Fantasy basketball sleepers, breakouts, busts for 2019-20

You definitely don't want to sleep on Brandon Ingram in drafts, as he sports brand new upside with the New Orleans Pelicans. Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

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 NBA experts -- Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser, John Cregan, Eric Karabell, André Snellings, Marc J. Spears, Ohm Youngmisuk and Tom Carpenter -- offer their top sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2019-20 campaign.


Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2018-19 season.

André Snellings -- Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets

After spending last season fuming behind Kyrie Irving on the deep Celtics, Rozier gets his chance to be the man for a Hornets team with no other proven offensive creators. Rozier struggles with his shot, but his volume projects to be so high that he still looks like an impact starter this season.

Eric Karabell -- Robert Covington, Minnesota Timberwolves

Covington had a rough 2018-19 season, as he dealt with a trade and battled injuries, but there really are few players like him statistically, especially outside the top 50. Covington will be readily available after the top 50 too. Even last season, his combination of steals, blocks and 3-pointers gave him unique value, and the team's starting power forward could be in line for career-bests in scoring and rebounding, considering the opportunity and other Timberwolves around him. Covington has top-50 upside at a seriously reduced price.

Marc. J. Spears -- Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

The pressure that comes with being a Laker is gone, so now he can just play basketball. Ingram had an outstanding post-All-Star break performance last season that showed elite potential. Expect the new Pelicans forward to have the green light to do whatever he wants in an up-tempo offense.

Ohm Youngmisuk -- Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Ingram spent much of the start of last season trying to fit in and get comfortable playing with LeBron James and dealing with trade rumors. Once Ingram got comfortable, he went on a tear and showed off his potential. After the trade deadline, Ingram averaged 25.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He not only looked like he was figuring things out, but he was confident and knew where and how he was going to score before a blood clot ended his season in early March. Now Ingram is in New Orleans after being traded by the Lakers in the Anthony Davis deal, and he's not only motivated to show he's fine from the health scare, but those who know him feel he's on the verge of a big season without having to defer to James and knowing he will have the ball in his hands more.

John Cregan -- Alex Len, Atlanta Hawks

Len is a quintessential fantasy big man late-bloomer; a pivot player thought of as a draft bust ... who's quietly and steadily gained statistical momentum as he's bounced from team to team. The past couple of seasons, Len's per-36 production took a huge leap, but not many fantasy managers noticed. In 2018-19, Len added a shockingly effective 3-point stroke, averaging a 3 per game at a 36.3% clip. Len's main issue? Staying on the court. But he's got the inside track on starting at the 5 in Atlanta's fantasy-friendly lineup. If Len can avoid foul trouble and manage 25.0 MPG, he could average 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers.

Joe Kaiser -- Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

Bagley started only four games as a rookie, despite having a mature skill set and playing on a Kings team that missed the playoffs. In Year 2, playing for a new coach in Luke Walton who is great with younger players, look for Bagley to be a much more featured part of the Kings' offense. An efficient scorer who can also rebound, block shots and shoot the 3, the No. 2 overall pick in 2018 is capable of putting up 18.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 1.5 BPG while also shooting the 3-ball in Year 2.

Jim McCormick -- Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

Look past the modest scoring results and you'll find a budding fantasy star in Isaac, the Magic's versatile young forward. After all, as a 21-year-old last season, Isaac was one of just five NBA players to average at least 1.1 3PG, 0.8 SPG, and 1.3 BPG, joining the elite likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Brook Lopez, and Covington. After the break last season, Isaac lofted 4.6 3-pointers per game and made an encouraging 38.2 percent of such shots, signaling real potential to ascend as a viable source of shooting production in addition to prodigious defensive rates. Even with Orlando's crowded frontcourt in mind, I trust Isaac's trajectory is decidedly positive and worth pursuing in drafts.

Tom Carpenter -- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

I get why SGA's draft stock is so low entering the preseason now that he's in a backcourt with Chris Paul. That's fine -- it gives us a chance to get him at a terrific value. Let's not forget that CP3 is 34 years old and hasn't topped 61 games played the past three seasons and Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 12.7 PPG, 0.9 3PG, 4.0 APG, 3.1 RPG, 0.9 3PG and 1.4 SPG with great percentages (49.3 FG%, 78.7 FT%, 43.8 3FG%) after the All-Star break as a rookie. SGA was the key piece in the Paul George trade, so I expect him to get every chance to shine as the season develops, be it as the starting 2-guard, as a sixth man or, especially, once the Thunder throw in the towel on this season and trade or rest CP3.


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.

Joe Kaiser -- Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

Markkanen's numbers rose to 18.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 2.3 3PG last season, his second year in the league, and at the age of 22 he's on the cusp of becoming a double-double threat every time he laces 'em up. It's rare to find someone with this skill set in today's game, and though Markkanen isn't a great source of blocks or steals, his ability to rack up points, rebounds and 3-pointers makes him appealing, especially if his numbers take another leap forward as expected.

Eric Karabell -- Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Adebayo is ready to become a double-double machine now that Hassan Whiteside is about as far away as can be, Portland. Adebayo averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds as a starter later in the season, and he should be able to approach 1.5 blocks per game as well. In addition, Adebayo, entering his third NBA campaign, hits his field goals and more than 70% of his free throws -- many big men do not do the latter so well -- and since he rarely commands the ball, he hardly piles on the turnovers. Adebayo might be better than Steven Adams, and you can get him several rounds later.

Jim McCormick -- Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

The talent is clear; Adebayo started 22 of the Heat's final 23 games last spring, and in those contests averaged 11.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG in just 27.5 MPG while shooting clean percentages from the floor and stripe. For some context, only Nikola Vucevic, Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged at least this many boards, assists, steals and blocks over the full season in 2018-19. If this guy adds a 3-pointer, he's going to mimic the numbers we saw from a young Al Horford. Even if Adebayo doesn't become a floor-spacer, it's awesome to consider his upside on the glass and in rim protection sans Hassan Whiteside, a player who ranked 14th in the NBA last year with 18.3 rebounding chances per game.

Tom Carpenter -- Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

All of the talk regarding the rookie class revolves around Zion Williamson, who rightly deserves the hype, but let's not forget who went No. 2 overall: Morant. Why should his ascension from an unknown to a collegiate superstar stop now that he's 20 and turning pro? This is a guy whose college numbers compared well with last year's NBA breakout rookie Trae Young -- only Morant shot 49.9 FG% compared to Young's 42.3 FG% in their respective final college campaigns. The Grizzlies are bereft of other scorers, and new coach Taylor Jenkins plans to run space-and-pace ball, so everything is in place for Morant to explode right out of the gate and not look back.

John Cregan -- Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

I'll just come out and say it: long-term, Jackson has Antetokoumpo-type fantasy potential. By that, I mean he's going to arrive in fantasy way ahead of schedule. But unlike Antetokoumpo, Jackson's 3-point shot is already there. Injuries excepted, Jackson had one of the most impressive age-19 seasons in Fantasyland memory. His per-36-minutes numbers: 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 3s, 1.2 steals, 1.9 blocks. And like the rest of his statistical portfolio, JJJ's shooting efficiency was way ahead of the curve: 76.6 FT%, 35.9 3FG%, 59.1 TS%. Cut to 2019-20. All the breakout signs are there. Minutes galore. An emphasis on player development (meaning: the young core will be given the keys to the rotation). A new coach, bringing a fresh offensive system that's promised to push the pace (after years of Memphis languishing toward the bottom of pace rankings). The Grizzlies are going to be an undervalued source of fantasy production this season. I'm expecting Jackson to push into the top 40.

André Snellings -- Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies

Valanciunas was a per-minute monster for the Raptors, averaging 19.4 PP36 (56.2 FG%, 79.3 FT%), 13.3 RP36 and 1.5 BP36 but playing only 24.2 MPG during the past four seasons. The Grizzlies traded for him mid-season and gave him starter minutes, and Valanciunas responded by averaging 19.9 PPG (54.5 FG%, 76.9 FT%), 10.7 RPG and 2.2 BPG down the stretch. His production clearly scales to minutes, so if he remains healthy this season, he looks like a top-25 play.

Marc J. Spears -- Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Perhaps for the first time of his NBA career, Randle may have the opportunity to be the focal point of an offense. The Knicks will definitely need his scoring and rebounding, and he should be able to lead the team in both categories.

Ohm Youngmisuk -- Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

Ball is surrounded by athletic weapons and has a new lease on his basketball life but without all the Big Baller pressure and attention. With the Lakers, Ball started off under the LA microscope, and the expectation of being the franchise point guard Magic Johnson wanted him to be. Now Ball has what he's calling a fresh start in New Orleans, with Zion to throw the ball up-court to and teammates he feels comfortable with in Ingram and Josh Hart. If Ball stays healthy, he could play more like a top-10 fantasy point guard who can fill up several stat categories.


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 -- Kris Dunn, Chicago Bulls

Chicago quietly orchestrated one of the savvier offseasons in the league. The front office sought multiple paths to improving offensive versatility in acquiring combo guard Tomas Satoransky via a sign-and-trade maneuver while also drafting an exciting pick-and-roll maven in Coby White. Dunn, meanwhile, is in the last season of his rookie pact and hasn't played more than 52 games in either of his two campaigns in Chicago, while providing below-average 3-point shooting. "Sato" and White are simply better offensive options than Dunn and will likely cut into the Notre Dame product's usage and opportunity rates this season.

Joe Kaiser -- Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder

Paul's scoring dipped to a career low last season (15.6 PPG) despite playing on the high-scoring Rockets team, and at age 34 his best days are behind him. With questions surrounding how long he'll stay in OKC this season and the presence of Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder also on the roster, Paul is someone you're better off letting someone else draft.

Ohm Youngmisuk -- Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors

Gasol averaged 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists last season but just 9.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in 26 games with the Raptors. While he helped Toronto win a title and then helped lead Spain to a World Cup title, Gasol is now 34 years old and coming off an NBA Finals run and then playing into September in China. That could all add up to the beginning of a downward turn for this solid center.

John Cregan -- Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets

As of this writing, Westbrook is going 10th overall in ESPN drafts. Given his new second-option status, declining efficiency ... and the question as to how Westbrook and Harden will mesh, managers are drafting Westbrook a round too high. Tenth feels like Westbrook's ceiling -- and that's only in a points league. Westbrook has no business going in the first round of any roto draft. Westbrook's fantasy production has always hinged on volume. But as his efficiency has declined (his PER the past three seasons: 30.70, 24.80, 21.14), he's become overly dependent on usage. The triple-doubles have papered over Westbrook's statistical decline. Even if Westbrook and Harden's playing time is staggered, it's hard to see Westbrook maintaining the same level of usage in 2019-20. Westbrook will still deliver solid value. But there are too many risks involved to invest a first-round pick.

Eric Karabell -- Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

Oladipo tore his quad in January. We see every season how star players with unclear recovery timetables are delayed in the process and return after the calendar flips to the new year. Oladipo is not playing in the first month or two. Well, I hate waiting several months for anyone. In addition, Oladipo struggled with his shot last season and was scoring and stealing less than his breakout debut in Indiana, and now Malcolm Brogdon arrives to steal some assists. I will let others draft Oladipo as a top-50 player.

André Snellings -- Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons

Lots of candidates here among players who project to miss the vast majority of the season while recovering from injuries and thus project well under their current ADP -- Jusuf Nurkic (89.2), Klay Thompson (114.9,) Kevin Durant (127.3). Rose is at least healthy now, but he projects poorly because of his history of injury. He has missed 88 games during the past two seasons, and despite seemingly fitting well with the Pistons, he shouldn't be trusted as a full-time fantasy starter.

Tom Carpenter -- Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets

It's simply percentages for me. Here is a guy who has averaged 43.4 FG% and 30.8 3FG% for his career, and now he is supposed to shine in a system that lives off of chucking up 3s? Oh, and he inexplicably forgot how to shoot free throws the past two seasons (73.7 FT%, 65.6 FT%). I want to believe in a narrative where Russ benefits from a big decrease in volume playing next to James Harden, but I just can't buy it. Plus, I remain concerned about his ability to stay healthy while playing his physically reckless style of ball.

Marc J. Spears -- Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

I wouldn't be surprised if the former Duke star is taken in the top 20 of most fantasy drafts, but you should temper your early expectations. Keep in mind that Williamson is walking into the league with a mammoth spotlight and teams are going to do everything in their power to make him play toward his weaknesses. I expect him to be a star at some point, but after missing most of summer league, there certainly will be some growing pains for this teenager. I'd definitely take him in a keeper league, but there are unfair expectations to perform immediately at an All-Star level that hopefully won't be too much pressure for this youngster to bear.