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Western Conference Sleepers

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Last week we examined potential sleepers on each Eastern Conference team. Today we’ll comb through the rosters out West and highlight one sleeper on each squad.

 

* Nerlens Noel - Dallas Mavericks:
Noel thought he’d cash in this offseason as a restricted free agent. The Mavs offered him $70 million in early July, but he turned it down. Eventually, after switching agents, he decided to bet on himself and signed a one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer with Dallas, which allows him to re-enter the market as an unrestricted FA next summer. Shrewd fantasy owners have long valued players motivated to earn a major raise. Also, Noel has always been productive when healthy and on the floor. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference, last season Noel became the first qualified player to average at least 15.0 points, 10.0 boards, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per-36 minutes since David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon in the early 1990’s. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle announced this week that he plans to start Dirk Nowitzki at center and bring Noel off the bench. This could actually be viewed as good news for fantasy owners looking to draft Noel, as it might push down his ADP, and he’ll essentially end up playing starter’s minutes anyway. Noel should return terrific value if selected in the seventh round or later.

 

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* Gary Harris - Denver Nuggets:
Only five players knocked down more than 100 3-pointers and shot over 50.0 percent from the floor last season: LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Otto Porter, Kevin Durant and Gary Harris. And, as the season dragged on, Harris became even more efficient and effective. Over the final two months (a 26-game sample size), Harris averaged 17.0 points, 3.3 assists, 3.2 boards, 2.2 treys and 1.4 steals, while shooting a blistering 53.0 percent from the floor, 42.2 percent from deep and 82.0 percent from the charity stripe. He ranked 33rd overall in standard leagues over that span. With Paul Millsap joining Nikola Jokic in the Nuggets frontcourt, Harris will be playing alongside two of the better passing bigs in the league, which should help sustain his lofty fantasy value.

 

* JaVale McGee - Golden State Warriors:
It’s difficult to find a sleeper on a team loaded with superstars, so I’ll go with McGee. However, JaVale will only have sustainable value if starting center Zaza Pachulia get injured. McGee started ten games last season in which Zaza was sidelined and averaged 9.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 16.4 minutes, while shooting 69.2 percent from the floor.

 

* Clint Capela - Houston Rockets:
Last season, Capela obliterated his previous career-highs in scoring (12.6 points), rebounding (8.1), Player Efficiency Rating (21.4), and both field goal (64.3 percent) and free throw percentage (53.1 percent). And he did so in limited minutes. Per NBA.com, Capela is just the fifth player in NBA history to average at least 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in fewer than 24.0 minutes per game, and just the third dating back to 1959-60. Now, with Chris Paul in Houston, Capela’s stats should only improve. He’ll catch an abundance alley-oops courtesy of CP3, just as DeAndre Jordan did when Paul was running point for the Clippers. Those easy buckets should bump up both Capela's point totals and field goal percentage.

 

* Patrick Beverly - Los Angeles Clippers:
Surprisingly, Beverly requested a trade from the Rockets this offseason. “I asked for a bigger opportunity, a bigger chance to display my skills,” Beverly explained. Well, he’ll have that opportunity in Los Angeles. Beverly didn’t get much national attention in Houston last year, but he was a fantasy stud, finishing the season inside the top-60 overall. His value lies in his versatility, especially his rare ability to rebound from the guard position. Last season Beverly (who averaged just under six boards a night) became the seventh player listed 6-1 or shorter to average at least 5.5 rebounds per game in a single season. A couple of other interesting P-Bev stats courtesy of NBA.com: Over the past two seasons, he is shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range after shooting 36.1 percent his first three seasons combined. Beverly also has more steals (193) than turnovers (191) dating back to the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

 

* Brandon Ingram - Los Angeles Lakers:
Post-hype sleeper alter! As the second-overall pick in the 2016 draft, fantasy GM’s were hoping Ingram would thrive as a rookie on a Lakers team in rebuilding mode. Instead, Ingram, who wasn’t physically ready for the rigors of the NBA, stumbled badly out of the gate. Over the first half of the season, he averaged just 8.0 points per game, shooting a putrid 36.3 percent from the floor. He was languishing on many a league’s waiver wire by early February. However, Ingram stepped it up after the All-Star break, averaging 13.2 points while shooting 47.5 percent from the field over his final 21 games. With the unselfish Lonzo Ball now playing point in L.A., and Brook Lopez drawing extra attention from opposing defenses, Ingram will have more room to operate and excel during his second pro season. While others overpay for overhyped rookies on draft day, save a late-round pick for a post-hype skinny sophomore.

 

* Tyreke Evans - Memphis Grizzlies:
Once you get to the final rounds of a fantasy draft, you’re looking for talent that has a chance to flourish in the right environment. I love Evans a last-round lottery ticket. The situation appears to be ideal, as the Grizz have limited depth on the wing. Vince Carter is now in Sacramento. Ben McLemore, who many projected as Memphis’ starting shooting guard, broke a bone in his foot. Memphis is praying Chandler Parsons somehow stays in one piece long enough to start at small forward. Evans is obviously no ironman himself, but he’s currently healthy and the former Rookie of the Year has always had the talent and skill-set to put up monster numbers when he’s on the floor. For his career, he averages 18.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per-36 minutes.

 

* Jeff Teague - Minnesota Timberwolves:
There are some fantasy pundits who believe Teague’s relocation to Minnesota will significantly diminish his fantasy value, as his scoring average will most certainly dip now that he’s playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Crawford etc. However, while I admit that it’s highly unlikely Teague scores over 15 points a night as he’s done for each of the past four seasons, I think it’s safe to assume he’ll set a career-high in assists passing the ball to those beasts, while also seeing an uptick in his percentages and 3-point makes. Teague is a solid scorer, but he’s also an underrated passer. Dating back to the start of the 2012-13 season, Teague has dished out the sixth-most assists in the entire league, one spot behind Steph Curry and one spot ahead of LeBron James. Teague has also been remarkably durable, playing in 475 out of a possible 492 games (96.5 percent) over the last six seasons.

 

* Rajon Rondo - New Orleans Pelicans:
Rondo’s 2016-17 campaign was a roller-coaster. He began the season as the Bulls starter, before being demoted to second string and then ultimately banished to the bench. After spending the winter months in Fred Hoiberg’s doghouse, he eventually re-emerged in March and finished the season in fine fashion. In fact, Rondo was one of only five players to average at least six assists, five rebounds and one steal per game last season. LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Draymond Green were the other four. Rondo will start alongside Jrue Holiday in the Pelicans backcourt this season, which will require some adjustment for both players. However, as long as Rondo is on the floor feeding studs such as Holiday, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, he will assuredly rack up assists at an alarming rate.

 

* Patrick Patterson - Oklahoma City Thunder:
I’ll admit I liked Patterson as a sleeper a lot more before the Carmelo Anthony trade, as he was in line to start at PF after the Thunder had traded away Domantas Sabonis and lost Taj Gibson in free agency. Now, we expect Melo will log most of his minutes at the four-spot. Still, assuming Patterson is healthy, I think he’s worth a flier in the last round of deep-league drafts. He should see plenty of wide open looks playing alongside superstars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Melo. P-Pat averaged a career-high 1.4 3-pointers per game last season, while shooting 37.2 percent from downtown. For his career, he averages 4.7 boards and will sprinkle in a few steals and blocks, while not hurting your percentages.

 

* Marquese Chriss - Phoenix Suns:
Chriss came on strong after the All-Star break, once the Suns decided to bench their vets and play their youngsters. Over his final 15 games, Chriss averaged 13.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists. However, it was his peripheral stats that really generated attention from the fantasy community. The rookie averaged 1.1 treys, 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks in just 27.8 minutes per contest over that final month. Over the course of the full season, he averaged 1.5 triples, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per-36 minutes. The only other NBA player to match those per-36 averages was DeMarcus Cousins. Assuming Chriss logs close to 30 minutes a night, he should solidly outperform his ADP. And now that we know Alan Williams is going miss six months due to a torn meniscus, Chriss could see some additional playing time at center, making him an even more appealing option.

 

* Maurice Harkless - Portland Trail Blazers:
Both Allen Crabbe and Harkless averaged just under 29 minutes and just over eight field goal attempts per game for the Blazers last season. In July, Portland traded Crabbe to the Nets in exchange for Andrew Nicholson, whom they promptly waived. Currently, the only other small forward on the Blazer's depth chart is someone named Jake Layman. Yes, Evan Turner will see some time on the wing, but it’s clear that Moe will be asked to shoulder the vast majority of minutes at SF. This is obviously good news for Harkless’ fantasy value. Considering he was able to crack the top-100 overall in nine-cat leagues last season, his ceiling in 2017-18 is promising. Just 24 years old, Harkless could very well be the verge of a breakout season.

 

* Pau Gasol - San Antonio Spurs:
Is Pau a boring, unsexy draft pick? Yes, no two ways about that. However, it’s also a smart pick, assuming he falls further than he should on draft day. Gasol’s 2016-17 stats look relatively pedestrian, particularly when compared to the numbers we’re used to seeing Pau post. Unsurprisingly, the Spurs kept a tight leash on Gasol last season. He logged just 25.4 minutes per contest (he had previously never averaged fewer than 31 minutes a night) and averaged career-lows in points (12.4), assists (2.3) and free throw attempts (2.9). Nonetheless, he was still efficient and effective in limited minutes, managing to finish the year ranked 75th overall in standard leagues according to Basketball Monster. The Spurs still have plenty of faith in Gasol, evidenced by the fact they signed him to a three-year, $48 million contract this summer. Gasol has enjoyed an epic career (he’s one of only four players in NBA history with 20,000 career points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists and 1,500 blocks) and it says here he has one more solid season left in the tank.

 

* Willie Cauley-Stein - Sacramento Kings:
Cauley-Stein hadn’t done much to elicit excitement from Kings fans over his first year and a half in the league. Then, during All-Star weekend last season, Sacramento traded DeMarcus Cousins. In the Kings first game after the break, Cauley-Stein poured in 29 points and grabbed ten boards in a win over the Nuggets. He started at center in the majority games down the stretch and continued to impress. Over the final seven games of the season, WCS averaged 14.3 points and 10.9 boards. The Kings have plenty of young guns in the backcourt and on the wing that Sacramento will want to allocate playing time to, but Cauley-Stein doesn’t have much competition for minutes at the five. Assuming he sees between 28-30 minutes a night, WCS has a legit shot at averaging a double-double and returning eighth-round value.

 

* Joe Ingles - Utah Jazz:
Rodney Hood is getting lots of love heading into the 2017-18 campaign, and rightfully so. With Gordon Hayward now in Boston, Hood is in line to inherit plenty of the field goal attempts that Hayward (and the departed George Hill) left behind and now has an excellent opportunity to post terrific numbers as potentially the team’s leading scorer. However, I suspect Hood’s ADP will continue to climb dramatically in the days and weeks leading up to fantasy drafts in October. Thus, I’m targeting Ingles as the prime sleeper candidate in Utah. Of the 15 players on the Jazz last season, Ingles posted the lowest usage rate (13.9) on the entire team. He also averaged only 5.5 field goal attempts. Ten other members of the Jazz averaged more shots. Still, Ingles consistently found ways to contribute, leading the team in steals and finishing second on the club in 3-pointers and assists, behind only Hayward. Now that he’ll likely be plugged in as the team’s starting small forward, Ingles should see an increase in playing time and a corresponding spike in fantasy value.




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