I’ve been writing this column for the Draft Guide for 15 straight years now. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m wrong, but it’s always fun to try to predict who might have a better season than we might expect them to. If nothing else, the second half of this column might help break a tie in your mind when you’re torn between an older player still trying to make a difference and a young guy with upside. Or if you just need someone crazy enough to tell you take a flier on Roy Hibbert. Enjoy.
Rudy Gobert C Jazz – If you’re in a league with a bunch of Rotoworld readers, chances are Gobert isn’t going to slip through the cracks. He was taken in Round 2 in our August Expert Draft and will be taken there every time Rotoworld writers are involved in a draft. But if you play in an ESPN league (Rotoworld blurbs are used for Yahoo! leagues), it’s possible that Gobert could slide to Round 3 or 4. He can score, rebound, is an elite shot blocker, and won’t hurt you anywhere. He also started in just 37 games last season, and now that he’s looking at a potential of 82 of them, the sky’s the limit. Target him in Round 2 and don’t look back. Is he a sleeper? Probably not, but guys playing fantasy hoops for the first time might not even know who he is.
Nicolas Batum G/F Hornets – Batum’s numbers, especially in scoring, have been disappointing over the last few seasons, but he’s still a jack-of-all-trades in fantasy. He’s getting a new start in Charlotte this season and it could revitalize his career. He’s cut from the same cloth as Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green, and wasn’t taken until Round 5 of our August Expert Draft. And if you can get a talent like Batum in Round 5 or later, you’re probably ahead of the curve.
Hassan Whiteside C Heat – Whiteside was a waiver-wire fantasy darling last season and appears to be locked back into the starting center job again this season. He’ll kill your free throw percentage and last season had a bit of a fluky smell to it, but if Whiteside picks up where he left off, he should be right there with DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond as centers that can carry your team, as well as wreck your free throws. He went in Round 3 of our Expert Draft in August, but you might be able to get him in Round 4 or 5 in your league.
Danny Green SG Spurs – Green quietly returned second-round fantasy value in nine-cat leagues last season, sandwiched right between Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler, according to Basketballmonster.com. It didn’t feel like he was that good for most of the season, but he only missed one game and is a solid rebounder, as well as picks up his share of steals and blocks in addition to the threes, points and solid percentages. The 14th most valuable nine-cat player fell all the way to Round 4 in our August Expert Mock, so he could drop even farther in your league. Don’t sleep on him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo F Bucks – Giannis had a fine season last year, playing in 81 games and improving his numbers across the board. The arrival of Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe leaves some questions about Antetokounmpo’s role, but he took a big enough step last season that a full breakout could easily happen this year. He was taken in Round 3 in our August Expert Draft, but my guess is you can get him in Round 4 or 5, which makes him serious sleeper material again this season. He was only worth a fifth-round pick in nine-cat leagues last season, so taking him any sooner than that doesn’t make a ton of sense, unless you’re convinced he’s going to go nuts.
Deron Williams PG Mavericks – Williams gets a fresh start as Dallas’ starting PG this season after several disastrous years in Brooklyn. I like the fact he’ll have a fresh outlook and hopefully be ready to roll. He’s unchallenged for the starting job and has some good teammates to pass to. His ankles should be back in good shape and this could finally be the season we’ve been waiting to see since he was in Utah. He was a Round 8 pick in our Expert Mock in August, but could end up being a worthy No. 1 point guard if he can stay healthy, and gel with his new teammates.
Kenneth Faried PF Nuggets – Faried was a bust over his last couple seasons in Denver, but I’d like to think coach Brian Shaw had a lot to do with that. Shaw is gone, Michael Malone is in, and the Nuggets plan on running hard and using the thin Denver air to their advantage. Faried is only 25 years old and he’s shown us he can play, and this is the year he should finally live up to the hype. I took him in Round 5 of our nine-cat Expert Draft in August, but he might be available even later in yours. Hopefully this is the year he puts it all together.
Jarrett Jack PG Nets – Jack hasn’t really lived up to the hype when he’s gotten opportunities the last couple years, but he hasn’t been to bad, either. He’s now the starting point guard for the Nets and could be ready for the best season of his career. He shouldn’t hurt you anywhere and while he won’t be among the league leaders in assists, he should be able to put together a solid fantasy season. He should be available between Rounds 8-10 in your draft, and could return value equivalent of a No. 1 point guard.
Thaddeus Young F Nets – Young’s steals and threes dropped off last season and it took him some time to adapt to Brooklyn, but he still returned mid-round fantasy value in nine-cat leagues. He’s ready to take on a leadership role in Brooklyn and shouldn’t be challenged for a job or minutes, so he could have a big season. I got him in Round 9 of our Expert Draft in August, meaning you might even be able to get him later. But either way, he should be primed for a bounce-back season and looks like the true definition of a sleeper.
Khris Middleton G/F Bucks – Thanks to low turnovers and 79 games played for Milwaukee last season, Middleton was quietly worth a third-round pick in nine-cat leagues. He should be locked and loaded as the everyday starter at shooting guard (ruining O.J. Mayo along the way), and should be primed for another solid season. Jabari Parker’s return and the arrival of Greg Monroe leave some question marks around Middleton, but he’s still going to play and produce. Middleton was taken late in Round 5 in our August Expert Mock Draft, so I’m thinking he might be there for you in Round 6 or 7.
Tobias Harris SF Magic – Harris was worth a fifth-rounder in nine-cat leagues last season and was taken in Round 6 of our Expert Mock Draft we did in August for this Draft Guide. He’s unchallenged to start at small forward and it feels like he’s finally ready to blow up after he was just beginning to a few seasons ago in Milwaukee. I’m guessing he’ll slide to Round 8 in several leagues, and he’s clearly a sleeper at that point.
C.J. McCollum SG Trail Blazers – Mike Gallagher is all-in on CJM this season, even though he’ll be coming off the bench. The Blazers basically have an entirely new team, outside of PG Damian Lillard, and McCollum could thrive in the sixth-man role at both guard spots. He’s not going to carry any fantasy teams, but he should get at least 25 minutes a night, and is an all upside player. Gallagher took him in Round 8 of our Expert Mock Draft in August, but as long as Gallagher’s not in your league, you can probably get him at least a couple rounds later, if not in the last round. He should score, hit threes, hand out some assists and get some steals, and looks like a great way to spend a later pick when you’re looking for upside and a potential homerun from a young player.
Gorgui Dieng PF/C Timberwolves – Dieng had his moments last season while Nikola Pekovic was AWOL for most of the year, but missed the end of the season with a concussion. Kevin Garnett looks like the starter at power forward and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns is the starting center, but Dieng is going to play minutes at both spots. He averaged 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks on 51 percent shooting and was worth a fourth-round pick in nine-cat leagues last season. He went in Round 8 in our August Expert Draft, and if you find yourself in need of a big man anytime in the middle rounds, go get him. And don’t forget that starter Kevin Garnett is nearly 72 years old, according to the number of rings around his trunk.
Aaron Gordon PF Magic – Gordon projects as Orlando’s starting power forward this season after playing in just 47 games and not doing much last year. He was a beast in Summer League, averaging 21.7 points and 11.7 boards, and we’re not worried about his broken jaw. He is a guy you’ll want to look at late when you need another power forward, and is a player that could have a big season and become an everyday starter for you. He was taken late in Round 11 in our Expert Mock Draft in August, so he should be available even later in your draft, as long as the hype machine doesn’t kick into gear.
Ersan Ilyasova F Pistons – Do I trust Ilyasova? Not at all. Can he carry your team when he gets hot? Absolutely. Did he need some fresh air and a new start, like the one he’ll get in Detroit? Yep. We’ve got him penciled in as the starting power forward (Greg Monroe is in Milwaukee) and if Ilya can stay healthy, he could have a big season. He can also play small forward, where the Pistons are thin, and really couldn’t have landed in a better place. The aforementioned trust issues caused him to fall to Round 9 in our Expert Mock Draft for this guide, and that sounds like a perfect place to take him. It looks like high potential upside with low risk on the Ghostface Ilya this season.
Roy Hibbert C Lakers – Roy Hibbert, to put it bluntly, has sucked at fantasy basketball over the last couple seasons. He was so promising a few years ago, but it’s been all down hill since. He’s got a new team (Lakers), is unchallenged to start at center, and will have Kobe Bryant in his ear for every second of training camp, the preseason and the regular season. And it wasn’t that long ago (2011-12) he had his best season of 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks on 50 percent shooting. Unfortunately his shooting went to pot after that campaign, which impacted his scoring, while his rebounding numbers also took a tumble. Hibbert was picked up in Round 9 of our Expert Mock Draft for this guide, which mitigates all the risk involved with investing in him. He wants to prove the world wrong about him and could easily be one of the better players on the Lakers if the stars align. This could be the year for a Hibbert comeback, making him a serious sleeper candidate.
Otto Porter SF Wizards – Paul Pierce is with the Clippers and Porter figures to see the majority of minutes at SF for the Wizards, joining John Wall and Bradley Beal to make up one of the best and youngest PG/SG/SF combos in the league. Porter wasn’t exactly a beast last season, but the writing is on the wall that he’s going to take a big step forward this season. He went in Round 11 of our August Expert Mock Draft, and he should make a solid impact after being taken that late. He’s all upside.
Julius Randle PF Lakers – Randle broke his leg in his first NBA game last season, but is now ready to go. Of course, he’ll have to beat out veteran Brandon Bass for the job, but the Lakers should be terrible again and they could turn Randle loose. Don’t target him too early, but if he’s there near the end of your draft and you need a power forward, there are worse ways to spend a pick.
Mason Plumlee C Trail Blazers – Plumlee is the new starting center in Portland, who has a brand new starting team, outside of Damian Lillard. Plumlee showed some serious promise in Brooklyn last season, but also had to compete with Brook Lopez for much of it. Chris Kaman is pretty old these days and LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez are gone, clearing the way for Plumlee to become the man. He’s not going to be a No. 1 center, but if you’re in a two-center league and need a back up late, he’s a great choice, and could average 10 points, nine rebounds and a block. He was taken in the 11th round in our August Expert Mock Draft, so look for him near the end of yours if you find yourself in need of a starting center with upside.
Arron Afflalo SG Knicks – There’s something to be said about good players on bad teams in fantasy, and Afflalo qualifies. He’s now one of the better offensive players on the Knicks, behind only Carmelo Anthony, and will be relied upon to spread floor, hit threes and score this season. The problem is he doesn’t do a whole lot more than that, nor is he capable of doing much more. But for a guy who should be available between the 10th round and the end of your draft, he can help solve a 3-pointers problem very quickly without hurting you elsewhere.