Position Rankings: The 20 Best Small Forwards

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Top 10

1. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: Thomas has been a dangerous scorer for two seasons with the Buckeyes, but both of those seasons came with Jared Sullinger dominating the offense. With Sully off to the NBA, Thomas should slide into the role of OSU’s go-to offensive weapon. The biggest question mark with Thomas? Will he be primarily a perimeter player or post presence this year. Thad Matta doesn’t exactly have a plethora of low-post scorers at his disposal.

2. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: Franklin could legitimately be considered one of the nation’s most underrated players. Not only is he the most productive player for a very good Aztec team — he nearly averaged 20 points and 10 boards during conference play a year ago — but his ability to rebound and while being the second-biggest player on the floor for SDSU (he’s 6-foot-5) allows Steve Fisher to go small and create mismatches.

3. Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. He’s athletic, he’s 6-foot-9, he can defend literally every position on the floor, and he’s a defensive playmaker to boot. As a freshman, he averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 boards, and he only now is learning how to play on the offensive end of the floor and fit into Georgetown’s system. I saw him hit 12 out of 13 threes at a workout earlier this year. He’s the real deal.

4. Alex Poythress, Kentucky: Poythress is the one of the two guys on this list that can end up making me look foolish for having him so low. He’s an athletic combo-forward who has a skill-set that seems like it was designed to play for John Calipari, and he’s changed his body since he’s been on campus to become even more powerful. I’m concerned about how he fits in alongside UK’s twin towers, but he’s still a lottery pick waiting to happen.

5. Solomon Hill, Arizona: Hill is one of the most important players for Arizona. Not only is he going to need to provide veteran leadership for a front line that consists of three freshmen and a sophomore, but his ability to be a playmaker at the small forward spot should help to alleviate the pressure put on Mark Lyons.

6. Ben McLemore, Kansas: McLemore has yet to play a second of college basketball. He spent last season redshirting and wasn’t even allowed to practice with the team until the second semester. But, as Bill Self said, “he can run, he can jump and he can shoot”, and given the rave reviews he’s received from offseason workouts, it’s not out of this world to expect him to fill the go-to scorer void left by Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

7. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Along with Poythress, Nash is the other guy that could end up looking silly ranked this low. He’s got all the physical tools that you want out of a small forward, and his basketball skills aren’t all that far behind. It’s the mental aspect that Nash needs to get a hold of. He was wildly inconsistent last year, struggled in a leadership role and seemed apathetic at times. With Marcus Smart joining him to help take on some of that responsibility, could Nash end up thriving this year?

8. Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Thomas will be one of the more interesting players to keep an eye on this season. He’s a big-time athlete that excels as a rebounder and a defender, and he’s apparently developed a more refined perimeter game and a deadly jump shot. The Tigers have the talent on their roster, but what they need is someone to become a star. Thomas should be that guy.

9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson is some-kind of super-human, as all reports out of East Lansing say that not only is he fully recovered just eight months after having ACL surgery, he may end up being stronger than ever by the time the season starts. That’s terrific news for Tom Izzo, as Dawson — a junkyard dog that rebounds and defends as well as anyone at his position — is the perfect player for his system.

10. Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: Blackshear spent much of last season dealing with a banged up shoulder, but when he finally got healthy, he was a weapon for Rick Pitino’s team. Depending on how the team uses Luke Hancock (who is banged up as well), Blackshear may end up being more of a shooting guard, but his value doesn’t change: he’s a big-time perimeter scorer and shooter that isn’t as out of control as Russ Smith.

The Next 10

11. Reggie Bullock (North Carolina)
12. James Ennis (Long Beach State)
13. Rodney Williams (Minnesota)
14. LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State)
15. Cleveland Melvin (DePaul)
16. Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa)
17. Sam Dekker (Wisconsin)
18. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso)
19. Torrey Craig (USC Upstate)
20. Damion Lee (Drexel)

The Best of the Rest: Tommy Brenton (Stony Brook), Jabari Brown (Missouri), Ryan Evans (Wisconsin), CJ Fair (Syracuse), Grant Gibbs (Creighton), Treveon Graham (VCU), PJ Hairston (North Carolina), Luke Hancock (Louisville), Kareem Jamar (Montana), Bryce Jones (UNLV), Roosevelt Jones (Butler), Shelden McClellan (Texas), Lamar Patterson (Pitt), Glenn Robinson III (Michigan), Will Sheehey (Indiana), Tony Snell (New Mexico), Isaiah Sykes (UCF), Greg Whittington (Georgetown), Scott Wood (North Carolina State), Will Yeguete (Florida)

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.