Being a “tweener” used to be a bad thing. It was usually code for a guy who was successful in college, but whose skills wouldn’t translate to the NBA because the player wasn’t big enough to play the same position. 6’7” may be tall enough to play power forward for Not-so-Big State, but the players in the NBA are bigger. If you want to play power forward at that size, you need to bring something more to the table than height.
In today’s NBA, positions matter less and less. Teams are willing to experiment with different lineups, and this means players who can play multiple roles are becoming increasingly valuable for teams who want to run multiple configurations. The forward “tweener” who can play both the small and power forward roles effectively can play in both small ball lineups as the power forward and more traditional units as the small forward.
An ideal tweener forward is a matchup nightmare. The player is too quick to be covered by traditional power forwards and too big to be covered by smaller perimeter players. The downside is that this can also cut the other way, as bad tweeners are too slow to cover small forwards and not big enough to handle traditional big men. A player’s success at this new hybrid position is really determined by their skill set and ability, rather than the fact that they’re not the right size. If the player has the skills, they can succeed.
The poster child for success at the tweener forward position is Draymond Green. His ability to cover both up and down in size has given the Warriors a top defense and helped bring them to the Finals. Green allows the Warriors to go small without causing the mismatch on defense that usually results from playing four perimeter players. Other successful players who were considered tweeners coming into the draft were Kenneth Faried and Kawhi Leonard, though both of them are closer to traditional forwards in their current situations than Green in his.
For every success though, there’s a bust, and some tweeners are in the unfortunate position of not being good enough at either forward spot. Players like Anthony Bennett and Derrick Williams have struggled in the league because they aren’t big enough to be power forwards and not quick or skilled enough at handling the ball to be small forwards. The big difference I see between this type of player and the more successful iterations of tweeners is speed. Speed is the name of the game right now, and as a result, the faster, more athletic players are finding more success.
We’ve learned with the advent of small ball that the tweener is no longer the death knell it once was to a career, provided the player has the right abilities. To all the teams looking to pick up a stretch 4 or a player who might be on the border of the two forward spots, they should err on the side of the quicker players since it seems to translate more to success in the league today.