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Early 2016-17 ranks: Top 10 small forwards

11 April 2016: Lakers forward, Kobe Bryant (24) guards Oklahoma City Thunder forward, Kevin Durant (35) as the Thunder take on the L.A. Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK. (Photo by JP Wilson/Icon Sportswire)

With the possible exception of point guard, no position in fantasy basketball is more top-heavy than small forward. At least three SFs should come off the draft board within the first 10 picks, and two more could be gone by the middle of the second round. The position rapidly thins out from there, though, with a majority of the next tier representing little more than quality mid-round value.

Whereas you’re targeting treys, assists and steals with point guards and rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage with centers, small forwards don’t necessarily present a clear-cut formula for success. Ideally, you’ll obtain a well-rounded player capable of contributing in just about every category, which describes each of the top seven SFs heading into next season. Otherwise, you’re likely going to be forced to place a premium on either scoring and three-pointers or defensive metrics.

Depending on which categories you decide to build your roster around, your small forward big board could look far different than what appears below. Based on overall value, though, the following 10 players are all worth a look in the early to middle rounds.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Barring a catastrophic injury, Stephen Curry will enter the 2016-17 season as the consensus No. 1 overall pick, but James Harden and Kevin Durant will be vying for that No. 2 spot. Harden edged out Durant for that distinction this season, but it’s not as though the former league MVP underachieved by any means. One year after playing just 27 games due to a litany of foot issues, KD went off for 28.2 points on 50.5 percent shooting, a career-high 8.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.6 triples and 1.0 steals in 35.8 minutes per night, finishing third on ESPN’s Player Rater. If Durant decides to jump ship from Oklahoma City this summer and join a Bay Area-based superteam, his fantasy value would dive a bit, but otherwise, he’s a top-three lock.

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi Leonard took his next big step toward fantasy superstardom this season, willingly embracing a larger role as San Antonio’s Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili largely faded to the background. The San Diego State product averaged a career-high 21.2 points on 50.6 percent shooting, 6.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.8 treys, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks, cementing a top-10 finish on ESPN’s Player Rater. With Duncan and Ginobili each perhaps facing retirement, the Spurs could look radically different six months from now, setting Leonard up to emerge as the new face of the franchise. Invest a top-eight pick in him without hesitation.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

On one hand, it’s crazy to have LeBron James ranked third among small forwards and toward the end of the first round overall. Then again, he finished eighth on ESPN’s Player Rater, narrowly edging Leonard and Paul George, despite averaging 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 triples in 35.6 minutes a night this past season. Next year, assuming the Cavs have both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at their disposal from opening night, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Cleveland trim James’ minutes slightly in an effort to keep him fresh for the postseason. He’ll still be a stat-stuffing fantasy monster, but the days of him singlehandedly carrying your team to a title might be at an end.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

On the surface, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s per-game averages of 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals from this past season don’t necessarily scream “fantasy superstar.” When you look at what he did after the All-Star break, though—when he largely took over ball-handling duties for Milwaukee—his 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals in 36.5 minutes per night absolutely suggest a breakout campaign is nigh. With Bucks head coach Jason Kidd planning on continuing the Greek Freak point guard experiment next season, he’s almost assuredly coming off the draft board within the first 15 picks.

5. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Paul George marks the last of the truly elite small forwards, as there’s a clear delineation between him and the next two players at this position. After playing only six games in 2014-15 as he recovered from the broken leg he suffered during the previous offseason, George came back with a vengeance this year, averaging a career-high 23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.6 triples and 1.9 steals in just 34.8 minutes per night. The Fresno State product gutted it out through a few minor injuries over the final weeks of the season so that he might be in for some minor regression next year—the odds are against him playing 81 games again—but he’s still absolutely worth a mid-second-round pick.

6. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

Gordon Hayward may not be a truly elite small forward, but you could do far worse than landing him at the end of the third round next season. Despite getting off to a slow start this season, the Jazz swingman finished 28th on ESPN’s Player Rater, averaging 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.8 triples and 1.2 steals in 36.2 minutes a night. With third-year point guard Dante Exum back in the fold next year, and midseason import Shelvin Mack likely to stick around, Hayward should have far more ball-handling support than he did this past year, freeing him up to operate off the ball more frequently. A top-25 campaign isn’t at all out of the question from him.

7. Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets

After being left for dead coming off his injury-marred 2014-15 campaign, Nicolas Batum reminded fantasy owners this season why he’s the least sexy early-round value available. The Frenchman won’t pour in points like James, Durant or George, but his well-rounded output—he averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.0 triples, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 35.0 minutes per night during his first season with the Hornets—makes him a particularly strong asset in roto leagues. Batum missed 12 games, which sent him plunging down to 42nd on ESPN’s Player Rater, but he’s a clear-cut fourth-round pick if he remains in Charlotte this offseason.

8. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

Anyone who invested a top-20 pick in Carmelo Anthony this past season likely wasn’t thrilled with the return, as he averaged just 21.8 points on 43.4 percent shooting, 7.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 triples in 35.1 minutes a night. While he smashed his previous career high in assists, his points-per-game averaged plunged to the lowest mark since his sophomore campaign in 2004-05, as rookie Kristaps Porzingis helped alleviate some of the scoring burden. Considering Anthony’s relatively paltry contributions in defensive categories, he’ll be more of a late fourth- or early fifth-round value unless his scoring and shooting efficiency jump back up.

9. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics

Jae Crowder was the biggest surprise among the crop of small forwards this season, as he entered the year with an ADP outside of the top 125 yet finished 49th on ESPN’s Player Rater. The Celtics swingman smashed his career highs across the board, averaging 14.2 points on 44.3 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 treys in just 31.6 minutes per night. While his per-game averages seemingly pale in comparison to those of Anthony, Batum and Hayward, not to mention the top five players on this list, his defensive output (particularly steals) combined with his three-point shooting make him worthy of a late fifth-round or early sixth-round pick next season.

10. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

After busting onto the scene as the league’s Rookie of the Year last season, Andrew Wiggins’ sophomore campaign qualified as a minor disappointment. The 20-year-old raised his scoring total to 20.7 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting, but his contributions elsewhere—3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.7 triples in 35.1 minutes per night—were either slight upgrades or even downticks compared to what he did as a rookie. The presence of Karl-Anthony Towns should have freed Wiggins up to make more of a complementary impact, but he instead only increased his scoring. Until the Canadian rounds out his game, he’ll be more of a mid-round pick than an early-round selection.

Next in line:

11. Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks

12. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

13. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

14. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings

15. Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic

Other positional rankings:

Top 10 PGs

Top 10 SGs

All ADP and ECR info via FantasyPros.com. All player rankings via ESPN’s Player Rater.

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