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Top 5 underrated small forwards in the 2020-21 NBA season so far

Warriors
Warriors' Andrew Wiggins vs Bucks' Khris Middleton.
Kunal Sethi
ANALYST
Modified 25 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

The small forward position has always been the most versatile in the NBA. The ideal player in the role can operate in the low post and also help on the perimeter when required. Small forwards are also usually the best option to defend the perimeter against opposing guards. When talking about small forwards, names like LeBron James and Kevin Durant come to mind, but several other players have shown potential of late and deserve appreciation.

Top 5 underrated small forwards of the 2020-21 NBA season

In today's era of positionless basketball, there are only a few players who remain true to their respective roles. Players like Jaylen Brown, who are traditionally shooting guards, often find themselves on the wing as small forwards. Whereas true wing players such as Kelly Oubre are seen at the two-guard spot. This season has seen a bevy of injuries to star players and without the big names stealing the limelight, several underrated small forwards have shone. With that in mind, let's look at the top 5 underrated small forwards of the 2020-21 NBA season.

#5 Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies)

Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis Grizzlies' small forward Dillon Brooks.

Dillon Brooks has been one of the major reasons for the Memphis Grizzlies' success this season. The team has no All-Stars but finds itself in the middle of playoff contention. They have been defeating tougher teams with grit and resilience. Brooks is tied with Jonas Valanciunas for the second-highest scoring on the team, putting up nearly 17 points per game. He is also tied with Kyle Anderson to lead the team in steals. The 6-foot-7 small forward has recorded 19 games with 20+ points this season, including one game where he dropped 32.

He has developed incredible chemistry with Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas, often found in set plays with them. He is a decent three-point shooter, averaging 35% from the three-point line with over 5 attempts a game. Brooks is making a significant impact on the defensive end as well. Although he leads the team in steals, his other statistics don't show the full picture. Many analysts and coaches have suggested that the numbers do not do Dillon Brooks justice.

#4 Michael Porter Jr. (Denver Nuggets)

Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets' Small forward Michael Porter Jr. attempts a layup.

The 22-year-old Michael Porter Jr. has impressed many people in the league. He has shown incredible potential with several analysts and players believing that he will be an All-Star soon. The son of a famous college coach, Michael Porter Sr., the 22-year-old grew up playing basketball. At 6-foot-10, he is almost the perfect height for the small forward position. He is an incredible hustler and shot-blocker; he chases down players for blocks and never gives up on a play.

On the offensive end, Porter Jr. is as amazing as it gets for a 22-year-old. He has an incredible inside game, he can drive to the rim with force and muscle his way in the paint using his size to his advantage. Porter Jr. also has one of the prettiest jump shots in the league. He has developed a quick release and his high release point makes it tough for defenders to contest his shot attempts. He knocks down threes at a decent volume, averaging a remarkable 43% from downtown.

#3 Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)

Small Forward Harrison Barnes (with ball) with the Sacramento Kings.
Small Forward Harrison Barnes (with ball) with the Sacramento Kings.

A battle-tested veteran, Harrison Barnes won the title with the Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors in 2015 as the fourth option on the team. He was also a part of the 2015-16 squad that won 73 games in the season. Harrison Barnes has been one of the most reliable players in the league. His efficiency has never dipped and averages nearly the same every season. Barnes is also a great defender and his impact is felt immediately on the floor, with the team suffering drastically when he sits on the bench.

The 6-foot-8 small forward has recorded 21 games with 20+ points this season and many believe he is wasting his talents on a bottom-table Sacramento Kings team. He can knock down threes, finish at the rim, catch lobs, make the right passes and also defend opposing guards. Harrison Barnes has the potential to be more than just a role player. If he's given the right number of reps in a decent team, he can prove himself to be a second option for a playoff-contending roster.

#2 Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)

Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks' Small forward Khris Middleton shoots over Harrison Barnes.

Although he has been an All-Star, Khris Middleton consistently falls into the 'underrated players' category. He is constantly overlooked during conversations about the best small forwards in the NBA. He has found a decent place in the Milwaukee Bucks alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Given Antetokounmpo's shortcomings from the free-throw and three-point line, Middleton often takes charge in late-game situations.

Khris Middleton can do it all; drive, shoot, pass and defend. He also plays at a high level every night. Middleton has carried the Milwaukee Bucks on his back whenever Giannis' shots aren't falling or when he gets double-teamed.

#1 Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors)

Small forward Andrew Wiggins with the Golden State Warriors.
Small forward Andrew Wiggins with the Golden State Warriors.

Andrew Wiggins was the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft but could never live up to his potential with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It is rare for a 1st pick who has consistently played in the league not to have any All-Star selections. However, it appears the 6-foot-7 small forward has found his place in the Golden State Warriors and is playing at an extremely high level alongside Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. He has recorded 18 games with 20+ points this season and has shown potential to take over games when Curry is unable to make shots or gets double-teamed.

One of the most notable improvements in the small forward's game is on the defensive end of the floor. Under Green's tutelage, he has taken his on-ball defense to a whole new level. Wiggins now guards the opponent's best perimeter player and doesn't shy away from a challenge.

When Klay Thompson gets back in the lineup next season, Wiggins will excel even further. He will have a lesser burden and can perform his role to the best of his abilities on a championship-contending team.

Also Read: Player in focus: Kevin Durant and his journey so far with the Brooklyn Nets | NBA Season 2020-21

Published 25 Apr 2021
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