As the Stones once observed, you can’t always get what you want. But some weeks are better than others, and all of us hoops junkies are anxiously awaiting what may eventually turn out to be one of the most competitive and exciting seasons in years.
In an oft-quoted scene from the classic flick Five Easy Pieces, the only thing that Laker uberfan Jack truly wanted was a side order of toast. Alas it wasn’t meant to be. But all you want as an NBA junky and a budding fantasy basketball champion are the five easy pieces that will have you dominating your leagues in the upcoming season.
Now these are not your typical “sleepers.” Heck, one of them is even an all-star. However, these are players who are simply being undervalued in drafts everywhere. So while they may not have the sex appeal of the traditional sleepers, if you draft these guys at their current average draft positions,--or even a bit before-- you are going to be looking good. I promise you that these guys will deliver their draft value and then plenty more, or I will sacrifice my firstborn to you.
Now before I dish out these top-secret nuggets of fantasy wisdom, allow me to explain my fantasy basketball philosophy. Fantasy basketball is really about who gets the minutes. And it is also about who can stay healthy enough to play the games--that is whether or not a particular player in injury-prone. Take a guy like Beno Udrih and his out-of-the-blue fantasy relevance for instance. Even though he was barely an adequate career backup, he inherited the starting point guard gig on a rebuilding cost-cutting team. Most guys in the NBA can produce if given enough minutes.
So the five surefire guys I’m going to give you are players who have already won their position battles on their teams and are certain to log about 30 minutes or more. They also have a good and in most cases rock-solid history of avoiding the injury bug. You can’t lose, kids.And to give you quantitative proof of where they have been ranked by experts and where they are actually being drafted, I have provided for you an average fantasy rank (composed from five indexes from Yahoo, Yahoo Big Board, ESPN Projections, ESPN Expert 190, and Rotowire) and an average draft position (composed from eight actual drafts I have participated in and four “expert” drafts) for each player.
So without further ado, I give you the pantheon of fantasy fab five--or as I prefer to call them, “five easy pieces to fantasy hoops domination.”
Average fantasy rank #79.8
Average draft position #77.2
Foye is the only player in this article who can even remotely be thought of as an injury risk. And based on only two seasons, we simply do not have enough information. He played all 82 games in his first season, but played only 39 games last season. So the bad news is that he missed 43 games, but the good news is that he played every single one of Minnesota’s last 39 games. So I feel pretty safe in projecting a big year for him.
Why am I so confident? When Foye came back last season, he initially showed considerable rust. But he got consistently better as the season went on. And in April, during the last 10-game stretch of the season, he put up some truly gaudy numbers as only a sophomore--in 36 minutes, he shot 45.6% from the field, 88.9% from the line, and registered 2.2 treys. 1.1 steals, 5.2 dimes, and 18.4 points. Even though he’s really a combo guard, he’s going to control the rock because his only other competition at PG is…drum roll…Bassy Telfair. Yeah, ‘nuff said.
He’s got a young and improving stud in Al Jeff down in the post and a proven hotshot in Mike Miller who will help him increase his assist production. And do not be shocked when Foye averages near or maybe even over two treys per game. That was no fluke in April. He is a career 39% shooter from the land of the triples.
As you can see he’s been ranked at #80 and has been drafted right around there. I project that he will give you about 18 points, 5.5 dimes, 1 steal, 2 treys, with solid percentages of around 45% and 85%. He’s easily going to give you top 65 production this season, if not top 50.
Average rank #110
Average draft position #123.4
No, he’s clearly not the sexiest name in the Chicago frontcourt. He has neither gravity-defying hops nor a charismatic French tennis star pops. But what this guys does have over the young tandem of Thomas and Noah is consistency. And you want to know what he did last season once he was traded from the Cavs to the Bulls? In tidy 31 minutes, he averaged 14 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 0,7 steals, while shooting at clips of 46% and 81%.
And not only that, but the good Gooden just turned 27, which is about when NBA players start turning in their career-best numbers. When one considers the total brain-fart moments the Noah-Thomas duo will register this season, it is easy to be reassured that Gooden will claim at least one-third--that is 32 minutes--of the 96 minutes available at the PF/C positions.
Also, if you are at all worried about the 15 games he missed last year, don’t be. In the four seasons prior to last season, Gooden missed a total of eight games. And even the last ten games of the season he missed had quite a bit to do with Chicago’s lottery-inspired tanking. And the word out of the Chicago camp is that Gooden is looking better and stronger than ever, having added a dead-accurate jumper to his arsenal.
So this quiet easy-going workhorse is primed to have a career season. Look for something along the lines of 34-36 minutes, 15 points, 10 rebounds, one block, with percentages of 47 and 75. He will easily give you top-100 production, and nearly equal the values of players like Horford and Dalembert who are being drafted some 50 spots higher.
Average rank #25.4
Average draft position #31.1
Oh, to be the man in Atlanta, the huckleberry and the laughingstock of the NBA franchises… The bad news for Joe Johnson is that he may never become a household word like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Paul Pierce, but the good news for you, dear readers, is that you will grab this top-15 fantasy player with your pick in the late 20s or 30s.
Eric Karabell, the fantasy expert at ESPN has called J.J. “a poor man’s Kobe.” And while you might think that’s ridiculous, look at Johnson’s post-All-Star numbers after Bibby arrived and relieved him of some ball handling duties--23.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.5 treys, 47.5 FG %, and 80 FT %. Save for about 5 points per game, those numbers are pretty much the same as ones Kobe put up last season. And even though everyone seems to agree that Kobe’s minutes--and therefore his numbers--will decrease this season, Kobe has been a consensus top-4 fantasy pick for the upcoming season.
And with Johnson, you never have to worry about injuries as he has proven to be one of the great iron men guards of the league. In the last six seasons, he has played all 82 games five times. With him having turned just 27 in the summer, his best basketball is still ahead of him. Again, along with his brethren on this exclusive list of five easy pieces, Johnson can expect to have a career-redefining season.
Look for something along the lines of 25 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.2 treys with good percentages of 47 and 80. He is a top-15 value right now, and by the end of the season will prove himself to be a top-10 value.
Average rank #104
Average draft position #106.7
In real life, time shares can be a sexy option for those of us who aren’t quite making the Donald Trump benjamins. You get to impress that girl who is totally out of your league, and with some dumb luck and copious amounts of booze, you might even get to the promised land. But when it comes to fantasy basketball, time shares are statistical disasters.
But now that Charlie V. has been freed from Chairman Yi’s grips, he finds himself in the ambiguous position of becoming one of those stars of questionable merit--a fantasy stud who in reality is not quite as good as the numbers imply. But guess what? We in fantasy land don’t care.
Villanueva has the skill set to join the elite triple-one club (one steal, one block, one trey). Let’s examine his numbers when he started last season--14.9 points, 8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, and 0.8 treys. And that was in just 30.1 minutes. With shoot-first PG Mo Williams gone and two pass-first PGS Ridnour and Sessions in place, Villanueva is ready to break out into fantasy stardom.
He’s being drafted at an average position of well past top-100, but he will without a doubt end up a top-90 player, with his ceiling being a top-75 player. Personally, I see his numbers at around 33 minutes, 17 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1 block, 0.7 steals, 1.1 treys, with percentages of 46 and 78. Plus, the man gives hope to all the children of the world with no eyebrows.
Average rank #146.7
Average draft position #147.2
If you haven’t noticed yet, I listed my five studs in an alphabetical order. But fortuitously, this has meant that I got to save the biggest upside guy of this season. This is the one guy on this list who can definitely be considered a “sleeper” in the traditional sense of the word. In some standard 12-team 13-player leagues, this guys is not even being drafted. Please do not be one of those people who lets this guy go. If he does end up on your league’s waver wires, he won’t be there for long.
Drafted straight out of high school, Williams did not get any meaningful minutes until last season when he averaged 23 minutes in 80 games. Now he has emerged as the undisputed sixth-man for Eastern Conference’s darlings du jour, the Philadelphia 76ers. After the All-Star game, Williams put up 12.7 points, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 0.7 treys in 24.7 minutes. This kid is not only a solid sleeper candidate for fantasy stardom, but a sleeper candidate for the real-life for the sixth-man of the year award.
As with most straight-outta-high school phenoms who actually pan out in the NBA, his game has improved not by small increments, but by leaps and bounds. Look at these averages from the Sixers’ seven games this preseason--13.4 points, 3 assists, 1 trey, and 0.9 steals in mere 21 minutes. He will pick up where he left off and play around 25-28 minutes at the beginning of the season and should wind up averaging around 30 for the season. Do not be one of those dumbfounded at the season’s end when this guy matches Monta Ellis’s breakout numbers from 06-07. He is that good--a top-100 player that can be had with a pick in the 140s!
The following numbers are my low-end projections for this kid--16 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 trey. But that is based on the 28 minutes or so that he is slated to play per game as the situation currently stands in Philadelphia. If an injury hits their starting backcourt or Mo Cheeks decides to give the kid 30+ minutes in order to curb aging Andre Miller’s minutes, he will easily top those numbers and turn you into the full-fledged fantasy stud you always longed to be.