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By Rick Kamla
When analyzing sleepers and risks, it’s amazing how thin the line is between the two.
Last year, most of us assumed Samuel Dalembert was a lock to rock, but he turned into one of the bigger headaches in fantasy hoops. Also, most of us thought Luke Ridnour would go crazy, but he (and we) had to settle for solid, not spectacular.
Dalembert came in hurt and then spent the rest of the season trying to exit Mo Cheeks' doghouse. With Ridnour, he had to suffer through Bob Weiss early and Earl Watson late, making “Cool Hand” Luke the “Victim of Circumstance” award winner for 05-06.
My point is that you can’t automatically assume a player is going to improve, explode, blossom, or any of that. Just ask the anxious owners of Darius Miles and Stromile Swift during the past few years.
Freaks, with our beloved NBA in the zone with regards to unpredictability, you can't take anything for granted anymore. It's more important than ever to use your imagination and think outside the box regarding sleepers and risks. The times…they are a changing, and it's on us to go with the flow.
A couple things became crystal clear to me last season. One, don't rely on players who are battling injury during the preseason. If you're limping in October, you'll probably be limping all season. Last year's prime examples of this condition were Kenyon Martin, Zach Randolph, and Carlos Boozer, among others.
(I want to believe Amare Stoudemire is going to rock the rim nightly, but he could go the way of K-Mart, Z-Bo, and Booz in 06-07. I repeat: could.)
Also, just because a player has mega talent doesn't mean he's going to destroy fantasy leagues. To wit, the multi-tooled Andre Iguodala has teased the fantasy world for two years running and the explosive J.R. Smith has spent more time in the doghouse than in fantasy lineups.
If talent were a guarantee for success, the And1 freaks would be millionaires.
So, who is going to be this year's Dalembert? And who will be this year's Gerald Wallace? Pull up a chair and find out as we tip off with 16 Sleepers – listed by position and ranked in terms of likelihood for success.
Stephon Marbury, Knicks: I began last year's sleeper article with Chauncey Billups because he no longer had Larry Brown looking over his shoulder. It worked so well with CB, who set career highs in points, assists, and three-point shooting, I'm going back to the well with Marbury, who will play like an uncaged lion without LB around to buzzkill the Garden party. Before last year's disaster (16.3 points, 6.4 assists, 22 DNPs), Marbury was good for at least 20 points and eight assists in seven of the previous eight seasons. Steph is a mere 29, meaning it's still prime time for Isiah Thomas' favorite player.
Jameer Nelson, Magic: In 33 starts last year, Nelson averaged 16 points, 5.8 assists, three rebounds, 1.2 threes, 1.1 steals, 48 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line. His breakout sophomore season included 10 straight games in December and January in which he scored at least 18 points. Nelson's scoring average vaulted from 8.7 to 14.6 in two seasons, and I cannot see him averaging fewer than 16 per in year three.
Raymond Felton, Bobcats: I don't know how much Bobcats’ basketball you saw last season, but I saw enough to know that Felton is a star in the making. In addition to scoring from anywhere and dropping death-defying dimes, Felton took over several games and often was the best player on the court. Yes, the lingering presence of Brevin Knight is a mild concern, but Knight was there during Felton's rookie year when he averaged 16.7 points, 7.6 assists, two threes, and 1.4 steals after the All-Star break.
Speedy Claxton, Hawks: Finally, my man Speedy gets a starting gig. Yeah, I know...it's the Hawks. But it's still a starting gig for the five-year veteran with a championship ring (2003 Spurs). Despite playing second fiddle to Rookie of the Year Chris Paul in NO/OK, Claxton was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate thanks to 12.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 1.5 steals in 28.5 minutes. Speedy's numbers are going to soar as he plays with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams.
Jamaal Tinsley, Pacers: Tinsley is one of the most injury-prone players in the league, averaging an insane 37 DNPs over the past three seasons. That's the bad news. The good news is the trade of Anthony Johnson, which leaves only Sarunas Jasikevicius and Darrell Armstrong behind Tinsley, who averaged 15.4 points, 6.4 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.5 threes as recently as 04-05.
Sebastian Telfair, Celtics: At the Vegas Summer League, Telfair was typically quick and dazzling, but he had a more mature, professional vibe to his game that opened a lot of eyes. He is morphing from hotshot baller to floor leader before our very eyes. Telfair is one more year away from really putting it all together, but he should average double-digit points and 6-7 assists with 1+ threes and 1+ steals in his first year as a Celtic.
Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers: In case you didn't see Roy at Washington or the VSL, he is a stone-cold baller. Roy is so good, he dropped 35 at the VSL without breaking a sweat. (Literally, the dude's uniform was dry in the fourth quarter). Don't be surprised when Roy is Portland's starting PG on opening night. I'm not sold on presumed starter Jarrett Jack, who's coming off ankle surgery. Plus, the Blazers experimented with Roy at the one in Vegas, and he looked a lot like an NBA lead guard to me.
Randy Foye, Timberwolves: Foye averaged roughly 24 points, four rebounds, and two steals in winning MVP honors at the VSL. Quite obviously, you can't extrapolate summer league numbers to the NBA, but they do give a sense of a player's statistical inclinations. Foye can score from anywhere on the court, and he'll hover around 15 ppg as a rook. But his defensive play, which includes well-timed dig downs and great instincts for popping into the passing lane at just the right time, should generate at least one steal per game as well.
Antonio McDyess, Pistons: None of the principals involved came out and said it, but I believe that McDyess (as well as $15 million per year) played a role in the Pistons allowing Ben Wallace to sign with the Bulls. As a reliable sixth man during the past two years (only five DNPs), McDyess has averaged nine points and six rebounds with 51 percent shooting in just 22 minutes. Nazr Mohammed was signed as the official replacement for Ben, but the actual replacement was already on the roster. I'm looking for 15 points, seven rebounds, 50+ percent shooting, with 1 & 1 on the D from McDyess.
Danny Granger, Pacers: When Peja Stojakovic was linked to the Hornets in early July, Granger instantly became one of the sexiest sleepers for 06-07. In 17 starts as a rookie, Granger averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block in 31 minutes. Be careful, for Al Harrington's return to Indiana might have a significant impact on Granger's fantasy value.
Ryan Gomes, Celtics: Fantasy owners will incorrectly assume that Gomes' fantasy value will take a hit because of Al Jefferson, who was a first-rounder in 2004. Well, Jefferson comes off two injury-plagued seasons as well as offseason ankle surgery. The Celtics are now left to wonder what they have in Jefferson, but they know what's up with Gomes, who averaged 12.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 51 percent shooting, and one steal in 34 minutes after the All-Star break.
Marvin Williams, Hawks: In earning MVP honors at the Rocky Mountain Revue on the strength of 23 ppg, Marvin somewhat quieted the critics who thought the Hawks should have taken CP3 with the second pick in the 2005 draft. Regardless, Williams is a smooth, talented player, and now that Al Harrington is in Indiana, Marv will have every opportunity to blossom in his second season – despite the drafting of Shelden Williams, who disappointed at the RMR.
Channing Frye, Knicks: Living and working in New Jersey, I am subjected to Knicks games whether I like it or not. As such, I saw a lot of Frye during his rookie season when he averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 48 percent from the field and 83 percent from the line. He's a little light on the D (0.7 blocks and 0.5 steals in 24 minutes), but he is money from 15 and in, and he might be C/F eligible in your league.
Nenad Krstic, Nets: Krstic enters his third NBA season on a high because he averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds after the All-Star break, and 14.7 points and 6.8 boards in 11 playoff games. When you merge that trend with Nenad's improvement from year one to year two (10.0 points to 13.5; 5.3 rebounds to 6.4), it isn't hard to see him averaging 15 and eight for a Nets' team starving for PIP.
Andrew Bogut, Bucks: The Jamaal Magloire trade opened the center position for Bogut, who started only one game in the middle as a rookie. Bogut failed to average a double-double in his debut (9.4 points and 7.0 rebounds), but that should change as he plays 32-34 minutes at center, his desired position. Look at it this way: Bogut is already better than Magloire, who averaged 9.2 points and 9.5 boards a year ago.
Darko Milicic, Magic: Following his trade to Orlando, Milicic averaged 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 21 minutes during the final 30 games. In doing so, Milicic silenced doubters who said he couldn't play. Dude can play, no doubt about it. My only concern is the continued presence of veteran center Tony Battie, who started all 82 games a season ago. If Milicic leap frogs Battie in October, we may have a serious sleeper on our hands.