Fantasy Basketball Sleepers: The Definitive Top 25 List

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2012

Fantasy Basketball Sleepers: The Definitive Top 25 List

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    You know what they say about fantasy sports: You can't win your league in your first few rounds, but you can most certainly lose it.

    In other words, virtually all of the players in the top 30 or 40 picks should theoretically give you relatively stable production, barring injury. Some (Kevin Durant) will be better than others (Rudy Gay), but you can't really go wrong in those first few rounds.

    It's those middle rounds where you make or break your team by drafting breakout fantasy superstars in the making.

    Here, I've gone through and pulled out the 25 most desirable sleepers in fantasy basketball for the 2012-13 NBA season, in reverse order. For me, a sleeper means two things: He's ranked outside of the Top 40 (according to a aggregate of ESPN, Yahoo! Sports/Rotowire and HOOPSWORLD preseason rankings) and I'd take him at least one round ahead of where he's being projected based on the aggregate ranking.

    I tried to select five players of each position, but it's worth mentioning that many of these players are eligible for two (or three!) positions in fantasy basketball. Their positionality is noted in each title slide.

25. Nikola Vucevic, PF/C, Orlando Magic

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    Someone has to fill the massive hole Dwight Howard left in the Orlando Magic's starting lineup, right?

    Nikola Vucevic is no Howard, but he's looking like the favorite to win the starting center job for Orlando this year, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Coaches have been raving about his passing ability throughout the preseason (a big man who can pass with both hands? Brilliant!), the Sentinel recently reported.

    During Vucevic's 2011-12 rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, he worked his way into head coach Doug Collins' doghouse with no escape in sight. His per-36 minute averages don't exactly scream the next Shaquille O'Neal, but he has at least got the potential to be a serviceable starting NBA center.

    Assuming Vucevic can beat out Gustavo Ayon for the starting role, he'll be fantasy relevant in 2012-13.

    Vucevic didn't get much love in preseason fantasy rankings. Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked him 106th overall, while ESPN and HOOPSWORLD each left him out of their Top 150.

    As the Magic's starting center, he's worth a roster spot at the very least, although you likely won't have to grab him before the 11th round.

24. Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Rookie Dion Waiters generated headlines for all the wrong reasons during NBA Summer League, where he reportedly showed up out of shape and hardly ready to contribute.

    Waiters didn't start in the Cleveland Cavaliers first preseason game, either, which could send him plummeting down draft boards even more.

    That would be a mistake. While he's not going to single-handedly win your fantasy league this year, Waiters should be a solid contributor to any team.

    Waiters is one of the lowest-ranked players on this list, with ESPN having ranked him 122nd, HOOPSWORLD ranking him 134th and Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire leaving him completely off their Top 150.

    While he's not worth a mid-round draft pick, Waiters is absolutely roster-worthy this season. Teams don't often spend the No. 4 overall pick on a player who isn't going to play major minutes by the second half of the season, especially if the Cavaliers fall out of playoff contention early.

23. DeMar DeRozan, SG/SF, Toronto Raptors

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    DeMar DeRozan won't be the sexiest name on your fantasy basketball roster (well, here's hoping, anyway), but like Dion Waiters, he'll be a solid contributor to your fantasy bench.

    DeRozan wasn't anything spectacular in the 2011-12 season. The 16.7 points per game average might have been appealing, but the 42.2 percent shooting wasn't so much. Neither were the 3.3 rebounds or two assists per game.

    His per-36 minute averages weren't any better in 2011-12, as DeRozan averaged 35 minutes per game for the Raptors. In other words, opportunity wasn't the problem; efficiency was.

    The thing is, DeRozan should have some much-needed help on offense this season to draw attention away from him. The addition of rookies Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross give the Raptors two new members to their starting five, and the acquisition of Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets sets the Rockets up with a relatively young, promising point guard to orchestrate everything offensively.

    With defenses forced to focus elsewhere, DeRozan should have a banner season for the Raptors. Seeing as the Raptors are unlikely to extend his contract before Oct. 31, making him a restricted free agent next summer, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, DeRozan very well could be entering a contract year.

    ESPN ranked DeRozan the highest at 104th, while Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked him 120th and HOOPSWORLD ranked him 130th, making him a late 12th-round pick. Unless DeRozan suddenly loses his starting spot, he's worth a 10th-round pick this coming season.

22. Andrew Bogut, C, Golden State Warriors

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    Andrew Bogut's candidacy for 2012-13 fantasy basketball could easily be derailed by his health, as it's no sure thing that Bogut will be playing on opening night at this point.

    Even if he misses the first few regular season games, Bogut will be well worth a mid-round pick assuming he can get back in the first few weeks and avoid another freak injury.

    The Golden State Warriors will rely on Bogut to be a defensive tone-setter this year, something they've lacked for the past few seasons. Per-36 minutes, Bogut has averaged 14 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game over his seven-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Backing up Bogut is the always-in-the-doghouse Andris Biedrins, meaning Bogut should be in line for somewhere between 30-35 minutes per game, if he can stay healthy. A double-double average with two or more blocks per game would be expected, based on that projection of Bogut's playing time.

    HOOPSWORLD ranked Bogut highest at 74th overall, while Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire had him 85th and ESPN had him 90th overall, making him a consensus early-to-mid ninth-round pick.  

    Bogut has the talent to be a late seventh or early eighth-round pick, as he's quite potentially a top-50 fantasy player if he can remain healthy throughout the season.

21. Darren Collison, PG, Dallas Mavericks

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    When Deron Williams re-signed with the New Jersey Nets and Jason Kidd spurned the Dallas Mavericks for the New York Knicks this summer, the Mavs suddenly had a huge hole to fill at point guard with not much time to do so.

    Enter Darren Collison, who the Mavericks acquired from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Ian Mahinmi. With only one year left on his contract (at a more-than-affordable $2.3 million), Collison will be looking to parlay his play in 2012-13 into a larger deal next summer.

    Collison's career averages of 12.1 points, 5.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and a steal per game don't exactly scream "fantasy superstar," but the 2011-12 season was the first year where Collison averaged over 30 minutes per game (31.3, actually).

    He's got Delonte West and Roddy Beaubois lurking if he starts slipping up, but Collison holds the clear talent advantage over either challenger. One need only think back to Collison's Game 5 explosion against the Orlando Magic in the 2012 playoffs, where he finished with 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, six assists, three steals and two rebounds in 24 minutes of play.

    Collison was ranked 91st by HOOPSWORLD, 105th by ESPN and not even ranked in the Top 150 by Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire. I'd say he's easily worth a ninth-round pick as a solid backup point guard investment.  

20. Omer Asik, C, Houston Rockets

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    Someone who averaged 3.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in 2011-12 isn't often touted as a potential breakout fantasy player the next year, which makes Omer Asik's appearance on this list rather unique.

    Then again, things have changed just a bit for Asik since the conclusion of the 2011-12 season.

    Over the summer, Asik left the Chicago Bulls and signed a three-year, $25.1 million deal with the Houston Rockets to become their starting center. While the move appeared to signal the end of the Rockets' aspirations to land Dwight Howard via trade, it did give them a potential defensive menace to anchor their frontcourt defense.

    Playing only 14.7 minutes per game in 2011-12, Asik finished tied for 44th in the league terms of defensive win shares, according to Basketball Reference. Now that he's expected to start for the Rockets, Asik could shoot up the list of the NBA's elite young big men.

    Asik didn't receive much love in fantasy preseason rankings, having been ranked 122nd by ESPN and left off the Top 150 of HOOPSWORLD and Yahoo! Sports/Rotowire, meaning he's a consensus undrafted player in a 10-team league.

    Given the amount of playing time Asik should receive after signing that $25 million contract over the summer, he's worth at least an 11th-round pick as a solid backup center for your fantasy squad.

19. Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Hornets

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    Ryan Anderson is the highest ranked played that appears on this list, with a consensus ranking that puts him at the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth round of a 10-team fantasy draft.

    If he's still around at the end of the third round or beginning of the fourth round in any of my fantasy drafts this year, I'm snatching him up like there's no tomorrow.

    Per-36 minutes, Anderson has always been a relatively elite scorer over his four-year career. He exploded onto the fantasy scene last season with averages of 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in 32.2 minutes per game, including nearly three three-pointers per game.

    Anderson is a perimeter-based 4 who benefited from the presence of Dwight Howard last season with the Orlando Magic, but who's to say Anthony Davis won't command similar respect down low for the Hornets? He won't yet have the varied offensive skill set of Howard, but he proved during the 2012 Olympics that he's already able to score against the best in the world.

    Unless the Hornets make a midseason acquisition, I could see Anderson averaging a career-high in minutes, with somewhere around 18-20 points and six to 10 rebounds per game, along with a couple of three-pointers. He's worth drafting over guys like Nicolas Batum or Steve Nash, who are both ranked above him by at least one site.

18. George Hill, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers

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    Why was Darren Collison traded by the Indiana Pacers with one year and $2.3 million remaining on his contract? The five-year, $40 million contract George Hill signed this summer might have something to do with it.

    Hill overtook Collison as the Pacers' starting point guard late in the 2011-12 season, then started all 11 games in the playoffs as the Pacers trampled the Orlando Magic and put a real scare into the Miami Heat before unlocking berserker LeBron James.

    In Hill's first start (against the lackluster Toronto Raptors), he finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in 35 and a half minutes. He followed that up with seven straight double-digit scoring outings, and opened the playoffs with eight straight nights of double-digit points.

    One cause for concern could be his somewhat lackluster assist numbers for a point guard. His assist totals dropped significantly when the Pacers hit the playoffs, and he never dished more than five assists in any of the Pacers' 11 playoff games.

    With a whole summer of work knowing he'd be the Pacers' starting point guard, here's guessing we see those assist numbers jump up in 2012-13.

    Hill was ranked 89th by ESPN, 107th by Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire and 123rd by HOOPSWORLD, making him a consensus 11th-round pick in a 10-team draft. To me, Hill's worth at least a 10th-round pick, if not a ninth, as Indiana's clear-cut starter at point guard.

17. Jeremy Lin, PG, Houston Rockets

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    It's virtually impossible to discuss Jeremy Lin without hyperbolizing his accomplishments with the 2011-12 New York Knicks, but here goes nothing.

    Lin's run in February, which started with a 25-point explosion against the then-New Jersey Nets, warrants the hype that it generated. For a scrap-heap third-string point guard to drop 20-plus points in six straight games, including 38 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers...well, that's a tailor-made Hollywood script right there.

    Now he finds himself in an entirely new situation after accepting a three-year, $25.1 million deal with the Houston Rockets this past summer: one of the veteran leaders on an incredibly young team.

    The Rockets went all-in on the Dwight Howard trade gambit and lost out to the Lakers, leaving them with a number of first- and second-year players. The 30-year-old Carlos Delfino and 29-year-old Kevin Martin are the two oldest players on the team. (Take that, Knicks!)

    Houston didn't make the 24-year-old Lin the second-highest paid player on the team for nothing. You should expect at least 30-35 minutes per night out of him, with around 15 points, five assists and a steal per game.

    HOOPSWORLD ranked Lin 49th, ESPN ranked him 77th, and Yahoo! Sports/Rotowire left him completely unranked, making him an aggregate 10th-round pick. If you can land Lin in the seventh or eighth round, you should immediately start mocking the rest of your league for letting you land such a steal. 

16. O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks

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    Like Darren Collison at the point guard spot, O.J. Mayo comes to the Dallas Mavericks this season to fill a glaring hole in the backcourt.

    A 35-year-old Vince Carter wasn't going to suffice as a starting shooting guard for another season, and 2011-12 backup shooting guard Jason Terry now plays for the Boston Celtics.

    That should mean a heaping of opportunity for Mayo, who danced in and out of the Memphis' Grizzlies starting lineup during his four years there. After starting every game in each of his first two seasons, Mayo only started 17 games over the past two seasons combined.

    Per-36 minutes, Mayo has always demonstrated the potential to be an elite scorer, albeit a less-than-efficient one. He averaged only 40.7 percent shooting in 2010-11 and 40.8 percent in 2011-12, although he did shoot at a higher clip back when he was a starter for the Grizzlies.

    Mayo has the potential to thrive in this new starting role for Dallas, as the Mavericks will need a second scorer to step up and take some of the pressure off Dirk Nowitzki. He was teased before, but Mayo has the talent to be that player for the Mavs.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranks Mayo 81st, ESPN ranks him 92nd, and HOOPSWORLD has him 98th overall, which makes him a consensus late ninth- or early 10th-round pick. I'd take him in the eighth round without thinking twice.

15. Bismack Biyombo, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats

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    With the additions of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist through the draft, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon through free agency and a trade, and Brendan Haywood through waivers, the Charlotte Bobcats aren't going to be as historically terrible in 2012-13 as they were in 2011-12.

    Bismack Biyombo should play a large part in helping turn the team around from last season's train wreck.

    The second-year player wasn't much of a fantasy contributor in 2011-12 besides in the blocks category, having only averaged 5.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. His free throw percentage (48.3) was Dwight Howard-esque, although he only averaged 2.3 free throw attempts per game.

    Biyombo's 1.8 blocks in only 23.1 minutes per game from 2011-12 is where his fantasy prospects begin in 2012-13, too. If Biyombo can get his minutes into the upper-20s or even at 30 per game, there's reason to expect at least two blocks per game with somewhere around eight to 10 points and eight to 10 rebounds.

    That's not going to be your team's spark to a championship run, but only one of ESPN, Yahoo! Sports/Rotowire and HOOPSWORLD even have him ranked in their Top 150. (ESPN does, at 110.)

    If you're a Dwight Howard owner who's looking to lock down the blocks category, take Biyombo in one of the final few rounds of your draft and laugh in the faces of your fellow league mates.

14. Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz

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    Sticking with the opportunity, opportunity, opportunity theme, let's talk about Gordon Hayward, the third-year combo guard/forward that started 58 of the Utah Jazz's 66 games in 2011-12.

    Hayward couldn't quite find his scoring groove in the early part of the season, but he turned on the jets after the All-Star break.

    In April alone, Hayward exceeded the 20-point scoring mark in five separate games, and averaged 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists over the course of the month. He also contributed nearly two three-pointers (shooting 49 percent from downtown!) and a steal per game in April.

    The Jazz didn't sink a lottery pick into Hayward two years ago to have him ride the bench, and he has rewarded the organization for their faith.

    He should continue being an elite three-point shooter this season, while averaging somewhere closer to his April totals, than his nine points, three rebounds and three assists per game from last January.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire has Hayward ranked 58th, ESPN has him 72nd and HOOPSWORLD has him 91st overall, making him a mid eighth-round pick. To me, he's worth at least a seventh rounder, if not a sixth.

13. Thaddeus Young, SF/PF, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Reason number one you want Thaddeus Young on your fantasy team this season: He's sporting an extra 21 pounds of muscle this season in training camp, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

    Gone are the days (aka, last season) where Young lacked the size to effectively battle opposing 4s in the post. At roughly 235 pounds, he's now able to hold his own down low, but still fly down the court in transition, according to the Daily News.

    Young spent most of the season looking to improve upon his ball-handling and perimeter shooting, according to CSNphilly.com, which has head coach Doug Collins cautiously optimistic.

    "He's looking to be able to add perimeter shooting to his game," Collins said to the paper. "If Thad can play a little three for us and a little four, we're going to be much better."

    There's no guarantee that Young locks down a starting job in 2012-13, which makes him a somewhat dangerous mid-round pick. Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked Young 76th overall, HOOPSWORLD had him 87th and ESPN had him 113th, making him a consensus early 10th-round pick.

    Now that he's the longest-tenured member of the Sixers, Collins will likely expect Young to step up into a major leadership role for the team, both on and off the court. With that in mind (and the 20 extra pounds of muscle!!), he's worth a late eighth or early ninth-round pick.

12. Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    If he were ranked just a bit lower on preseason fantasy draft boards, Nikola Pekovic of the Minnesota Timberwolves would be one of my favorite draft sleepers of 2012.

    Barring injury, Pekovic appears primed for a monster season next to Kevin Love, now that Darko Milicic will no longer be a threat to Pek's minutes.

    Per-36 minutes in 2011-12, Pekovic averaged 18.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and nearly a block per game. He only played 26.9 minutes per game, due to a season-long brain fart by coach Kurt Rambis that convinced him Milicic was worth playing.

    It's not going to happen again. Pekovic figures to play a major part in the Timberwolves' offense this season.

    On Monday, Love praised Pekovic's newfound passing ability, saying, "passing out of double teams, he never would have made that read last year," according to the Timberwolves' official site.

    HOOPSWORLD ranked Pekovic highest at 79th overall, while ESPN had him 80th and Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked him 86th, making him a consensus early ninth-round pick. Take him in the late seventh or early eighth round without hesitation.

11. Michael Beasley, SF/PF, Phoenix Suns

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    Given how low Michael Beasley is ranked across the board in 2012-13 preseason fantasy rankings, he's becoming one of my favorite sleeper targets of the year.

    Phoenix's roster is a lottery ticket mishmash after trading away Steve Nash and Robin Lopez over the summer. Signing Beasley to a three-year, $18 million deal and re-acquiring Goran Dragic with a four-year, $30 million deal were the Suns' major moves, meaning Beasley should be in line for at least a guaranteed starting spot.

    Looking at the Suns roster, there's a good bit of talent, but no one player sticks out as a potential star scorer besides Beasley. While putting Beasley in that role might not portend well for Phoenix's playoff chances, at this point, the Suns have little other choice.

    It's not difficult to see Beasley emerging as a 20-point-per-game scorer for the Suns this year, although it'd be a leap to suggest that he'll suddenly become a more efficient player while doing so. If you're able to sacrifice field goal percentage for scoring, a potential boost in rebounds and the occasional three-pointer, Beasley is a late-round steal.

    ESPN had Beasley ranked 121st, HOOPSWORLD had him 139th, and Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire left him out of their Top 150, making him a consensus fringe late-round pick. To me, you could do far worse in the 11th or 12th round than a guy who's likely to become the No. 1 offensive option on his (lottery-bound) team.

10. JaVale McGee, C, Denver Nuggets

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    JaVale McGee has been somewhat a prototypical NBA big man during his five-year career to this point: Teeming with talent, but too stubborn or knuckleheaded to put it to good use.

    His trade away from the Washington Wizards in the middle of last season was just what the doctor ordered.

    McGee largely veered clear of the antics that made him a YouTube favorite after coming to the Denver Nuggets, even outplaying the more heralded Andrew Bynum in a few of Denver's first-round playoff games against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. He averaged 8.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks in 25.9 minutes in the series against the Lakers, helping secure his long-term future with the Nuggets over the summer.

    The confidence that McGee gained from that encounter should only be bolstered after he spent time over the summer training with Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon.

    "He has tremendous talent," Olajuwon said about McGee, according to MyFoxHouston.com. "I give him all these moves and he can finish and he's already skilled. So now just show him how to use that skill to (get) to the next level."

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire has McGee ranked 48th, HOOPSWORLD has him 55th and ESPN has him lowest at 69th, making him a consensus late sixth-round pick. I wouldn't hesitate to pick him up in the middle of the fifth or early in the sixth round, over guys like Amar'e Stoudemire and Brook Lopez.

9. Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks

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    You don't have to know how to say Ersan Ilyasova's name to draft him and have him dominate for your fantasy basketball team. (This is a plus.)

    Ilyasova might be the most anonymous potential 20-20 threat in the NBA, but preseason fantasy rankings have apparently caught onto the secret.

    It's rare to find a player with the potential of posting 20 points and 10 rebounds per game; it's even rarer when said player can reliably knock down the three-point shot, too. Ilyasova shot a career-high 45.5 percent from three-point range in 2011-12, but only averaged two three-point attempts per game.

    Per-36 minutes in 2011-12, Ilyasova averaged 17 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, but he only averaged 27.6 minutes per game that season. Now that the Bucks signed Ilyasova to a five-year, $40 million extension this past summer, he should only command more of a role on offense.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked Ilyasova highest at 23rd overall, while HOOPSHYPE slotted him 40th and ESPN had him 53rd, making him a consensus late fourth-round pick.

    While I'm not as high on Ilyasova's prospects as the Yahoo! Sports/Rotowire crew, I could see Ilyasova justifying a late third-round or early fourth-round pick.

8. Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets

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    Kenneth Faried is another one of those players who won't stay a sleeper for too much longer at this rate, as he seems to be rising up the majority of fantasy draft boards.

    There's good reason. The "Manimal" showed last season that sometimes, motor alone is enough to earn you a starting spot in the NBA.

    In only 22.5 minutes per game in 2011-12, Faried averaged 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and a block per game. Stretch that over 36 minutes, and you've got a guy who's averaging 16.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, a block and a half and a steal per game.

    Faried has Anthony Randolph backing him up, a player who's talented but hasn't yet achieved his perceived potential. In other words, there's no reason Faried shouldn't be playing at least 30 minutes per game in 2012-13.

    That's only going to mean a huge boost for his fantasy value.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire had him ranked highest at 47th, ESPN had him not far behind at 56th, but HOOPSWORLD had him the lowest of the three by far at 81st overall, making him a consensus early seventh-round pick.

    I'd grab Faried in the fifth-round and run away laughing at my league mates.

7. Lou Williams, PG/SG Atlanta Hawks

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    Just as Atlanta Hawks fans bid goodbye to one volume shooter (Joe Johnson), say hello to his replacement, Louis Williams!

    If you're expecting your team to maintain a high field goal percentage all season, turn away from Williams immediately. In his past five seasons, he has only finished one year with a shooting average over 42.5 percent from the field.

    He may not be the king of efficiency from the field, but Williams can score at an elite level. He led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring in the 2011-12 season with 14.9 points per game in only 26.3 minutes. Stretch his 2011-12 averages out to a per-36 minute basis, and Williams averaged 20.5 points, 4.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, along with over six free throw attempts.

    With Johnson now in Brooklyn, the Hawks have a huge void to fill in the backcourt, and Williams should be more than up for the challenge. Whether he starts at shooting guard or comes off the bench, he's able to competently play both point and shooting guard, which should help boost his assist totals.

    It would be surprising to see Williams average much fewer than 30 minutes per game in 2012-13, leaving him with a realistic chance of averaging a career-high in minutes played. If so, his stats should only experience a similar boost.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked Williams 64th, ESPN ranked him 71st and HOOPSWORLD had him 90th overall, making him a mid eighth-round pick. I'd prefer both Damian Lillard and Jeremy Lin to him, but wouldn't feel bad at all taking Williams in the seventh-round over the likes of Raymond Felton and Mo Williams.

6. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors

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    Over the final month of the 2011-12 season, Klay Thompson posted averages of 18.6 points, 3.8 assists, 2.8 steals, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.2 steals in 33.7 minutes per game as the Golden State Warriors' starting shooting guard.

    Thompson only has Brandon Rush to challenge him for the starting spot this season. In other words, Thompson is virtually guaranteed at least 30 minutes per game.

    If he can post anything like his April 2011-12 averages over the course of the 2012-13 season, he should be shooting up draft boards before the season starts. He's an elite scoring option who knocked down over 41 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season, and only stands to improve this coming season.

    Assuming Warriors point guard Stephen Curry can stay healthy this season, Thompson will be the beneficiary of countless assists in 2012-13. If Curry's chronically troubled ankle acts up again, the Warriors will need Thompson to step up even more. That's what you call a fantasy win-win.

    Thompson is one of the higher-ranked players on this list, with Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire having ranked him 51st, HOOPSWORLD ranking him 61st and ESPN ranking him 62nd. That means he'd be an early sixth-round pick for Yahoo! and an early seventh-round pick for the other two sites.

    Don't be surprised if Thompson cracks the Top 10 fantasy shooting guards by the end of the season. Pick him in the fifth or sixth round with little hesitation.

5. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers

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    By your fantasy draft day, Damian Lillard may not be much of a sleeper anymore, as it seems that many have been quick to sing his fantasy praises this preseason. Allow me to add my name to the list.

    Along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Charlotte Bobcats, Lillard looks like the greatest challenger to Anthony Davis' presumed Rookie of the Year title. With Ronnie Price and Nolan Smith as his backups, Lillard is about as guaranteed at least 30 minutes per game as a rookie can be.

    Yes, the former Big Sky player should find the NBA to be tougher sledding, but Lillard looked like he wouldn't need much of an adjustment during the Vegas Summer League. In four games, Lillard averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, earning him a co-MVP distinction with Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies.  

    Keep your expectations in check: He's not going to average 26.5 points in the regular season unless he's taking at least 25 shots per game. Barring an injury to LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, those two will still command a lion's share of the shots, too.

    Would it be shocking to see Lillard score around 16-18 points per game, with five to six assists, four to five rebounds and a steal? Not at all.

    Lillard was ranked 62nd by HOOPSWORLD, 84th by ESPN and not ranked at all by Yahoo! Sports/Rotowire, making him a consensus 10th-round pick or 11th-round pick. Personally, I'd be targeting Lillard over either Darren Collison or George Hill, and think he'd be a steal in the seventh or eighth round.

4. Glen Davis, PF/C, Orlando Magic

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    Let's say this about the Orlando Magic in their first year post-Dwight Howard: Someone's going to have to score some points.

    It's fair to expect this team to dwell near the bottom of the league's standings throughout the 2012-13 season, but it's not as though they're completely devoid of talent.

    Glen Davis, having ably stepped into Howard's shoes when he went down with a season-ending back injury in 2011-12, could be one of the pleasant surprises from this Magic team.

    When Howard went down and Davis was inserted into the starting lineup for the final 11 games of the 2011-12 season, he averaged 16.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in only 31.4 minutes per game. He finished with six double-doubles in the month of April, including nights of 18-16, 31-10, 23-12 and 16-16.

    The Magic have a plethora of question marks in their frontcourt after the Howard trade, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Davis relied upon as an anchor for his newer teammates. He'll start at the 4, but proved in 2011-12 that he can capably slide over to the 5 if and when Gustavo Ayon and Nikola Vucevic need a break.

    Both ESPN  and HOOPSWORLD had Davis ranked 85th, but Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire left him completely off their rankings, making him a consensus 11th-round pick. I'm siding with ESPN and HOOPSWORLD here: Davis is worth at least a ninth-round pick, if not an eighth rounder.

3. Evan Turner, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Full disclosure: I'm a Philadelphia 76ers homer with a special affinity for Evan Turner. So, my optimistic projections for Turner in 2012-13 could be shaded by that.

    On the other hand...I'm not the only one seeing big things for Turner in his third year. He is, too, according to CSNphilly.com.

    Turner led the team in rebounding with 7.5 boards per game in 2011-12, and sported a defensive rebounding rate that far exceeded all other shooting guards in the league. Now, the Sixers' addition of Andrew Bynum should only help Turner be able to run the floor and not worry about crashing the boards on every possession...but he still sees himself rebounding plenty.

    More importantly, Bynum's presence also marks the end of the Andre Iguodala era in Philly. It's Turner's time to step into Iguodala's open starting 3 spot and play the same shooter-rebounder-distributor role that Iguodala played for years.

    That's the role where he thrived at Ohio State en route to the National Player of the Year award during his junior year of college. The NBA may be a different beast, but Turner looks and sounds like a man ready to embrace the challenge.

    ESPN ranked Turner highest at 99th, HOOPSWORLD had him 108th and Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire wasn't showing much love with a ranking of 134th overall, making Turner a consensus 12th-round pick.

    Guys, he's starting and the Sixers expect him to take a major leap this season. That's worth a 10th-round pick, at the very least. 

2. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG/SF, Sacramento Kings

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    Which Tyreke Evans will we see this year? The one who averaged 20-5-5 as a rookie or the one who has only statistically regressed each of the past two seasons?

    With restricted free agency potentially lurking next summer, this is Evans' do-or-die year in terms of proving to the Sacramento Kings that he's worth building around long-term.

    Now, according to Cowbell Kingdom, head coach Keith Smart has Evans practicing with the lead guards in preseason because he wants Evans to "keep sharpening those skills."  Evans struggled in 2011-12 after being moved from the backcourt to the starting 3 spot.

    For fantasy purposes, that multi-positionality makes Evans that much more of an asset for any team. You can plug him into any slot not named "power forward" or "center."

    I'm expecting the rookie-year Evans to make his triumphant return this year, and there aren't too many players in the league who will chip in at least 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and over a steal per night.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked Evans highest of the three sites at 45th, while HOOPSWORLD had him at 46th and ESPN at 55th, which makes him a consensus late fifth-round pick. Given his three-position eligibility and my high expectations for Evans in 2012-13, I'd take him late-fourth or early-fifth, above guys like Marcus Thornton or John Wall.

1. Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF/PF, San Antonio Spurs

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    When San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich declared that he thought Kawhi Leonard was "going to be a star" in an offseason mailbag on NBA.com, that raised the eyebrows of the collective NBA blogosphere.

    It should have piqued the interest of all fantasy owners, too.

    Popovich said, "And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player."

    Now, the whole team is talking up Leonard, who averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in the 2011-12 regular season. Tim Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News that the Spurs "expect more from him this year."

    Popovich only pumped up the hype: "He’s going to handle the ball more this year. He's going to be involved more in pick and roll this year. We expect a lot out of him."

    Seeing as how Popovich had absolutely no problem cutting the minutes of his older veterans (Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker) to keep them fresh for the playoffs. The young bucks, led by Leonard, didn't cede much ground.

    Leonard only played 24 minutes per game last season, but based on the preseason hype, expect his playing time to trend significantly upward in 2012-13. That's a recipe for fantasy gold.

    Yahoo! Sports/RotoWire ranked Leonard highest at 63rd, while ESPN had him 100th and HOOPSWORLD had him ranked 112nd overall, making him a consensus early 10th-round pick. Based on his three-position eligibility and the preseason love he's getting from his teammates, you could do far worse than spending an eighth or ninth-round pick on Leonard.