The Era of the Small Forward
The last decade gave us perhaps the best group of power forwards ever to play in the league at one time with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Webber taking the baton from Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.
We also saw the Jordan influence at the shooting guard position, with Kobe Bryant leading a parade of versatile scorers featuring Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade that could all score 40 points on any given night.
As we begin a new decade, though, the new "it" position is small forward. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA and almost defies a position label with his crazy combination of size, athleticism and skills. Kevin Durant, a lanky 6-10 wing with parking lot range just finished a streak of 25-point games unmatched since Michael Jordan was a young man. Carmelo Anthony has been on many people's short list of MVP candidates, and he joins LeBron and Durant atop the scoring list in the league. Danny Granger is another young 6-8 do-everything shooter on the rise. Joe Johnson is quietly one of the most overlooked superstars in the league. Gerald Wallace looked for awhile like he seriously might challenge Dwight Howard for the league lead in rebounds, and Andre Iguodala is always one of the most exciting players on the court.
This wave of forwards has certain advantages that makes them deadly in the current NBA structure. Because of their size, they can't be effectively guarded by the old-school "defensive stopper" types like Raja Bell or Bruce Bowen that used to prowl the landscape and make their living roughing up smaller wing scorers. Anthony is as strong as most power forwards, Durant has a 7-5 wingspan, and LeBron is built like Karl Malone. You just aren't covering them with a shooting guard or a 6-5 tough guy, as they can get their shot too easily or just set up shop in the post. On the other hand, since the NBA outlawed the hand check it makes any offensive player with a speed advantage virtually unguardable on the perimeter as well. Because these guys all have quick first-steps and three-point range, you certainly can't afford to put a big man on them, either. It's not a coincidence that the top three and six of the top-13 scorers in the NBA all play small forward
Moving forward, this may change the way that fantasy leagues are drafted. It used to be that if you couldn't get one of the elite power forwards you were already at a disadvantage while your small forward slot could be filled by a specialist. Not anymore. Now, you can fill your power forward slot with specialists ranging from Joakim Noah on the glass to Rashard Lewis and his long-range game. But if you don't have the firepower of one of the elite young guns at small forward, you are already in a hole.
Situations to Watch and quick hits
Wade back on the court: Dwyane Wade was back on the court on Sunday after missing four games with a sore calf. He was a bit rusty in his return, but said afterward that he didn't experience any pain or unexpected discomfort afterwards. I expect Wade to have a huge last month of the season, so I will likely make a last-minute trade pitch to the Wade owner in all of my leagues.
Bosh (ankle) still out: Chris Bosh has missed the last six games with a sprained ankle, and he still does not have a set return date. Presumably he'll be back sooner rather than later since his team is still in the playoff hunt, and they have been fading without him. Like Wade he's likely to finish the season strong so he's worth pursuing if he fits your team needs.
Garnett's Month of Limping over? Kevin Garnett's season has been cyclical so far. He started the year visibly limping and tentative as he attempted to recover from offseason knee surgery, and for about the first month he averaged 14 points and seven boards. Then, about a month into the season, he suddenly started making alley-oops and providing a box score impact with five 20-plus point scoring efforts in a nine game span before getting injured again. In the first month after returning, Garnett again averaged 14 and seven. In his last few games, though, he's again started making those alley-oops and is coming off a season-high tying 26 points on Saturday. He's still a risk, but if you're desperate, and his owner in your league is tired of his struggles, it's worth taking a chance that Garnett ramps up for the playoffs.
Ellis and the Warriors Fun House: Monta Ellis has a strained lower back and is unlikely to join the Warriors on their upcoming five-game road trip. If we know anything, it's that the Warriors are going to score so someone has to get those points. Stephen Curry is a no-brainer upgrade, but look for CJ Watson, Anthony Morrow and even Anthony Tolliver to make impacts in the coming weeks.
McGrady's knee still tricky: Tracy McGrady can still score, as evidenced by his 26-point and 23-point efforts in his first week back. McGrady is also still dealing with his surgically repaired knee, as evidenced by his three games of six points or less. He could play himself into shape, you never know, but the Knicks and McGrady have nothing to gain by him pushing through the injury, so I can't see him becoming a trustworthy fantasy option in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Noah's foot is scary: Joakim Noah was one of the breakout success stories of the first half, but it appears his plantar fasciitis could derail what was shaping up to be a career year. He has missed the last two games completely after an abbreviated four-game comeback attempt, and he's likely to sit out for at least the remainder of this week.
Granger ramping up after sitting out: Granger had been posting huge numbers before having to miss a game for personal reasons last week, and in his first two games back he was solid but unspectacular. He dropped 30 points in his last game, though, which looks more like the 33.5 points he averaged in the last two games before the absence. He seems poised to go on a rampage down the stretch if his body can hold up.
Martin finally settled in? Kevin Martin has averaged 31 points over his last three games and seems to be getting settled in on his new team. The Rockets are a scrappy squad, but they had no lead scorer with Yao Ming injured so Martin should have the green light to continue to put up big scoring numbers moving forward.
Knicks against opposing bigs: In three of their last five games the Knicks have allowed Andrew Bogut and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to combine for 35 points and 31 boards, Andray Blatche to erupt for 26 and 18, and the Grizzlies' starting frontcourt to embarrass them to the tune of 83 points, 43 boards and 13 assists. The Knicks have no tall players that play defense, and opposing teams are exploiting it. If you've got even a semi-productive big man facing the Knicks, he is a must-start.
Tayshaun's quiet awakening: Prince started off the season slowed by injuries, but in recent weeks he seems to have recovered his form. He is playing big minutes and contributing across the board these days, averaging 16.2 points, 7.0 boards, 4.4 assists, and 2.0 combined blocks and steals in 40 minutes per game over his last five outings. He was actually dropped in a lot of leagues, so take a look on your free agent wire just to be sure that he's not still out there.
Diesel out of gas for 2 months: Shaquille O'Neal underwent successful surgery on his right thumb on Monday morning, effectively ending his regular season. This could actually be a good thing for the Cavs as it will force them to get out and run more. J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao look to be the primary beneficiaries of the Big Sidekick's downfall.
Iverson done in Philly: Allen Iverson has officially left the 76ers for the remainder of the season to spend time with his ailing daughter. On a personal note I wish him and his family the best as they deal with these hard times. On a fantasy note, I'm glad to have some closure as Iverson had become the guy with too much upside to drop but too little output to be worth the roster spot. Now the decision is easy.
Le-BrAndre Blatche?: Andray Blatche has been putting up fantasy MVP numbers since moving into the starting lineup. Over the last week he has scored about 28 points with 13 boards, four assists, two blocks and two steals per game. There's actually no real reason he should slow down, so if you were lucky enough to get him for cheap don't trade him for anything short of first-round value.
Marcus Thornton (49% owned): Thornton is an instant offense type that had been picking it up before missing some time with injury. In his last five games he has not scored less than 18 points, and he has two games of 30 or more points. If he stays healthy he could be a huge scoring presence down the stretch.
Carlos Delfino (42% owned): Delfino has continued to score in double-figures with decent contributions in rebounds, assists, steals and treys even after the Bucks acquired John Salmons.
Drew Gooden (41% owned): Gooden has been strong since joining the Clippers, averaging 18 points with 10 boards over his last four games.
George Hill (36% owned): Hill has led the Spurs in scoring six times in the last 13 games and has decent 3-point and assist potential on a nightly basis as well.
CJ Watson (34% owned): Watson got sick last week and missed a game, but he returned on Saturday with another strong game in 45 minutes of play. With Monta Ellis out for the next couple of weeks Watson is still in the right place on the right team to put up great numbers in the next few games.
Nicolas Batum (14% owned): Batum has turned in consecutive big games in which he has averaged 26 points and 4.5 treys. While those numbers may not be sustainable, he seems poised to increase his averages dramatically in the coming weeks as the Trail Blazers are starting to rely more upon his offensive skills.
Article first appeared 3/2/10