- Bradford Doolittle
What is the NBA's most loaded position? In the opener of our positional ranking series, I noted that this is a point guard-dominated league these days, and that's certainly true. However, part of that uptick in value for the position is due to a couple of evolutionary factors. When the NBA cracked down on hand-checking and banished other restraints on defensive scheming, the game opened up. Small guards who used to be muscled around can now cross defenders over at will, and with offenses trending toward spacing the floor, there is plenty of room for these ultra-quick players to operate. Pick-and-rolls became the default offensive set, and fast, dribble-penetrating guards became a must for every team's roster.
Scoring has become as important as playmaking for many of these guards, and the distinction between the backcourt positions has blurred. Pure playmakers like Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio are now the exception, rather than the rule. Some teams -- Cleveland is a perfect example, with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters -- start a pair of combo guards who in many respects are interchangeable.
Nevertheless, as we unveil our rankings of forwards this week, you can't help but notice that the top two players at this position (LeBron James and Kevin Durant) are -- and have been -- the top overall players in the league the past few years. So while there are seemingly more high-value point guards than any other position, does that group really offer the most overall composite value?
The answer is yes, but it's close. And I remind you again about the caveat in assigning a primary position to a player in today's NBA is often more art than science. Positional usage is something I track, and in most cases, I've assigned each player the position he played most often last season. Thus James and Carmelo Anthony won't show up until the power forward rankings.
On the other hand, Andre Iguodala, who was primarily a 2 in Denver, is included with the 3s because that's his likely spot now that he's in Golden State. All of this blurs the real value between positions. However, it seems clear that wings are asked to do less than the other spots.
Here's the series primer: As NBA depth charts have filled, so have the forecasts generated by ATH coalesced. ATH, you may recall, is the projection module of NBAPET, my system of integrated spreadsheets for tracking, evaluating and forecasting all things NBA. Players are ranked according to ATH's forecasted WARP, or wins above replacement level, which accounts for a player's efficiency, volume of production and team context.
Here are the projected top 10 small forwards for the 2013-14 NBA season.
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 18.3
Durant has to stop getting better, right? Last season, he soared to 22.4 WARP, and his projection for this season is merely a statistical model seeing some regression to the mean. Seasons in which a player combines a usage rate of at least 30 percent with a true shooting percentage of .600 or better are historically rare. Durant has made it a matter of routine, and ATH is forecasting another such a season. He also improved his assist rate for the second straight season, a gain ATH sees Durant mostly retaining.
Using his ATH statistical system, Bradford Doolittle projects the top 10 small forwards for the 2013-14 NBA season according to wins above replacement level. Kevin Durant ranks No. 1.