Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/5/13
  Kawhi Leonard proved to the NBA world that he can be an elite player for the San Antonio Spurs during the NBA Finals. Now, could he prove to be one of the best small forwards in the NBA in 13-14?   Every NBA team seemingly has a “small” and “big” lineup now and days, which means small forwards spend nearly as much time at their natural position as they do at other positions such as power forward or shooting guard. That would be asking a lot of the following players, but the small forward position happens to feature some of basketball’s most versatile athletes. Being a “small forward” can mean just about anything now, which is why ranking the players at the position is more about grading overall impact rather than a specific set of skills. I believe small forwards are one of the most loaded positions in the NBA, second only to the point guard position. So with that said, in this 2-part series, I will bring to you who I think are the top 10 small forwards in the NBA, beginning with 10-6. 10. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets 16.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 17.13 PER (player efficiency rating) You can see how much of an impact Gallinari had on the Denver Nuggets by the way his team performed in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Golden State Warriors. Gallinari was out for the season with an ACL injury, which led to a 6 game upset by the 6th seeded Warriors on the 3rd seeded Nuggets. In 2012-2013, Gallinari bounced back from what many would consider an off year the season before. He was hitting 38.1 percent of his 3-point attempts last year (up from 32.8 percent) and he’s still driving to the basket with ease. Like Paul Pierce, Gallinari has the ability to get into the lane without elite athleticism and that bodes well for his future. Before getting hurt, the 24-year-old Italian was the second leading scorer for this young Denver Nuggets team. You can expect him to have an even bigger role with the Nuggets after free agent shooting Andre Iguodala signed with the Golden State Warriors this past offseason. 9. Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets 15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 15.33 PER Houston, we have a Parsons! In his first season as a full starter, Parsons showed the league that the Rockets have more than James Harden in their offense, as his 18.2 ppg average in the playoffs was second on the team. And with the acquisition of center Dwight Howard, you can expect the sharp shooting Parsons to benefit more this season. Even as a college senior at Florida, Parsons didn’t put up numbers like this. A classic late bloomer, Parsons is now a major threat from downtown (39.6 percent accuracy last season) and he’s moved his free throw mark to 70.6 percent, which is significantly better than his rookie clip of 55.1 percent. Parsons is also an underrated defender who is adept at turning defense into quick points. 8. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors 18.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 15.66 PER A lot of people across the league think Rudy Gay is overrated. But with the numbers he puts up for the Toronto Raptors, I don’t know how I can not have Gay in my top ten. Things didn’t go so well for Gay last season, but the Raptors showed some promise and could be a playoff team this year. The Eastern Conference is in a transitional phase and Raptors could capitalize with Gay leading the way. The 26-year-old Gay was the leading scorer for the Raptors in 2012-2013. After getting comfortable with the players on the team, you can expect Gay to average around 20 points in this upcoming season. 7. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs 11.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 16.46 PER I think head coach Gregg Popovich said it best when saying that Kawhi Leonard will be the future of the San Antonio Spurs franchise. This Mr. I -can-do-it-all emerged to the scene during the 2012-2013 playoffs, where he averaged 13.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG for the Western Conference Champions San Antonio Spurs. During the NBA Finals, his averages got even better, as the 2nd year man out of San Diego State University put up 14.6 PPG with 11.1 RPG against the Miami Heat. One of the tougher players to keep out of my top 6, Leonard has done it all for the Spurs. Some people compare him to Bruce Bowen, which is kind of silly because Leonard is an elite athlete. He’s already better offensively than Bowen and should eventually become a top defender as well. 6. Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls 16.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 15.12 PER If there is one player on the Bulls roster that is excited for the return of Derrick Rose, it would probably be Luol Deng. Before getting hurt in the postseason, Deng carried the title as the leader of this Chicago Bulls squad. Even though he did a pretty decent job at being the go-to guy, with Deng being the swing man to a former MVP like Rose will only improve his performance this season. Everyone likes to attribute Deng’s success as a defender to his size (6-foot-8) and wingspan, but he’s an underrated athlete that actually has the foot speed to keep up with players who are presumed to be more explosive than he is. And when you look at the names on this list, it becomes obvious just how valuable Deng is as a defender. Small forward is a big scoring position in the NBA these days and outside of LeBron James and perhaps one or two other players, Deng is one of the position’s best defenders. Offensively, he’s still a perfect secondary scorer. Deng had an off year from 3-point range last season, but did well in his 2-point shooting, and you can expect his long range shots to fall down again once D-Rose returns to the lineup. Tune in tomorrow to see who I have as my top 5 small forwards in the NBA going in the 2013-2014 Follow me on Twitter: @MrOT3      
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