Probably the toughest position to define in the college game is small forward. Many of these players act as a third guard, or on a team loaded with backcourt players, move down to the power forward spot. With that in mind, some of the players on this list are hybrids, capable of starting at a variety of spots, but most often fall under the heading of small forward. The top six is loaded with talent, including four players who will contend for Player of the Year honors in their respective BCS conferences, and a couple of mid-major gems. In all, ever player on this list will be a star in his own right and be a major factor in the success of his respective team this season.
Pick Six: Top Small Forwards
Throughout the week, check back for articles highlighting the Top 6 players at each position. Tomorrow we’ll be rolling out the Top 6 at shooting guard.
1. Tyler Smith - Tennessee
The Vol’s will be in good shape to contend for another regular season SEC crown with the return of Smith, arguably the conference’s top player this season. The junior had little trouble transferring over from the Big Ten, where he was with Iowa, improving on most of his numbers. Smith possesses excellent athleticism and a great first step. These physical attributes have allowed him to be a very effective slasher, getting into the lane for easy buckets and earning plenty of trips to the foul line (his 6.3 attempts per 40 minutes was third amongst SEC small forwards last season). Smith really stands out as a defender, showing good lateral quickness and his length allows him to hold his own against bigger players. He seems to have a real good grasp of how to play on this end of the floor. Already a major threat overall, if Smith improves his perimeter shooting, watch out.
Stats: 13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.4 apg
2. Sam Young – Pittsburgh
Talk about a player exploding onto the scene. Young nearly doubled up in every major statistical category during his junior campaign, becoming one of the elite players not only in the Big East, but in the country. The senior is a physical specimen, packing a defined 210 pounds onto a long 6’6” frame. Equally impressive is Young’s explosiveness and his quick first step for a stronger player. He is an extremely efficient player, connecting on 50% of his shot attempts last year, many of which were mid-range jumpers. Young shows nice ability as a catch and shoot perimeter player, but needs to improve somewhat on his ability to connect from long range off the dribble. He is strong enough to post smaller players and score at a high clip on the block, while proving to be a dangerous transition scorer. As a defender, Young excels in one-on-one situations thanks to his toughness, and is an excellent rebounder for his size. If Pitt is going to make a run deep into March, Young will have to have another big year.
Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg
3. Chase Budinger – Arizona
The junior high flyer may be the best player in the Pac-10 this season. Budinger is a match up nightmare for most teams due to his 6’7” frame and tremendous athletic ability. What was most encouraging to see from him as a sophomore though was a maturing of his offensive game. Budinger became a better perimeter shooter, improving his stroke, while continuing to be a threat in the lane thanks to his great body control around the hoop. Becoming a more consistent ball handler would go a long way to solidifying his scoring ability. Defensively there are still qualms about his ability as Budinger has proven to be somewhat heavy footed when forced to move laterally. Either way, that won’t stop him from once again being one of the best out west.
Stats: 17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.9 apg
4. Robbie Hummel – Purdue
In Hummel the Boilermakers have themselves a potential Big Ten Player of the Year. The sophomore, like Budinger, is a major match up issue for opposing teams, standing 6’8” and capable of knocking down perimeter jumpers consistently. Hummel also does well attacking the basket; though he lacks a great first step, he has a nice collection of dribble drive moves that allow him to break down defenders. He could probably stand to post up smaller defenders more often, but does a nice job on the offensive glass, playing very aggressively. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Hummel’s game last season was his efficiency distributing the basketball. The freshman ranked 22nd in the nation in assist to turnover ratio and was tops among all small forwards in this category. Defensively he is a liability somewhat at this point, but with his outstanding play already on offense and his further development, Purdue will be happy to take the good with the bad.
Stats: 11.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.5 apg
5. Austin Daye – Gonzaga
You may scoff, you may hoot, you may holler, but Daye is deserving of a spot on the list. This is a player with seemingly endless amounts of potential and with a year of college ball under his belt, we could see Daye explode in the WCC this season. At 6’10”, the sophomore can shoot from the outside and handle the ball like a player four or five inches shorter. While the release point on his shot is somewhat inconsistent, he connected on over 41% of his three-point attempts last season and also showed the ability to shoot off the dribble. Daye looks very comfortable handling the ball and can attack the basket with either hand. Defensively he has some work to do, but his length and athleticism make him a constant shot blocking threat. If you still aren’t convinced, his adjusted freshman numbers had him at 22.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes; not bad.
Stats: 10.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
6. Lee Cummard – BYU
This was a very tough final pick to make, but ultimately the solid and consistent senior won out over the rest of the field. Cummard is a very good all-around player who largely goes overlooked playing in the Mountain West Conference. A lights out shooter from anywhere on the floor (56.9% FG, 47.2% 3P FG), Cummard doesn’t need a ton of room to get his shot off. At 6’7” he has good size for his position and rebounds very well, hauling down better than six rebounds per game last season. Perhaps one of the interesting things to examine with Cummard is how he stacked up with other small forwards who entered their name in the draft last season. The sharp shooter finished was top ten in scoring and rebounding, while finishing tops in assists and assist to turnover ratio. Even more encouraging was that Cummard was the only small forward to have a positive Pure Point Rating, which determines how well a player distributes the ball. With a strong BYU team returning, Cummard should get more attention this season.
Stats: 15.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg
Next in Line: DaJuan Summers, Georgetown; Paul Harris, Syracuse; Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest; Alonzo Gee, Alabama; James Anderson, Oklahoma State. Tomorrow: PF's
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