There is not doubt that when ranking the top players at each position small forward is the most stacked out of those five positions currently. That’s because the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony play the three. On Wednesday Brad Doolittle of ESPN continued his rankings by putting out his thoughts about the most crowded — and important — position in the NBA today: the small forward. With Kyrie Irving being projected as the fifth best point guard in the league and Dion Waiters as the fifth best shooting guard, throwing the best player in the world into the mix makes the Cleveland Cavaliers starting lineup one of the most favorable in the league. And with news of the Kevin Love trade being made official, we can now discuss what it’s going to be like to have four stars on one roster.
ESPN and Doolittle put together these lists according to forecast WARP, but didn’t include players who suffered injuries last season. What does WARP stand for? Wins Above Replacement Player, which looks at evaluating players by looking at a roster with them around it surrounded by four average players. This season it also looks more at the real plus-minus of that player as well, measuring a player’s efficiency on both ends of the floor. LeBron, Carmelo and Durant will always be hot topic players, and they all just happen to play the same position. But this season LeBron reigns over KD and Melo.
In his return to Cleveland LeBron James will be surrounded by young players who are proven contributors and veteran sharpshooters. ESPN projects a WARP of 20.0 for James with a win percentage of 75 when LBJ is in the game for the Cavs. This is what ESPN’s projection for LeBron James included:
It takes more than one season to usurp the King. Last season, Durant led the NBA in WARP ahead of — gasp — James, who had finished first in each of the five previous seasons. James might have finished in the No. 2 slot, but it was the 10th straight season he has finished first or second. That, simply put, is amazing. His scoring efficiency and volume were right on target, but his rebounding, steals and blocks were all down. This shift was reflected in RPM, where he was as lofty as ever on offense (plus-8.7, his highest with the Heat), but dipped below average on defense (minus-0.8). It’s the type of “off season” almost any player in history would kill to have.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. LeBron is going into a favorable situation for a star player, thus making his WARP more favorable than Durant’s projected 17.1. Following the Big 3 is Gordon Hayward, and Nicolas Batum rounds out the top 5. Following them are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard, Chandler Parsons and Rudy Gay.