We say it in football, and it applies to fantasy hoops as well: Sleepers and busts determine the outcome of fantasy leagues.
You pretty much know what to expect from your early-round picks, either a complete player statistically or one who is extraordinary in one or two categories. And in most cases, unless you reach for a pick, that guy won't let you down. But when they do, when they "bust," if you will, it can cost you a season. With so few players on your team, and so little available on the free-agent wire, poor performances from early-round options, whether it's because of injury, loss of minutes, decline in play, etc., can be too tough to recover from.
On the flip side, when a middle-round pick performs like a top-30 option, or a late-round pick becomes a solid fantasy producer (equal to a mid-round pick), it can put you in the driver's seat toward a fantasy title. It's as if you were given extra picks earlier in the draft, a huge advantage.
So the importance of determining potential sleepers and busts can't be overstated. Now it's just a matter of finding out who those players are. That's why we're here. Our fantasy NBA experts have combed through scouting reports, box scores, projections, stat sheets and other sources to determine which players are being taken earlier than they should be, and which players are being taken later than they should be. And we don't like to keep things to ourselves.
With that, we present our 2009-10 fantasy NBA sleepers and busts picks. The experts' charts are below, followed by explanations for a handful of the selections. Enjoy!
The round in parentheses is the round that expert would take that player in an ESPN standard draft league.
These are all ranked within the position in the order of when you can expect to get them, earliest to latest.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder (from Eric Karabell): He's definitely a top-10 point guard for me, over Tony Parker, Monta Ellis and Baron Davis. He's already getting the assists, but how many point guards can also grab five rebounds per game? Westbrook desperately needs help with his jump shot, but everything else is in place. He's going to be a top-30 player soon.
T.J. Ford, Pacers (from Seth Landman): Ford was a top-20 point guard last season, but he's not being drafted that way, and his numbers just might go up, considering his new backup, Earl Watson, isn't nearly as good as his previous backup, Jarrett Jack. Ford is always a health risk, but he has played in more than 70 games in three of the past four seasons, and the Pacers' fast-paced style should lead to big fantasy numbers.
Lou Williams, 76ers (from Brian McKitish): He won't provide as many assists as your typical point guard, but he'll fill up the points, steals and 3-pointers columns. His per-minute numbers suggest he'll average around 16.2 points, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals and a 3-pointer in 30 minutes per game, and he might be even better than that, considering he'll likely see 32-34 minutes per game at the point for the Sixers.
Nate Robinson, Knicks (from Josh Whitling): You really think Robinson is going to put up worse numbers in his contract year or play less than the 29 minutes per game he played last season? Sure, he's not a typical point guard, so you should likely start him at "guard" or "utility" and look for assists elsewhere, but he was ranked No. 54 on the Player Rater last season, and according to his live draft result, he's being drafted 106th overall. He's always been able to score and drain 3s, but he took a step forward in free-throw percentage and steals last season, and is fantastic in turnover leagues, averaging just 1.9 per game last season. I'm regularly getting him in the 10th and even 11th round, which is insane unless you're predicting a mammoth drop-off for the diminutive Robinson. And I don't see that happening.
Jason Richardson, Suns (from Tom Carpenter): J-Rich is in his prime (28) and is the primary perimeter scorer for a Suns team that is back to running the floor. Remember Raja Bell at his peak? Now just imagine what a skilled scorer such as Richardson could do in that role. Expect J-Rich to average around 20 points and more than two treys per game, and for his field-goal percentage to remain above 45 percent for the second straight season.
Leandro Barbosa, Suns (from Keith Lipscomb): He's going six rounds later than Ray Allen, but the production he offered after coach Alvin Gentry took over last season (16.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 3s, 1.6 steals, .497 field-goal percentage, .865 free-throw percentage) is quite comparable to what Allen can supply.
More on Leandro Barbosa (from Brian McKitish): The last time Barbosa played for an up-tempo offense, he averaged 18.1 points, 1.2 steals and 2.4 3-pointers. He won't be that good this season, but he'll be a steal in Round 9 or later if he even comes close to approaching those numbers.
Trevor Ariza, Rockets (from Eric Karabell): I know he's not a polished offensive player yet, but he'll definitely get the opportunity to play, and he's a top thief and a good enough 3-point shooter already. I could see him scoring 15 points a night with six rebounds, and he is well-rounded. In fact, he might already be better than Ron Artest for fantasy purposes.
Shane Battier, Rockets (from Seth Landman): The Rockets are going to need all the help they can get this season, and Battier should find a way to carve out a good deal more than 30 minutes per game no matter what's going on around him. That means he'll continue contributing in 3s, steals and blocks. Last year was the first time in his career he'd been hurt for an extended period, and I'm expecting him to be his usual, durable self.
More on Shane Battier (from Brian McKitish): With Ron Artest in Los Angeles and Tracy McGrady still working his way back from injuries, Battier is primed to have a big season. Don't be surprised to see him average 12-13 points, 5 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers while adding a steal and a block per game.
Andres Nocioni, Kings (from Josh Whitling): With Francisco Garcia sidelined for several months because of a broken hand, the Kings signed Desmond Mason as a stopgap, and Mason likely will be the opening-night starter at small forward. But Mason won't be nearly as effective or earn as many minutes as Garcia would have, opening up playing time and opportunity for Nocioni, who averaged two 3s per game in his 21 games with the Kings last season. They'll desperately need scoring to help Kevin Martin, as well as 3-point shooting to stretch the floor, and Mason is awful from behind the arc. Nocioni could be among the league leaders in 3s, is fantastic from the free-throw stripe and tosses in the occasional steal and block as well. Throw in the fact that he's arguably the Kings' best two-way player and has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game, and Nocioni is easily set to outperform all expectations.
Anthony Randolph, Warriors (from Adam Madison): As a 19-year-old rookie, Randolph averaged 7.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in fewer than 25 minutes per game after the All-Star break. Coach Don Nelson seems to have already taken quite a liking to him, and with backup power forward Brandan Wright out because of a shoulder injury, Randolph should log a ton of minutes on a team that loves to run. And Randolph can fill up a stat line while still offering massive room for improvement. In fact, I don't think any player in fantasy possesses more untapped upside.
Michael Beasley, Heat (from Seth Landman): Despite all the controversy, Beasley remains an intriguing talent, and the Heat are going to need him to contribute this year. He'll be a major factor in points and rebounds, and should do just enough in steals, blocks and 3s to make him worth drafting well inside the top 100.
Hakim Warrick, Bucks (from Brian McKitish): Somebody has to score in Milwaukee, and Warrick has proved to be a solid scorer when given minutes in the past.
Brook Lopez, Nets (from Neil Tardy): Given a choice right now of Tim Duncan and Lopez, I'll take the Nets sophomore. Timmeh will do better in points and assists, and his dual eligibility (PF and C) matters, but I'll gladly wait a round or maybe even two for Lopez, who should average in the neighborhood of 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game, with solid percentages (especially from the line). Lopez is a top-30 talent you can get after the top 30 picks.
Greg Oden, Trail Blazers (from Adam Madison): Blocks will be difficult to find this season, and Oden is one of the few players who has the potential to average two or more blocks per game. Oden is set to come off the bench again, but pay little mind to that; Joel Przybilla's skill set will be easy to transition to the bench if Oden emerges. Oden is a man on a mission who could begin to dominate the paint as soon as he cuts back on his foul rate. I buy his strong preseason, and he looks like a great value as a cheap No. 1 center.
Roy Hibbert, Pacers (from Keith Lipscomb): His blocks potential alone makes him worthy of a late-round flier. He averaged 1.1 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game as a rookie, so just imagine the impact he could have in the category with the increased minutes he should receive as a soph.
For busts, we have put ADP (live draft results in ESPN standard leagues) in parentheses to give you an idea of when that player might be taken.
Ranked within the position in order of when they're expected to be taken, earliest to latest.
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards (from Tom Carpenter): Not only is Arenas one of the most entertaining guys in the Association, but he also flat-out balls when he's on the hardwood. Of course, he has been on the hardwood for only 15 games in two seasons. That's only 15 more times than your grandma. I hope he returns to form, but his ADP is 27th, which seems like a crazy price to pay. Would you pay near full price for a Maserati that has been in the shop for two years with engine problems?
More on Gilbert Arenas (from Eric Karabell): There's just no chance I'm taking him ahead of healthy, young players such as Devin Harris, Jose Calderon and Derrick Rose, among others. Sure, he's healthy in the preseason, but you're not going to fool me. I'll take a chance on injured folks later, but how can you afford to in the top 30, which is where he's going? Can't do it.
Derrick Rose, Bulls (from Adam Madison): Even in college, Rose averaged only 0.9 3-pointers on 33.7 percent shooting and 1.2 steals per game, proof that his game just isn't fantasy-friendly. He still can't shoot from long range, and he has a long way to go on the defensive end, so the most likely area for improvement lies in free-throw attempts and percentage. Rose finished only 59th on the Player Rater last year, so by taking him so early this year (right around the 33rd pick), his owners are counting on a ton of improvement just to cover their investment, leaving themselves with little room for any additional upside.
Tony Parker, Spurs (from Keith Lipscomb): Unless he scores 22 points per game again, his lack of 3s and steals make Parker hard to get excited about in the fifth round.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder (from Neil Tardy): I'm not hatin' on his talent, but Westbrook as a top-50 pick doesn't make sense to me. With as many as 12 point guards pushing the top 40, why reach so far for your No. 2 PG? Sure, it's exciting that he gets to dish to Kevin Durant, but Westbrook's field-goal percentage (39.8 percent in 2008-09) and turnover rate (3.34) will have me looking elsewhere.
Ray Allen, Celtics (from Keith Lipscomb): There is simply zero upside to Ray-Ray's game these days, and while he had a fine season in 2008-09, I see no way he repeats that and, therefore, no reason to take him as early as he's going now.
O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies (from Seth Landman): He's talented, no doubt, but the Grizzlies look like a pretty dysfunctional bunch at the moment, and there are a lot of guys being drafted after him (Jason Richardson, Jason Terry and Eric Gordon, to name a few) who probably will put up better overall fantasy numbers.
J.R. Smith, Nuggets (from Josh Whitling): His playing time will be as unpredictable as his productivity and decisions on and off the court. If you could have Smith at his best for 30 minutes per game and 82 games per season, he might be the best shooting guard in the league, and the fact that he's nowhere close is why I hate him.
Caron Butler, Wizards (from Brian McKitish): There aren't enough shots to go around in Washington for Butler to repeat his stellar numbers over the past two seasons. Also, though he has somehow avoided the "injury-prone" tag, Butler has missed more games than Gerald Wallace over the past three seasons.
Hedo Turkoglu, Raptors (from Seth Landman): Without having to play point forward, his numbers likely will drop closer to his 2005-06 levels, making him not quite worthy of being taken ahead of players such as Shawn Marion and Jeff Green, who are currently being drafted later.
Ron Artest, Lakers (from Eric Karabell): I don't see how he's going to be happy seeing fewer shots. The Lakers bring back all the big guns, and certainly Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will continue to be fed in the low post. Artest and Lamar Odom are going to have a tough time scoring double digits in this offense, and since Artest isn't the rebounder or steals guy he used to be, you should pass on him in the early rounds.
David West, Hornets (from Seth Landman): He's still an extremely good player, but at 29, he's a little too old to hope for improvement. His per-minute numbers declined slightly in just about every category last season, which was masked by the fact that his minutes went up to just under 40 per game. It's hard to imagine him playing quite that much again this year, so don't use a third-round pick to pay for last season's stats.
Carlos Boozer, Jazz (from Brian McKitish): Nobody likes an injury-prone big man, let alone an injury-prone big man who blocked only 0.2 shots per game last season. Also, don't forget about Paul Millsap, who will undoubtedly eat into Boozer's minutes and production.
Tim Duncan, Spurs (from Seth Landman): He's one of my all-time favorites, but he finished outside the top 30 in last year's Player Rater, and it's hard to imagine his besting 75 games and 33.6 minutes per game this season. He's a great pick in the fourth round but a bad pick in the second, which is where he's being taken.
Troy Murphy, Pacers (from Keith Lipscomb): It's not that I don't like what Murphy can offer, it's just that if he's a third-round selection, the expectations are too high. He'd have to match last season's numbers, and that's a lot to ask, especially since you know it's imperative that you'd have to find a shot-blocker once you select him.
Andrew Bogut, Bucks (from Josh Whitling): Bogut has had one season in which he was a shot-blocker; in all others, he has been well below average for a starting center. Bogut turns the ball over a lot, and his awful 57.1 free-throw percentage does significant damage to your team's aggregate percentage, especially since he averages more than three free-throw attempts per game.