We’ve already taken a peek at the point guards and shooting guards primed to take a big step forward in their NBA careers in 2017/18, now let’s examine 5 breakout small forwards for the upcoming season.
1 Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Ingram struggled in his first season with the Lakers, who slumped to a 26-win campaign. Though taken second overall in last year's draft, he found the going in the league tough for the first half of the season, before showing signs of improvement later in the year. For his rookie year, he averaged an inefficient 9.4 points on 40.2% shooting, featuring a horrid 29.3% from beyond the arc, and a woeful 62% from the line. However, later in the season, he became the Los Angeles' most efficient scorer, averaging 14 points per game for the final stretch.
Despite his wiry frame being a disadvantage, the 20-year-old's length makes him a versatile defender that takes on opponents playing 1-4 due to his size. The Kevin Durant comparison looked a step too far early last season, and while nobody is expecting him to reach those same heights, it’s true he can be a player of the same ilk; height combined with the traditional guard skill set is the future of the NBA. LA have been bullish on Ingram since drafting him, and his improving shooting and ball handling has him set for a breakout year, particularly as Lonzo Ball makes his imprint on the team.
2 Jayden Brown, Boston Celtics
Taken one spot behind Ingram in last year's Draft was Brown, now of the Celtics. While Boston added top-level talent this offseason (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward), they lost depth, meaning that Brown will have to step up into a bigger role. He looks primed to rise to the challenge as the big talker seems to have more than enough confidence he can make an impact.
A raw prospect as he entered the league, the 20-year-old made great strides as a disappointing opening few months changed into increased efficiency in the latter part of the season. He wasn’t a large part of the Celtics' offense and only averaged 18 minutes per game, yet he was efficient, shooting 45% from the field and 38% from three for the season. He also gained some invaluable playoff experience as a rookie though again he was not a major contributor.
As his offensive skill set grows, and he refines his already lauded defense, Brown will become a major part of the Boston Celtics' rotation for the upcoming season.
3 Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
In the frenzy of Miami Heat’s incredible second-half run where they won 31 games out of their last 41 to finish with a 41-41 record, one piece was missing - Justise Winslow, who played only 18 games last year. In an odd dynamic, it may have been Winslow’s injury-riddled year that propelled the team to such heights. While Winslow has many of the attributes of an NBA star, he has been a poor shooter. Starting better shooters in his place undoubtedly helped the team go on a scorching run.
That creates an interesting dynamic for the year ahead. The team has stated that the 21-year-old will start at small forward this season, so how he influences the team will make for fascinating viewing. Winslow is a handy defensive rebounder and possesses elite athleticism, yet he will only manage a breakout year if he can become equally effective on the offensive end. If he can raise his shooting from 35.6% from the field and a horrid 20% from downtown, there’s no reason he can’t lead the Heat in scoring.
4 Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
As Philadelphia continues to “Trust The Process” and gain more top-level talent, they look set to climb the standings. And with that, some of the 76ers' key players will launch themselves into the NBA limelight. Covington is one of those players. Earmarked for a starting role with the Sixers, the reliable defender was on the brink of an All-Defensive team birth last year and has been one of the most reliable options in a low period for the Philadelphia franchise.
With Dario Saric, Ben Simmons, and Covington forming Philly's core rotation at the forward slots, Covington will spend time at 3 and 4, as his defensive versatility provides coach Brett Brown with more lineup options. The key for Covington will be to improve his offensive efficiency; he led the Sixers in three-point attempts last year but hit only 33% of them. Philadelphia now have a plethora of ball handlers in Markelle Fultz, Simmons, and Saric, meaning that the 26-year-old will have ample opportunities created for him to improve that.
5 Kelly Oubre Jr., Washington Wizards
Oubre Jr. had an up and down season in 2016/17. While there were good performances and his minutes doubled from the previous year, rising to 20.3 per game, there were more than enough poor displays to balance it out.
Oubre Jr. became part of the Wizards’ small ball lineup because of his defensive intensity, which looks to be a key strength. However, his scoring efficiency didn’t increase, which it will need to do if he is to become a valuable 3 and D asset. This could be attributed to Washington's coach Scott Brooks, and also Oubre Jr. acclimating to his increased role within the squad. The Wizards saw talent within him, though, and increased his role. Thus, 2017/18 looks to be a breakout campaign if he can get through those growing pains.
Which of these small forwards will have a breakout season in 2017/18? Comment below!
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