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Wasserman: Top 5 Rookie Small Forwards
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9/12/2018  5:09 PM
Top 5 Rookie Small Forwards Entering 2018-19 NBA Season
SEPTEMBER 10, 2018

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Few players in today's NBA play exclusively small forward. Most forwards now have to play the 3 and 4 depending on matchups and who they're complementing.

These 2018 first-round forwards aren't different, but they've demonstrated enough perimeter skill to work from the wing right away.

The following five rookies should be ready to make an immediate impact based on their tools, skill level, opportunity and how they fared at summer league.

They're ranked on how they'll perform this season, not on their long-term potential.

5. Troy Brown Jr., Washington Wizards
1 OF 5

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He only averaged 14.5 points per 40 minutes, but long-term potential earned Troy Brown Jr. a best-prospect-available assessment from the Washington Wizards at No. 15. He played his entire freshman season at 18 years old. Washington presumably took Brown for the player he can be by his 21st birthday and beyond.

But even at 19, he could be called on as a rookie for his versatility from the wing, particularly if the Wizards want to play smaller with Otto Porter Jr. at power forward.

Brown emerged as one of the top performers during summer league, where he averaged 18.4 points and flashed a more diverse scoring attack than he had at Oregon. His three-ball remains a weakness, but his jumper still works when his confidence is up and his legs are under him.

Compared to Kelly Oubre Jr., who's totaled more turnovers (174) than assists (158) during his three-year career, Brown also offers more playmaking and passing ability. At times, he's worked as a point-forward dating back to high school. Last year, Brown ranked in the 70th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

He has also created intrigue with his ability to defend positions 1-4, possessing impressive tools and lateral quickness as well as strong awareness in terms of reacting on and off the ball.

There will likely be stretches of the season in which Brown gets stuck on the bench. And it won't be wise to expect his summer-league scoring to carry over. However, the Wizards have a number guards and forwards who can play different positions, and Brown should eventually receive opportunities to play a jack-of-all-trades supporting role in 2018-19.

4. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets
2 OF 5

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Miles Bridges figures to log minutes from both forward spots. He'll receive plenty of reps as a 3, which he played at Michigan State, especially if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist moves to the 4 and Frank Kaminsky plays center, as the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell suggests the Hornets will experiment with.

It's also the only way to get Bridges rookie experience, something the team should be motivated to do, assuming it's aware of its ceiling.

He also reportedly lost 20 pounds, a transformation that could improve Bridges' quickness and ability to beat opposing wings.

The Hornets shouldn't count on him to create yet. However, the No. 11 pick can still give Charlotte a pop of shot-making and easy-basket finishing in 2018-19. Bridges knocked down at least 2.0 threes per game in both college seasons, and he's in the conversation for most explosive leaper from his class.

He could also prove to be valuable defensively with his ability to guard multiple spots and make plays on the ball around the rim (69 total blocks at Michigan State).

There will be games in which Bridges isn't a factor offensively, particularly on those nights his three-ball won't drop. And he'll make rookie mistakes by forcing the issue, turning the ball over and committing silly fouls.

But sporadically throughout 2018-19, Bridges will also add a needed punch of athleticism, competitiveness and streaky shooting off Charlotte's bench.

3. Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
3 OF 5

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Mikal Bridges' biggest obstacle as a rookie will be finding minutes in a rotation that includes Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, TJ Warren and Trevor Ariza.

Phoenix's crowded wing will make it tough for Bridges to consistently produce or build rhythm. However, it's important to note that Booker will have surgery on his hand Monday, per Arizona Sports 98.7's John Gambadoro. (Initial reports are that Booker will likely be out until at least the start of training camp.)

Warren, Jackson and Ariza are versatile enough to play other positions, however. And by the second half of the year when the playoffs are out of reach, Phoenix will want to prioritize its young prospects' development.

Bridges should ultimately receive enough chances to showcase his three-and-D abilities. He shot 43.5 percent from deep in his junior season at Villanova and buried seven of his 16 triples in Las Vegas. And his defensive potential stems from his quickness, length and anticipation.

He'll guard ball-handlers, 2s, wings and small-ball 4s while giving Phoenix's defense a player who can create turnovers and make plays on the ball.

Bridges won't have many chances to create offense, and creating remains one of his weaknesses. But when on the floor, his impact will ultimately be greater than his stats or highlights suggest.

2. Chandler Hutchison, Chicago Bulls
4 OF 5

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Even after the Chicago Bulls added Jabari Parker, Chandler Hutchison will still have the chance to earn minutes for his versatility from the wing.

He was one of three players last season to average at least 20.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Hutchison's greatest challenge will be scoring off the ball until his three-ball becomes more reliable. But on the ball, he can make things happen with the ability to get downhill and attack or use dribble penetration to set up teammates.

His handles have started to catch up to his athleticism. Over the past season, Hutchison has become more of a threat creating in the half court, and though still not a plus shooter, he did make 1.5 threes per game as a senior at Boise State and eight of his 16 triples during summer league.

The Bulls used their second first-round pick to get Hutchison, who appears to be Parker's direct backup. And Parker has only managed 183 regular-season games through four seasons.

Chicago also has a team option on the second year of his two-year deal. If the Bulls have no chance to reach the playoffs and Parker isn't the same player he was before his last ACL tear, Chicago would likely be more inclined to play and develop its rookie.

Either way, Hutchison, 22, could play an immediate role off the Bulls' bench.

1. Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
5 OF 5

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Since the college basketball season ended, few prospects have strengthened their image more than Kevin Knox.

He apparently made a serious impression during workouts, convincing the New York Knicks to select him over Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges and Michael Porter Jr.

Knox then justified the Knicks' interest by emerging as one of the summer league's biggest stars (21.3 points per game), and though strong play in July doesn't always translate to NBA success, his performance was both highly encouraging and convincing.

Appearing bigger and bouncier, he looked sharper with the ball playing on a better-spaced floor with more freedom to create compared to what he had at Kentucky. It made you wonder if the college game and the Wildcats' system masked Knox's full abilities.

He may wind up logging minutes at power forward for the Knicks, but he flashed a skill set in Las Vegas that also suggests he can play the wing, where his 6'9", 212-pound size, athleticism and face-up offense will create mismatches.

With three-point range, a developing pull-up game, powerful slashing ability and the explosiveness to finish above the rim in traffic, the Knicks' rookie possesses versatile scoring potential.

If Kristaps Porzingis returns this season from the torn ACL he suffered in February, an optimal lineup would include Enes Kanter at the 5, KP at the 4 and Knox at small forward.

I'm tired,I'm tired, I'm so tired right now......Kristaps Porzingis 1/3/18
Wasserman: Top 5 Rookie Small Forwards

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