Value of the 'player forward'

These undersized 4s are among the toughest matchups in the game

Updated: October 10, 2013, 12:49 PM ET
By Fran Fraschilla | ESPN Insider

Ejim/Robinson/GrahamUSA TODAY SportsMelvin Ejim, Glenn Robinson III and Treveon Graham are difficult matchups for opponents.

When former NC State coach Jim Valvano would recruit a player who was in between forward positions -- usually in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-7 range -- he would tell him that he was a player forward. That was a guy, he'd say, who was too quick for bigger forwards and too big and strong for smaller forwards.

Another coach might point out that the player was too small to play inside or too slow to play on the perimeter, but that was the beauty of Valvano's charm.

He was also illuminating one of the most undervalued positions in the game.

While the point guard is arguably the most important player on any basketball team, as he has the ball in his hands on every play like a quarterback in football, the player forward is more like a tight end -- the player who is called on to do a multitude of things, some glamorous and some involving dirty work, and is often the toughest matchup for opponents to deal with.

The undersized forward has always been common at the low- and mid-major levels in college hoops, as many power conference teams have often valued size over effectiveness. However, a growing trend within the game is that teams are realizing that getting their five best players on the floor is more important to winning than getting the most size on the floor. In many cases, the player forward can turn out to be a huge advantage.

But what makes a good player forward?


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Fran Fraschilla is a college basketball analyst for ESPN. He formerly was the head coach at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico.