Let’s keep things simple and straight to the point. Here are some NBA players whom we feel deserve some special attention on draft day. They will have a tendency to be undervalued by most drafters, but obviously not after reading about them on this list, right? So let’s get passed the oxymoron-ness of a list of “sleeper candidates” and aim your sights (research, if you will) on players who just might finish the 2011-12 NBA season as pleasant surprises.
Marcus Thornton, SG Sacramento Kings - Thornton almost doesn’t deserve to be on this list. He DID breakout last season. He was projected as an upside potential candidate coming into last season, however his lack of defensive abilities and inclination led coach Monty Williams to keep his offensive skills in cold storage. He quickly thawed out and even caught on fire, flourishing in Sacramento’s up-tempo offensive style. Just consider this as a friendly reminder that Thornton shrugged off the “doghouse baggage” he was carrying from New Orleans and absolutely exploded during the 21 games he played for the Kings after he was traded to them. Consider his initially failed upside potential of the 2010 fantasy draft officially rekindled. Don’t let Thornton slip passed your mouse clicks passed the middle rounds. If things are on track for this kid and his team, he should be a bargain as sixth or seventh-round-pick
Nicolas Batum, G/F Portland Trail Blazers – We caught a glimpse of what happens when this kid logs some serious minutes. Batum arguably represents a big part of Rip City’s basketball future. If, when, Nicolas transitions into a more substantial role-player, he should emerge as a good low-end, all-around stat filler. He’ll be the kind of guy who’d be great at rounding out your fantasy team’s production. He does still have to split some time on the floor with Gerald Wallace, but there’s nothing holding youngster back from cementing himself as the team’s reliable sixth man. Don’t forget he’s just 23-years-young and has been steadily improving year on year since he joined the NBA. What fantasy team wouldn’t appreciate 1.5 3ptm, 1 steal, 1 block at 1 TO from a late-round pick?
Arron Afflalo, SG Denver Nuggets – No J.R. Smith or Wilson Chandler until, say, March. Need I say more? Well actually, yes I do. Afflalo is not on this list just as a matter of lack of playing-time competition. He’s a legitimate three-point-shot contributor (1.5),who just happens to be both efficient and accurate (49.8 FG%). That’s a rare combination to come across in the late rounds of a fantasy basketball draft. Expect him to latch on to the starting SG gig like a leech on one of those kids from Stand By Me. I expect good things from Afflalo this year. You should too.
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Anderson Varejao, F/C Cleveland Cavaliers – Varejao’s injuries last season will keep him off most drafters’ radars this year. But with J.J. Hickson traded away to Sacramento, Varejao will be the sole, reliable warm body in the paint for the Cavs. Few fantasy teams will be taking chances on him in standard leagues, but you shouldn’t be surprised to see him flirt with double-doubles and logging stats shy of an average of a steal and a block per outing. Those are very solid for a third-string fantasy big man (which is what he’s been when he was healthy). Be the guy who grabs him as a late-round flier and you probably won’t regret it.
Omri Casspi, G/F Cleveland Cavaliers – Speaking of the Cavaliers and that “J.J. Hickson deal,” they got Casspi in exchange. The team was just dying for someone with reliable offensive skills on the wings. While Casspi has shown that he was mainly inconsistent as a King, his scouted potential does fit the bill of what the Cavs want from him. They basically want someone who is capable of running alongside Kyrie Irving on the fast break and at the same time also able to spread out the D with some long-range shooting. This change in environment might just be what will spark a breakout season for Casspi.
Anthony Randolph, F/C Minnesota Timberwolves - Ha ha! I just slipped this name in there to make sure you were actually reading the write-ups! NO, he’s not a sleeper. And he will NEVER be one again. Ever.
Jared Dudley, G/F Phoenix Suns – You’re looking at the likely inheritor of the minutes formerly logged by Vince Carter and/or Grant Hill. Given the right amount of minutes Dudley is a turnover-friendly (0.9 TO) three-point shooter (1.3 3ptm) who can potentially chip-in a steal per game as well. He’s not a big ticket pick, but should prove to be an uncontested grab in the late-rounds of the draft. Dudley’s not going to wow you, but should be able to deliver some solid fantasy help beyond the value of the round he was drafted at.
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Jeff Teague, PG Atlanta Hawks – It’s been pretty clear that Kirk Hinrich will not be starting the season healthy. Teague’s yet to live up to his scouted fantasy potential, but December and January will likely be the best opportunity he will have to prove his mettle. At this stage, he’s more like a “risk-reward pick” than a player with sleeper potential. Jeff will be undervalued probably as much as Ricky Rubio will be overvalued in this upcoming draft. Take a risk and use your final pick on either of them. Both upside and flopside are present for both guys.