Are you interested in the role of a small forward in basketball? Most of the better players in today’s game of basketball are small forwards, so, understandably, you may be interested in playing this position or understanding how this position should be played.
We want to help you on your journey to becoming a great small forward by giving you tips and basketball small forward drills in this complete guide on how to play small forward in basketball.
What is the Role of a Small Forward in Basketball?
Based on the team in question, a small forward’s role may vary. Here are some of the responsibilities that a small forward will have on the court.
Space the floor
In today’s game of basketball, where shooting is a premium, a small forward must have a reliable shot, preferably from long range. A small forward will be expected to play from the perimeter inwards on most teams. If a small forward cannot knock down a shot reliably, the defense will be able to compress and block the lane to put additional pressure on his teammates.
Small forwards with a reliable shot can score in other ways by utilizing their opponents’ respect for their shooting abilities. For example, a small forward can blow by his defender and score at the basket by using a shot fake.
Help the post on defense
It is often challenging to play defense in the post one on one, especially if the offensive player has a good repertoire of moves or is very strong. Often, small forwards are asked to double down on the block if the opportunity presents itself to help their teammates guarding a post player.
Whether it’s from the ball side or the weak side, a small forward’s length and strength are valuable assets for providing additional help in the post. A small forward should be quick enough to recover to his mark if the ball is passed out to the perimeter.
Provide additional post scoring option on offense
Traditionally, the center and the power forward are the ones expected to score on the block. Versatility is key in basketball, so a small forward with an offensive skill set to operate in the post is a plus for any team.
If you want to become a good small forward, try to develop some footwork and other post moves so that your coach can rely on you to score in the post, especially if a smaller player is guarding you.
Be a threatening cutter
Cutting without the ball is an easy way to get baskets, especially if you have good passers on your team, whether it’s from the perimeter or in the post. Traditionally, small forwards are expected to cut to the rim to get open shots at the basket.
We don’t see much of that today in basketball games because of the game’s changing nature, but small forwards that are willing and able cutters will get easy points that will contribute to their team’s overall success. Cutting not only opens up opportunities for small forwards but whenever the defense reacts to cover open cutters, it often frees up other players to get open shots.
Play good perimeter defense
On the defensive side of the ball, a small forward is expected to provide some perimeter defense against his counterpart. Given that small forwards are some of the most talented players on the court, you can’t have a small forward that can’t hold his own against his opponent because they would demolish your team.
Small forwards should learn how to use their length and speed to protect the perimeter by contesting shots and keeping up with cuts and dribble penetration from the perimeter.
Be an additional ball-handler and distributor of the ball
Some small forwards such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant are continuously asked to facilitate their team’s offense because of their vision and ball-handling capabilities. This is not a role given to most small forwards, but it is a very big plus if they are talented enough to do it.
An offense can often become stagnant if the team only has one ball-handler, but an additional ball-handler in the form of the small forward opens up a lot more offensive power for that team. Tall small forwards can usually see over the defense, which puts them in a perfect place to make good passes.
Help with rebounding
Rebounding is one of the essential basketball aspects, so coaches appreciate as much out as possible on the boards. Small forwards that can rebound the ball take an enormous amount of pressure off their forwards and centers.
Power forwards and centers usually have to wrestle with their opponents to box them out, so having a small forward that can grab a few boards will ease some of that pressure. On the offensive end of the floor, if you have a small forward with a natural nose for offensive rebounds, that’s a pure gem.
How Do You Become a Small Forward in Basketball?
Work with coaches to develop the skills necessary to fill the need on your team. To become a small forward in basketball, you should work on basic skills such as dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending.
In addition to improving the use of basic skills, you will need to speak with your coach so they can advise you on the type of small forward that they believe they need the most on the team. You see, there are many different types of basketball players, and small forwards are no different.
Get an idea of whether your coach needs a pure shooter, ball handler, a defensive guru, or a combination small forward. You can then train to fill that need.
What are Some of the Ways to Play Small Forward in Basketball?
There are many different ways to play this particular position. We will review the different types of small forwards and how they operate on the floor.
Cutting Small Forward
A small forward that continually looks for scoring opportunities by cutting to the rim is a cutting small forward. A cutting (cutter) small forwards usually cut to the rim off back screens or different Z cuts or L cuts to get open and receive the ball in a scoring position.
These types of small forwards are dangerous to the defense because they force switches to less mobile players, and it causes the defense to scramble to cover them. This often results in open shots for other players on the court.
Shooting Small Forward
Small forwards that are pure shooters are dangerous because they space the floor for their teammates to operate. It is difficult to guard the post when these players are on the floor because you can’t double-team off them as they will likely knock down open shots from passes coming out of the post or from the perimeter.
Small forwards that can shoot the ball sometimes go by their defenders easily if they play them too close for the shot. Whenever this happens, this can result in a scrambling defense, which leads to other open players.
Ball Handling Small Forward
Having a small forward with ball-handling capabilities such as a Kevin Durant type of player is an excellent asset to any team. A player like this will prove to be very lethal on the offensive end of the floor because they will take a lot of pressure off your guards and put a lot of pressure on the defense as they will be faced with multiple points of attack.
A small forward that can use his skill, size, and length to get in the lane and make accurate passes to cutters or open shooters is dangerous. If you are trying to learn the skills of becoming a great small forward, try to work on your ball-handling and passing skills.
Attacking Small Forward
Some players are natural at getting in the lane and attacking at the defense. A small forward that can attack the defense will continuously keep the defense on its heels and free up open shooters along the perimeter. It is an added benefit if a small forward that continuously attacks the defense is one that can finish explosively at the basket.
Combination Small Forward
So far, we are listed and the detailed small forward playing types that only have singular characteristics. A combination small forward is one of the best types there is, as this type of player possesses multiple skill sets and can be very dynamic on the floor.
Having a player who can do various things at any position on the basketball court is one of the best things a team can have. For all the young players trying to become small forwards, do not only work on one particular skill-set because the more things you can become good at, the more things you will have to offer your team.
Defensive Specialist Small Forward
Defensive-minded players are hard to come by these days, even more so, small forwards. If you have a small forward that is a defensive genius and can lock down players on the perimeter, your team is in great shape.
Defensive small forwards can make the court seem smaller even when their opponents try to stretch the floor because they will use their length, speed, and agility to obstruct passes and disrupt dribbles. Players should learn to play defense, but if they can excel at perimeter defense, this is very good since basketball is trending towards a more perimeter playing style.
5 Tips for Playing Small Forward in Basketball
Here are five tips to help you on your journey to becoming a great small forward. Follow these steps, and you will see your game improving, and you will be able to cement your place at that roster spot.
1. Work on shooting to become a shooting threat so you can open up the floor for yourself and your teammates. Here is a video that will help you with your shooting form.
2. Work on agility so you can beat defenders easily off the dribble and keep up with other small forwards when playing defense.
3. Work on one and one defense because you may be pitted against small forwards who like to do isolation plays.
4. Work on rebounding so that you can help your forwards and centers to secure those boards. Here are some rebounding training for small forwards techniques from a great NBA rebounder.
5. Work on post defense because you may have to switch on to or pick up post players, and you do not want to be a liability for your team. This next video has some great post defensive drills for small forwards.
5 Best Small Forward in the NBA
This is our list of top small forward players.
So far, in his remarkable career, Kevin Durant has won two NBA championships, has been the Finals MVP twice and MVP for the regular season once. He is a 10-time NBA All-Star as well.
LeBron James is the co-subject of a lot of GOAT conversations. King James has won the NBA Championship four times and was the Finals MVP in all four finals. He is also a 16-time NBA All-Star.
Even though he may have lost some of his credibility since the last playoffs, Paul George is still widely regarded as one of the game’s best small forwards. He has been an All-Star 6 times and made the All-NBA first team in 2019.
Kawhi Leonard, AKA The Klaw, is a two-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP. He was also named the 2020 All-Star game MVP.
This young Celtic’s All-Star is averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds throughout the regular season and 20 points and 7 rebounds in the playoffs for his short career so far. Jayson Tatum is the real deal. He has been continuously improving since he entered the league.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Play Small Forward in Basketball
An ideal small forward is quick off the dribble, elusive on cuts, can create his own shots, rebound the ball reasonably well and knock down open shots from spotting up. A small forward is essentially a bridge between the frontcourt and the backcourt.
They will take traits from the frontcourt such as posting up and characteristics from the backcourt such as dribbling and shooting and incorporate them in their game. Make sure that your training regimen as a potential small forward allows you to do this.
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