Player Rankings: Small Forwards (1-15)
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1. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
Well, that didn't take long. Three years in the league and LeBron James is the unquestioned number one pick in fantasy basketball and will be for a long time to come. The numbers from last year: 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.6 threes, 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game to go with 48 percent shooting from the field and 73.8 percent from the line. You should close your mouth before you drool all over the page. Seriously, that's nasty. The scary part about James' game is that it should still get better. He could easily become an 80 percent free throw shooter and if he decided that blocking shots was a priority, you think he couldn't pick that up as well? While it is more likely that he adds improved free throw shooting to his repertoire, James has the ability to do whatever he wants in this game. In the fantasy game, you won't have that luxury unless you have the number one pick because that is where LeBron should be going in every draft this year.
Bottom Line: The King. LBJ. Bron Bron. Call him what you will, he is the number one fantasy player in the game today. Draft him and know that he is helping in every category except turnovers.
2. Shawn Marion - Phoenix Suns
In many fantasy formats last season, it was Shawn Marion, not LeBron James, who was the top ranked fantasy player. Marion is amazing in that he helps in almost every category and yet does not commit many turnovers. With the best players in the game, it is almost a certainty that they will have a high volume of turnovers by virtue of how often the ball is in their hands. Not so with the Matrix. His numbers were dazzling last season: 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.2 threes, 2.0 steals, 1.7 blocks and just 1.5 turnovers per game on 52.5 percent shooting from the field and 80.9 from the line. The only stat he doesn't help with is assists (just 1.8 per game). Well, eight out of nine isn't bad, right? How will the Matrix fare this season? We can expect a slight drop off. With Amare Stoudemire coming back and a healthy Kurt Thomas, Marion's points will likely drop back to the 19 point per game range, and he may lose half a rebound or so per game. Marion shouldn't have to log 40 plus minutes per game with these two back in the Phoenix frontcourt. He will still have Steve Nash and Boris Diaw passing him the ball, so Marion will enjoy plenty of high percentage shots.
Bottom Line: Marion is a top five pick, and in leagues that count turnovers, you could argue top three. Wherever you take Marion, you will be getting fantasy stud who helps everywhere except assists. But, hey, that's what point guards are for.
3. Andrei Kirilenko - Utah Jazz
Andrei Kirilenko is a draft day dilemma. He does so many things so well, you would think he has to be a top five pick. Then you look at his games played and realize he logged just 41 games in 2004-05 and 69 last season. Every player in the league has injury risk. Kirilenko has had some bad luck with a sprained ankle and broken wrist. His knee is fine as was seen in his 220 blocks last year. His back spasms are a concern if they become chronic. It's too early to tell if that's the case. When healthy, AK-47 is a monster. Last year he averaged 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 3.2 blocks per game. His percentages slipped a bit last year (46 percent from the field and 69.9 from the line) but after a sloppy first two months, AK righted the ship and returned to his normal high 40s from the field and mid 70s from the line. This year, he should maintain his high percentages. He will once again use his long arms and impeccable timing to pick off passes and swat shots. With Deron Williams maturing as a point guard and Derek Fisher on the team, he could see an increase in scoring from better passing.
Bottom Line: Injury concerns could let Kirilenko slip to the end of or even out of the first round. If this happens, enjoy the bargain and grab him up. Like LeBron and Marion, he is another small forward, multi-cat monster.
Update: AK-47 has added some muscle during the off-season and comes into camp in the best shape of his life. His new dedication to health and nutrition should help keep him healthy, making him less of a risk entering fantasy drafts.
4. Peja Stojakovic - New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
After playing for the Kings and Pacers last season, Peja finds himself in new surroundings this year. Now working alongside Chris Paul, there is every reason to expect Peja to look very good in his new uniform. With Paul's ability to breakdown defenses and kick to the open shooter and Peja's ability to shoot over the top of most defenders, we should see an improvement across the board for Peja. While his overall numbers weren't what we have come to expect from Peja, he certainly improved once he moved to Indiana, averaging 19.5 points, 2.3 threes and 6.3 rebounds with only 1.3 turnovers on 46.1 percent shooting from the field and 90.3 from the line. This year, he should easily top 20 points, hit 2.5 threes per game and provide you with great percentages. His rebounding won't blow you away and defense isn't why you draft him, though he is capable of a steal per game. Enjoy Peja's strengths and his low turnovers. He remains a solid pick.
Bottom Line: Draft Peja for his scoring, threes and great percentages. The Hornets will be looking his way for scoring early and often this year, making him a low-risk second or third round pick in fantasy drafts.
5. Rashard Lewis - Seattle Supersonics
For a 6’10” player, Lewis has incredible touch on his shot from the outside and will be one of the best three point shooters in the game for many years to come. Playing in the fast-paced Sonics offense will help and with opposing defenses keying on Ray Allen and sharp-eye Luke Ridnour looking for him, Lewis will get his fair share of open looks. Expect numbers similar to last year when he averaged 20.1 points, 1.8 threes, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks on 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 81.8 percent from the line. His rebounding and shot-blocking are weak for a player of his size, but he makes up for it with his great percentages, modest turnovers and great outside shooting. He is essentially a Peja Stojakovic clone with fewer points and more steals.
Bottom Line: Lewis will probably be available later than he should. Jump all over him if he's available in the late third to fourth rounds in your draft.
6. Gerald Wallace - Charlotte Bobcats
Gerald Wallace exploded on the fantasy scene last season. His numbers were dazzling: he averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.1 blocks per game with 53.8 percent shooting from the field and 61.4 percent from the line. The free throw shooting was poor—and is consistent with his career average—but, man, the numbers everywhere else were just sick. Wallace was the only player in the league to average over two steals and two blocks per game. Those numbers alone elevate him to the elite. But he can score, rebound and shoots a very good percentage to boot. Not to mention his turnovers are low as well. He is an amazing athlete with incredible quickness and leaping ability. He is not afraid of contact and has the toughness to once again provide elite defensive stats. So what's the catch? Injuries. Wallace has never played more than 70 games in a season. If he can maintain his health, he could move to near the top of this list.
Bottom Line: On talent alone, Wallace is one of the best players on this list. He is a tenacious defender and is a great finisher around the rim. If you are looking to capitalize on great defensive numbers from one player, Wallace is your man. Just be ready for a few trips to the injured list.
7. Ron Artest - Sacramento Kings
Ron Artest starts with a clean slate this season. How many times do you figure you'll read that leading up to the season? Well, it's true and it's not. Artest played great defense for the Kings once he arrived and won over the Arco faithful. As a King, he averaged 16.9 points, 1.5 threes, 5.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks on a ghastly 38.3 percent from the field and 71.7 percent from the line. These numbers should improve this year. Part of the reason for Artest's low field goal percentage was his penchant for three-pointers. If he can cut back on his attempts, from five to around three, his overall shooting percentage should climb. Artest's value is that he can score, pass, hit some threes and is a born thief (career average 2.1 steals per game). Sounds like one of the top players in fantasy. But fantasy owners have long memories, and those who took him early in either of the past two seasons will be very wary of doing so again. That kind of doubt can be contagious. Take advantage if Artest slips in your draft.
Bottom Line: A high risk/high reward pick, Artest could pay huge dividends if he can keep himself out of trouble this season. All of his numbers should go up so long as he plays to his strengths—incredible defense and a nice mid-range jumper—and is more judicious with his shot selection.
8. Lamar Odom - Los Angeles Lakers
Often maligned as an underachiever, Odom provides excellent fantasy numbers at a good price. The public perception of Odom—often hurt, doesn't try hard—depresses his value. This is to your advantage. The numbers don't lie. No, Odom doesn't score as much as he could (14.8 per game last year), but since he does everything else so well, his owners shouldn't sweat that. After all, points are easily found in fantasy. Finding a player eligible at both forward spots who can average both ten rebounds and five assists is not. Odom is also solid on the defensive end, averaging almost a block and steal per game last year. He is a deft ballhandler and shoots an excellent percentage from the field. Don't overlook Odom on draft day this year. His combination of shooting, rebounding, passing and solid defense is a rare find.
Bottom Line: Play up his reputation as an underachiever and let your league mates pass on Odom. Then swoop in and steal him in the 4th round.
9. Josh Smith - Atlanta Hawks
Move over small forwards, there's a new a kid in the top ten, and his name is Josh Smith. He started the season slowly but blew up the last few months. Post-All-Star break Josh averaged 15 points, 1.1 threes, 7.8 boards, 4.1 assists, 3.1 blocks and 1.0 steals. The blocked shots we expected; the added three-point shooting and assists were the shockers. It goes to show how much talent this kid has that he could suddenly add two categories to his repertoire. The best part? J-Smoove is only going to get better. He is becoming frighteningly similar to Andrei Kirilenko in his statistical aptitude. Smith won't go cheap this year as shot-blocking is always a premium in fantasy. Getting blocks from a guard-eligible player makes him all the more valuable. Add to this the possibility that he could be AK-47's equal at a cheaper price and you have a player to target. Let's just hope he can excel in the first half of the season as well as he has in the second.
Bottom Line: Smith is gold for teams in need of blocked shots—better still, in most leagues he can provide them from the guard spot as well as forward. Last year, he was a steal in the middle rounds. This year you'll have to go earlier to get him.
10. Carmelo Anthony - Denver Nuggets
If you are looking for scoring from your small forward, Carmelo is your man. He is a pure scorer, able to stroke jumpers from the wing and blow past most defenders. His first step and body control around the basket make him almost impossible to stop once he gets close to the rim. He developed very nicely in George Karl's offense and should continue to grow this year. Last year he averaged 26.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 80.8 from the line. His high volume of shots and free throws made make him an extremely valuable contributor in those categories. His defense and three-point shooting could stand improvement but remember this kid is only 21. He will just keep getting better and better. Don't be shocked to see him boost his rebounds this season. He was an excellent rebounder at Syracuse.
Bottom Line: We'd like Carmelo to improve his rebounding but can live with the great percentages and the fact that he will once again be among the league leaders in scoring.
11. Richard Jefferson - New Jersey Nets
Who loves Jason Kidd? Richard Jefferson does. Jefferson's offensive efficiency improved across the board from 2004-05 when Kidd missed the season with microfracture surgery. His field goal percentage climbed from .422 to .493, his turnovers dropped from 4.0 to 2.2 and while his scoring fell from 22.2 to 19.5, he took far fewer shots to get those points. This tells us that Jefferson can create his own offense if he has to but is far more efficient when he has a master like Jason Kidd setting him up. This year, he will remain the number two option on offense and will again score about 20 points, grab seven boards, hit almost one three, dish close to four assists per game and get you great percentages from the field and line. He won't help much in the defensive categories, so look elsewhere for blocks and steals.
Bottom Line: Jefferson is a model of efficiency who provides 50 percent shooting from the field and 80 percent from the line. He has the potential to score more than he does but so long as Vince Carter is healthy, Jefferson will remain a 20 PPG guy.
12. Caron Butler - Washington Wizards
Butler emerged as a stud small forward last season. He really turned it on after the All-Star break, averaging 19.3 points, 1.1 threes, 7.0 boards and 2.0 steals per game with 47.8 percent shooting from the field and a stellar 86.7 percent from the line. These are pretty good numbers for someone who is the third scoring option in Washington behind Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Look for more of the same from Butler this year. Defensively, Butler will use his great anticipation and quickness to pick off passes. He is versatile offensively, scoring inside and out. Caron has found a new confidence in his three-point shooting last season, upping his attempts and percentage after the break. This is good news for his owners. Expect somewhere around 17-19 points with 6-7 boards, nearly 2 steals and a three per game with excellent percentages from Butler this season.
Bottom Line: Caron's overall numbers somewhat mask his excellence in the second half of last year. If he lasts into the middle rounds of your draft, you will have a bargain.
13. Andre Iguodala - Philadelphia 76ers
Talent may not grow on trees, but it does grow on Andre Iguodala. While he is known for his steals and high flying dunks, AI2 is capable of filling a stat sheet on any given night. Last year's numbers hinted at the promise to come: 12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 threes per game to go with 50 percent shooting from the field and 75.4 percent shooting from the line. What's holding him back? The fact that he is the third option behind notorious gluttons Allen Iverson and Chris Webber. If his teammates looked for him more often, Iguodala would score much more frequently. Draft him for his all-around contributions and hope that either by injury or game plan he gets more looks on offense.
Bottom Line: Even if he remains the third option for the bulk of the season, his ability to rebound, steal and shoot a high percentage will endear Iguodala to his owners.
14. Ricky Davis - Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky started 68 of his 78 games at shooting guard last season and the rest at small forward. This year will be different. With Randy Foye ripping up the summer leagues, Davis shifts to small forward. The fantasy impact is minor. Ricky's splits between the two positions are nearly identical. With gunners like Foye and Mike James on board, Ricky could lose a few shot attempts. His assists should continue to delight at around five per game. He totaled more assists (394) than anyone on this list not named LeBron or Lamar. With fewer shot attempts, his field goal percentage could rise as that has been the case historically with Davis. If you draft Ricky, you'll get a high teens scorer who drops dimes like rhymes and shoots good percentages.
Bottom Line: Ricky may lose a few shot attempts with Randy Foye and Mike James joining the Timberwolves, but his assists and shooting percentage should rise. Ricky is an excellent option for assists and scoring and will provide steals and some threes as well.
15. Morris Peterson - Toronto Raptors
Coming off of his best professional season, Morris Peterson should see a little more love from fantasy owners come draft day this year. With Chris Bosh getting double-teamed so often, Peterson took advantage of the open space outside and averaged 16.8 points, 2.2 threes, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. His field goal percentage (.436) was very solid for a player who attempted as many threes as he did. Peterson is also money from the line (.820). With a drive and dish point guard like T.J. Ford now on the Raptors and Chris Bosh commanding even more attention from opposing defenses, Peterson will again be a fine option for points, threes and steals.
Bottom Line: Mo Pete has finally achieved the consistency his owners craved. His numbers really took off toward the end of last year. If his minutes reach the upper 30s, he could approach 20 points per game.
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