2018-19 Fantasy Basketball Positional Tiers Series: Small Forwards
Heading towards the start of NBA preseason, Alex Barutha breaks the players into tiers for Fantasy.
NBA training camps open in a matter of weeks. Here's how players are tiered now:
Tier 1: The Elite of the Elite
Kevin Durant, Warriors
With LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo slotted as power forwards, Durant sits alone at the top. It's tantalizing to think of what his production could be in another setting -- particularly his scoring -- but Durant has ramped up his efficiency since joining the Warriors, and he's coming off of the best defensive season of his career. As he nears 30, Durant hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, and the only real knock on his Fantasy profile is the fact that he's missed 99 games over the past four seasons.
Tier 2: All-Star-Caliber
Kawhi Leonard, Raptors
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Paul George, Thunder
Otto Porter, Wizards
Khris Middleton, Bucks
If Leonard is healthy and back to his 2016-17 self, then he has a case to join Durant in Tier 1. But until that happens, he's too risky to list in the same category as arguably the league' most lethal scorer. Butler's numbers took only a slight dip last season playing on a significantly more talented roster, and he set career-highs in field goal percentage and steals per game. Injuries are starting to become a very real concern, however.
George fit in seamlessly alongside Russell Westbrook in Year 1, and there's reason to believe he could improve upon his efficiency from the field and the free throw line. His steals (2.0 SPG), rebounds (5.7 RPG), and assists (3.3 APG) production make him one of the more well-rounded players in the NBA. While Porter isn't nearly the scorer George is, he's also an all-category contributor who continues to improve as a three-point shooter. Over the last two seasons, Porter is converting at a 43.7 percent clip, which trails only Darren Collison, Kyle Korver and Joe Ingles (min. 300 attempts).
Middleton, meanwhile, is coming off of the best season of his career. He started all 82 games after missing 53 in 2016-17 and averaged 20.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, both career-bests. The 27-year-old doesn't have the highest ceiling, but there's a good chance he'll improve upon last season's three-point percentage (35.9%), which was five points lower than his average over the previous four years (40.8%).
Tier 3: Very Good Starters
Kyle Anderson, Grizzlies
Tobias Harris, Clippers
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Will Barton, Nuggets
Joe Ingles, Jazz
Gordon Hayward, Celtics
Tier 3 is comprised of a few more all-around talents in Anderson, Barton and Ingles, a potential 20-point-per-game scorer in Harris, and a pair of Celtics who may end up hamstringing each other's value.
Anderson is somewhat of a risk as he shifts from San Antonio to Memphis, but his workload should be safe. He brings rare steals/blocks numbers for the position, though his poor three-point shooting -- 19 made threes in 74 games last season -- remains an issue. Barton's 2017-18 numbers should be replicable with Wilson Chandler now in Philadelphia, and Ingles is as steady as they come on the wing. He's missed four games in four years, and last season Ingles joined Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Al Horford as the only players to shoot 40 percent from three and average at least four assists, four rebounds, and one steal per game.
Hayward and Tatum are among the most difficult players at any position to project. In almost any other situation, Tatum would be an obvious breakout candidate, but with Hayward returning and Jaylen Brown continuing to improve, Boston will have to take a by-committee approach on the wing. As the most accomplished of the three, Hayward will likely be the closest thing to a co-No. 1 option alongside Kyrie Irving, but Tatum may be the better Fantasy commodity if his red-hot three-point shooting (43.4% as a rookie) proves sustainable.
Tier 4: Productive Starters
Nic Batum, Hornets
Brandon Ingram, Lakers
Robert Covington, 76ers
Harrison Barnes, Mavericks
Taurean Prince, Hawks
Jonathan Isaac, Magic
Tier 4 is home to a few dependable commodities, as well as a handful of young players on the rise. Batum's best days are likely behind him, but he's still only 29 years old and is a decent buy-low candidate after battling injury last season. Covington can be streaky, but on the whole he's developed into one of the better volume three-and-D wings in the league, though the arrival of Wilson Chandler is somewhat of a wild card. Barnes is maybe the most boring player in Fantasy basketball, but he's a near-lock to provide efficient scoring and adequate rebounding.
While Ingram is perhaps the most talented player in Tier 4, he's still a work in progress who will face a major adjustment in playing alongside LeBron James. Ingram also missed 23 games last season. Isaac is similar to Ingram in stature, and he, too, battled injuries. The No. 6 pick played in only 27 games as a rookie, but his athleticism and defensive potential -- 2.3 combined steals/blocks in 19.9 MPG -- are tantalizing.
Prince may be on the worst team in the league, but that should mean plenty of opportunities to improve upon what was quietly an excellent sophomore season. The Baylor product was one of 14 qualified players to average at least four rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two made threes per game -- and he did it in fewer minutes than anyone else.
Tier 5: Low-End Contributors
Rudy Gay, Spurs
Mario Hezonja, Knicks
Kelly Oubre, Wizards
T.J. Warren, Suns
Trevor Ariza, Suns
Kent Bazemore, Hawks
There's still value to be found in Tier 5, but each player comes with question marks. Approaching two years since tearing his torn Achilles, Gay could jump up a tier if his workload creeps closer to 30 minutes per game, but that's far from a guarantee. Hezonja has some good stats/bad team potential, but he enters a new situation in New York and will have to battle Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Knox for opportunities. Oubre is an intriguing talent, but he was inconsistent last season and doesn't have a clear path to a starting spot, barring an injury.
Bazemore has typically been closer to a Tier 3 or 4 player, but he missed 17 games last season, and there's a very real chance he'll eventually be traded into what would likely be a worse Fantasy situation. Both Warren and Ariza will battle for minutes in Phoenix, but the wing rotation is beyond cluttered -- even more so now given the revelation that Ryan Anderson will apparently start at the four -- and Ariza's three-point volume figures to dip in a new system. Meanwhile, Warren has missed 68 games over the last three years and shot 22.2 percent from three last season while barely cracking one assist per game.
Tier 6: Bargain Bin
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hornets
Evan Turner, Trail Blazers
Bojan Bogdanovic, Pacers
Justise Winslow, Heat
Josh Jackson, Suns
Kevin Knox, Knicks
Wilson Chandler, 76ers
Reggie Bullock, Pistons
Stanley Johnson, Pistons
DeMarre Carroll, Nets
Justin Jackson, Kings
Many players in this tier will, and should, go undrafted in standards leagues, but they're each worth keeping an eye on as waiver targets. Josh Jackson and Knox, in particular, carry some intrigue as second and first-year players. Jackson will have to deal with that messy Suns rotation, but he showed some flashes near the end of last season, even as his three-point shooting tanked. Knox was a standout at summer league, and while he's not going to be this year's Donovan Mitchell, the Knicks should struggle enough to be willing to give the No. 9 pick a long enough leash to play his way through the customary rookie ups and downs.
Mike Barner is among the most accurate Fantasy experts in the country.
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