Sunday, February 25, 2024

2022-2023 Fantasy Basketball: Starry small forward tiers start with Jayson Tatum, LeBron James, Kevin Durant

Tiering is one of the most popular ways to prepare for a Fantasy basketball draft. Within each position group, separating players into tiers is an effective means of projecting general value and keeping organized during your draft. If you’re in a position where you need to make a quick decision, consulting a set of tiers can help settle the debate between two players who are relatively close in value.

Entering the 2022-23 season, the NBA‘s talent pool is deeper than ever, so going into your drafts with a plan is more imperative than ever. Early on, drafting the top talents should be the priority, but as the draft progresses, it’s important to be cognizant of which positions you’re stocking up on and which you’ll need to target in the mid-to-late rounds. Tiers can help achieve the roster balance most Fantasy managers are hoping to come away with. 

Here are our small forward tiers, which can serve as a general guide for those playing in standard leagues.

Tiers assume eight-category settings. Each player only appears in one set of tiers. Players are assigned to the position at which they’re likely to play the most.


Jayson Tatum, Celtics

An All-NBA First Team season in 2021-22, Tatum is the unquestioned leader of the Celtics. The durable forward set career highs last season in points (26.9), rebounds (8.0), assists (4.4) and made 3-pointers (3.0) per game. At only age 24, we see no reason for Tatum to slow down. Plus, he has averaged only five missed games per season over his five-year NBA career

LeBron James, Lakers

Even in a massively disappointing season for the Lakers, James once again defied Father Time. The ageless veteran averaged 30.3 points per contest. Though his playmaking dipped a bit to 6.2 assists per game, James put up his usual substantial numbers on the boards (8.2 RPG) and even averaged over a block per contest for the first time in 12 seasons. That said, James’ Fantasy value was impacted by his inability to stay healthy. He sat out 26 games, marking the third time in four seasons that he’s played in fewer than 60 contests. Ultimately, James will be counted on to carry a heavy load again next to the similarly injury-plagued Anthony Davis and the enigmatic Russell Westbrook, making him worthy of consideration in the first rounds of drafts.

Kevin Durant, Nets

Durant was the talk of the town this offseason, demanding a trade off the Nets in early August – something that has since been rescinded. From a Fantasy perspective, Durant is coming off another strong season in which he compiled 29.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks and 2.1 3-pointers per game. Those numbers were good enough to see him end the campaign as the second-best player in Fantasy basketball on a per-game basis in eight-category leagues. Durant feels like a relatively safe target in terms of usage. The main concern is the cloud of unhappiness hanging over him and the Nets, not to mention he’s appeared in just 90 total games in two seasons since recovering from a torn Achilles.


Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

After tearing his ACL late in the 2020-21 campaign, Leonard never saw the floor last season. He’s appeared in 70-plus games just twice in his career, and he’s topped out at 60 games since leaving San Antonio, making him a tough player to roster. When available, he’s excellent. The two-time Finals MVP is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, and during his 109 appearances with LA, He averaged 26.0 points on 49/39/89 shooting, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.5 blocks. Drafting Leonard is a massive risk/reward game, but he shouldn’t make it past the third round, given his talent.

Jimmy Butler, Heat

Butler had another regular season in which he missed a lot of time. He appeared in just 57 games, marking the third straight season in which he has failed to play at least 60 games. When he was on the floor last season, he was great, averaging 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The Heat want to win a title, so they want to make sure Butler is healthy for when the playoffs roll around, not push him to play in as many games as possible during the regular season.


Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

The Pelicans underwent significant changes last season, but Ingram still finished with terrific averages of 22.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.3 3-pointers per game. With a full season of CJ McCollum in the fold, and Zion Williamson looking ready to return, Ingram could have trouble replicating his 29.3 percent usage rate. Ingram’s overall averages could still make him a valuable Fantasy option, but asking him to match his numbers from last season might be too much.

Scottie Barnes, Raptors

The fourth overall pick out of Florida State in the 2021 NBA Draft, Barnes played his way into 2021-22 Rookie of the Year honors. The versatile forward averaged 15.3 points on 49/30/74 shooting, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks, ranking 70th in per-game Fantasy value. The next step for the 21-year-old will be improving his shooting. He took a modest 2.6 3s per game and made them at 30.1 percent, and his free-throw percentage (73.5) leaves a bit to be desired. He should make improvements overall this season, but Barnes’ ceiling is a bit capped given that Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are above him in the pecking order, while OG Anunoby also gets his fair share of touches.

Jaylen Brown, Celtics

At only 26 years of age come October, Brown still has upside and will remain in a No. 2 role alongside Jayson Tatum. Last season, Brown averaged 23.6 points on 47/36/76 shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals, ranking 49th in Fantasy on a per-game basis. He ranked as high as 29th two seasons ago behind moderately higher numbers, so Fantasy managers should feel comfortable drafting him in that range.

DeMar DeRozan, Bulls

DeRozan is coming off the best season of his career – not something you normally see from a player who had been in the league for more than a decade. With averages of 27.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 50.4 percent from the field, DeRozan was one of the biggest pleasant surprises in Fantasy. However, it should be noted that Lonzo Ball played in only 35 games because of a knee injury, and Zach LaVine also battled a knee injury that limited him at times. Expecting DeRozan to duplicate his scoring average and 31.8 percent usage rate with a healthy Ball and LaVine in tow might be unwise.

OG Anunoby, Raptors

Last year, Anunoby averaged 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.4 3-pointers in 36 minutes per game. However, it wasn’t all positive for him. His shooting percentages decreased across the board. Also, injuries limited him to just 48 games, marking the second straight season in which he failed to play at least 50 games. Still, he is one of the core players that the team plans to build around. If he can stay healthy, his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor will make him extremely valuable in Fantasy.


Jerami Grant, Trail Blazers

A combination of nagging injuries and Detroit’s rebuilding mission resulted in a shortened season for Grant. When active, he supplied 19.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 combined steals-plus-blocks across 47 contests. Jettisoned from Detroit to Portland in a pre-draft trade, Grant slots in as the starter at power forward. He won’t see the type of usage he did with the Pistons, but he should still be a key member of the offense.

Buddy Hield, Pacers

After joining the Pacers midway through the 2021-22 season, Hield finds himself in a very familiar situation. Despite the upheaval, Hield ended the season inside the top 100 of eight-category Fantasy producers thanks to averages of 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 3.2 3-pointers. After peaking at rank-38 in 2018-19, this feels like the safe range for Hield and dictates where managers should be targeting him. Those in need of high-volume 3-pointers should place a premium on the former Oklahoma star.

Devin Vassell, Spurs

The No. 11 pick in 2020 made strides as a sophomore last season, averaging 12.3 points on 43/36/84 shooting, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals. Right now, he’s flashed upside as a 3-and-D wing, but it’s possible coach Gregg Popovich will look to get Vassell more involved this season. San Antonio is in one of the deepest rebuilds in the NBA, and Vassell is one of the best players on the roster after Dejounte Murray was traded away to Atlanta over the summer. Vassell ranked 121st in per-game production last season, so Fantasy managers will likely need to cough up a top-100 pick to get the third-year wing.

Andrew Wiggins, Warriors

Wiggins has etched consistent production in his two seasons with the Warriors, claiming a starting role as the team’s third scoring option behind Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Still only 27 years old, Wiggins should slot in as a regular in the starting five again this season in a similar role to what he saw last year, where he averaged 17.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks. 

Gordon Hayward, Hornets

Hayward’s numbers dipped a bit in his second season in Charlotte, averaging 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.8 3-pointers and 1.0 steals. More significantly, Hayward again had trouble staying on the court. He played in only 49 games. There’s still reason to like Hayward’s well-rounded game, and the likely absence of Miles Bridges could result in Charlotte looking more to Hayward to fill the void. However, he will be 32 years old entering the 2022-23 campaign, which doesn’t bode particularly well for his chances of suddenly regaining season-long health.


Dorian Finney-Smith, Mavericks

Finney-Smith has been steadily improving with each passing season. Last year, he claimed his best per-game Fantasy rank (117). His stats don’t jump off the page, but he’s been great as a 3-and-D option, registering 2.2 3s and 1.6 combined steals-plus-blocks per game. Also, in his 33.1 minutes, he averaged 11.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists — the points, assists, steals and 3s all represented career marks. Fantasy managers should expect more of the same from Finney-Smith this season.

Franz Wagner, Magic

The eighth overall pick in 2021, Wagner had a successful season with the Magic that earned him All-Rookie First Team honors. He started all 79 appearances and averaged 15.2 points on 47/35/86 shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30.7 minutes. Wagner should start at forward again this season, though there will be more competition for touches. Markelle Fultz will be back in the fold, and the Magic selected Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft. Wagner will still play a significant role in the offense, but Fantasy managers shouldn’t expect a huge leap.

Josh Hart, Trail Blazers

In Hart’s 41 appearances (40 starts) with the Pelicans, he averaged 13.4 points on 51/32/75 shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals in 33.5 minutes. Despite the 27-year-old’s impressive development, he was traded at the deadline to bring in CJ McCollum from Portland. Over his 13 appearances (all starts) with his new team, he averaged 19.9 points on 50/37/77 shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 32.1 minutes. This year, he’ll have another chance to play a significant role for the Blazers. However, Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic will all sit above him on the offensive totem pole.

Herbert Jones, Pelicans

Playing in 78 of a possible 82 games, Jones compiled averages of 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks in just under 30 minutes per game. His durability saw him end the campaign as a top-40 talent in total value — an outcome that no one could have seen coming. The Pelicans have once again upgraded their roster, and while there will be more competition for minutes, Jones has established himself as an essential part of the rotation. His lack of peripheral contributions limits his overall upside, but he has a genuine chance of putting together another top-100 season thanks to his defensive contributions.

Saddiq Bey, Pistons

Bey struggled through the first half of last season, but from Jan. 1 onward (49 appearances), he averaged 17.2 points on 41/36/82 shooting. The long ball is Bey’s specialty – he made 2.9 per game after the new year — but he’s also displayed a more diverse skill set. During the season’s home stretch, he added 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in his 32.8 minutes per game, and he also got to the free-throw line a decent 3.2 times. Whether or not Bey can become a playmaker at the NBA level remains to be seen. Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey will handle the vast majority of the offensive initiation, though Jerami Grant shipping out to Portland opens up some possessions.


Lu Dort, Thunder

Dort enjoyed a career year during the 2021-22 season, averaging 17.2 points and 4.2 rebounds, both career-best numbers, plus 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks per contest. He also posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage (40.4 percent) and free throw percentage (84.3 percent). Dort is a solid pickup in most formats since he’s widely expected to be one of the top contributors for the Thunder, especially now that Chet Holmgren will miss the entire season due to a foot injury.

Will Barton, Wizards

The 2021-22 campaign marked Barton’s last season in Denver following eight years of service, as he was dealt to the Wizards this summer. Injuries and a fluctuating role often made him a tough player to roster in Fantasy, but he was productive overall. In eight-category roto leagues, he ranked as high as 53rd and as low as 193rd on a per-game basis, finishing with an average rank of 108th. Given how thin this Washington roster is, Barton should continue seeing minutes in the mid-to-high 20s consistently, if not more. There’s back-end standard league relevance to be had, so selecting Barton with a closing pick makes sense.

Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies

Volume shooting has mostly fueled Brooks’ Fantasy upside. Last season, he attempted 16.4 shots per game en route to 18.4 points on 43.2 percent shooting. While that was the best field-goal percentage of Brooks’ career, he hit just 30.9 percent of his 3s. Despite shaky efficiency, it would take sizable growth from Ziaire Williams to cut into Brooks’ role – especially with Kyle Anderson no longer on the roster. Ultimately, Brooks is a quality scorer due for another impactful – and hopefully healthier – season.

Harrison Barnes, Kings

While Barnes is not going to stand out in any category, he’s scored at least 16 points per game in five of the last six seasons and is one of the league’s most dependable players when it comes to games played. By no means is he an exciting player to roster, but Barnes’ high floor is attractive. Over the last six seasons, he’s finished 63rd, 85th, 114th, 111th, 69th and 69th in total value (8-cat).

Miles Bridges, free agent

As of early September, it remains very much unclear whether Bridges will re-sign with the Hornets – or any other team, for that matter – following his offseason arrest, which resulted in three felony charges. It’s worth noting that Bridges pled not guilty to all three charges, but the accusations are serious enough that, even if the court were to rule in his favor, teams may want to avoid the situation at all costs. Regardless of how the legal situation plays out, Bridges could face significant discipline from the league. If you’re drafting right now, Bridges is probably best avoided, though it’s possible he could be back on the court at some point in 2022-23.

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