I still think about February of 2012 and how amazingly fun it was to have Jeremy Lin on my fantasy basketball roster amid his epic "Linsanity" run with the New York Knicks. I also rostered Kevin Durant that season -- you know, the guy who led the NBA in scoring, minutes, made free throws and was also somehow sixth in true shooting percentage that season. But I don't really remember many of the moments of Durant's elite statistical season, as the inspired February surge from Lin was the apex of the management experience for me that season.
The point isn't that having superstars like Durant can be boring, as it's absolutely awesome to net a career season from an all-time great, but some of our most memorable management decisions stem from when we hit on a deep sleeper -- a player no one else in your league was hip to.
Lin went undrafted in almost every league that season, given he was a fringe player on Houston to begin the season, but soon enough he was shifting the standing across fantasy leagues come February. Lin is, six seasons later, presenting sleeper value once again as one of the lead combo guards for a Brooklyn Nets team that led the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes (pace) last season.
To truly contend in a competitive fantasy hoops league, we'll need our high-leverage picks -- our Durants -- to live up to lofty draft pricing, yet taking down a title will require some of our deeper draft picks and waiver wonders to dramatically exceed cost. The production profit you net on middle and late-round selections will differentiate you from the field of fellow imaginary general managers.
With the hunt for value in mind, I've compiled a list of some of the more compelling late-round gems found deep into drafts. In order to have a line of demarcation for this practice, I've sourced only those players with an average draft position of at least 120 in ESPN live drafts.
It wasn't very long ago that Favors was arguably the best player for the Jazz. In 2015-16, for example, Favors averaged 16.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG and an awesome blend of steals (1.2) and blocks (1.7). Last season was the first since 2010-11 that Favors didn't average at least one block, as injuries limited him to just 23.7 minutes in 50 appearances.
So this is really all about health, as Favors is a proven high-end producer, who can turn a sizable profit if he's merely able. Through five preseason appearances, Favors is shooting at an encouraging clip (55.6 percent) from the field while leading the team with an incredible plus/minus (12.4) on 20.1 minutes per game. Perusing Favors' ADP peers such as Wesley Matthews and Dion Waiters reveals just how depressed his price point has become, thus my zeal for shares this season.
The departure of Gordon Hayward this offseason and another significant preseason injury to Dante Exum signals a great deal of unclaimed usage in Utah for Hood and Mitchell to consume. Hood has had difficulties staying on the court, as he's played more than 59 games just once in three seasons, but there really shouldn't be any doubt over the bevy of minutes and touches he's due this season.
The injury risk that Hood presents is baked into his price and then some, while I'm not sure his current draft position reflects the consistent value he can offer as a high-floor wing. Hood's per-36 minute rates from last season of 16.9 PPG, 2.6 3PG, 4.7 RPG and 0.9 SPG are compelling, since he should top 30 minutes a night this season. Shooting guard is dramatically shallow this season, but you can get away with punting early on the position if you plan to land Hood in say Round 11.
As for Mitchell, he could become a rewarding source of steals and 3-point production as a last-round flier, as he averaged 2.1 swipes and 2.4 3-pointers at Louisville last season.
We've witnessed only seven NBA players average at least 1.8 SPG and 1.9 BPG for a full season. Noel is one of those players, joining the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Elvin Hayes in this unique tier of defensive talents. In just 15.6 minutes of run per night in the preseason so far, Noel is averaging one block and one steal.
I enjoy the fact that Noel is coming off the bench to begin the season, as the narrative that this will depress his statistical potential has comparably deflated his draft price. I'm not sure starting status will influence Noel's production, as he should still see the court plenty on a team that is looking to run and simply doesn't have another rim protector of his caliber to compete with.
As with Utah, the thematic source of value in Chicago is the departure of some key contributors. There is a massive void for offensive usage and production in Chicago in the wake of Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler leaving town. I discussed Mirotic's ascendant position in an overview of Wade's departure from Chicago last month. With a real shot at 15 PPG and say 7 RPG with strong ancillary numbers as the lead stretch forward for the Bulls, Mirotic is a strong late-round buy with some high-floor ingredients.
Preseason production can be misleading, given we rarely find full rotations and roles bear out this early, but I don't think it's wise to dismiss this data entirely.
Holiday, for example, is averaging 17.3 PPG, which can be viewed as an outlier, given he's leading the team by far in minutes (29.6) and shots (13) per game. Maybe we don't trust this level of usage once the real whistle blows, but I think we should respect his shooting pattern through four games. Holiday is averaging 6.3 3-point attempts per game, while a whopping seven Chicago players are averaging at least 3.5 attempts from beyond over this small, but intriguing, sample.
What this signals is that coach Fred Hoiberg is finally allowing his affinity for 3-point production and spacing to filter onto the court. The Bulls are third in the preseason in 3-point attempts per game (34.8), suggesting both Mirotic and Holiday can thrive from beyond the arc this season.
Allen Crabbe (past 200), Brooklyn Nets
In addition to Lin, Crabbe is another combo guard I covet on Brooklyn's breakneck offense. The Nets have clearly coveted Crabbe for some time, as they produced a sizable offer sheet in 2016 and finally landed him via a trade this past summer. The sample is scant, but it's fun to consider Crabbe got up four shots from beyond the arc in just 11 minutes this preseason.
We can expect heavy minutes for both Morris and Smart this season on what is one of the more fantasy-friendly schemes in the league. Morris should see a spike in rebounding opportunities, given he's now in the post next to Al Horford and not Andre Drummond. The newly svelte Smart, meanwhile, will be a savvy source for steals, as he's averaged at least 1.5 in each of his first three campaigns. An uptick in shooting volume could also come Smart's way, as the team thinned out the backcourt substantially this past offseason.
These nominations are all about the surge in minutes and opportunity rates available for the rotation in Atlanta. I have a feeling we will be talking about this roster for DFS value all season, but we can also mine some season-long shares. Dwight Howard was one of just five players last season to average 20 rebounding chances (defined as being within 3.5 feet of an available rebound), while Paul Millsap was 16th in the league with 15.6 opportunities. This huge share of rebounding chances will splinter throughout several frontcourt players for Atlanta, but Dedmon and Collins seem likely to be the key beneficiaries.
As for Prince, we can reference his per-36 rates as a rookie, since he'll likely spike to around 30 minutes on a depleted rotation this season. Prince averaged 1.6 steals and a block on a per-36 basis last season, revealing what could be a valuable line driven by versatility this season.
Honorable mentions: Casting a net on Twitter for some sleepers, several people offered Terrence Ross of the Orlando Magic as a breakout shooting specialist. ... Josh Richardson has to contend with tons of peers at the wing in Miami, but his ability to man the backup point guard role could open up valuable opportunities this season. ... If for just the first few months of the season, while Nicolas Batum is sidelined, shares of Jeremy Lamb or Malik Monk could be interesting for deep-league investors.