The (Next) Great Position Battle Royal
Small forward is the new power forward.
You’re only as good as your competition, right? It’s because of this rationale that the NBA will be governed by the multi-faceted small forward during the millenniums second decade. One would think that thanks to LeBron James this is an easy deduction to make. Not so fast. Of course this simple revelation wouldn’t be possible without the poster child, aka the King of Cleveland, ruling the NBA’s various landscapes.
The Naughties gave the NBA’s power forward position the perfect platform to take center stage (remember that “you’re only as good as your competition” cliché, guess what, it rang true) as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Carlos Boozer, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jermaine O’Neal, Elton Brand, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol went to war, paint ball (pun intended) style.
Taking shots at one another, these basketball lords led their respective franchises to everything from regular season excellence to conference and NBA Finals appearances. This was coupled with countless individual awards of the Week, Month, All NBA, Rookie and MVP (regular season, All-Star and Finals) variety.
Need more proof? Remember those mid decade Western Conference All-Star teams that were so over flowing with PF aptitude that your favorite NBA athlete was more often than not found watching the mid-season classic from the comfort of their own lounge room despite their All-Star caliber of play? That didn’t happen by accident. More so, the NBA’s 30 Head Coaches can’t all be wrong, year after year, can they? Even if the numbers lie, surely they don’t.
As influential as these glass cleaning, college skipping, Euro invading and bank shot making machines were, they didn’t exactly rise above all comers. This brings up the most important historical trend of the past 20 years: The counterweight. Whenever there’s a trend, there has been an exception. Someone out to spoil the invite only party… a cooler and more desirable gate crasher if you will.
While these superior PFs battled all decade long like a pack of hungry jackals in the Kalahari, a polarizing shooting guard from the Los Angeles Lakers named Kobe Bryant dominated (and hogged) headlines, creating a snake (both the Black Mamba and “evil” kind) to became the definitive and most memorable individual NBA player of the decade. Don’t worry, it gets better…
Of course, this NBA counterpoint has never been more evident than in the 1990s as his Airness, Michael Jordan, became the ballast to a decade dominated by oversized pivot enforcers. It’s for this reason that the ‘90s remains the most multifarious and conflicting era of pro basketball. Despite Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning all earning their respective right to be feared, the season ending hardware was rarely enjoyed by these impressively super sized athletes. It wasn’t bad enough that the C position didn’t take over, as expected, but then it proved it couldn’t sell sneakers as well, gosh, talk about falling short (but it’s best not to digress, again).
Fast forward back to the contemporary NBA and that next decade scale tipper could be Public Relations dream boat Dwight Howard or the equally likable 2010 free agent Dwyane Wade. Guess what, that’ll never work, neither one is as popular or magnetic/repulsive as Kobe or MJ, not yet anyway… speaking of decade long dominance, one could easily (but foolishly) argue that upcoming scenes from the NBA Next Gen’s mini-series will be directed by the L’s floor generals. Once again, think again.
While perennial playmakers Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Devin Harris and Jonny Flynn (plus the soon to be drafted John Wall), all look capable of changing the game like a Jay-Z album, it’s easy to mistake their entertaining but creative showing for a masterful stroke, don’t worry, it happens all the time, and not just in sport but in all forms of art too, how do we know, history tells us so.
There are only two problems with handing the PG position the title of the next decade’s definitive position. A. As any true hoop enthusiast knows, it’s highly unlikely that any of these skilled cats will challenge both Jason Kidd and/or two time NBA MVP Steve Nash on the Top 10 all-time point guard list, let alone surpass them both (sorry CP3 fans, he may come close when it’s all said and done but lets not loose our collective head and hand out historically significant titles like they’re IHOP coupons).
(Side note: for the record, the 10 greatest NBA PGs, in no particular order, are: Tiny Archibald, Gary Payton, Walt Frazier, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Bob Cousy, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson. How do we know this, ESPN told us so (and their panel of experts are just that). Without forcing a fan to over think this too much, who would you honestly remove from that PG list to make room for CP3? Not nearly as easy as it looks, is it?)
Getting back to business… B. If you’re going to have positional dominance, one player from that deep crop needs to challenge for a spot on the all-time starting five, hence how and why they instantly elevate the competition of their position, there goes that “You’re only as good as your competition” saying again. See: Duncan, Tim (‘00s) and Olajuwon, Hakeem (’90s) for more evidence. Which brings us full circle back to that number 6-, er… 23-wearing athlete known simply as LBJ.
It makes sense that the upcoming decade (aka the Teenies) is setting itself up for small forward dominance. Although this rests logically and largely on the broad shoulders of King James, he’s joined by fellow 2003 draftee, Carmelo Anthony and Oklahoma City Thunder gunner Kevin Durant but it doesn’t end with this electrifying trio at the three, otherwise it wouldn’t challenge the PFs of this decade, now would it? Joining the procession to ensure the SF torch is carried for years to come is the dynamic Joe Johnson (a true SF who simply refuses to play conventionally, like he’s been bitten by the Dirk Nowitzki bug) and young Indiana Pacer Danny Granger. That’s five three’s to watch in 2010 and beyond.
It’s becoming clear that Paul Pierce’s tank will hit E before the next decade runs the table, eliminating him from discussion. More interesting though is the yet to be delivered verdict by the court of public opinion on both young studs Trevor Ariza and Anthony Randolph, who could either be all real deal or the real fill. There’s Rashard Lewis’ proven track record but he remains out of sight (largely because Dwight’s smile blinds all on lookers while his biceps continually gang up on Lewis, forcing him to spend money from his mega contract on body enhancing drugs).
So much of this SF projection, however, hinges on the potential showing of super studs Rudy Gay, Thaddeus Young and Michael Beasley, all of whom are impending talents, set to come into their own as elite NBA athletes in the coming season(s). Plus, looking further ahead, if the Harrison Barnes hype machine is to be believed, the basketball world might be looking to add his name to the fold within five years.
What this boils down to is the top names (KD, Melo and LBJ) are once in a generation type talents unlike the PGs who simply are excellent. Scottie Pippen and Larry Bird, respectively, have long been regarded as the greatest SF’s in the game but LBJ’s (not to mention Melo’s and Durant’s) unlimited capacity, multiplied by his natural ability, hunger and billion dollar delusions dreams set him up to surpass them both. That’s what elevates this group of SFs as the decade defining class. There’s no guarantee that they’ll ever get there but they’re in the best shape of any starting position and the same can’t be said for the PGs, as gifted as they already are/can be.
In short, when it comes to the SF, we haven’t seen influence, vigor and proficiency since, well, last decade when the PF crew (led by KG, Dirk and Duncan) reminded us all that basketball’s checklist is forever being rewritten.
Brad Graham is a hoop culture aficionado attempting to flee the once proud Australian basketball scene. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.