Identifying undervalued and emergent players is why we pretend to be general managers each fall. Securing a superstar with your first pick is an expectation, but is there anything better than landing a late-round gem in fantasy hoops?
"Sleeper" might be the most popular term in the fantasy lexicon. It's used to capture players we believe are bound to produce better statistical results than players with a similar average draft position. With the pursuit of such talents in mind, the premise of this piece is to identify players available past the 100th pick in ESPN live drafts who are positioned to provide lasting value this season.
P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets (Average draft position of 105th overall)
Washington could enjoy sizable leaps in minutes and opportunities in coach Steve Clifford's return to Charlotte. In nearly 400 minutes with both Montrezl Harrell and Miles Bridges off the court last season, Washington delivered 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.2 made 3-pointers and 2.2 stocks (combined steals and blocked) per 36 minutes. His rim protection upside is real, as he quietly was 19th in block percentage last season. Don't let the modest scoring pattern fool you. Washington could become a rare 3-and-D center this season.
Monte Morris, Washington Wizards (113)
Having already professed my interest in securing Tre Jones as an assist sleeper this season, Morris is another undervalued point guard stepping into a starting role. Famed for his incredible assist-to-turnover rates in Denver over the past several seasons, Morris should see sizable jumps in shooting and passing volume as a starter for the Wizards.
Jalen Smith (118) and Isaiah Jackson, Indiana Pacers (189)
The Suns moved on from Smith just a few years removed from being a lottery selection only to see him thrive with the Pacers in 22 games last season. He flashes the floor-spacing shooting skills and shot-blocking prowess to help fantasy teams and could thrive as the potential starting power forward in Indiana. With Myles Turner in trade talks, it's possible Jackson sees a surge in minutes in his second season. After all, he averaged 1.4 blocks in just 15 MPG last as a rookie, finishing just ahead of Turner in block percentage last year.
Gordon Hayward (121), Charlotte Hornets
Hayward is another player likely to see more work this season. He has been a positive fantasy performer and playmaker whenever available but his availability part is a major issue and it's also baked into his draft position.
Sourcing steals and blocks on a consistent basis can prove challenging, which is why Jones' 2.5 stocks per game as a rookie was so special. Jones could enter the Mikal Bridges tier of complementary fantasy wings this season. Trey Murphy III is another Pelicans prospect on the rise for those in deeper leagues.
Nic Claxton (135 ADP)
Did you miss out on the leap Robert Williams III made as a defensive superstar for the Celtics last season? Claxton will play heavy minutes as the resident rim runner and rim protector for the Nets this season and was just behind Brook Lopez and ahead of Evan Mobley in block percentage,
Bones Hyland, Denver (143)
Taking over third guard duties in Denver is Hyland, who not only has the coolest name in the league, but also an impressive game. Hyland averaged 14 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.5 3PG, and 1.3 stocks in just 22.3 MPG from last March to the end of the last season. Jamal Murray will likely start the season on a minutes restriction, allowing Hyland to flourish in the role Monte Morris had previously.
Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls (153)
In his debut season with Chicago, Caruso netted a steal on 3% of opponent possessions, an elite clip that placed him just ahead of Dejounte Murray and just behind the league leaders. He won't score a ton, but has typically high rebounding and strong assist numbers to support an interesting fantasy profile in category-driven formats. With Lonzo Ball's lingering knee issues, both Caruso and second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu (181) could exceed expectations.
Tre Mann (203), Aleksej Pokusevski (undrafted), and Jalen Williams (undrafted), Oklahoma City Thunder
A hot start to the preseason might have earned Mann some attention, but you wouldn't guess it based on his draft position. Even with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey rostered, playing on a lottery-bound Thunder team affords Mann plenty of touches and minutes. As for Pokusevski, the injury to Chet Holmgren likely signals a starting gig and plenty of opportunities for the 7-foot forward. Williams was all over the court for Santa Clara last season and could be one of the best rookie sleepers for a young Thunder frontcourt.
Precious Achiuwa (undrafted), Toronto Raptors
Achiuwa was solid down the stretch last season, posting 12.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 1.6 3PM in 25.2 MPG over a 23-game stretch after the All-Star break. Toronto doesn't roster a traditional veteran center and Achiuwa is the team's top interior defender.