2017 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: D'Angelo Russell, Jamal Murray could make leap to stardom
This was a crazy NBA offseason, filled with tons of roster turnover. That means there is plenty of opportunity for sleepers to make the jump to stardom. Here are our favorite bets.
But if you don't, worry not. There's treasure to be found if you dig deep enough. Every year, players emerge from the depths of the waiver wire to make tangible impacts in leagues of any depth and skill level.
Here are seven sleepers to keep an eye on in 2016-17:
Clint Capela, Rockets
The shiny new tandem of James Harden and Chris Paul dominated the offseason talk in Houston, but who is poised to be the primary beneficiary of two of the NBA's best passers linking up? Look no further than Capela.
Despite missing 15 games with a fractured fibula last season, the 23-year-old managed to fend off Montrezl Harrell and Nene to cement his role as the Rockets' starting center. Harrell was shipped to the Clippers as part of the Paul trade, and while Hilario will have a rotation spot after a resurgent 2016-17 campaign, Capela is the unquestioned starter.
His career-highs of 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game could tick up with both Harden and Paul dishing the ball and, barring injury, he seems likely to top the relatively modest 23.9 minutes per game he averaged last season.
Taurean Prince, Hawks
There's no question about it – the Hawks have pressed the reset button and are clearly in rebuilding mode. With Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha all sent packing, Atlanta is focusing on youth moving forward, and Prince looks to be one of the cornerstones of that effort.
The 22-year-old spent most of last season toiling in a reserve role, but he performed well under pressure as the starting small forward during the Hawks' short stint in the postseason, averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds over six games. He'll now be the favorite to start at the three and will have every opportunity to be a key contributor. While the Hawks may not be going anywhere this year, Prince will be in position to put up big stat lines.
If you paid any attention to the NBA Summer Leagues, Smith's inclusion on this list should come as no surprise. The first-round pick out of North Carolina State was a living highlight reel in Las Vegas, where he averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals per game to go with a remarkable collection of eye-opening dunks.
Smith is the complete package of athleticism, aggressiveness and scoring ability, and he's expected to take over the reins at point guard right away. Although Yogi Ferrell was a nice surprise last season, Smith's ceiling is significantly higher, and the rebuilding Mavs have little reason not to put the ball in his hands. When all's said and done, the rookie could very well outshine more notable classmates like Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz.
It's a make-or-break season for Russell, who gets a chance to reset his career after a tempestuous two years in Los Angeles. Maturity issues, injuries and a bad contract resulted in a trade to Brooklyn, but the No. 2 overall pick may now be in a better position to succeed.
Coach Kenny Atkinson's up-tempo offense is ideal for Russell's skill-set, and there's no doubt that he has the talent to start at either guard spot. However, the red carpet isn't exactly being rolled out for Russell to walk into a starting role, as Atkinson has openly stated that Jeremy Lin, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert will join Russell in an open competition.
That said, the 21-year old has a lofty pedigree on his side, and his ceiling remains considerably higher than that of anyone else on the roster -- there's a reason Brooklyn traded for him. If Russell can put it all together, he could be in line for a rebirth with the Nets.
Bradley comes to the Pistons with an opportunity to showcase skills that were sometimes overlooked in Boston. While he battled injuries last season, Bradley was easily the strongest defender on the team, and used those skills to isolate some of the best point guards in the league, giving Isiah Thomas free reign to score at will.
After averaging 16.3 points per game opposite Thomas last season, Bradley will again be expected to help carry the load, offensively. First-round-pick Luke Kennard will see time at the two, but Bradley will be the unquestioned starter and could be asked to handle more of the scoring burden for a team that finished 26th in points per game last season.
While Murray might not seem like a sleeper after an encouraging rookie year, the 20-year-old could be primed to bust out into Fantasy prominence. With Danilo Gallinari's scoring and playmaking gone and no clear competition at point guard outside of the underachieving Emmanuel Mudiay, Murray is on the short list of players who could make a Devin Booker-like ascent in Year 2.
After a slow start, Murray came into his own in the season's second half and averaged 16.2 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds over the Nuggets' final six games. It's a small sample, of course, but when given the opportunity, Murray demonstrated the all-around skills that could ultimately earn him a starting spot at some point this season.
Joakim Noah is recovering from a rotator cuff injury, and to make matters worse he has a 20-game drug suspension to complete. With that in mind, Hernangomez may be thrust into a starting role to begin the season, and it's not difficult to imagine him prying minutes away from Noah as the year goes on.
While watching the Knicks play isn't exactly a worthy endeavor these days, Hernangomez is fun to watch. He's scrappy and aggressive in the paint, and averaged nearly 14 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 53 percent from the field. Kristaps Porzingis could ultimately end up seeing more minutes at center this season as well, but even if that is the case, Hernangomez is going to be a major rotational piece. A bet in his favor is essentially a bet against Noah's effectiveness, and at this point Noah has provided little reason for optimism.
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