In today's NBA, the forward position has evolved to the point that it's difficult to typecast a player as "only" a power or small forward. Certainly, there are power forwards such as Zach Randolph, David West and David Lee who fit the traditional mold and pound you inside. Likewise, athletic, multidimensional players such as Carmelo Anthony or Paul George fit what we traditionally think of as the small forward position.
Then there are uniquely skilled players who don't fit the positional archetype, the guys a good NBA coach can fit into a range of offensive and defensive schemes with flexibility and what I call "coaching creativity."
For example, the New Orleans Pelicans' Ryan Anderson is a "stretch" power forward who creates great spacing for an offense with his shooting but won't do much damage to a defense in the paint. Similarly, there are those at the small forward position I call "one-trick ponies", such as the Atlanta Hawks' Kyle Korver, whose only elite NBA skill is shooting the ball. But that's been enough for him to carve out a long career because coaches can maximize those prized traits.
Undersized power forwards who play with supreme energy, like the Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried, are in vogue right now. George Karl isn't running many plays for him, but Faried has started his career averaging one rebound every three minutes.
This year's draft offers up some forwards who could be taken in a similar range in the first round but with very different skills. The two best forwards in this year's draft, Georgetown's Otto Porter and UNLV's Anthony Bennett, are 6-foot-8 but play very differently. Porter is the traditionally skilled small forward who is one of the draft's best shooters, and Bennett is an undersized power forward with terrific rebounding instincts, a good shooting touch and massive potential, as well.
Bennett and Porter are expected to go in the top five selections. Here is a breakdown of both players and how each could ultimately affect the teams that draft them.
Otto Porter | 6-8 | Georgetown
Porter might be the safest player to select among the first 14 picks. He has very good NBA positional size and skill level and is a high-character guy who has not been weaned on AAU basketball. He was extremely successful at the high-majors level and turns 20 just three weeks before the draft. But he's not perfect.
Porter's main offensive strength is that he is an excellent shooter, especially in the midrange. According to hoop-math.com, 79 percent of Porter's shots this season were jump shots, and he made an outstanding 42 percent of them. Mechanically, he has a high release and consistent follow-through. This accounts for his high accuracy.
Additionally, he played in an offense at Georgetown that accentuated ball movement. Although he's an outstanding shooter with his feet set, critical in creating floor spacing in the NBA, cutting and moving to open areas also will serve him well.
That said, the Porter I saw on tape and in person is, at best, an average NBA passer and driver. He is a very good straight-line driver, but he rarely beat athletic defenders off the dribble. And, although his turnover rate is a very good 11.7 percent, according to kenpom.com, that is a deceiving number because he is usually in a position to shoot before he passes.
Defensively, Porter gets kudos for stuffing the stat sheet with steals, rebounds and blocks, and he has the basketball intelligence to be an excellent team defender. That said, his lateral quickness is average and problematic at times when was guarding the ball off the dribble. He won't arrive in the league as an elite defender.
Two years ago, Porter was an unheralded high school player who honed his game on the playgrounds of Sikeston and Morley, Mo. Toughness and adherence to basketball fundamentals were part of his DNA even before he arrived at Georgetown. Without question, his two years playing in the Big East enhanced those strengths.
Ultimately, Porter should have a reasonably smooth transition to the NBA. He can make outside shots, will play with great energy and should find his role.
Anthony Bennett | 6-8 | UNLV
Bennett, who turned 20 in March, is one of the few players in this draft who has the potential to appear in multiple NBA All-Star Games, but he still has a lot to figure out. He also will be coming off recent shoulder surgery, which will sideline him for four months, precluding him from pre-draft team workouts.
But Bennett possesses some attributes that are precursors to NBA stardom. Although he is just 6-8, he is an explosive NBA-level athlete with a 7-1 wingspan. In addition, he is an excellent rebounder and a better-than-average outside shooter. The Mountain West Freshman of the Year, he shot 38 percent behind the arc this past season.
When he reaches the NBA, Bennett should immediately be proficient in screen-and-roll situations because of his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. He was heavily involved in drag screens in transition at UNLV. Few power forwards in this draft will stretch the floor like he does.
There are some issues with Bennett, some of which can be attributed to his inexperience. Although he had the potential to dominate games, I don't believe his motor ran full throttle all the time. Also, he has battled injuries and asthma throughout his high school and college careers. In addition, Bennett's low-post game is still a work in progress. He is more likely to score inside off offensive rebounds, dump-offs and quick face-up moves as opposed to back-to-the basket offense.
Ultimately, although Porter has solid credentials and is considered a safe draft pick, Bennett has the attributes to be a star in the NBA.
Taking Porter, who I think will be a starter in the NBA, is like hitting a double in the gap, but taking Bennett is swinging for the fences and trying to hit a grand slam. If Bennett connects, a team is getting a major building block for the next 10 years, and that, especially in the draft, will be hard to pass up.