Welcome back to another NBA season. This is a preseason look at players who have a lot of potential deeper in your draft, hence the "under-the-radar" tag. After the season starts, I'll go back to the normal format looking at players who have gotten a bump in minutes and which players to target in specific roto categories. After looking at some potential diamonds in the rough, I'll give some predictions for the upcoming season.
Ramon Sessions, J.J. Hickson, CLE There is a lot of hidden fantasy value in Cleveland when you look deeper than Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams. It was a nice acquisition to grab Sessions, who can play both the one and two spots and should gel nicely with Williams. Sessions is only 24 and showed the ability to be a fantasy monster from his days with the Bucks. Hickson is still a tad bit raw but should take the next step this year with LeBron out of town. He may not start but should still get solid minutes off the bench.
JaVale McGee, WAS Rarely you find a player with capital letters in the middle of both of his names, and his talent may also be unique. Even though he barely averaged more than 16 minutes a game last year, he averaged 1.7 blocks. He'll have an expanded role this year now that Brendan Heywood is gone, which means he'll probably reject more than two shots a game. The addition of John Wall and a semi-healthy, non-suspended Gilbert Arenas will keep the pressure on him to a minimum. If you miss out on a trendy center sleeper like Roy Hibbert, keep McGee in mind a few rounds later.
Serge Ibaka, OKC OK, I'm digging pretty deep here and thought of using Andris Biedrins in this spot instead. However, I'm supposed to discuss lesser-known guys, and I really like the native of Congo's potential. Ibaka got better last year as his rookie season went on and blocked seven shots against the Lakers in the playoffs. He's got a great supporting cast with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, which will only help his development. Look his way if you're looking for help with rebounds and blocks.
Jrue Holiday, PHI The 20-year-old UCLA product heads into his sophomore NBA season, and at 6-foot-3 he has excellent size as well as athleticism for a point guard. He's posted good preseason numbers, and with his size he's even grabbing a bunch of boards, which is rare for a point guard. Albeit an overtime, preseason affair, he messed around and got a triple-double in Toronto. I'd easily grab him over fellow late-round pick D.J. Augustin.
J.J. Redick, ORL Redick has improved his defense, and while that means little in fantasy circles it helps increase his playing time. He's an excellent shooter and will play a bigger role this season for the Magic. Vince Carter still has the starting gig but should anything happen to him on the injury front, Redick would make for a good pickup. Watch his minutes early in the season to see if he can help contribute to your fantasy squad.
Marco Belinelli, NOR Belinelli not Marcus Thornton has apparently secured the starting shooting guard spot for the Hornets. He's worth taking a look at as a good three-point shooter and can help your team at the free-throw line as well. Marcus Thornton hasn't done anything to challenge Belinelli for the starting role, so consider Belinelli the better play heading into the season.
Amir Johnson, TOR If you wonder about the Raptors' confidence in Johnson, look at the five-year, $34 million contract they handed him in July. He isn't going to fill the shoes of Chris Bosh but will likely get the lion's share of his minutes Bosh left behind. Playing little more than 17 minutes a game last year, he shot a whopping 62.3 percent from the field. When given substantial playing time over his final four games last season (33.5 minutes per), Johnson averaged 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. There is nobody outside of Andrea Bargnani being drafted within the first 100 picks from the Raptors, which makes me think there's a couple of sleepers waiting to be had north of the border. There's a good chance Johnson is one of those guys.
Taj Gibson, CHI Keeping in mind that he's something of a four-week rental while Carlos Boozer is out, Gibson will be a decent play to start the season. He recorded at least nine rebounds in 14 out of his last 24 games last year while posting about 10 points during that time. Again, his role will be reduced when Boozer returns, but he'll be serviceable until then.
Arron Afflalo, DEN Guess who's the third-leading scorer in the preseason at 21.2 points per game? It's Afflalo, who's found his shooting touch early. While the preseason doesn't always translate to the regular season, it's hard to ignore what Afflalo has done. He's a terrific three-point shooter, making more than 40 percent of his attempts the last two seasons. He should be rolling with the starting five and could get an even bigger role in the offense if Carmelo Anthony ends up on another team during the season. Keep an eye on teammate Ty Lawson too.
Other players I've found myself grabbing in the mid-rounds but have too high of an ADP for the purposes of this article include: Paul Millsap, Michael Beasley, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Jennings and Kevin Martin.
Now for some of my season-long predictions.
Last year I picked Oklahoma City to do well (admittedly I think I only picked them to make the playoffs last year, but that was even considered a stretch at the time), so the lucky team to get my blessing this season is the Houston Rockets. I've read and heard nothing but glowing reviews about Kevin Martin during the summer. Yao appears to be healthy, and they've figured out that they can't expect too many minutes out of him. Shane Battier is one of the better shut-down defenders in the association as I'm sure Kobe Bryant would attest. Aaron Brooks has another year of experience under his belt, and Luis Scola is a solid player in the low post. Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger and Kyle Lowry all have nice upside and should be a solid second unit. Not only do they make the playoffs, but they finish as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the West.
The Miami Heat's over/under on wins for the season is 64.5. I like the under better. I'm wary of the Heat's big men, and an injury to any of the Big Three would make 65 wins a difficult task. I don't see them getting out of the Eastern Conference either since the Hawks, Celtics and Magic all have a big edge in the paint.
If there's a sleeper I really like this year, it's Blake Griffin. Not only do I expect him to win ROY over John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins, it wouldn't surprise me if we're talking about him as a top-30 player at this time next year. I don't think I've seen a player who's as ready for the NBA from a physical standpoint since LeBron James.
Good luck at your draft, and remember, it's not a reach if you really like a player enough.