All summer long, I've been walking through pros and cons of various potential sleepers across the NBA. As the season quickly approaches, I thought it might be useful to consolidate all that information into one space. Without further ado, here are my Sleeper Notes (click on the link for more detailed analysis):
All news has been positive on Roy Hibbert, which points to another improved season for the 3rd year center. He looks trim and quicker than ever, and even worked on his mental approach to the game by consulting with the legendary Bill Walton. He should easily play more than the 25.3 minutes-per-game that he received last season. And with Troy Murphy gone, the Pacers have a huge void in the middle and will rely on Hibbert to fill it.
JJ Hickson is a sexy sleeper candidate, but there are reasons for concern. While Cavs fans like to compare him to Amar'e Stoudamire, Hickson's jumper pales in comparison. Without a reliable outside shot, his offensive potential may be limited as defenses begin to focus on him. His lack of defensive statistics is an additional source of concern. Pay close attention to Hickson's defensive stats during preseason. His fantasy value will largely hinge on whether or not he shows any life in the steals and blocks categories.
After Andray Blatche shredded defenses towards the end of the last season, fantasy GM's are drooling for more. But Blatche will no longer be the Wizards' primary offensive option with Gilbert Arenas back in the fold. At the end of the last season, Blatche averaged 18 shots per game - more than either Chris Bosh or Brandon Roy! This season 14-15 shots might be more realistic. Factor in that he's still recovering from a broken foot, and there are multiple reasons to lower expectations on Andray Blatche.
3 Got Game's Van Wilder is highly bullish on Anthony Randolph and I think he has every right to be. AR should be able to earn the lion's share of minutes at the 5. He and Amare would combine to form an extremely long and athletic frontcourt. But monitor Tim Mozgov's minutes as well. D'Antoni could be partial to the more defensive minded Russian center, putting a squeeze on AR.
Fantasy GM's are expecting Steve Nash-type production from Raymond Felton this season. I think it's possible - but I also wouldn't be surprised one bit if Felton failed to meet expectations. As I describe in a previous post, it's plausible that Mike D'Antoni's magical touch might be more perception than reality. Don't get me wrong. I would happily burn a 4th/5th/6th round pick on Felton, but understand that this isn't necessarily the sure bet that people believe it to be.
Rookie Pacer Paul George may be able to carve out a role for himself by mid-season. If Brandon Rush proves to be unreliable again, and George is able to gain Obie's trust on defense, then he could surprise people and have a Marcus Thornton-type impact. Most likely he'll go undrafted in your league, but make sure you keep him on your watch list.
Javale McGee should be able to provide significant boosts in blocks for your team this season. He is still too raw to contribute much offensively, but late in the draft, if your team is in need of shot-blocking he will be a viable alternative to Samuel Dalembert and Marcus Camby.
The Blazers have placed their faith in Nicolas Batum as their small forward of the future. But Batum's usage will be limited with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge needing shots. Batum will likely defer to the older veterans early on, but with his talent, he should be able carve out an increasingly larger role as the season progresses. Expect modest production from him this season, but in 2011-12, Batum will be a live sleeper candidate.
With Carmelo seemingly out the door, it will only be a matter of time before the aging and expensive Chauncey Billups follows suit. While Ty Lawson probably won't be drafted, it is imperative to keep the young UNC product in mind in case of a Billups trade. He is my pick to be this season's Andray Blatche.
Dominque Jones is lesser known but with an aging Jason Kidd, he may be able to earn some minutes in spot duty. He might not have much fantasy value this season, but like Batum, he's another one to keep your eye on for the 2011-12 season.
Robin Lopez may be a great value pick late in the draft. Many are expecting him to start and get the majority of minutes at the 5. As the only defensive big in that Suns lineup, I concur.
Alright, that's it for now. I hope this gives you a better sense of what to expect from various "sleeper" candidates out there. And good luck in your drafts!