Fantasy hoops sleepers and busts

When you begin drafting a fantasy league, it's good to have some sense of value in your head. It doesn't only matter which players you get, it also matters where you get them. To that end, we suggest compiling some sort of tiered system of sleepers and busts, players for whom the perceived value differs significantly from how you personally feel about them.

To put it in more practical terms, while you might hate the idea of drafting Dwight Howard in the first round (because of your concerns about his back and his ability to fit into a new offensive system), he might start to look really good if he slides into the fourth round. It's all about finding that point where you are maximizing the value of every draft pick you make.

The last thing you want is to have your next pick looming in the queue and no idea whatsoever which player you're going to take. Taking the time to decide how you feel about players (and how your sense of them differs from the public's sense of them) will allow you to have players in mind when your pick is coming up, so that when it's the sixth round, and Jrue Holiday is sitting there, you're eagerly anticipating your turn instead of feeling a rising sense of dread and confusion.

So, with that in mind, here are our panelists' picks for sleepers and busts to get you started. Our panelists are Tom Carpenter, John Cregan, Seth Landman, Brian McKitish, Neil Tardy and Josh Whitling.


(Ranked within the position in order of when you can expect to get them, from earliest to latest)


Point Guard

Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers: He disappointed last season, but entering a contract year, Holiday's assist total should spike with Andrew Bynum now manning the middle. With so many talented young PGs, bargains are tough to get at this position, but you have a chance with Holiday. -- Neil Tardy

Darren Collison, Dallas Mavericks: I have this feeling that the Mavericks' backcourt is going to be undervalued in drafts because there are so many new pieces that no one quite knows where to gauge their value. Assuming Collison fends off Roderick Beaubois, he should be in line for 32-34 minutes a game. Collison had a down year last season (10.4 PPG, 4.8 APG), but to me, he's like Jameer Nelson used to be … a point guard you could pick up in the ninth or 10th round and outperform his average draft position by 10 spots or so. --John Cregan

Mo Williams, Utah Jazz: His primary competitor for minutes is Randy Foye, and Williams has already proven he can outplay him. He'll be asked to be more of a playmaker now that he's not on a team with Chris Paul, and should see his overall usage increase significantly. He's a lock for nearly two 3s per game and should notch around six assists with Devin Harris out of the picture. --Josh Whitling

Raymond Felton, New York Knicks: For all of his troubles last season, including showing up out of shape, Felton was still one of only 10 eligible players to average at least five assists, one steal and one 3-pointer per game. Now back in New York and reportedly motivated, Felton should be in line for a bounce-back season. He's certainly not going to put up 17.1 points, 9.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 3-pointers as he did in his last stint with the Knicks, but he'll still be a nice investment on draft day. --Brian McKitish

Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks: With Joe Johnson out of the picture, Teague will have every chance to shine while driving the Hawks' offense. I think he's ready to step into that role and he has the potential for a well-rounded fantasy game, including 3s, dimes, steals and percentages. --Tom Carpenter

Ramon Sessions, Charlotte Bobcats: For all of his struggles in the playoffs, Sessions was pretty darn good for the Los Angeles Lakers down the stretch of the regular season. Averaging 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career, over 23 games he managed 12.7 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.2 rebounds. He should get plenty of playing time in Charlotte this season, and it is rare to get this kind of production, especially in assists, this late in the draft. --Seth Landman

Shooting Guard

Lou Williams, Atlanta Hawks: I think Williams and Aaron Afflalo are in similar situations. They're both under-the-radar players who have been thrust into top-2 scoring options on their respective teams. Williams gets the nod here because of his likely lower ADP and PG eligibility. If you want to get salivating, take a gander at Williams' per-36 minute numbers; 20.5 PPG, 4.7 AST, 1.8 3PM. Not to mention he shoots .812 from the line .362 from behind-the-arc. He'll probably get at least 30 minutes per game in Atlanta this season. --Cregan

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: He gave us a hint of what to expect after Monta Ellis was traded and we should expect even more as he grows into the pro game. Huge 3-point upside. --Carpenter

O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks: His fantasy value as well as his perception as a player have both been tarnished since being relegated to bench duty the past two seasons in Memphis. But now he's starting for a Mavericks team in need of perimeter offense and a capable playmaker alongside Darren Collison. The last time he started, Mayo averaged 17.5 points, 1.7 3s, 1.2 steals and 3.0 assists per game, and he's moving into a role where he'll likely see as many offensive touches in the first quarter as he did in some entire games in Memphis. --Whitling

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: DeRozan seemed to get a little 3-pointer happy early last season, but if he continues to take it to the hole, he'll come closer to his 46.7 percent shooting of 2010-11 than his 42.2 percent of 2011-12. I'd like to see a few more steals from the athletic 23-year-old, but the career 80.2 foul shooter does get to the line (5.3 attempts last season). I'll take that attribute plus DeRozan's high ceiling come the eighth or ninth round. --Tardy

Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons: Not that Ben Gordon was a major obstacle last year, but he's elsewhere now, and Knight already was second on the team in minutes behind Tayshaun Prince last season. I'd like to see him get more steals, and the turnovers were definitely a problem, but at just 20 years old (and with point guard eligibility) he's got the potential to be an elite shooter and to improve in assists and percentages as well. Averages of 15 points, two 3s and five assists per game aren't out of the question at all. --Landman

Small Forward

Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers: People are typically shy about drafting players with modest scoring totals in the first few rounds, and Batum doesn't have superstar name recognition. But he ranked 43rd on the 2011-12 Player Rater and only started in 34 of his 59 games played. In those starts, he averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.9 3s, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 84.2 percent from the stripe. Only two players averaged one 3, steal and block per game last season: Batum and Kevin Durant. He's already statistically impressive, and has nowhere to go but up. --Whitling

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings: Obviously not every player heading into a contract year excels. And much of what we hear about players who work hard in the offseason turns out to be empty talk once the games start. But in Evans, you have someone who apparently trained hard this summer AND is seeking a max deal. So I'll take the combo and go into this preseason liking Evans. Speaking of combos, 'Reke's PG/SG/SF eligibility in ESPN.com leagues isn't a bad thing to have, either. --Tardy

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: ESPN's Chad Ford had only one negative in his draft profile for MKG: "Lacks a consistent perimeter game." No problem; he doesn't need a perimeter game to far surpass his ADP. MKG is a physical freak on a team where he can play all the minutes he can handle and can stuff all stats. He'll be a fantasy factor right away, even if he doesn't score well. --Carpenter

Andrei Kirilenko, Minnesota Timberwolves: I'm choosing to focus on the fact that he'll be a great fit in the Rick Adelman's offense as a guy who has consistently hovered around three assists per game as a forward for his whole career. He's a mortal lock to average more than a steal and a block per game when he's healthy, too. I love him for this season. --Landman

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: I love the Warriors' team-wide fantasy prospects this season. I think if Barnes wins the starting SF job in camp, you could be looking at a mini-Rudy Gay-type season. Gay averaged 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and almost a steal, block, and 3-pointer per game in his rookie season. Of all the rookies, Barnes is the one I think has the best chance to outperform his ADP. If you're in an auction keeper league, see if you can get him cheap late. --Cregan

Power Forward

Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks: His 2011-2012 season was wrecked by an injury, which makes it easy to forget that he was a consensus third-rounder last year and has shown steady improvement throughout his NBA career. Many Hawks fans have wished that the offense were run through him for years, and now that Joe Johnson is out of the picture, Horford should become a more focal point of the offense. --Whitling

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: Faried may be a bit undersized, but few can match his quickness and motor in the paint. With averages of 11.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 25.2 minutes per game after the All-Star break last season, and an increase in minutes on the horizon, Faried has to be considered one of fantasy's top breakout candidates this season. --McKitish

Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors: Bargs was one of my sleepers a year ago, and I'm willing to write off his injury-plagued season to the post-lockout chaos. Before going down the first time, he averaged 23.5 points and 6.2 boards over his first 10 games. Small sample size? Cherry-picking numbers? Of course, but I don't care. Bargnani is a bargain at pick 50; if he falls close to pick 60, he's a steal. --Tardy

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz: The Jazz can't keep this kid under wraps for long. I expect him to start sooner than later, and with Dwight Howard-type upside, he's a terrific option to round out your starting lineup. --Carpenter

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers: Thompson has no competition at the power forward spot, has double-double potential, and blocks shots. He's also on a young team that will be willing to let him play through rough patches and will run a lot more this season. Nice late-round upside here. --Cregan

Gustavo Ayon, Orlando Magic: He averaged 0.9 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 20 minutes per game last season, and at 53.6 percent shooting from the floor, he's a competent offensive option as well. Among power forwards and centers who played at least 20 minutes, only Marcus Camby, Joakim Noah and Spencer Hawes had a higher assist rate and rebound rate. A competent player at both ends of the floor on a team that really needs as many of those as it can find, Ayon should find 30 minutes a game for himself this time around. --Landman


Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves: Of course it'd be nice if Pek blocked more shots, but as his numbers as a starter last season (15.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and percentages of 54.7 and 74.2) illustrate, he does everything else. And don't slide him down your board just because Ricky Rubio won't start the year; Pekovic should average a double-double in 2012-13. --Tardy

Chris Kaman, Dallas Mavericks: His overall numbers from last season were hampered by initially sharing time with Emeka Okafor and then the Hornets benching him for no logical reason, but after the All-Star break he averaged 14.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He'll get plenty of run as the only legitimate center on the Mavericks' roster, and is undervalued because of his slow start last season and the fact he has disappointed fantasy owners many times in the past. But 14 points/8 rebounds/2 blocks is worth starting in any format, especially if you can get it in the later rounds. --Whitling

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers: I know Jordan is not necessarily all that great at playing basketball, but he could grab eight rebounds and block two shots per game in his sleep, and his high field goal percentage can cure a lot of ills as well. Yes, he's a terrible free throw shooter, but at least he never gets to the line. --Landman

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: Here's a rookie that absolutely no one is talking about, yet he has one of the clearest paths to a starting role. His rookie year could be comparable to prime Andris Biedrins; something close to a double-double and 1.5 blocks per game. --Cregan

Omer Asik, Houston Rockets: Asik may be challenged on the offensive end, but few can argue with his skills on the defensive side of the ball. With 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in just 14.7 minutes for the Bulls last season, Asik figures to be a solid late-round selection with more minutes on the way in Houston. --McKitish


(Ranked within the position in order of when you can expect to get them, from earliest to latest)


Point Guard

Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks: Playing alongside Brandon Jennings for an entire season hurts Ellis' value across the board. They'll rival the Thunder backcourt as the highest scoring in the league, but Ellis' numbers have already been trending in the wrong direction over the past few seasons, and Jennings' continued development hinders his fantasy value. --Whitling

Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers: There really isn't a point guard projected to go in the top five rounds I would label as a "bust," but Nash comes closest … if owners believe he will sustain the value he has held in Phoenix. Nash will still provide solid value in the early fourth round, but his days as a top-20 player are over, mostly because he'll have to share touches with Kobe Bryant. Even if the offense (as advertised) runs through Nash, his numbers will dip, probably into the 13.5 PPG, 8.5 APG range. --Cregan

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: In one of the best seasons of his career last year at age 29, Parker finished 41st on the Player Rater and he played 60 out of 66 games, so it's not as though he had an injury that pushed him down the rankings. So if he's going in the first four rounds, which I think he will, that's an issue, because there's no real room for upside. Now he's 30, and seems to have given up on 3-point shooting entirely. I'm just not sure how long he can play the way he has played in recent seasons. --Landman

Raymond Felton, New York Knicks: Felton returns to the Big Apple, where he had his one good fantasy season. Trouble is that season was a product of high-volume touches and coach Mike D'Antoni's offense. Now D'Antoni is gone and Melo is there usurping all of the touches. --Carpenter

Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors: I'm not exactly going out on a limb here after the Raptors signed Kyle Lowry over the offseason, but Calderon is going to have a hard time earning enough minutes as long as Lowry is healthy this season. If anything, Calderon will make more of an impact in fantasy leagues by cutting into Lowry's value rather than creating value for himself. --McKitish

Shooting Guard

Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets: Surrounded by so many players who can handle the ball and create their own shot in Denver, Iguodala's assist numbers will surely suffer, and with a bevy of capable wing players, it's hard to see him reclaiming his glory days when he nearly averaged 20 points per game. He hasn't averaged over 1.7 steals per game since 2007-08, so even though he's an excellent thief, he's no longer a lock for top-5 in steals. --Whitling

Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets: 78, 62, 56, 9. That's not a snap count. Those are Eric Gordon's games played over the past four seasons. He's potentially a top-30 player, but I stay away unless he slides into the fifth round. There are too many other intriguing options at SG in the middle rounds to merit an early-round pick. --Cregan

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic: Afflalo offers nice percentages by guard standards, but across the board, his numbers are pretty ordinary. I suppose his scoring could improve with a Magic team likely looking for offense, but if he takes more shots, it seems likely he'll fall noticeably short of his career 46.6 field-goal percentage. Long story short, I'll never reach for a player just because he can produce 15.0 points and 1.5 3-pointers. --Tardy

Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets: Fantasy owners used to tolerate Martin's propensity for injury in the past because he was always a proven fantasy asset when healthy, but he will face more than just questions about his health this season. After a disastrous 2011-12 season where he found himself in and out of Kevin McHale's doghouse, Martin's reward might not be worth the risk any longer. --McKitish

Small Forward

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers: His scoring, steals and 3s have decreased in each of the past three seasons, and with the continued development of Paul George, Granger's name recognition and reputation as a fantasy stud will cause him to go higher in drafts that I want to choose him. --Whitling

Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets: I don't hate Wallace, but given what his body has been through, Crash seems like an "old" 30. While he's capable of contributing in practically every category, the days of him approaching elite numbers (like 2.0 steals or 8.0 rebounds) are likely behind him. If I have a choice between Wallace and Paul George, I want the player who's on the way up. --Tardy

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings: As a former Tyreke supporter, it pains me to list him in the bust section, but I just can't ignore his somewhat pedestrian stats after the Kings moved him to small forward to make room for Isaiah Thomas last season. In 26 starts as a forward, Evans averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 boards, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Those aren't terrible numbers, but it's a far cry from the 20 points/5 rebounds/5 assists he posted as a rookie. --McKitish

Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets: A lot of people are predicting a breakout campaign for Gallinari, but I'm thinking he stays closer to 15-point, 5-rebound, 1.5 3-pointer range. He's streaky, injury-prone, and has Wilson Chandler pushing him for minutes. I still like his upside, but wouldn't bite before the late seventh round. Small forward is VERY deep this season, and there's no need to reach. --Cregan

Brandon Roy, Minnesota Timberwolves: You can't draft him with visions of the old Roy in mind. That guy is gone. I'd rather use my pick on a guy with upside than a guy who will be a constant injury risk with no upside for his ADP. --Carpenter

Power Forward

Blake Griffin, Clippers: I'll let somebody else be mesmerized by his once-in-a-generation athleticism and focus on the crippling free throw percentage, the fact his numbers went down from his rookie to sophomore campaign, and the fact he had offseason knee surgery. --Whitling

Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Hornets: I think there's a big difference between the Anderson making nearly 3.0 3-pointers per game playing off Dwight Howard and the Anderson who will probably average about 1.8 to 2.0 3s per game in New Orleans. Look at it this way; Anderson was tops with 2.7 3PM last season, but 22 other players averaged at least 1.8 makes from downtown. I'll get my treys elsewhere. --Tardy

Kris Humphries, Brooklyn Nets: His minutes, shots and opportunity for success will drop sharply on the new-look Nets. There are better double-double options out there who have upside. --Carpenter


Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers: I'd like to remind everyone that last season everything went right for Bynum and he still finished 14th on the Player Rater, so the assumption that he's a sure-fire first-round pick seems a little premature. Also, it's worth noting that last season was the first time in five years that he played in more than 80 percent of his games, and his field goal percentage fell off a cliff in April and the playoffs. He's an elite center, yes, but he's not worth a first round pick. --Landman

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers: We don't know when he'll be back on the court, let alone at 100 percent. Then he's going to be in an offense where he's no longer the No. 1 option. Then we don't know if his head is going to be on straight (though he is in a contract year). If I'm the Lakers? I ease him in slowly, knowing this is about the playoffs. Oh, and he still is the worst free throw shooter (.491 last year) in the league … yes, even worse than Griffin. --Cregan

Glen Davis, Orlando Magic: Davis averaged 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in the playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers this spring, but I'm thinking his regular-season numbers as a Magic starter (15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals) are more realistic for this season. The PF/C dual eligibility is nice, but I'm just not interested in a big who doesn't block shots and probably will fall short of 50 percent shooting. --Tardy