Eric Mack
Thursday December 15th, 2011

Kevin Durant is an impressive talent, but this is still LeBron James' league. King James might have relinquished the scoring lead at small forward to Durant a season ago, but the assists are the clincher to keep the titleless James atop the position, and all positions for that matter.

The best news of all: James turns 27-years old at the end of this month (no, the Chosen One wasn't born Dec. 25; his birthday is Dec. 30).

Why does 27 sounds so great? It was that same age the real Chosen One, Michael Jordan, was entering his first NBA championship season (he was 27 at the start of it and 28 when he hoisted the trophy for the first of three consecutive and six overall).

Why do we care about NBA championships in fantasy? Well, you have to be healthy and productive to win those. The fantasy numbers come as a result.

James didn't have his best season with Dwyane Wade and the Heat a season ago, but this one figures to be a little better and plenty good enough to keep him the most dominant player in fantasy. James still owns the No. 1 spot in fantasy and at SF, at least until Durant enters his mid-20s or turns 27.

We continue our preseason look at the fantasy basketball rankings with the small forwards, which isn't as deep as point guard or even shooting guard but it does boast the The King:

Breakout: Michael Beasley, Timberwolves

Last season was already a breakthrough for him, getting away from Wade and the drama down in Miami. He looks like he can become a 20-plus per game scorer, if not 25-plus. At just 22 years of age, the sky can still be the limit for the former No. 2 overall pick. The T'wolves drafted forward Derrick Williams second overall this year and moved previous year's top pick Wesley Johnson to shooting guard, but Beasley shouldn't be losing too many minutes as his team's primary offensive weapon. This is a talented young team that can really surprise.

Honorable mention: Dorrell Wright, Warriors

Bust: Stephen Jackson, Bucks

He already started showing his age last season with the Bobcats and now with the defensive-minded Bucks, his numbers should continue to decline. At 33, you cannot expect a full season out of him either. It was a real bad sign he has missed some time in training camp with back spasms, too. Jackson looks headed for a frustrating, injury-plagued year in fantasy obscurity up in Milwaukee.

Dishonorable mention: Joe Johnson, Hawks

Sleeper: Caron Butler, Clippers

Butler is coming off knee surgery, which is usually a warning sign for a bust at 31 years of age. But if Butler can find health, he can be a nice bridge player between the recently acquired Chris Paul and burgeoning NBA MVP Blake Griffin. The injury risk should allow Butler to be available in the late rounds, but a healthy Butler can produce at a mid-round level or better -- unlike many of the other also-rans you pick that late on draft day.

Honorable mention: Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets

If you play in a Rotisserie format and need to use the small forward position to help in a specific category in the latter rounds:

1. Assists: Hedo Turkoglu, Magic -- He has fallen off in recent years, but he remains a starter, when healthy, and is one of a few forwards who can average over 4.0 assists per game.

2. Steals: Trevor Ariza, Hornets -- The defensive stopper is more of a fantasy reserve in standard leagues but only Rudy Gay and maybe King James are better in the steals category.

3. Rebounds: Gerald Wallace, Blazers -- He is arguably the best rebounder at the position, so if he can keep his offense up in his first full season in Portland, he can be a nice sleeper.

4. Blocks: Shane Battier, Heat -- He is the famous no-stats All-Star and now gets to do the dirty work off the bench with the Heat. He is hardly worth drafting other than defensive stats.

5. Turnovers (fewest): Nicolas Batum, Blazers -- He is a fundamentally sound player and ballhandler who should be buoyed by the retirement of Brandon Roy -- an up-and-comer.

6. Points: Michael Beasley, Timberwolves -- He probably doesn't get enough credit below because it has taken him a few years to take hold, but he can score.

7. Three-point FGs: Richard Jefferson, Spurs -- Despite reports the Spurs were going to let him go with the amnesty clause, Jefferson is back and starting for the aging Spurs. The 31-year-old shot a cool 44 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Here are the entire small forward rankings. These are based on a 10-team league with two starting small forwards, 10 starting players total and four reserves.

Eric Mack writes fantasy sports for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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