Fantasy basketball is a game that takes a lot of skill and a hearty helping of luck to win. Years ago, before fantasy sites popped up everywhere, there used to be a major advantage for players who did their homework during the offseason and came prepared on draft day.
Today, you can be competitive without spending hours coming up with your own system with the positive effect being that the game even more accessible than ever. You don’t have to be an expert to win your league, you just need to be able to identify trends and make smart decisions with the available information.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the advantage is completely gone for those who really know their stuff, and the greatest example of this is sleeper picks. These are guys who are drafted late, or at least well below their true value, and can help there teams win with their sneaky-good stat lines.
Bottom line, snagging sleeper late in the draft can be the difference between winning and losing. Think about everyone who grabbed Khris Middleton last year; he certainly helped bring home a number of trophies.
With that said, here is a list of some of my sleepers for this season:
Myles Turner: Ok, maybe it is a stretch to call Turner a “sleeper” at this point, but he’s currently going 73rd overall in ESPN fantasy basketball leagues, which is way too low for a guy with his skill set. He is going to get the lion’s share of the minutes at center for the Pacers this year, and his solid jumper makes him a great pick-and-pop partner for new point guard Jeff Teague.
There are some concerns about the arrival of Al Jefferson in Indiana, but I’m not worried. Turner is the future, and the Pacers know that. In preseason action against Orlando, the Pacers ran a rotation similar to what they will use in the regular season, and Turner saw 32 minutes compared to just 16 for a quickly-aging Big Al. That night, Turner crushed the stat line with 17 points on 7-15 shooting, six boards, one assist, one steal, three blocks, and a three-pointer. In his next outing, Turner put up 16 points on 7-14 shooting, nine boards, and two blocks, and should be able to hit those kinds of numbers regularly during the season.
Jefferson doesn’t scare me at all; I’m drafting Turner every chance I get.
Jusuf Nurkic: Lakers fans know just how good Nurkic can be after watching him own the paint for two preseason games against the Los Angeles bigs. He’s currently being drafted at 114, one spot behind Timothy Mozgov and 22 picks later than Kenneth Faried, which is insanity. The Nuggets are currently trying to move Faried partially because of how good Nurkic is, which is an indication of which player they prioritize.
Through five preseason games, Nurkic is averaging nearly 12 boards, 13 points, and a steal in just 24.8 minutes per game. His blocks and field goal percentage may not be quite as high as we would typically like to see from a big man, but Nurkic has the ability to pay off big time if you can get him late in your draft, making him one of the better sleepers out there.
Robert Covington: Currently, Robert Covington is getting drafted 107th in ESPN Fantasy Basketball leagues, but his upside is considerably higher than that, as anyone who owned him last season knows. In many ways, Covington is similar to Trevor Ariza, with averages last season of 2.5 threes, 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, .6 blocks, and 1.6 steals. The nice thing is that Covington can be drafted at least four rounds later than Ariza, making him a fantastic value. He’s a guy who flies under the radar because he doesn’t put up a ton of points, but everything else he does is extremely valuable.
Covington’s role isn’t as solidified as Ariza’s, and he hasn’t had a great preseason shooting the ball (just 29 percent), but his combination of threes, rebounds, steals, and blocks makes him a potential fantasy goldmine. He’s well worth the gamble when you get to about the 80th pick in the draft or after.
Tim Frazier: Fans around the league were saddened by the news that Jrue Holiday’s wife was suffering from a brain tumor. Understandably, the Pelicans’ starting point guard will miss a solid chunk of time to begin the season to be with her, allowing the unheralded Tim Frazier to guide the ship in his absence. Frazier has talent, averaging 7.5 assists and 13.1 points with the Pelicans in 16 games last season. He doesn’t have the upside that the other players on this list do, but if you find yourself in need of assists, Frazier is a great option to get you through the first few months of the season. You will need to find another option once Holiday returns, but grab Frazier late and enjoy the ride early in the season.
Marquese Chriss: In general, rookies can be a major headache in fantasy basketball. Aside from breakout stars like Karl-Anthony Towns, their minutes usually aren’t consistent and their teams tend to not rely on them for major production. However, some players have games that just flat out translate well to the NBA, and it appears that Marquese Chriss could be one such player.
The athletic big man has scored in double digits in every game this preseason, and he put up an extremely impressive 17 points, six rebounds, two steals, three three-pointers, and four blocks in 34 minutes against Dallas. While monster lines like that can’t be expected on a nightly basis, it is indicative of how talented the kid is. He’s certainly worth a look at the end of your draft with the hope that he earns enough minutes to truly break out.