As the NBA season nears, we've had a chance to peruse box scores, watch highlights, and listen to coaches' reactions for over a week now.
While nabbing the hottest, up-and-coming players who should exceed their draft position (isn't that what it's all about), there are bound to be some misses. However, the following is a list of can't-miss players, who will outproduce their draft slot and help any manager win a league.
I don't want to waste your time covering players who have been beaten to death, such as Jose Calderon, who will put up second-round numbers despite being a late third-round to early fourth-round pick in most leagues. Other guys who fall in the "too obvious to write about" category include Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Luol Deng, and OJ Mayo.
1. Thaddeus Young, SF - PHI
Young is entering his second year in the league, and is a sure-fire breakout candidate for the 2008-2009 NBA season. Though he started at PF in the playoffs, the acquisition of Elton Brand will return Young to his natural position of SF.
He should be good for anywhere from 15 to 18 ppg, five to six rpg—and of course rack up the steals, all while chipping in a few sneaky threes without hurting your turnovers or percentages. Young should drastically outperform his draft position.
2. Mike Conley, Jr, PG - MEM
Some people seem to have forgotten how highly touted Conley was when he was selected third overall just last season. Though he's not as pure a point guard as the Grizzlies would like to have, he is their future and the future is now.
The Grizzlies will give Conley the reigns this year, and after a year of development he probably has the highest ceiling of anyone being picked so late. He can beat anyone off the dribble, and has improved his general and three-point shooting this pre-season, which could make him deadly.
Look for Conley as your third point guard, and enjoy the production of a good second point guard on a fantasy team.
3. TJ Ford, PG - IND
Ford is something of an enigma, because whenever he's been healthy, he's produced at a level of a true number-one point guard. Unfortunately for him and his owners last year, Ford once again got hurt—a scary neck injury that threatened to end his career.
He'll lose some minutes to Jarrett Jack to start the season, but will soon be averaging around 10 dimes per game, while helping you in FTs and steals.
4. David Lee, C/PF - NY
"Free Lee" t-shirts all over Madison Square Garden will finally be heeded, as new coach Mike D'Antoni will let Lee lose on the league this year. After averaging near a double-double last year, David Lee will now see his minutes rise considerably in a run and gun offense.
This means low percentage chuckers such as Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon, and Stephon Marbury will be providing many rebound and second chance opportunities.
Lee is also a rare center-eligible player who shoots over 80 percent from the stripe and will also hit between 55 to 60 percent of his shots from the floor. Lee is bound to outproduce his draft slot due to increased minutes and a new system alone.
5. Mike Bibby, PG - ATL
Bibby missed half of the season last year, so his numbers don't look as odd as they could have. Also, coming off injury, he was a step slower, and heading to the Hawks he had to learn where and when teammates would be. This year, that will be no such problem.
Bibby is capable of producing nearly 200 three-pointers, while shooting a higher percentage and averaging about 15 points and 6.5 assists per game. He'll also steal the ball a ton while not totally killing your turnovers.
Bibby's been dropping to pick 90 and beyond often—and with all the talent around him in Atlanta, that is unacceptable.
6. Wilson Chandler, SF - NY
Wow, two Knicks sleepers in one article. Trust me, it's not because I actually like them.
Currently, Chandler is slated to come off the bench behind Quentin Richardson. However, he has completely dominated the preseason, including a performance on October 15 of 20 points, 10 boards, and five threes.
Meanwhile, Q-Dog has been absolutely terrible. New coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense will help Chandler, and he could be an absolute steal, going undrafted in many leagues. Don't let that league be yours, as Chandler is going to be a fantasy-household name very soon.
7) Andrea Bargnani, SF/PF/C - TOR
After last season, most would think that Bargnani's stock could not be lower and that his star has completely faded. Fantasy players had moved on, the Raptors had moved on, but what we wind up with is him yet again qualifying as a sleeper. We also wind up with a statistical anomaly with a SF/PF/C who is going to rain threes all day long and hopefully fulfill much of the promise he once had.
Bargnani has shown up this preseason and been the most impressive player on the Raptors. Bargnani should score a decent amount of points, hit a lot of threes, add some blocks and steals, all while helping your free throws. He'll be a nice piece of flexibility for the back-end of your squad.
8) Hakim Warrick, PF - MEM
Warrick is nothing to write home about, but it looks like he'll win the starting PF spot in Memphis, and that counts for something. Warrick has the ability to score around the basket and rack up the boards and some decent points while chipping in on blocks.
Though he's not a stud, he should be good for close to a double-double while starting, and considering he too is going undrafted, that's a draft-day bargain right there.
9) Chris Quinn, PG - MIA
Quinn is what he is—a speedy little point guard who will shoot some threes, get some assists and steals, and not turn the ball over. He was above average to finish out the year for the Heat last season, but that was without D-Wade in the house. However, with no other options, Quinn should wind up as the default PG in Miami.
This is a team that has finishers such as Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, and Shawn Marion. That spells opportunity. Some experts out there think Quinn is worth an eighth-round pick, but you'd be nuts to burn him when players such as Conley and possibly Bibby are available. However, for the end of your draft as the third or fourth PG on your team, you could do much worse than taking a flier on Chris Quinn.
10) Antoine Wright, SG/SF - DAL
Wright was impressive in his limited playing time last year with the New Jersey Nets, showing an ability to score, hit threes, and steal the ball. That was in limited time in New Jersey, though, and now he gets his big chance having landed the starting shooting guard job with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs will depend on Wright to play strong defense, which will mean many steals for your club. He won't be a star, but averages of 12 to 14 points, 1.5 threes, one steal, and four to five boards are nothing to ignore on draft day.
BONUS: Andray Blatche, PF/C - WAS
Two years and two injuries to centers for the Wizards, as last year Etan Thomas missed the entire season and this year Brendan Haywood will miss at least six months with a wrist injury, and possibly the entire season.
What that meant last year was Blatche was able to get valuable development time to show the world he can block shots with the best of them.
Once again, there will be plenty of opportunity in Washington, and if Blatche can turn some of that raw athleticism into a consistent scoring touch, he will be very valuable. Watch for him near the end of your draft as a nice center to bring off the bench.