NBA Fantasy 2012: Last Minute Sleepers, Rankings and Projections

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterOctober 29, 2012

NBA Fantasy 2012: Last Minute Sleepers, Rankings and Projections

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    The 2012-2013 NBA season will soon be underway, and with it the start thousands of fantasy leagues worldwide.

    Unlike the real NBA, a fantasy championship is not won with superstars alone.  Smart drafting from top to bottom covering all stat categories is the key to winning.  Well, that and snagging a few sleepers.

    So who are the hidden gems in this season's draft?  Which players are just waiting to burst on the scene and reward any drafter lucky enough to snag them?

    Here are the top three at each position, with full stat projections for the 2012-13 season and Yahoo! Sports average fantasy draft positions to help you take home your league's title.

Center No. 3: J.J. Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 137.2

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.5 steals


    Forget the Kings' Hickson of last season and focus on the Blazer version.

    Hickson will be the Blazers' starting center to begin the season but for whatever reason is being drafted after players like Joel Anthony, Zaza Pachulia, Andray Blatche and Tyler Hansbrough.

    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.

    Still just 24 years of age with plenty of upside, look for Hickson in the later rounds and pass on KG early on.

Center No. 2: Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 80

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 9.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.3 steals


    Expect another solid year from Anderson Varejao, especially on the glass.

    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.

Center No. 1: Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 118.4

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 15.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 blocks, 0.9 steals


    It's hard to believe, but Pekovic was actually Minnesota's second-leading scorer last season.

    Although he did not receive consistently high minutes until February of last season, Pekovic finished the second month with averages of 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in 31.1 minutes per game.

    He had an equally impressive March, posting 17.4 points and 8.5 rebounds while upping his time on the court to 33.3 minutes per game.

    It's safe to expect a boost in minutes for Pekovic from the less than 27 he received last season to somewhere in the low-30's this year.

    Getting Ricky Rubio back this season and adding Andrei Kirilenko will likely mean a postseason birth for Minnesota—and an even better season for Pekovic.

Power Forward No. 3: Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 138.8

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 11.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.8 steals


    Thompson should enjoy a strong sophomore campaign for a number of reasons.

    His playing time should be much more plentiful than last season. Coming off the bench for the majority of his rookie year, Thompson's playing time was often inconsistent. Finding regular minutes should help improve his production.

    Thompson spent 25 games last season as the team's starting center. At 6'9" and 227 pounds, he was vastly undersized but still managed 10.4 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, despite going up against bigger opponents on a nightly basis.

    According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Thompson worked hard this summer to add muscle to his frame and put on a total of 18 pounds.

    This added muscle, coupled with a move back to power forward, should mean a much-improved Thompson in 2012-13.

    Expect a nice increase in stats across the board, especially in scoring and rebounding.

Power Forward No. 2: Glen Davis, Orlando Magic

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 114.3

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 14.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.8 steals


    Davis' minutes were already expected to go up with the departure of Dwight Howard, and more may have just opened up.

    According to Yahoo! Sports, Magic forward Al Harrington is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and likely won't be ready for the start of the season.

    Davis will likely start at either power forward or center—a position that he excelled at in last year's postseason. With 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.

Power Forward No. 1: Derrick Favors

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 106.7

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 12.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 blocks, 0.8 steals


    Favors is a star just waiting to break out.

    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.

    The former Georgia Tech star is coming off a 21-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers in just 26 minutes off the bench.

    His numbers to start the season may not be eye-popping at first, but the minutes will come, and with an average draft position 88 spots behind teammate Millsap, Favors will definitely be a wise investment.

    Per 36 minutes, Favors averaged 14.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in 2011-12.  If Millsap is or Jefferson is moved, feel free to remove the "per 36 minutes" for 2012-13.

Small Forward No. 3: Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 122.9

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 14.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 three-pointers, 1.1 steals


    Starting all eight of Utah's preseason games, expect Hayward to log good minutes at both small forward and shooting guard this season.

    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.

    With all of the talented post players on Utah's roster, Hayward should see plenty of open looks on kick-outs and have lots of three-point opportunities.

    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.

Small Forward No. 2: Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 92.2

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 steals


    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.

    Like Hayward, Turner can play either wing position and will help you out in a number of stat categories.

    Philly needs Turner to become a second scoring option to Andrew Bynum, and his minutes should reflect that in 2012-13.

Small Forward No. 1: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 133.2

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 12.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.7 steals


    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.

Shooting Guard No. 3: Courtney Lee, Boston Celtics

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 140.3

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 13.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 three-pointers made, 1.4 steals


    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.

    Lee also has eligibility at small forward and should be a nice late pickup for those teams in need of scoring and three-pointers.

Shooting Guard No. 2: Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 76.9

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 16.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 three-pointers, 1.1 steals


    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.

    Currently being drafted behind Klay Thompson, Marcus Thornton, Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton, Afflalo should have no problem passing all four in most statistical categories.

    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.

Shooting Guard No. 1: O .J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 98.5

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 three-pointers, 1.3 steals


    Mayo may end up being the steal of free agency, landing on a Mavericks team that should be desperate for his scoring, even more so with Dirk Nowitzki out until December.

    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.

Point Guard No. 3: George Hill, Indiana Pacers

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 121.5

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 14.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.4 three-pointers, 1.1 steals


    Now that he's the starter at point guard for the Pacers, 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.

    Hill would be an ideal third point/shooting guard on a fantasy roster. Indiana is a team on the rise and has plenty of talent to distribute the ball to. Hill and his fantasy owners should both benefit.

Point Guard No. 2: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 107.2

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 16.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.5 three-pointers, 1.6 steals


    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 a poor man's Russell Westbrook-type numbers despite going 102 spots later.

Point Guard No. 1: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Yahoo! Average Draft Pick: 92.5

    2012-13 Stat Per Game Projection: 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 steals


    Lillard absolutely tore up the NBA Summer League, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game while earning co-MVP honors.

    With a talented core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Meyers Leonard and others around him, Lillard will have plenty of options to pass to while keeping his scoring total up as well.

    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.

    Anthony Davis will be drafted before him, but don't be surprised if Lillard has the better rookie season and NBA career.