start.
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves - Butler sent shockwaves through the NBA when he was traded to the T-Wolves. Like Melo, Butler has the tools but needed a better situation.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics - Hayward will join Kyrie Irving in Boston and should produce great numbers. This is the first time in his career he has played with a caliber player like Irving, let's see if he takes advantage.