2019-20 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Nine sleepers to target on Draft Day
Alex Rikleen projects nine value players to target in Fantasy Basketball drafts.
The term "sleeper" gets overused these days, but the concept remains important to Fantasy success. What players is the Fantasy community "sleeping" on? Or, to put it more concretely, who are some players who should be valued a couple rounds higher than their average draft position (ADP) would suggest?
A sleeper column needs minimal introduction, so let's jump right in. I rank every player listed here at least 20 spots higher than their "expert consensus ranking" on Fantasy Pros:
Frankly, I'm surprised Lopez even qualifies as a "sleeper". He finished last season inside the top 55 in 8-cat, and inside the top 35 in 9-cat. When I made my initial 9-cat ranks in August, slotting Lopez in at 27th, I assumed that would be close to his standard. But his ADP is in the 90s on CBS!
Over the offseason, the Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon and replaced him with Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver. Matthews and Korver are great shooters, but they are way past their primes, and the offense will probably suffer from the downgrade from Brogdon. As a result, Milwaukee is likely to need more from Lopez, not less. Lopez's usage and threes per game are likely to increase.
The primary counter-argument against another top-60 season from Lopez appears to be the arrival of his brother, Robin, as a backup. Robin is a solid big man, and an obvious upgrade over the Bucks' dreary collection of backup centers in 2018-19, but he can't shoot a three. Brook's deep ball is a crucial part of the Bucks' offensive system. Robin attempted 31 threes last season, making only 23% of them. Brook attempted 512, making 37%.
Robin helps the Bucks survive when Brook is off the court, but he is not a threat to cut into Brook's 28.7 minutes per game. His perceived value is so low that there's no need to actually use a top-50 pick on Lopez, but I'd happily take him 20 picks ahead of ADP and still feel like I got fantastic value.
Before the massive Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Mavericks were starting DeAndre Jordan at center. With Porzingis on the sideline and Jordan in New York, the Mavs suddenly had a massive opening at center. Maxi Kleber got the first crack at the job, starting for eight games. But when Kleber was sidelined by an illness, Powell stepped in, and Dallas never looked back.
From that point on, Powell was a top-35 player in 9-cat, and a top-50 play in 8-cat. Furthermore, while Powell put in a respectable 14.7 points after entering the starting lineup, his Fantasy value is not dependent upon offensive production. That'll help him retain his value even after the high-usage Porzingis is incorporated into the offense. Powell is expected to continue starting at center.
Last season he was one of the most efficient field goal shooters in the league, and his free throw rate was a solid 77%. If he averages more than 30 minutes – a big but realistic "if" – he has "1-1-1" (averaging one three, one steal and one block per game) potential. Powell's ADP is currently 145 on CBS, but he's inside my top 100.
Unlike the players above, Rose is a late-round flier, but I think he has a really good chance to remain on rosters all season. The Pistons will probably keep starting Reggie Jackson at point guard, but they've tried to minimize their reliance on Jackson in crunch time for years, so Rose could lead the team in point guard minutes even if he comes off the bench.
Rose was mostly hurt during his limited 2017-18 campaign, but his 2016-17 and 2018-19 numbers show a lot of promise. In both seasons he averaged 18 points, more than two and a half rebounds, more than four assists, and shot better than 47% from the field. He's only 30 years old, and we've seen many veterans reinvent themselves as viable role players after their initial star value fades. Rose appears to have joined that list, but he's not being valued as such.
I'm team #NeverRookies, a strategy that categorically advises against ever using a top-100 pick to draft a rookie. A core justification for the strategy is that, historically, the Fantasy basketball community almost always overrates the rookies who get drafted in that range – i.e. even the highly drafted rookies who become valuable Fantasy producers rarely return value equal to their draft capital. There is a secondary conceit to the strategy, namely, that picking the right rookie outside the top-100 can be one of the best value picks of the draft.
The reason to avoid picking rookies early and to target rookies late is the same. It's that everyone – NBA teams, scouts, national basketball writers, Fantasy analysts, fans, everyone – has a pretty terrible track record of predicting rookie success. Using a high value pick on a rookie is therefore a giant risk. But drafting a rookie with a late-round pick, when you are picking players you expect to drop to the waiver wire after a couple weeks anyway, is when the risk-reward ratio shifts back in your favor.
Hachimura is my favorite late-round rookie candidate this year, for a couple of reasons. First, with the possible exception of the Grizzlies' Ja Morant, Hachimura probably enters the most barren depth chart of any rookie. Hachimura has no legitimate challenger for minutes. Second, in his final year at Gonzaga, Hachimura averaged 20-7-2 and nearly a steal and a block per game. He was a highly efficient shooter, and his turnover rate was relatively low. College stats do not translate directly to the NBA, but it is clear that Hachimura's skillset is Fantasy friendly.
Finally, while we should always be careful allowing non-basketball factors to impact our Fantasy decision-making, I can't get away from Hachimura's incredible marketing value to the real-world for-profit company that is the Washington Wizards. Hachimura is just the second Japanese player ever drafted in the NBA, and the first was drafted in the eighth round in 1981 and never played an NBA game. Hachimura has massive international appeal, and he may have had the largest post-game media scrums of any player at the Las Vegas Summer League.
The Wizards are likely to be one of the three or four worst teams this season, hurting both their attendance and merchandise sales, and they are going to be desperate for positive press. After Bradley Beal, Hachimura is easily the team's most marketable player. They're going to let him play. A lot.
Morris is going undrafted in most leagues, and that's as it should be. He's a late-round option for 14- or 16-team leagues, and he's unlikely to have long-term value in standard 12-team leagues. Morris has a very big, very important obstacle blocking him from Fantasy dominance – he plays in arguably the most crowded depth chart in the league. Morris is competing with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Will Barton, and Michael Porter Jr for minutes on a team that expects to earn home court in the crowded Western Conference. This team is focused on success now, and they won't give him any extra run just because Morris is a potentially promising young player.
The thing is, the depth chart was equally crowded last year, and Morris worked his way into 24 minutes per game. He's incredibly efficient, averaging 49% from the field and 80% from the free-throw line and he was second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Even if Morris just reproduces what he did last season, that will be worth holding in a 14-team league. If he can improve or earn a larger workload, it's possible he could work his way onto standard league rosters.
Other players to consider: Larry Nance, Cavaliers; Paul Millsap, Nuggets; Justise Winslow, Heat
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