2013 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Sleepers
Which players are going to perform under the radar and give Fantasy teams a surprise boost? Our Joe Polito gives you his sleepers for the upcoming Fantasy season.
It's the end of your draft, and you're deciding between guys like Luke Ridnour and Jared Dudley . You read their names and you know what you're getting, but you're really not that excited about it.
Where's the fun in that?
You probably laughed at whoever passed on Tyson Chandler and drafted that seven-foot Swiss guy on the Magic instead. But that gutsy drafter ended up with a double-double machine in Nikola Vucevic . Or how about Larry Sanders , who went undrafted in most leagues and ended up top 20 at his position. The point is you have much more to gain by speculating on an unproven player's upside – even if you get mocked for drafting him.
So if you're willing to take a risk or two, here are some guys stepping into new roles who you might consider on Draft Day.
Gary Neal , Bucks: Last time we saw Gary Neal , he was hitting highly contested three pointers and improbable runners on basketball's biggest stage. The Heat's defensive focus on San Antonio's more obvious weapons allowed Neal to show that he has the potential to be an all-around scoring threat as well as a dependable spot-up shooter. In the 10 games that Neal logged more than 30 minutes, he averaged 17.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.
Even if Neal still comes off the bench, he'll still be playing big minutes for the Bucks because he doesn't need a distributor to get him shots -- think Jarrett Jack on the Warriors last season. He's played in big games and offers a more fundamentally sound brand of scoring than fellow Milwaukee newcomers Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo , so Neal could end up being considered a leader in the backcourt.
MarShon Brooks , Celtics: For now, MarShon Brooks is mostly known as the guy who looked sad at Boston's introductory press conference. But that frown could turn upside down when he realizes he'll be playing a lot more than the 12.5 minutes per game he averaged last season in Brooklyn. His pro career hasn't afforded him many opportunities, but even with his playing time slashed by the arrival of Joe Johnson , Brooks still averaged 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per 36 minutes last season.
To imagine his full potential, you have to go back two years to his senior year at Providence, when he was second in the nation in points per game -- and in the defensive-minded Big East to boot. He put up 52 on Notre Dame that year and 43 against Georgetown. Even if his shots aren't falling, you can't watch MarShon Brooks without realizing the guy is just a natural scorer, with much savvier one-on-one moves than most 24-year-olds. With Rondo's timetable in question, there will be plenty of backcourt minutes to spare at the beginning of the season. Brooks possesses the potential to earn late-season minutes by putting up big numbers in the early going.
Alec Burks , Jazz: Entering his third year with Utah, Alec Burks is still somewhat of a mystery. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard looks like he should be headed for a starting role, as he'll be competing with former Warrior Brandon Rush in training camp. But if the Jazz are all-in with their youth movement, then giving Burks a chance to prove himself seems like the only move.
Utah is banking on production from rookie point guard Trey Burke and up-and-coming big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors . But if those numbers don't come, Burks will have to pick up the slack. He has the all-around skill set to be the x-factor any young team needs. Based on how they used him last year, Burks has the talent to be not only Utah's starting shooting guard, but its backup point guard as well. When you look at the 19 points per game he averaged in his college career combined with Utah's commitment to rebuild, Burks makes sense as an undervalued Fantasy option.
Austin Rivers , Pelicans: It's not really a stretch to call Austin Rivers ' rookie campaign a train wreck. It was historically bad, and he sort of looked like a boy among men during games. But those are the reasons he makes a good sleeper candidate heading into his sophomore season. Right before a broken hand ended his rookie year, Rivers seemed to be figuring it out -- shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in his last 10 games.
He showed more signs of improvement over the summer, averaging 17.3 points per game in Las Vegas Summer League games. His shooting was still erratic, but Rivers showed the ability to score in the lane and get to the free throw line. More than anything though, he looked comfortable and confident. If he can carry this growth into training camp, he'll vie for minutes in a crowded New Orleans backcourt, which features Eric Gordon and the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans . Those names don't bode well for Rivers' chances, but when you consider the injury-riddled careers of Gordon and Evans (both already nicked up in the preseason), there's a good chance Rivers will be thrust into the lineup at some point.
Reggie Jackson , Thunder: When Russell Westrbook went down in the first round of the playoffs, Oklahoma City's title aspirations took a huge hit. But if there was any silver lining, it was the chance to see what they had in seldom-used backup point guard Reggie Jackson , and the 23-year-old didn't disappoint. Through 11 playoff games, Jackson averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per. The Thunder made it past the Rockets but was bounced by a bigger, more experienced Memphis team in Round 2.
Last week the Thunder shared more bad news about Westbrook, divulging that a second procedure would sideline him for 4-6 weeks of the regular season, so Jackson's stay in the starting backcourt has been extended. If he can build on his big-game experience, Jackson has the tools to be serviceable Westbrook understudy in an offense that depends on production from its point guard. His first shot at significant minutes came in a high-pressure situation, and Jackson still looked confident enough to serve as Kevin Durant's interim sidekick. He's nowhere near the basketball specimen that is Russell Westrbook, but he's a young talented guard who should only get better the more opportunities he's given.
Michael Beasley , Heat: This sleeper candidate might have the toughest road to reaching his Fantasy potential. First, he has to convince the Heat that he can commit to team defense and stay out of trouble. Once he's actually on the regular season roster, then he has to prove that he can be efficient enough to fit into Miami's offense. Lastly, he has to hope the Heat take a more conservative approach in preserving their stars for another championship run.
Physically, he fits the mold of versatility Miami has established, and if the Heat brain trust can get Beasley to buy in, he certainly has the talent to be a productive sixth man. LeBron James looked exhausted in several playoff games, and Dwyane Wade's chronic knee issues could surface again. With Mike Miller gone and Ray Allen , Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier a year older, Beasley could be the dose of young talent the second unit needs in a long regular season. When you consider how coach Erik Spoelstra spreads out minutes, this one's really a long shot. But should any of the Big Three miss significant time, Miami will end up needing Beasley's offense. If Pat Riley was willing to take a flier on him, why shouldn't you?
Marreese Speights , Warriors: Even if you've only caught one game Speights played in, chances are you observed him taking several midrange jump shots. That's because it's his favorite thing to do. Most teams probably don't want their 6-foot-11 power forward catching and quickly firing from 18 feet out. Fortunately, Speights ended up on a team that encourages this kind of activity.
Losing Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry to free agency has Golden State needing to make up a combined 23.7 points per game. And when you look at how heavily Golden State relied on their midrange attack off the bench, Speights seems like a good fit for their run-and-gun style. This isn't to say that Speights will shoot 54 percent for the season like Landry or play 29.7 minutes per game like Jack, but Speights certainly won't be shy when he gets the ball. He also averages almost two more rebounds than Landry per 36 minutes – 9.6 to 7.8.
John Henson , Bucks: Standing 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, the 22-year-old sophomore has the potential to be a Larry Sanders Jr. for the Bucks. He's still mostly underdeveloped, but in the limited action he received his rookie year, Henson showed a potential for big numbers in blocks and rebounds. In the 15 games that he saw more than 19 minutes, Henson averaged 13.1 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per. He logged 41 minutes on April 10 and put up 17, 25 and 7, becoming just the fourth player to achieve that stat line.
Henson's usage will depend heavily on what new coach Larry Drew decides to do with stretch four Ersan Ilyasova . Unlike last year, Henson will have a full training camp to prove his worth, and the defensive potential of a Sanders/Henson starting frontcourt might be too powerful to pass up. But even if he comes off the bench, you should still consider reaching for the long-armed youngster in later rounds.
Kevin Seraphin , Wizards: With Emeka Okafor out indefinitely from a herniated disc, Kevin Seraphin will likely become Washington's De facto starting center heading into the 2013-14 season. Last year the 6-foot-9 big man showed an ability to score at the power forward spot. He logged 24-plus minutes in 30 games and only failed to reach double figure scoring in one of them.
He still hasn't been named the starter yet, but he's the logical choice to step in for Okafor, and Seraphin is taking this opportunity seriously. He opted to stay in D.C. this offseason to improve his game rather than represent France in the EuroBasket tournament. He's reportedly been in the gym, dropping weight in preparation of more playing time. He should gain dual eligibility filling in for Okafor, and opposing defenses will be focusing on Wall, Beal and the other Wizards' playmakers. Consider Seraphin one of the sneakier late-round picks come draft day.
Timofey Mozgov , Nuggets: JaVale McGee does a lot of things that get him benched, so why not draft his backup just in case? The playing style that new coach Brian Shaw will attempt to implement relies on strong center play. This means more will be expected of McGee, and for as talented as the young center is, "solid" isn't a word used to describe him.
As the Nuggets try to establish their new identity, Shaw might elect to stick with the more dependable Mozgov for minutes at center. The departure of Kosta Koufos now makes Mozgov the only non-McGee center on the roster. We didn't get to see much of him last season, but Mozgov did average a double-double and almost two blocks per 36 minutes. George Karl seemed to embrace the highs and lows of McGee, but Shaw might prove to be a different kind of coach. So if you're not comfortable with gambling on Mozgov's potential to succeed, call this pick more of a bet on McGee's potential to fail.
DeJuan Blair , Mavericks: The Mavericks only have three power forwards on their roster -- and one of them is the aging Dirk Nowitzki , who missed more than a third of last season with injuries. One of the additions to the Dallas frontcourt is the undersized DeJuan Blair , who filled in at center in the few minutes he was spared in San Antonio. This year, Blair will likely move back to the position his 6-foot7 frame demands, but he'll still carry his center eligibility in Fantasy, making him one of the league's more flexible options.
Apparently, Blair wasn't very happy about his lack of playing time for the Spurs, so he could be out to prove the reigning Western conference champs underutilized him. His career averages of 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes give you a glimpse of how productive he could be with an expanded role. Blair is small for his position and not especially athletic, but basketball IQ and effort on the boards could keep him in Dallas' lineup, which ranked 23rd in rebounding last season. Picture him as somewhat of a poor-man's David Lee -- in the right place at the right time for rebounds and easy buckets. If he can garner enough minutes doing the Maverick's dirty work, he'll do it well, and your Fantasy team will benefit.
Meyers Leonard , Blazers: Leonard was on this list last season, and well, it didn't really pan out. Which means this year he has yet another chance to exceed expectation. Another second-year player jockeying for a starting job, the 7-foot-1 Leonard will need to beat out newcomer Robin Lopez at center. Lopez will likely get the nod to start the season, but this day-to-day competition might be what Leonard needs to break out.
He certainly has more upside than Lopez, but he'll need to prove that he can anchor the defense and be the yin to LaMarcus Aldridge's yang in order to log big minutes. If he does, look for Leonard to take advantage of his size and have the paint all to himself on a jump-shooting team.