Who would we pick if we were choosing up sides on the playground for a game today? Our midseason update of player rankings continues to address that question with small forwards.
After looking at the league's most valuable position on Wednesday, we now turn to the spot where the least amount of value is being produced in the NBA. Small forwards used to rule the roost. Think back, if you're old enough, to the NBA in the 1980s when the game was fast and the midrange jumper was still a vital part of a pro offense. Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Bernard King, Alex English, Mark Aguirre, Julius Erving, Marques Johnson, Calvin Natt, Terry Cummings, just to name the obvious examples, were all arguably the best players on their respective teams.
Now, if you consider LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony as 4s (which we are in this series), then Kevin Durant and Paul George are the only small forwards in the league right now who would be considered the best player on their team. It's quite a sea change. By and large, 3s just don't have the ball in their hands as much as they used to and instead are asked to space the floor and play defense. Just as the dinosaurs gave way to the mammals, small forwards have relinquished dominance of the NBA to point guards.
The summer small forward rankings can be found here. Each player's "TrueWARP" calculation -- a blend of a player's preseason baseline forecast and his 2013-14 results -- is noted, along with their 2013-14 WARP and their league-wide rank in WARP for the season to date.
Because we're extrapolating from a half-season of real results, the methodology was a little bit different from our forecast-based summer rankings. See the explainer at the end of the article for how these rankings were derived.
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
TrueWARP: 20.7 | 2013-14 WARP: 8.8 | Overall Rank: 1
It's not news that Durant retains his stranglehold on the top spot in the small forward rankings. My colleague Tom Haberstroh already did a great job of detailing the increase in Durant's value this season, so I won't repeat that here. This summer, Durant's projected WARP (18.3) was more than twice as high as the No. 2 player on the list, Paul Pierce (8.6). The emergence of Paul George has at least brought someone else into the periphery of the conversation, but unless LeBron James goes back to the 3, Durant will remain the NBA's top small forward for many years to come.