Small forward is one of the most important positions in basketball. You need strong play from your wings in today’s NBA, and having a lengthy small forward who can shoot is almost a requirement in order to join the NBA’s elite. However, in fantasy basketball, only numbers matter. But the importance of the SF position means that it’s a pretty deep position, and you can find value even in the later rounds.
The top five small forwards are pretty clear-cut. They separate themselves from every other tier, and they’re all worth grabbing very early on in your draft. Granted, some players may not necessarily be viewed as a small forward on the court, but if they’re listed as one, you can plug them into that SF slot. For example, wing players like Bojan Bogdanovic, Caris LeVert, and Jimmy Butler are all listed as both a shooting guard and small forward in Yahoo’s fantasy basketball leagues.
While there’s a clear separation from the top five and the rest, some noteworthy players that just ddn’t make the top five are Caris LeVert and Tobias Harris. There are several others in the second and third tiers like Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, and Robert Covington, but LeBert and Harris both have the potential to have stronger seasons than last year. LeVert will be called upon to do much more than last season, and with no Kevin Durant this season for the Brooklyn Nets, LeVert could play a huge role filling that wing position and being a second scoring option next to Kyrie Irving.
Similarly, Tobias Harris’ usage may go up with Jimmy Butler departing from the Philadelphia 76ers. Ideally, he’ll look closer to the player he was on the Los Angeles Clippers before he was traded. The Sixers are poised to be contenders this year, and Harris will need to have a strong season to complement Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Al Horford. Keep an eye on him as a small forward who could have a big year.
As is the case for any position, do your research on the next few tiers of small forwards if you miss out on any of the top ones. The top five are all elite stat-sheet-stuffers, and they’ll fly off the board quickly. Here are your projected top five small forwards in fantasy basketball this year:
5. Jimmy Butler
Butler will benefit from the change in scenery. The 76ers had a lot of talent and a couple of stars in Simmons and Embiid. But the Miami Heat will look to Butler to be the team’s primary scoring option. Butler’s scoring went down four points per game (22.2 PPG to 18.2 PPG) from his 2017-18 year with the Minnesota Timberwolves to last year when he was on the Sixers. Expect that scoring to jump back up into the 20’s range with the Heat.
He’s the undisputed number-one scorer on the team, with several good young players around him. He’s still, also, one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, and his 1.9 steals per game last year should carry over to Miami. Expect a big year for Butler stats-wise, and be sure to snatch him if he’s still on the board and the other four on this list are taken.
4. Paul George
Paul George came in third in MVP voting last season, and for good reason. The 29-year-old hit career high’s in points, rebounds, and steals per game, and tied his career high in assists per game. Now, he’s moving from Oklahoma City into a big market and big expectations. The Los Angeles Clippers have high hopes for their team, and the pairing of George and Kawhi Leonard should give opposing teams fits on both offense and defense.
George will have plenty of opportunities to score, and no longer playing alongside Russell Westbrook may even free George up a bit more. Obviously, monitor his injury issues, as his recovery from shoulder surgeries over the summer will keep him out until at least November. But when he does return, he’ll have another monster season, even if he doesn’t hit 28 points per game like he did last year.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James was a fantasy stud for well over a decade. And he was the number one overall fantasy player many of those years. But now, turning 35 in December, he’s relegated to the third-best small forward in fantasy basketball. Only because fantasy basketball is all about numbers, and of course, doesn’t take a player’s impact on the court into account. And LeBron’s numbers, while still impressive, may take a hit with age and injuries.
He has so much upside with high-volume points, rebounds, assists, and an efficient field goal percentage, that it might be more prudent to discuss his flaws. With new superstar Anthony Davis joining the Los Angeles Lakers, the ball may not be in LeBron’s hands quite as often as the past two years, when he was clearly the alpha dog, with the Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. And if load management cuts his number of games played this year, it further hurts his fantasy value. One last downside to note is something not often talked about: his free throw percentage. Last year, LeBron shot a horrific 66.5% from the line. It’s very rare to use “horrific” and “LeBron” in the same sentence, but be aware that his FT percentage may drag your team down in that category.
He’ll still put up big numbers simply because he’s a generational talent, but his stats this season may not compare to the top two on this list.
2. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best player in the NBA right now. After winning a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 and rising to stardom, he won another title in his lone season with the Toronto Raptors. Now, he finds himself on another true contender. But Leonard is a prime example of how a player can be viewed much more highly in real life than in fantasy. In real life, he’s invaluable, and his pairing with Paul George made the Clippers instant contenders. But in fantasy, he’s merely the second-ranked small forward.
Last year, he scored an efficient 26.6 points per game on 49.6% from the field. His 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game are also positives. It remains to be seen how Doc Rivers and the Clippers will handle his load management plan, and if they’ll stick to what the Raptors did or if they’ll unleash Leonard in the regular season. Regardless, he’ll still put up big numbers on a contender–especially in the first few weeks of the season as Paul George recuperates from his surgeries.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The 2018-19 NBA MVP put up some impressive numbers last year, and it’s easy to forget he’s only 24 years old (turning 25 in December) and can still hit another gear as he hits his prime. It may be difficult to improve on 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 57.8% from the field. But Giannis Antetokounmpo will certainly try. The Milwaukee Bucks look to be title contenders once again, and Giannis will be looking to fill up the stat sheet for a team returning most of its core players, minus Malcolm Brogdon.
On defense, Giannis’ 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks a game makes him a rare specimen that can provide high-volume points and rebounds, while also contributing in both defensive categories. As he continues to grow, his only downside may be his lack of a jump shot. So you won’t be getting any three’s from him. His free throw percentage also isn’t terrific as a career 74.2% free throw shooter. But he has so much upside everywhere else that he’s firmly the number one small forward in fantasy basketball. In many drafts, he’ll likely even go number one overall.
And if you end up in that first overall draft position, there’s no better option to boost your team in almost every category than Giannis. Get used to it–he’ll be at the top of fantasy drafts for years to come.