2019-20 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Small forward tiers

These tiers assume eight category settings. Within each tier, players are listed in recommended draft order:

Tier 1: Late first-round values

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
Paul George, Clippers

By per-game production, Leonard warrants consideration for the first overall pick in some Fantasy leagues. However, as we saw with the Raptors last year, Leonard is perfectly willing to sit out 20-plus games to ensure maximum health for the postseason. It's possible he takes fewer "load management" games off in 2019-20, especially since he's part of a new team, but we have no way of knowing what the Clippers are thinking and no reason to believe them if they decided to tell us their plan. The likelihood of missed games drops Leonard out of the top-half of the first round, but he's good enough to come off the board before Round 2. He has more value in leagues with strict games maximums.

George was a top-five producer for most of last season until shoulder problems started getting in the way. He had offseason surgery on both shoulders, but we don't yet know when he'll be back to full strength. On top of that, moving from the Thunder to the Clippers adds some uncertainty, though getting away from Russell Westbrook may do more good than harm. And even with his shoulder problems, George remained a top-10 producer throughout the final months of the season.

Tier 2: Second-round value

LeBron James, Lakers

James should not go in the first round. I cannot emphasize that strongly enough. We all know how great he is, and that he is still capable of exploding the box score on any given night, so for the sake of space I'm only going to focus on the "cons" side here.

James was, as we know, an absolutely dominant Fantasy force for more than a decade. But James is now the active leader in career minutes played, and he leads any other player you might consider drafting by more than 10,000 minutes. After years of almost automatic top-three finishes, James has finished outside the top-five in each of the past five seasons. We knew it would happen eventually, but health and missed games are now a concern, as well. 

Tier 3: Risks with big upside

Tobias Harris, 76ers
Khris Middleton, Bucks
Robert Covington, Timberwolves
Danilo Gallinari, Thunder
Kelly Oubre, Suns

All five of these guys have some drawbacks, yet all five could end the season inside the top 30.
Harris is an excellent, well-rounded producer, but the strength of the 76ers' starting lineup should cause some concern. His usage rate fell significantly when he was traded from the Clippers to the 76ers, and the addition of Al Horford could cut into Harris' workload – Harris was 14th in minutes per game last season.

Middleton, Covington and Gallinari have all demonstrated top-40 – and, for limited windows, top-30 – value. But these three also have troubling injury histories, especially the latter two. Middleton has missed five or fewer games in five of the last six seasons, though in his fifth NBA season, he played fewer than 30 games due to a severe hamstring injury.
 
Gallinari hasn't played more than 71 games this decade, and he's played 62 games or fewer in seven of his 10 seasons. As if to underscore his wrought medical history, he's currently recovering from an emergency appendectomy, though that is unlikely to impact his opening-night availability. Covington has played more than 70 games just once, and he missed the majority of last season with a knee injury. 

Oubre's track record as Fantasy stud is extremely limited. He blossomed after getting traded to the Suns last season, and he was a top-30 player after the All-Star break. But that's his only window of Fantasy excellence. The Suns enter 2019-20 with fewer competitors for wing minutes, but that doesn't mean Oubre automatically keeps his job. The acquisition of Ricky Rubio helps all Suns' scorers, as he'll get them better and more open shots. But some of the Suns' other acquisitions imply that they might roll with bigger lineups, which could cut into Oubre's minutes. I'm bullish on his potential, but there is considerable risk. 

Tier 4: Comfortable floor, upside uncertain

Otto Porter Jr, Bulls
Jayson Tatum, Celtics

If you want to ensure a positional advantage at small forward, this is the latest you can wait at the position. There's obviously a giant chasm between LeBron James and anyone listed in Tier 3, but the seven players in Tiers 3 and 4 will determine which teams are comfortable at the position, and which will struggle. The gap between Tiers 3 and 4 is relatively small. Tier 5 is a decent consolation prize, but Gordon Hayward is the only one of those with any real chance of finishing inside the top-50. Tier 6 begins with players who are typically drafted outside the top 80.

Porter was shockingly effective as a leader of the Bulls down the stretch after being traded mid-season. He pulled off a bizarrely accurate impression of Tobias Harris, at least in terms of production. But will that continue while playing alongside Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, both of whom were injured for Porter's entire Bulls tenure? Porter played a few games next to Zach LaVine, but not many. Will the increased efficiency that frequently accompanies improved surrounding talent be enough to offset drops in some raw production numbers?

With Tatum, we're still betting on potential that we haven't actually seen. He's finished just inside the top 75 in both of his seasons. The Celtics now have more available minutes and a need for Tatum to step up as a primary scorer, so the optimism is legitimate, we just want to make sure we don't get too far ahead of ourselves.

Tier 5: Boring but reliable

Joe Ingles, Jazz
Josh Richardson, 76ers
T.J. Warren, Pacers
Gordon Hayward, Celtics

There isn't a more boring Fantasy draft pick than Joe Ingles. Unless you're particularly fond of Australians, it's hard to get excited about a 31-year-old who's incapable of scoring in the teens. But he's finished inside the top-75 the past two seasons, and he averages more than two 3s per game. His minutes might drop slightly due to the Jazz's improved depth, but he's pretty safe.

Richardson has less value after joining the 76ers, but, like Ingles, he's finished inside the top-75 in each of the last two seasons and he has the potential to provide "1-1-1" value (at least one 3, one steal and one block per game), depending on how he's used on defense. Warren's value will probably take a big hit when Victor Oladipo (quad) returns to full health, but for all we know that might not happen until March. Until then, it's reasonable to expect improvement upon his top-65 finish from last season. 

Hayward has the most upside from this group. He's now more than two years removed from the injury that cost him all but five minutes of his first year in Boston. He may never return to top-40 status, but if he ever will, it's more likely to happen now than later. He's got a clear role, and the Celtics are hoping that he can be something close to the headlining star they thought they were getting when they signed him away from Utah.

Tier 6: Middle of the pack

Justise Winslow, Heat
Aaron Gordon, Magic
Cedi Osman, Cavaliers
Jerami Grant, Nuggets
Bojan Bogdanovic, Jazz

I actually like this tier a lot. But when someone says "I actually like" something, the clear implication is that the favorable opinion comes as a bit of a surprise. Winslow's best-case scenario is if he takes over as the Heat's primary point guard -- a realistic possibility but not an eventuality we can count on. Gordon is only 24 years old, though the Magic continue to add big man every offseason. 

Osman's appeal is predicated upon the rest of the Cavs continuing to be bad, but that's a pretty reasonable assumption. Furthermore, small forward is easily their shallowest position. Grant would be much higher if not for the presence of an aging Paul Millsap

Tier 7: Lots of upside, and a decent chance to reach it

Jonathan Isaac, Magic
Rudy Gay, Spurs
Mikal Bridges, Suns
Brandon Ingram, Pelicans
If Isaac can stay healthy and average 30 minutes per game, he has the ability to finish in the top 10 in both steals and blocks. But neither of those "if"s are likely, especially given the every-increasing depth of the Magic frontcourt. Gay is a classic Spur, with a high floor and a low ceiling.

Bridges benefits from the Suns' addition of Rubio and their clearing out of T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson, but he already averaged 30 minutes per game as a rookie, and that number jumped up to 33 per game after the All-Star Break. His Fantasy growth needs to come from skills improvement, which is probable but never guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Ingram has to claw through one of the most crowded depth charts in the league, and that's assuming he is fully healthy after a blood clot issue forced him to miss the end of last season. That said, if things break right -- editor's note: very right -- for Ingram, it's not all that crazy to imagine him finishing inside the top 50. It's unlikely, but he's provided top-50 value for about a month at a time during earlier stretches of his career.

Tier 8: Lots of upside, but less of a chance to reach it

Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves
Landry Shamet, Clippers
Danny Green, Lakers
Caris LeVert, Nets
OG Anunoby, Raptors
RJ Barrett, Knicks

These players are going to fall in drafts, and with good reason. But all of them have top-100 potential. We know Wiggins can score, but can he do anything else? If the 76ers use Paul George and Kawhi Leonard at the two forward spots, then Shamet would be in line for a ton of minutes at shooting guard. How much will the Lakers rely on Green? Anything from 24 to 35 minutes per game wouldn't surprise me. LeVert and Anunoby should be in line for significant increases in opportunities this season, but they'll have to improve upon their per-36 production in order to become true Fantasy assets.

Finally, there's Barrett. I hate the Knicks' roster construction, but most of the things they did well this offseason relate to Barrett. He was probably the correct pick at No. 3, and they didn't grab anyone who would be a direct competitor for minutes. Rookies are always a risk in Fantasy basketball, and getting open looks in the Knicks'  Power Forward Raid offense will be a struggle. Nonetheless, he's worth the risk this late in drafts.

Tier 9: The rest

Evan Fournier, Magic
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
Trevor Ariza, Kings
Jabari Parker, Hawks
P.J. Tucker, Rockets

Kanell & Bell

Episode 373: Down goes Team USA
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