The small forward position in the NBA typically requires a versatile player. Consequently, college programs also look for players with diverse skill-sets and talents to man the small forward or 3 position. These teams depend on small forwards to assist the guards in ballhandling and playmaking duties.
Due in large part to the pressure defense that most teams employ, teams need their forwards to handle the ball more, giving rise to the point-forward slot. This position allows the small forward to initiate the offense in the same vein as a point guard. The Chicago Bulls, during both of their championship runs in the 1990s, used Scottie Pippen as a point forward. Currently, the Portland Trailblazers often use Brandon Roy as a point forward in various offensive sets.
Small forwards have to excel at shooting from the perimeter, scoring in the paint and rebounding on both ends of the court. They also need to have the ability to apply intense defensive pressure on the perimeter and occasionally provide a defensive presence in the paint.
Successful players at the 3 need height and strength comparable to many interior players as well as the quickness of a guard. Oftentimes, the player who a team decides to slot at small forward has more natural athletic ability than any other player on the team.
Players such as Kevin Durant (Texas), Anthony Randolph (LSU), Donte Greene (Syracuse) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis) all share the combination of size and versatility typically required at the 3. It should come as no surprise that the aforementioned players also enjoyed success on the court for their respective college squads and have ultimately moved on to the NBA.
Undoubtedly, the top high school small-forward prospects take notice of the college programs that develop their 3-men for the NBA and allow them the freedom to display their versatility on the national stage.
What we look for: The best slashers have the ability to get almost anywhere they desire on the court using the dribble-drive. They wreak havoc when they have the ball in their hands by getting into the teeth of the opposition's defense. In addition to using penetration for their own scoring chances, slashers also are effective in creating scoring opportunities for teammates.
1. Noel Johnson (Fayetteville, Ga./Fayette County)
Johnson, who is committed to USC, has the quick first step that allows him to easily blow by defenders off the dribble. He also has very good passing skills and vision, which help him to set up teammates for easy scoring chances. Johnson's penetration and passing skills make him a nice fit for the point-forward spot.
2. Christian Watford (Birmingham, Ala./Shades Valley)
Watford, an AAU teammate of Johnson's, also has the ability to get to the paint seemingly at will. Although he does not have the passing ability of Johnson, Watford can dish the ball to open teammates off the bounce. Watford, an Indiana commit, has the athletic ability to adjust in the air when he takes contact and finish at the rim.
3. Solomon Hill (Los Angeles/Fairfax)
The Arizona-bound Hill plays the game with reckless abandon and uses his quickness to give opposing defenders nightmares when he attacks off the dribble. Once he gets past defenders, Hill finishes with authority at the rim. Hill impresses most off the dribble with his passing skills, seeing the floor in the same way as a point guard. Guards on the perimeter will love playing with Hill because he will find them open on the wing off the penetration and kick-out. Bigs will love Hill because he will locate them in traffic after he gets into the lane off the bounce.
What we look for: The best scorers from the small forward slot have tremendously versatile offensive games. They have the ability to shoot from the perimeter with the same range and consistency as guards. However, a 3-man who can score the ball also will score in the paint by using the dribble to penetrate past defenders or by posting up smaller, weaker opposition.
1. Jordan Hamilton (Compton, Calif./Dominguez)
When Hamilton has the ball, he believes he can score on anyone from anywhere on the court. Hamilton has the game that supplies him with this confidence; he shoots the ball very effectively beyond the 3-point line. Although he does not possess outstanding quickness to dribble past defenders, he has become a better penetrator and his lethal jumper makes it easier for him because defenders have to play up on him from 25 feet out, making them susceptible to the dribble-drive.
2. Royce White (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins)
White, who is staying in-state to play for Tubby Smith, has the offensive versatility that makes him a tough cover for opposing defenses. Although he does not rank as a great shooter, he can connect on jumpers from 3-point range. He really excels in the midrange, utilizing the pull-up jumper after putting the ball on the floor for two or three dribbles. White also has the ability to score in the paint, using an assortment of post moves.
3. Terrell Vinson (Baltimore, Md./St. Frances Academy)
Vinson can hit the perimeter jumper, with range that stretches out to the 3-point line. He also can get into the paint off the dribble, and he scores just as effectively when he has to create his own scoring opportunities. Vinson also scores after snagging offensive rebounds, a testament to his willingness to compete.
What we look for: Usually, the best defenders from the small forward position use their length and athleticism to hound opposing ball handlers. They have the length and quickness to bother guards and defend other small forwards. Defensive-minded small forwards also possess the tenacity and strength needed to defend interior players when called upon.
Williams, a future Minnesota Golden Gopher, has incredible athleticism and length that he uses to badger opposing ball handlers. He also has very good lateral movement, which allows him to effectively guard three positions on the court -- small forwards, shooting guards and even point guards, in a pinch. As Williams becomes stronger, he will develop into an even better perimeter defender.
2. Mike Moser (Portland, Ore./Grant)
Moser has enough athleticism to also guard multiple spots on the floor. He guards out on the perimeter, and even though he does not have a ton of muscle, his tenacity allows him to guard interior guys at times. Moser, who is committed to Arizona, does a good job moving his feet on the perimeter to stay in front of guards. He also will become even more of a lockdown defender with increased strength and muscle.
3. Damon Powell (Oakland, Calif./McClymonds)
Powell's quickness and intense style of play make him a very good defender. His athleticism and quick feet allow Powell to guard multiple positions on the perimeter, while his strength helps him to guard in the paint. He has explosive leaping ability that makes him a very good shot-blocker, especially coming from the weak side as a help defender. As Powell becomes more disciplined, he will develop into a great defender on the next level.
What we look for: The top shooters from the swingman or small forward slot should have enough range and consistency from the perimeter that allows them to stretch defenses. Good shooting 3-men can stick it well beyond 3-point range and often have a better outside shooting touch than many guards.
1. Khris Middleton (North Charleston, S.C./Porter-Gaud School)
Middleton, a Texas A&M commit, has range that extends well beyond the 3-point line, and he connects on deep jumpers with a high level of consistency. He has a quick enough release to hit jumpers off the catch-and-shoot with relative ease. Middleton also has enough quickness and ballhandling skills to hit jumpers in the midrange area after putting the ball on the floor.
2. Victor Rudd (Van Nuys, Calif./Findlay Prep)
Rudd easily drains jumpers from NBA 3-point range. He hits the jumper consistently and has a nice release point. He also has the prototypical size for a small forward, making it tough for defenders to bother his lethal jump shot.
3. Jon Hood (Madisonville, Ky./North Hopkins)
Hood, a future Kentucky Wildcat, can knock down jumpers off the bounce or as a spot-up jump-shooter. He has range that allows him to connect from 3-point land. Hood can also hit jump shots after he curls off screens.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.