When it comes to small forwards, we're looking for a lot of the same things that we look for in shooting guards: multicategory contributors at the top of the draft and scorers with 3-point shooting and steals potential in the mid-to-late rounds.
To be an elite small forward candidate, you'll need to be able to put up numbers in multiple fantasy categories. These are players who can give you the points, 3s, steals and free throw percentage we typically covet in a small forward, but can add rebounds or assists (or both). It's this type of do-it-all guard and swingman that we should be targeting early in our drafts. In the middle rounds, we can fill out our rosters with prototypes like Wesley Matthews or Trevor Ariza, depending on need. Lucky for us, there are quite a few athletic small forwards (many of whom also qualify at shooting guard) in the first three tiers who can contribute across the board.
McKitish's small forward tiers
It's a toss-up between Kevin Durant and LeBron James for the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts this year. Personally, I like Durant by the slimmest of margins, but there is very little risk in either player. Take LeBron if you prefer field goal percentage (.510 percent), assists (7.0) and steals (1.6), or go with Durant if you value free throw shooting (88 percent), 3-pointers (1.9), scoring (27.7) and blocks (1.0). Both are durable and consistent, and you simply can't go wrong building your team around either one.
A top-25 fantasy option before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season, Rudy Gay averaged 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers with terrific percentages in 54 games before the injury. Gay is reportedly fully recovered from last season's injury, making him one of the league's best multicategory producers. Prior to last season, he had been quite durable, so while there is some risk here, fantasy owners should feel comfortable drafting Gay in the early rounds. Danny Granger managed to suit up for 79 games last season, but struggled to produce the kind of numbers that we've become accustomed to over the years. After finishing the season with 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.0 3-pointers per game, most feel that Granger is no longer the first-rounder he used to be. That said, he's still only a year removed from showing that kind of talent. Granger is still an injury risk, but he makes for a nice high-upside value pick in the third round. Dorell Wright made the most of his first opportunity as an everyday starter, finishing 25th on our Player Rater with 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.4 3-pointers in 38.4 minutes per game. A streaky shooter at times, Wright cannot be counted on for support in the percentages, but his owners won't care much given the statistical versatility he provides. As with many breakout performers, owners should tread carefully in expecting too much from Wright in 2011-12. He'll be a fine fantasy selection, but he's always been an injury risk and may not be able to duplicate his career highs from a season ago.
Every now and then, Andrei Kirilenko reminds us why he was once such a highly rated fantasy prospect earlier in his career, but his erratic play and injury concerns have continuously frustrated fantasy owners through the years. Now entering his 11th season in the league as a free agent, Kirilenko's age and injury history make him a late-round fantasy option only at this stage in his career. Once an elite shooting guard/small forward in fantasy leagues, Brandon Roy's chronic knee injuries have derailed what had promised to be a brilliant career. Roy managed just 12.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 3-pointers in 27.9 minutes and suited up in just 47 games in 2010-11. Roy is clearly not the same player he once was, and fantasy owners need to tread carefully since his knees are unlikely to improve as his career continues. As a starter in Milwaukee last season, John Salmons posted a balanced 14.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 3-pointers in 35 minutes per game. But after a trade to the Kings, Salmons will have to contend with Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, DeMarcus Cousins and J.J. Hickson for touches. That said, we might have to temper our expectations for Salmons in Sacramento.
Danilo Gallinari struggled to play through an ankle injury after he was traded to Denver, posting just 14.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 3-pointers in 14 games with the Nuggets. But don't let his somewhat pedestrian numbers with Denver fool you. Nuggets head coach George Karl has already stated that he's looking for Gallinari to have an increased role in 2011-12, and the 23-year-old should be primed for a big season with Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith stuck overseas. Nicolas Batum showed plenty of promise in his third season as a pro, with 12.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.5 3-pointers per game. The versatile swingman is a potential rising star in the league, if he continues to progress the way he has during his first three seasons. Omri Casspi was traded to Cleveland in exchange for J.J. Hickson during the offseason. Casspi joins the Cavaliers, where he'll get a chance to start at small forward. A smooth shooter from downtown, Casspi could provide considerable value as a scorer and 3-point shooter for fantasy leaguers this season. Wesley Johnson had an underwhelming rookie season, averaging 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers in 26.2 minutes per game. He still needs to be more assertive on the offensive end, but fantasy owners have to love the potential 1/1/1 in steals, blocks and 3-pointers he could provide with increased minutes in his second season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and was named the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @bmckitish.