sleep⋅er ₋ Informal. something or someone that becomes unexpectedly successful or important after a period of being unnoticed, ignored, or considered unpromising or a failure. (via Dictionary.com)
For those owners who consistently field contenders in fantasy basketball, the sleeper is the ultimate ace up one's sleeve, as knowledge of average draft position and offseason developments combine to downgrade unnecessarily the profiles of particular players. Whether the aforementioned changes regard his surroundings, coaching staff, or taking the next logical step in terms of production, these diamonds in the rough are not realized until drafts have been completed and action has entered the hardwood. On occasion, a handful of sleepers will become stalwart members of starting rotations, but more often than not, they provide a boost in a category or two, thus solidifying an owner's standing, no matter the format. The following handy guide will explore potential breakout or bounce-back characters that may conclusively decide a fantasy campaign, barring injury, trade or any of the varying circumstances that can ₋ and sometimes do ₋ befall our favored ballers.
Please note that the forthcoming players will be handled by position, though not all will be discussed. If you, the reader, would like a specific athlete covered, head to the comment section, where the author will gladly state his case for said player. Now, we head onward to the 2013-14 NBA season's likely sleepers, with the number next to each representing RotoWire.com's ranking at their respective position.
Point Guard: Trey Burke (17), Eric Bledsoe (23), Brandon Knight (32), Michael Carter-Williams (34), Patrick Beverley (36), Reggie Jackson (56)
Trey Burke, Jazz ₋ Will the dead-eye college shooter act as this year's Damian Lillard, a rookie point guard that instantly makes his mark on the offensive end and holds down a spot in fantasy lineups on a nightly basis? Considering Burke thoroughly disappointed in the less prestigious Orlando Summer League, averaging 8.8 points (on 24 percent shooting), four assists and 3.5 rebounds in 27 minutes, while knocking down just 1-of-19 from three-point range across four games, growing pains may have to be endured from the Michigan product. On the other hand, he merely has to stave off the uninspiring John Lucas and Ian Clark for minutes, which should allow plenty of leeway for Burke to get his mistakes out of the way during the first few months. In the end, expect Burke to supply a stellar free-throw percentage and fair enough scoring, assist and trey capability throughout his initial campaign.
Eric Bledsoe, Suns ₋ Bledsoe, who was under the tutelage of the league's unquestioned top point man, Chris Paul, the past two seasons, has in hand the opportunity that b-ball lovers have been waiting for: a full-time starting gig. Despite his listing as a point guard, Bledsoe is slated to act as the No. 1 two guard in Phoenix following his offseason trade from the Clippers. The presence of veteran Goran Dragic will force the hand of a new coaching staff led by Jeff Hornacek, but Bledsoe should still fit in some reps as the primary ballhandler when Dragic takes a breather. Bledsoe's sample size as a starter last year is admittedly small ₋ 14.2 points (on 41 percent shooting), 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 dimes, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks in 34 minutes across 12 tilts ₋ yet the line forecasts what may be found in box scores from game-to-game this coming season.
Patrick Beverley, Rockets ₋ Entering training camp, Beverley is merely the primary backup to fellow point guard Jeremy Lin, who at times struggled to mesh with James Harden a year ago, as both require the ball in their hands for optimal performance. With Dwight Howard firmly entrenched in Houston's frontcourt following his decisive summer, coach Kevin McHale may turn to Beverley at the point more often, if he proves to be a better fit in the overall scheme. During the Rockets' six-game loss to the Thunder in the first round of last year's playoffs, Beverley turned in five starts and showed his worth across the board, putting up 11.8 points (on 43 percent shooting), 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 three-pointers and 1.2 steals in 33 minutes per contest. Even if he remains a reserve role, his contributions warrant his status as a late-round flier in deeper formats, with the potential for starts as the season rolls along.
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin (7), O.J. Mayo (9), Victor Oladipo (19), Jimmy Butler (20), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (33), Ben McLemore (34), Dion Waiters (44), Arron Afflalo (47), Iman Shumpert (64), Jeremy Lamb (66), Alec Burks (68), MarShon Brooks (82), Tony Wroten (unranked)
Kevin Martin, Timberwolves ₋ After Martin put pen to paper on a four-year deal in the offseason, a number of fantasy implications were suddenly realized. 1) Martin will be called upon to stretch the floor with fellow wings Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer, thereby allowing Ricky Rubio, and his flair for the dramatic, room to operate. And that's before taking into account Kevin Love's crisp touch from beyond the arc. 2) The revitalization of Martin's relationship with coach Rick Adelman, which generated fruitful results in one of the guard's previous stops at Houston. The latter point has been underscored during the offseason, but after his arrival to the Rockets at the 2010 trade deadline, Martin racked up 20 points nightly ₋ 22.9 to be exact ₋ under the watchful eye of Adelman through the end of the subsequent campaign. Similar production may be difficult for the 30-year-old to attain, but Martin will be asked to shoulder a notable workload this year, with scoring, and especially three-pointers, the name of his game.
O.J. Mayo, Bucks ₋ In reality, Mayo has seemingly been deemed by front office types and pundits alike to be a cancer of sorts. With a chasm on the offensive side of the equation in Milwaukee, though, the shooting guard's greatest gift will be afforded plenty of freedom to validate his worth. Because coach Larry Drew allowed his top subjects (Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague) a great deal of run last year in Atlanta, Mayo appears poised to garner a similar shot count to his first two seasons in the league, when he tossed up 15 attempts per outing. His best-case scenario includes ample production in the scoring department ₋ potentially, 20 points per contest ₋ with steady percentages and modest counting stats for the uninitiated.
Victor Oladipo, Magic ₋ The Magic selected Oladipo second overall during the most recent draft with the intention of running him at point guard in the vein of Russell Westbrook or Dwyane Wade. Oladipo's performance at the Orlando Summer League was both encouraging and cringe-worthy, as he posted a team-leading 19.0 points, 5.0 dimes, 3.0 steals and 4.8 turnovers in 33 minutes per game, while making a cool 7-of-13 from three-point land. Across the four outings, his 20:19 assist-to-turnover ratio can at best describe his ballhandling as a work in progress, but with training camp and the preseason imminent, he may soon usurp a starting role from Jameer Nelson or Arron Afflalo, compelling a roll of the dice om Oladipo in all league formats.
Alec Burks, Jazz ₋ Burks' stature as a sleeper is speculative, to say the least, because it's unclear whom Utah will trot out on the wings for the season's opening tip. In any scenario, Gordon Hayward is a shoo-in for one of the spots, but if Burks displays the necessary development during the preseason, he'll more than likely act as the Jazz's starter at shooting guard, with known entities Brandon Rush and Marvin Williams securing backup gigs. In the Orlando Summer League, Burks showed off an ability to induce fouls, hitting 16-of-20 from the free-throw line in only three contests en route to 14.0 points in 19 minutes per tilt. Nevertheless, there is no evidence of promising production from the remaining counting stats, which only owners in very deep leagues will be able to stomach.
Small Forward: Jeff Green (9), Gordon Hayward (14), Evan Turner (15), Maurice Harkless (35), Danny Granger (39), Harrison Barnes (49), Caron Butler (59), Luigi Datome (67), Chase Budinger (69)
Jeff Green, Celtics ₋ The offseason trade of Celtics legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn has opened the door for Green to take over as Boston's starting small forward. While manning the four last year, he gathered 28 minutes per game during the regular season but kicked it up a notch in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 20.3 points (on 44 percent shooting), 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 treys in 43 minutes across a six-game series loss at the hands of the Knicks. With both Pierce and Garnett out of the picture, and Rajon Rondo unlikely to suit up until December at the earliest, Green is poised to anchor the team's scoring load in the early going and perhaps for much of the season. The first 20-point campaign of the five-year veteran's career seems inevitable with no other proven offensive weapons present on the roster.
Danny Granger, Pacers ₋ An injury-plagued 2012-13 kept Granger off the court for all but five games due to patellar tendinosis in his left knee, which was treated with an injection during the season's first week, before he eventually opted for surgery on April 4. His 4-to-6 month rehabilitation has taken its logical course, as he's built up to scrimmaging with the team and looked nearly 100 percent to his Indiana teammates by late September. The Pacers boast tremendous depth on the wing, thus allowing Granger to ease into action until his health reaches a favorable level. Owners in standard leagues with deeper benches can feel comfort stashing him until he's logging a sustained workload, but his role has yet to be clarified by coach Frank Vogel or anyone in executive Larry Bird's inner circle, marking him as possibly the most compelling question mark of the upcoming preseason slate.
Luigi Datome, Pistons ₋ In choosing Detroit over Memphis due to assurances of playing time, Datome is expected to fill one of the voids in the Pistons' rotation from a season ago: a threat from three-point range. The Italian League's reigning MVP is coming off a campaign in which he tallied 18.7 points (on 52 percent shooting) and 1.8 treys in 33 minutes per game, which he followed up with an encouraging EuroBasket run, downing 2.2 three-pointers per contest. The NBA arc is a different animal when compared with the international version ₋ 23.75 versus 22.1 feet ₋ but because he'll be deployed as a reserve weapon, innumerable deep league owners are poised to be entirely pleased with Datome's production once he finds comfort with the American distance.
Power Forward: Paul Millsap (6), Derrick Favors (14), Tobias Harris (27), Anthony Bennett (37), Pau Gasol (43), Markieff Morris (46), Anderson Varejao (51), Arnett Moultrie (49), Andrea Bargnani (56), Al Harrington (73), Terrence Jones (81), Kris Humphries (82), Donatas Motiejunas (90)
Derrick Favors, Jazz ₋ Aside from Gordon Hayward, Utah intends to send out an entirely new starting five in 2013-14, ensuring their status as one of the must-see clubs in the early going in order to grasp the full impact of expanded minutes for a player as tantalizing as Favors. After biding his time behind Paul Millsap for the last two-plus seasons, while honing his game in the process, Favors appears to be on the brink of a Jermaine O'Neal in 2001 coming-out party. Offseason workouts with Jazz icon Karl Malone leave little doubt that a double-double is in the cards for Favors, but his defensive prowess ₋ he averaged 2.6 blocks and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes last season ₋ intimate a truly special player is about to materialize.
Anthony Bennett, Cavaliers ₋ Rotator cuff surgery performed in early May kept the 2013 No. 1 overall pick out of commission this summer, but Bennett returned to the hardwood for 5-on-5 scrimmages in mid-September and has been mostly unhindered, unleashing dunks and displaying a solid mid-range game. Hurdles are in his path to significant run immediately during his rookie season, with third-year pro Tristan Thompson perhaps earning the initial nod at the four, where Bennett will be confined this year by coach Mike Brown. The forward duo will battle for the job during training camp, but due to the medical issues troubling centers Anderson Varejao (blood clot) and Andrew Bynum (knee), minutes could be aplenty in Cleveland's frontcourt when the season commences. If history tells us anything, it repeats itself, especially medically, meaning a speculative dart aimed in Bennett's direction could pay instant dividends in standard formats.
Pau Gasol, Lakers ₋ Gasol's train wreck of a 2012-13 season included lingering knee and foot concerns, the presence of Dwight Howard in the Lakers' frontcourt and a coach seemingly uninterested in incorporating his unique skill set, all of which resulted in the fewest points (13.7 per contest) and games (49) of his vaunted career. After plantar fasciitis kept him on the bench for six weeks, a glimmer of hope defined his final 17 outings of the year, including playoffs, when he recorded 14.6 points (on 50 percent shooting), 10.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 0.9 blocks in 35 minutes per game. Of course, he rehabbed all summer due to an early May procedure to clear scar tissue from both knees, but because he's expected to be 100 percent at the beginning of training camp, as Kobe Bryant continues his recovery from a torn Achilles, Gasol appears as if he'll be the sole consistent scoring option when the Lakers tip off the season on October 29 versus fellow Staples Center tenant, the Clippers.
Terrence Jones/Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets ₋ With the addition of Dwight Howard via free agency, Houston enters training camp with one glaring hole in the starting five. Coach Kevin McHale intends to experiment with a tandem of Howard and last year's No. 1 center, Omer Asik, during preseason tilts, but Jones or Motiejunas may earn the top power forward gig, if the trial undergoes any hardship. Jones, who picked up the majority of his service time with the NBA D-League's Rio Grande Valley affiliate as a rookie last season, worked on expanding his range this summer with the aim of molding himself into a stretch four, thus freeing up Howard to own the paint. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian-born Motiejunas also registered D-League minutes in 2012-13 but garnered a larger NBA workload than Jones after the All-Star break, averaging 7.8 points and 3.2 boards in nearly 18 minutes. The 7-0 Motiejunas' stroke from outside is developing ₋ 29 percent on 1.9 attempts in 12 minutes per game ₋ but may give him a leg up over Jones, barring the Howard-Asik venture. Nonetheless, neither Jones nor Motiejunas should be contemplated in leagues without a vast number of bench spots.
Center: JaVale McGee (6), Enes Kanter (10), Jonas Valanciunas (12), Andre Drummond (14)
Andre Drummond, Pistons ₋ The raw but developing Drummond is on the radar of hard-core and casual fans alike following 10 breathtaking starts to complete his rookie season. While he posted approximately 26 minutes per outing during the run, the then 19-year-old's per-36 production reveals averages of 15.6 points (on 67 percent shooting), 11.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks, portending sublime lines for years to come. In the present, though, there are a smattering of pressing issues, namely an inconsistent offensive repertoire ₋ his scoring ranged from three to 29 points during the late-season stretch ₋ and evident troubles at the charity stripe, where he clanked free throws to the tune of 37 percent last year. Assistant coach Rasheed Wallace has been charged with the development of a trusted move in the post for the young center, but Drummond's free-throw woes appear as if they'll remain with him throughout his career. The latter concern certainly has the ability to sink a roto-league squad, but owners in head-to-head formats can safely deploy Drummond with the knowledge that his remaining output is otherwise a fantasy boon.