The 2023-24 NBA season is right around the corner, and it’s time to start prepping for your fantasy basketball drafts! It’s never too early to get a jump on your competition, and to kick things off, I’m dropping my positional tiers series — next up are the small forwards.
[Join or create a 2023-24 Fantasy Basketball league now!]
Note, not every player will have analysis when listed in the tiers below. Players with multi-position eligibility will only show up in the positional tier story they have the most minutes at.
Tier 1: The Elite SFs
1) Jason Tatum, Boston Celtics
2) Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
3) Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
4) Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
5) LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Tatum’s in a class of his own, as he’s the most durable of any player within the elite tier. He’s in the conversation for a top-five pick after putting together his fourth consecutive top-15 finish in 2023. He’s coming into his sixth NBA season at age 24, and he’s improved his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers every year since turning pro.
Leonard comes with considerable injury risk but remains a top-12 player in per-game value whenever he steps on the floor. He’s better for roto formats, but Leonard tends to be a value come draft night, considering the stigma of missing at least 20 games per season.
Butler put in work last season, finishing 11th in per-game value and leading the Miami Heat to their second NBA Finals appearance in four years. If Damian Lillard comes to Miami, Butler’s production will dip, but until that time comes, Butler will be a fine selection on draft night.
Now that PF John Collins is in Utah, Markannen will fit nicely at SF this season. Per Cleaning the Glass, he logged 45% of his minutes on the wing, which should give him plenty of room to operate as the top-scoring option for the Jazz. He’s coming off his best season as a pro, an All-Star appearance and should be drafted in the first three rounds this year.
LeBron is a top-30 player in fantasy even if he obtained more injuries in the latter stage of his Hall of Fame career. He’s still a triple-double threat that shoots a high percentage from the field. And he even shot 77% from the line last year, his best mark in 14 seasons.
Tier 2: All-Star caliber players with high floors
1) DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
2) Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
3) Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
4) Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Consistency may be boring, but DeRozan delivers year in and year out. He’s ranked inside the top 50 in per-game value over the past eight seasons and finished in the top 30 in the past two seasons. There’s no reason to fade him outside of his lack of 3s.
Point Scottie could be a thing in his third NBA season. He averaged a shade under five assists last year with Fred VanVleet. Now that VanVleet is gone, I see that number expanding, especially now that a score-first guard like Dennis Schroder was brought in to replace VanVleet. Look for Barnes to rebound from last year’s 89th finish.
Giddey logged most of his minutes at PF last season, but the Thunder made a point to play Chet Holmgren at PF all summer. This leads me to Giddey moving to small forward, though he’ll still be able to get minutes at PF when Chet plays center. Giddey easily fills up box scores and was one of five players to average at least 15 points with seven boards and six dimes last season.
Tier 3: Breakout players
1) Cameron Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
2) Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
3) Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves
As the No. 2 option behind Mikal Bridges in BK, Johnson will get 30+ minutes per night and is one of the better three-and-D wings available in the middle rounds of drafts. He played 50% of his minutes at SF but will only do a little for rebounding despite playing a healthy dose of minutes at PF.
The Magic are trending up, and Franz Wagner is one of the reasons why. Wagner just captured a gold medal at the 2023 FIBA World Cup for Team Germany, along with getting player of the game honors. He can get to 20 points per game and is one of the better passing forwards at his position. Just don’t expect much rebounding.
McDaniels is your guy if you’re looking for a player who only needs a little usage to be successful in category leagues. He’s excellent defensively and shot 47% from the field while knocking down 1.4 3s at a 40% clip last season.
Tier 4: The boom or bust veterans
1) Buddy Hield, Indiana Pacers
2) Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
3) Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
4) Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors
5) Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers
6) Josh Hart, New York Knicks
This crop of veterans is a combination of players coming off injuries, extended absences or having their roles diminished as a result of more competition.
Hield was in the top 50 in per-game value and remains a sniper from 3. However, Bennedict Mathurin will surely get more minutes, as well as newly acquired Bruce Brown Jr.
Porter Jr. and Wiggins have the most appeal in terms of job security, while I’m not convinced Middleton returns to top 40 form.
Harris has good peripherals, but as the fourth option in Philly, his stat lines can be frustrating in head-to-head leagues.
Tier 5: Mid-to-late rounds who could pop
1) Trey Murphy III, New Orleans Pelicans
2) Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers
3) Ausar Thompson, Detroit Pistons
4) Bruce Brown Jr., Indiana Pacers
Murphy III sprained his knee two weeks ago and will be out 10-12 weeks. He should return in November, but it’s enough time for fantasy managers to draft and stash him. He took full advantage of all the Pelicans injuries last season, playing in 80 games and finishing 46th in per-game in fantasy. His production and skillset look eerily similar to a young Mikal Bridges (only Murphy is three inches taller). Once he’s healthy, I’m betting on the Pelicans to start him at SF, Ingram at SG and Zion Williamson at PF.
Thompson has a legitimate chance to start from day one because of his size and knack for defense, and that alone catapults his fantasy value ahead of draft season. He’ll need to work on his shooting, but that’s to be expected at only 20 years old. He averaged 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists and four stocks in four summer league games, so the fantasy potential is there, right out of the gates.
Brown’s role in Indiana has yet to be determined, but paying him $22M for the upcoming season strongly indicates he’ll get more than enough burn to be drafted in fantasy leagues. There’s a boom or bust element here, but he’s a versatile player who’ll help the Pacers win now.
Tier 6: Starters that could end up on waivers
1) Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets
2) RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
3) Keldon Johnson, San Antonio Spurs
4) Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
5) Dillon Brooks, Houston Rockets
6) Lugentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder
7) Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks
8) Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
9) Caleb Martin, Miami Heat
10) Max Strus, Cleveland Cavaliers
Hayward is in a contract year, and the Hornets may decide to trade him if he’s performing well and remains healthy. They drafted Brandon Miller for a reason, but Hayward should get the nod to start this season, making him fantasy-relevant for now.
Barrett is not a good fantasy player for H2H leagues, but he’s worth it in points leagues. He played well in the FIBA World Cup, and there’s still room for growth as he enters Year 5.
Johnson is another player who doesn’t do much outside of scoring, and there’s a chance he moves to the bench to give the Spurs a scoring threat with the second unit.