The small forward position is probably the most diverse in basketball, with many different types of players performing in different locations on the floor.
What defines the position is to perform by scoring and defending outside and inside the arc as well as within the paint. Versatility becomes paramount as the small forward should be able to score in different fashions.
A small forward will guard many different players with a multitude of talents, so to be athletic enough, strong enough and tough-minded will be vital. Defensive versatility is important factor.
When you look at the NBA and the styles at which small forwards accumulate points, it varies widely. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant shoots the the ball with great distance and accuracy. The Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce will beat you with a crafty pull-up jumper in the mid-range. Others are primarily powerful drivers, such as Carmelo Anthony, who also possesses a jumper. The Miami Heat's LeBron James is the ideal playmaker, but scores best by driving, The New York Knicks' Metta World Peace defends and rebounds, getting stops and giving his team extra possessions.
Below are five keys that are instrumental to being an elite small forward, with a look at which prospects from the Class of 2014 best demonstrate each of those traits.
1. Scoring in a variety of ways
Why it's important: Sprinting out on the break to finish a transition basket, shooting a long range jumper to stretch a defense or making a straight-line drive to the basket are three primary ways to keep the defense honest. Other ways to score are by crashing the offensive glass for second-chance points or posting up like-sized or smaller defenders in the low and mid-post along with an occasional isolation at the pinch post (elbows). To be able to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways with different shot-making ability makes a player a major threat.
Who does it best in Class of 2014:
Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas/Homeschool Christian Youth Association): Jackson can score with length and he's confident from any spot on the floor. He started out as a long-range shooter and has developed a consistent mid-range jumper along with an notable floater. The 6-foot-7, 185-pound prospect moves without the ball as he spots up on his teammate's penetration or will run off screens to create space to score. Although not physically strong yet, Jackson will go onto the blocks and post and score with his extension and length. His scoring mentality creates fouls, as he will look to run a lane on the break and finish or drive to the basket when he recognizes the open lane. He shoots a smooth free throw. With time, strength and coaching, Jackson could develop into a go to guy for Roy Williams at North Carolina.
Stanley Johnson (Fullerton, Calif./Mater Dei): Johnson can always score with a powerful drive, a paint game or at the free throw line with his aggressive style. Since his junior season ended, he has polished his skills and now can put the ball in the basket from any spot on the floor and he is poised when doing so. Knocking down open 3-point shots has been a huge improvement. It also sets up his drive game, which the 6-6, 220-pound prospect's calling card. Johnson, ranked No. 12 in the ESPN 100, has been most impressive offensively because he does not force shots up as soon as he touches the ball, like some high-volume scorers. He is efficient and effective with his attempts.
Keita Bates-Diop (Bloomington, Ill./University): The first thing you notice is his size and length, combined with a clean and accurate shooting stroke from any spot on the floor. His sweet spot is to face up with short jumpers and quick attacks along the baseline and from the high post area with his excellent ball skills for a player of his size. The 6-7, 190-pound prospect is a good block player in terms of catching, turning and shooting and at times he draws contact. His free throw shooting is more than dependable and his scoring is high level. The Buckeyes have a player that they can move around on offense who will produce.