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NBA Sleepers: A Look at Players Ready to Break Out

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Kevin Love , C, MIN – Love is hardly a true “sleeper” after averaging 11.0 rebounds last season, but he enters 2010-11 undervalued and with potential to far exceed expectations. You’d like to see more blocks (0.5 bpg over his first two years in the league) from a big man, but that’s his only weakness, as he shoots well from the line (81.5% last year) and could even hit a three-pointer per game if given more playing time. Opportunity is the only thing preventing Love from becoming a fantasy monster, as he averaged a double-double last year (14.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg) while starting just 22 games (during which he got 15.3 ppg, 13.3 rpg and 2.8 apg). In fact, of the five players who averaged more rebounds than Love last season, Marcus Camby was the only one who didn’t get at least 34 mpg, and his 31:11 mpg were still significantly more than Love’s 28:36. With only a modest increase in floor time, Love would be a threat to lead the NBA in rebounding. As one of the best passing big men in the association, last year’s 2.3 apg could take a big leap as well. He’s due for natural improvement in year three anyway. Let’s hope Minnesota management agrees. The team brought in Michael Beasley and re-signed Darko Milicic during the offseason, but Al Jefferson (who the team felt couldn’t coexist with Love on the court) was basically given away, so Love deserves to be the focal point of this franchise currently in a youth movement. He has the upside to be a top-20 fantasy asset.

Terrence Williams, SG, NJ – It’s a small sample (seven games) but once finally given the chance to start and approach 35 minutes per night, Williams finished the final month last season averaging 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists. His lack of steals and three-pointers, at least what he showed last year, caps his ceiling, but there’s clearly a lot of talent here. With Courtney Lee traded, Williams is going to get a ton of playing time at shooting guard (and some at small forward as well) on a team lacking many scoring options. You won’t ever be able to get Williams this cheap in fantasy leagues ever again.

Raymond Felton, PG, NY – Felton is entering his sixth year in the league and coming off a season when he averaged 12.1 points, 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals, so he’s not exactly an unknown. While it’s hardly a guarantee to carry over, Felton subtly improved his areas of weakness last season, shooting a career-high 45.9 percent from the field (as well as easily a career-best 38.5% from downtown). But the big news is his change in scenery, as Felton signed a two-year deal with the Knicks during the offseason. Mike D’Antoni’s system is a goldmine for point guard production. Felton is no Steve Nash, but this is the same situation that somehow got Chris Duhon to average 7.2 assists. Toney Douglas could compete for minutes, but newcomer Amar’e Stoudemire is a terrific finisher, and Felton should get plenty of run in the NBA’s most uptempo offense. Expect a career year to follow.

Hedo Turkoglu, SF, PHO – Turkoglu is coming off quite a disappointing first season in Toronto last year, so he qualifies as a “last year’s bum” type pick. He was traded to Phoenix during the offseason, which has his future prospects looking up, as the Suns plan on returning to playing “small ball.” The system remains fast-paced with a lot of possessions, and with the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire, plenty of shot attempts will be available. It also doesn’t hurt to have the league’s best passer on his side. Turkoglu is just two years removed from averaging 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 three-pointers. Given his new circumstances and with a lower price tag, he’s someone to target.

Jrue Holiday, PG, PHI – Holiday is flying a bit under the radar, but he should enter 2010-11 as Philadelphia’s starting point guard. Rookie Evan Turner looms, but he looked awful in summer league, and PG is hardly his natural position at 6-7. Holiday should only have to beat out Louis Williams for the job, which shouldn’t be too difficult since the latter also projects far better at a position where passing isn’t so important. GM Ed Stefanski has already called Holiday a “gem” and deemed him the team’s point guard of the future. New coach Doug Collins will have final say, but Holiday averaged 12.5 points, 6.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 three-pointers over the final two months last year during his rookie season when he was just 19 years old. There’s no reason a young team like Philadelphia won’t give him every opportunity to succeed, and Holiday has the talent to take full advantage.

JaVale McGee, C, WAS – McGee’s final numbers last season certainly don’t jump out, but looking deeper, 1.7 bpg in just 16:06 mpg is pretty impressive. He really turned it on during the last month of the season, when he averaged 13.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks over eight games. He’s also coming off a highly encouraging offseason, as McGee averaged 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 69 percent from the field in four Las Vegas Summer League games and nearly played for Team USA during the world championships. McGee was also diagnosed with asthma – a serious condition that had previously been untreated – so his stamina has really improved. Washington is currently in a major youth movement, so he’ll enter 2010-11 as the team’s starting center.

Darren Collison, PG, IND – Collison being labeled a sleeper may be “captain obvious,” but he really needs to be targeted aggressively even if he’s hyped. A change in teams always brings uncertainty, but Troy Murphy has been highly productive over the past couple of seasons and has an expensive expiring contract at the end of the year, so the Pacers gave up real value when trading for Collison. During 37 games as a starter last year (when Chris Paul was injured), he averaged 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 three-pointers while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 85.2 percent from the line. His turnovers were excessive (4.1 tpg), but that type of shooting from the field is rare from a point guard. And he was a rookie! Danny Granger is the only other Pacer who comes even close to Collison’s talent, so he’s already one of the main faces of the franchise. At just 160 lbs, durability is a concern, but Collison has the upside to produce first round production at a much lower cost.

J.J. Hickson, PF, CLE – He better be good, because the Cavs’ reluctance to include Hickson in past trades may very well have ultimately cost them LeBron James. Of course, even if he develops into one of the three best power forwards in the NBA that was still a mistake, but that’s another story altogether. Hickson looked dominant during summer league play and averaged 4.9 rebounds, 0.4 steals and 0.5 blocks over just 20:53 mpg as a 21-year-old during his second year in the league last season. He’ll be fighting Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao for frontcourt minutes, but it’s also possible Jamison moves to the three to replace Jamario Moon in the starting five. On quite possibly the most depleted roster in the NBA, Hickson may be asked to have a big role in 2010-11, and management will surely be hoping he produces, so he’ll be given ample opportunity to do so.