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2011 Fantasy Basketball: Best NBA Small Forwards

These tiers are based on the GMTR 2011-12 Player Tier spreadsheet, which is in turn based on rankings for 9-category H2H leagues. A player’s overall rank is included in parenthesis after their name for reference.

Tier 1: Sexy and I Know It

Kevin Durant (1)
LeBron James (2)

In the least controversial decision ever, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are our number 1 and 2 draft picks this season. In addition to being the league’s best free throw shooter for fantasy purposes, Durant led the league in scoring last season at nearly 28 ppg, adding 7 boards and 2 threes a game. His assist numbers are low compared to James, but the pluses in points, threes, turnovers and FT% push him over the top to the number one spot.

Remember when we were all afraid that James’ stats would fall off when he took his skills to Miami? Yeah, that didn’t happen. LeBron averaged a 27/7/7 while shooting 51% from the field in nearly 39 minutes a game with the Heat. Those numbers shouldn’t change significantly this season given that the Heat will still lean on their big three as much as this guy trying to buy some beer.


Tier 2: Flirting with the Top

Carmelo Anthony (12)
Rudy Gay (15)
Dorell Wright (18)

Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in New York didn’t exactly help the stats of his new teammates, but damn did it turn him into a beast. In 27 games with the Knicks, Anthony averaged 26 points and 7 boards a game and doubled his threes made to 2 a game. A full season (or what passes for one) in New York gives him first round fantasy value this year.

Rudy Gay started off last season on a tear and ended it early with a dislocated shoulder. But before he shut it down, Gay had stepped it up defensively and joined the exclusive 1 steal, 1 block, 1 three club to go along with a consistent 20 points a game. He’s completely healthy now and should be at least as good as he was last season as he enters his age-25 season.

Unless your name is David Lee, it’s amazing what the Golden State Warriors can do for your career. In his first season with the team, Dorell Wright broke in a big way, averaging a very roto friendly 17 points, 5 boards, 2.4 threes and 1.5 steals a game, good for 16th on the GMTR player rater. The question with any player who seemingly breaks out of nowhere is can they repeat their performance? There certainly are some question marks around Wright – specifically the fact that new coach Mark Jackson might actually put a focus on defense (gasp) and the recent signing of Brandon Rush – but as long as the minutes are there for Wright he should retain most if not all the fantasy value that he had last season.

Tier 3: The Glass Ceiling

Andre Iguodala (25)
Paul Pierce (26)
Danny Granger (33)

When you talk Andre Iguodala, it’s easy to think about what he isn’t (a superstar) instead of focusing on the fact that he’s a pretty damn good all-around player. His 14 points a game last season was a huge drop off from the 18 he averaged in 2009-10, but the rebounds (5.8), assists (6.3) and steals (1.5) are all above average for his position. There’s no real upside to Iguodala at this point in his career, but at the same time you don’t have to worry about him not performing up to expectations.

The first thing I think when I hear the name Danny Granger is injuries and missed games. But that’s unfair to Granger – he’s played in 78 or more games in 4 of the 6 seasons he’s been in the league. People also complain that he shoots too many threes, which in fantasy basketball is like complaining that Dikembe Mutombo blocked too many shots or Tony Allen gets too many steals: it’d only be a problem if he wasn’t good at it (and Granger is a career 39% three point shooter). By all accounts the arrival of David West is a great fit with this team, although interestingly the stats suggest that Granger was a more productive player at PF than he is at SF.

Tier 4: Potential All-Stars?

Danilo Gallinari (54)
Luol Deng (55)
Gerald Wallace (56)

The gap between this tier and tier 6 is large, so grab a SF here or wait a couple rounds before basically jumping into the next group of players (other than Batum). With Wilson Chandler stuck in China, Danilo Gallinari could now be Denver’s number one scoring option. He’s not going to make Nuggets’ fans forget about Carmelo Anthony, but he’ll hit a ton of threes this season on top of being a good scorer and rebounder.

Luol Deng added a three point shot to his game last season (he hit 1.4 a game), effectively turning what once was the weakest part of his fantasy game into a strength. Gerald Wallace didn’t completely mesh with the Blazers after getting traded to them last season, but he’s likely going to be the team’s starter. Word is that the Blazers are planning on pushing the pace this season with Raymond Felton at the point, which plays both into his greatest strength and biggest weakness as a player.

Tier 5: All Batum Myself

Nicolas Batum (83)

Nicolas Batum is one of the highest of upside guys you’ll find in the entire draft. And what’s not to like about a 21-year old with multi-category talent who finished 73 on our player rater last season? Ok, there is one thing – he’ll be coming off the bench behind Gerald Wallace. Batum can certainly carved out enough minutes to breakout in a 6th man role, but the combination of uneven minutes and his youth means that it could be a wild ride on a per game basis for those of you in H2H leagues.

Tier 6: Roll Call

Carlos Delfino (90)
Shane Battier (94)
Hedo Turkoglu (96)
Trevor Ariza (97)
Caron Butler (98)
Chase Budinger (100)
Rashard Lewis (102)
Thaddeus Young (104)

This tier is nearly as big as a Shawn Kemp family reunion, but the range of fantasy value between Delfino and Young is small enough that it’s warranted. Depending on your opinion of Rashard Lewis you could certainly draw a line between him and the rest of the tier. We’re basing our projection on the assumption he becomes the team’s starting SF and sees around the 32 minutes a game he averaged with them last year (and we do make adjustments for injury potential). However, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise for the young Wizards to eventually give the SF job to Jan Vesely and Lewis to be buried or amnestied as a result.

No matter what I do, the projections are in love with Carlos Delfino. And as long as he’s not sidelined for two months again with a mysterious head injury, he’ll be one of the best sources of threes (2.1 a game in 2010-11) in the back of the draft, especially if Stephen Jackson goes AWOL on the Bucks.

The Rockets’ starting SF spot now belongs to the red haired wonder Chase Budinger. In 22 starts last season, he averaged 14 points and 1.5 threes a game, which is what he’s projected by us to do this season.

And good old Caron Butler gets a bump playing alongside Chris Paul, but the big determinate of his fantasy value will always be his health… or lack thereof.

Tier 7: Who’s Left on the Board?

Andrei Kirilenko (116)
Shawn Marion (121)
Michael Beasley (123)
Derrick Williams (130)

I’m struggling to describe the difference between tiers 6 and 7 other than the fact that these are guys we are less confident about their situation (Andrei Kirilenko) or are simply less talented at this point in their careers (Shawn Marion). Maybe it’s just that simple.

Andrei Kirilenko is still living it up in Russia, but he’s weighing offers from both the New Jersey Nets and the Sacramento Kings. Obviously his value will depend on the situation he ends up in. He could side right into the starting SF spot vacated by Travis Outlaw on the Nets, while on the Kings he’d be more likely to split time with John Salmons. Or maybe he just stays in Russia entirely. For now he’s like a lottery ticket you draft hoping to hit it big down the road.

It’s fitting that Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams ended up right next to each other in our rankings since they’ll be competing with each other for minutes. When he’s on, the Beas can score as well as anyone in the league, but the rest of his game is average to below average at best, so I’m inclined to pass on him during a draft. Williams is already fun to watch, but during the regular season he’s going to get squeezed for minutes behind both Beasley and Kevin Love. He could be an all-star one day, but it’s not going to happen while he’s splitting time with Beasley.

Tier 8: Old Standbys and P.Y.T.s

Austin Daye (134)
Marvin Williams (136)
Grant Hill (137)
John Salmons (143)
Omri Casspi (144)
Gordon Hayward (145)

Marvin Williams, Grant Hill and John Salmons are the type of low-ceiling fantasy guys that are better suited to weekly plug-and-play waiver wire pickups than owning long term. At the end of a draft I’d much rather take a shot on a younger guy with some upside like Daye, Casspi or Hayward

Austin Daye would have been hotter than Ryan Gosling’s career if the Pistons had not resigned Tayshaun Prince. Instead he remains Tay-tay’s backup and will be hard pressed to find enough minutes to truly have a breakout fantasy season. Still, I’d much rather take a shot on him than draft Prince.

Omri Casspi should step into the starting SF role for the Cavs. He’s not an athletic guy, but he can hit the three and is a pretty decent rebounder for the position. He’s on my sleeper list, especially in deeper leagues.

Despite some slick moves, Gordon Hayward doesn’t come out looking great in our stat projections, although short of a miraculous return by Andrei Kirilenko there will be plenty of minutes to be had for the 21-year old in the Jazz rotation.

Other players just outside the top 30 for this position include Metta World Peace (148), Tayshaun Prince (149), Corey Maggette (150), Brandon Rush (154) and Richard Jefferson (156).

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