Similar to 2-guards, the small forward position is very top-heavy in fantasy this year. Beyond the top seven or eight players, you’re largely left to gamble on upside, which makes this one of the higher-risk positions on draft day.
A number of the top-tier options carry concerns of their own, too, after coming off substantial injuries in the 2014-15 campaign. Kevin Durant, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all have the potential to provide top-15 fantasy value this year if they stay healthy, but all three won’t come without substantial risk.
When sorting through your options at small forward, well-roundedness is the name of the game, especially early. You won’t have much trouble finding a small forward who can pour in points, but snagging one who can fill up the stat sheet in multiple categories is key to building a championship-caliber squad.
Here’s a look at the top options you’ll be left to sort through on draft day:
- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Ongoing foot issues limited Durant to just 27 games last season, which makes him a slightly scary top-five pick on draft day. That said, prior to the 2014-15 campaign, he led the league in scoring in four of the previous five years, and he averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.4 treys, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks en route to the regular-season MVP award in 2013-14.
With Durant entering a contract year and intent on wreaking havoc after being forced to sit out much of last season, Durant could very well provide No. 1 overall fantasy value. His foot issues will likely make him tumble below Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry on most draft boards, but fantasy owners shouldn’t think twice about grabbing him with the third pick.
- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
James remains the NBA’s best player until further notice, but his reign as fantasy king appears to be coming to an end. During the Cavs’ media day, the four-time regular-season MVP told reporters that the team has “enough pieces” to allow him to play fewer minutes, noting, “Kevin Love will allow me to sit a lot this year.”
James finished 11th or better in eight-category leagues last season after missing a career-high 13 games and playing a career-low 36.1 minutes per contest, as the Cavs had one eye on keeping him healthy and rested for the playoffs at all times. The Akron product is still worthy of being a mid-first-round pick, as 95 percent of James is still better than just about any other NBA player, but owners should expect a slight downtick in his typical otherworldly production.
- Paul George, Indiana Pacers
These next three players are all neck-and-neck, as they each enter the season with at least one significant question about their respective ceilings. In George’s case, while the broken leg he suffered during a Team USA scrimmage in the summer of 2014 is in the rear-view mirror, there’s no telling how he adjusts to the Pacers’ plans to play him at power forward at times this year.
George hasn’t been shy about bristling at the position change, and given his per-game production during his last healthy season—21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.3 treys and 1.9 steals—it’s easy to understand why the Fresno State product may want to hit the ground running at the 3. There’s always the chance that George thrives at the 4, much like Carmelo Anthony did with the New York Knicks two years prior, and sees his fantasy value soar as a result. He’s an ill-advised top-10 pick, but owners unafraid to gamble should grab him early in the second round.
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard doesn’t enter the 2015-16 campaign with injury concerns, but like LeBron James, he could see his role slightly reduced due to a teammate taking on a larger share of the offensive pie. In the San Diego State product’s case, that teammate is LaMarcus Aldridge, who the Spurs signed to a four-year max deal in free agency.
Leonard averaged 16.5 points, 7.2 boards, 2.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 triples in just 31.8 minutes per game last season, so even if Aldridge soaks up a quarter of the Spurs’ possessions while he’s on the court, Leonard should still have well-rounded fantasy value. He won’t drill threes at the rate of George or the next player featured here, but if he keeps coming up with two or more steals per game, he’ll give your squad a huge advantage in that category.
- Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
The 2014-15 campaign didn’t go as planned for Anthony or the Knicks, as he played only 40 games before getting shut down for the year to undergo knee surgery. During those 40 contests, he averaged 24.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 treys, which represented a marked decline across the board from his mammoth 2013-14 season.
The Knicks added legitimate NBA talent this offseason by drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant and signing Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez in free agency, so Anthony won’t be a one-man army in 2015-16. Using a second-round pick on a 31-year-old fresh off knee surgery isn’t for the faint of heart, but if Anthony stays healthy, a bounce-back campaign certainly appears to be within the realm of possibility.
- Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Hayward doesn’t have the big-name appeal as the first five SFs featured here, but he’s not far off in terms of his fantasy output. The Jazz swingman finished 19th in eight-category leagues last season after posting career highs in points (19.3) and three-pointers (1.6) to go with 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Alec Burks’ return figures to slightly cut into Hayward’s touches, but the loss of Dante Exum to a torn ACL means Hayward should still be one of Utah’s primary playmakers. A 20-5-5 season isn’t out of the question—he averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 2013-14—and considering he’s likely to give you at least one trey and one steal per game, he’s a near-lock to deliver clear top-30 value once more.
- Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay badly struggled with shooting efficiency during his short stint with the Toronto Raptors, but since joining the Sacramento Kings, he’s been a far more productive scorer. Last season, Gay averaged 21.1 points on 45.5 percent shooting to go with 5.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 treys, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks, making him one of the top-tier options at small forward outside of the surefire superstars.
The Kings cleared up their frontcourt logjam this offseason, shipping out Carl Landry and Jason Thompson and allowing Derrick Williams to walk in free agency. Though Sacramento brought in Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafted Willie Cauley-Stein, the door is still open for Gay to soak up minutes at both the 3 and the 4. You can reasonably expect at least 20 points, six boards, three assists, a trey and a steal per game from Gay, which makes him well worth a pick in the fourth round.
- Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans
With Jrue Holiday facing a minutes restriction through January, Tyreke Evans is in for a huge early-season playmaking role. Last year, with Holiday limited to just 40 games, the University of Memphis product averaged 15.5 points, a career-high 6.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 34.1 minutes per game, and that was under head coach Monty Williams.
Now that the offensive-minded Alvin Gentry has taken over, there’s reason to believe the Pelicans, who ran at the fourth-slowest pace last year, will move to an up-tempo attack that benefits all of the team’s fantasy options. Given Holiday’s history with stress fractures—there’s no guarantee he remains healthy throughout the year, even once his minutes restriction lifts—Evans should be good for at least 15-5-5 and a steal per game, making him worthy of a mid-round selection.
- Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Wiggins is the definition of an upside pick, as there’s simply no way of knowing what to expect from the up-and-coming superstar in 2015-16. Last year, the No. 1 overall selection averaged 20.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocks in a preposterous 39.3 minutes per game following the All-Star break, catching fire after a relatively slow start to the season.
Wiggins’ minutes are sure to drop slightly this year, but a freshman-to-sophomore leap certainly isn’t out of the question now that he has a full year of NBA experience under his belt. He’s more of a gamble than the top eight small forward on this list, as his floor remains uncertain, but his ceiling is undeniably tantalizing once you move into the fifth or sixth round of drafts.
- Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks
The No. 10 spot for small forwards is wide-open, as there’s a legitimate argument to be made for any of the following players. While Tobias Harris figures to earn the nod based on ADP, Chandler Parsons deserves serious consideration so long as he appears on track to return from his knee surgery early in the season.
After emerging as an all-around fantasy contributor during his final two years in Houston, Parsons came back to earth upon arriving in Dallas, averaging just 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 treys and 1.0 steals in 33.1 minutes per game. Now that Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis are gone, however, Parsons plans on shouldering more of the playmaking load, which should only boost his fantasy value. He’s a risky pick until we get a firmer sense of his timetable to return, but he could be a mid-round selection who delivers early-round value if he stays healthy.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Other positional rankings
Players’ positions are based on Basketball-Reference.com‘s play-by-play data, unless otherwise noted. All fantasy-value data from 2014-15 are via FantasyPros.com and are based on eight-category leagues.