Out of the five basketball positions, small forward is perhaps the hardest to nail down.
While point guards and centers have very defined roles, a small forward has to wear several hats out on the court. They need to score, shoot, play lockdown defense, and hustle all at the same time.
There are various types of small forwards, and they all specialize in different areas. Some are strong, some are fast, and some are dead-eye shooters.
Here, I will explore those differences to give context as to how the position fits into the sport as a whole.
A Constantly Shifting Position
The first word that comes to mind when looking at the small forward position is scoring. The position is also called the “wing” because they sit on the outside of the three-point circle, which then allows them to attack the basket in a variety of different ways.
When small forwards get the ball, they need to be able to threaten their opponent from all different angles. Accomplished ones can put the ball on the floor and go to the rim, zip the ball into a waiting teammate for a quick pass, or immediately jump up for a three.
By being able to put that pressure on the defense, small forwards constantly keep their opponents guessing. It also makes their other teammates better as well. By keeping defenders on their toes, small forwards can attack and open up other shots.
Besides scoring, small forwards have to play stellar defense. They are going up against other small forwards, who are just as athletic and versatile. That means, as much as they need to be an offensive threat, they need to be able to guard one too.
That duality is interesting because, unlike the other four positions, small forwards are often matched up against small and large players. No matter who they guard, they need to readily adapt.
The position comes in all shapes and sizes. As such, sometimes they might face off against someone small one night and then be tasked to lock down a 6’9 long-range shooter the next. That keeps them constantly guessing and forces them to be supreme athletes.
A Forward of a Different Color
Small forward positions have only gotten more and more important over the past few years, and that trend continues to grow with each passing season. The league is all about putting up points, which makes prolific scorers in high demand.
In fact, many modern small forwards score so much that they are almost interchangeable with shooting guards. Others might have a primary focus on defense or have a litany of different post up moves, but their ability to get the ball in the basket is what links them all together.
The type of small forward largely depends on an individual’s skill set, as well as what the team needs from them. If they have a stretch-style offense, they may just want a deep threat. If they like to attack, you need someone who can dribble and pass.
Certain small forwards also play a hybrid position where they go down to the block on either offense or defense. That allows the team to run a much more fluid set where they can freely rotate other spots. Midrange players can spot up and shoot as well.
As revealed in the above paragraphs, another word that commonly gets associated with small forwards is versatility. They need to do a lot of things at once, which is why the position has gotten both stronger and faster as time has gone on.
While small forwards used to be leaner, only measuring slightly larger than shooting guards, they now have a lot of power. In the NBA, they typically range from 6’4 to 6’9 and weigh a little over 200 pounds. That creates a mix of quickness and strength no other position has.
Some teams can take that to the extreme. If a small forward can pass well, they can also take over at the top of the key and fill in the guard role. That’s much rarer, but having a forward that can pass effectively allows for an offense to rotate (and score) much more easily.
No basketball position is quite as demanding as shooting guard. Even new-age big men, who also have to play multiple roles at once, don’t have the same demand put on them. It’s not just about being able to hustle or play defense, they have to be a prolific scorer as well.
The more hats a small forward wears, the better off they are during a game. Though it’s easy to be a specialist, especially if you can shoot, there’s nothing wrong with versatility. That is where the small forward truly shines.