ESPN and former Basketball Prospectus analyst Bradford Doolittle wrote an article ranking the NBA’s top 15 small forwards, and the Orlando Magic’s Arron Afflalo didn’t make the cut. (While Afflalo has long been considered a shooting guard, he has been playing primarily small forward this season). While this news might not make you blink, a closer look at the list reveals just how absurd this ranking really is. Trevor Ariza, J.R. Smith, Martell Webster and even Matt Barnes are ranked ahead of Afflalo. Matt Barnes? Are you kidding me?!
Are these ranking just the arbitrary ravings of a mad lunatic? Hardly. Doolittle ranks players using an advanced stat called TrueWARP, derived from a player’s Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) and their preseason projections based on past performance. Let this be a reminder that just because a stat is “advanced” doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact a lot of advances stats can be down right idiotic. Advanced statistics have helped analysts expand their knowledge of the game greatly over the last few years, but sometimes nothing beats the good old eye test.
Using preseason projections introduces a heavy element of past bias into these rankings. That’s how previously productive veterans like Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, and Shawn Merion are ranked ahead of Afflalo. Because they used to be productive players, does that mean that they are top flight small forwards in the league now? Don’t think so. If we’re putting so much weight in past performance, maybe Larry Bird should be on this list. At least that erroneous part of the rankings can be explained away, but what about the rest of it? Ariza, Smith, Webster, and Barnes are fine players, but they’re not on Afflalo’s level. His shooting efficiency alone ends the argument. Afflalo could start for at least 20 NBA teams right now. His competition can’t even start for their own teams every night.
Despite this article’s obvious flaws, it does illuminate one interesting fact. Arron Afflalo is more valuable at shooting guard than small forward. His 6’5″ frame limits his defensive value at the three, while his rebounding (4.4 rpg) just isn’t good enough to matchup with other forwards. His 3.9 apg is nice, but only underscores his value at guard. Advanced stats are all relative to what a player produces compared to other players at his position, so Afflalo’s relative value is hurt by his lack of rebounds while helped by his assist rate.
What do you think? Where should Arron Afflalo be ranked among small forwards? Let us know in the comments section below!