Securing a statistical superstar in fantasy basketball drafts isn't so challenging these days; the league is rife with special talents found in the early rounds. It's always fun to build around these fantasy forces, but there is admittedly nothing quite as fun as identifying a breakout player in the later rounds.
Last fall, we saw Miami's Bam Adebayo floating around the 100th pick on average in ESPN drafts. A breakout campaign included Adebayo nearly doubling his scoring production while becoming a playmaking peer of Nikola Jokic as a passer. Oh, yeah, he also helped drive the Heat to a Finals appearance and earned a max contract extension.
We shouldn't just wander through the twilight rounds of our basketball drafts. Instead, we should intentionally pursue players with real breakout equity or unique skills the market has discounted. In the 2019 version of this piece, I produced my share of misses, including the likes of Alex Len and Mo Bamba, as well as some solid hits with Adebayo and Caris LeVert.
With value in mind while perusing the middle and later rounds of drafts for the rapidly approaching NBA marathon, let's delve into some players who the market might be sleeping on.
Players hovering around the 100th pick in drafts
"Deep" is somewhat of a relative term in fantasy sports; late-round "sleepers" in a public 10-team league are often mid-round selections in a competitive 12-team league. That said, I wanted to mention some players currently floating around pick 100 overall in ESPN drafts who are worth acquiring ahead of their current stock.
Wright was an exciting triple-double threat when starting with the Grizzlies in the 2018-19 only to shift to a quiet bench gig in Dallas last season. Now positioned to start for a Detroit team extremely light on guard talent, Wright could resurface with atypically rich rebounding and defensive rates for a combo guard, as he's averaged 1.9 steals and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes in his NBA career.
DeMarcus Cousins, Houston Rockets
A former fantasy superstar now found hovering around the 100th pick in drafts, "Boogie" has endured a series of major injuries the past few seasons. The opportunity for Cousins to deliver meaningful statistical production in Houston appears real, however, as the small-ball agenda employed last season appears over. Even amid the drama surrounding James Harden's trade request, Cousins should enjoy real success at the receiving end of two prolific passers in Harden and John Wall.
Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks
The bungling of a potential Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade that included this Villanova product heading to the Kings could serve DiVincenzo well this season, as he's slated to start for an elite offense on a roster that is notably thin at shooting guard. While he's not the playmaker Bogdanovic is, DiVincenzo was eighth in the entire NBA in steal percentage last season and shot just over 35% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season, signaling real upside, given the Bucks' need for him to serve a big role this season.
Players found after pick 120
This is the grouping of players who can legitimately be deemed sleepers in the truest sense; talents found in the double-digit rounds of 12-team formats who can potentially influence outcomes for your rosters.
Scoring in double-digits in all but three of his final 15 games last season, Bridges impressively slashed for 13.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 3PG and a stellar two combined blocks and steals during this strong finishing stretch. With awesome career "stocks" rate, and now playing with even better floor spacing and passing on Phoenix, I consider Bridges the sleeper version of Robert Covington, given his defensive dynamism and 3-point potential.
Seth Curry, Philadelphia 76ers
A shooting specialist who ranks among the most efficient outside shooters in NBA history, Curry also brings surprisingly strong playmaking rates and pick-and-roll upside to the floor for a Philly team badly in need of dribble-and-drive creation. Joining his father-in-law and new coach Doc Rivers in restructuring the Sixers' identity, Curry could average career highs across the board playing aside Ben Simmons, a player who assisted on the second-most open 3-point attempts in the league last season.
PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets
Flying under the radar last season with Ja Morant and Zion Williamson cornering the hype market for rookies, Washington joined only Paul Pierce in NBA history among rookies to ever average at least 12 PPG, 1.5 3PG, and at least 0.9 SPG and 0.8 BPG. These might read like arbitrary cutoffs, but they simply represent the unique statistical diversity this gifted forward is capable of producing.
With Charlotte adding heaps of playmaking skill in Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball to the roster, Washington's shot selection should only improve. Some run as a small-ball center appears in the cards for Washington, potentially adding to an already valuable fantasy profile.
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
The post-hype sleeper is a well-known concept in fantasy sports; a player who was once lauded for production potential only to disappoint and is now subsequently a value, given an over-correction by the market.
Carter Jr. just hasn't been consistently healthy in the NBA, so the fade is somewhat understandable, although I find myself still enamored by a player with just 87 games of experience in two seasons who has posted per-36 rates of 14.3 PPG, 11.6 RPG, and 1.9 combined blocks and steals.
After a busy offseason mostly spent collecting proven offensive playmakers, the Hawks' suddenly deep rotation is a bit difficult to read heading into the season. I believe Atlanta could need Reddish's two-way talents at small forward, especially as the team is flush with scoring in the backcourt and at power forward heading into the season.
De'Andre Hunter offers real competition at the wing, but Reddish possesses more offensive potential, considering he produced 15.9 PPG on clean shooting rates with 1.8 combined steals and blocks during the team's final dozen games last season.
There is some notable scoring upside with Alec Burks and RJ Barrett in New York, but it's Noel's tantalizing defensive rates that prove most attractive. Fellow block maven Mitchell Robinson is clearly a factor, but Tom Thibodeau seems to align with veteran options in most scenarios and has been starting and affording Noel real burn in the preseason thus far.
While the sample size in exhibition play is minuscule, Noel's incredible steal and block rates could drive real success in rotisserie leagues if Thibs affords him a big batch of minutes this season.
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
Another player who finished last season strongly, White's bubble numbers were dazzling, with the combo guard delivering 18.2 PPG, stellar shooting rates, and two combined steals and blocks per game during his final 10 appearances. Among NBA guards last season, only Harden and White averaged at least 0.9 BPG along with at least 1.2 3PG.
Again, the arbitrary qualifiers can prove convenient, but the premise is that White has always produce atypically strong block production (just like Danny Green did with the Spurs) to go with respectable offensive rates.
Darius Bazley, Oklahoma City Thunder
While more appropriate for the twilight rounds of drafts, Bazley is intriguing not just for his strong numbers from the bubble (13 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.4 3PG, and 1.2 combined blocks and steals in 27.5 MPG in eight games), but also the sheer value of opportunities he should consume on an Oklahoma City roster without much established wing production.
Past Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Al Horford, there will be a few Thunder players who prove fantasy relevant if for volume alone, with Bazley as a prominent candidate.
OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Norman Powell, and Aron Baynes, Toronto Raptors
On a team that is among the best in the NBA at developing and supporting breakout talents, it's not that surprising that the Raptors are home to several intriguing values.
You probably already know that Anunoby is a rising defensive talent; he also averaged 1.3 3PG last season and looks to have improved his slashing abilities over the abbreviated offseason. Last season, only Anunoby, Harden, Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday, Covington and Lonzo Ball averaged at least 0.7 BGP, 1.3 SPG and 1.3 3PG -- and Anunoby was impressively third among this class in win shares. Another leap is coming.
Powell is simply being overlooked, having already broken out as a scoring force last season, though a series of intermittent injuries likely serve to have depressed his value heading into the new season. Don't sleep on Powell's helpful production.
Boucher's per-36 rates are simply wild, albeit he's likely never going to even approach such heavy usage this season. But just for fun, the big and rangy talent can play both forward and stretch center and has posted 18.5 PPG, 12.2 RPG, and an incredible 3.1 BPG per 36 minutes in his brief NBA career thus far. The absence of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol opens up some potential for Boucher to get some additional run as a rim protector for Toronto, suggesting there is a high ceiling, if he can ever earn steady minutes.
Speaking of Gasol's departure, Baynes enters the starting rotation for the Raptors and was relatively brilliant when starting for Phoenix last season -- to the tune of 15.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 3PG and 1.1 combined blocks and steals in 25.2 MPG in 15 starts early in the season for the Suns. While the block rate is sluggish for a center, efficient scoring and shooting rates could prove helpful in deeper formats.