When it comes to fantasy basketball, your best bet is to always draft players who produce like point guards and power forwards.
This rule was the main theme of Matthew Berry's NBA Draft Day Manifesto from the 2008-2009 season, which happened to be the first season I decided to try my hand at fantasy basketball. Needless to say, the rule works.
The only problem with this rule is finding small forwards who fit the mold. Of course, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are two small forwards who are guaranteed top-three picks in any draft, but unfortunately, the small forward position is more top-heavy than any other position in the fantasy world.
This makes drafting the small forward position tricky unless you have one of the first picks of your draft. You have to fill that small forward position, but if you don't get LeBron or Durant, you have two remaining options:
- You panic and use an early pick on a small forward because if you don't get a top-five small forward, every other candidate is going to be rather average. This is a lot like the tight end theory in fantasy football.
- You wait it out. You aren't getting LeBron or Durant, so why not draft point guards, shooting guards, power forwards and centers who will produce more in the fantasy world? You can pick up a small forward later in the draft who is likely to produce at the same caliber as the small forward you'd take with your second, third or fourth pick. This is a lot like the defense theory in fantasy football.
With all that being said, small forward is still a valuable fantasy position, and here are next year's top 10 fantasy options at the position.
2010-2011 Stats: 15.6 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game; 15.71 PER
Gallinari is only 22 years old. He is going to be one of the best small forwards in the league in a few years, but as of now, he still rounds out the bottom of the top 10 list.
Although not nearly as lethal, Gallinari plays in a very similar style to fellow 22-year-old Kevin Durant. Both are great shooters (they have the same average from deep, 35 percent), both can handle the ball well for their size and both are able to get to the rim almost at will.
The key difference between the two youngsters is rebounding ability and defensive awareness. Even though KD still has a lot of polishing to do on defense, he still averages more than one block and one steal per game, which isn't bad for the best scorer in the league.
Gallinari will soon be a force in the NBA, but in Denver where he'll be fighting for minutes alongside Wilson Chandler (if he stays), Danilo will remain an average fantasy starter.
2010-2011 Stats: 16.4 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game; 15.07 PER
Wright was one of last year's surprise fantasy players. He was virtually undrafted, which was expected after he averaged 7.1 points per game in 20.8 minutes per game the previous year, but once Wright got out of Miami, he finally got a chance to shine.
And shine he did.
Wright took on the role as the Warriors' third scoring option, which isn't a bad role to have on an offensive-minded team. With Monta Ellis possibly out of Golden State, Wright could easily make the transition into the team's second scoring option, making his fantasy value even higher.
However, with Mark Jackson as the new head coach, the Warriors' style of play is likely to change, along with their roster. This could actually hinder Wright's value, and this makes Wright an average fantasy starter with the possibility of becoming a great mid-draft pickup.
2010-2011 Stats: 17.4 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game; 15.58 PER
Even though he's only No. 8 on my list, I really like Luol Deng.
Even though his offensive numbers have been solid for years, Deng's entire game has flourished. He's added an outside jumper that wasn't around in his early years, and he's become one of the league's best defensive talents.
Deng fits perfectly on Chicago's roster as Derrick Rose's second-fiddle, and he will continue to thrive in that role for years to come if their roster remains intact.
Something fantasy players should watch, though, is what the Bulls do when the lockout ends. Everyone is aware they are in need of a shooting guard, but what happens to Deng if they add a player like Jamal Crawford? And what if Carlos Boozer decides to actually be a go-to option next season?
Deng will remain a quality fantasy small forward, but there are a lot of possibilities lingering that could keep him away from fantasy stardom.
2010-2011 Stats: 18.9 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game; 19.76 PER
It pains me to put Paul Pierce at No. 7 on this list. Pierce's overall game has actually gotten to the point of being underrated. He always produces; his PER was fourth among all small forwards last season.
The only reason he is this low on the list is because—even though I'm beating a dead horse—Pierce is getting older. With Jeff Green looming in Pierce's shadows, the likelihood of Pierce playing any more 35-plus minutes per game seasons are slim to none.
Pierce will continue to contribute, though, as long as he remains healthy. His loaded arsenal of offensive moves and his sneaky defensive prowess will keep him as a more-than-beneficial fantasy player.
The question remains, though, will Pierce continue to fare well as a fantasy starter, or will next season begin Pierce's fall to utility-player-only status?
2010-2011 Stats: 15.7 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game; 16.28 PER
This is going to be Wallace's best year. I can feel it.
After giving the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks all they wanted in the first-round of the playoffs, Portland is ready to continue their upward march to the top of the Western Conference.
They always have the talent, but they are also always injured. After picking up Wallace last season for next to nothing, Portland remains hopeful that next year is their year.
Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge make a great one-two punch for the Trail Blazers. Wallace will have to play big minutes for any success to come their way, and this bodes well for his fantasy stock.
Wallace is likely the best rebounding small forward in the league, and his points per game are sure to go up next season.
Wallace is also one of the best defenders in the league. He averaged 1.5 steals per game last season. All signs point to him becoming a fantasy All-Star; however, he still isn't a top-five small forward.
2010-2011 Stats: 20.5 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game; 17.89 PER
After the Pacers limped into the playoffs, they ended up giving the Bulls all they wanted for five games. All of their success was dependent on the performance of their star, Danny Granger.
Granger may be one of the most underrated talents in the NBA, but even though he has transformed into an unheralded star, he is often the subject of trade rumors.
It might seem odd for the Pacers to want to trade him away, but frankly, it might be better for both teams if they part ways sooner than later. Granger would be able to find a spot on a (hopefully) better team, and the Pacers would be able to find a full-time position for their (hopefully) potential star, Paul George.
Wherever Granger ends up, he will continue to produce. He can score in every way possible. His PER was fifth among all other small forwards, and that will continue to rise as both he and the Pacers get better.
But I'm not sure the Pacers will get better—their roster is kind of a mess.
2010-2011 Stats: 19.8 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game; 17.88 PER
Before Rudy Gay got handed a season-ending injury, he was statistically having the best year of his career.
Even though many skeptics believe the Grizzlies' late-season and postseason successes were largely due to better team chemistry without Gay in the lineup, don't let them fool you.
Gay is a top-tier talent in the league; he's young, and he's only going to get better. The same goes with the Grizzlies.
His offensive firepower and defensive capabilities make him a definite fantasy starter deserving of a top pick in a draft. Gay should be taken in most second rounds of fantasy drafts, but if he falls at all, he would be a steal.
Gay's even become a threat on the perimeter, as he averaged nearly 40 percent from deep last season. If he continues his development, he will be in the same category as LeBron and Durant.
But for now, he still has one stepping stone in his way of getting to that level.
2010-2011 Stats: 25.6 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game; 21.82 PER
Meet Rudy Gay's stepping stone.
Carmelo is a ridiculous offensive talent, and he is a prime-time fantasy starter; however, his lack of defensive capability (or at least, defensive motivation) keeps him out of the LeBron/Durant tier.
ESPN analyst Brian McKitish currently has Carmelo ranked as the 17th-best fantasy prospect for the upcoming season. I tend to think that's a little high.
Carmelo is deserving of a late first-round pick in most drafts, especially since there is a decent gap between him and the next best small forward (Gay).
Offensively, Carmelo will continue to flourish under Mike D'Antoni, and his stock may actually go up if they add another scorer or an even better point guard—Chris Paul, anyone?
2010-2011 Stats: 27.7 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game; 23.70 PER
I know the consensus is Durant should be the No. 1 overall selection in every fantasy draft in the coming year, but I have reason to believe he isn't ready to take over the reins from LeBron just yet.
Durant's stats, though still great, were down this year. He's playing alongside Russell Westbrook, which is basically like LeBron playing alongside Dwyane Wade. Not to say that Russ' game is on par with Wade's, but both demand the ball in their hands for half, if not majority, of their team's possessions.
LeBron was able to still post incredible numbers last season despite having to play next to Wade and Chris Bosh. This was due to Bosh losing his great fantasy numbers from a year before. Durant, however, will be playing more minutes alongside James Harden this year, who—unlike Bosh—is great at creating his own scoring opportunities.
And trust me, Harden will create, he will score, and his stats and fantasy numbers are going to be much improved from the previous season.
Durant, who has been the scoring champ the last two years, may take another slight hit in his numbers if he really is a team player. There's no doubt KD will be able to score at will, but he will draw more double-teams, and that will leave room for Russ and Harden to operate.
Durant was the No. 2 overall fantasy player from a season ago. Can you guess who was No. 1?
2010-2011 Stats: 26.7 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game; 27.34 PER
I hope you guessed LeBron James. There were way too many hints and obvious clues littered in this slideshow to provide you the answer.
Among all the backlash LeBron received for joining the Heat and not performing up to his own capabilities at times, he still played well enough to be the No. 1 fantasy performer, as well as owning the best PER in the entire league.
Many believe Durant's ceiling is higher than LeBron's, and while this may ring true for the future, LeBron is still the best player alive right now, both in the real world and the fantasy world.
No other player (including Durant) puts up the kind of numbers LeBron does. His Oscar Robertson-like statistics are one of a kind in today's NBA. No other play can score at ease, rebound as well and see passing lanes quite like LeBron. He is the best all-around talent the league has seen since Michael Jordan.
Hate all you want, but the stats don't lie, and that's all that matters in fantasy hoops.