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Fantasy Basketball SF Exit Interview: Is Trey Murphy III the next Mikal Bridges?

With the NBA Playoffs in full swing, it is time to take one last look back on how each fantasy position has stacked up against each other across the 2022-2023 regular season. The point guard and shooting guard exit interviews have been completed, so now it’s time to assess the small forwards.

This year featured a mix of wily veterans and emerging talent from the wing position, with a quarter of the top-12 players holding small forward eligibility and eight players ranking inside the top 25 in per-game value. Since so many players have multi-position eligibility, I’ll highlight the small forwards who logged the most minutes at the SF spot.

Let’s dive in!

Tier 1: Elite Small Forwards

I should probably rename this the “load management” tier but despite the missed games, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard had top-12 finishes. Paul George managed to stay in the top 25 but all of these guys carry some risk heading into next season. Still, these stars produce and pay dividends when they actually play.

Tier 2: All-Star Small Forwards

Lauri Markkanen leads this tier because, well, shooters shoot. He was fantasy basketball’s most-improved player and will likely take home the actual award in a few days. His breakout was for real, and he is easily a second-round value next season.

The Nets traded all their prized assets over the last two seasons but found their future star to build around in Mikal Bridges. He finished 30th this season, but the sky’s the limit for the five-year pro. His scoring average spiked from 17 to 26 points per contest with the Nets, and when you add in his efficiency and defensive prowess, he’ll make a case for his first All-Star bid.

While rumors circulate about Jaylen Brown’s future with Boston (he’s under contract until the end of the 2024 season), his fantasy value remains high no matter what team he plays for. He posted career-bests in points, rebounds, FG percentage and FT percentage but also turnovers. Still, he was a top-40 player and will be a perennial All-Star. If he can get his FT percentage up to 80% while limiting turnovers, he’ll be a top-30 player.

Tier 3: Reliable Small Forwards

Welcome to the DeMar DeRozan tier. He’s about as steady as it comes because he doesn’t cost much and has a high floor in fantasy basketball. He’s an efficient shooter who punishes the mid-range but understands his limitations from beyond the arc. 24/5/5 with 50% shooting from the field and a steal is a safe expectation for DeRozan.

Shoutout to OG Anunoby who emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, leading the league in steals by average (1.9) and total (128) this season. Nick Nurse is out as the Raptors head coach but its safe to assume Anunoby see a healthy dose of minutes and opportunity next season with Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet’s contract situations in flux this offseason.

And assuming all continues to go well in the Playoffs for Khris Middleton (currently averaging 24/7/6 through three games), he should rebound from an otherwise injury-riddled 2022-2023 season where he finished 143rd and only played in 33 games. I consider this season an outlier, as he’s ranked in the top 50 in 6 of his last 9 seasons (he ranked 63rd overall in 9-cat leagues the other two seasons).

Now, before you roast me for bucketing Andrew Wiggins into the reliability tier after missing the Warriors’ final 22 games of the regular season, I’m optimistic he’s had enough time to address the personal matter that kept him away from the game. But as evidenced by his opening series versus the Kings, he’s back to regular season form, averaging 19 points 6 rebounds, 2 assists with 3 stocks per game though his first four games of the postseason. He’s plays a critical role for the Dubs and they’ll need him for the long haul if they’re going to make another title run. When active, that’s what fantasy managers can expect from the nine-year pro β€” points, rebounds and stocks with a high FG percentage.

Tier 4: High-Risk, High-Reward Small Forwards

Brandon Ingram was such a headache early in the season because there was minimal clarity on the severity of his toe injury that kept him out for a large portion of the season. However, he closed on a good note (and probably at the level that fantasy managers expected all season), finishing 17th in per-game value over the last month of the regular season.

He’ll carry some injury risk into next season after only playing in 45 games this season, but he put up career-highs in points, assists, and FT percentage. Plus, Zion Williamson can’t be trusted, so Ingram remains the top dog in New Orleans.

Some players look better in real life than fantasy β€” one example is Josh Giddey. While he didn’t live up to his fifth-round ADP, closing the year 106th in his second NBA season, I’m still bullish on his talent. He played in 76 games and tallied four triple-doubles (8th in the NBA); plus, he improved his efficiency with increased volume from the field this season. It’s only up from here, but Chet Holmgren’s return could stifle some of his production.

And, of course, I can’t forget Michael Porter Jr.

Tier 5: Breakout Small Forwards

Trey Murphy III should’ve been higher on the most improved list because he made a sizable leap in his second campaign. He started 65 of 79 games, and thanks to a strong display of efficiency, he finished the 22-23 season 44th overall. Pretty shocking if you ask me, but his fantasy game is becoming eerily similar to Mikal Bridges.

I promise I had Keegan Murray pegged for a breakout before Sunday’s 23-point and 7-rebound performance. Harrison Barnes will hit free agency this summer, opening the door for a more significant role for the Sacramento rookie. He broke Donovan Mitchell’s record for most threes by a rookie in a season, and just wait until he sees a higher usage rate in the Kings’ uptempo offense.

Austin Reaves’ late-season heroics should earn him another deal with the Lakers this offseason and if that holds true, he’s carved out a starting role going forward. I know it’s a small sample size, but I’m encouraged by his 16/5/3 line with 51/41/70 shooting splits through his first three playoff games. Clearly, he can still ball alongside a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the lineup.

Tier 6: Value Small Forwards

Buddy Hield is a category specialist who finished second in the league in total threes made. He should be fine even with the Pacers embracing their youth movement. And speaking of a youth movement, Franz Wagner is undoubtedly the Magic’s second-best player. With so many forwards to choose from, I could see him getting lost in the shuffle despite averaging 19/4/4 on 48% shooting this season.

Herb Jones of the New Orleans Pelicans may come at a discount after failing to build off his successful All-Rookie campaign a year ago.

Tier 7: Bench Small Forwards

Jaden McDaniels, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Anderson, Josh Hart, Deni Avdija, Royce O’Neale, Max Strus, Kenyon Martin Jr, Kelly Oubre, Aaron Nesmith, Harrison Barnes, Saddiq Bey, Matisse Thybulle, Luke Kennard, De’Andre Hunter, Quentin Grimes, T.J. Warren and Nic Batum.

Tier 8: Developmental Small Forwards

Keldon Johnson should’ve graduated from this tier after averaging 22/5/3 in his fourth NBA season, but his inconsistency, lack of defense and playmaking lessen his fantasy value. His 160th ranking proves there’s room for improvement.

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