Fantasy Hoops: Sleepers & Undervalued Assets
Each October there are players who don’t possess the requisite name recognition to be viewed as top-tier talents, and consequently slip further than they should in fantasy drafts. However, by the time April rolls around, many of these players are often found on teams that finish in first place after drastically outperforming their average draft position. Shrewd GM’s can take advantage of their league-mates reluctance to think outside the box by targeting these select few.
Below we have listed a handful of undervalued commodities on the precipice of breakout seasons in 2013-14:
Thad Young / Evan Turner / Michael Carter Williams – Philadelphia 76ers:
Even historically bad teams play 82 games in a season. So that means there will be 82 opportunities for players on the losing team to compile points, rebounds, assists etc. On most nights, the two guys that will get the lion’s share of shot attempts in Philly will be Young and Turner. Young has long been an undervalued and underappreciated fantasy asset. This season, as a focal point of the Sixers offense, Young will finally get the respect he deserves. There is a very good chance that he leads the Sixers in points, rebounds, and steals this year – while also shooting a ridiculously high percentage from the floor. Don’t be afraid to select Young in the late 4th or early 5th round.
Turner isn’t as efficient as Young and may not have quite the same upside, but there is certainly reason to believe he’ll post impressive numbers across the board this year. Consider this fact: Last season, Turner was one of just six players to average at least 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game. The other five were LeBron, Durant, Paul George, Paul Pierce, and Josh Smith. This season Turner should certainly see his usage rate increase as the Sixers have very few players on the roster that can create their own shot. Encouragingly, Turner is playing over 33 minutes a night during the preseason, which ranks second in the league.
As we have learned over the years, effectiveness and ultimate success in all fantasy sports is as much about opportunity (i.e. being in the right place at the right time), as it is about skill set. The most talented players don’t always put up the best numbers; it’s often a combination of access to playing time and ability to perform. In each of the last two seasons, the NBA Rookie of the Year has been a point guard who started immediately and played a ton of minutes. While Carter-Williams has nowhere near the talent or experience necessary to put up stats even approaching the numbers posted by Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard, it is not a stretch to suggest Carter-Williams will lead all 2013-14 NBA rookies in minutes played. The Sixers simply do not have another NBA-quality PG on the roster. It sure looks like MCW will be given all the minutes he can possibly handle. Carter-Williams is a long and athletic point guard who, despite some obvious flaws in his game, possesses an intriguing upside. At nearly 6-6, Carter-Williams brings extraordinary length and wingspan to the position. This is a huge asset, especially on the defensive end, where he can use that length to hawk smaller defenders and cut down passing. He averaged a whopping 2.8 steals per game last season at Syracuse. Offensively, Carter-Williams is a solid ball handler and an excellent passer. Again, he often utilizes his size to see over the top of defenses. He averaged 7.7 assists per game as a sophomore at Syracuse, which ranked third in the nation.
Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors:
There are very few players that will be scooped up in the mid-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts that have the potential to realistically finish the season ranked in the Top-25 overall. Lowry happens to be one of the select few in that category. Lowry has been an absolute fantasy beast when healthy and focused. Yes, he’s dealt with nagging injuries and run-ins with head coaches, but since his breakout season in 2010, he has produced at an elite level. Need proof? Since the start of the 2010-11 season, there are only four players in the entire league that have posted composite averages of at least 13 ppg, 6 apg, and 4 rpg: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Lowry. Not bad company for Lowry to keep (especially considering Lowry has hit more three-pointers than the other three guys on that list). And now, with Jose Calderon no longer in Toronto, the stars are aligned for Lowry, as he will be the undisputed starter. Add it all up, and we have a recipe for fantasy success.
Derrick Favors / Enes Kanter – Utah Jazz:
Here’s Derrick Favors per-36 minutes averages from last season: 14.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 2.6 blocks. Well, Paul Millsap is now in Atlanta and Al Jefferson plays for the Bobcats – which means Favors may very well see close to 36 minutes a night.
Much like Favors, Enes Kanter stands to see a major uptick in minutes next season for the very same reasons. And Kanter’s per-36 averages are equally impressive: 16.9 points, 10.2 boards. 1.1 blocks. Better yet, he shot 54.4 percent from the floor and 79.5 percent from the free-throw stripe a season ago. Both young Jazz big men are primed to enjoy breakout campaigns in 2013-14. While Favors has received a ton of the preseason attention (his current average draft position reflects this), it is surprising Kanter has not been showered with nearly as much praise. Since the hype machine seems to skipping over him, Kanter presents excellent draft-day value at the always thin center position.
Jeff Green – Boston Celtics:
No Paul Pierce, no Kevin Garnett and no Rajon Rondo for a while – which means plenty of Jeff Green. Over the Celtic’s final 38 games last season (Rondo tore his ACL on January 28), Green averaged 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 three-pointers, and 1.2 blocks. Over that three-month stretch, Green was one of only four NBA players to average at least one block and one three-pointer per contest – the other three players were Nicolas Batum, Josh Smith, and Kevin Durant. The Celtics will struggle this season, but Green will “The Man” in Beantown.
Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs:
Despite a phenomenal performance during the 2013 postseason, Leonard remains underappreciated in fantasy circles. His well-rounded game is perfectly suited for nine-category leagues. He contributes across the board, and his greatest asset may be his remarkable efficiency. Leonard finished the 2012-13 season as one of just three NBA players to shoot above 49 percent from the floor, 37 percent from three-point land and 82 percent from the free-throw stripe. The other two members of this elite club were Kevin Durant and Steve Nash. Leonard will likely still be on the board early in round five, yet is still a solid value in round four.
Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets:
I’ve been on the Davis bandwagon all summer and, somewhat unfortunately, he’s had a MONSTER preseason which means he won’t slip nearly as far as I hoped he would on draft day. Back in early October, I was hoping he’d fly under the radar coming off a relatively disappointing rookie season. Still, while he didn’t quite live up to expectations, he still put up incredibly impressive numbers. He finished last season as one of only three players to average at least 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals (Joakim Noah and Josh Smith were the other two). Davis was also incredibly efficient on offense as well. In fact, he was one of just seven players to average 13.5 ppg, while also shooting over 51 percent from the field and over 75 percent from the stripe. (The other members of this elite club were: LeBron James, Tony Parker, David Lee, Chris Bosh, Brook Lopez, and Amar’e Stoudemire). Davis did this all at just 19 years of age and in relatively limited minutes. His upside is frightening. Add it all up and you have one of the more exciting and promising young players in the fantasy hoops universe. Last tidbit for you to consider: Last season Davis became the first player since Shawn Kemp in 1991-92 (and just the 4th player in NBA history) to tally 13.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks despite averaging fewer than 29 minutes per contest. However, now that’s he put up consistently insane box scores throughout the preseason (averaging 22 points, 6.3 boards, 1.8 steals, and two blocks per game – while shooting 53.8 percent from the floor and 88.9 percent from the free throw stripe), Davis is skyrocketing up draft boards. You will likely have to invest a second-round pick if you want to secure the services of the second-year stud.
Trey Burke – Utah Jazz:
Burke’s stock obviously took a huge hit when he fractured his index finger in the preseason. Varying media reports have Burke sidelined anywhere from four weeks to more than two months. The situation is still in flux and it appears we won’t have a clear idea of when Burke will return to the floor until he has the splint removed two weeks from now. Obviously, drafting Burke is a bit of gamble due to the uncertainly related to his health. However, the upside is enormous, as Burke was the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year prior to fracturing his finger.
Last season, Utah had three veteran point guards on its roster: Mo Williams, Earl Watson, and Jamaal Tinsley. Combo guard Randy Foye was also asked to assume responsibilities at the point from time-to-time. Well, Williams and Watson are now members of the Portland Trailblazers; Foye is a Denver Nugget; and Tinsley remains unsigned. Clearly the Jazz envision Burke as their lead guard of the future. (They did think highly enough of Burke to trade two first-round picks [Shabazz Muhammad and Gurgui Dieng] for him.) Despite being a bit undersized, Burke is a lethal scorer. Last season at Michigan he averaged 18.6 points a game (shooting over 46 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the free-throw line) and knocked down nearly two three-pointers per contest. If he could be back by early December, and will likely put up big numbers the rest of the way. This current injury may enable shrewd fantasy GM’s to snag a difference-maker at a remarkable discount. If you do select Burke, just cover your bets by scooping up his backup – John Lucas III – late in the draft.
Kelly Olynyk – Boston Celtics:
He’ll be a defensive liability in the NBA, but fantasy GM’s don’t have to worry about that. Olynyk is a gifted offensive player, with impressive agility and athleticism for a seven-footer. His upside was on full display in Orlando Summer League action, where Olynyk was downright dominant. He ended up averaging 18.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, while shooting a sizzling 57.8 percent from the floor, while also showcasing a nice stroke from behind the arc. In addition, the Celtics find themselves in a complete rebuild mode and are currently cleaning house, which leaves Olynyk as one of the only centers on the roster.
Honrable Mentions: Anderson Varejao – Cleveland Cavs, Jared Sullinger / Kris Humphries / Vitor Faverani – Boston Celtics, James Anderson – Philadelphia 76ers and Patrick Beverly – Houston Rockets.