Positional preview: Small forwards
In ye olde days when men still wore Chuck Taylors and were masters of the set shot, a small forward was a small forward. In ye modern days, when men have computer chips in their kicks and players can master more than one position, a small forward can be a 6-foot-11 power forward or a 6-foot-4 shooting guard. That means two things in Fantasyland.
First, it means there is a lot of positional flexibility; there are dozens of players who are eligible at SF, SG/SF, SF/PF and even a few at SG/SF/PF. And for what it's worth (little), Boris Diaw is available at SF/PF/C (did I just use 'little' and 'Boris Diaw' in the same sentence?!). Second, it means there is a diverse range of stats to glean from your small forward spot; you can literally fill every category with one SF or another. That's particularly helpful in roto leagues because you can essentially add extra SG or PF stats to a non-SG/non-PF position. An extra boost in 3s or blocks, for instance, could put you over the top.
With that in mind, let's examine the 2012-13 small forward class from a number of angles.
The top two studs in fantasy (and reality) are pure small forwards. Whether you think LeBron James or Kevin Durant is the top dog depends mostly on how you want to construct the rest of your team, because they offer slightly different stats, but these guys are in a class of their own Carmelo Anthony is a bit of a mystery man after his nightmarish shooting last season, but assuming he gets that on track, he'll be a scoring force once again. Josh Smith is in a contract year and could be a focal point of the offense now that Joe Johnson's gone. The sky's the limit on his fantasy upside.
Arguably no one in the NBA is as steady as Paul Pierce. You can draft him and know he'll be there every week giving you well-rounded stats, despite his ever-increasing age. Andre Iguodala could get a nice bump in production with the Denver Nuggets, but he's still a steady play regardless. Luol Deng's not-surgically repaired wrist (he still hasn't addressed the injury) remains a concern, but he's an excellent fantasy option when healthy. Plus the Chicago Bulls will lean heavily on him offensively with Derrick Rose out. Rudy Gay probably has the most upside from this group of steady ballers and there is virtually no risk involved in adding him to your roster. Depending on your draft, Gerald Wallace may be over- or undervalued, but he should be a steady play with the new-look Brooklyn Nets. His scoring will suffer, but the rest of his stats should get a bump.
Up and comers
Ersan Ilyasova broke out last season and he has the contract that essentially guarantees a big role, so he should at least maintain last season's pace. Paul George should finally be turned loose for the Indiana Pacers and could surpass Danny Granger as their primary scoring option. Nicolas Batum will be on everyone's short list of breakout candidates and with good reason. Max-contract players get all the play they want, and when he's been a key part of the Portland Trail Blazers' offense, his numbers have been fantastic. If Danilo Gallinari ever stays healthy and finds some consistency, he'll be one of the top 3-point threats in the Association. Sure, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive game is a work in progress, but he'll contribute in nearly every other category immediately. If he gets comfortable quickly, he could make a run for ROY.
As noted above, Danny Granger is at risk of taking a back seat to Paul George on offense and already plateaued in production recently. He still has value, but his days of being a stud are over. Michael Beasley is a one-stat wonder (scoring) and he doesn't even make that count much, because it comes with a shoddy field goal percentage and barely any 3s. In a year or two, Jeff Green will be a solid fantasy play, but he's not going to get enough action to matter this season barring injury to Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce. Older players like Andrei Kirilenko, Shawn Marion, Hedo Turkoglu, Grant Hill, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Corey Maggette and Metta World Peace who are on the back end of their careers are almost inherently overvalued. Why take an aging player in a limited role when there are younger players with upside available?
Speaking of younger players with upside, here are some guys who are nice additions to round out your starting roster: Kawhi Leonard, Jared Dudley, Thaddeus Young, Wilson Chandler and Jonas Jerebko. They all have steady roles and room for growth if their roles are expanded.
Jan Vesely has a season under his belt, so he should be more comfortable on the floor. He has a lot of long-term upside due to his freakish physical skills and will be a quality fantasy option as soon as his game catches up. I swore off Tyrus Thomas at the end of last season, and there's no reason to believe he'll suddenly figure out how to be a professional. Nonetheless, he's only 26, the tools remain and he's on a Charlotte Bobcats team where he can earn all the minutes he desires. So it's still worth keeping an eye on him. Steve Novak is a one-category wonder, but he makes the most of that category. A late-round pick on him will do wonders for your 3s. Wesley Johnson was a bust for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Maybe a new scene will help him turn things around with the Phoenix Suns. As a defensive specialist, he could pile up steals, blocks and boards. Perry Jones should be a long-term project on an Oklahoma City Thunder team so deep he'll have trouble making the rotation at first. But the upside is tremendous, so he'll be worth consideration as a late-round flier in very deep leagues.
As I noted above, you can literally fill every stat from the small forward position. Next to each category below are players who contribute quality or excellent stats from the SF position:
FG%: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Josh Smith, Thaddeus Young, Ersan Ilyasova, Kawhi Leonard, Gerald Wallace, Steve Novak
FT%: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Danilo Gallinari, Corey Maggette, Rudy Gay, Paul George
Dimes: LeBron James, Andre Iguodala, Hedo Turkoglu, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony
Boards: Ersan Ilyasova, Josh Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Gerald Wallace, Shawn Marion
3s: Steve Novak, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carlos Delfino, Danny Granger, Nicolas Batum, Danilo Gallinari, Paul Pierce
Steals: LeBron James, Gerald Wallace, Paul George, Andre Iguodala, Trevor Ariza, Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith
Blocks: Josh Smith, LeBron James, Tyrus Thomas, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Durant, Gerald Wallace, Rudy Gay, Nicolas Batum, Ersan Ilyasova, Wilson Chandler
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