One of the deepest and most talented positions in the ACC this season is at the small forward spot. There’s a deep pool of both young and seasoned swing men — the guys who can beat you in the post, off the dribble, or from downtown. The question then becomes, which of this deep crew will be the top three man in the league in the 2013-2014 season?
The discussion starts with two newcomers to the ACC, though they are at opposite ends of the college experience spectrum. One is a freshman and the other is a senior playing his first season in the conference. The first, of course, is Jabari Parker, the 6-foot-8 first year player out of Chicago, who Mike Krzyzewski won’t hesitate to call the most talented player on his roster. The other is CJ Fair, who was named the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, and who Syracuse fans are counting on as the Orange make their debut in the ACC this season.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the depth of talent at the small forward position in the ACC this season is that both Parker and Fair have teammates who need to at least be in the discussion for the title of most talented small forwards, with Duke‘s Rodney Hood and Syracuse’s Jerami Grant both projected to have big seasons. Hood is perhaps the most celebrated transfer player in all of college basketball this season, while Grant is considered a first round NBA talent by many experts.
We haven’t even mentioned North Carolina‘s PJ Hairston, either, but the 6-foot-5 swing man is one of the top players in the league. However, it’s tough to overlook the fact that he’ll start the year under suspension. Still, last season he led the Tar Heels with 14.6 points per game and upped that to 19 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. A little undersized for the small forward position, Hairston is nonetheless one of the top players in the ACC, but we can’t put him at the top of the list of ACC small forwards.
That really illustrates just how deep the ACC is at the small forward position. Arguably four of the top five or six players in the league all play at the three spot, but right now we wouldn’t put Hairston above third or fourth on that list of small forwards. Now, that is depth at the position.
Hood is expected to step in and be a team leader and dynamic offensive player for Duke this season, and he can do damage from just about anywhere on the court. Still, he hasn’t played any meaningful games in over a year, and — rightfully or not — he’ll be overshadowed on his own team. So, at the end of the day, the title of the ACC’s top small forward goes back to the first two guys we mentioned, Parker and Fair.
In Parker, you have a guy who is projected to be a top five pick in the upcoming draft. Fair will likely be a first rounder as well, but due in large part to the fact that NBA general managers shy away from anyone over the age of 21, he’s unlikely to be a lottery pick. Heck, even his own teammate, Grant, is rated much more highly on most NBA draft boards. But right now, we aren’t talking about NBA potential — we are talking about who will be the most effective player at his position this season and who will be the most valuable to his team.
Parker is an incredibly talented, smart ballplayer. In fact, his basketball intelligence is one of the many qualities he shares with Fair. Both are outstanding athletes who simply know how to play the game. Based on future potential alone, if you were drafting in the NBA, you’d go with Parker 10 times out of 10, but we aren’t talking about potential. We are talking about the present, and the fact of the matter is, you’d be hard pressed to find a more consistent player anywhere in the country than Fair.
He doesn’t have the flash to his game that some of his peers do — though if you take a quick look on YouTube, you’ll see he certainly has some showstopping talent when it comes to thunderous dunks — but Fair has one of the most well rounded games you’ll find in college hoops. He has always had an outstanding mid-range game, and he’s crafty around the basket. He’s an explosive athlete and rebounds well, and he rarely makes a poor decision with the ball. Fair’s shooting range has been rapidly expanding, and he actually had far and away the highest three point percentage for Syracuse last season. By all accounts, he’s gotten even better.
Parker is going to be an outstanding player, and could even challenge Andrew Wiggins for the title of best freshman in America. However, if you’re building a team in the ACC, you really can’t do much better than CJ Fair at the small forward position.