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Ranking The ACC Small Forwards

Back in September, Jerry Steinberg of State Of The U, Miami's SB Nation blog, began ranking the players in the ACC by position. I responded to his Point Guard Rankings a few weeks ago (you can find that post here), and did my riff on his Shooting Guard Rankings here, and continuing to rank the conference's players by position as I see it fit prior just as he did. So make sure to check out his rankings as well, as he ranked by positional depth, so different concepts, both worth a read. This time I ranked the returning ACC small forwards. To see how Jerry's rankings differ with mine, check them out here. Do keep in mind though, Jerry is ranking by positional depth and I am ranking on an individual basis. Enjoy.


You may realize that I have only ranked 8 small forwards, not the full 12 like State Of The U did. But, as Boston College, Duke, Maryland and Florida State all project to start a freshman small forward, and Florida State projects to start three guards, none of which could really be considered small forwards, I will not rank them. I don't think comparing their high school exploits or recruiting rankings is an equitable method of comparison. Freshmen often struggle, and this is even more stated in the ACC. So I will wait until there is a year under their belt before including them on this list.

Boston College also loses 2/3 man Matt Humphrey who transferred to West Virginia, so I ranked both Lonnie Jackson and Patrick Heckmann as shooting guards, but it is possible that either player will man the 3 or small forward for the Eagles, even if it's not necessarily their natural position. Duke also projects to start a freshman, perhaps Alex Murphy or Amile Jefferson, as Michael Gbinige, the Blue Devils only returning natural 3 transferred, and Josh Hairston, although can give spot minutes at the position, is a much more natural 4 despite his size. Maryland, who also sported a 3-guard lineup most of last season, lost Sean Mosley to eligibility and Terrell Stoglin to suspension and subsequently the NBA (except that he wasn't drafted, which I find funny), meaning they don't return a natural 3 either, and I have already ranked Nick Faust as a shooting guard. I might however return to add Florida State's other starting shooting guard, Terry Whisnant II among the shooting guard rankings.

8. Jason Morris, Jr., Georgia Tech- After analyzing Mfon Udofia and Brandon Reed (the Yellow Jackets starting point and shooting guards), I feel like I'm evaluating a very similar player in Morris. Morris like his backcourt/wing teammates thinks he's a better shooter than he is. As I said of the other two in my previous posts:

Chief among those weaknesses is this: Reed thinks he is a better shooter than he is. If you'll remember what I said about Reed's teammateMfon Udofia in my Point Guard Rankings, well, basically it was the same thing:

He also took almost nine shots and almost four 3-pointers per game a year ago. So basically that tells us Udofia think he's a better shooter than his numbers indicate.

So basically it's going to be one shot-happy backcourt down in Atlanta, and unless their shooting percentages improve, they may shoot themselves in the foot (if they can manage to hit that shot) and out of any kind of meaningful success this season.

Despite being a sub-.300 shooter from behind the 3-point line, Morris took over three shots from range per game. He also took eight shots per game despite shooting below .35% from the field. So yeah, that is the third player that fits that analysis to a T, all of which are in the Georgia Tech backcourt or on their wing. It's going to be a rough season in Atlanta.

Morris did average 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and just over an assist per game, but had nearly a 1-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio and shot a .35/.29/.71 line. I'm not trying to suggest he has no value, or that Georgia Tech isn't in dire need of scoring, but not at the expense of chucking up shots. So the Georgia Tech backcourt/wings must improve their efficiency and shot-selection before they begin to move up these lists.

7 K.J. McDaniels, So., Clemson- A phenomenal athlete, McDaniels was a little bit of an enigma a season ago (as most freshmen are), either scoring in droves or being completely irrelevant from a point production standpoint. But in his defense, head coach Brad Brownell did not get him consistent playing time until eight games into the season. After that game, a 7-point performance in 18 minutes against Arizona helped McDaniels to see the floor more often in his next five games before another four games of sporadic minutes. After that spell of little playing time, McDaniels never saw less than 5 minutes the remainder of the season (minus the first Wake Forest game where he did not play), averaging over 12 minutes in those 13 games, and putting up averages of 5.3 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 51% from the field. Those may look like unimpressive stats, but consider that McDaniels compiled those statistics in just over 12 minutes, an incredibly efficient rate. Consider that the leading minutes-getters in the ACC get between 32-36 minutes per game, essentially three times the amount of time McDaniels was receiving during the HIGH point of his playing time. Therefore multiplying his statistics three times to match the playing time of the conference leaders, McDaniels would have averaged 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. Now do you see what I'm saying? Efficiency-wise, McDaniels would match almost any player in the conference he was compared to during his stretch of consistent playing time.

McDaniels was the Tigers sixth-leading scorer at 3.9 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of any of the top-10 players on the team. He also averaged 1.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 0.3 steals and UNDER a foul per game. I'm convinced that McDaniels will start at the small forward position (or as Virginia Tech more or less did a year ago, one of the two small forward positions) over Milton Jennings, who I believe will either be the other small forward or be moved into the post over Bernard Sullivan (a sophomore who was a non-factor a year ago in 7 minutes a game) or any of the three freshman who are potential post players. Jennings (who is 6'9" 225 lbs.) has shown he may be more comfortable on the perimeter, but given Clemson's lack of experienced bigs, he will probably either play the power forward or a hybrid forward for the Tigers, allowing McDaniels to slot into the starting small forward spot. If he gets his minutes, I have no doubt that McDaniels will be among the top small forwards in the conference a year from now.

6. Jarell Eddie, Jr., Virginia Tech- Eddie was one of the conference's most improved players a year ago, upping his averages of 2.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and half an assist per game in 11 minutes while shooting a .37/.22/.69 line in 2010-11 to 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in 27 minutes per game while shooting a .43/.44/.87 line. Not only did Eddie improve his totals and his shooting percentages dramatically, but he was a much more mature player and teammate after being arrested and subsequently suspended as a freshman for possession of marijuana.

Eddie, however, still needs to improve his defense and his versatility offensively. I think he profiles a lot like former Hokie A.D. Vassallo, who although was almost exclusively a 3-point shooter, saw his game evolve to the point where he was a complete offensive player by the end of his career (but was still a wreck defensively). Eddie may be a little bit of a better natural defensive player, but neither player has great athleticism, and regardless of how hard he works, I don't think Eddie will ever be anything better than an average defender. Still, Eddie, much like his wing compatriot Robert Brown, put up over half of his shots (122 of 219) from beyond the 3-point line in 2011-12. Though later in the year he began to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket and take open mid-range shots, he still has to do it more often rather than just settling on the 3-pointer. He also might be pressed into action in the post, as the Hokies are paper thin on big bodies, and at 6'7" 218 lbs., Eddie might be one of the most logical candidates. If he can do those things, he may be able to vault to near the top of the ACC's small forward rankings in a year, and more importantly, help the Hokies get out of the ACC cellar in 2012-13.

5. Rion Brown/Trey McKinney Jones, Jr./Sr., Miami- The small forward position is perhaps the weakest on Miami's roster, but among the strongest in the conference, and as you see, Miami is almost smack dab in the middle of the conference (considering despite my not ranking 12 players, there will be 12 teams starting 5 players apiece), which is not bad for a "weakness". Beginning with these two, every player listed below is quality (and Jarell Eddie may be pushing for that). For their "weakness", both Rion Brown (the projected starter) and Trey McKinney Jones have considerable experience. Brown averaged 7.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, half an assist and half a steal in 20 minutes a game in 2011-12, while shooting a .43/.40/.77 line. Those are impressive statistics. The only thing that is of concern with Brown is that he sports a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, something that is less of a concern for Miami, who has very many ball-handling options, and is lessened even more by the fact that despite his ratio, he still turned it over fewer than one time per game. Still, that statistic is considered and weighed, and Brown isn't the only backcourt/wing (and even some post) player in the conference to get a pass on that.

As for McKinney Jones, he impressed at UMKC before transferring to Miami and playing in his first season with the 'Canes a year ago. McKinney Jones averaged 7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.7 steals in 24 minutes per game while shooting a .47/.37/.72 line. The one alarming stat for McKinney Jones is that from his last year at UMKC and his first year at Miami, his 3-point attempts doubled and he shot fewer than 1/4 the number of free throws per game as he did his last year at UMKC. Granted it's harder to drive in the ACC, but that's a disturbing statistic for any player. Here's hoping he gets back to driving to the cup, and as a result, heading to the line more this year, even though he has proven to be a good 3-point shooter. In these two players, the 'Canes have a competent option, players with high basketball IQ's and solid contributors on what should be an NCAA Tournament team.

4. Reggie Bullock/P.J. Hairston, Jr./So., North Carolina- Whomever the Tar Heels choose to start at the small forward position, they can be assured they will be getting a physical player who can defend either of the wing spots and contribute in multiple phases of the game. Everything suggests Bullock will be the starter, but in case of injury, Hairston proved to be fairly capable to handle the duties a year ago as a freshman, when he averaged 5.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.8 assist and nearly half a steal per game in 13 minutes per game while shooting a .31/.27/.84 line. Those who feel that Hairston's numbers above don't indicate he is capable of handling the duties, keep in mind, Bullock put up an almost statistically identical season in 2010-11 in his freshman year.

By comparison, last season Bullock averaged 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.7 steals in 25 minutes per game while shooting a .43/.38/.73 line. Both are rangy, physical wings who can score, rebound, handle the ball (both had low turnovers and a positive assist-to-turnover ratio) and defend. The Tar Heels, who will be breaking in four new starters, will rely on Bullock and Hairston to be difference makers on the wing, and everything appears that they are ready to assume those roles.

3. Joe Harris, Jr., Virginia- Harris, one of the most cerebral players in the ACC and possibly the nation, will be a key cog for the Cavaliers in 2012-13, and is probably the odds-on favorite to lead the Cavs in scoring. In 2011-12, Harris averaged 11.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks per game in 30 minutes per game while shooting .44/.38/.77 from the field, all while playing the last eight and a half games of the season with a broken left hand. Harris oozes smarts, and contributes in every facet of the game. Harris, one of the conference's leading 3-point shooters cut down on his shots from deep a year ago by an entire shot per game, although in doing so his percentage dropped by nearly 4%. But, make no mistake, that is Harris' strength offensively. Going forward, evolving his offensive game will be important for his continued development, as despite his season a year ago and his efficiency as a player, he probably isn't polished enough to be a true-No. 1 threat on a contending ACC team. Still, he's a solid player all-around, who contributes on both ends of the floor. He doesn't turn the ball over often, and he doesn't make bad plays. As a result, he finds himself No. 3 among all ACC small forwards on this list, and unless something unexpected happens, should be the No. 1 player on this list this time next year.

2. Scott Wood, Sr., N.C. State- Scott Wood is the best shooter in the ACC and one of the most lethal shooters in America, and if you're not familiar with him, either your team didn't play against him, you didn't watch or pay attention when your team did play against him, or you don't watch basketball. Wood averaged 12.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks a season ago in 33 minutes per game while shooting a .43/.41/.91 line. Making that 3-point percentage even more impressive is that Wood took 6.4 of his 8.6 shots per game a year ago from deep. That's correct. He chucked up almost 7 3-pointers per game and STILL hit 41%. He also shot more than DOUBLE the number of free throws as he did the year before even as he fired away from deep. But as Wood's other statistics show, he isn't exclusively a knockdown shooter, that's just his specialty. He had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio with few turnovers. His presence should help N.C. State challenge not only for a tournament spot, but for an ACC title, and another deep run into April.

1. Travis McKie, Jr., Wake Forest- Despite the strength of ACC wing players, McKie is the best small forward in the conference by a landslide. McKie, more of a stretch-4 than a natural 3, is able to play both on the perimeter and in the post. He's able to manhandle bigger players in the post with his strength, and to out-maneuver wings on the, well, wings with his athleticism, an incredibly rare set of skills. In 2011-12, McKie averaged 16.1 points, 7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in 35 minutes per game while shooting a .48/.38/.74 line. McKie shot an extra 3-pointer per game and nearly an extra free throw per game, improving his percentages in both. Though he didn't post the same level of all-around statistics that he did in 2010-11, he focused more on the offensive aspect of his game, a welcome addition for a Wake Forest team that struggled to score consistently a year ago. McKie will be the most important player on a team looking to work its way out of the ACC basement, and if he continues to improve, watch out. We could be talking about a serious ACC Player of the Year candidate.

Remember to look forward to the remainder of position rankings here on Gobbler Country, as well as a basketball season preview before the Hokies' season tips off Nov. 10.