If you have had the luxury of the first pick in a fantasy basketball draft the past two years, the decision came down to the two best players, who happen to be small forwards, on the planet, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. End of story. No other answer is acceptable, do not pass go, forget the $200 dollars, and just pick one or the other before you embarrass yourself. Who goes first now can create quite a heated debate and you can’t go wrong with either. It just comes down to how you want to structure your team.
My line of thinking when drafting from the first position is to lay a solid base for my team in all categories since I wont be picking again for quite some time. I’m on the Durant side simply because he blocks more shots than LeBron (1.2 vs. 0.8) and hits more threes and at a higher percentage (2.0 at .387% vs. 0.9 at .362%). In turn, you can decide to go with LeBron because he averages 2.7 more assists per game and edges out Durant in steals and field goal percentage. There is no wrong answer when you’re talking about drafting the two best players in the world. With that said there is no need to sway the tide in either direction so I’m throwing the stats up and you decide for yourself.
There can be only one!
Age / G / GS / MP / FG / FGA / FG% / 3P / 3PA / 3P% / FT / FTA / FT% / ORB / DRB / TRB / AST / STL / BLK/ TO / PF / PTS
Kevin Durant , Oklahoma City Thunder
23 / 66 / 66 / 38.6 / 9.7 / 19.7 / .496 / 2.0 / 5.2 / .387 / 6.5 / 7.6 / .860 / 0.6 / 7.4 / 8.0 / 3.5 / 1.3 / 1.2 / 3.8 / 2.0 / 28.0
LeBron James, Miami Heat
27 / 62 / 62 / 37.5 / 10.0 / 18.9 / .531 / 0.9 / 2.4 / .362 / 6.2 / 8.1 / .771 / 1.5 / 6.4 / 7.9 / 6.2 / 1.9 / 0.8 / 3.4 / 1.5 / 27.1
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
J-Smoove, as the kids like to call him, is in a tier all his own as his elite level shot blocking from the small forward position separates him from the rest of the pack. Smith averaged 1.7 blocks per game last season, which is well below his highest blocks per game average (2.9), but still good enough to tie him for 8th place on the season leader list. No other small forward made the top 20 and that alone speaks volumes about how valuable he can be in fantasy basketball circles. Word on the street is Smith will spend most of his time at the three this year instead of masquerading as a power forward as he had in the past. This should lead to an uptick across the board in most fantasy categories as his game is more suited to slashing his way to the basket for a monster dunk than banging in the paint with the big boys. Look for Josh Smith to be off the board by the tenth pick.
In tier three we have some solid vets in different stages of their careers all performing at a high level every game out.
Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies
Rudy Gay is like the Swiss Army knife of small forwards as he contributes in every category and rarely hurts you in any of them. After missing the last 28 games of the 2010-11 season with a shoulder injury, Rudy came back with a vengeance and picked up right where he left off by dropping almost exactly identical stats as before going down. At 25, Gay is just hitting his prime as a player so I wouldn’t be surprised to See him build on his 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game from last year. If you are in the market for a small forward with upside in the early 20s don’t hesitate to grab him.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
I won’t hide the fact that I’m not a fan of Carmelo Anthony’s game, but I’ll try to keep it cordial and stick to the facts. Since Anthony entered the league he has always been known as a big time scorer, so it came as bit of a surprise to see him only score 22.6 points per game last season. To be fair, he did miss some games to injury, oh and that whole Linsanity thing that ate New York happened, plus with the Knicks lineup being in a state of flux all season long, all of it could’ve been a contributing factor to the inconsistency. Look for Melo to get back into the flow and regain his status among the league’s elite scorers (ball hog, sorry I couldn’t resist). If you want to draft Melo, make plans to grab him in the mid-twenties; 25 sounds about right.
Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
It seems like just yesterday, Danny Granger the University of New Mexico product, was drafted 17th overall by the Indiana Pacers. Now at 29-years-old and entering his eighth NBA season, Granger is the Pacers leader on the court and in the box scores. After a strong showing in the playoffs against the Miami Heat, Granger time and again proved he was the heart of the team, and wouldn’t let them back down to the future champs. This bodes well for the upcoming season since Danny has grown as a player and could be well on his way to taking his game to another level. With the Pacers improved roster he can no longer be considered “The Lone Granger,” but he will still put up 20-plus point games and knock down threes with the best of them. It would be a bonus if he could improve upon some of his peripheral stats (1.8 assists and 1.0 steals), but he is still a solid producer all around. Granger should be drafted in the mid-thirties, but could prove to be far more valuable.
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
At 34 years of age, Paul Pierce is a little long in the tooth, but still getting it done at a high level. Even with his minutes in decline (34.0) last season, he is still producing at almost the same rate as previous seasons: 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.6 three-pointers, and 1.1 steals per game, which isn’t bad for an old man. I mean what can I say, the guy brings it every night, rarely misses games, and is usually saddled with locking down the opposition’s best wing player. Father Time has been kind to Paul, so I would suggest you keep drafting him in the mid-to-late forties as he should still be a very productive player. Too bad we cant say the same for his BFF “Employee Number 8.”
Andre Igoudala, Denver Nuggets
Back with my man Andre! Iggy is finally free of being forced into an “Alpha Dog” role with the Philadelphia 76ers, and can now run with the Denver Nuggets’ wild pack of athletes. There’s no doubt Igoudala is a perfect fit for coach George Karl’s running offense and his full court pressure trapping defense. Being in such an up-tempo offense, it wont come as a surprise if Dre has a career year stuffing the stat sheet with assists, blocks, and rebounds galore. We might see his scoring drop off a bit as Denver has many options, but it should be more than offset by his all-around game. Igoudala is a rock solid pick at the 40 spot.
In earlier tiers we have mostly the same guys that have been getting it done for years, but the players in tier four look like they could turn out be the future of the position.
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
Tyreke, Tyreke, Tyreke (shaking head), where do we start? The same guy who in his rookie season looked like the second coming of LeBron has declined every season since. He is still great no doubt, but for a player to regress in the formative years where most players make the biggest leaps in production is worrisome. When it gets down to it, we don’t know what to expect going into next season and that’s the precise reason his ADP has dropped so far in in the last two years. My vote is Reggie’s little brother gets his act together and has a big bounce back year, but since I cant see the future, I wont bet the farm on it. Evans is a great pick in the early 50s and if he can put up another 20/5/5 season consider it a major steal.
Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers
Batum is one of my favorite players to own due to his across the board production, but we are still waiting for the big “breakout” season. While he doesn’t contribute on an elite level in any one category, he is a plus type player in virtually every fantasy aspect. Last year we were teased with Nicolas having some huge games early on, but that gave way to bouts of inconsistency. He may never be a full-blown NBA star, but as a “glue guy” type of player there are few better in the NBA. If you need proof, all you have to do is gaze at the numbers I lay before you: 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.8 threes, 1.0 blocks and steals a piece. This may be his standard line for years to come, or he could just be scratching the surface. If it’s the latter, do you want someone else to reap the benefits or are you willing to spend an early 50s pick on him?
In this tier we have a vet trying to bring the new look Brooklyn Nets back into contention (or he will be shipped off to Siberia, all hail Prokorov) and another trying to hold his team afloat with their superstar out for most of the coming season.
Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets
I’ve been a fan of Gerald’s since he was a youngster collecting garbage minutes with the Kings, even back then you could see he was going balls to the wall at a 100 MPH. Gerald or “Crash,” as he has been dubbed, plays with reckless abandon sometimes to his own detriment as he has missed significant time over the years with injuries. He does always seem to return with the same level of play, but he’s no spring chicken anymore. If you break down the numbers you will see the decline in Gerald’s scoring (13.8) and especially blocks (0.6) as he used to deliver Josh Smith-type production from the same position. Decline aside, he is still a wily vet who will produce enough to remain a valuable fantasy contributor. Getting a full training camp in with his new team (shouts to Brooklyn, yo) could be just what he needs for a little Crash revival type of season. Mr. Wallace should be a nice addition to any fantasy team picking in the 48-52 range.
Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
Deng, ever the iron man, led the league in minutes played at 39.4 per game and could easily match or exceed it once again with Derrick Rose out for most of the season. With the crazy amount of minutes Luol has been playing you would at first assume he would receive a boost in production, but this is not the case. While he hasn’t plummeted of a cliff by any means, his numbers have taken a small dip. This is probably related to him being the Bulls’ best defender at multiple positions and therefore expending a great deal of energy on that side of the ball. Unfortunately, this season we might see more of the same with Derrick Rose out and Deng looks to be the Bulls’ de facto leader and someone they need on the floor to be successful. One would have to think at some point all of these minutes Deng is playing might come back to bite the Bulls in the rear. Until then, they will keep running him out there and we should keep drafting him in the mid-50s until the wheels fall off.
And with tier six we see two sharpshooting young guns looking to repeat or improve upon their respective coming out parties.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Gallo has a great future ahead of him in the NBA and has shown it with solid play on the court. While injuries have partially derailed him early on, look to this coming season for him to have his best season as a pro. With a full healthy season, Danilo should improve upon the 14.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 three pointers, and 1.0 steals per game he put up last season. The area we need to see Gallinari improve on to become the best fantasy monster he can be are those pesky percentage (.414% on FGs and .328% from 3PT) categories. Even with a slight improvement, Danilo will be far more valuable then his ADP of 59.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Hayward started off the 2011-12 season slow, but heated up after the All-Star break to end the regular season with a scorching April where he averaged 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 three pointers, and 0.9 steals per game. The most impressive part was the blistering shooting percentages (50.7 % FG and 49.0% from three-land) he put up while helping to propel the young Jazz into the playoffs. With last year as a confidence builder look for the sharpshooting Hayward to improve upon his sophomore season and pick up right where he left off. Gordon will have to contend with Marvin Williams for playing time and could even slide to the SG spot on occasion if the Jazz decide go with a larger lineup, but have no doubt he is their starting SF and is in line for 30 plus minutes on a nightly basis. Hayward is being drafted in the early 70s and will make a solid addition to any fantasy team, especially if you need to add a player that shoots above average percentages.
In tier seven resides one of fantasy basketball’s all-time greats returning to the NBA after playing overseas and a rookie who could turn into that exact type of fantasy gold as well.
Andrei Kirilenko, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kirilenko was a fantasy darling for years with the Utah Jazz because of his mixture of scoring, blocks, rebounds, assists, and steals. After a stellar season out of the NBA where he led CSKA Moscow to the Euroleague Final, was named the competition’s MVP, while earning an All-Euroleague First Team selection, and won the Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year award, AK47 is now back in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves and appears locked and loaded with another great fantasy season in his sights. While injuries have slowed him down a little, Kirilenko will still be a starter and should see around 30 minutes per game, so we should expect more of his usual across the board production. Look for Dre to put up close to 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1.5 blocks per game. Kirilenko is getting drafted in the late 80s and barring injury should be a solid later round pick up.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
The do-it-all forward out of the University of Kentucky should see big minutes right off the bat with the bottom-dwelling Charlotte Bobcats. It’s hard to predict exactly how college stats translate to the NBA, but MKG with his all-around skill should produce immediately in several categories. I think we can expect Kidd-Gilchrist to put up around 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. He needs to improve on his three-point shooting, but his other percentage categories (FG and FT) should be solid. The Gerald Wallace-Shane Battier hybrid should be a great pick up in the late-80s to mid-90s in standard leagues, possibly higher in dynasty leagues as MKG looks like he could turn out to be the ultimate fantasy glue guy type of player.
In a very deep position as small forward, picks such as these in the later rounds are a little bit of a toss up, as plenty of guys could outperform their draft status.
Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
Chandler only played in eight NBA games last season spending most of his time overseas (due to the lockout) with the Zhejiang Lions where he put up some monster games averaging out to 26.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per contest. Now back with the NBA, Wilson looks to be coming off the bench backing up the SF and SG positions, but with his across-the-board production in a fast-paced offense such as Denver’s, the numbers should be there to make him a valuable later round pick.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
For a rookie to even get playing time on a team coached by Greg Popovich is an achievement on its own, but the praise he bestowed upon the youngster might be a minor miracle. I could now spout off stats and counter with the areas of his game he needs to work on, but it is nowhere near as telling as a hard-nosed coach like Pop preaching the good word about a rookie. His ADP is around 140, but Pop said he is on his way to stardom and that’s enough for me to make sure I draft him in all of my leagues going forward.
Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets
In his first season in the NBA, Chandler worked his way into Kevin McHale’s lineup (and his heart) with his all-out hustle and energy on defense paired with his high basketball IQ. The fans (including me) just liked to watch him throw down high flying dunks on fools who didn’t think he could get that high up with each dunk being his biggest contribution to the NBA and society as a whole dispelling the myth that white men can’t jump; we are all in debt to Chandler. Enough of Parsons making the world a better place by breaking racial stereotypes through the magic of dunking. What about his fantasy upside? Well, in 28.6 minutes per game he put up a respectable 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 three pointers per game. With MchHale’s trust and the SF spot all his own now that Chase Budinger is with the Minnesota Timberwolves, look for Parsons to build on his rookie season. Chandler is going undrafted (a mistake) in most standard leagues, but expect him to be a hot waiver wire pick up early on in the season just as last year.
Royce White, Houston Rockets
Royce is one of my favorite deep league picks coming into this coming fantasy season due to his versatile skill set. How valuable he will end up being is still up in the air since we just don’t know how much playing time he will get on a young Rockets team entering a transition year. In fantasy circles his college numbers are drool-worthy, as he is a nightly triple-double threat with his ball handling ability from the SF/PF spot that is reminiscent of a young Anthony Mason or Lamar Odom. If his minutes do approach 30 a night, expect him to put up close to 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. Royce is a great end of draft stash in standard 10-12 team settings and possibly even a higher pick in dynasty leagues as he has all the makings of a future fantasy stud.
Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers; Dorell Wright, Philadelphia 76ers; Al Harrington, Orlando Magic; Jared Dudley, Phoenix Suns