Whereas shooting guard is a position you can confidently wait on in fantasy drafts this fall, small forward is one you should target aggressively early on. The top five options at the position are all well-rounded studs who can anchor your roster—to a lesser extent, the same applies for the sixth- and seventh-best SFs—but a rapid decline begins from there.
If you do decide to pass on small forwards early in favor of other positions, you’ll be left to sort through a combination of high-upside, medium-floor options, players with lengthy injury histories and those who could regress from their 2015-16 outputs. At that point, you’ll have to consider each player’s strengths and weaknesses and how those mesh with the rest of your roster.
Here, we’ll walk through the top 10 small forwards (in order), with five honorable mentions below. The rankings are based on nine-category head-to-head leagues and factor in the ability to punt certain categories.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Strictly because of his move to Golden State, Kevin Durant is the most perplexing player among those in consideration for a top-five pick. The days of him averaging 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.6 treys, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals, as he did this past season with Oklahoma City, are likely long gone, as he’ll be sharing touches with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, among others. Then again, though it’s dangerous to infer too much from preseason action, he did just drop a 21-7-7 line on the Los Angeles Clippers in 24 minutes on Tuesday. You may not be able to pencil Durant in for 25 points every night anymore, but his upside alone merits using a mid-first-round pick on him at worst.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
In true San Antonio Spurs fashion, Kawhi Leonard is likely to fly under the radar on draft day, heading into the waiting arms of a savvy owner with a mid-first-round pick. Leonard’s per-game averages from last year don’t jump off the screen like Durant’s—21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.8 treys, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks—but with Tim Duncan retired, he’ll now officially move into the role as the face of San Antonio’s franchise. Assuming he continues to increase his scoring output, his defensive acumen makes him an elite two-way option, which explains why he finished ranked fourth league-wide last year. Leonard is currently ranked seventh on my overall big board, but there’s an argument to put him in the top five.
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
If fantasy basketball were based on talent alone, LeBron James would be the no-brainer No. 1 overall pick. Unfortunately, the realities of his situation in Cleveland put a slight damper on his upside. Because James already has more than 45,000 career minutes under his belt (regular season and playoffs) and is fresh off six straight runs to the NBA Finals, Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue has made it a priority to buy the four-time MVP some rest whenever possible. After playing a career-low 35.6 games last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see James dip even lower this year, making him more of a mid-to-late first-round target than a rock-solid top-five pick.
4. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
After only playing six games in 2014-15 while he recovered from the shattered leg he suffered during a Team USA scrimmage, Paul George was a high-risk, high-reward second-round pick last year. Those brave enough to take the plunge were greatly rewarded, as the Fresno State product averaged a career-best 23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.6 treys and 1.9 steals in 34.8 minutes, finishing as the league’s 14th-ranked player. With the Pacers now committed to the pace-and-space style that team president Larry Bird has been clamoring for in recent years, George could yet again be in line to smash his personal bests. Owners should snap him up around the end of the first round or beginning of the second.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Assuming the Bucks stay committed to the “Point Giannis” movement regardless of any hiccups they encounter along the way, Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a fantasy monster in 2016-17. Upon moving to that position after last year’s All-Star break, the Greek Freak averaged 18.8 points on 50.9 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals across his final 28 games, finishing as the eighth-ranked player over that span. The transition to full-time ball-handler won’t be seamless, but the upside alone means Antetokounmpo should not last past the mid-second round.
6. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
There’s a notable drop from Greek Freak to Jimmy Butler and the next-best small forward, which is why fantasy owners should aggressively target the position early if possible. When the Bulls traded Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks prior to the 2016 draft, Jimmy Butler appeared poised for another top-15 campaign, but their signing of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade deflated his fantasy stock somewhat. After averaging a career-best 20.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 treys to finish as the 15th-ranked player last year, Butler’s touches may come down slightly with Rondo and Wade in the fold, making him someone to target toward the end of the second or beginning of the third round rather than the mid-second.
7. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Given how drastically the Knicks overhauled their roster this offseason, Carmelo Anthony’s fantasy stock is more uncertain than usual. Though Melo averaged a career-best 4.2 assists last season, he scored just 21.8 points per game, the lowest mark since his sophomore campaign. After adding Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee, the Knicks shouldn’t have to rely upon Anthony as much to bail them out offensively, especially entering Year 2 of the Kristaps Porzingis experience. Anthony should still average somewhere around 20 points, seven boards and four assists per game, but he’s not going to light up the scoreboard like he has in years past, making him a target toward the end of the fourth round or start of the fifth.
8. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward got off to a brutally slow start to the 2015-16 season, but those who stuck by him and were eventually rewarded for their patience. The Butler product wound up playing a career-high 80 games, averaging 19.7 points on 43.3 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.8 triples and 1.2 steals to finish the year as the league’s 38th-ranked player. With George Hill and Joe Johnson now in Utah, opposing backcourts won’t be able to sell out to stop Hayward, which should help his shooting percentage rise. However, he suffered a broken finger during the preseason and is expected to miss six weeks, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, which hurts his stock a bit. If not for his injury, he would have been a great target toward the end of the third round; instead, look for him in the middle of the fifth.
9. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
Jae Crowder may not have the name recognition of Carmelo Anthony, but he finished the 2015-16 campaign ranked higher than the Knicks forward, having averaged 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 triples in 31.6 minutes. Considering Evan Turner is now a Portland Trail Blazer, Crowder could be in line for additional playing time this season, further boosting his fantasy outlook. The Marquette product annihilated his previous career highs last year, so some regression to the mean could be in order, but it’s just as possible that he continues building upon his breakout campaign. Fantasy owners should confidently target Crowder beginning in the middle of the fifth round.
10. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Through his first two seasons, Andrew Wiggins has been somewhat of a fantasy disappointment, as he provides little value outside of his scoring output. During his sophomore campaign, the Kansas product averaged 20.7 points on 45.9 percent shooting but only chipped in 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 treys and 0.6 blocks to finish as the league’s 78th-ranked player. Given new head coach Tom Thibodeau’s experience turning Jimmy Butler into a well-rounded star, though, there’s reason to hope for Wiggins to have a career-best season. He’s an upside pick that owners should begin considering toward the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth round.
Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies
Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
Other positional rankings
All 2015-16 rankings via Basketball Monster.