Everyone loves looking at sleepers, breakouts, and busts. So do we. So myself, Matt, and Kyle got together and gave our candidates for each of these categories. I agree with basically all of Kyle's and Matt's selections, and I think they'd probably agree with me as well, so there are plenty of guys who fill those roles in your fantasy drafts.
Sleepers and breakouts can be quite similar, but for the sake of this article, we are looking at sleepers as players who may go undrafted or in the last couple of rounds of a standard league, while breakouts could be players drafted earlier, but take a big step forward.
The number two draft pick in last year's draft didn't exactly wow us in his rookie season. He finished with averages of 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.6 steals, and 0.7 threes in nearly 29 minutes per game. Dragging down his value, even more, was his poor efficiency of 40 percent from the field and 62 percent from the free throw line. Ingram did improve as the season went on, however, evident by his five point per game and 11 percent field goal percentage increase after the All-star break.
Ingram only played the single Summer League game, and while he looked impressive, it would be foolish to judge too much on the smallest of sample sizes (see Lonzo Ball's first Summer League game).
Looking forward to this season, the addition of a pass first point guard in Ball, who Luke Walton has said he is prepared to up the tempo and encourage outlet passes - especially to his wings - should help involve Ingram further. Ingram also has a fantasy friendly game and can flirt with a steal, block, and three per game. If he can keep his efficiency up, it will bode well for his overall value. You can likely draft him around the 100 range in 10-12 team leagues, and he could be a player, who if you are patient with, could easily have stretches of top 75 value making him worth a shot at that point of drafts.
Harkless was standard league relevant last season finishing the 113th ranked player in 8-cat. Harkless doesn't contribute significantly in any one category, instead providing across the board production noticeably his ability to average 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks and 0.9 threes in 29 minutes. Harkless should see similar playing time again this season and be a permanent fixture on the wing with the Blazers one player lighter after trading away Allen Crabbe to the Nets over the off-season. Harkless offers that perfect 'glue-guy' type small forward towards the end of drafts in 10-12 team leagues.
Dedmon is looking like he will be the starting centre for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks this season after a strong showing for the Spurs last season. He fell out of the rotation in the playoffs after missing a game with an illness, a move which was odd, and was more to do with off the court issues rather than on court play. Mike Muscala could impact Dedmon this season, but I've got Dedmon projected as the starter and getting 24 minutes a night. That could very easily be on the low side, but even at that level, Dedmon projects as a top 100 player. You don't have to take him anywhere near as high as his projection rank shows him, given he has an ADP of 142 on Yahoo and doesn't even have an ADP on ESPN. In just 17 minutes per game last season, Dedmon was ranked 177th, and I see no circumstance that he gets those fewer than that regarding playing time. He provides elite rebounding, good shot blocking and very nice field goal percentage to go with solid free throw percentage and he has upside to average a double-double.
In the games Dedmon played over 20 minutes last season, he averaged 7.3 points in 24 minutes per game, shooting 71 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line. He also pulled in 9.3 rebounds, blocked 1.8 shots and averaged 0.6 steals. Now, this season, he doesn't get to play with LaMarcus Aldridge or Kawhi Leonard, meaning he could see more field goal attempts, with perhaps lower efficiency, but those other numbers feel like close to a baseline.
Richardson was superb in his rookie season, and I had high hopes heading into last year. Unfortunately, a torn MCL and multiple foot and ankle issues derailed his season, but when many people had stopped paying attention, Richardson was flying. Over the final 15 games of last season, Richardson was the 51st ranked player in 34 minutes a game and averaged an astonishing 1.9 threes, 1.6 steals, and 1.5 blocks. That's a triple one and a half, for those of you playing at home. Yes, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters were both out, but Richardson could easily start over Winslow this season, and just between you and me, I think he is better than both Winslow and Waiters.
Richo also increased his play making and saw a 25 percent increase in his assist rate, averaging 2.6 per game over the course of the season. When healthy, Richardson has top 75 upside, maybe higher, but I understand the concern regarding playing time. But that's why he is a sleeper. He doesn't have an ADP on ESPN, and he is outside the top 140 on Yahoo, and if he proves my belief correct, he'll play more than Winslow and see more than 30 minutes making him close to a lock for the top 100.
There are two Bogdanovics in the NBA this season, and one of them has the potential to be much better than the other. Everyone who played fantasy within the last three seasons should be familiar with Bojan Bogdanovic from Croatia and his role as a shooter on the Nets and Wizards. Bojan signed with the Pacers this summer and is expected to start at small forward heading into camp, but even with big minutes, Bojan hasn't proven himself to be much more than a three-point specialist. The other Bogdanovic (Bogdan), the one that I think is a sleeper pick in drafts right now, is from Serbia and not related to Bojan in any way. Bogdan is 25 years old, three years younger than Bojan, and Bogdan has a more versatile game than Bojan. Bogdan signed a 3-year, $27 million deal with the Kings this summer, the largest contract for an NBA rookie in league history, and with few other legit options to play small forward this season, Bogdan was signed with the intent of playing a lot at small forward. There's a great chance he begins the season as the starting small forward and holds the job all year. Buddy Hield will slide up to small forward at times and take some minutes there, but the only other legit option the Kings have at small forward is 40-year-old Vince Carter.
Though Carter is expected to be in the rotation and play a decent-sized role, it's hard to imagine Carter starting over a talent like Bogdan considering the Kings' place in the NBA right now and how much Bogdan was paid to come to the NBA. Bogdan will put up points, three-pointers, and decent assists for his position and can score off the dribble as a pull-up jump shooter, a skill that is becoming more and more important in the modern three-point-centric NBA. If you're looking for a wing with upside near the end of your standard league draft, Bogdan is an interesting flier to take. He's buried deep in the default ranks on both Yahoo and ESPN, so you'll have to add him to your queue to keep him in sight. Bogdan has the potential to play well in standard leagues this season, but he's also still sitting on the wire after a lot of drafts. So, if the rest of your league isn't as keyed in as you, Bogdan could be someone to let slide to the wire in 10- and 12-team leagues. Just make sure to add him to your watch lists and to track the news around his role as we enter camp and start to get a better understanding of how rotations will break down.
Teodosic is another international player making his debut in the NBA this season. The 30-year-old point guard from Serbia signed a two-year deal with the Clippers for $12.3 million, and he's expected to be in a primarily three-guard rotation with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. Lou Williams is also on the roster and will find a way to get plenty of minutes, but Williams should be the fourth guard in the Clippers' pecking order, and Rivers may have to spend time at small forward if Williams is going to have close to the same role he's been accustomed to during his career. Teodosic is one of the best passers in the world, and he'll be arguably a top-5 passer in the NBA this season while also providing impactful three-point shooting. The only thing that could stop Teodosic from getting big minutes (25-30) most nights is his defense. We currently expect him to come off the bench behind Beverley and Rivers but to play with both of them. Josh has projected Teodosic to average 25 mpg this season (110 rank in 8-cat), while I've projected him to play 27 mpg (88 rank in 8-cat), and he's being drafted 140th on both Yahoo and ESPN. You should be able to take a flier on Teodosic near the end of standard drafts, and even in a somewhat limited role, he should provide good value in points, three-pointers, and assists.
Harris had one of those 'third-year breakouts' that are often talked about. He improved his field goal percentage by over three percent despite taking more shots and more three-pointers. He also improved his points, rebounds, and assists per game numbers. This development saw him ranked 65th for the year and 35th in the final two months of the season. He is a crucial part of the Nuggets young core and should continue to thrive playing with passing big men in Nikola Jokic and now, Paul Millsap. Consequently, he will be hyped up heading into the season and be widely sort after in competitive leagues on draft day. I'd be shocked it he doesn't finish a top 50 player this season.
The Jazz were third last in points per game last season and will enter 2017-2018 without Gordon Hayward who averaged 22 points per game and 16 field goal attempts per game last season. The Jazz are incredibly thin offensively, and when you add starters Ricky Rubio, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert's career points per game averages, it totals 47 points per game. Hood is the standout offensive player on this team and should absorb most of the shot attempts and scoring that Hayward leaves behind. Hood is coming into his fourth season and is primed for a breakout campaign.
Gordon was horrendous playing out of position last season, but once Serge Ibaka was traded, he showed us what we thought he could produce at the beginning of last season. After the trade, Gordon averaged 16.4 points, 0.9 threes, 6.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 0.7 blocks, shooting 51 percent from the field and 84 percent from the line, despite going just 28 percent from three. He was the 60th ranked player in that time frame, and he is inexplicably getting drafted at 108 on Yahoo and 103 on ESPN. Even if he doesn't improve on what he did late last season, which seems unlikely given his age, he will smash that ADP. He is a legit triple one threat who should be playing well more than 30 minutes a night as the best young talent on this team.
Yes, the Magic did draft Jonathan Isaac this season, but I don't see Isaac cutting into Gordon's playing time at all. In fact, I expect the Magic envisage a Gordon-Isaac frontcourt as their young core of bigs moving forward, playing alongside each other, not in competition for minutes. I will be targeting Gordon in pretty much all of my drafts.
Much like Gordon, Russell thrived when he was given the opportunity to play a significant role late in the season. On the struggling Lakers, Russell played 33 minutes a night after the break and was ranked inside the top 45 at that time. This season, he is being drafted at 67 on Yahoo and 71 on ESPN, and even though I don't project him there, if Russell were a top 25 player by the end of the season, I wouldn't be surprised. After the All-Star break, Russell averaged 18.5 points with 2.5 triples, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals and hit 80 percent of his free throws and 43 percent of his field goal attempts. The field goal percentage was a large step up from last season, and if he just maintains that number this season, he should exceed his projection. He is now on a new team, the Nets, but he is the face of this franchise now. He is the player they are looking to build around. Jeremy Lin is still around, but they can play together, and I see Russell turning in a monster season in his third NBA year. If he averaged 20 points and six assists with two steals, while it would be a big step up, it would not be a surprise and he has breakout written all over him.
Prince is entering his second season in the NBA and is poised to carry a significant load for the Hawks following all of the roster turnover they had this offseason. Dwight Howard was traded, and Paul Millsap, Thabo Sefolosha, and Tim Hardaway all signed with new teams in free agency. Prince started the final ten games of the regular season and all six of the Hawks' playoff games. He should be the second most important player for the Hawks behind Dennis Schroder and is all but guaranteed a large role the entire season as long as he can stay healthy. Prince averaged 11.4 points, 1.1 three-pointers, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 31 mpg through ten starts last season. He should improve in points and generally across the board as he's asked to take on a larger role on both sides of the court this season. With so many new faces on the Hawks and the goals of their front office (rebuilding) possibly conflicting with the goals of their coach (winning), there's a possibility for extreme volatility in the Hawks' rotation every night. The two players who should be immune to rotation tinkering more than the rest of the roster are Schroder and Prince. Even if coach Mike Budenholzer is playing veterans over his young players a lot to start the season, Schroder and Prince are the only pieces the team could consider real building blocks who can also give the team its best chance to win every night.
Murray appears to be locked into the starting point guard job for the Nuggets this season, and Emmanuel Mudiay and Jameer Nelson will be left to battle for the backup minutes. Coach Michael Malone talked this offseason about the fact the Nuggets don't need a traditional point guard in the starting lineup because Nikola Jokic runs the team's offense so much. Malone making such statements adds to the belief that Murray will be the Nuggets' primary point guard this season. Murray started six of the final seven games of the season and averaged 15.1 points, 1.6 three-pointers, 3.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.4 blocks in 33.5 mpg while shooting 45 percent from the field. Though the addition of Paul Millsap may reduce Murray's assists some, he should find himself with a similar offensive load this season as he works well off the ball and will be rewarded for his movement from Jokic. Unknown to many because he played in all 82 games as a rookie, Murray was playing through a sports hernia for most of his rookie season. He underwent surgery to repair his core issues early in the offseason, and it's believed he'll be healthy well before training camp opens. Josh's projections have Murray ranked 76th, and my projections have Murray ranked 91st. Despite the gap in our projections, both of us have Murray projected to be much better than where he's being drafted on Yahoo (135th) and ESPN (113th). Don't overlook Murray in the mid-to-late rounds if you're in need of three-pointers, points, and some assists. Josh and I were both fairly conservative in our projections for Murray as well, so there's some room for him to exceed expectations in his sophomore season. He certainly has the talent to outpace our projections.
Anthony is now 33 years old, and his fantasy value has dropped rapidly over the past four seasons - 8th, 26th, 29th and 49th (8-cat value and it is even worse in 9-cat). His time with the Knicks is tenuous, and a potential trade would likely take away his role as the number one offensive option. We have Anthony projected as the 67th ranked player (which I think is fair), but he is a player who will likely be drafted much earlier than that on name recognition as much as anything, but chances are he won't provide a return on investment come the end of the season.
Gortat was a disaster once Ian Mahinmi returned to the lineup last season, ranking outside the top 200 for the last two months of the season, playing only 25 minutes a night. Mahinmi did have another offseason knee surgery, but it was a lot earlier this time, so we expect him to be ready for training camp, meaning Gortat, at the age of 33, will head into the season as the starter, but not a big minute starter. The Wizards will also likely go small, playing Markieff Morris or Jason Smith at centre with Kelly Oubre Jr. getting more playing time as a small ball four alongside Otto Porter, further limiting Gortat's ability to play big minutes. Last season, Gortat was the 88th ranked player, yet drafters on ESPN and Yahoo expect him to somehow get better this season, even with a full year of Mahinmi. He is being drafted at 61 on Yahoo and 63 on ESPN, and if you take him there, it feels like you are just inviting a losing season upon yourself.
This is not to say that I hate Harrison Barnes. In fact, I was decently high on him last season. But, with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, a full year of Nerlens Noel, and the addition of Dennis Smith Jr., I just can't see how Barnes could fulfill an ADP of 64 (Y!) or 72 (ESPN). Especially given that he was the 81st ranked player last year and that fell to 126th post All-Star when Dirk and Noel were playing with the team. Barnes' value is all about points, and we know how hard they are to get late, so maybe that pushes him a little higher, but at the start of the seventh round, I'll take someone else in nearly every considerable situation. I have no doubt that Barnes is going to be an ownable player all season, but this bust is based on value at the spot you have to draft him, and I won't be picking him that high.
Getting traded to the Cavs may end up killing a lot of Crowder's value this season. He was the 67th ranked player last season, and the 51st ranked player two seasons ago, but joining a Cavs roster that currently has him slotted to play off the bench and serve in a reduced role is likely to limit his production. Crowder is currently being drafted 64th on Yahoo and 71st on ESPN, but Josh's projections rank him as the 119th player this season, and my projections rank him as the 117th player this season. The Yahoo and ESPN default rankings haven't accounted for Crowder's reduced role this season, and it appears he's going to be drafted far too early. The one caveat to consider about Crowder's value and role being reduced is the possibility of the Cavs making another trade or two to better balance their roster and open up more minutes and touches for Crowder. It's not smart to bank on uncertain situations as early as Crowder is being drafted, so I'll be avoiding him in most leagues and letting others draft him in most cases.
Saric took advantage of the absence of several players in the second half of last season, averaging 17.3 points, 1.4 three-pointers, 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 30 minutes per game through 25 contests after the All-Star break. That production was great, but if the Sixers are healthy this season, Saric will have to find most of his minutes playing behind Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Saric is being drafted 62nd on Yahoo and 66th on ESPN right now, while Josh's projections rank him as the 169th player this season and my projections rank him as the 163rd player this season. Though injuries could open the door to a larger role for Saric, and he'll still have value as the Sixers sixth-man this season. The reason I think he'll be a bust in a general sense is that a lot of people will draft him with unrealistic expectations and may drop him early in the season while he's still carving out his spot in the Sixers' new pecking order.