Welcome to the 2013-14 season of the National Basketball Association. Let’s get you started off with 10 players who you will want to look closely at in this season’s fantasy drafts.
Point Guard Sleepers
Jrue Holiday; New Orleans Pelicans
Holiday was a pleasant surprise for the 76ers last season, vying for “breakout player of the year” leading up to the All-Star break. However, Holiday faded badly down the stretch, and Philadelphia’s playoff aspirations faded along with him.
However, 2013 sets up nicely for Holiday, who will be running the show for the revamped New Orleans Pelicans. He averaged 18 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds last season, and that could very realistically be his floor if the transition to New Orleans works out smoothly.
The bottom line: Holiday isn’t a name that goes unnoticed anymore, but most casual fantasy players still won’t put him in the same category as more well-known point guards like Tony Parker, Ty Lawson, and Monta Ellis, which could cause his draft position to fall to a nice value.
Deep Sleeper - Reggie Jackson; Oklahoma City Thunder
When Russell Westbrook succombed to a torn meniscus in the playoffs last year, Jackson stepped up and showed his fantasy potential by posting a line of 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists in 11 playoff games.
Westbrook isn’t expected to return to the lineup until mid-December or possibly even January. Even when Westbrook does come back, expect the Thunder to play Jackson alongside of him in certain situations. OKC’s shooting guard and sixth man from last season, Kevin Martin, is no longer with the team, so expect Jackson to slide into that role later in the season, which could mean a stable 25+ minutes a night for this offensively talented combo-guard.
Shooting Guard Sleeper Picks
Bradley Beal; Washington Wizards.
The rookie was sizzling hot before an injury slowed him down in the final month of the season. Beal should be fully healthy, and ready to build on his impressive introductory season in the NBA. He had a very nice rapport going with point guard John Wall, which should carry into the 2013 campaign right off the bat.
Beal averaged 17.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game in the month of February last year, which was the last full month he was fully healthy and playing alongside John Wall. I would expect those numbers to be his starting point for 2013, with some tremendous upside for even more.
Deep Sleeper – Alec Burks; Utah Jazz.
Pretty much every player in the Utah Jazz starting lineup could be nominated for their sleeper potential (cue: foreshadowing). Burks will be the starting SG for Utah, and he is expecting to see about 30 minutes a game in that role. If we extrapolate his stats from last year to account for this increase in minutes, we are looking at 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. Those numbers aren’t overly impressive, but consider that his floor, as Burks will likely be taking more shots in an offense without Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Mo Williams, and Paul Millsap.
Small Forward Sleepers
Wilson Chandler; Denver Nuggets.
Chandler showed flashes of greatness for the high-flying Nuggets last season, but consistency within the rotation was always an issue with him. With teammate Danilo Gallinari is recovering from ACL surgery, so Chandler should see plenty of minutes early on to showcase his abilities, which includes posting well-rounded stat lines and some nice upside for 30+ point games every now and then.
Deep Sleeper - Maurice Harkless; Orlando Magic
Harkless flashed his upside last season for an Orlando team that was decimated by injury. His 13 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal per game over the last few months of the season (35 minutes per game) is just a glimpse of what he is capable of.
While the upside is there, so is the risk. Harkless’s role isn’t etched in stone by any means, as he may be competing for playing time (and stats) with Tobias Harris and rookie Victor Oladipo. Consider Harkless a risk/reward deep sleeper.
Power Forward Sleeper Picks
Derrick Favors; Utah Jazz
Favors is seemingly on everybody’s list for breakout player of the year. While that may dampen his “sleeper potential”, you should still consider the talented Jazz power forward, as I believe he will have production along the lines of more popular players like Zach Randolph and David West.
Favors will take Paul Millsap’s spot in the starting lineup upon his departure for Atlanta (cue the foreshadowing once again). If Favors can carry over his remarkable efficiency into this expanded role (30+ minutes a game), he should be averaging a double-double at the very least, with potential for even more once he finds his low post game on the offensive side of the floor.
Paul Millsap; Atlanta Hawks
Millsap has been a “more than serviceable” fantasy player for several years as a member of the Utah Jazz. However, most of his fantasy production relied heavily upon him crashing the offensive glass, and creating his own opportunities to score. With a change in scenery in Atlanta, don’t expect that to be the trend moving forward, in a good way. Millsap will likely play a larger role in the offense, filling the void left by Josh Smith. Don’t expect him to instantly put up numbers similar to Smoove in his time in Atlanta, but the upside is certainly there.
Jonas Valanciunas; Toronto Raptors
Most of Valanciunas’s (say that seven times fast) 2012-13 season was hindered by a hand injury that forced him to sit out nearly a month in the middle of the season. Now, Jonas is fully healthy and ready to build upon his rookie season as the starting center for Toronto.
In the final month of the season, Valanciunas averaged 15 points 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, while seeing 25-30 minutes of regular floor time. It’s not unreasonable to think that Jonas can build upon that strong finish in his sophomore campaign. He will certainly get the opportunity to do so early and often.
Enes Kanter; Utah Jazz
Rounding out the Jazz trio of fantasy sleepers is Kanter, who may very easily steal the spotlight as the premiere fantasy player on this team of aspiring youngsters.
Kanter was remarkably efficient as a backup last season, averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds in just an average of 15 minutes per game. His minutes will more than likely double as the starting center for Utah (former starter Al Jefferson is no longer with the team), and it’s not unreasonable to think that his production will double as a result. In fact, in the three games where Kanter saw 30+ minutes of action (two of which he started), he posted statlines of 23 pts / 22 reb, 18 pts / 10 reb, and 18 pts / 8 reb. Granted, that is a small sample size, and it remains to be seen how well Kanter can perform given a large number of minutes on a nightly basis, but it is encouraging to think of the type of stat lines he is capable of in this role.