The Thunder’s preseason kicks off tomorrow at home against the Detroit Pistons, and we are continuing with our preseason coverage.
The consensus rankings come from a points system. A first place selection is worth 5 points, second place is 4 points, and they continue in descending order with fifth place equaling 1 point.
Consensus Small Forward Rankings
|1. Oklahoma City||15|
1. Oklahoma City | Is there any doubt that the Thunder should come in at number one? Paul George isn’t just the best small forward in the division, he’s one of the best in the entire league. A year ago he recorded nearly 22 points per game. Considering the fact that he had to share the ball with Carmelo Anthony, I’d say that’s a solid number.
I expect George to have a larger role this season without Anthony on the roster. This season we will see a more comfortable and confident PG-13. Another year in the Oklahoma City organization and the fact that George now has his future secured is going to make a huge difference this season.
2. Minnesota | The small forward position might be the strongest on the Timberwolves roster. This is only due to Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is still a fairly young guy, but he has already made a big impact on the league. He has averaged 20 points per game in his four-year career, and he’s a solid rebounder as well.
Minnesota is going to need a lot from Wiggins in 2018 to have any type of success. It will be interesting to see how he handles that kind of pressure. For the first time in his career, he is going to be the number one guy.
3. Utah | Joe Ingles has to be one of the most interesting guys in the NBA. If you saw him in the streets, you’d expect him to be playing basketball at the local YMCA on a Tuesday night. The only thing is, he would drop 60 points if he played at the YMCA.
Ingles is the type of guy who can have a huge night, especially when it’s really needed. He single-handedly took over a couple playoff games a year ago. Utah is going to have a solid season, but if Ingles can improve even more from a year ago, the sky is the limit for the Jazz.
4. Denver | Denver has been extremely kind to Will Barton. Since leaving Portland in the middle of the 2014 season, his production has more than doubled. Barton has become a guy that Denver can rely on.
The Nuggets have a very talented roster. Honestly, they could have one of the more underrated rosters in the league. If Barton continues to improve year-to-year like he has in the past, Denver could be a scary team this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the guy average nearly 20 points per game.
5. Portland | I was somewhat surprised to see Portland at the bottom of this list. The Trail Blazers are definitely a guard-heavy team, which doesn’t leave much space for a talented small forward. Evan Turner will be the man for Portland this season at the small forward position. Although he isn’t what he once was in Philadelphia and Boston, he’s still more than capable of helping his team win games.
The injury to Moe Harkless definitely leaves some questions surrounding this position for Portland. It’s safe to say that the team will need the biggest season in a while from Evan Turner.
1. Oklahoma City | With the re-signing of Paul George in the offseason, the Thunder solidify themselves as a contender in the Western Conference. Rumors fled the league of George surely signing with the Lakers in the free agent frenzy, which would have led to Billy Donavan’s lineup in a state of uncertainty. George, who averaged 25.4 PPG last season, will look to cause havoc in the West after an early exit in the playoffs against Utah.
Billy Donovan sees a high upside in backup Terrence Ferguson, who showed flashes of potential averaging 12.5 minutes a game. Ferguson will surely see more minutes this season, and he will hope to remain healthy after missing 21 games last season due to injury.
2. Minnesota | If Andrew Wiggins wants to win an NBA Championship, he needs to change his mentality on the court in order to take over games in crunch time. Although I believe Wiggins to be one of the top scorers and two-way players in this league, this Minnesota lineup appears to be in a state of confusion, unsure of where the direction is headed. Wiggins does not have that “I will beat you” mentality similar to Westbrook or Kyrie Irving, which is one of many reasons the Wolves find themselves where they are today.
Luol Deng will serve as Wiggins backup entering his 14th year in the league after averaging just 2.0 with the Lakers last year.
3. Utah | Joe Ingles was almost hard to watch for Thunder fans in the postseason as he seemingly couldn’t miss a three in the first round of the playoffs. He managed to start 81 games last season averaging 14.5 PPG while shooting 44% from three, tying Klay Thompson for third-best in the league. Ingles is a fan favorite in Utah, and he is a perfect fit for a team with high hopes for next season.
Royce O’Neale had a productive rookie season with 7.7 PPG, and he will look to exceed his 23.5 MPG from last season. The addition of Thabo Sefolosha gives Utah a veteran presence on the court, which could benefit this young team down the stretch.
4. Denver | With the departure of Wilson Chandler, Will Barton will allegedly fill the role of SF for Denver this season. He averaged 15.7p/5.0r/4.0a playing mostly shooting guard last season, while starting half of the 81 games he played in. Expect his stat line to grow this season after a productive season and a desperate need at SG in Denver.
Michael Porter Jr. was once the potential #1 pick in last year’s draft, but after speculations with the status of his back injury, he slipped to Denver at #14. Porter had his second back surgery in the off-season and recently said he felt “painless.” The Nuggets haven’t released any timetable on his return, and he could possibly miss the entire season, which in my opinion would be the smart idea.
5. Portland | Portland finds themselves at the bottom of my list again, despite the fact that they finished third in the Western Conference last season. I know this team performs much better than they look on paper, but I don’t see this team picking up where they left off from last season.
Maurice Harkless, who averaged 6.5 PPG, will start at SF for the Blazers with Evan Turner coming off the bench. Turner will be entering his 8th year in the league, and he had a crucial role in Portland’s late push to the three seed in the West last year.
1. Oklahoma City | Paul George shoots the Thunder to top of these rankings. He’s a top 10-15 player in the NBA, and he is the best small forward in the division by far.
Behind George is Terrance Ferguson, who will likely see more playtime than he did last season as a rookie. Newcomers Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton could see some the court some as well.
2. Denver | Will Barton is one of those who is rarely going to wow you with his stat line, but he is consistently chipping in and doing work for his team. Last season he averaged career-highs with 15.7 PPG and 4.1 APG, and he also grabbed 5.0 RPG. He’s an all-around ball player.
After Barton is Torrey Craig, who saw decent minutes last season as a rookie. Also, don’t forget about rookie Michael Porter Jr. His continuing back problems have people forgetting about him, but if he can manage to get healthy, there is no telling what he has to offer.
3. Minnesota| Andrew Wiggins is a guy who has been picked on by fans and media alike pretty much since he was drafted by the Cavs and immediately traded to the Wolves. Last season was a down year for him, which likely can be attributed to sharing the ball more with Jimmy Butler. Now that Butler is on his way out, Wiggins will be expected to step up, and he could end up having a career year.
It gets rough after Wiggins, though. His backup is Luol Deng, who has barely played the last two seasons and may not have much left in the tank.
4. Utah | The Jazz are low on this list, but that’s no shade to Joe Ingles. He’s developed into a great player who seems to do just what it takes to keep himself relevant. Ingles is automatic from deep, and he can be a terror when he gets into the mind of his opponent.
After Ingles is Royce O’Neale, another rookie who saw decent minutes a season ago, and Thabo Sefalosha, a veteran and former member of the Thunder who has struggled to stay healthy for a while now.
5. Portland | This is the weakest position for the Blazers. Maurice Harkless is not a high-volume scorer, although he shoots over 40% from deep. He’s not a consistent double-digit scorer, though.
Evan Turner, who has one of the worst contracts in the NBA right now, is the backup, and he has put up stats similar to Harkless. Turner finds himself on the court about as much Harkless, so it will be interesting to see who gets most of the playtime.