By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
We are previewing every position ahead of the 2023-24 fantasy basketball season. Next up, here are the small forwards.
There are plenty of big names among the small forward position, like LeBron James and Jimmy Butler. However, many players who have been perennial stars at the position are also in the latter stages of their careers. That makes things tricky from a fantasy perspective.
Between injuries and rest days, some of these stars might struggle to play in at least 65 games, let alone 75-80.
As we prepare to discuss some players to target and avoid, the best general strategy might be to wait on the position if you don’t take Jayson Tatum in the first round. A few veterans still have high floors that can be had later in drafts, as well as a few young players who could thrive.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics (ADP: 5.1)
Tatum is the top option when it comes to small forwards and is every bit worth an early first-round pick. He has played at least 74 games in the last two seasons and has never appeared in fewer than 64 games. The forward also logs a ton of minutes, playing at least 36 per game in each of the last three campaigns. He had his best statistical production yet last season, averaging 30.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 3.2 three-pointers per game.
Despite attempting a career-high 9.3 three-pointers per game last season, Tatum still shot 46.6% from the field, with 85.4% shooting from the charity stripe. Even though the Celtics brought in Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the unquestioned scoring leaders for the team.
Get ready for another monster season from Tatum.
DeMar DeRozan, Bulls (ADP: 47.4)
DeRozan is not a sexy option, especially given that he doesn’t provide much in the way of 3-pointers. He has only averaged at least one 3-pointer per game in a season once during his career, which came back in the 2017-18 campaign with the Raptors. In his two seasons with the Bulls, he averaged 0.7 and 0.6 of them, respectively.
But DeRozan still brings a high floor for those who are punting the 3-point category or decide to make up for his lack of production in that department at other positions in their draft. He has shot at least 50.4% from the field and 87.2% from the free-throw line in both seasons with the Bulls. While his production did dip last season, it was still excellent, with 24.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The Bulls have their sights set on making the playoffs, so look for them to rely heavily on DeRozan.
Franz Wagner, Magic (ADP: 67.8)
The Magic have an exciting young core, and Wagner is right at the center of it. He has shown excellent durability early in his career, missing five games across his first two seasons. While increasing his playing time to 33 minutes per game last season, Wagner provided 18.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, one steal and 1.6 3-pointers.
Wagner is also an efficient scorer, shooting 47.7% from the field and 85.0% from the free-throw line for his career. The Magic did have two first-round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, which they used on Anthony Black and Jett Howard. However, they didn’t add noteworthy veterans who could take minutes or shot attempts from Wagner.
With a secure role in hand, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wagner average 20 points per game.
Kawhi Leonard, Clippers (ADP: 27.7)
Here is where we reach the aging veterans at the position. Leonard showed he can still be productive, averaging 23.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 steals and two 3-pointers per game last season. However, injuries once again came into play, limiting him to 52 games. He hasn’t appeared in more than 60 games since the 2016-17 season, and given his injury concerns, it might also be a struggle for him to surpass that threshold this season.
Jimmy Butler, Heat (ADP: 26.0)
Butler led the Heat on an improbable run to the NBA Finals last season. He was excellent in the playoffs, putting the team on his back after Tyler Herro was injured. However, the veteran only appeared in 64 games during the regular season. That was actually the most games that he’s appeared in since he played 65 games in 2018-19. He has appeared in at least 70 games twice during his career. Butler paces himself during the regular season and has battled injuries, so there is plenty of concern that he will miss a significant number of games again.
Khris Middleton, Bucks (ADP: 79.0)
Injuries limited Middleton to just 33 games last season. When he was on the floor, he never seemed to be completely healthy. That resulted in him averaging just 15.1 points across 24 minutes per game. The Bucks have championship aspirations, and they need Middleton healthy for the playoffs if they are going to win it all. To have him ready for that run, don't be surprised if he misses regular-season games and/or sees a reduction in minutes compared to seasons past. The Damian Lillard addition is also only going to hurt Middleton's usage.
Can they do it again?
Lauri Markkanen, Jazz (ADP: 26.4)
The trade to the Jazz couldn’t have worked out any better for Markkanen. Taking on a leading role for a rebuilding team, he put up 25.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and three 3-pointers per game. He did so while shooting 49.9% from the field and 87.5% from the free-throw line. The Jazz added John Collins during this offseason, which should force Markkanen to spend most of his time at small forward. It will be difficult for him to replicate his production from last season, but with a dearth of scorers around him, Markkanen is primed to be among their leaders in usage rate again.
Keldon Johnson, Spurs (ADP: 112.6)
The Spurs dove further into a rebuild last season, which set up Johnson to be one of their leading scorers. He didn’t disappoint, providing 22 points and 2.1 3-pointers per game. While he didn’t shine in any other categories, he wasn’t a complete flop either, with his five rebounds, 2.9 assists and 0.7 steals per game. The Spurs landed Victor Wembanyama in the draft but didn’t do much else to their roster. With largely the same team running it back, Johnson should have plenty of opportunities to average at least 20 points per game again.