By Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the 2022-23 NBA season quickly approaches, it’s time for fantasy managers to begin digging in on preparation. Part of that process is breaking down the player pool by position and identifying targets, fades and late-round values who could end up paying major dividends over the course of an 82-game schedule.
Below, we’ve identified the top-24 targets at small forward in eight-category roto leagues for the 2022-23 fantasy basketball season. Keep in mind that these rankings are subject to change before we get to Opening Night, but they’re based on RotoWire’s 2022-23 roto league projections. To avoid confusion, we’ve opted to include each player in only one position group, even if they’re eligible at multiple spots in Yahoo leagues.
Small forward is one of the more top-heavy positions in the NBA. Jayson Tatum, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are clearly in Tier 1. Kawhi Leonard, from a talent perspective, is with that trio, but his injury woes push him down into a second-round selection. After that, there’s a handful of guys vying for All-Star spots.
One standout among that group is the reigning Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. The Florida State product hit the ground running and was a starting-caliber fantasy player from Day 1. Even with mild improvement — particularly as a three-point shooter — Barnes should easily push for a top-35 finish. The only thing holding him back may be the considerable talent around him on the Raptors’ roster, headlined by Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby.
However, the position quickly devolves into role players — most of whom are three-and-D options. Think Mikal Bridges, Herbert Jones or Anunoby. You need guys like that on your roster, but make sure not to overpay for players who don’t have secure roles.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Tatum is one of the safest bets in fantasy. He’ll continue being the No. 1 option for a team that went to the NBA Finals last year, and he’s just now entering his prime. Draft him with confidence in the late first round.
LeBron James, Lakers
James is coming off his best fantasy season — fourth in per-game production — since his final year in Miami. However, his absences are becoming an issue. He’s averaging just 55.8 appearances per year since joining the Lakers. Regardless, James is still draftable at the end of the first round.
Kevin Durant, Nets
Durant, without question, is one of the best fantasy players available when healthy. He hasn’t ranked lower than eighth in per-game value since his rookie year. However, he’s appeared in just 90 games in two years since recovering from a torn Achilles. His now-rescinded trade request also clouds his situation. How committed is he to play big minutes and through light injury?
Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
Leonard didn’t play last year as he recovered from a torn ACL. He’s an established risk. He’s dealt with persistent knee issues for years, and he’s a candidate to sit out back-to-backs. The two-time Finals MVP produces first-round value when available, but getting more than 60 games out of him should be considered a victory.
Scottie Barnes, Raptors
The reigning Rookie of the Year, Barnes showed off a diverse skillset in the egalitarian Raptors offense. While his three-ball is a work in progress, he ranked 70th in per-game value behind 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks. He’ll improve, but he’s still fighting for touches with Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
Jimmy Butler, Heat
Butler has upside for first-round value when healthy, but persistent missed games are a theme of his career. He’s played more than 59 games once in the past five seasons, resulting in him topping out at 20th in total fantasy value (two seasons ago). Optimistic fantasy managers can take him in the late second round, but the safer bet is to try to snag him in the third.
Khris Middleton, Bucks
Middleton has been a model of consistency for the Bucks, ranking between 33rd-35th in per-game fantasy value in each of the past three years. Nothing is expected to change this season, and the Bucks are one of the safest teams to target in fantasy.
DeMar DeRozan, Bulls
DeRozan is coming off a shocking career year for a beat-up Chicago squad. Is it sustainable? Maybe, but you shouldn’t pay up with that assumption. Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams and Nikola Vucevic are all starting the year healthy.
Brandon Ingram, Pelicans
Ingram regressed as a shooter last year, which hurt his fantasy value. Maybe he can recover, but the addition of Zion Williamson back into the picture, plus a full season of CJ McCollum means Ingram’s usage is muddied more than ever. He’s still going to be a focal point of the offense, but they’ll need him less than ever.
Jerami Grant, Trail Blazers
After two seasons leading the Pistons in scoring, Grant will slip back into a smaller role with the Blazers, where he’ll be competing with Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic for touches. He still has top-100 upside, but expectations need to be adjusted.
Mikal Bridges, Suns
Bridges is one of the better three-and-D options in the NBA, but it hasn’t translated to great fantasy production. He’s still behind Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton in the Suns' offensive pecking order. Bridges has a high floor, but it seems unlikely he’s going to start taking touches away from that trio.
OG Anunoby, Raptors
Despite increased usage compared to 2020-21, Anunoby regressed last season as a fantasy asset due to a decrease in all three of his shooting percentages, with the forward slashing 44/36/75. Still, he’s a core part of the team and is young enough to keep improving, so fantasy managers shouldn’t feel a need to shy away this year.
Andrew Wiggins, Warriors
Wiggins took a step back in fantasy last season, but much of that was due to his career-worst free-throw percentage (63.4%). Still, he has a relatively high floor as an established part of the Warriors’ offense, and he’s a safe option around pick 100 in most drafts.
Miles Bridges, Free Agent
Until Bridges’ legal situation is resolved, his fantasy value is completely unknown.
Franz Wagner, Magic
The No. 8 overall pick last season was more NBA-ready than most expected and his 79 games played allowed him to rank 59th in total fantasy value. He should get better this season, but his usage rate could actually decrease with Markelle Fultz back and Paolo Banchero in the fold.
Josh Hart, Trail Blazers
He's coming off a career year, though it was fueled by injuries to teammates in New Orleans and a tanking situation in Portland. The Trail Blazers are relatively thin, so he could still play 30-plus minutes, but he probably won’t be asked to do as much as last season.
Jae’Sean Tate, Rockets
A role piece in Houston’s rebuild, Tate should maintain at least sixth-man minutes, but his ceiling is low with Jabari Smith ahead of him on the depth chart. Tate will also be competing for time with Eric Gordon — a strong candidate to be traded at some point — Kenyon Martin Jr., Usman Garuba and rookie Tari Eason.
Herbert Jones, Pelicans
Jones, a rookie last season, rounded into form from December on, averaging 10.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.5 combined steals-plus-blocks in 31.2 minutes. His three-point shooting needs work (34.2% on 2.6 attempts in his last 58 appearances), but he should maintain a sizeable role in a Pelicans’ rotation that needs defense. However, his upside is low given the wealth of other offensive options.
Will Barton, Wizards
After a little over seven years in Denver, Barton has moved on to Washington. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he should see upper-20s to low-30s minutes as an option to relieve Bradley Beal of some playmaking responsibilities. He’s an option as a late-round flier in standard leagues, but he’s better suited for deeper formats where his low ceiling isn’t an issue.
Saddiq Bey, Pistons
Bey had a mixed 2021-22 season due to inconsistent three-point shooting, but he still managed to rank 108th in per-game fantasy value. With Jerami Grant out of the picture, there’s upside for Bey to rank higher, especially if he can improve his efficiency while taking on more responsibilities.
Gordon Hayward, Hornets
Hayward’s consistent injury issues make him a tough target in fantasy leagues, but he has clear upside if Miles Bridges misses much or all of this season. At some point late in drafts, Hayward is worth the gamble, but he hasn’t ranked higher than 97th in total fantasy value in the past five years.
Gary Trent Jr., Raptors
Casual NBA fans probably have never even heard of Trent, but he was the 60th-best fantasy player on a per-game basis last year. He’s a great three-and-D option — 3.0 threes and 1.7 steals — for a team that needs his production. His role shouldn’t change this year.
Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies
Injuries hampered much of Brooks’ 2021-22 season — he appeared in just 32 games — but he still averaged a solid 18.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals. He’s more of a defender who thrives on volume shooting rather than efficiency, but his opportunities shouldn’t go away with Jaren Jackson set to potentially miss half the year.
Harrison Barnes, Kings
Barnes is a relatively high-floor option in Sacramento’s offense. Over the past three seasons with the team, he’s averaged 15.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. It’s possible Domantas Sabonis and rookie Keegan Murray take some of his touches, making Barnes more of a deep-league option.