Like shooting guard, small forward is top-heavy with plenty of intriguing talent leading the way. However, the depth is less intriguing, which is shown by the appearance of a pair of rookies on this list.
Positional eligibility can shift some shooting guards to small forward and some small forwards to power forward (and vice versa), so make sure to check out your league settings to see who fits where. Categories leagues will also differ, but as a rule of thumb I like to have small forwards who see a lot of time at power forward in points formats.
Listed age is how old a player will be as of Jan. 1, 2017.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (Age 22): This could be considered an aggressive ranking on “The Greek Freak,” given the names below him on this list. The truth is that Antetokounmpo could be one of the top overall players in fantasy for the next 10+ years if his new role with the Bucks works out, and the early returns were very good on that front.
If you don’t know what I am referring to, Antetokounmpo will be the Bucks’ point guard going forward. Yes, the 6’11” athletic freak is being handed the keys to the car in Milwaukee, and he already got some on-the-job training late last season. After the All-Star break, the Bucks let him run wild, and he averaged 18.8 points, 7.2 assists and 8.6 rebounds to go along with 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Aside from the scoring, that is some LeBron James-level fantasy production with elite block totals sprinkled in for good measure. The icing on the cake? Giannis only averaged 2.8 turnovers per game, despite the increased playmaking workload. It’s unlikely that he will be able to keep that number that low throughout an entire season as the primary playmaker, but it supports the idea that he may just be a natural in this position.
Oh, and he will celebrate his 22nd birthday Dec. 6. A budding fantasy superstar who isn’t even in his prime yet? Maybe this ranking isn’t that aggressive after all.
2. Kawhi Leonard, SA (Age 25): The next three guys on this list are insanely close, but Kawhi’s age, production and situation make him my choice for the second small forward. Somehow, Leonard turned only 25 years old in June, and there was plenty to celebrate coming off his best individual season. The Spurs officially became his team last go-around, and he came through with a 21.2 scoring average to go with 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 three-pointers, 1.8 steals and a block per game. Even better? He shot 50 percent from field and increased his free throw percentage to 87. Consider him 1B to Antetokounmpo’s 1A on this list.
3. Kevin Durant, GS (Age 28): A note you might have missed over the offseason: Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors (who blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals). Oh, you’ve heard?
Long story short with Durant: players on the Warriors may have to sacrifice a bit here and there, but I expect KD to be first in line when it comes to guys who will “get theirs.” You can continue to rely on him for points, rebounds, three-pointers, blocks, steals and nice percentages. In fact, the efficiency should go up by virtue of playing in such a dynamic offense, and it’s conceivable that his assist numbers rise as well given the ball movement this team will feature as compared to any of his teams in OKC. He’s in his prime and remains an elite fantasy asset regardless of position.
4. Paul George, IND (Age 26): The small-forward position is in a great place when it comes to elite-level talent. George comes in at fourth on this list, and we haven’t even gotten to a few of the old standbys still tearing it up.
With PG, you have a player who can do absolutely everything on the court. He bounced back from his broken leg to chip in 23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.6 three-pointers and 1.9 steals per game. The only thing that really separates him from the guys above him is his less-than-stellar 41.8 percent shooting from the field, but that’s nitpicking.
5. LeBron James, CLE (Age 32): There isn’t much I can write about LeBron’s greatness that hasn’t been discussed, both in real life and fantasy circles, but I’ll try anyways. He’s only number five on this list for a few reasons, mostly due to age and, ironically, his massive success. James will be freshly 32 when the league year hits our reference point, and while that number doesn’t concern me with regards to his production, he is still a 13-year player with six consecutive postseasons going the distance.
Speaking of his incredible postseason success, that mileage (128 postseason games played over the last six seasons) needs to be offset somewhere if LeBron wants to play deep into his 30s at a high level (unless he proves to be a cyborg, which is a legitimate possibility). The Cavaliers have the pieces (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love) to scale back LeBron’s workload in the regular season, and more rest nights seem inevitable at this point.
On the flip side, the only thing we’ve really seen slip in his game is the jump shot, and James should be able to roll out of bed and average 20-7-7 with a steal and a three-pointer until he doesn’t want to anymore. He’s still a great asset, and an absolutely elite one to have if you’re even close to contending.
6. Gordon Hayward, UTA (Age 26): Hayward is one of the more underrated players, both in real life and fantasy. He’s a do-it-all wing, and a skill set that features scoring, splashing in threes and playmaking usually will grab headlines, unless you play for a slow, defense-first team that happens to reside in not-so-glamorous Utah. Still, Hayward is a bona fide scorer (19.7 points per game last season) and three-point producer (1.8 per game last year), while adding in a good number of assists, steals and boards for good measure. He will continue to be the number one option on the Jazz this year, and while he can become a free agent after the season, it’s tough to see him A) leaving or B) going to an environment that isn’t more fantasy-friendly. Just now entering his prime, it’s a great time to have Hayward on your squad.
7. Nicolas Batum, CHA (Age 28): Batum is a guy who pretty much is who he is at this point, and that’s a jack-of-all-trades type of fantasy performer who isn’t elite in any one category. However, at the small-forward position, getting a bevy of stats from one guy is a boon, and there’s no reason that Batum can’t continue to provide a 15-5-5 line each night with the occasional block, steal and three-pointer (or two) thrown in. He took a deal to stay in Charlotte, and the Hornets will continue to rely on him as the second option after Kemba Walker.
8. Ben Simmons, PHI (Age 20): Simmons’ positional eligibility could head in multiple directions; he’ll play point guard at times for Philadelphia and should already have dual-forward eligibility in most formats. However, the highest value he will bring for fantasy is at small forward, and there’s an argument to be made he’s better than a top-eight asset at the position already.
Simmons is one of the more hyped rookies in recent memory, giving him huge weight on the dynasty trade market. Even if you’re not inclined to shop the rookie, he has huge value as a point forward with tremendous talent. Playing for a team that will lean on him heavily should allow Simmons to rack up points, rebounds and assists with relative ease in the early going.
The above was written before Simmons was diagnosed with a Jones fracture in his foot, with a timetable that could keep him out a good portion of the season, if not all of it should the team (and his agent) choose to go the cautious route. But for dynasty leagues, not much has changed, and you can feel safe with Simmons on your team; albeit now in more of a wait-and-see capacity.
9. Carmelo Anthony, NY (Age 32): Who knows how many years Carmelo has left in him, but barring a major injury, he is looking like a guy that will be able to put up around 20 points per game for the foreseeable future. That gives him great value in points leagues, and serves as a nice building block for categories formats. It’s also worth noting that he just turned in his best assists per game season (4.2) and continues to be a good rebounder (7.7 per game last season) and three-point threat (1.5 per game last season). For those competing for a playoff slot, Carmelo should still be a reliable forward with elite scoring upside.
10. Brandon Ingram, LAL (Age 19): Ingram probably won’t help you win anything this year unless he comes on strong late in the season. However, at only 19 years old he is a potentially team-changing asset at the small-forward position down the line. As he develops, a Kevin Durant type of fantasy profile is possible; a scoring small forward that contributes on the boards, from beyond-the-arc and with defensive statistics.
He is another guy who warrants being in the top 10 based on his trade market value, but there are plenty of people who believe he will be better than Simmons over the long haul. The age, opportunity and (most importantly) talent are there for Ingram to be a top fantasy asset sooner than later.