For most fantasy hoops leagues, draft day is rapidly approaching, and it’s never too early to start looking at which sleepers might slip. After all, draft success is predicated upon turning a fantasy profit, whether it be drafting a player in the fourth round that returns third-round value, stealing a stud in the middle of the draft, or securing a starter in the final round. With that in mind, listed below is a potential sleeper for each Eastern Conference club. Next week, we’ll head out West.
* Taurean Prince - Atlanta Hawks:
The Hawks gutted their roster this summer (four of their six leading scorers from last season left via trade or free agency), and Atlanta is clearly in rebuilding mode. This is great news for Prince, a 2016 lottery pick. Even before they parted ways with their veteran core, the Hawks showed that they had great trust in Prince. He started the final ten games of the 2016-17 season and all six playoff contests, averaging over 11 points and five boards in 31 minutes. Now, with very limited competition for playing time at small forward (especially now that DeAndre Bembry is banged up), I’m willing to wager that Prince finishes the 2017-18 campaign second on the team in minutes played, behind only Dennis Schroder.
* Al Horford - Boston Celtics:
Al Horford averaged a career-high five assists per game last season, to go along with 14 points. According to Basketball-Reference, Horford is the first center to average at least 14 points and five dimes in the same season since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1978-79. Horford also averaged a career-best 1.3 three-pointers per contest and pulled down 6.8 rebounds. He is just the third Celtic in franchise history to average at least 14/6/5/1. The other two Celtics to match those totals are Larry Bird and Antoine Walker. Although the C’s added Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Horford will still be asked to help facilitate the offense and knock down wide-open jumpers.
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* D'Angelo Russell - Brooklyn Nets:
Brooklyn is a dream landing spot for a young, talented playmaker such as Russell. Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has had tremendous success getting the most out of young guards, and Russell should flourish under his tutelage. In addition, the Nets play at a frenetic pace under Atkinson. Last season they led the league by averaging 103.6 possessions per game. It’s not a stretch to project Russell averaging in the neighborhood of 19 points, five assists, and two treys per game this year.
* Marvin Williams - Charlotte Hornets:
Selecting a guy like Williams won’t prompt the desired “DAMN, GOOD PICK!” comments from your league mates during the draft, as he’s a relatively boring fantasy selection. However, Williams is rock-solid with a relatively high floor. Also, he’s often drastically underrated. For instance, ESPN currently has him ranked 121st overall in roto-scoring format, despite the fact that he finished as 68th overall in nine-category leagues last season according to Basketball Monster. Taking Williams in the ninth or tenth round may elicit yawns on draft day, but Williams’ owners will likely be smiling when the fantasy playoffs roll around.
* Kris Dunn - Chicago Bulls:
Every year there are players that log heavy minutes and put up gaudy numbers on bad teams. Probably my favorite ‘mediocre player in the right situation’ scenario was my guy Ricky Davis on a terrible Cavs team the year before LeBron arrived. MC Ricky D averaged 20.6 points, 5.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals in a whopping 39.6 minutes per game for Cleveland in 2002-03. No, Kris Dunn won’t come close to matching those numbers in Chicago, and yes he stunk last season, but I fully expect the Bulls give him as many minutes as he can possibly handle. Dunn entered the NBA with a ton of (justified) hype as a top-five pick just 12 months ago, and he’s one of the main pieces Chicago received in exchange for superstar Jimmy Butler. Just as importantly, the Bulls don’t have any other reliable point guards on their roster. Dunn makes an excellent late-round flier with high upside, especially if you are punting FG percentage.
* Derrick Rose - Cleveland Cavaliers:
The recent rumors related to Isaiah Thomas have been discouraging, to say the least. One recent report claims that he is "dealing with more than just a tear" in his hip, including arthritis and a loss of cartilage. If Thomas is sidelined for an extended period of time, the Cavs will have to lean heavily on Rose, who averaged 18.0 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 boards in 32.5 minutes for the Knicks last season.
* Boban Marjanovic - Detroit Pistons:
Here are Boban's career per-36 minute averages: 21.9 points (on 57.8 percent shooting), 14.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. And last season Marjanovic did something which hadn’t been accomplished in the NBA in over 50 years. Per Basketball-Reference, Boban became the first player to log over 250 minutes and average at least 23 points and 16 boards per-36 since Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66. While Boban won’t play anywhere close to 36 minutes a night, he is going to set a career-high in minutes played. With Aron Baynes now in Boston, Boban is the clear-cut backup to Andre Drummond.
* Victor Oladipo - Indiana Pacers:
In 2015-16, as a member of the Magic, Oladipo finished 34th overall in standard fantasy leagues. Last season, in OKC, ‘Dipo finished 86th overall. Smart money says that Oladipo ranks much closer to 34 than 86 in 2017-18. Now that he has escaped the shadow of Westbrook, who posted a mind-boggling usage rate of 41.7 percent last year, Victor will be a focal point of the Indiana offense, especially since the Pacers parted ways with Paul George and Jeff Teague this summer. ‘Dipo is a steal if he slips past the fourth round.
* James Johnson - Miami Heat:
After bouncing around the NBA, and playing for four different teams over his first seven seasons, Johnson finally found a home in Miami. He enjoyed the most productive season of his career with the Heat, recording career-highs across the board. From a fantasy perspective, his versatility is his greatest attribute. In 2016-17, he was one of only five players to average at least one steal, one block and 3-pointer per game. Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Robert Covington, and Draymond Green were the other four. Of those five, KD and Johnson were the only two to post an eFG percentage north of 50.0 percent.
* Thon Maker - Milwaukee Bucks:
Just 20 years old and still growing into his body, Maker is more of a target in dynasty/keeper formats than re-draft leagues. Nonetheless, his upside is awfully intriguing. Maker was surprisingly inserted into the Bucks starting lineup midway through last season and ended up averaging 5.1 points in just 13.7 minutes over 34 starts. Greg Monroe logged most of the minutes at center, but Monroe is set to become an unrestricted free agent next July. If Maker can continue to develop his game and add weight to his frame, he has a chance to evolve into a freakish ‘stretch five’ in the mold of Kristaps Porzingis.
* Doug McDermott - New York Knicks:
I had Willy Hernangomez penciled in as the Knicks sleeper 24 hours before the column was published. However, due to the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Knicks prospects have been shifted dramatically. With Enes Kanter coming over from OKC, there will be a numbers crunch at center, which diminishes Willy’s fantasy appeal. Once Joakim Noah finishes serving his suspension in mid-November, Noah, Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Hernangomez will all be competing for minutes at the five. Thus, in searching for another sleeper, I'll go with Dougie McBuckets. Granted, it’s a reach, as McDermott has not done much to inspire confidence over his first three pro seasons. However, he’ll have a fresh start in New York, and with Melo out of the picture, he’ll have a decent chance at earning the starting small forward gig. Although his game is not well-rounded, he’s been an efficient scorer and will provide treys. Dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season, McDermott is one of just ten players to attempt more than 450 3-pointers while shooting at least 45.0 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from downtown.
* Aaron Gordon - Orlando Magic:
Due to a crowded frontcourt, the Magic tried playing Gordon at small forward last season and the experiment failed miserably. Over the first half of the season, Gordon averaged 11.2 points and 4.6 boards while shooting just 42.8 percent from the floor. Then Orlando traded Serge Ibaka to the Raptors in February, allowing Air Gordon to shift to his more natural power forward spot. The results were certainly encouraging. Over his final 21 games of 2016-17, Gordon averaged 17.0 points and 6.2 rebounds, while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. Those numbers, which helped Gordon rank in the top-50 overall during the season’s final two months, are what we can anticipate with him playing PF full-time in 2017-18.
* Richaun Holmes - Philadelphia 76ers:
We’re accustomed to “handcuffs” in fantasy football. For instance, if you drafted Titans running back DeMarco Murray in the first round this year, ideally you scooped up his backup, Derrick Henry, later in the draft. It’s rare we have a similar situation in fantasy hoops, but if you select Joel Embiid in your draft next month, make sure you attempt to purchase insurance in the form of Richaun Holmes. Already we have word that Embiid has yet to go through any 5-on-5 work and head coach Brett Brown said he's not sure what Embiid will be able to do at the start of training camp. If Embiid is sidelined at any point this season, Holmes will once again be asked to step in and step up. In the 17 games he started last season, Holmes averaged 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds, while shooting 54.4 percent from the floor and 79.4 percent from the stripe.
* Norman Powell / C.J. Miles - Toronto Raptors:
With DeMarre Carroll now in Brooklyn and P.J. Tucker in Houston, the Raps starting small forward spot is up for grabs. Norman Powell is the prohibitive favorite, as he started 18 games for Toronto last season and averaged 15.6 points (shooting 49.8 percent from the field, including 39.7 percent from deep), 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.6 treys in those contests. Powell will likely be drafted much earlier than C.J. Miles, but Miles still makes an excellent late-round flier in deep leagues, especially if you need triples. Last season in Indiana, Miles finished 12th in the NBA in 3-point percentage while shooting a career-best 41.3 percent from long range. In fact, among players who attempted at least 400 treys, only three finished with a higher percentage (Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum and J.J. Redick).
* Otto Porter - Washington Wizards:
A first blush, Porter’s 2016-17 per-game averages are not awe-inspiring (13.4 points, 1.5 assists, 0.5 blocks, etc.) However, Otto is a supremely efficient jack of all trades, even if he’s a master of none. Consider this: Last season, Porter joined Steve Nash and Reggie Miller as just the third player in NBA history to make at least 140 3-pointers and shot over 51.0 percent from the field in the same season. Also, according to Basketball-Reference, Otto became the first player in NBA history to record more than 110 steals but commit fewer than 50 turnovers in the same season. It’s this unique skill set that powered Porter to a top-25 overall ranking in nine-category leagues. Otto will obviously be far more expensive on draft day this year as compared to last, but there’s still an opportunity to turn a nice little profit even in the fourth round.