For many years, talented small forwards have dominated the NBA. Not quite a true guard or big man, the small forward position is one in which players are expected to have well-rounded games. When teams want to go with a small lineup, the small-forward can shift to power-forward, and when teams want to go with a big lineup, the small forward can shift to shooting-guard. That is to say, versatility characterizes the small forward position.
There is perhaps no greater example of the small forward’s versatility than Scottie Pippen, who won six championships with the Jordan-led Bulls of the nineties. Of course, “Jordan-led” seems to be the operative word, but those Bulls teams could not have succeeded without Pippen’s unwavering presence, as he did a little bit of everything—scoring, rebounding, and defending—to help his team. Pippen possessed the length to influence games in the paint, but also the speed and agility to influence games on the perimeter.
A talented group of small forwards rule today’s NBA. Every year’s MVP race is full of well-deserving candidates from the small forward position. Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Lebron James immediately come to mind as the league’s best small-forwards. These players are invaluable to their teams, as they have excellent post, mid-range, and long-range games. And as the league gets smaller and quicker, small forwards will ironically play even bigger roles for their respective clubs.
This list looks at the NBA’s top 10 highest-paid small forwards this season. These players are among the highest-paid players in the NBA—and deservedly so.
10. Nicolas Batum – Portland Trail Blazers – $11,295,250 in 2013-14
A 6’8″ small-forward from France, Nicolas Batum is a pivotal player on a surprising Portland team this year. His numbers exemplify the versatility of the small forward position, as he is averaging 13.4 points, 5.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game. Though his scoring numbers do not strike one as elite, he does enough to keep defenders honest, taking pressure away from both Damien Lillard and LeMarcus Aldridge. If Portland wants to advance deep in the playoffs, Batum will have to play well.
9. Andre Iguodala – Golden State Warriors – $12,868,632 in 2013-14
Andre Iguodala’s offensive numbers this season are down from his career averages, as he is averaging 9.8 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.1 points per game. However, Iguodala plays on a team that features one of the dominant guard duos in the NBA—Stephon Curry and Klay Thompson. A veteran small-forward on a team full of superior scorers, Iggy’s experience and defensive prowess will be his greatest assets as Golden State looks to make another run in the playoffs this season.
8. Josh Smith – Detroit Pistons – $13,500,000 in 2013-14
Josh Smith was one of the most sought after free agents this season, and his decision to sign with Detroit surprised many experts and fans alike. Smith clearly wants to be on a team where he is the go-to guy. He is averaging 15.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game this season. Both his averages in rebounding and blocking are below his career averages, so Smith has more to do if he wants to justify his contract. Lucky for Smith, beyond Miami and Indiana, the Eastern Conference is anemic, so Detroit should make the playoffs.
7. Danny Granger – Indiana Pacers – $14,021,788 in 2013-14
A former standout at New Mexico, Danny Granger’s last few years have been derailed by injuries. He has only played in 15 games this season, averaging just 8.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Paul George has dethroned Granger as the most valuable player on Indiana, but if Granger can stay healthy and find his niche, the Pacers will be tough to beat in the playoffs. As it stands, though, Granger is overpaid.
6. Luol Deng – Chicago Bulls – $14,021,788 in 2013-14
Though he made his first All-Star game last year, Luol Deng continues to be underrated. The former Duke Blue Devil is averaging 19 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this year, and he has played well since being traded to Cleveland. At the beginning of the season, Deng looked to be an important piece in the Bulls’ championship puzzle, but Derrick Rose’s injury forced the Bulls to forget the present and focus on the future. Deng should give Cleveland the offensive boost they need on the wing, as the team makes its push towards the playoffs.
5. Paul Pierce – Brooklyn Nets – $15,333,334 in 2013-14
Shaquille O’Neal dubbed Paul Pierce “The Truth,” after Pierce torched Shaq’s team. Indeed, over the course of his career, the future Hall-of-Famer has averaged 21.5 points and 6 rebounds per game. Most fans and experts alike thought Pierce would finish his storied career in Boston, but the team traded Pierce to Brooklyn in the offseason. Pierce has struggled to find his niche on his new team, but Pierce’s experience will be a vital asset to Brooklyn come playoff time.
4. Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder – $17,832,627 in 2013-14
Kevin Durant is having another MVP-caliber season. Thus far, he is averaging 30.6 points, 5.1 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game for Oklahoma City. Unlike his small-forward compatriots from the Eastern Conference, Durant plays against good teams on a nightly basis. No one can accurately predict when Durant’s time will come to win the MVP Award, especially since Lebron James and Chris Paul are having impressive seasons, but Durant’s team looks poised to make it back to the NBA finals after Russell Westbrook’s injury precluded Oklahoma City from getting back last season.
3. Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings – $17,888,932
A former standout at UConn, Rudy Gay has picked up his play since being traded to Sacramento. In 19 games with the Kings, Gay is averaging 19.9 points per game on better than 50% shooting from the field. Still, he makes too much money to be the third-highest-paid small forward in the league. Gay needs to develop a more well-rounded game, if he wants to be a team’s main star. He has all the tools to do so, though.
2. Lebron James – Miami Heat – $19,067,500 in 2013-14
Lebron James needs no introduction. King James is having another amazing year for a Miami team that looks to win its third consecutive championship. In 40 games this season, he is averaging 26.1 points, 6.6 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game. What makes his numbers better, though, is his shooting percentage, as he is shooting over 58% from the floor. No team has made four consecutive appearances in the NBA finals in the modern era of the league, but with Lebron James, Miami is the prohibitive favourite to get back to the finals.
1. Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks – $21,388,953
The reigning scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony is having another strong season. He is averaging 26.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. However, New York continues to lose. As a pure scoring threat, Melo’s presence does little to help a New York team that is deficient in other areas. Melo needs to develop his game in areas other than scoring if he wants to stay in the upper echelon of small-forwards with Durant and James.