Training camp is just around the corner, which means that fantasy season has officially begun. Your fantasy draft date has most likely already been set, which means that your player scouting needs to go through one more update before all final decisions are made. In terms of sleepers, the best ones available are just starting to separate themselves from the rest.
As I've mentioned before, fantasy sleepers can make or break a season. These are usually players that team owners single out in the weeks before the draft. Owners may have a hunch or a man crush on a particular player, but their sleepers picks often go one of two ways: really well or miserably wrong. Regardless of the outcome, the sleeper picks are probably the most fun part of the draft besides the constant trash-talking.
That said, the 2012-13 season has some sleeper players who are just bound to have All-Star seasons. They may be bounce-back years or breakout ones, but the sleepers of the season are ones that should not go unnoticed in the draft room. Pick a few of these 10 players, and I guarantee that your team will be one of the elite in your league.
2011-12 Stats: 20.6 PPG, 1.4 SPG, .450 FG%
Gordon isn't really a conventional sleeper, but last season was something of a fluke for him, despite the impressive numbers.
You see, while he was a great scorer for the New Orleans Hornets, injuries limited him to just nine games and as a result, the team struggled.
Now he's healthy and has a new set of teammates to help him shoulder the load, so the Hornets' prospects for next season are already looking better. Simply put, the Hornets have a new owner and a lot of money to spend on new talent.
That said, Gordon can't afford NOT to have a great season in 2012-13. With a full season under his belt, assuming he stays healthy, expect him to make a case for the scoring title as well as an All-Star berth.
2011-12 Stats: 9.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, .446 FG%
Now that he has Jason Richardson as a teammate, Turner can move back to his natural position of small forward and not worry so much about putting up big scoring numbers. As he enters his third NBA season, he is bound to post career highs in both scoring and rebounding, and maybe his outside shot will show some improvement as well.
Given how much the former No. 2 pick has struggled over his first two seasons, it's a safe bet that he's going to be pretty low on the draft board. In the middle rounds, if you need depth at forward, definitely pick him up.
He is a great athlete at 6'7", 205 pounds, and though some may be quick to give up on him already, mark my words: Turner will be a viable point forward and prove to be a fine replacement for Andre Iguodala in the City of Brotherly Love.
2011-12 Stats: 12.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, .476 FG%, .342 3P%
The Atlanta Hawks are in a tough position this preseason, as trading Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz handed them a point guard controversy. Joining the feisty and talented Jeff Teague for this season is scoring point man Devin Harris. Needless to say, coach Larry Drew has a big decision to make before the regular season tips off.
Drew can either go for offense and let Harris start, despite the fact that the former Wisconsin Badger is coming off of a season in which he only averaged 11.3 points (his lowest since 2007) and five assists (his lowest since 2008) per game, or with the better athlete in Teague. No matter who wins this battle, Teague is someone you simply must draft.
He doesn't have much size at 6'2", 181 pounds, but one thing is certain: Teague is a phenomenal athlete who will surely get plenty of minutes. He plays great defense and has a nice shooting touch, so if Harris ends up starting and underachieves, it will only be a matter of time before the former Wake Forest standout steps in.
2011-12 Stats: 13 PPG, 8.8 RPG, .492 FG%
The 6'10" Turkish forward had a breakout season last year and with a new long-term contract under his belt, the upcoming campaign is bound to bring even more improvement. The fact is that Ilyasova is turning into a force on both ends of the floor, and should he stay healthy, he will prove to be the reliable and consistent big man that coach Scott Skiles needs.
In terms of drafting him, it's hard to say where he'll end up. Someone may be bold and take him early, while others may be skeptical of last season and let him drop to the middle rounds. Either way, whoever lands him is going to be in for quite the treat.
Ilyasova is still young at 25, and has a bright career ahead of him. With a fine point guard in Brandon Jennings getting him the ball, he'll put up great numbers in points and field goal percentage, to go along with his rebounding prowess.
Definition: A fantasy dream.
2011-12 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, .479 FG%
Now that Kevin Garnett has moved to center full time, Bass has an opportunity to take the stage as the most dominant big guy in Boston. He may not have much size at 6'8", 250 pounds, but the former LSU Tiger posted career bests in scoring and rebounding last season and is poised to become one of the new Big Three in Beantown.
Thus, why should you draft Bass as a sleeper? Well, given how he hasn't blown people away in his career, other owners are bound to pass on him. In 2012-13, he will definitely attack the basket and do some fine work on defense, maybe becoming a double-double machine.
Throw in his intelligent shot selection, and Bass is definitely a surprise waiting to happen.
2011-12 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 1.7 SPG, .401 FG%, .306 3P%
Shumpert is the type of sleeper that I like to call a "secret weapon". He is going to miss the first month or two of the season recovering from knee surgery, but if he comes back in top form, chances are that he'll pick up right where he left off during his rookie season. If we factor in improvement, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is due to have an incredible sophomore campaign.
Not only is Shumpert a defensive pest who was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2012, but over the latter half of the season, especially in the days following coach Mike D'Antoni's resignation, he has proven to be an electrifying scorer at times. That said, if you can draft him in the later rounds and have enough depth so that he can ride your bench for a month or so, he'll provide some fine defense and occasional scoring down the stretch for you.
Winning the steals category can put a team over the top, so Shumpert is practically a must-have despite his injury.
2011-12 Stats: 6.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, .352 FG%, .252 3P%
Some may be scratching their heads regarding the presence of Odom on a fantasy sleeper list. After all, the man is coming off of the worst season of his career, is now back on the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he began his career, and his role with the team has yet to be defined. However, seeing as how Odom was named Sixth Man of the Year just two seasons ago, to give up on him so quickly is just a bad idea.
Given his horrendous 2012, my guess is that Odom is going to come into the new season focused and more determined than ever to succeed. He knows the Los Angeles fans and is on a team destined for postseason contention. Look for him to make the most of his minutes, showing off his scoring and rebounding prowess once again.
Regarding where to draft him, it's a sure guarantee that he'll fall to the later rounds. Thus, draft him and let him sit on your bench for the first few weeks of the season. This way, you can get an idea of his production (or lack thereof) and what to expect. If Odom struggles, you can always pick up a suitable replacement off the waiver wire.
2011-12 Stats: 12.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG, .497 FG%
Hibbert has great size for a center at 7'2", 260 pounds. He averaged career bests in all major categories last season as his Indiana Pacers rocketed up the standings and finished No. 3 in the Eastern Conference. During the offseason, the former Georgetown Hoya was inked to a four-year ,$58 million contract, and given how hungry the Pacers are to repeat last season's success, he is bound to have a breakout season.
Steals and blocks are fantasy basketball statistics not to be overlooked. Hibbert provides a lot of them, and combined with decent inside scoring and rebounding, he could very well be due for a career season, maybe a double-double campaign.
In fantasy lingo, that means someone who could put your team over the top.
2011-12 Stats: 7.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, .493 FG%, .376 3P%
Leonard's numbers for his rookie season weren't overwhelming and he doesn't have much size to work with at 6'7", 225 pounds, but one thing is certain: Out of all the second-year players in the NBA, Leonard is the best overall athlete. This season, he'll surely establish himself as one of the league's best up-and-coming swingmen.
Drafting Leonard gives a fantasy team potential to do well in a variety of categories, from scoring to steals to field goal percentage. Whether he'll even be drafted in most leagues is a tossup, but the fact is that he's too talented to pass on when it comes time to fill out the roster.
With the Spurs slowly inching toward handing the reins over to the youngsters, Leonard is sure to have a breakout year.
2011-12 Stats: 15.2 PPG, .471 FG%, .398 3P%
For the past three seasons, Afflalo was essentially a role player for the Denver Nuggets. Last year, with former Denver star Carmelo Anthony on the New York Knicks, he posted a career high in scoring. During the offseason, he was sent to the Orlando Magic as part of the epic trade that made Dwight Howard a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Given how the Magic are now in rebuilding mode, the stage is set for Afflalo to be the new face of the franchise. He is a natural scorer and has a great touch from long range. A lot of his success depends on the system that new Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn employs, but given his talent and knack for putting points on the board, he is a surefire bet to be a fantasy beast this coming season.
Thus, draft him in the third or fourth round if he's available. Afflalo chooses his shots wisely and is bound to provide bonus points in shooting percentage. In fantasy ball, that makes a big difference.