NBA Position Battles: Small Forward

Paul Pierce

Oct 17, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets small forward Paul Pierce (34) advances the ball during the third quarter against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center. Brooklyn won 86-62. Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the NBA season is just over the horizon now. Its preseason has shown a few things that were expected before its commencement: that Eric Bledsoe will put up some monster games in Phoenix though it remains to be seen how consistently; the young blood in Utah are going to show flashes of brilliance even if they never win a game; and Kevin Garnett doesn’t much care for LeBron.

But expectations are just that—expectations. The second you start believing something is guaranteed is when that very thing turns out to be as fluid as Derrick Rose is on the court.

Take a team’s positioning. The second you think Trey Burke is exactly what the doctor ordered for a blossoming Jazz team, he has to make a visit to the doctor. And Utah isn’t the only place where positions and their playing times are largely up in the air. There’s battles for starter minutes at the point guard spot all over the league. And small forward is no different. In fact, there’s more competition at the 3 brewing than you might expect.

BROOKLYN

 Paul Pierce vs. Andrei Kirilenko

Now, this really isn’t a case of whether or not AK-47 can steal The Truth’s minutes but rather if Jason Kidd will force him to. Sure, it was a preseason game but the Nets looked like they can hold their own against a Miami team that’s a year older, without Mike Miller, has plenty of wear and tear and have a much more cut-throat Eastern Conference to contend with. A lot of their year-long success will depend on how much or how little veterans like Pierce play. Kirilenko isn’t exactly a spring курица (Russian for chicken) but will have to relieve Pierce of playing time throughout the season.

CHARLOTTE

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Jeffery Taylor

It might take a bit before Charlotte brass pull the trigger on this but it’s looking more and more like Taylor is going to steal himself a starting position. He’s not quite the defender MKG is but he’s also not anything worse than a capable one and shoots and scores better than Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is four years younger than Taylor, so he’ll have plenty of time to improve, but it just might have to be while being a benchwarmer.

In this preseason, these are MKG’s stats: 5.6 Points Per Game, 4.4 Rebounds Per Game, 0.8 Assists Per Game, 0.6 Blocks Per Game, 0.8 Steals Per Game, and 1.2 Turnovers Per Game. Shot 48.2% from the field, made no threes and put in 53.1% of his free-throws. 48.2% looks good but it actually would have been 35.2% if he hadn’t gone 1-for-1 from the field in the game against Miami.

These are Taylor’s: 9.5 Points Per Game, 3.3 Rebounds Per Game, 1.0 Assists Per Game, 0.0 Blocks Per Game, 0.5 Steals Per Game, and 1.25 Turnovers Per Game. His shooting is suffering – 39.5% from the field, 20.0% from deep, and 75.0% from the freebie line – but unlike Gilchrist he’s shown he can shoot from the mid-40s, 30s and 70s throughout the course of a full season.

CHICAGO

Luol Deng vs. Jimmy Butler vs. Mike Dunleavy Jr. vs. Taj Gibson

Chicago is going to see all kinds of arrangements and rearrangements this year, which, if worked right, will make them a quiet powerhouse this year. Nowhere will the experimentation be greater than at the small forward spot where Thibs has a whole lot of options.

When playing small, Butler can play the 3 spot. When testing out Butler at power forward – which he plans to do – Gibson can try his hand at the 3. If Dunleavy or Hinrich are playing the 2, this doesn’t even compromise their spacing, which is magnificent. In certain scenarios, their unit on the floor can have all of these guys on it, with Jimmy at the 2, Dunleavy at the 3, Deng at the 4, and Gibson at the 5. In other words, fantasy owners are going to have to be especially careful and precise when choosing Bulls players.

DENVER

Danilo Gallinari vs. Wilson Chandler

With Gallinari due back sometime in the next month, month-and-a-half, Chandler is expected to be moved over to the 2. But Gallinari isn’t exactly coming back from nursing a cold, so it’s doubtful he’ll be in the kind of shape that allows for starter minutes. Before Chandler can transition over to shooting guard, if Brian Shaw holds steady on that thinking, he’ll have to take the bulk of the minutes at small forward.

DETROIT

Josh Smith vs. Kyle Singler

Clutch your pearls all you want, Smith is going to have a hard time winning more than 30 minutes a game at small forward. With Drummond and Monroe on the court, he’s forced to live and die by his jumper. Not going to happen. That’s when Singler comes in. The sophomore has a nice overall game, can slash to the basket and gives Detroit something they’re going to need desperately as the Dre-Mon tandem start steamrolling teams in the paint: spacing.

GOLDEN STATE

Andre Iguodala vs. Harrison Barnes

Iggy was going to be their starter all along but now Barnes’ injury ensures that there’s no likelihood of anything else happening. Iguodala can hold his own at the shooting guard position for spurts which could help Mark Jackson find Barnes more minutes at the 3. Time will tell if that happens.

MEMPHIS

Tayshaun Prince vs. Quincy Pondexter vs. Mike Miller

Of the three, Miller will be the one that sees the least minutes at small forward. That is, if Memphis doesn’t decide to start playing Pondexter behind Tony Allen more. At 6-6, Pondexter fits the shooting guard mold and provides the scoring and shooting you would expect from a 2-guard. In any event, all three gentleman should see an ever-changing look at small forward that might depend more on matchups than their innate skillset.

MILWAUKEE

Caron Butler vs. Carlos Delfino

This one won’t be as much a battle as it is two old guys playing enough minutes to help keep the other guy relevant and alive. Butler will most likely see more minutes than he did as a Clipper, so in the very low 30s range, but will need Delfino, who is a good backup, to share the load at small forward. As a result, both can very well turn out to be two efficient shooters for Milwaukee as well as average double-digit points.

MINNESOTA

Chase Budinger vs. Corey Brewer

Minnesota won’t be quite the team they would be with Budinger’s shooting but Brewer is a solid scorer and can provide some defense to the starting five. Depending on Budinger’s recovery time and actual recovery on the court, Brewer can be in a position to hold onto his leading role.

NEW ORLEANS

Al-Farouq Aminu vs. Tyreke Evans

This “battle” should be over pretty quickly once Evans returns from injury. Still, the Pelicans organization wants to bring Evans off the bench, which should help Aminu land something decent in the minutes realm.

WASHINGTON

Trevor Ariza vs. Otto Porter Jr.

At least this year, the Wizards should be a better starting five with Ariza starting. As Porter develops, and if he turns out to be a good NBA prospect, he can find his way into the Wall-Beal-Nene-Okafor mix but for now it will suit a playoff-hungry team like the Wizards to have an experienced veteran like Ariza winning more minutes. Plus, Ariza has proven he can keep up while guarding guys like Durant and LeBron at the 3. Porter got injured while on a stationary bike. You do the math.
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Bogar Alonso is a dedicated student of the hardwood, soccer pitch, boxing ring, and tennis court. He is a regular NBA contributor to XN Sports. His work, involving more than just sports, has appeared on The Creators Project, A&E Networks, XXL Magazine, and others. Follow Bogar on Twitter @blacktiles
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