Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011-2012 Season Preview: Top 25 Small Forwards

All week, we'll be breaking down the top players at each position in the college games. A few caveats. First, we're talking about how good these guys are as college players, not how well they project as a pro. Second, while it may be too much power for me, I am making the executive decision on what "position" a player is (and it may not necessarily be what he is listed as on a roster). Third, I love me a good argument, so if you think someone is too low or too high or the wrong position, leave a comment and let me hear about it.

Positional Rankings: PG, SG, SF, PF, C

To browse through the rest of our Season Previews, click here.

1. Harrison Barnes, So., North Carolina: This is a no brainer. Outside of Jared Sullinger, Barnes is the only player in the country that probably deserves to be a consensus first-team all-american. At 6'8", there is a fluidity to his game that you don't often see out of players his size. He's terrific in the mid-range and slowly developed into a dangerous three-point shooter last season. He's a top five pick whenever he decides to go pro and, almost assuredly, will be a star in the NBA one day. Here's a question I haven't seen asked yet -- what happens if he starts slow again this season? What if he becomes passive and loses his confidence over the first two months of the year? How big of a problem does this become?

2. Jeremy Lamb, So., UConn: Kemba Walker was the star of last year's UConn team, but the role that Jeremy Lamb played was quite important. Lamb, who stands 6'5" with a 7'1" wingspan, developed into a legitimate go-to scorer for the Huskies. He became a threat to drop 15-20 points every night, forcing teams to adjust their game-plan of throwing their entire team at Kemba. This year, quite obviously, is going to be different. UConn won't have Kemba, which means that Lamb is going to have to carry the load as the go-to scorer for this season. He has the skills to do it -- he can hit threes with time and get all the way to the rim, but his bread-and-butter is the mid-range game, where he has an unstoppable floater. Is he ready to play that big of a role?

3. Terrence Ross, So., Washington: Ross is showing up on just about every list predicting the breakout players for 2011-2012. That tends to happen when a coach that has seen the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter go through his program in the last five years says that a kid can be "one of the great ones", or when a former all-american like Thomas says that Ross the most talented player he played with in college. Based on those two reviews, I think it is safe to say that Ross has quite a bit of talent. He will also be playing on a team where the top two scorers and the top two players at his position are now gone. UW needs a go-to player, and Ross appears to be the guy that will be taking over that role. If he is successful, expect big numbers.

4. Kris Joseph, Sr., Syracuse: Joseph is a bit of an enigma. He was the leading scorer last year for a team that lost just one rotation player heading into this year. He also averaged 5.2 rpg and 1.6 spg while shooting 36.6% from three point land. But he never really embraced the role of being a leader or even a go-to scorer. Joseph is a tremendous athlete and probably has as much ability as anyone on this list, save Barnes, but the question will be whether he ends up reaching that potential.

5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Fr., Kentucky: I'm not sure there is a freshman in the country that I am more intrigued by than Kidd-Gilchrist. This kid has as much talent and ability as anyone that has entered college the past two years. Prior to his junior year in high school, there was talk that Kidd-Gilchrist was the best high school player in the country, regardless of age. The thing that makes him unique, however, is that he's not the top prospect because he's a 6'9 shooting guard or a seven-footer with Kobe Bryant's athleticism. He's a grinder, a player that is willing to defend and scrap for rebounds. I don't see him having a problem being a pawn, and not the centerpiece, in Kentucky's attack this year. I bet he leads the team in charges, becomes one of the best playmakers and offensive rebounders, and still ends up being picked in the lottery next year.

6. Tim Abromaitis, Sr., Notre Dame: Abro is going to have a lot of responsibility this season, taking over the leadership role for a team that has lost Luke Harangody and Ben Hansbrough in back-to-back years. It won't start off easy, either, as Abro will have to sit the first four games of the year due to a mix-up Mike Brey had with the NCAA rulebook. At 6'8", Abromaitis is one of the hardest workers and purest shooters in the country. It will be interesting to see how he is able to handle this being "his" team, but if he plays well he should end up being a first-team all-Big East player.

7. Jeff Taylor, Sr., Vanderbilt: Jeff Taylor is one of the more intriguing players in the country, at least from my point of view. Looking at him from a statistical perspective, he got worse as a junior. His usage and his efficiency went down, he didn't get to the foul line as much and he was less effective on the offensive glass. That can be explained, however, by the fact that John Jenkins alleviated the needs to Taylor to be a primary scoring option and Festus Ezeli emerged as a (much more effective offensive rebounding) replacement for AJ Ogilvy. As an NBA prospect, he actually raised his stock because he finally was able to develop a jump shot -- he made 39 threes at a 34.5% clip.

8. Ramone Moore, Sr., Temple: Moore exploded last season, doubling his scoring output from his sophomore campaign and becoming the go-to scorer for a team that was able to make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This season, Moore will once again be the go-to scorer for the Owls, but it will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays. Temple will have a loaded-perimeter attack this year, but with Lavoy Allen graduating they will be lacking that interior presence. He won't be asked to play the four, but it will be interesting to see if Fran Dunphy asks him to do more work on the glass.

9. Quincy Miller, Fr., Baylor: The biggest question with Miller heading into this is his knee. He's coming off of a torn acl, and while the knee is supposed to be at 100% physically, there's no telling whether Miller will have fully regained his wind, his timing and his athleticism by the time the season. The Bears play a fairly atrocious non-conference schedule this year, so miller will have plenty of time to adapt, but enter your freshman year at less than 100% is never ideal. So how good is Miller when he's healthy? Let's put it like this -- comparisons to Kevin Durant aren't totally off-base. And that's a compliment.

10. Adonis Thomas, Fr., Memphis: If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the freshman I am the most interested in seeing play, Thomas is a close second. A 6'6" forward, Thomas is a physical specimen. He plays a tough but athletic brand of basketball, bullying smaller defenders and blowing by biggers ones. Since he is only 6'6", however, Thomas projects as more of a small forward than a power forward, especially at the next level. As his jumper continues to come around, he's only going to get better.

11. Khris Middleton, Jr., Texas A&M: Middleton is a crafty scorer that thrives in the mid-range. But he certainly could use an added dose of toughness. He was one of the surprises of 2010-2011, but he tailed off late in the year as defenses began to key on him.

12. Kyle Weems, Sr., Missouri State: The reigning MVC Player of the Year is going to have a difficult time duplicating his performance from last season. While his overall numbers will undoubtedly go up -- that's what happens when you are the only returner from a seven-man rotation -- it will be a miracle if his efficiency stays at the same level. If you want an idea of how good this kid is, remember that there were multiple relevant high-major programs trying to get him to transfer; he's already finished his undergrad and is currently working on a graduate degree.

13. Jae Crowder, Sr., Marquette: Personally, I love Crowder's game. He's not flashy and he's not going to put up huge numbers, but there isn't much he doesn't do well. He can defend, he can hit threes, he rebounds the ball and he can get you a bucket in isolation. Most importantly, he's a team-player and a leader.

14. Rob Jones, Sr., St. Mary's: Rob Jones is a junkyard dog. He only stands about 6'5" and he plays more of a power forward role than he does a small forward, but he's the kind of kid that is going to leave everything on the floor every night. He's one of the best rebounders in the country at this position, and he'll only get better as his perimeter jumper continues to improve.

15. Brad Burgess, Sr., VCU: Playing a role as the second -- and, at times, the third or fourth -- offensive option for VCU a season ago, Burgess still managed to average 14.3 ppg and 5.1 rpg. He also happened to be a guy that seemingly made every big play for the Rams. Burgess has all the makings of a go-to player and a leader. And with so much talent leaving the Rams, Burgess will undoubtedly be the first option for VCU offensively. Now think about this stat: Burgess took 14 or more shots in five games last season. In those five games, he averaged 24.6 ppg and hit 17-26 from beyond the arc.

16. John Shurna, Sr., Northwestern
17. Will Barton, So., Memphis
18. Kim English, Sr., Missouri
19. Travis McKie, So., Wake Forest
20. Chace Stanback, Sr., UNLV
21. Kent Bazemore, Sr., Old Dominion
22. Andre Roberson, So., Colorado
23. Hollis Thompson, Sr., Georgetown
24. Rakim Sanders, Sr., Fairfield
25. Ken Horton, Sr., Central Connecticut State

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