The two best players in fantasy hoops are small forwards. You can’t get both; they will go 1-2 in just about every league, for good reason. Which one to choose is more a matter of luck than fantasy expertise. Do you have first pick, or second?
This is the third in a series. We’ve already looked at the best point guards and shooting guards. PF and C tiers will follow the next two days. Keep in mind that it’s very early in the preseason and these rankings will continue to evolve.
Call this a Supertier, above even the Tier 1 players at other positions.
LeBron James MIA: Listed at SF on our Depth Chart but has PF eligibility and will play the 4 often. That positional flexibility is as good a reason as any to give LBJ the slight nod over his main rival.
Kevin Durant OKC: Let’s compare last year’s numbers, using a custom league format:
Durant is better in FT%, 3PTM and BLK, James in FG%, AST and ST. They are pretty close in total REB and the other counting stats, except that KD played in every game while LBJ missed four.
Note that in this format, there’s no “negative” stat — A/T replaces turnovers. LeBron had 35 fewer TO, but that difference is amplified by counting his assists again. The choice becomes even more clear than in “standard” 8- or 9-category leagues.
The second tier at SF really comes down to personal preference for one stats profile over the others. It’s a quartet of all-stars with similar values despite their different styles.
- Josh Smith ATL: A PF on our Depth Chart, his high BLK total makes him “feel” like a 4. However, the Hawks could go big quite often, with a front line of Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. At either position, J-Smoove is near the top of the list.
- Carmelo Anthony NYK: Provides volume scoring, with room for improvement in other categories. A monster year is quite possible.
- Danny Granger IND: As you’ll see, terrific in some stats, much weaker in others.
- Rudy Gay MEM: This tier is so closely matched, let’s go to the 2011-12 numbers.
Using “traditional” fantasy stats this time, Smith’s advantage in REB, AST and BLK is clear, along with the poor FT% that keeps him from being a Tier 1 fantasy player. The only category Melo seems sure to win is points, though all his counting stats reflect him missing 11 games. Granger has the most threes, the fewest turnovers and a decided advantage at the free-throw line, yet he’s the worst at FG%, AST and REB. By virtue of steals and not being last at anything, Rudy Gay makes this a four-way tossup.
That’s why I recommend this approach. You’re trying to get one of those top six players in the first two tiers. If it’s my turn in the draft room and Gay, Melo and Granger are all available, I can’t go wrong. But if only one remains, I will be very tempted to grab him.
Waiting too long can leave you shorthanded at any position, and the SF options after the next couple of levels are uninspiring. I’m not suggesting these guys are as “valuable” as Tier 3 PG, only that the point guards are more plentiful. Plan accordingly.
- Nicolas Batum POR: Sometimes it seems he’s been around for ages and has yet to live up to the hype. He’s just 23, it’s been only three seasons and Batum contributes across the board. An even better pick in keeper leagues.
- Paul Pierce BOS: As mentioned about Ray Allen in my SG Tiers article, even if you’re rebuilding and trying to get younger, veterans have trade value. If you’re a contender, The Truth can’t hurt.
- Luol Deng CHI: A very tough fellow, Deng played last year with a painful wrist injury and may not be fully recovered yet. With a nation on his back at the Olympics, he was a standout. The risk of injury and fatigue is worth considering.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist CHA: Likely the second rookie picked in most leagues, MKG has a championship pedigree and great athleticism. It’s his teammates, the new coach and a dysfunctional organization that make me hesitate.
- Gerald Wallace BRO: No longer a “sexy” fantasy pick, Crash is almost underrated. His 41.6 FG% as a Net was due to a small sample size (16 games) and playing hurt.
- Evan Turner PHI: Becomes more of a focal point with Andre Igoudala gone. Third-year breakout seems likely. He’ll play a lot of minutes at SG and even PG but is 6’8” and rebounds better than most SF.
Seriously, you need to get your starting SF soon if you haven’t yet. This is your final warning.
- Danilo Gallinari DEN: A bounce-back candidate after an unlucky season with a series of injuries. You already know I love the Nuggets, who are going to score.
- Tyreke Evans SAC: Not the safest pick, as he could be traded to a new situation and the Kings are uncertain enough. In their small lineup, he’ll play SF, but may still see time at PG if they want size.
- Harrison Barnes GSW: There is a precedent for Tar Heels to be better in the NBA than in college. Barnes has only Brandon Rush and Richard Jefferson in his way.
- Andre Kirilenko MIN: As one of the key names in my piece on The Zeros, AK-47 could be slightly overlooked in draft rooms. He sounds delighted to be on a good team.
- Michael Beasley PHO: So far, the former #2 overall pick has been a disappointment. Maybe this year, the light goes on and we see his true talent more consistently.
- Kawhi Leonard SAS: Gregg Popovich calls Leonard a star and the future “ face of the Spurs”. That’s enough for me to bump him up in keeper leagues. Played more than his 24:00 season average in nine of 14 playoff games.
We told you, the pickings are getting slim. When we look at PF Tiers tomorrow, there will be a few more guys with SF eligibility, but playing them at the 3 might leave you short of big men. Especially compared to the depth at point guard, this is what we mean by position scarcity.
- Hedo Turkoglu ORL: Fans in Toronto will never forget the apathy he displayed as a Raptor. Playing on a team with no chance won’t suit him, but a trade to a contender would make him a trade target later.
- Mike Dunleavy MIL: Now 32 years old and not very exciting. Still a reliable source of threes and roughly 12 points a game.
- Tayshaun Prince DET: He’s also 32 and had his worst career FG% last season. On a more positive note, he can still score and rarely turns it over.
- Marvin Williams UTA: A change of scenery doesn’t automatically mean improvement. Until we see how he fits into the Jazz system and how he’s used, it’s all guesswork.
- Trevor Ariza WAS: A new career high of 77.5% FT% was the highlight of an injury-plagued 2011-12; now starts his ninth season with his sixth team.
- Landry Fields TOR: The esteemed Chris Sheridan called him “Easily the worst off-season signing in the NBA.” Without a doubt, it’s a terrible contract for a player Toronto didn’t need. Fantasy owners care only about minutes — which Fields will get — and production.
- Caron Butler LAC: I liked him better before the Matt Barnes signing. Barnes might be used as a defensive stopper enough to limit Butler’s minutes, and Grant Hill needs to play. What was a tossup is now a triangle of uncertainty.
These are all speculative picks, surrounded by question marks, but they will be owned in most leagues. I’m inclined to look for potential improvement over settling for safe and mediocre.
- Gerald Green IND: Human highlight reel might see action at the 2 and the 3 for his new team. Averaged 15.1 PPG in April while shooting 48% for the season.
- Anthony Morrow ATL: Calling him a starter on our depth chart, but if Josh Smith plays the 3, Morrow will come off the bench. hurting his value.
- Kyle Korver ATL: Might end up sharing the 3-point shooting role with Morrow. I often group similar teammates together in my tiers. It’s a draft-day reminder that I’m not sure of either one.
- Chandler Parsons HOU: One of the few holdovers on a revamped roster, Parsons had a terrific rookie year except at the line (a brutal 55%) and helps in every other category.
- Mirza Teletovic BRO: This European veteran is a stretch 4 who can knock down shots. With SF-PF eligibility (in Yahoo at least) he’s an excellent sleeper candidate. I’m willing to reach for him but he may fall even lower in your draft.
- Royce White HOU: The Rockets’ rotation is wide open for a quartet of talented rookies and White is the most exciting. His anxiety disorder, including a fear of flying, is a concern.
- James Johnson SAC: Had a mysterious fall from grace with the coaching staff in Toronto. A hard worker who could become a significant contributor with his new club.
- Jeff Green BOS: Returning from surgery for an aortic aneurysm, Green is a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. The heart problem might have limited his effectiveness even before it was discovered — let’s hope he’s better than ever.
- Chase Budinger MIN: When acquired, it looked like Budinger might start. Since then, the T-Wolves have added a lot of talent, potentially limiting his role.
Not particularly inspiring if you’re in a 16-team league. It’s a tough call between “reaching” for your SF earlier in the draft and just going with a revolving door of free agents all year.
- Tobias Harris MIL: Loved what I saw from Harris last season, even before his impressive starts in the last two games. The sophomore, just turned 20, will get a larger opportunity.
- Alonzo Gee CLE: Unheralded and unspectacular, he has a job at either the 2 or the 3. A good source of REB and ST, he needs to shoot better to move up this list.
- Metta World Peace LAL: Some may think he’s colorful, but the artist formerly known as Artest is one of my least-favorite players, not just for his awful shooting percentages.
- Linas Kleiza TOR: Don’t confuse me with a Raptors fanboy. I detest their ownership and think their GM is the most overrated executive in the league. That said, Kleiza looked great in London.
- Carlos Delfino HOU: Not entirely sure why the Rockets signed him, or how much he will play. Looke like vetran insurance in case the kids don’t live up to expectations.
- C.J. Miles CLE: While capable of starting, might be better used as a sparkplug of the second unit. Monitor the situation in training camp.
- Dorell Wright PHI: Doug Collins intends to use Evan Turner at PG in some situations, so Wright may get more minutes than other backups.
- Steve Novak NYK: A one-category specialist — two if your league counts 3PT% — who could be just what you need late in a deep draft.
- Richard Jefferson GSW: After 11 NBA seasons, he isn’t going to get much better. The Warriors are deeper this year and have a talented rookie at RJ’s position.
- Shane Battier MIA: When the Heat play small ball, with LeBron at PF, Battier gets more minutes. What he does with them from a fantasy standpoint is minimal.
- Vince Carter DAL: Once half man, half amazing. Now he’s 35 years old and 99% man, coming off the bench behind Shawn Marion.
- Al-Farouq Aminu NOH: One of the most glaring “errors” in the depth chart was listing Ryan Anderson at SF, just to get him on the top line. While it’s more likely that Aminu will start at the 3, he doesn’t do much to help fantasy teams.
These guys are borderline relevant in 20-team leagues and any help they provide will be a bonus.
- Grant Hill LAC: It looked like Hill was set to back up Butler, which meant he was an injury away from occasional starts. Now the landscape has changed and he’s almost 40.
- Matt Barnes LAC: Not a tremendous fantasy asset, but his presence will cut into minutes for Butler and Hill. The Clippers are stronger, just not as good to own at SF.
- Corey Maggette DET: Begins his 14th season as an elder statesman on a team going nowhere. He can only improve on that miserable 37.3% shooting for Charlotte.
- Wesley Johnson PHO: The fourth overall pick out of Syracuse had miserable percentages as a rookie. Expecting him to improve as a sophomore was one of my biggest mistakes last season. If he doesn’t shoot better as a backup in Phoenix, he’s a bust.
- Stephen Jackson SAS: Next week we’re going to look at which teams in each division are best and worst from a fantasy viewpoint. Playing time in San Antonio is so inconsistent and unpredictable that Spurs aren’t the greatest to own.
- Corey Brewer DEN: George Karl has a lot of weapons. Where Wilson Chandler plays will affect the rotation; Brewer could see regular backup minutes at SF or be the 10th man.
- Omri Casspi CLE: Looks better on the Israeli national team than he does in the NBA.
- Jimmy Butler CHI: If anything happens to Luol Deng, Butler could see a lot more time.
- Darius Miller NOH: Spent four years at Kentucky, so he may be more ready for this level than some rookies and carve out a role.
- Austin Daye DET: We really don’t know what the Pistons’ rotation will be, but if Daye gets regular minutes, he might improve.
- Quincy Pondexter MEM: When you back up Rudy Gay, you don’t play much.
- Luke Babbitt POR: For points and threes off the bench, is a decent late pick. Might have some big fourth quarters in garbage time.
- Jae Crowder DAL: Rookie from Marquette not expected to see much action this year; possible stash in keeper leagues.
- Reggie Williams CHA: Whatever value he had is reduced by the addition of Kidd-Gilchrist. Pass.
That’s three tiers down, two to go. Power forwards tomorrow, centers on Wednesday then Bruce Wrigley will be back in his Thursday spot. Jeff Nichols returns on Saturday with more excellent advice on fantasy strategy. Follow us on Twitter @SheridanFantasy and you won’t miss a word.