Is it me, or does the small forward position look fairly shallow this year? One thing is for sure, it's a top-heavy bunch that is filled with a lot of question marks after we get past the top four tiers. The saving grace here is that we have a group of dual-eligibility players who also can slide into your shooting guard slot when needed. I can bet that I'll be playing a lot of these dual-eligibility players at my small forward spot given that the shooting guard position seems to have slightly more depth in the later rounds.
When it comes to small forwards, we're looking for a lot of the same things that we look for in shooting guards: multicategorical contributors at the top of the draft and scorers with 3-point shooting ability and steals artists in the mid-to-late rounds. Those who can block shots and rebound get bonus points given the lack of big men who can block shots these days.
McKitish's small forward tiers
Move over, LeBron, there's a new king of fantasy hoops, and his name is Kevin Durant. By most accounts the surefire No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts this season, Durant can do it all for fantasy teams, and the scary thought is that the 22-year-old could even improve on his 30.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.6 3-pointers and 1 block per game last season. With Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stealing some of his production, LeBron James won't be the fantasy player he was in the past, but he should be a top-three threat even if his numbers dip across the board. The biggest question for LeBron this season will be how the move to Miami will affect his assist numbers. He has great court vision, but he won't be handling the rock nearly as much as he did in Cleveland. James and Wade are similar players who like to attack the basket to create scoring opportunities. That said, it may not be a popular opinion, but I think LeBron may struggle to top seven assists per game this season. After missing just six games through his first three professional seasons, Danny Granger has missed a total of 35 games with various injuries during the past two years. Still, I'm not ready to label him "injury-prone" just yet considering how well he rebounded in the second half last season. Granger is another do-it-all type of fantasy player who has the rare ability to put up steals, blocks and 3-pointers at the same time. The aforementioned injury concerns have knocked him to the back end of the first round in fantasy drafts, where he could be a nice value pick, especially when considering that he now has a legit point guard in Darren Collison to help create more scoring opportunities.
Most people think of Carmelo Anthony as strictly a scorer, but Melo does so much more for fantasy owners than you might think, adding 6.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 3-pointers and 1.3 steals per game. Anthony's most redeeming fantasy quality, however, is his free throw percentage (83.0 percent in 8.9 attempts per game). Gerald Wallace still gets a bad rap for missing games here and there with minor injuries, but he played in 71 games in 2008-09 and 76 games last season, all but putting those concerns to rest. "Crash" is a special fantasy player who can score and rebound while putting up steals and blocks in bulk. Adding to his statistical diversity, Wallace also hits 3-pointers and doesn't hurt in the percentages. Speaking of special fantasy players, if it weren't for his dismal free throw shooting and lack of 3-point shooting, Josh Smith easily would be a first-round fantasy selection. Still, Smith is a second-round talent given his ability to provide two of the more scarce fantasy categories, steals and blocks. J-Smoove also qualifies at power forward, but you'll likely want to start him at small forward to get the comparative advantage in the shot-blocking category. Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Stephen Jackson all qualify at both shooting guard and small forward, and they are exactly the type of multicategory producers we look for early in the draft.
Luol Deng may have had a nice bounce-back season in 2009-10, but the additions of Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver likely will lead to a decrease in both minutes and production. Since Deng doesn't hit many 3-pointers, much of his value relies on his scoring (17.6) and rebounding (7.3), which are the two categories that a player like Boozer could affect. Deng is still a big part of the Bulls' system, so the decline may be minimal, but it's enough to drop him from Tier 3 to Tier 4 this season. Rashard Lewis will always have a spot in our hearts thanks to his long-distance shooting, but there is no denying that he struggled to coexist with Vince Carter in Orlando last season. Unfortunately, the Magic still have an ultradeep lineup, and VC is still around, so we may have to get used to Lewis' depressed numbers. In fact, Carter has the same problem as Lewis: The Magic have an awfully deep roster with plenty of offensive weapons. They don't need Carter to play 35 minutes per night and score 20 points per game like he used to. Carter doesn't figure to return to dominance unless injuries strike in Orlando. The New York Knicks added a bunch of new faces, including a few who will sap some of Wilson Chandler's playing time and production. With Anthony Randolph at power forward and Danilo Gallinari at small forward, Chandler will have to find minutes as a shooting guard, but he will be challenged by Kelenna Azubuike, Roger Mason and Bill Walker for playing time all season long. Needless to say, he'll struggle to earn 35.7 minutes per game again in 2010-11.
With Wesley Matthews gone and only two injury-prone players (Andrei Kirilenko and Raja Bell) to compete with for minutes at the swing positions, C.J. Miles has some sneaky sleeper potential in Utah this season. Miles put up 10.8 points, 1.3 3-pointers and a steal per game in 28 starts last season and has a great opportunity to earn 30-plus minutes per game under Jerry Sloan in 2010-11. Linas Kleiza spent last season in Greece but returns to find himself in a highly favorable situation for the rebuilding Toronto Raptors. Kleiza is expected to win the starting small forward gig and will have plenty of scoring opportunities, given the lack of proven talent in Toronto this season. Now in Minnesota, Michael Beasley will have an opportunity to earn more minutes and take on more offensive responsibility than ever before. With few proven scoring options, Beasley shouldn't have a hard time posting career highs in nearly every category this season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.