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Coaches Network: What It Takes To Be A Great Small Forward

  • Date:
    Mar 20, 2015

Time to think about the frontcourt, as this week’s focus is on the small forward. This week’s question for the USA Basketball Coaches Network:

What are some traits of a successful small forward, and how can you best utilize this player in your game plan?


Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

In our system, the small forward is referred to as the "stretch" forward. Implied by the name, the "stretch" forward has the skill set
to extend the defense by being a triple-threat. In essence, the small forward can knock down the three, attack the rim, and work the high-low. Not only does he/she possess face up capabilities, but can also play effectively with their back to basket. This type of player is most successful when the coach utilizes him/her in mismatch situations -- post-up the smaller defender or take a bigger, laterally challenged defender off the bounce.

Our "stretch" forward can also serve as the point-forward in pressure-release situations. We utilize this type of player as the
in-bounder after made baskets. He/she then becomes a secondary ball handler in our press breakers; because he/she can see and pass out of
the double team. Our small forward must be a good passer to make quality read-and-reacts, and an excellent distributor of the ball in high-low situations.

Defensively, our "stretch" forward is utilized to guard both the four and three positions. Our most capable small forwards are physically
strong enough to battle in the post, and agile enough to guard our perimeter opponents off the bounce.

As coaches, we are challenged to develop a varied skill set for this type of player to be productive both inside and out. In doing so, a
true "stretch" forward gives your team the versatility to execute numerous schemes on both sides of the ball. The small forward, if developed and utilized properly, can bring about big results.


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

In many ways, the small forward is the most skilled player on the team.  Whereas the shooting guard and the point guard may have specific skills for that position, the small forward takes in many skills – they must be able to shoot and drive to score, rebound out of their area, probably defend the best perimeter offensive player, be able to handle the ball against pressure and do the dirty work of getting the 50-50 balls and being our hardest worker.

Some of my best players have been at small forward -- with USA Basketball, Justise Winslow comes to mind as being a prototype small forward.

I think a coach must utilize a small forward differently depending on the competition -- some games he or she may be the lockdown defender as opposed to the scorer. This allows the team to greatly benefit from a good player at small forward.


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness High School (N.C.)

Some traits of a successful small forward are the ability to stretch the defense away from the basket by having a better-than-average mid-range/perimeter game, the ability to pass out of the post area, and the skill set to defend multiple positions.

If your small forward possesses the ability to shoot from the perimeter, it normally will bring a taller defender away from the post area -- freeing some space for your other post player to operate. Being able to pass the ball effectively from the high or low post areas is a trait of a successful small forward. If the small forward can catch and pass the ball from the high post to the low post or make accurate reversal passes, it allows your offense to run smoother. The ability to shoot it consistently complements the passing trait -- when the forward catches the ball, that may draw an extra defender, which frees someone up for a look.

On the defensive end, a small forward that can defend away from the basket but also in the post area is an asset. That trait allows you to maybe play a little bigger on the offensive end without being detrimental to your team on the defensive side.


Dori Oldaker, head coach, Mt. Lebanon High School (Pa.) 

The small forward is quite the unique player. We, as a staff, like to transform this player into the most versatile player on the floor and, often, the most valuable player on the floor. Essentially, this player will more than likely end up with the most minutes on the court! This player must have the ability to score with their back to the basket, but also take the defender off the dribble from the perimeter. This player must also be able to shoot the rock from the outside with consistency.


With that being said, this player must also be able to defend on the block and defend a taller ball handler. The small forward must have quick feet, yet be physical enough to pound the inside game!


With our team, we usually have 1-2 players that we use as a small forward. During our “guards” and “bigs” breakdown drills, these players will work in both areas. We have guards/bigs breakdown drills every day in practice. So, they will work with the forwards’ coach one day and the guards’ coach the next day. They will continue to flip-flop back and forth each day so that they get plenty of repetitions in both positions.


Having a talented small forward is one key to a successful team and should provide you with many “W’s!”


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