Winning in fantasy basketball is not just a matter of lucking into one of the top two picks in the draft, although that certainly helps. And its not just a matter of sticking to the discipline of the published draft rankings, rather than drafting your favorite players, although that certainly helps too. A large part of winning fantasy leagues involves doing your own scouting and independent thinking to find value where no one else — not even the fantasy experts — expect to find it. In other words, it involves finding and scooping up “sleepers” — players that for different reasons are greatly undervalued heading into the season.
As I prepared for my second and final expert league fantasy basketball draft to be held later today, I realized that I had in mind a whole list of sleeper candidates that fantasy basketball enthusiasts might be interested in reading about. So, at the risk of boring the pants off my regular readership, here it is:
One of the leading reasons certain players are undervalued entering the regular season is that they are coming off injury, and are seen as injury risks. Sometimes these concerns are real (see Ming, Yao), but at certain times they are a boon to astute value hunters.
Danny Granger: Granger is a stat machine, who when healthy is one of the top 6 fantasy players in basketball. So why is he being drafted in the middle to late 2nd round? It’s because none of the stat services believes he can keep himself on the court. I would be delighted to draft Granger with my second pick: that’s the kind of gamble that can win a league for you.
Monta Ellis: Monta’s situation is very similar to Granger’s. He is forecast to play only around 68 games this year. When he did play last year, he was the 12th best fantasy player. But because of his injury history, he’s being ranked 25th to 35th. That is completely unreasonable, in my opinion, given that both his scoring and defensive load will be significantly lighter this year, he’s finally back to his old playing weight, and Keith Smart is committed to resting him. I expect Monta to be healthy this year.
Kevin Martin: A couple of years ago, Martin was a second round fantasy talent. This year, he’s going in the 6th or 7th round, despite his return to form in the second half of last season. I scooped up Martin with the 71st pick in my last draft, and am targeting him again.
Gilbert Arenas: Arenas is going in the fifth round for basically the same reason as the players above: owners fear that he won’t be able to keep himself on the court, for whatever reason. It’s quite possible, but talents like Arenas don’t grow on trees. If he slips to me in the fifth round, I’m going to gamble on a serious upside surprise.
Jameer Nelson: Nelson’s recent career has been wracked by injury, but should he really be ranked at #106, lower than the Beno Udrih and Mike Conley’s of the NBA world? A classic injury sleeper.
Andris Biedrins: Three years ago, Biedrins was worth an early 7th round pick. This year, he’s going in the 14th round. If you believe the reports from training camp that the old Biedrins is back, you can get yourself quite a scoop. I’m not so sure. If I do wind up drafting him, I’ll try and make sure I play him a lot at the start of the season, to get his early healthy contributions. That way it won’t hurt so much if injury makes him not worth playing later.
REVERSE INJURY SLEEPERS
Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich: Crazy thought, but I wonder what will happen to Gasol’s stats if Kobe Bryant continues to struggle to come back from his knee surgery? Is Gasol a sort of “reverse injury” sleeper?
If so, then Kirk Hinrich is a reverse injury sleeper deluxe: If Gilbert Arenas suffers another brain injury, or if John Wall suffers an injury to his rookie confidence, you can be sure Hinrich, the ultimate team player, will step into the breach. Flip Saunders is already writing love poems to him. You can be sure he’ll get plenty of court time regardless. A great sleeper to draft if you wind up with Arenas.
MIS-FORECAST STAT SLEEPERS:
This rarely happens, as basketball players are fairly well-known entities to the stat forecasters. But here’s a few examples:
Stephen Curry: It’s hard to call a player who is being drafted 8th or 9th in most leagues a sleeper, but Curry might be just that. How many of you believe that Curry will be limited to 6 assists/gm this season? That’s his forecast. I believe he’ll average over 8, and possibly close to 10, if he and Lee really start working the pick and roll. At 9 or even 8 assists/gm, Curry is the third or 4th best player in fantasy.
Monta Ellis: Because of his tough last two seasons, Ellis is forecast to shoot a terrible percentage, and have a terrible turnover problem. Has everyone forgotten his 60% for a month three seasons ago? Do they realize he’s no longer the lead guard, and that he doesn’t have to force his offense this season? Do they realize he’s back to his 185 lb. playing weight for the first time since his moped injury? Fat Monta is gone.
Monta is horribly mis-forecast. Draft him.
Kevin Love: I am not convinced that Kevin Love is a winning NBA basketball player. Too slow, too porous at the four for today’s game. As a fantasy basketball player, though, I think he may surprise some people. For this reason: He’s starting to light it up from three. He began showcasing the shot for USA basketball, and has been carrying it over into the preseason: He was 3-3 from three and scored 32 points in the last preseason game. If Love’s three-point shot becomes a feature of the TWolves’ offense, his .8/gm in threes, and 15 pts./gm forecasts are both low.
These are very low ranked players who are worth a speculative late draft pick because of the possibility of significant upside. These players are just coming into their own, and thus not well known or understood by the forecasters, who are essentially statisticians, not talent evaluators, at heart. And these players are almost always to be found flying under the radar in obscure markets.
Linas Kleiza: Kleiza’s going to be the starting small forward in Toronto, and I believe will light it up in points, threes and rebounds for an atrocious team in an uptempo offense.
Jrue Holiday: Holiday plays for a lousy team, but has the full confidence of Doug Collins, who is expected to play smaller and push the tempo. I think he might surprise.
Marcus Thornton: Owners are fearful that Marco Belinelli has taken the starting two job away from Thornton because he plays better defense.
Terrence Williams: Williams averaged an impressive 14-7-5 stat line over the final six weeks last season, but owners are fearful that defensive guru The Squeaky General is going to go with Anthony Morrow as his starting two guard.
Reggie Williams: As noted in my last piece, Reggie is a complete unknown among stat forecasters and owners. Given the fact that the Warriors have one of the weakest benches in the league, I think Reggie is a lock for 30 minutes a game, and will greatly exceed his current forecasts of 9-3-2. Heck, he averaged 15-4-3 in 24 games fresh out of the D-league last year.
Dorell Wright, Nic Batum and Austin Daye: These are deep, deep sleepers that should only be ventured if the others are unavailabe. For the first two, check my last piece.
Austin Daye is a player who blew my socks off when I watched him in the Vegas summer league. At 6-11 200 lbs., Daye is every bit the super-long, super-skilled small forward that Anthony Randolph wishes he could be. He’s currently buried in a logjam, but if the Pistons manage to move Tayshaun Prince at the deadline, Daye owners could reap a bonanza.