Mike Kahn at CBS SportsLine thinks so. Link
He is the conundrum of the NBA, an incredibly tough defender of up to four positions, a solid ball-handler and passer, with shooting range out to 3-point range. And he's also unpredictable every moment he steps onto the floor.
He is Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers, the top small forward in the SportsLine.com Preseason Player Rankings.
"There are only about four or five guys in this league that are great two-way players, and Ron is one of them," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "Not only is it hard to score on him when he's defending, but he wears you down with his strong body while you're trying to guard him. No question he's one of the top players in the league."
That's not to say he's alone, head and shoulders above the rest. Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics, presuming you consider him a small forward and not a shooting guard, is the toughest inside/outside scorer at this position.
And then there is Sacramento Kings forward Peja Stojakovic, who coincidentally has often been mentioned in a swap for Artest while begging for a trade because of the constant barrage of negative commentary from teammate Chris Webber. Although not the defender or ball-handler, most believe Stojakovic to be the pre-eminent shooter in the NBA today -- something that cannot be underrated in a league where shooters are at a premium.
"Peja has gotten better every year," said Kings president Geoff Petrie, who chuckled at the notion of Stojakovic trade rumors. "It's not just his shooting, everything has improved. You can use any kind of productivity system you want on him, and he's in the top three."
Last year's top small forward, Jamal Mashburn, fell back into the mire of injuries that has too often dominated his career, and it's tough to know where to put him with such a balky knee. Young All-Stars like Shawn Marion and Richard Jefferson are right on the heels of the top two.
Perhaps the best all-around player of them all might be Lamar Odom, who was forced to play power forward last season with the Miami Heat but could flourish at small forward should his new team -- the Los Angeles Lakers -- move him back to his natural position.
But when you really contemplate the future, even if it's a "point forward" who not only is a primary scorer but ball-handler in offensive sets, it's tough to get past the league's two young stars -- LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony.
James is much more the spectacular playmaker, capable of playing point guard and running the fast break or coming down the wing for a tomahawk slam. The 2004 Rookie of the Year, like Anthony, he played sparingly on the controversial Olympic team but still showed flashes of why people have compared him to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in varying degrees.
"Based on all of his abilities, it's hard to actually place a position on LeBron," Cavs president Jim Paxson said. "The Olympic experience can only be a positive for him being around all those All-Star caliber players and a coach who stresses fundamentals like Larry Brown does. But if you look at LeBron's skill set and put him at three, he can score inside, outside, handle the ball, pass and rebound. And we know he'll get better defensively."
Anthony doesn't have the ball-handling or passing skills but is a much more refined scorer. He can explode to the basket or bury 3-pointers, and despite what appeared to be growing disenchantment with his Olympic experience, Nuggets president Kiki Vandeweghe believes it will only help him grow. One of the great scoring forwards of his era for 13 seasons beginning in 1980, Vandeweghe sees how Anthony has the potential to change the perception of the position.
"Definitely," Vandeweghe said. "He is working very, very hard to get better. He's committed to being a great player in this league and helping his team be successful. He's completely wrapped up in our success -- he calls me during the draft and during free agency just to be up to speed on what we're doing. You've got to love a player that cares so much."
Not to mention the fact that he can actually play the game.
Ranking the small forwards:
1. Ron Artest, Indiana Pacers: He is incredibly strong and versatile on both ends of the floor, with the only question being if he can keep his head.
2. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: His strength and ability to score inside or outside are unparalleled, and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the ever-changing roster of the Celtics.
3. Peja Stojakvoic, Sacramento Kings: The best pure shooter in the game and a much stronger rebounder/defender than people think, but he has struggled in the postseason.
4. Shawn Marion, Phoenix Suns: His unorthodox shooting style and relaxed demeanor often belie his impact on the game, although his name continues to float in trade rumors.
5. Lamar Odom, Los Angeles Lakers: He is a blossoming superstar, with more size and natural tools than any of these players, but how will he adjust to his third team in three years?
6. Richard Jefferson, New Jersey Nets: There are people who love him because he defends consistently, but his shooting and ball-handling are very erratic.
7. Antawn Jamison, Washington Wizards: He is a great scorer who has extended his shooting range and is a much better offensive rebounder than people recognize.
8. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: The pressure for him to rise above as the next superstar in the league is immense, but he has the demeanor and skill to meet the challenge.
9. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets: He is a natural scorer inside and outside, with an improving floor game. He, too, has great expectations.
10. Jamal Mashburn, New Orleans Hornets: This is a long shot, because nobody is sure if and when he will play again. But if he does, he is the total package.
Also receiving consideration: Tim Thomas, New York Knicks; Wally Szczerbiak, Minnesota Timberwolves; Rashard Lewis, Seattle SuperSonics; James Posey, Memphis Grizzlies; Mike Dunleavy, Golden State Warriors; Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons.