Are We Witnessing the End of NBA Small Forwards?
The way the Golden State Warriors have built their roster under GM Bob Myers is changing the NBA -â€“ teams like the Milwaukee Bucks are trying to do a similar thing in the East, building around lengthy, do-it-all wings who basically have no weakness. Small-ball became big in Miami under Erik Spoelstra, but it seems like itâ€™s being perfected in Golden State. Putting maximum shooting on the floor without a huge sacrifice on defense is the recipe for success in 2015.
When a team goes small, theyâ€™re generally slotting in an extra guard to get outside shooting. This means that the teamâ€™s â€œsmall forwardâ€ typically shifts up into the â€œpower forwardâ€ role. If that player can hold his own on defense â€“- Harrison Barnes is a good example of this, as he has done a great job of battling guys like Zach Randolph when the Warriors go small â€“- the payoff is enormous on the other end, as the spacing becomes impossible to guard.
Although theyâ€™ve only played four minutes together in the Finals, the lineup with Barnes at the four and Draymond Green at the five has been unstoppable, posting a Net Rating of 89.2. The Warriors have essentially the same numbers when you switch out Barnes for Andre Iguodala. Interestingly, the Cavaliers have played a small-ball lineup four minutes themselves -â€“ Dellavedova, Shumpert, LeBron, Jones, and Mozgov â€“- and found success, outscoring them 17-4 in that span.
The success of these lineups (and lineups like these all year) brings up an interesting question about positions: are all small forwards better off as power forwards? The NBA is slowly losing positions â€“- thatâ€™s what happens when LeBron comes into the league and becomes both the best post-up player in the world, as well as the best point guard in the world.
Skill-sets matter, not positions.
And it seems that the ability to guard a forward on the defensive end while stretching the floor on the offensive end is an increasingly coveted skill. The bigger small forwards â€“- and theyâ€™re getting increasingly bigger as the years progress â€“- can pull off this balance. It will certainly be interesting to see if some of the younger small forwards like Kawhi Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and even soon-to-be guys like Justise Winslow will eventually find more success as the four alongside a rim-protecting center.
This makes things interesting for a team like the Jazz. Would a potential lineup of, say, Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Hayward, and Rudy Gobert find success long-term? This isn't to say Derrick Favors doesnâ€™t have a place, but more that getting an extra couple of guards and wings might be more important than picking up a backup big man. Perhaps Gobert, Favors, and Hayward should be thought of as their best big men.
The NBA is certainly changing, as it always does when a team wins a title doing things a different way than anyone has done them in the past. The Warriors have found a lot of success playing their small forwards at power forward, and weâ€™ll likely see more of this out of the rest of the league next season. We might be witnessing the beginning of the end of the NBA small forward.