Fantasy Basketball Sleepers: Ranking the 5 Best at Each Position
NFL season got you down? Favorite team not doing so well? Even worse, how's your fantasy team looking?
Ehh, that bad, huh? Never fear, sports fans. The NBA season will soon be under way, and with it, a new fantasy basketball team to take control of.
This draft is sure to go better for you, right? Even if LeBron James and Kevin Durant are gone by the time your pick rolls around, it doesn't mean all hope is lost. Plenty of talent exists everywhere in the draft, if you know where to look for it.
The key to a good draft and good season is to grab some sleepers, players others pass on but come up big for your team.
Here are 25 of the NBA's best, broken down position by position for your convenience.
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1. Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 122.3
Pekovic was quietly the T'Wolves' second leading scorer last season behind Kevin Love, with 13.9 points per game.
While this is a solid scoring number for a center, it doesn't show how secretly good Pekovic actually was. After securing a starting job, Pek put up 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds on 56.4 percent shooting from the field.
This time, he'll begin the season as a starter and shouldn't waste any time picking up on last season's production.
2. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 80.3
Once considered nothing more than a flopper, Varejao has actually become one of the better post defenders and rebounders in the entire NBA.
Don't believe it? Look at the numbers. Varejao, despite being drafted roughly 80th overall, was fourth in the entire NBA in rebounding last season at 11.5 a game. Throw in his 10.8 points on 51.4 shooting from the field, and your fantasy team now has a walking double-double.
The Cavs are thin in the paint and Varejao should once again get big minutes at both power forward and center. Injuries are a concern, but well worth the risk if you can land Andy after the first six rounds.
3. J.J Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 139.5
Forget the Hickson of last season and focus on the Blazer version.
After being waived by Sacramento and picked up by Portland, Hickson's production took off. In 19 games, Hickson put up 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds on 54.3 percent shooting from the field. These were nearly identical to the stats of Kevin Garnett, who is currently going almost 100 picks ahead of Hickson in Yahoo! drafts.
Already named the Blazers' starting center to begin the season, look for Hickson in the later rounds and pass on KG early on.
4. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 139.1
A candidate for the starting center job on an improved Raptors team, Valanciunas is a true sleeper this season.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Valanciunas averaged 14.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game in the Lithuanian league last season, and was named the FIBA Europe Young Men's Player of the Year in 2011.
His athleticism and motor should be enough to collect a few hustle points and rebounds every game to go along with his ever-developing skill set. If you need a center in the last few rounds, Valanciunas is a high-risk, high-reward prospect.
5. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 91.2
The beauty of fantasy sports is that one only has to worry about the player's on-court production, and nothing else.
That statement brings us to McGee, who should be a very attractive fantasy player in 2012-13. Signing a big new deal in Denver, McGee could very well enjoy a career year. His per 36 minute stats with the Nuggets were ridiculous, averaging 18.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game while shooting 61.2 percent from the field.
McGee is currently going after players like Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan and Nene. Don't be afraid to pass on the bigger names and grab more production from a player like McGee.
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1. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 106.5
Favors is currently going 89 picks behind teammate Paul Millsap, despite the fact he may start over him.
Getting a big boost in minutes in last year's playoffs, Favors is too talented not to start at some point this season. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both on the last year of their deals, and either could be moved at any time.
Per 36 minutes, Favors averaged 14.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in 2011-12. If Millsap is moved or Favors wins the starting job over him, feel free to remove the "per 36 minutes" for 2012-13.
2. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 87.9
The Manimal will be a fantasy animal in 2012-13.
Last year's biggest rookie surprise, Faried put up 16.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes while registering a PER of 21.94.
Almost definitely the Nuggets' starting power forward, look for Faried's minutes to rise from the 22.5 he got last season with backup Al Harrington traded to the Orlando Magic.
3. Glen Davis, Orlando Magic
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 116.2
Davis will likely start at either power forward or center—a position that he excelled at in last year's postseason.
With Dwight Howard sidelined, Davis put together averages of 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per contest in five games against the Indiana Pacers.
Magic fans may not be happy that Howard is gone, but fantasy owners will be if they can grab Davis late.
4. Michael Beasley, Phoenix Suns
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 89.2
Beasley is eligible at either forward position and could be a huge scorer this season.
Beasley was a 19.2 point per game scorer with the Timberwolves in 2010-11 before losing his starting job last year. He's an average rebounder from the small forward position and showed an improved three-point shot last season.
Phoenix should be desperate for scoring with Nash gone, and Beasley could finally show off his sky-high potential for the first time in his career.
5. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 139.6
Buried at the bottom of the list of fantasy power forwards, Thompson should win a starting job with the Cavs this fall.
In 25 games as the team's starting center last season, Thompson played well, averaging 10.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game despite going against bigger opponents on a nightly basis.
This experience at center will only benefit him as he moves back to power forward full time. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters spacing the floor should open up more space in the paint for Thompson to work inside.
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1. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 92.8
Turner enters his third season in the NBA, the same amount of time it took him to break out in college.
Likely the team's new starting small forward with Andre Iguodala gone, Turner put up 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game as a starter last season.
Philly needs Turner to become a second option to Andrew Bynum, and his minutes should reflect that in 2012-13.
2. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 125.4
Hayward took off after the All-Star break last season, averaging 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 three-pointers made per game. His free-throw percentage rose nearly 10 percent, up to an outstanding 86.3.
A candidate to start at either shooting guard or small forward, Hayward is just 22 years old and should continue to get better as the season goes along.
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 134.8
To get an idea of the numbers Leonard should put up in 2012-13, one need only look at how he finished last season, his rookie year.
The most telling month is likely March, when Leonard averaged 28.2 minutes in 15 games. In those games, Leonard put up a stat line of 11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 three-pointers made while shooting 55.5 percent from the field.
Gregg Popovich loves Leonard, and your fantasy team will too.
4. Royce White, Houston Rockets
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 134
A pick only for the brave, White could end up paying big dividends for fantasy owners.
First of all, White could wind up eligible for three different positions because of his diverse game. Playing point-forward for Iowa State last year, White was the only Division I player to lead his team in scoring (13.4), rebounding (9.3), assists (5.0), blocks (0.9) and steals (1.2).
White has reportedly worked out a travel schedule with the Rockets to combat his fear of flying, and will report to the team October 8.
5. Alonzo Gee, Cleveland Cavaliers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 138.9
Gee will almost assuredly be the team's starting small forward to begin the 2012-13 season.
In his first full pro season last year, Gee put up 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 games as the Cavs' starting small forward.
With only C.J. Miles and Omri Casspi behind him fighting for minutes, Gee should get even more playing time this season.
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1. Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 77.2
An increasingly popular pick among fantasy owners, Afflalo moves into a starring role with the Magic.
No longer considered merely a great defender, Afflalo averaged 17.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 three-pointers made in 30 games after the All-Star break last season.
He'll get big minutes on a rebuilding Magic team, and should put up stats similar to the ones he finished with last season. Think Joe Johnson stats, just 40 picks later.
2. O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 98.4
Mayo may end up being the steal of free agency, landing on a Mavericks team that should be desperate for his scoring.
A career 15.2 point per game scorer, expect the Mavs to unleash Mayo on offense to score as much as possible and make up for the loss of Jason Terry in free agency.
Grab Mayo for his scoring, three-pointers made and free-throw percentage, and the freedom he'll have now that he's no longer stuck on the Grizzlies bench.
3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 121
Don't let the college stats fool you, Waiters will soon erupt in the NBA.
Posting a 26.3 PER last season at Syracuse, Waiters can score from anywhere on the court while kicking in a few rebounds and assists per game as well.
Playing next to Kyrie Irving, don't be surprised to see Waiters put up 16 or more points per game this season.
4. Brandon Roy, Minnesota Timberwolves
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 132.5
Roy won't return to his Trail Blazer form this season, but that doesn't mean he can't help out the T'Wolves and fantasy teams alike.
One of the better rebounding guards when healthy, a stat line of 15 points, four rebounds and four assists per game is entirely possible.
Health will be an issue going forward, but taking him with a late pick, though risky, could pay off in a big way.
5. Courtney Lee, Boston Celtics
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 141
Lee will be the team's starter at shooting guard to begin the season, according to Yahoo! Sports.
With Avery Bradley set to miss the first two months, Lee should get big minutes as Ray Allen's replacement.
Coming on strong at the end of last season, Lee averaged 14.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.0 three-pointers and 1.6 steals per game in April.
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1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 97.3
Lillard has already been named the team's starting point guard, and with little talent behind him, should get big minutes all season.
This move was widely predicted, as Lillard absolutely tore up the NBA Summer League, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game while earning Co-MVP honors.
It's safe to expect a high amount of turnovers from a rookie point guard, but the production Lillard will provide in other stat categories will more than make up for it, especially if he's available in a late round.
2. George Hill, Indiana Pacers
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 122.8
Now that he's the Pacers' starting point guard, expect a heavier workload for Hill in 2012-13.
More of a combo guard than a true point, Hill's assists numbers will rise, but won't reach an elite level. What fantasy owners can count on is a solid overall stat line with contributions in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, three-pointers made and a high free-throw percentage.
In games as a starter last season, Hill averaged 13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 three-pointers made, and should see similar numbers this year.
3. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 107.4
Walker killed fantasy owners with his low shooting last season (36.6 percent from the field), but has reportedly been working on his shot all summer.
The rest of his numbers were solid, as Walker put up 14.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.4 three-pointers made in 25 games as a starter.
Likely the team's starter at the point this season, expect Russell Westbrook-type numbers despite going 102 spots later.
4. Mo Williams, Utah Jazz
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 84.4
Williams won't get anyone excited on draft day, but his production as the Jazz starting point guard this season should.
An ideal third point guard on a fantasy team, Williams showed last year that he could carry a team's load, averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 assists per game with the Cavs.
Williams has also averaged as many as 2.3 three-pointers made per game, and should have another good season shooting from deep with so many talented Jazz post players drawing help from outside guards.
5. Aaron Brooks, Sacramento Kings
Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 139.5
A point guard in stature only, Brooks could kick some life into a fantasy team's three-point attack.
Playing in China last season while waiting out the NBA lockout, Brooks' best season came in 2009-10 with the Houston Rockets; he averaged 19.6 points, 5.3 assists and a whopping 2.5 three-pointers made per game.
Competing with Isaiah Thomas for minutes at point guard, take a flyer on Brooks if you need some added scoring or three-pointers on your team.