It’s time for the third part of the NBA Draft positional rankings list presented by Celtics Town. In today’s portion, we will discuss the small forward. Though there are seemingly no stars to be found at small forward, plenty of players could be contributors at the NBA level. I just want to let everyone know before they read this that we did not forget Demar Derozan, we merely included him in our shooting guards list. Read on to check out Celtics Town’s top ten draft prospects at the small forward position.
10. Danny Green, UNC (Last year’s stats: 13.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals)
Playing for the NCAA-champion North Carolina Tar Heels, Danny Green’s per-game statistics didn’t increase much from his junior to senior season, but his professional prospects did. Green improved his three-point shooting, raising his percentages from 37% to 42% despite the college line moving back a foot. Green not only improved his percentages, he also improved his shot’s consistency, range, and footwork. Pairing his newfound shooting prowess with his impressive defense, Green has great role player potential in the NBA, and could be a solid NBA player for years to come. While not as NBA-ready as Courtney Lee, Danny Green is a very similar player, a tough, gritty defender who uses above-average athleticism to make up for his lack of elite NBA length. I believe Green could have a Lee-like rookie year as a defensive stopper and occasional scorer.
9. Victor Claver, Pamesa Valencia (Spain) (Last year’s stats: 8.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 41.5% 3pt)
Despite missing a large part of last season due to a knee injury, Claver was able to impress NBA scouts prior to his injury. An incredibly long, 6’10” small forward, Claver has terrific shooting ability, especially from beyond the arc. Despite his height and shooting, Claver projects as more of a role player in the NBA. He is an athletic 6’10”, yet his lack of ball-handling skills keeps him from getting to the rim against less athletic players. Claver is better at finishing plays started by his teammates than he is at creating his own shot. Even if his offensive playmaking skills don’t progress, Claver could still be a productive NBA player based solely on his athleticism, height, and shooting.
8. Dajuan Summers, Georgetown (Last year’s stats: 13.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals)
I could never really get a good read on Dajuan Summers’ game. At times, I was struck by his NBA-ready physique, terrific athleticism and smooth jumpshot. Summers put together streaks within games where he would make a great block, grab the rebound, outlet, sprint the floor and finish with a dunk at the offensive end. During those plays, Summers would look like a future NBA All-Star, capable of igniting his team with his energy and leading them with his skills. However, Summers had a tendency throughout his career of disappearing for large portions of games, somehow failing to impact the game despite his vast array of skills and physical attributes. Summers still has all the physical tools you’d want in a small forward, but he has to learn to put it together for the entire game. He could start by improving his ball-handling skills, which are more or less non-existent. Because he has a poor handle, Summers can’t create his own offense and has to rely on hustle plays and his jumpshot to score. Just based on his physical tools, Summers should still be a solid player in the league, but he’ll have to work to round out the rough edges of his game.
7. Omri Casspi, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) (Last year’s stats: 8.8 points, 3.1 rebounds)
Playing for a European powerhouse, Casspi has yet to play major minutes overseas. Still only twenty years old, Casspi has a ton of potential but, like almost everybody at the small forward position, looks to be more of a role player in the league than a star. Just like the rest of the small forwards on this list, Casspi is more of an opportunistic scorer than a guy who creates offense. He finds his offense by running the floor in transition, spotting up for open jumpers, and making hustle plays around the basket. Casspi still has a ways to go to be a productive player, but he has a very high skill level and has been a productive role player for one of the elite European teams at a very young age. Look for him to also be productive once he moves his game to the NBA.
6. Austin Daye, Gonzaga (Last year’s stats: 12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks)
Probably the most talented small forward in the draft, nobody questions Daye’s skills. At a legitimate 6’10”, Daye can handle the ball, pass the ball, and shoot the ball like a far smaller player. He has great jab step moves, and a highly advanced offensive repertoire. He has incredible size and an amazing skill set to go with it. Still, Daye wasn’t nearly as productive as he should have been at Gonzaga. While he was an impact player, Daye was nowhere near the star his size and skill says he should be. Daye needs to become physically and mentally tougher in order to compete in the NBA, but he is probably the only guy on this list who has star potential at the next level. If Daye can get in the weight room and had twenty to thirty pounds to his frame, he could immediately be an impact player and a huge mismatch similar to Rashard Lewis. Otherwise, look for him to fail to live up to his tremendous potential.
5. Chase Budinger, Arizona (Last year’s stats: 18.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists)
As a scorer, Chase Budinger has every talent you’d want. He is super smooth, with solid ball-handling skills and a soft touch from the outside. He moves very well without the basketball and has a nice vertical leap to be able to finish inside. However, Chase lacks the mentality of a star, preferring to get his points in the flow of the game rather than truly taking over and forcing his imprint upon the game. Budinger could be a very good role player in the league, but the true questions about him reside on the defensive end of the floor. Defensively, Budinger hasn’t shown the lateral quickness to guard a soul in the NBA. He is a good positional, help defender but often fails to stay in front of his own man. If Chase can become tougher and learn to keep his man from scoring, whichever team drafts him could have a huge steal.
4. James Johnson, Wake Forest (Last year’s stats: 15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals)
Deciding whether James Johnson was a power forward or small forward, we looked at his skills and height rather than his bulk. Johnson is a highly skilled, physical player with the ability to create offense for himself or others. He has a very good handle for someone as strong as he is, and also possesses above-average court vision, making him a good passer. Johnson isn’t an amazing athlete, but makes up for what he lacks I athleticism with physical strength, great toughness, and versatility. He opens up the floor for others and is very unselfish. Johnson has tons of skills, but must improve on his shooting to be a truly effective pro. On the defensive end of the floor, Johnson lacks elite quickness, but still manages to do a pretty good job guarding either small forwards or power forwards. He projects to be a solid NBA defender, but not a lock-down one. Look for whatever team drafts him to be happy with his performance and lucky to have such a versatile player.
3. Sam Young, Pittsburgh (Last year’s stats: 19.2 points, 6.3 rebounds)
If you’re looking for the most NBA-ready small forward, look no farther than number three on our list, Sam Young. Possessor of an incredibly lethal shot fake (where he nearly comes off the ground himself), Sam Young has a very advanced offensive game. He is a strong, physical player able to score in the post, off the dribble, or in catch and shoot situations. He knows what he can and can’t do, and plays to his strengths rather than his weaknesses. A jack of all trades but a master of none, Young can do a little bit of everything offensively, and showed go-to-scoring ability in college. In the NBA, however, Young will likely never be a number one option, but should still be a solid performer capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. Defensively is where Young should really shine in the NBA. He has great quickness, strength and a nearly seven foot wingspan, giving him the ability to cover a wide array of offensive players. Young is also super-tough, demonstrating his readiness to get down and dirty throughout his college career. With his complete package on both sides of the ball, Sam Young should be an instant impact player and could develop into a special player down the road.
2. Earl Clark, Louisville (Last year’s stats: 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists)
A tantalizing prospect, Earl Clark has oodles of athletic ability and a myriad of skills. Nonetheless, he’s frighteningly inconsistent, fading from production throughout a lot of games. When he puts his package together, Clark can be devastating, with the ability to create more or less any shot he wants, and a pretty good mid-range game. Clark is a lot like Julian Wright, a multi-talented player who oozes talent but doesn’t necessarily bring his “A” game every night. In the NBA, Clark could either struggle to get minutes, like Wright, or he could learn to bring constant effort for the full 48 minutes and become an instant impact player with his skills, height, and energy. Clark has all the talent in the world, but he has yet to fully utilize it. Whether he does will determine how productive an NBA career he has.
1. Terrence Williams, Louisville (Last year’s stats: 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists)
Terrence Williams possesses every skill you would want in a player except a go-to-scorer’s mentality and a consistent jumpshot. Coming into last season, the only knock on Williams’ game was his ability to shoot the three-pointer, but he vastly improved his shot, finishing at 38.5% from beyond the arc. Still, Williams has a lot of work to do in order to complete his improvement from three, as his form isn’t very consistent and he remains a streaky shooter from deep. Despite his two shortcomings, Williams should be able to help any team. With the ability to play point-forward, T-Will has amazing playmaking ability and the explosiveness to translate that area of his game to the next level. If he ever develops a consistent jumpshot with NBA range, Williams will be hell to guard, and should already produce as a great passer and energetic defender in his rookie year.