What is a sleeper these days? I define it as players who based on the combination of opportunity and talent, will exceed expectations. Sleepers come in all forms, sometimes it is a young player who is coming into his own, while other times it is a wily vet that gets passed over too often because he has lost his luster. Championship teams will usually always hit on a few sleepers. The common denominator on these players, is they presented a value greater than the price the owner paid to get them. If you can obtain value with every player on your roster, that is going to be a formula that wins many championships.
The best fantasy owners know that each and every player holds value, and knowing when to pick that player is more important than knowing who to draft. With the wealth of information on the internet, most owners will know about the hot buzz players. What they lack is knowing when to take these players, to get the most value from the selection. How many times have you found yourself in a draft saying “Good pick, he was the next guy I was going to pick?” This is a prime case of two owners knowing about a sleeper, but one owner having a much better feel on his value, and knowing where to take him. If you like someone, you must know what his ADP (average draft position) is and use that information to help you decide where to reach for them, while still retaining their value. Our hope is that this top 15 list will help you identify some key players who are currently being drafted below their value. While also giving you an idea of when to take that player to get the best value from him.
15 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit our radar during the Summer League where he tore it up to the tune of 24 points, 7.4 rebounds, with nearly 2 steals, and 3 threes a game. Despite the impressive off-season, his playing time still seemed at a road block. That was until Jodie Meeks got hurt, opening major minutes for KCP. In the pre-season opener he had 18 points, with 4 threes, and the followed that up with a 20 point effort. KCP should be able to help your roster in points, rebounds, steals and threes, making him an asset in either points or roto leagues. Keep an eye on the injury report, as Caldwell-Pope did suffer a knee injury in a pre-season game. It is being diagnosed as a knee sprain, which should not be serious.
In standard leagues you should be able to pluck Caldwell-Pope with your last pick. He is only being drafted in 3% of all leagues, but that is not a clear indicator, as most of that data was compiled prior to the Meeks injury. I can see KCP taking the starting job, and never letting go of it. If that scenario happens, he is going to have great value all year long. That type of upside may be worth reacing for one round earlier to ensure you secure him. Those who do know about him, might be scared off by Meeks return later in the season, or the knee, but don’t be. He is a perfect candidate for one of your last two picks.
14 Otto Porter Jr.
The #3 overall pick last year, Otto Porter Jr., had a disastrous rookie season. Porter started last season hurt, and could never fully recover. His transformation started this off season in the NBA Summer League where he averaged 19 points, while shooting 48%. Then during the pre-season, Bradley Beal's injury opened up some playing time for Porter, and he has ran with it. He recently put up 22 points, 4 threes, and 3 steals in the pre-season. This is the type of potential Porter has if he can get the minutes. The longer Beal is out, the more he can showcase his talent, and start to carve out a role with the team.
Otto Porter Jr. is only a deep sleeper for those of you whose draft goes deeper than the standard 12 rounds. The talent is there, and he has been showing signs of putting it together. We think Paul Pierce is going to help Porter develop into a pro. I have no problem rolling the dice on Porter, as at the very least he is going to hold some value to start the season.
13 K.J. McDaniels
K.J. McDaniels was a first round talent that felt to the 76ers in second round in the 2014. McDaniels was the ACC defensive player of the year, averaging 2.8 blocks, and a steal a game. It is that defensive presence that is going to make him a valuable fantasy asset. McDaniels will start the season as an excellent source of blocks at two positions where that production is scarce: SG and SF. The good thing for McDaniels is that he landed with a team that will offer him an opportunity. The 76ers are starting to look like an ABA team, and don’t have many NBA level talents. The other thing working for him is that Brett Brown is a defensive coach, and his effort and defensive presence is going to be something his coach appreciates. As the season progresses it would not surprise me at all if McDaniels carves out a bigger role, and starts to produce some volume in points and rebounds.
McDaniel is only being drafted in 12% percent of leagues. In local leagues, you might be able to get away with him in the last round, and if you do, the upside is great. You will not find any player available in the last rounds that has the potential he does in the defensive categories. Sharper leagues are on to McDaniel’s upside, so you may have to jump a round earlier to get him.
12 Gorgui Dieng
Gorgui Dieng's NBA career got off to a crawling start, but once injuries gave him an opportunity, he showed what type of player he could be. Over the last month of the season Dieng posted staggering numbers with 11.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, and 2.0 blocks. Dieng’s minutes are blocked by Nikola Pekovic, but he still should earn a role on this young Wolves team. The lottery ticket you are holding is if Pekovic goes down or if the Wolves decide to trade him. If that happens, Dieng will be back to the production he had over the last month of 2013.
Dieng is currently being selected 135th overall, which puts him in the mix for your last pick in standard leagues. If you are sitting at the end of the draft feeling good about your team, and you want to shoot for the moon, Dieng should be your target. This is a lottery ticket that you are going to have to stash away, but if one of the above scenarios happens with Pekovic, you are going to hit the jackpot.
11 Alec Burks
If Alec Burks does not get you excited, then look up the killer behind the back crossover he pulled on Kobe during the preseason. That move sums up Burks quite well, as he has great ball handling skills, a knack for getting to the rim, and finishing when he gets there. Burks was wonderful off the bench, as he was second in the league with 13.9 points. Under new coach Quin Snyder, Burks is projected to start and see plenty of minutes. With the additional minutes, Burks could average 18 points a game this year. His ability to get to the basket gives him plenty of free throw opportunities, but he does not shoot a great percentage as he was only 74.8% from the line last year. If he can get that up to over 80%, watch out.
Burks is yet another player for your end game, going at 139th in the 13rd round. Burks is not going to give numbers across the board, so he is a better option in head to head point leagues. He is what he is, and that is a scorer. If you are hurting for points at the end of your draft, then set your sights on Alex Burks.
10 Steven Adams
At the start of pre-season Scott Brooks announced there would be an open competition for the starting center job. With Kendrick Perkins sitting out the pre-season with a quad injury, Adams has taken the opportunity to stake a claim to the starting job. In the pre-season he has used the increased looks to show off an offensive side, scoring 19+ points 3 times. He offers assistance in blocks, steals, assists and rebounds, while offering a very nice field goal percentage. If you can stomach the growing pains, and the low free throw percentage, you may find a gem. Brooks still has not officially named him the starter, but with his performance in the pre-season he deserves it. Perkins is well past his prime, and the fresh legs would be a blessing for a Thunder team adjusting to temporary life without Kevin Durant.
Adams is an end game option, and you should not reach for him. He is currently only drafted in 6% of the leagues, but that is a reflection of earlier drafts. Adams is a late riser that has gained steam over the pre-season. Take advantage of the players who might have slightly outdated cheatsheets to snare Adams. If you find yourself in the last rounds needing help in rebounds, field goal percentage, and defensive stats from the center position, then Adams should be your guy.
9 Kyle Korver
Some of the biggest sleepers in fantasy sorts don’t come from the guys generating the most buzz. Great fantasy sleepers can be found with players that fantasy owners have left for dead. If you could get a top 35 player over the past two years in the 7th round at 74th overall, would you be interested, “of course,” I hear you exclaim. Well then let me introduce you to Kyle Korver. No, WAIT, don’t walk away. I am telling you, there is something to see here, hear me out.
Your initial reaction is the one most people get when they hear Korver’s name, and why he constantly is passed over. The reality is that Korver is still one of the premium three point shooters in the league, provides excellent percentages, and possess one of the best turnover rates in the league. He shot 47.5% from the field, which is a high rate for a three point specialist, and a minuscule 1.4 turnovers a game. For roto leagues, this is one of the best sleepers in the entire draft. Let your fellow owners snicker when you select Korver a round early in the 6th. It will be you who will be having the last laugh when that owner is leading the league in turnovers, and has to resort to picking up Jason Terry mid-season in a futile attempt to find threes, and a way to raise his percentages.
8 Jeremy Lin
This will not be Linsanity circa 2012, but Jeremy Lin is going to get a lot of minutes in 2014. As explained many times already, opportunity is one of the main factors in finding sleepers. His biggest competition for minutes was a 41 year old Steve Nash, who has already found himself on the injury list and who may be out for the season. Nash hurt himself carrying his bags, and if this is not a sign that he has one foot in the grave, we're not sure what is. After that you only have journeyman Ronnie Price, and rookie Jordan Clarkson. Price has been starting in the preseason, but Lin has seen the majority of minutes off the bench, and has been far more productive. Over the course of the past two years, Lin has averaged 14.9 points, 5.2 assists and 1.2 steals per 36 minutes. I think he can build off those numbers.
Jeremy Lin’s ADP sits at 108 in the 10th round, so maybe you could reach for him a round before. He is going to offer you help in points, assists, steals with solid percentages. He has also added a reliable three point stroke, and should be able to give you some help with that category. Lin has top 75 upside with the amount of minutes he should see. The Lakers need his offence, and he will be one of the focal points of the offence.
7 Timofey Mozgov
Timofey Mozgov is locked in as the starting center for the Denver Nuggets, and that is great news for fantasy owners. In the month of April last year, when nobody was looking, Mozgov put up 15.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and blocked 1.5 shots in 8 games. One of those games he went for 23 points, 29 rebounds and 3 blocks. Those numbers have to get your attention. The plum in the hat for Mozgov is that he does not hurt you in any one category. He offers good percentages for a big man, as he shot 54% from the field, and 75% from the line. Throw in the fact that he is a Brian Shaw favorite, and things are looking up for Mozgov to rack up a lot of minutes and production.
Mozgov holds a current ADP of 134 in the 12th round. That is great value for a player we think will finish in the top 75. He is type of guy that you will draft as a backup center, but by mid-season you are going to find yourself wanting to start Mozgov, especially if you have a big man that is tanking you in certain categories.
6 Robin Lopez
There is nothing sexy about Robin Lopez. That statement works in so many facets, but for the purpose of this list, we will focus on his fantasy game. Lopez is another player that is a sleeper based on the fact that fantasy owners want upside, and not reliability. Lopez is a rare commodity as a center who has great percentages at the free throw line. He was 82% from the charity stripe on 242 attempts last year. The great percentages makes him a more attractive target in roto leagues, but the numbers Lopez puts up across the board still make him an attractive option in all leagues. He posted solid numbers in rebounds with 8.5 per game and blocks at 1.7. Fantasy owners are wowed by the points per game totals and tend to ignore players like Lopez. But, at the end of the year, Lopez had top 40 value in nine category roto leagues, and over the last 2 months cracked the top 20 in value.
Based on the end of year finish, you would expect Lopez to be at drafted no worse than the 5th round, but that is not the case. He currently sits with an ADP of 77, going in the middle of the 7th round. That represents value that is being slept on. The beauty of Lopez is that his value is universal, as both guppies and sharks will tend to sleep on him. You can feel confident that no matter the level of competition, Lopez will fall to an area where he presents sleeper value. Crack a smile when someone takes Brooks Lopez, knowing you can snag the more valuable brother 4-6 rounds later.
5 Draymond Green
All Draymond Green needs is minutes, because if he gets them, he fills a stat sheet. After the all-star break last year, Green posted 8.1 points, 0.8 threes, 5.7 boards, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks, with solid percentage. The playoff series against the Clippers was Draymond’s real coming out party. In that series he averaged 11.9 points, 1.1 triples, 8.3 boards, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. The key here is that Andrew Bogut was out, and he averaged 32.5 minutes, while playing upwards of 40 minutes in three of those games. With Bogut back to start the 2014 season, it makes minutes harder to find for Green. Don’t let that discourage you, he is still going to produce across the board in those minutes. If Bogut or Lee goes down, Green becomes instant fantasy gold, as the playoff were an indicator of what we can expect from him with regular minutes.
The beauty of Draymond Green is he is being drafted as a bench player in the 12th around. You are not going to have to sacrifice a starting spot to roll the dice on him. In the final rounds you want players that can have serious breakout potential, and Draymond Green may be the poster child for that this year.
4 Larry Sanders
Larry Sanders is one the best shot blockers in the league. Injuries and off court issues derailed Sanders' season last year, but that means you can capitalize on owners with short memories. In his last full season, Sanders put up 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, shot 50% from the field, and offered 2.8 blocks in just under 28 minutes of work. The Bucks defense is a liability, especially if Jabari Parker starts at the 4. If this is the case, teams are going to be routinely getting to the paint, but luckily for Sanders owners this is what you want, as it will give him plenty of block opportunities.
Sanders ADP is 78th in the 7th round. That price tag is a little high for my liking. The good news is that I have not seen him go that high in the drafts I have participated in. Sanders usually slips into the 8th or 9th with it being a shade higher in roto leagues. This for me is where he presents value, and if Sanders is sitting there for you in 9th, he is a no brainer. I would not argue with anyone taking him in the 7th or 8th, because the upside is there. But, the injury and off court risks have to be factored in when making a decision on Sanders. If he does stay on the court, expect a bounce back season from Sanders.
3 Terrence Jones
The Rockets suffered three major off season loses in the form of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik. The latter two open a bigger opportunity for minutes for Terence Jones. Jones is a very versatile player, as he was one of only 4 players in the NBA to average 12 points a game, 6 rebounds, a block, and make more than 30 threes. Jones accomplished these numbers while only averaging 27 minutes a game. With the departure of Parsons and Asik, Jones should easily eclipse 30 minutes a game, taking him to the 15 point, 10 rebound category, with his blocks reaching closer to 1.5.
Currently Jones is being drafted 120th overall and that is far too low. This where you need to gauge your level of competition. If you are swimming with some savvy sharks, you are going to see Jones go around the 8th round with the likes of Paul Gasol and Tim Duncan. If you are swimming with more guppies, you might see Jones fall closer to his current ADP, but I would not risk trying to grab him at 120. If you want him, you are going to have to jump to the 9th. We think he represents value at any point after the 8th round.
2 Markieff Morris
Markieff Morris was lights out in the second half of the 2013 season. He averaged 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds after the all-star break. This year, Channing Frye has moved on, and Morris is set for a boat load of minutes. With Frye gone, the Suns will need Morris to stretch the floor a little more than he has in the past. Frye put up 263 three pointers as the stretch 4 in the Suns offence last year. The Suns would like Morris to assume a little more of this role, which should give him a career best in threes. Take note that the percentages are going to take a hit, but if you are in a points league, this will not make a huge impact. Versatility is going to be another asset to Morris, as he has center eligibility on some of the major sites. If he doesn't have it now, he soon will, as there has been plenty of talk on getting him more playing time at the 5. So, you have a potential 20-10 monster that is going to add more threes, and have center eligibility. Where do we sign up?
Morris’s ADP is a mystery to me as the buzz has been solid leading up to the start of the season, yet his ADP is only 110 in the 10th round. If you get Morris in the 10th it will be highway robbery. Unlike a few guys on the list, the pre-season has been quiet for Morris, so perhaps some of the shine has come off. If you have a stronger league you are going to have to look for Morris between the 6th and 8th round. Your level of competition will dictate where you will have to take him. But, take solace in knowing that even at the higher price tag, Morris should be worth it.
1 Jared Sullinger
Pray your competition has not been paying attention to the pre-season, because if they have, it may be hard to steal Jared Sullinger. Sullinger has been posting monster numbers this pre-season. He is still scoring and rebounding like he has been when given the chance and minutes. What has been post impressive in the pre-season has been the increased efficiency from both the field and 3 point line. Last season Sullinger converted only 27% from long range, but this pre-season he has hit 11 of 21. In the NBA’s experimental 44 minute game, Sullinger went for 21 points and 19 rebounds in just 29 minutes. Another highlight from the pre-season is Sullinger’s role as a point forward with Rajon Rando out. In one game this pre-season he went for a near triple double posting 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in just 24 minutes. Sullinger is locked into starter minutes at PF, and is poised to take a major leap.
Sullinger’s ADP is sitting at 121, in the 11th round, but you won’t be able to get him there after his impressive October. I have seen Sullinger go in the 80’s over the past week, and I still think he has upside at this spot. But, his value starts to shrink at that price. If you want him, the 8th round is where you will need to target him, but even that may not guarantee you his services. Sullinger has serious top 50 upside. If he can stay healthy, out of foul trouble, and the percentages stabilize like they have in the pre-season, then Sullinger is going to help owners a lot of championships. The only question for me is what are you willing to spend to grab him?