Wrote this list of 2013-14 fantasy basketball sleepers and busts up off the top of my head this evening. It’s possible I’ll add to it towards the end of training camp, so fantasy visitors might want to check back.
As always, all of my opinions are price sensitive, ie. directly correlated to where the players are projected.
David Lee: There’s nothing new under the sun with David Lee, so why is he a sleeper? For the same reason he was a sleeper last year, and virtually every year: Because he’s perpetually misranked!
This year he’s projected at 42. He finished last season at 23. The year before that at 27. What gives?
The prognosticators are always dreaming up reasons why Lee’s production will suffer. Two years ago, new coach and system. Last year, Bogut will take away his rebounds. This year, the same, plus Harrison Barnes will beat him out.
It’s all nonsense. David Lee is the best big man on the Warriors, and one of the best in the entire league. He will start, he will get his minutes, he will play 81 games, and he will rank in the 20s. Just like he always does. Book it.
Al Horford: Horford’s a lot like Lee, solid and dependable. And he’s already projected at 16. How could he be a sleeper?
Something’s changed. Josh Smith, who vied with Horford on the Hawks’ pecking order, is gone. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Horford is now the undisputed Man. The guy who is going to be featured in the offense.
He’s projected for 17.6 points/game. Too low.
Dwight Howard: I show him projected at 56th, and there is still a big injury risk here. He automatically destroys your team in the FT% category. And yet he’s still frequently getting drafted in the second round. That might not be as big a mistake as it sounds.
I’m not sure it’s a mistake to draft Howard with your third pick, IF you had a low first round draft pick, because if that’s the case, you’re already screwed, way behind the guys who landed Lebron, Durant, Harden and Curry. An unfortunate fact of life in the flawed snake draft system.
So if you’re team is sucking, it might be time to gamble. Draft Howard, tank FT% completely, and pray that he miraculously returns to top form. It gives you a chance to make up value on the leaders.
If you determine on this plan, make sure you identify all the players whose ranking suffers from FT%, like Blake Griffin and Andre Iguodala (see below), and draft them early. Their FT% can no longer hurt you.
Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo: Both these guys are projected in the 90s, but are currently going much higher in drafts. So in a sense, they are no longer sleepers. You have to pay up for them.
And there is risk here, given that both are in logjams at their positions. Harris with Mo Harkless, who’s a better defender, and Oladipo coming off the bench behind Aaron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson.
Both Harris and Oladipo are monsters though. Harris was ranked 63 in the last month of last season, and Oladipo is putting up crazy stats, particularly assists, in the preseason.
I think it’s smart to assume that Orlando will find a way to get these guys on the court, possibly by trade. Jameer Nelson is a particularly likely candidate to be traded.
Kyle Lowry: This is what I might term a Hail Mary sleeper. Only to be drafted if you think your team is way behind. There’s all kinds of risk with Lowry, he’s always injured, he’s almost always in a beef with his coach, etc. But when the stars align for him, as they did in 2011-12, he’s a top 20 talent, way better than his mid-40s projection.
If you’re getting your butt kicked, and drafting in the late 30s or lower, Lowry gives you a lottery ticket to get back into the game.
Andre Iguodala: I show Iggy projected at 66th, about how he performed last year. I think he could finish more than 20 spots ahead of that.
Why? Assists. He’s projected at 5.4, and I think he’ll average over 6, and possibly close to 7. The preseason has made clear that not only will Iggy be the Warriors de facto backup point guard behind Curry, but he will frequently be the point guard, or point-forward if you prefer, when Curry’s on the court. He is poised to take over Jarret Jack’s crunchtime duties, and move Curry off the ball.
And with targets like Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, you can expect Iggy’s assist totals to explode. Perhaps not to the level of the 14 assists he got in one preseason game, but that is a sign of things to come.
My stat service also shows a projected decline in his shooting %, perhaps due to taking more 3s. I think that’s misguided. How seriously do you think Iggy is going to be guarded this season, with opponents preoccupied with Curry and Thompson?
Exactly. He’s going to be wide open, my brothers. A lot.
Note: Iggy’s biggest negative, aside from not scoring much, is his atrocious free throw shooting. If you have already drafted Dwight Howard, which means you’re already tanking FT %, grab Iggy as soon as possible. His value has skyrocketed for you.
Klay Thompson: Something that’s not well understood about the new-look Warriors is that the 6-6″ Iguodala is going to be guarding the other team’s most dangerous scorer, and that player will be a back-court player far more often than a small forward. Which means that the 6-7″ Klay Thompson will be spending far less time chasing around point guards and shooting guards, and far more time playing small forward. Which means that his rebounding totals are going to go up, right?
Not reflected in the projections.
Also, it is highly likely that Thompson will remain in the starting lineup, and the black-hole Harrison Barnes will be replaced by the great passer Andre Iguodala. This means that Thompson will be getting better looks this season, right? And that his shooting % could go up?
Throw in the fact that Thompson started slowly last year, and had finishing problems that appear to have been addressed in the offseason, and the jump in shooting % could be substantial.
Also not reflected in the projections.
Enes Kanter: Hard to call this guy a sleeper when he’s never played full time and yet is already ranked 64. But let’s just say I believe in him. I’ve seen his post moves up close and personal.
Solid minutes + Highly skilled + High IQ = On feltbot’s team.
Isaiah Thomas: This guy is never projected to win the starting point guard job, yet always ends up with it. And when he has it, he produces for fantasy owners: he was the 57th ranked player in the last month of last season.
This year, he’s once again projected as a reserve, behind Greivous Vasquez. I think there’s a decent chance, though, that he winds up playing alongside Vasquez quite a bit. Vasquez has the size to slide over to the two, and he’s also not a great defender of quick point guards. If I were Mike Malone, my 4th quarter backcourt would be Thomas and Vasquez.
Thomas is ranked 174. If I needed a reserve point guard, though, I’d start looking for him in the 90s.
Thabo Sefolosha: How are the Thunder going to make up the scoring that James Harden and Kevin Martin took with them? Jeremy Lamb? The 20 year old shot 35% last year, and is shooting 28% (!) in extended action this preseason. Lamb isn’t ready, so I’m expecting a big minutes increase, and a bigger role, for Sefolosha this season.
Currently ranked 117th, I would definitely scoop him with my last pick.
Anthony Davis: I was right to include AD in this category last year, since although he slightly exceeded his projection when healthy, he spent nearly 20 games on the DL. As I predicted.
The fact of the matter is that AD is very slightly built to play PF/C on a regular basis, and doesn’t seem to possess the preternatural strength of the young Kevin Garnett. He gets knocked around a lot, and I’m not sure at age 20 whether this season will be any different than the last. AD is an injury risk.
He is also projected around 11th by my rankings, which is damn high, and increases the injury risk to owners. On the other hand, his production so far in the preseason indicates he might make a huge jump, and be better than 11th in production when he’s on the court. So what to do?
Here’s my recommendation: If he falls to you at 15th, say, grab him. If you’re 11th and he falls to you, and you feel like you absolutely must have him, then go ahead and draft him. But if he starts off the season like a monster, sell high as soon as you can. Trade him for equal but safer value.
That’s a win-win. Value for you, and injury risk for your trade partner.
Carmelo Anthony: What? Few things have been more predictable than Melo’s output over the last few years. Tons of points, no assists, etc. So why might this year be different?
The reason is that I see an increased risk of injury. Shoulder, knee… Melo took a lot of pounding last year playing at the four, and I think his body is wearing down.
And equally importantly, I think the Knicks might have trouble realizing their stated intention of moving him back to SF. Amare Stoudemire is beyond iffy this season, and Andrea Bargnani is not just iffy, but too horrid a defender/rebounder to be played at PF. He needs to be hidden at center, his best position. The pressure to play Melo at PF will be intense, particularly since that’s his best position.
Andrew Bogut: High IQ. High assists, rebounds, blocks. Starting the season 15 lbs. lighter than last, and with his ankle feeling like new. Ranked 93. What’s not to like?
That 62 game, 30 minute projection.
First of all, the Warriors don’t need him for 30 minutes a game. And second, while I root for him, I have very little confidence that his osteoarthritic ankle will allow him to play 62 games, regardless of how it’s feeling right now. Arthritis is never cured; it simply sleeps.
Typically after long summer layoffs with light activity.
Ty Lawson: Ranked 32 although he finished last season at 45. I think there’s a significant possibility that Lawson falls off the edge of the earth this season.
To start with, the Nuggets system has changed, and could there be a more drastic change than going from the NBA’s #1 running team under George Karl, to the triangle-trained Brian Shaw, late of the half-court Pacers? It’s unclear whether Lawson is even a decent half-court player (why did Karl so frequently turn to Andre Miller in the 4th quarter?), so a decrease in the Nuggets pace could have serious deleterious effects on his fantasy production.
To end with, the Nuggets’ personnel has changed. No more Gallinari, Lawson’s best target. No more Iggy and Koufos. In their place are rookies (Fournier), scrubs (Foye), the streaky (Chandler) and the brain dead (McGee).
Harrison Barnes: No, I’m not going out of my way to trash Barnes, as some might think given my history of realistically evaluating his skills. Barnes might eventually turn out to be a good NBA player, but that’s not what we’re concerned with here. We’re concerned with whether he’ll be a useful fantasy player, this season.
The answer is no. Whether or not he lands the starting SF assignment, Barnes is currently buried behind better players on the Warriors roster. Iggy, Thompson and Lee. He’s also competing with Draymond Green and Mo Speights for minutes. I don’t see any chance Barnes puts up fantasy production this season, unless something radically changes in the Warriors roster. And my rankings agree, placing him at 196.
And yet, I see a lot of fantasy owners buying the hype and drafting him. Don’t do it. He’s a late season waiver wire guy, at best.
(See also: More 2013-14 Sleepers and Busts.)