Monday, August 26, 2013
Biancardi's Breakdown: Small forwards
By Paul Biancardi
The small forward position is probably the most diverse in basketball, with many different types of players performing in different locations on the floor.
What defines the position is to perform by scoring and defending outside and inside the arc as well as within the paint. Versatility becomes paramount as the small forward should be able to score in different fashions.
A small forward will guard many different players with a multitude of talents, so to be athletic enough, strong enough and tough-minded will be vital. Defensive versatility is important factor.
When you look at the NBA and the styles at which small forwards accumulate points, it varies widely. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant shoots the the ball with great distance and accuracy. The Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce will beat you with a crafty pull-up jumper in the mid-range. Others are primarily powerful drivers, such as Carmelo Anthony, who also possesses a jumper. The Miami Heat's LeBron James is the ideal playmaker, but scores best by driving, The New York Knicks' Metta World Peace defends and rebounds, getting stops and giving his team extra possessions.
Below are five keys that are instrumental to being an elite small forward, with a look at which prospects from the Class of 2014 best demonstrate each of those traits.
1. Scoring in a variety of ways
Why it's important: Sprinting out on the break to finish a transition basket, shooting a long range jumper to stretch a defense or making a straight-line drive to the basket are three primary ways to keep the defense honest. Other ways to score are by crashing the offensive glass for second-chance points or posting up like-sized or smaller defenders in the low and mid-post along with an occasional isolation at the pinch post (elbows). To be able to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways with different shot-making ability makes a player a major threat.
Who does it best in Class of 2014:
ESPN 100 No. 8 recruit Justin Jackson is a deadly midrange and outside scorer.
Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas/Homeschool Christian Youth Association):Jackson can score with length and he's confident from any spot on the floor. He started out as a long-range shooter and has developed a consistent mid-range jumper along with an notable floater. The 6-foot-7, 185-pound prospect moves without the ball as he spots up on his teammate's penetration or will run off screens to create space to score. Although not physically strong yet, Jackson will go onto the blocks and post and score with his extension and length. His scoring mentality creates fouls, as he will look to run a lane on the break and finish or drive to the basket when he recognizes the open lane. He shoots a smooth free throw. With time, strength and coaching, Jackson could develop into a go to guy for Roy Williams at North Carolina.
Stanley Johnson (Fullerton, Calif./Mater Dei): Johnson can always score with a powerful drive, a paint game or at the free throw line with his aggressive style. Since his junior season ended, he has polished his skills and now can put the ball in the basket from any spot on the floor and he is poised when doing so. Knocking down open 3-point shots has been a huge improvement. It also sets up his drive game, which the 6-6, 220-pound prospect's calling card. Johnson, ranked No. 12 in the ESPN 100, has been most impressive offensively because he does not force shots up as soon as he touches the ball, like some high-volume scorers. He is efficient and effective with his attempts.
Keita Bates-Diop (Bloomington, Ill./University): The first thing you notice is his size and length, combined with a clean and accurate shooting stroke from any spot on the floor. His sweet spot is to face up with short jumpers and quick attacks along the baseline and from the high post area with his excellent ball skills for a player of his size. The 6-7, 190-pound prospect is a good block player in terms of catching, turning and shooting and at times he draws contact. His free throw shooting is more than dependable and his scoring is high level. The Buckeyes have a player that they can move around on offense who will produce.
2. Physical tools
Why it's important: Size, athletic ability and strength is a necessity at small forward. A small forward must be athletic enough to defend his position, fast enough to get out on the break and strong enough to rebound.
Who does it best: Kelly Oubre (Fort Bend, Texas/Findlay College Prep): He is a combination of explosiveness and length with a vertical that is impressive. The 6-7, 190-pound Oubre uses all of his physical tools on both ends of the floor to finish scoring opportunities at the rim, rebound outside of his comfort zone and defend. When the game goes up and down without whistles, Oubre has a clear advantage as he can influence any possession or come up with any loose ball. He oozes athleticism and potential.
3. Defensive versatility
Why it's important: Defensive versatility is important. If a player can guard his position and also slide over and guard either shooting guards or power forwards -- which happens a lot on a switch -- he gives his coach more options and his team a better chance of winning.
Who does it best: Justise Winslow (Houston/Saint John's): Winslow has prominently established himself as a defender with the ability to defend multiple positions on the floor. He has developed a defensive mindset, ready to take on the opposing team's biggest threat. The 6-5, 208-pound Winslow is strong, physical, with an explosive vertical jump to rebound and fast-moving feet for lateral quickness to level a driver. A smart player on both ends, he can lock into an assignment, take on a switch and anticipate for a steal. Winslow already has made an impact on games with his defensive skills, both on and off the ball.
Jae’Sean Tate (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central): Strong and passionate about playing the game, Tate is super-competitive. The 6-5, 190-pound Ohio State commit enjoys stopping any and all opponents and he is built to do so inside the paint by banging and bodying up on the blocks, even though he could give ways inches against bigger players. On the perimeter, he moves his feet and makes it hard for drives to go by him and stays close enough to contest shooters. To finish the possession, he will either block out his man or go and get the defensive board.
4. A rebounding mentality
Why its important: You can never have too many rebounders. The challenge to gain extra possessions every game is vital, and some small forwards who are physically strong and hungry to go after the ball create an advantage for their team. No coach has ever taken out a player for rebounding too much.
Who does it best:
Stanley Johnson is one of the most versatile scorers in the Class of 2014.
Stanley Johnson: First of all, Johnson had a tremendous spring and summer and has made big improvements in his game. Without question, Johnson is not only the best rebounder in his position; he is also one of the better rebounders in the country. When you look at his rebound statistics from the ultracompetitive Nike Peach Jam, he was the third-best overall at 10 per game. He plays every possession and every game with so much energy and passion. Powerful and strong, not only can he grab the rebound, but with his skill and strength he can go back up and score. His high-motor approach translates into his rebounding.
5. Playmaking abilities
Why it's important: You never know where a small forward will end up on the court, so to have the tools to make a play by design or at a moment’s notice is essential. To have a third player on the floor who can be a ball-handler, assist man and scoring threat makes his team more efficient, gives his coach more options and is difficult for a team to prepare to face.
Who does it best: Theo Pinson (Greensboro, N.C./Wesleyan Christian): Pinson brings a lot to the table -- size, length and superior athletic ability. The 6-6, 190-pound Pinson recently was the winner of the Under Armour dunk contest and he uses his athleticism on both ends of the floor to make plays. A North Carolina pledge, he handles the ball with confidence and can do so in the backcourt against pressure or lead a fast break. In a half-court setting he can and will initiate offense, and his vision and unselfishness allows him to make the assist. Pinson also will probe a defense, looking to attack, and make a play for himself or his teammates.