Fantasy basketball sleepers, breakouts, busts for 2017-18

Rookies can be boom-or-bust prospects in fantasy. What should you expect from Mavs' first-rounder Dennis Smith Jr.? Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

In order to put your team in the best possible position to win your league, you'll need to make the most of your draft. That includes finding good values in players who will exceed their average draft position, landing at least one player who takes his game into the upper echelon and avoiding players who flop miserably.

With that in mind, our fantasy basketball experts (Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser, John Cregan, Eric Karabell and Kyle Soppe) offer up their top sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2017-18 campaign.


Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2017-18 season.

Jim McCormick -- Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

The Rockets have led the NBA in 3-point frequency -- the percentage of total field goals that come from beyond the arc -- for the past four seasons. With Mike D'Antoni at the helm of the space-driven, seven-seconds-or-less offense, the Rockets broke their own NBA record with an absurd 46.3 percent 3-point frequency last season. Enter Gordon, who was third in the NBA with 8.8 3-point attempts per game last season. With an ADP into the 90s in early ADP results, Gordon can carry your team from 3-point range throughout the season if you don't land an elite shooter in the early rounds. 70th on the Player Rater last season, it's possible Gordon could assume increased shooting volume (and better shots) playing alongside an elite point guard like Chris Paul.

Joe Kaiser -- Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

Payton is still only 23 years old as he enters his fourth NBA season, and he's coming off a year during which he quietly put up five triple-doubles and drastically improved his shooting from the field and the free throw line. While Payton remains a big question mark from long range -- he's a career 28.9 percent 3-point shooter -- the string of triple-doubles late last season tells me that he may have turned a corner as a point guard in this league. Quietly, he has also trimmed down his turnovers per game (to 2.2 last season) every season he's been in the league.

John Cregan -- Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz

I feel like people always sleep on Rubio. He's been around forever, but at 26, he is still approaching his peak production. Rubio played the best basketball of his career after the All-Star break last season (16.0 PPG, 10.5 APG). Now in Utah, he's in prime position for a career season. Rubio has also refined his terrifying outside shot into something less night-sweat inducing. He's good for at least a 3-pointer per game and has always been elite from the free throw line. He's a solid fifth rounder. I especially like Rubio in turnover leagues due to his elite assist-to-turnover ratio.

Eric Karabell -- D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

Russell needed a new start, and the Lakers gave him that by sending him to Brooklyn, a team so lacking in talent that the third-year player wouldn't need to appreciably improve to be a valuable fantasy option. Then again, Russell is only 21, so he really should improve. Russell averaged 18.5 PPG and 5 APG after the All-Star break last season and shot better from the field and the line, showing some signs of on-court maturity along the way, and he should get plenty of chances to do anything he wants statistically with the Nets. This doesn't mean Russell will be a great player, but on this team, he'll get numbers.

Kyle Soppe -- Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

The ninth overall pick in June joined Team Soppe with the 95th overall pick in our first staff mock draft: championship! He's an elite athlete, and the team is going to give him every chance to succeed, so I will be buying all the shares I can at this price. Follow me here: J.J. Barea and Devin Harris are fine NBA players but not difference-makers, right? If you combine their per-game averages last season (17.6 PPG, 7.6 APG, and 4.4 RPG), you have a stat line that closely resembles the three-year average of Eric Bledsoe, a player who went 40th overall in our mock. Smith can approach that sooner than later, and it'll be for my fantasy team -- and hopefully yours.


Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared to his previous seasons.

Jim McCormick -- Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

In a system that fuels added possessions, given coach Luke Walton's affinity for pace (sixth in the NBA last season), Randle's bid for a double-double average appears entirely realistic -- he was 17th in the NBA last season with 15.6 rebounding chances per game. Randle was also 11th in potential assists per game and ninth in points created from assists per game among forwards last season. Add up these awesome opportunity rates in a career year with what should be increased spacing on the block, thanks to the gravity Brook Lopez creates. Randle has a chance to be a really profitable investment at power forward.

Joe Kaiser -- Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

Power forward is a thinning position with players like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap no longer worth drafting in the top two rounds. Enter Randle, who improved as a shooter and distributor in his second full season in the league and even posted three triple-doubles along the way. How many other power forwards other than Draymond Green can lay claim to that? None, unless you count Nikola Jokic as a power forward. Randle may never be a huge blocks and steals guy, but the 22-year-old has a chance to set himself apart as a passing big man who averages a double-double along the way.

John Cregan -- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Cue the Myles Turner era in Indiana. With Paul George in OKC; who else is going to take over the Pacers? Glenn Robinson III? I anticipate Turner being a top-25 player overall and his ceiling top 15. His eligibility at PF and C adds another half-round to his value. I wouldn't rank Turner ahead of Jokic, but he's not too far behind in terms of across-the-board production (and solid-for-a-big free throw efficiency). I'd start thinking about him right after DeMarcus Cousins comes off the board.

Eric Karabell -- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Turner will be a coveted fantasy pick after the first few rounds, but he actually finished his second NBA season as the No. 20 option on the ESPN Player Rater, and he's going to continue to improve. Turner started 81 games, but now that George and Jeff Teague have left town, there's clearly room for him to score and rebound more. After all, he's only 21! Turner is already a safe shooter, hitting more than half his field goals and 80 percent from the line, and it's hard to find fantasy assets that can do that, while also topping eight boards and two blocks per night. Turner could eventually be a 20-10 guy and top-10 fantasy player.

Kyle Soppe -- D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

The ability to plug him in at SG is huge, as depth at the position is a bit of a problem. Russell is probably too aggressive for his own good from a "real" basketball perspective (33rd in usage rate last season), but that mindset is gold now that he should star for a franchise that led the league in pace last season. Am I crazy to think that his value could end in the DeMar DeRozan tier this season? His 3-point shooting probably offsets the difference in point total, his assist/rebound totals will be similar, and the new role has me thinking Russell's shooting percentage and free throw attempts rise in a nice way this season.


Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.

Jim McCormick -- Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers

I think it's entirely possible, and arguably likely, that Ball enjoys a really impressive rookie season and yet still fails to return the value expected from his expected draft slot; he's currently going 45th overall in ESPN drafts. In order to see what production is expected of a top-50 fantasy asset at point guard amid this demanding era at the position, we can use Jrue Holiday as a benchmark. Holiday played 68 games last season and finished 49th on the Player Rater, while averaging 15.4 PPG, 7.3 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 APG and 1.5 3PPG. Only two rookies since 1946 have met these milestones: Damon Stoudamire and Allen Iverson. Only Chris Paul, Jamaal Tinsley, Rubio, Jason Kidd and the two names above have even averaged at least 8.0 PPG, 7.0 APG and 0.5 3PPG as rookies. I think Ball is a tremendous prospect in real terms, but a risky one in a fantasy context, given these longstanding production precedents.

Joe Kaiser -- Jeff Teague, Minnesota Timberwolves

Teague was always one of the top two or three scoring options on his team during his many years in Atlanta and last season in Indianapolis, which is why he has averaged better than 14.5 PPG in five consecutive seasons. In Minnesota, that changes, as Teague joins a team with a tremendous scoring trio in Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Teague has always been right around league average in terms of assists and steals and under average as a 3-point shooter, so the expected decline in scoring makes him a less appealing fantasy option.

John Cregan -- Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for Wiggins to begin buttressing his points production with other categories. If Wiggins can't be elite in a particular area, he has to diversify. And with his defensive rep and sky-high usage rate, Wiggins should be a 1+1+1 guy; a player involved enough on both ends of the floor to chip in at least one 3-pointer, block and steal per game. You know, like Butler. As in the guy who's about to Hoover 3-5 shots per game away from Wiggins. Without as many touches on offense, there's every chance Wiggins dips into seventh- or eighth-round production.

Eric Karabell -- Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls

Wade begins his second year with the Bulls in a rebuild, and while some figure the loss of Butler will permit and perhaps force him to score like he did in his Miami prime, that's just not happening. Wade has missed 20 or more games in three of the past four seasons and might not be so motivated to play through injury this year when his team is losing badly every night. And losing is likely. Wade's field goal percentage dropped because he attempted more 3s, which is also not a good thing. Wade, 35, will likely be drafted by fantasy owners based on name value and as someone capable of averaging 20 points per game, he but shouldn't be a top-100 pick at all.

Kyle Soppe -- Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers

According to the Player Rater, nearly 16 percent of Lopez's value last season came from his ability to make 3-pointers. That's just silly. That means that his value was almost as dependent on knocking down 3s as Stephen Curry's was on his point total. C'mon now. Dude is 7-feet tall and allergic to the paint. The Lakers have a host of younger pieces that they will look to focus on, and given his limitations in a pair of traditional big stats (FG% and rebounds), any regression with the jumper is going to make him a major disappointment.