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Way-too-early 2017-18 fantasy basketball rankings: Top 10 SFs

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Now that we’ve looked at the point guards and shooting guards worth targeting in the early and middle rounds of fantasy basketball drafts this coming fall, let’s turn our attention to small forwards. Since we can’t accurately predict where each player will land in free agency or which prospects each team will draft, these rankings will operate under the assumption that all free agents re-sign with their respective teams and will not include any rookies. (Fret not: We’ll have an updated Top 150 after the first major wave of free agency dies down in mid-July.)

Small forward isn’t as shallow as shooting guard, but it’s nowhere deep as point guard. Six of the top 20 players on my way-too-early Top 150 big board are SFs, although there’s a somewhat severe drop-off from there. If you don’t grab one of the elite options in the first two rounds, you may be better off waiting until Rounds 6 or 7, as there isn’t much differentiating many of the small forwards in that range.

While owners need to focus on particular categories with point guards (assists and steals) and shooting guards (points and three-pointers), that’s not the case with small forwards. Many of the top-tier options stuff the box score in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and treys, and as Robert Covington, Otto Porter Jr. and James Johnson proved this season, it’s possible to find such guys in the later rounds or on the waiver wire. Well-roundedness is where it’s at with small forwards in fantasy.

Here’s how the 2017-18 small forward fantasy landscape looks in mid-April for owners in nine-category head-to-head leagues.

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant likely murdered his fantasy owners’ championship chances by going down with a knee injury at the end of February, but on a per-game basis, no player came close to touching the 2013-14 MVP. In his first year with the Golden State Warriors, Durant’s prolific scoring predictably dipped a bit, but he made up for that by smashing his previous career high in shooting efficiency (53.7 percent) while averaging 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.9 triples, a career-high 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals in just 33.4 minutes per night. Durant won’t average 38-plus minutes a game with the Warriors like he did during his heyday in Oklahoma City, but if he continues producing at such an efficient rate, it doesn’t matter. He’s the fourth-ranked player on my way-too-early Top 150 big board, trailing only Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Karl-Anthony Towns.

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Fantasy owners who took a leap of faith by investing a mid-first-round pick in Kawhi Leonard this year were greatly rewarded, as the two-time Defensive Player of the Year went off for a career-high 25.5 points on 48.5 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 triples, 1.8 steals and 0.7 blocks in 33.4 minutes per night. If San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t so resolute about limiting his stars’ minutes—and the Spurs weren’t so reliably dominant every year, which would increase the chances of them being in a competitive playoff race late in the season—Leonard would be even more of a fantasy superstar. As is, though, Leonard still managed to finish fourth in terms of per-game fantasy value, making him a rock-solid mid-first-round pick next season.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

In just his fourth NBA season, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the fifth player in league history to lead his team in points (22.9), rebounds (8.7), assists (5.4), blocks (1.9) and steals (1.6). He did so while shooting a career-high 52.2 percent overall and 77.0 percent from the free-throw line, averaging a personal-best 7.7 freebie attempts per game. If the Greek Freak ever adds a reliable three-point stroke to his repertoire, he’ll become an unstoppable fantasy dynamo in contention for the No. 1 overall pick throughout the next decade. As is, he finished fifth overall in per-game value this year, and with Jabari Parker likely to miss much of the 2017-18 campaign after going down with a torn ACL in early February, Antetokounmpo is bound to put up massive numbers once again. He’s the seventh-ranked player on my overall big board, one spot behind Leonard.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

It may sound crazy, but LeBron James enters the 2017-18 campaign as a fringe first-round pick in 10-team fantasy leagues. Despite averaging 26.4 points on 54.8 percent shooting, a career-best 8.7 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 triples and 1.2 steals in a league-leading 37.8 minutes per game, the four-time MVP finished 12th in per-game fantasy value this season. Considering Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue entered the year openly discussing how he hoped to rein in James’ minutes, fantasy owners can’t expect a repeat performance in terms of his playing time in 2017-18. With the Cavs also unafraid to rest starters late in the season—even if it comes at the expense of their playoff seeding—James could go MIA for fantasy owners at the worst possible time. He’s someone to target around the turn of the first and second round.

5. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler sits on the bench during the start of the team's NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat in Chicago, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Butler was taken out of the starting lineup for comments he made after a Bulls loss. (AP Photo/David Banks)

(AP Photo/David Banks)

The Chicago Bulls’ Three Alphas experiment didn’t go as planned, but Jimmy Butler did everything in his power to drag his moribund squad to the playoffs regardless. Jimmy Buckets blasted off for a career-high 23.9 points on 45.5 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 triples in 37.0 minutes per night despite playing alongside two non-shooters (Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade) in the backcourt for much of the season. Even if the Bulls don’t add more backcourt shooting via the draft or free agency—please, God, make them do so if they don’t opt to trade Butler—the Marquette product should be a safe late first- or early second-round pick, as he finished 10th overall in per-game value this season.

6. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Paul George will likely miss out on a coveted All-NBA spot—and the $70-plus million that would accompany it—but fantasy owners who snagged him with a second-round pick this year can’t be disappointed by the returns. The Fresno State product went off for a career-best 23.7 points on 46.1 percent shooting, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.6 triples and 1.6 steals in 35.9 minutes per night, helping guide the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years. With George set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, he could find himself on the move this summer, but he should maintain second-round value no matter where he lands.

7. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

There’s roughly a full-round gap between Paul George and Gordon Hayward, putting the latter on a tier of his own among small forwards. In a contract year, the Butler product set new career highs in points (21.9), rebounds (5.4) and three-pointers (2.0) while shooting 47.1 percent from the field and chipping in 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals in just 34.5 minutes per game. Both he and George Hill could leave the Utah Jazz this summer in free agency, which makes his 2017-18 outlook difficult to accurately predict until mid-July, but he should maintain late third- or early fourth-round value no matter whether he remains in Utah or signs elsewhere.

8. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony’s six-plus-year tenure in New York could be coming to an end this summer, as he seems increasingly willing to waive his no-trade clause and allow Knicks team president Phil Jackson to ship him elsewhere. Despite the dysfunction that plagued this Knicks this season, Anthony still salvaged a top-60 fantasy campaign, averaging 22.4 points on 43.3 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.0 triples and 0.8 steals in 34.3 minutes per night. If he finds himself in a more competitive situation next season, Anthony could be in line for a bounce-back year, but there’s a full-round gap between he and Hayward on my overall big board.

9. Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets

Nicolas Batum has been a fantasy gold mine for years, as he makes up for his relatively paltry scoring totals with his well-roundedness elsewhere. He did the same in 2016-17, averaging 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.8 triples and 1.1 steals in 34.0 minutes per night, but his dismal 40.3 field-goal percentage caused him to finish outside of the top 50 in per-game fantasy value. If he can push his shooting percentage back closer to 45 than 40, Batum’s versatility should make him an easy fifth- or sixth-round pick in the fall, as the Charlotte Hornets desperately need someone else other than Kemba Walker to help shoulder their offensive load.

10 .Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

The arrival of head coach Mike D’Antoni was a godsend to Trevor Ariza’s fantasy value. The 13-year vet went off for 11.7 points on 40.8 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 triples, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals in 34.7 minutes per night, finishing with the 41st-best fantasy value on a per-game basis league-wide. Ariza tends to be more effective at power forward than small forward—which is an issue with Ryan Anderson blocking his way at the 4—and his game-to-game inconsistency makes him a frustrating player to own. Given his upside in steals and threes, though, he’s well worth a late fifth- or early sixth-round pick in 2017-18.

Honorable mentions

11. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
12. Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
13. Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards
14. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
15. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings

Other positional rankings

Top 10 PGs

Top 10 SGs

All rankings via Basketball Monster are based on nine-category leagues and are current through the end of the regular season. All ownership percentages via ESPN.comAll average draft position and ECR info via FantasyPros.

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