Get Your Sleepers!
A look ahead to fantasy hoops
By Adam Hoff
I’m aware that in the fantasy sports universe, basketball comes in third. Football is king, baseball is the original, and hoops is bringing up the rear. Regardless, I’m excited for the dawn of a new season. Training camp is winding down and the preseason games are starting for NBA teams. More importantly, fantasy drafts are taking place all over the country. It is that last fact that prompts the obligatory column about possible sleeper picks. Here is a fairly extensive list of guys that meet a few key criteria: A) they will likely be worth more than their draft station and B) they won’t be going before the sixth round of your fantasy draft. Any earlier and we’re not talking about sleepers. It is also not a column about every guy on a new team or that has seen a change in fortunes. This is all about getting value in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft. We’ll divide them up into three groups: players that can be relied upon as vital cogs in your lineup, guys that are worth having and playing at the right time, and a handful of guys that are high risk/high reward and could be keys to winning fantasy leagues. Alright, let’s get to it.
Andre Igoudala. Mock drafts still have him going in the seventh or eighth rounds, which is too late. He’s proven that he’ll gobble up steals, that he can fill up a box score (a triple-double last year as a rookie), and now he’s being encouraged to do more scoring. He will be one of those guys that just explodes in his second year.
Josh Smith. Another guy going in about the
eighth round on average, Smith is the ultimate weapon on the wing: a guy that
can single-handedly win the blocked shots category in a weekly matchup. As long as he doesn’t become the odd man
Cuttino Mobley. This might be cheating since I’ve seen him go in the sixth round on more than one occasion, but the fact is, Mobley is undervalued. This is a guy that has averaged 17 points a game and shot nearly 40% from behind the arc over the course of his career and is now going to Clippers, where he will literally be the only 3-point threat on the team. You think Q hoisted a lot of triples last year? I expect Mobley to take (and make) more threes than any player in the league this season. 17 points and the most threes in the league turned Q into the #16 player in fantasy last year. Mobley is a better player and will equal those stats. Still think he should be drafted in round six?
Joel Przybilla. Remember when you drafted Theo Ratliff last year expecting to lock up blocks while sacrificing everything else? Well, that didn’t work out, but this year it can. Not only is Przybilla a decent bet to lead the league in blocks (and goal tending violations), he should also be a double-double threat in the paint. This is without a doubt my biggest sleeper pick at the center position.
Tayshaun Prince. It’s hard to believe that Prince can
still be a sleeper after playing such a big roll in
Eddie Jones. No one wants poor Eddie anymore, but as the starting shooting guard for the Grizzlies, he should be able to once again do typical Eddie Jones things, like snagging some steals, hitting threes, and posting good percentages. Look for numbers more reminiscent of Jones in 2003 than 2004.
Mike Dunleavy. Fantasy owners are tired of Little Dunleavy as well, which is perfect. That way, no one bothers to check out the splits and see that he played much better when Baron came to town. 52% shooting, 2.4 threes a game, and a boost in scoring average and rebounding as well. I’m confident enough in Dunleavy to draft him in the eighth or ninth round and make him my starting small forward.
Josh Howard. Wasn’t anyone watching the playoffs
last year? He was the go-to guy for
J.R. Smith. He’s in his second season, he came on strong late last year, and he plays on a team with no scorers. I think it is safe to say that Smith has the green light. I’m taking him every chance I get and plan on enjoying his 18 points a night and 175+ threes for the season.
Jalen Rose. Read this column and you’ll notice a theme: guys that are weathered, boring, crazy, and frustrating are the guys I want on my team. Seriously, who cares if Rose has been a head case? Rose saw his scoring and three’s go way, way up when Vince left town last year. I expect more of the same at the bargain price of a ninth round pick.
Vlad Radmonovich. I typically don’t like to rely on guys coming off the bench, because they have more nights where they get a late start or never find their rhythm or whatever. But Vlad has the ultimate weapon this year: an agent whispering the words “get yours” into his ear every night. He’s playing for a huge contract that the Sonics (and the rest of the league) felt was too much, so he’ll be gunning. Plus, he was already a good source of threes and an underrated thief on the defensive end. I see big things for the Rad Man.
Chris Kaman. The man that at one time had the worst haircut in NBA history trimmed up his nasty locks and actually made some progress last year. With a young and talented group of players surrounding him (Brand, Maggette, Mobley, Livingston) and a pair of point guards that can actually get him the ball in Livingston and Cassell, Kaman could be in line for a 15 and 8 type of season. If you are like me, you’ve noticed that 15 and 8 is a pretty nice set of numbers from an NBA center. Take a chance on him and see what happens.
Bonzi Wells. He’s not going to make every fantasy owner happy, but if you need some consistent points, boards, and steals (and you don’t care about turnovers), Bonzi might be your guy. He is probably the best low post scorer the Kings have (sorry, Shareef) and he is slated to get a ton of minutes as the starting shooting guard. As I mentioned above, I like fantasy players that have worn out their welcome with owners because they tend to slip on draft day. I see no reason why this character (best word I could think of) won’t go for 16 and 5 this year. That’s worthy of a 10th round pick, I would say.
Caron Butler. If he adds threes to his arsenal, he becomes a “vital cog.” There is also the concern that he will have a hard time wrestling the ball away from Arenas and Jamison long enough to accumulate any points. However, he scores in many of the same ways that Hughes scores (transition baskets, put backs, and getting to the line), so if Larry could go for 20 a night playing with those ball hogs, so too can Butler. Plus, Caron hits the glass, racks up steals, and is a terrific free throw shooter who can help your team because he gets to the line so often. I think this will wind up being a good situation for him.
Luke Ridnour. I wouldn’t make him my starting point guard for fantasy, but Ridnour could take a big step forward statistically this year with Antonio Daniels in Washington (the city, not the state). Luke is a fan favorite in the NBA for his style of play and flashy ball handling skills, but he’s destined to be a fan favorite in fantasy for his great free throw percentage and terrific assist-to-turnover numbers. I just don’t know if the points will be there as long as Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are leading the way and Vlad Radmonovich is gunning for a new contract.
Raef LaFrentz. Important stat from the first Celtics preseason game: LaFrentz with 5 three-point attempts in 22 minutes. Who cares if he only made one and had five fouls? He jacked up five threes! A three a game from the center spot opens up an entire strategy for fantasy owners to load up on shooters and punt a category or two (in head-to-head).
Rafer Alston. Last year I had him as a risk/reward sleeper because of the combination of his obvious skill, obvious mental issues, and Sam Mitchell acting like a junior varsity coach in Toronto. This year he’s limited more by the fact that Houston has plenty of weapons and won’t allow Skip To My Lou to just bomb threes in transition. I do think he’ll get plenty of assists and hit a three or two every night, but now he’s just another guy bringing the ball up the court and passing to a superstar. (One other thing about Alston: he will drop the random 2-for-7 from the free throw line every once in a while, so try to remain calm when he costs you the category for the week.)
Morris Peterson. Hey, he’s the clear starter at shooting guard for the Raptors and has always been a good source of threes and steals. Grab Mo Pete late in the draft, wait for the Raptors to play five games in a week, and let the good times roll.
Wally Szczerbiak. Only read this if you are interested in a one-dimensional player. I repeat, Wally Z will only be scoring points this year! But if you need the points, this is a good place to look. The Wolves have very few scoring options and Wally actually looked pretty good down the stretch last year. I think he can throw in about 17-19 a game and shoot close to 50%. Call me crazy.
Sebastian Telfair. He ran wild at the end of last season, but that was when the Blazers were in complete disarray. Oh wait, they still are. Expect Telfair to rack up plenty of assists and plenty of turnovers as he tries to prove that Portland knew what they were doing when they drafted him. I think its reasonable to expect the 13 points and 7 assists per game that he compiled in April of last year.
High Risk, High Reward (and be prepared to bail at any time)
Stromile Swift. This freak of nature finally gets a chance to play significant minutes. At least, that is the plan. His per-48 numbers are off the charts and he is finally liberated from the YMCA Circus that is Memphis, but now he finds himself in the land of Jeff Van Gundy – a guy that really doesn’t care about stats or salaries or even his own future in the NBA. If he decides Swift makes too many boneheaded plays or thinks Juwan Howard is “more consistent,” then Stromile and those tantalizing numbers will continue to get 20 minutes of run a night. But if he really does get those 35-40 minutes a night, he might honestly go for 17-10-3 and change entire fantasy matchups. One of the most exciting subplots of the early season.
Quentin Richardson. His stock has dropped like a rock, but I think there is still plenty of value here. He was known only for jacking up threes last year, and yes, that is something Larry Brown won’t like. However, if you look back to two years ago, you see that he shot a more reasonable number of triples and that he averaged 17.3 points and 6.4 boards per game for the Clippers. Larry is going to like those numbers (especially the rebounding from the guard position) and I think he might like Q’s intensity and willingness to take charges. However, if Richardson continues to hoist nothing but three’s and avoid the block like he’s allergic to paint, he might run out of rope. With any other coach I would have put Q in the first group, but Larry does scare me.
Samuel Dalembert. Another guy that has seen his stock plummet, but I’m pretty optimistic about his chances of finally experiencing the breakout year that got put on hold by Jim O’Brien. In case you weren’t following the Sixers last year, here’s what happened: Dalembert came into camp ready to destroy the world and Jim O’Brien decided that he didn’t like centers that actually block shots and then made it his mission in life to ruin Dalembert’s career. Or something like that. The point is that last year Sammy D’s confidence was shattered and he was playing for a coach that hated him. This year he has a fat contract and a coach that loves him (and was hired in part to make him happy). Toss in Iverson’s 100% support, the 13 boards a game in the playoff series against Detroit, and the ridiculous hops and I think Dalembert goes nuts this year. I only put him down here because of the fact that he’s a string bean and seems liable to break in half at any time.
Marko Jaric. I know he’s a terrible point guard in real life and that fantasy owners are sick and tired of drafting him as a “sleeper” every year, but the fact is that Jaric is undervalued in relation to what he can do. This is a dude that could conceivably lead the league in steals while throwing up solid scoring and assist numbers, yet he’s going in the 11th round of drafts. That’s too late. The best way to handle Marko is to draft him, hope he gets off to a hot start, and then package him in a trade. Let somebody else wait for the day when Jaric is inevitably injured or Flip Saunders is committed because his point guard just let the shot clock run out again.
Juan Dixon. It seems odd to have another Blazers guard on this list, but right now Dixon is listed as the SG on Portland’s depth chart, and that just screams sleeper. Last year the former Maryland star logged 11 games with 27 or more minutes played and in those contests he averaged 19.8 points per game, so it is obvious he can score when he gets the time. The question is how long they let him remain the starter with Martell Webster lurking (or even more likely, Travis Outlaw getting the nod at SF, which would force Miles to move to SG) and how long he can stay healthy with that skinny frame. If it is really true that Dixon is their shooting guard, then this is definitely a place to get points and threes for dirt cheap.
Raja Bell. Let’s face it, there are shots on the table for the Suns. And no, I’m not just talking about the Jagermeister variety that Scott Sarver and company will be lining up in light of the Amare surgery. There are actual field goal attempts to be had in Phoenix. Amare is out, Q is gone, Joe Johnson is gone, and in their place stands … Kurt Thomas? Honestly, other than Marion, who is Nash going to pass to? I’m guessing it is Raja Bell, Jim Jackson, or both. I’ve tabbed Bell as my sleeper pick because he’s more likely to get big minutes (35-40 a night) if he pans out. Bell has numbers that look a lot like Joe Johnson’s numbers before the Suns started playing like LMU circa 1990, so there’s a chance he could be a breakout star. Then again, he’s Raja Bell.
Adam Hoff is columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.