NBA Notebook: Early small forward rankings


Fantasy hoops is quickly approaching, and to help get you started we're running through each position, taking an early look at the playing field. We've already rolled out some preliminary point guard and shooting guard rankings, and today we'll take an in-depth look at the small forward position. For all intents and purposes, this is the deepest group of small forwards I've seen in quite some time. I mean, when I have a guy like Kevin Durant ranked outside of the top 10, you know it has to be deep, right?

Tier 1

1. LeBron James, Cavaliers
2. Shawn Marion, Suns
3. Josh Smith, Hawks
4. Andre Iguodala, 76ers
5. Paul Pierce, Celtics

LeBron James versus Shawn Marion is an interesting debate. In leagues that don't count turnovers (which are becoming more and more prevalent), LeBron is the easy decision. In leagues that do count turnovers, however, it becomes much, much closer as Marion is one of the only first-round picks who can actually limit his turnovers. Even so, I give the slight edge to LeBron in both formats. Here's why: LeBron simply has a heck of a lot more upside than the Matrix. With Marion, we already know what we're getting; he's pretty much peaked in terms of his statistical output. The same cannot be said for LeBron James, whose upside is practically immeasurable. I know what you're thinking: "But what about his free-throw percentage?" Well, do you really expect him to shoot sub-70 percent from the stripe again? His form is pretty solid, and he should move back into the 73-75 percent range again this season.

Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala represent a changing of the guard, as both players are for the first time being drafted in the early second round (and in Smith's case late first round). Both are worthy of the hype they're receiving early this season. The way they can fill up the stat sheet, this may be the last time you'll see them falling out of the first round.

In my mind, Paul Pierce is still a Tier 1 small forward. Folks are downgrading Pierce this season, citing not just injury concerns but also production concerns with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in town. I'm not buying it. Prior to last season, Pierce had missed just eight games over the previous six years! Throughout his career, he has been one of the game's most durable players, and I'm not going to write off six years of history because of one freak season. As for the addition of KG and Allen, I'm not too worried. Pierce will likely suffer a drop in points (but should still score 22 points per game), while the rest of his statistics are likely either to stay the same or increase. Look for his field goal percentage to skyrocket as he'll undoubtedly have more open looks, and his assists should also spike slightly as he now has more weapons at his disposal on the offensive end. The more I think about it, the more I'm loving Pierce as a late second-round pick.

Tier 2

6. Rashard Lewis, Magic
7. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
8. Caron Butler, Wizards
9. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats

Rashard Lewis was one of fantasy's best last season when he wasn't sitting out due to injury. Expect more or less the same this season as Dwight Howard and Lewis will work the inside-out game to perfection in Orlando.

Carmelo Anthony can at times get a bad rap in the fantasy game. People will say he's overrated, and that his name recognition far outreaches his value. I'm not so sure about that. Melo is a beast in the percentages, particularly because he takes a ton of shots from both the floor and the line. He's dominant in points and the percentages, and serviceable in steals (1.2), rebounds (6.0) and assists (3.8). Those type of stats have late second round written all over them.

Charlotte's Gerald Wallace could easily be ranked higher here, but his style of play is just too conducive to injury. Give him credit for throwing his body around and his "no fear" approach to the game, just don't expect him to suit up for more than 70 games. It's also important to note that Wallace's block totals tend to plummet when Emeka Okafor is healthy and in the lineup. He'll still block around 1.2 shots per contest, but that's a far cry from the 2.1 he swatted back in 2005-06.

Tier 3

10. Luol Deng, Bulls
11. Josh Howard, Mavericks
12. Kevin Durant, Sonics
13. Ron Artest, Kings
14. Mike Miller, Grizzlies

Deng and Howard have been favorites of mine for quite some time. Both had breakout seasons in 2006-07, and both are looking very strong going forward. Feel free to slide both Deng and Howard into Tier 2 in leagues that count turnovers, as neither will turn the ball over more than two times per game. Deng gets the edge over Howard here due to his superior durability.

I've been burned by Ron Artest way too many times to put him any higher in the rankings. Talentwise he's a Tier 2 guy, but I look at attitude problems the same way I look at injury concerns. Artest is a risk/reward selection, so his ranking should be based on your level of risk tolerance. Obviously, I have little to no tolerance for a risk like Ron Artest.

Regular readers of mine know that I'm down on Mike Miller this season. He'll still be a very good fantasy player, but he's not going to match his career numbers from 2006-07 anytime soon. Kevin Durant is in a similar situation. He's going to have a nice season, but there's no way he'll be able to live up to some of the fantasy expectations that have been laid upon him. I think a late fourth-round selection is just right for KD.

Tier 4

15. Corey Maggette, Clippers
16. Danny Granger, Pacers
17. Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz
18. Stephen Jackson, Warriors
19. Rudy Gay, Grizzlies
20. Richard Jefferson, Nets

Hello, sleepers. Let's do a little rapid fire here: Maggette should get back to his old ways, as he'll be asked to carry more of the offensive load with Elton Brand out … Granger needs to live up to his "Matrix-lite" nickname before Kevin Durant steals the label. And just so you know, I think this is the season Granger finally gets it done … Kirilenko is not as bad as he was last season, and the fact that he may be traded is great news for the Russian. He has no place in Jerry Sloan's offense, and a change of scenery should do him well … Stephen Jackson was pretty sick after his trade to Golden State, averaging 16.8 points, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.6 3-pointers per game and he's bound to be undervalued in your draft … Rudy Gay showed his immense fantasy potential by averaging 13.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers after the All-Star break last season.

Tier 5

21. Andrea Bargnani, Raptors
22. Peja Stojakovic, Hornets
23. Al Thornton, Clippers
24. Luke Walton, Lakers
25. Tayshaun Prince, Pistons
26. Andres Nocioni, Bulls

Love me Mr. Bargnani, or Il Mago as some folks like to call him. The dude is a rare breed in the NBA, showing the ability to block shots and hit 3-pointers. Not many folks can do that. He'll also be pretty nice from the free-throw line, hitting on 80 percent or better from the stripe. There's a good amount of upside here, and I don't think anyone will be surprised if Bargnani moves up a few tiers by this time next season.

Peja is supposedly healthy, but he'll move up my rankings only after I get to see him on the court and in some real game-speed action. I don't normally like to mess with major back injuries, and I won't be drafting Peja unless I see him looking like his pre-surgery self in the preseason.

Luke Walton gets no love from the fantasy crowd, but set aside your preconceived notions of his game and you'll see a very productive fantasy player. He's not going to win any leagues for you, but he's a great glue guy. He's someone who can contribute in a lot of categories without really hurting you anywhere. Check out his stats from last season: 11.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 3s while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 74.5 percent from the line. There's a lot to like there, no?

Tier 6

27. Ruben Patterson, Clippers
28. Renaldo Balkman, Knicks
29. Trevor Ariza, Magic
30. Hedo Turkoglu, Magic
31. Shane Battier, Rockets
32. Quentin Richardson, Knicks
33. Travis Outlaw, Trail Blazers

OK, I must admit, I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Trevor Ariza, Renaldo Balkman and Travis Outlaw. None of the three is a guaranteed lock to produce, but I pretty much drool every time I think about their upside for the 2007-08 season. Balkman is my favorite of the group, as he's shown the ability to produce steals, blocks and rebounds in bulk when he's getting minutes. The Knicks will need someone to lay down the law on the defensive side of the ball, and I'm betting that guy will be Balkman. We all know it won't be Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry. Last season, Isiah Thomas leaned on Jared Jeffries to provide his defensive spark, this season it will be the energetic Balkman, who is a complete freak on the defensive end.

The best shooting guard the Orlando Magic have is not named J.J. Redick. It's Trevor Ariza, even though he'll technically be playing out of position. Even if Ariza doesn't start, he'll likely earn quality minutes off the bench for the Magic this season. Ariza has averaged a steal per game in his three-year career, but that's in only 18.9 minutes per game. Now, just imagine what he'll do when he's seeing 25-30 minutes as I expect him to this season. Yeah, there's considerable upside here.

Many folks will anoint LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye as the big beneficiaries of Greg Oden's season-ending injury, and I'll fully agree with that argument. The sleeper winner, however, is the ultratalented Travis Outlaw. Outlaw has shown glimpses of brilliance during his young career, the best of which came toward the end of last season when he averaged 18.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks during the month of April. That's the kind of upside we're talking about here. Outlaw has never really been given a chance to prove himself in extended minutes, but he'll likely get that chance this season as Oden's injury opens up a potential starting spot for him at small forward. He has the talent and the opportunity -- looks like a prime sleeper candidate to me.

Tier 7

34. Jason Kapono, Raptors
35. Grant Hill, Suns
36. Jeff Green, Sonics
37. Mickael Pietrus, Warriors
38. Corey Brewer, Timberwolves
39. Ryan Gomes, Timberwolves
40. Jorge Garbajosa, Raptors
41. Matt Harpring, Jazz
42. Bruce Bowen, Spurs

I told you the small forward position was deep this season. From the looks of it, there are 40-odd players who should have decent fantasy value this season. Of the players listed in Tier 7, Jason Kapono, Jeff Green and Corey Brewer have the best chance at moving up the ranks. I'm not a huge Kapono fan, but he is a worthwhile acquisition due to his ability to shoot the 3-ball. Just don't overrate him based on his one good season, which happened to come in a contract year.

Green and Brewer have some nice upside, I'm just not sure how much either will be able to contribute this season. Green should get some solid run in Seattle's youth movement, but he's one of those unselfish players who likes to defer to his teammates for the better of the team. That's a great quality in the real game, but this is fantasy we're talking about here. All we care about are the stats. Brewer, on the other hand, is stuck in an unfortunate logjam in Minnesota. I mean, how many minutes can he lock down with guys like Ricky Davis, Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green all deserving playing time as well?

Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.