October 16:

Sleeper, n- something or someone that becomes unexpectedly successful or important after a period of being unnoticed, ignored or considered unpromising or a failure.

Everyone knows fantasy leagues are won in the mid-to-late rounds. Anyone can draft a LeBron James number one overall, but it was probably the guy who took a shot at Chris Paul or Gerald Wallace in the middle of the draft that ended up with the title, right? Sleepers are tricky, every site has their lists…and most sites are hyping the same 10-12 guys. These are you’re light sleepers. There’s probably a reason they’re on everyone’s sleeper lists: they’ve got game and we all know it. Although some of these guys could become over-hyped and thus overvalued, many will provide solid bargains on draft day. I mean, if you can get yourself a Danny Granger in the 10th round (as happened in a recent mock draft for NBA.com), you’re absolutely sitting pretty if he performs like a 5th rounder, aren’t you?

Then you have your deep sleepers: the guys that have a considerable amount of upside that nobody’s talking about. Delonte West and Smush Parker fit the bill last season, who will it be this year?

Light Sleepers

Speedy Claxton, PG, ATL
The Hawks big off-season acquisition may miss the first week of the season with a broken finger, but that doesn’t make him any less of a sleeper. Actually, his broken finger might be a good thing; it stopped the hype machine from building him up too fast before he became overvalued in fantasy leagues. The last time Claxton was a starter - back in 2004-05 for the Golden State Warriors - he averaged 13.1 points, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Now the unquestioned starter for the Hawks, Claxton will be a tremendous option for assists and steals in 2006-07.

Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL
What’s not to like about Nelson? He’s young, plays with unmatched tenacity, can score, shoot and dish, and he’s turning himself into a leader on an inexperienced Orlando squad. His averages as a starter are truly mouth-watering (16.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 threes in 33 starts), but what’s more impressive is that Nelson organized a week-long summer workout and team bonding session with his teammates. That’s a sign of a driven leader, and that’s the type of guy I want on my fantasy team.

Raymond Felton, PG, CHA
If you happened to catch any of Charlotte’s games after the All-Star break, you probably saw this former Tar Heel lighting it up from all over the court. Many may laugh when you compare Felton to his rookie counterpart Chris Paul, but it’s not a joke. Not at all. Just take a look at these numbers in the second half: 16.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.0 threes per game! Need I say more? The only concern may be that Brevin Knight is still in town, but I’m not worried, it’s Felton’s team now.

Devin Harris, PG, DAL
After spending two years as a backup to Jason Terry, and showing consistent improvement, Devin Harris is ready to step into a starters role for the Mavericks. Terry is still around, but the thought is that Avery Johnson will slide Terry over to the two and use Harris as his point guard to begin the season. Harris is a slick player, and dominant steal artist, grabbing 0.9 steals per game in just 22.7 minutes of action last season. He’s not much of a three-point shooter, but has been working on his range over the off-season, reportedly taking 600-700 shots per day. Already accomplished at penetrating off the dribble, if Harris can add some range, his game will take off.

Kwame Brown, PF/C, LAL
Not this year. Nope, Kwame will not be a bust this season. At the end of last season, Phil Jackson gave Kwame a card that had the numbers 15 and 10 written on it. Kwame carried that card around in his wallet all summer, to remind him of his goal to average 15 points and 10 rebounds this season. While I don’t think he’ll be a 15/10 guy just yet, something like 14 points and 9 rebounds is not out of the question. We saw Kwame make great strides last season under Jackson’s tutelage, averaging 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds in the month of April and 12.9 points with 6.6 rebounds during the Lakers 7-game playoff series against the Suns. Keep in mind that Brown is still just 24 years of age, and still possesses all the tantalizing upside that once made him the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Charlie Villanueva, PF, MIL
Here’s all you need to know about Charlie Villanueva: 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.1 threes per game after the All-Star break during his rookie season. Obviously a multi-category producer, Villanueva is just 22 years old and oozes potential. He’ll start at power forward for the Bucks and is primed for a huge season.

Darko Milicic, PF/C, ORL
No matter what Darko does, he’ll probably never be able to live down the fact that he was drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Still, at just 21 years of age, he has a good amount of upside and showed glimpses of his potential last season with Orlando. In 30 games for the Magic he averaged 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and a ridiculous 2.1 blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. For the first time in his career, Milicic will get a chance to prove his doubters wrong, and should make good on the opportunity. Even if he stumbles, he’ll at least be a great shot-blocking specialist.

Channing Frye, PF/C, NY
Isiah Thomas may not be the answer in New York, but one thing is for sure, he’s going to be great for Channing Frye’s fantasy value. You see, Frye is one of Isiah’s “guys”, and Isiah is going to do everything in his power to make himself look better to all of his critics in New York. Of course, it helps that Frye made a name for himself last season posting 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.7 blocks with great percentages. Look for Frye to be a big part of the Knicks this season and expect an increase in numbers across the board.

Other well-known sleepers I like: Danny Granger, Deron Williams, Marvin Williams, Stephon Marbury and Andrew Bogut.

Deep Sleepers

Earl Watson, PG, SEA
Watson is playing second fiddle to Luke Ridnour in Seattle again this season, but is a high-energy player that can put up stats even in limited minutes. In 24 games for the Sonics last season (no starts), Watson averaged 11.5 points, 5.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.8 threes in only 25.1 minutes per game. For those keeping score, those numbers are better than a lot of starting point guards in the league.

Monta Ellis, PG, GSW
You have to love anyone that’s backing up Baron Davis in Golden State, right? Especially a player like Ellis who impressed down the stretch last season averaging 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 threes per game in the month of April. He’s only 20 years old, and he’ll earn Don Nelson’s respect early with his quickness and ability to get out on the fastbreak. Even if Baron doesn’t go down (yeah, like that will happen), Ellis will play a key role off the bench in the Warriors new fast-paced offense.

Charlie Bell, G, MIL
Mo Williams is going to start at the point, but it was Charlie Bell’s impressive play that allowed the Bucks to trade T.J. Ford to the Raptors for Charlie Villanueva. Bell became one of fantasy’s top pickups in the second half of last season with his 11.4 points, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.8 threes per game after the All-Star break. Despite the addition of Steve Blake over the off-season, Bell has the position flexibility to play at the one or two, and should see 25-30 minutes per game off the bench for the Bucks.

Nate Robinson, G, NY
Much like Channing Frye, Robinson is a guy Isiah Thomas wants to see succeed. There is quite a logjam in the backcourt in NY, but Robinson should see quality minutes off the bench and is a high energy player that has the ability to produce in points, steals and threes.

Martell Webster, G/F, POR
Forget about the signing of rookie sensation Brandon Roy, Martell Webster put up some special numbers when he got the opportunity late last season, and will find his way onto the court in Portland. In the month of April, Webster put up 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.6 threes while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor and 91 percent from the line. One of the best pure shooters in last year’s draft, Webster built on his strong finish posting 15.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.2 three pointers per game in the Vegas Summer League. At only 19 years of age, he’ll likely have his ups and downs this year, but the upside in points, threes and steals is too much to pass on if he’s hanging around at the end of your fantasy draft.

Marquis Daniels, G/F, IND
Like Monta Ellis, Daniels has the luxury of backing up one of the most injury prone players in the NBA in Jamaal Tinsley. Tinsley is almost guaranteed to be walking the court in street clothes at some point this season, and even though Sarunas Jasikevicius is technically the backup, I think we can expect to see Daniels running the point from time to time for the Pacers. Jasikevicius fooled no one last season and really only has value as a three-point specialist in the NBA. Daniels on the other hand, is just the type of athletic player that can thrive in Indiana’s new fast-paced offense. It helps that he has the flexibility to play multiple positions as he can man both guard positions, and at 6’6” he even has the size to match-up at the three if needed. It also helps that Stephen Jackson and Larry Bird exchanged some not so pleasant pleasantries over the off-season.

Hakim Warrick, PF, MEM
Man I’d love to throw Stromile Swift in this spot, but I’m too smart for that. Instead, I’m thinking second year man Hakim Warrick will have the biggest spike in value due to Pau Gasol’s injured left foot. Warrick hardly saw the court during his rookie season, but that will change this season with Gasol out for most of the year. Jake Tsakalidis and rookie Alexander Johnson also stand to gain some value due to the injury as well.

Mickael Pietrus, G/F, GSW
Don Nelson is absolutely going to love this kid’s athleticism and ability to get out on the fast break. Pietrus is a perfect fit for Nellie’s offense, and should see quality minutes as a sixth man off the bench. If the Warriors decide to play small, Pietrus could even find himself with a starting gig at the three. As a starter last season, Pietrus averaged 11.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.3 three-pointers per game. We’ve been talking about Pietrus for a few years now…and will be the year he breaks out.

Joey Graham, G/F, TOR
Graham, like Pietrus, is just the type of athletic swingman that can excel in an up-tempo offense. All the preseason talk surrounds Euroleague star Anthony Parker and first overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but I also like Graham to step his game up this season. He’s a fantastic finisher, and should see an increase in minutes this season despite battling Parker, Morris Peterson, Jorge Garbajosa and Fred Jones for playing time. Of course, with all those guys around, Graham should only be considered as a late round flyer in deep leagues.

Robert Swift, C, SEA
Though he’ll battle Johan Petro for minutes, Robert Swift is more attractive from a fantasy perspective. Petro is a decent little player, but he doesn’t come close to the upside Swift offers, particularly in the blocks department. Swift showed off his swatting abilities in 20 starts last season averaging 7.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. When you’re getting down to those last few picks in your draft, look Swift’s way if you need help in boards or blocks.

J.R. Smith, SG, DEN
Last but not least, it’s my favorite sleeper candidate for the 2006-07 season. J.R. Smith was primed to break out last season, but he quickly fell into head coach Byron Scott’s doghouse and spent more time sitting on the bench than he did on the court. Benefiting from a change of scenery, Smith shouldn’t have the same problem in Denver, as Carmelo Anthony will likely take the young stud under his wing. As the only real shooting guard in Denver, Smith should see a huge spike in playing time, and has the upside to do some damage in the fantasy world. Throw out last season’s statistics; he didn’t get enough playing time to make a difference. During his rookie year, Smith put up 14.7 points, 0.9 steals and 1.3 three pointers per game after the All-Star break. Take a good look at J.R.’s range and athleticism during preseason action, and draft him with confidence in the later rounds.

Brian McKitish is an associate editor and fantasy expert for www.TalentedMrRoto.com, which features free advice, news, stats and analysis for all fantasy sports. It was nominated for four FSTA awards, including best site. Contact him at littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.

The views expressed by TalentedMrRoto.com represent only the views of the writers; they do not represent the views of the NBA or any NBA team.