Love him or hate him, the Miami Heat’s LeBron James is today’s gold standard at the small forward position.
Aside from suspect free-throw shooting, what’s not to like about LeBron’s game? At small forward, he can shoot from virtually any spot in the halfcourt, defends well and rebounds.
If you look around the league, guys like Paul Pierce, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant and even second-year pro Chandler Parsons do a lot of the same things. In other words, a little bit of everything.
But before we look more into the present, let’s understand how far we’ve come.
Julius Erving came into the league in 1976 as a lanky, 6-foot-7 26-year-old out of UMass. He was big for a guard but just a hair smaller than most post players. Erving’s solution? Incorporate both styles into his game. Thus the monacher of Dr. J was born — the high-flying, rock-slamming legend.
Dr. J was an innovator during his time in the NBA, but teams would soon take notice of this style of play.
In fact, for a time, small forwards were bigger 3-point threats than most guards.
Flash forward to 1987 when the Chicago Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen, who could rebound, but spot-up shooting was a much bigger part of his game.
Pippen played an integral role for the Bulls in the 1990′s helping Chicago to six NBA Championships, stringing together five straight years of averaging at least 17 points, 7 rebounds per-game. Sure, Michael Jordan handled most of the scoring and Dennis Rodman was a beastly rebounder down-low, but the Bulls needed a secondary scorer for when Jordan was double-teamed and Pippen was that guy.
The former Central Arkansas star paved the way for the small forward position to go in a number of different directions, two of the biggest contrasts being Dan Majerle and Walter McCarty.
Majerle was a cagey, 6-foot-6 SF most notably for the Phoenix Suns. Being on the smaller side of the spectrum, Majerle could blow through the lane and throw down on low-post defenders. As he got older, though, the position began to get bigger and Majerle developed more of a perimeter shot. Majerle became more of a spark of the bench for Phoenix and an example of how small forwards should compensate for bigger forwards coming into the league.
As for McCarty, I get that he’ll never be a Hall-of-Famer after what many would deem nine sub-par seasons in the league, but he’s responsible for the first crop of post-defending small forwards.
At 6-foot-10, McCarty had the size to play power forward and even backup center, but he also had good range away from the basket as well. McCarty’s best years came as a bench player for the Boston Celtics, where he towered over smaller SFs. McCarty wasn’t the best rebounder but still proved that size would eventually be the answer at the 3.
By the time McCarty left the league in 2005, protypical position sizes were thrown out the window. Proof? 6-foot-9 David Lee was drafted by the Golden State Warriors to play power forward and 6-foot-9 Danny Granger was drafted by the Indiana Pacers to play small forward.
Granger figured out how to use both his size and ball skills to average two 3-pointers and nearly seven rebounds through his first six years in the league.
James isn’t ignorant to the fact that times are changing, either. He’s incorporated more of a post game into his arsenal in the past couple of years, resulting in an average of 7+ rebounds per-game over the past five seasons.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was arguably the last iconic guard to enter the league. The two players people are most talking about now adays? Durant and James.
I rest my case.
Until next time, folks, be great, because I know you can.