Top 4 NBA Free Agents at Small Forward in 2021

| July 31, 2021 2:07 am PDT

Looking at the 2021 NBA free-agent class, the small forward position may be the weakest one out there.

Kawhi Leonard would headline this list, and may even top a list of the best NBA free agents for that matter, but he has yet to decline his player option.

Because of that, he won’t be on this list. Even if he does decline the option, there’s little chance he leaves the Los Angeles Clippers.

With the state of this position, this list will include just four small forwards. Teams will still be looking for upgrades, however, so join me as I break down the NBA free agent small forward rankings for 2021.

4. Doug McDermott

Doug McDermott is one of the best college basketball players of this century. He was a three-time All-American and ranks sixth all-time in career points.

However, his game just hasn’t yielded those top-tier stats in the NBA.

McDermott has bounced around the NBA throughout his nine-year career. He initially began with the Chicago Bulls. In his second season, he shot 42.5 percent from three-point range.

Following a brief stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the New York Knicks acquired McDermott. He spent time with both the Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks during the 2017-2018 season. In 26 games with Dallas, he averaged 9.0 points and shot 49.4 percent from three-point range.

He finally found a stable home when he signed a three-year deal with the Indiana Pacers ahead of the 2018-2019 season. His first two seasons with the team represented an improvement in scoring, but his shooting numbers remained about the same.

This past season, McDermott started in 29 games and had a career-high 24.5 minutes per game. Check out some of his other stats:

  • 13.6 points
  • 1.3 assists
  • 3.3 rebounds
  • 53.2 field goal percentage
  • 38.8 three-point percentage

With the exception of the three-point percentage, all of those stats represented a career-high for McDermott. He even tied a career-high with 31 points in a game against the Thunder.

In today’s NBA, having a top-notch shooter is extremely important. McDermott’s three-point shooting slipped a bit last season, but he shot over 40 percent the three seasons prior.

McDermott does a great job coming off screens. His quick release means he doesn’t need a ton of space to get a good look.

He should have a host of suitors. We’ve already heard that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers will be reaching out to McDermott.

Then, there are teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. Dallas would like to retain Tim Hardaway Jr. while Miami has their own free agent in Duncan Robinson. However, both teams could pivot towards McDermott if they lose their guy.

Teams must determine whether the $15-$17 million a year price tag is worth it for the highly efficient shooter.

3. Kelly Oubre Jr.

Kelly Oubre’s game is different from that of most guards and small forwards. While most of the players in these positions rely on their shooting, Oubre is more athletic than anything. He isn’t the best shooter, but his athleticism helps when driving to the bucket.

Oubre didn’t make much of an impact in his first two seasons in the league. In his third season with the Washington Wizards, though, he averaged 11.8 points.

Washington traded him during the 2018-2019 season to the Phoenix Suns. In his time with Phoenix that season, he averaged 16.9 points, 1.6 assists, and 4.9 rebounds. He also shot a career-high 45.3 percent from the field.

His first full-time season with the Suns represented the best season of his career. He started in 55 games, averaging a career-high 34.5 minutes per game.

Oubre also had career highs across the board. Check out his numbers from that breakout campaign.

  • 18.7 points per game
  • 6.4 rebounds per game
  • 35.2% three-point percentage

After that, Oubre was on the move once again as he spent last season with the Golden State Warriors.

He averaged 15.4 points, but only shot 31.6 percent from three-point range. Oubre did, however, have a career-high 40 points in a game last seaso

Oubre has made it known he wants to be a starter next season. With the return of Klay Thompson, that likely won’t be an option. Therefore, I can’t imagine him returning to the Warriors.

We’ve also heard that Oubre wants to join a team that fits his playstyle, which would mean he’s looking for a team that plays defense and uses their athleticism on offense. The first team that came to everyone’s mind was the New York Knicks.

Because of their cap space, the Knicks seem to be a destination for just about every free agent. However, Oubre is someone I could see landing
in New York.

There already seems to be mutual interest. It’s just going to come down to how much they’re willing to offer. Oubre wants over $20 million a year, and New York will have to determine whether he is worth that big contract.

2. Will Barton

Will Barton’s nine-year career hasn’t produced many flashy or exciting moments. However, Barton has been a consistent player with the Denver Nuggets for years.

His career began with the Portland Trail Blazers, but they didn’t give him much playing time. During the 2014-2015 season, Portland dealt him to the Nuggets. In just 28 games with Denver that season, he averaged 11 points. For reference, he averaged 3.7 points in two and a half seasons with Portland.

Over his six full seasons with the Nuggets, Barton remained an extremely consistent member of the rotation. I wanted to compare his six seasons with the Nuggets, so I broke it down into two three years categories.

Here are those stats.

Stat 2015-2018 2018-2021
Points 14.6 13.1
Assists 3.3 3.3
Rebounds 5.0 5.0
Field Goal Percentage 44.2 42.6
Three-Point Percentage 36.2 36.6

It’s impressive to see a player remain so consistent over such a long stretch.

After averaging 15.1 points in the 2019-2020 season, he only put up 12.7 last season. However, he shot a career-high 38.1 percent from three-point range.

Barton declined his $14.7 million player option. The move was a bit surprising, but it appears there is mutual interest between Barton and the Nuggets. The hope is they can work out a long-term deal.

A big reason Denver needs to retain Barton is because of an injury sustained by Jamal Murray. The star guard went down with an ACL tear late last season. He’ll likely miss the majority of the 2021-2022 season, and Barton is the best option to fill Murray’s void in the starting lineup.

His versatile skillset makes him an intriguing option for other teams. A team like the Memphis Grizzlies could present a good fit, too

Memphis is an up-and-coming team but they are still young. Barton’s veteran presence could help the Grizzlies take the next step in the Western Conference.

Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the New York Knicks as a potential destination.

If everything goes according to plan, I expect Barton to be back in Denver.

1. DeMar DeRozan

In a weak free-agent class for small forwards, DeMar DeRozan stands out as the star. He is a four-time All-Star and made the All-NBA Second Team in 2018.

DeRozan spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Toronto Raptors. He consistently put up 16-18 points per game in his first four seasons. He elevated that to 22.7 in the 2013-2014 season. That was also the season of his first All-Star game appearance.

He made the All-Star game in each of his final three seasons with the Raptors. The 2016-2017 season was DeRozan’s best.

Check out his numbers below.

  • 27.3 points
  • 3.9 assists
  • 5.2 rebounds
  • 46.7 field goal percentage

Following years of playoff disappointment, the Raptors traded DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs ahead of the 2018-2019 season.

Across three seasons with the Spurs, DeRozan has averaged 21.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.2 rebounds.

Now, DeRozan isn’t like most guards/small forwards. His three-point shot is virtually nonexistent. He has never shot better than 34 percent from three-point range in a season. In fact, he didn’t shoot over 26 percent during three seasons with the Spurs.

However, he more than makes up for it with his mid-range jumper. He is also a great slasher and playmaker.

I’m sure multiple teams will reach out to DeRozan but right now, it looks like he has his sights set on returning home.

The reports around the league are that DeRozan would like to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

It appears he is even willing to take a pay cut. However, he may need to take a sizable cut if he wants to join the Lakers.

If that doesn’t work out, they could always execute a sign-and-trade with the Spurs.

It’s hard to gauge his market value because of his lack of three-point shooting and the fact that he turns 32 in August. We’ll just have to wait and see how teams value him.

Other Available Small Forwards in 2021 NBA Free Agency

  • Nicolas Batum
  • Andre Iguodala
  • Trevor Ariza
  • Reggie Bullock

Obviously, the position is pretty weak. DeRozan remains the prized piece, but no one else stands out.

Teams may look at veterans like Nicolas Batum, Trevor Ariza, or Andre Iguodala. Sometimes, their veteran presence is more important than their on-court play.

These guys all offer length, versatility, and floor spacing. Title contenders will be eyeing those types of players, so they won’t be free agents for long.

The best shooting options available include Reggie Bullock and Batum. Bullock offers little beyond his outside shooting, but having an elite skill goes a long way in the NBA.

Be on the lookout for my other NBA free agent articles, while you can already peruse posts on the top point guards and shooting guards in 2021 NBA free agency below.

Nicholas Sterling
Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

More Posts by Nicholas Contact Nicholas



Back to top