As the regular season opener inches closer, we will take a look at potential sleepers - one for each team. We define a sleeper as a player being drafted lower than we project them to finish by season's end.
Jeff Green, F, BOS: Green is not only finally healthy but returns from a year of absence to an ideal situation. Green will be given the task of backing up the aging Paul Pierce as well as Brandon Bass, a player who Green was widely considered better than just two years ago. If Pierce goes down or Green plays up to his 2011 self, the sky is the limit. At the very least, count on Green to provide solid scoring and rebounding production with high percentages for a big man.
Mirza Teletovic, F, BRO: Johnny Giovony, President of DraftExpress.com, recently coined Teletovic as "one of the best scorers in European basketball, period." His paltry six rebounds per game overseas means he'll likely facilitate the "soft" label designated to most Euros with size, but players like Andrea Bargnani have succeeded with a similar profile. At age 27 (one year older than Bargnani), it's possible Teletovic will contribute immediately off the bench.
J.R. Smith, G, NY: Smith has been a bench player for the majority of his career, but he is going to get a chance to show what he can do as a starter this season. He is a high-volume shooter who isn’t going to shy away from taking his shot, even playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in the starting lineup. He has averaged over 15 points per game twice in his career, even as a bench player, so owners have to be intrigued about what he can do in a starting role. He has the potential to provide fantasy owners with significant value in points, three-pointers, and steals, while posting solid stats in both rebounds and assists. He could be available in the middle rounds of many drafts, possibly providing owners with even more value, considering where he could be drafted.
Evan Turner, G, PHI: If Turner is allowed to play the role he did during his collegiate Player of the Year season at Ohio State, he could blossom into one of the best fantasy values of the new season. In previous coaching stops, coach Doug Collins has shown the willingness to allow players like Scottie Pippen and Grant Hill to handle the ball. Is Turner in their class? Perhaps not, but if he is allowed to initiate the offense, he could provide the type of numbers (especially in assists) to make him a great pick up.
Terrence Ross, F, TOR: If he can adapt to the NBA quickly enough, Terrence Ross would be a much better fit on the wing than DeMar DeRozan. Ross isn't likely to make a big splash right out of the gate, but if he shows enough progress, he could be a very intriguing waiver-wire pickup.
Marco Belinelli, G, CHI: His ability to shoot from the outside could allow him to take over at the two if Hamilton struggles again.
Dion Waiters, G, CLE: It's hard to find many players in Cleveland even worth considering for fantasy ownership in most leagues, and Irving is too much of a well-known commodity to be considered a sleeper. However, Waiters could at least get you points. Tyreke Evans, who Waiters has drawn comparisons to, scored 20.1 points per game as a rookie. If Waiters is even close to that, which is possible, he will definitely be a nice sleeper, although he may not help you much in any other category.
Brandon Knight, G, DET: Last year, we saw Greg Monroe emerge as a top-40 player in his second season. Of all the players on the current Pistons' roster, Knight is the most likely to make that type of leap this season. He’ll be the undisputed starter at point guard and should see an increase in playing time. Knight is already a stud in the making beyond the arc – his 105 three-pointers made ranked 20th in the league and second among all rookies last season – and he has the skills to be more productive in the assists and steals categories.
D.J. Augustin, G, IND: Augustin steps out of a bad situation in Charlotte and finds himself with an important backup role with an Eastern Conference title contender. He’s more of a pure point guard than starter George Hill and could find himself on the court with Hill at off guard. We’re not going to see Augustin as a starter, unless Hill gets injured, but there will be a big enough role for him to be useful.
Ersan Ilyasova, F, MIL: Although he's not a sleeper in the truest sense of the word, Ilyasova is a player who could join the cusp of the fantasy elite this season. If his minutes increase as expected, Ilyasova could easily average a double-double - something an average of just eight players have done over the last three years. Ilyasova’s length should allow him to average a block and a steal per night, and he should also average around one make from downtown per contest. Put it all together and Ilyasova could wind up as a top-25 player by the end of the season.
Kyle Korver, F, ATL: Korver may not even need to win a starting job to see significant minutes for the Hawks this season. The Bulls were extremely deep the last two seasons and had better defensive options than Korver, so he often went stretches where he was stuck to the bench. However, when they did play him late in close games, he came up with several clutch shots. The last time he averaged at least 30 minutes per game was in the 2006-07 season, when he averaged 14.4 points and 1.8 three-pointers. If he can get 25-30 minutes per game this season, he could provide significant fantasy value, considering he will likely still be available in the later rounds of many drafts.
Bismack Biyombo, F, CHR: He is slightly undersized at center, but his athleticism and strength allows him to defend against many centers in the league. He has proven to be an exceptional rebounder and shot-blocker, but his offensive game is still raw. He is athletic enough to score around the basket, but he is an afterthought within the Bobcats' offensive scheme. He was hindered by fatigue at the end of last season, but he should be ready to play significant minutes in 2012-13. Look for Biyombo to average near a double-double and be near the league leaders in blocked shots.
Mario Chalmers, G, MIA: The Heat have tons of talent, but from a fantasy perspective, there's very little upside. Chalmers is one of very few players on this roster that has room to improve. And given the fact that both Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen have extensive injury histories, coach Erik Spoelstra may opt to expand Chalmers' role a bit to save the veterans' legs for the postseason.
J.J. Redick, G, ORL: Redick looks primed for his best season as a pro and is potentially one of the most productive sixth men in the Association. He has become a more aggressive offensive player and now willingly drives by defenders attempting to run him off threes. Besides Dwight Howard, Redick was the team’s most consistent player last year and has plenty of motivation between a contract year and the acquisition of Arron Afflalo.
Jordan Crawford, G, WAS: Many believe the drafting of Bradley Beal ensures that Crawford will remain on the bench, but Crawford will likely benefit from both John Wall's injury and the youth of Beal. He played especially well after the Wizards traded away Nick Young last season, when he averaged 17.4 points, 3.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 treys, and 1.2 steals in 31.4 minutes per game over 23 contests.
Darren Collison, G, DAL: Collison has something to prove after losing his starting job in Indiana. Dallas will look to utilize his strengths, primarily his passing skills and speed, to help motor an offense that appeared stagnant at times last season. If he can develop a nice rapport with Dirk Nowitzki, Collison could easily see his numbers resemble the stat line of 18.8 points and 9.1 assists that he averaged while a focal point of the New Orleans offense.
Chandler Parsons, F, HOU: Parsons does it all, contributing in steals, blocks, threes, assists, and boards. He also defends, which will keep him on the court. In a category league, he's going to outearn his draft slot.
Zach Randolph, F, MEM: Some may be scared off by a 31-year-old big man coming off a significant knee injury, which could depress Randolph’s value come draft day. True, he only started eight regular season games in 2011-12 and averaged a paltry 11.6 points per. However, he was still an active force on the boards, and he put up some Randolph-esque offensive performances against the Clippers in the playoffs. He might not reach his 20-10 plateau of a few seasons ago, but he should at least be a double-double machine.
Greivis Vasquez, G, NOR: In a season where he was battling for his future, Vasquez won the job and posted good numbers along the way. With an increase in playing time, familiarity with the current system, and an influx of exciting new talent coming in, the only thing stopping Vasquez from becoming a fantasy stud is himself.
Tim Duncan, F, SAN: At this stage of his career, Duncan has progressed from "superstar" to "deeply underappreciated." He won't generate first-round numbers - given his troubles at the free-throw line, but Duncan was never really a first-rounder, even at the height of his career. But he's remarkably consistent and still produces good-to-very-good numbers in most fantasy columns on a nightly basis.
JaVale McGee, C, DEN: McGee already showed he has the potential to post double-doubles with 2-to-3 blocks per night, but we think his time with Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason is going to make him a guy you don’t want to pass up in your draft.
Nikola Pekovic, C, MIN: Pekovic should become a household name in his third season based on his growth in 2011-12. After being promoted to Minnesota's starting lineup, Pekovic averaged 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while providing efficient percentages from the floor (54.7) and the free-throw line (74.2). With a starting job to begin the season, he should improve on those numbers.
Nolan Smith, G, POR: Before a concussion ended his second Summer League contest, Smith had scored 27 points playing mostly at the two, including an aggressiveness rarely seen in his rookie season, as Damian Lillard manned the point. Smith will be taking on more responsibility in Elliot Williams’ absence this year, and if he displays similar confidence in his game, expect great things from Smith in a Blazers backcourt without established depth.
Perry Jones, F, OKC: The rookie might play sparingly to begin with, but he should see his minutes pick up, assuming his development stays on track. Jones was considered a top-10 pick before a knee injury hurt his stock. Healthy now, he could have a reliable role, depending on James Harden's situation. If Harden doesn't sign an extension, Jones could find himself in a consistent role this season as the sixth-man-to-be next year. Jones is already considered the best athlete and quickest player on the roster. He can play multiple positions and has tremendous upside.
Alec Burks, G, UTA: The Jazz began to give Burks much more playing time during the final two months of last season, and he scored 15 or more points in seven of those games. He has a good all-around game and could be a very big surprise in his second season. The Jazz have several veterans at the guard positions this year but have few players with Burks' talent. We could see Burks pushing to be a starter by the second half of the season and could give fantasy owners a nice option at guard for numbers in several fantasy-relevant categories.
Jarrett Jack, G, GS: As a backup point guard, Jack is unlikely to break through as anything other than a 15-to-20 minute player. However, one must evaluate a starter’s injury risk and that’s where Jack’s sleeper status comes into play. Stephen Curry has been dogged by a wonky ankle the past two seasons, making Jack a player to monitor this season.
Eric Bledsoe, G, LAC: Bledsoe is a former first-round pick who hasn’t seen a ton of NBA minutes but has excelled when given the chance. If he can finagle his way into 25 minutes per game this year, he could be a nice surprise in Los Angeles.
Pau Gasol, C, LAL: He’s not a sleeper if he goes in the top-12, but if you can get him late in the second round or early in the third, he could pay dividends. Gasol and Steve Nash each have a flare for Lionel Messi-like artistry with their passes, and they should be unrivaled on the pick-and-roll. While others in your league are aiming for the Lakers' newcomer in the post, Gasol could come at a bargain.
Goran Dragic, G, PHO: While Jeremy Lin got all the headlines for his breakout performance, Dragic actually put up better numbers than Lin did almost across the board. It isn't outrageous to think Dragic could average 17, 8, and 4 over the season, which would be among the elite point guards in the league. He's adjusting to a new team, and the team itself is making pretty drastic changes across the board, but assuming Dragic can adapt and get everyone to fall in line, he could end up being a serious steal in many fantasy drafts this year.
James Johnson, F, SAC: Johnson was a surprisingly valuable fantasy asset last season, especially in roto leagues. He is never going to impress anybody with his offensive talent. Rather, it is his ability to contribute in multiple categories that makes him a sleeper. Fantasy owners tend to put too much value in how many points a player is scoring, often forgetting how valuable a player like Johnson can be. He was one of the few players last season to average upwards of a steal and a block per game, despite averaging just 25 minutes per game. He is projected to receive around the same playing time he did with the Raptors last year, and at the bargain price he will cost you on draft day, Johnson could end up being quite a value.