2014-15 NBA Fantasy Focus: Sleepers

While crafting your draft-day strategies, we encourage you to strongly consider these sleeper picks.

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
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Forget pumpkins, fall festivals and football. This is the time of year to get your fantasy basketball strategy in order. Those who play the game have already made a mental list for draft day of their favorites in all positions. After the initial critical rounds have flown by, the field is open to round out your roster. Before automatically reaching for the obvious intermediate-type players, consider taking a chance with an unexpected pick. Basketball Insiders is here to help you analyze those sleeper picks that can potentially yield a surprise advantage while assembling your team for the 2014-15 NBA season.

As always, when we talk fantasy basketball here, it is based on nine-category fantasy scoring leagues that account for points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, three-pointers made, turnovers, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.

These are our sleeper picks to seriously contemplate this season:

Gorgui Dieng – Minnesota Timberwolves

We’re not talking household name for the 6’11 center, but fantasy owners had sure better know his name. For a host of reasons, Dieng is positioned to make a mark, even break out, in the world of fantasy basketball. Disregard his rookie numbers last year (4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and .9 blocks in 13.6 minutes), and instead concentrate on what happened at the end of last season and how it should translate for the upcoming season. With a nagging ankle injury that sidelined starting center Nikola Pekovic, Dieng started in 15 of the last 18 games last year. He logged double-doubles in nine of those 15 starts, averaging 12.2 points and 12.0 rebounds. Dieng has been busy in the offseason. He turned in a nice performance at the Las Vegas Summer League (11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.9 steals), revealing abilities to contribute in many areas. Plus his free-throw shooting (79.2 percent) was much improved. Playing for Senegal in the FIBA World Cup tournament, Dieng averaged 16.0 points and 10.7 rebounds and was key in a couple upsets. With coach Flip Saunders planning to dial back Pekovic’s minutes this year (and his always-present injury concern in general) along with the departure of Kevin Love, minutes should open up for Dieng. His scoring may not be consistent this season, but he will definitely add measurably to your rebound and block (2.2 per-36-minutes) categories and perhaps others.

Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics

Typically we would advise you to stay away from a rookie projected to back up a point guard who logged 9.8 average assists last year. We’re making an exception for the former Oklahoma State standout, Marcus Smart. There’s a lot going on here to consider. To start with, said starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, appeared in just 30 games last year and 38 games the year before that. He suffered an offseason injury (broken hand) that may keep him sidelined well into December. Add to this the incessant Rondo trade chatter, and you’ve got a sneaky sleeper opportunity in the making. Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens praises the 20-year-old Smart, giving him the starting nod during the preseason. It’s been shaky at times, but he should get plenty of minutes which may turn into a longer gig, depending on the Rondo situation, i.e. lingering injuries or a mid-season trade. Smart, the Celtics’ No. 6 draft pick, has the very real ability to fill up multiple stat categories for fantasy owners. Last year at OSU, he averaged 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 1.6 in three-pointers and 4.8 assists per game in 31 contests.

Jordan Hill– Los Angeles Lakers

With fantasy potential abound, owners need to remember power forward/center Jordan Hill on draft day. Lakers’ coach Byron Scott has penciled him in as the starting center this season and projects double-doubles from him all season long. He even indicated Hill would get good minutes at the center position. Those are words owners really like to hear. However, if Hill doesn’t exhibit improved conditioning (he reportedly concentrated on this in the offseason) and improved defense, teammates Ed Davis and Carlos Boozer may take minutes away. Now let’s talk numbers. He just averaged 20.8 minutes last season and posted 9.7 points per game and 7.4 rebounds. Hill’s per-36-minute numbers were eye-catching: 16.7 points and 12.8 rebounds (4.7 of those were hard-to-get offensive boards). His 54.0 percent field goal shooting will help in a big way. Hill’s numbers were quite impressive after the All-Star Break at 12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 24.3 minutes per game. This is all very promising. Scott demands much from his players and already, it seems as if Hill is one of his favorites. His abilities seem well-suited to Scott’s system. With a new hefty contract now in place, Hill should get all the opportunity in the world to shine.

Mario Chalmers – Miami HEAT

In case you haven’t heard, LeBron James won’t be playing in Miami this season. For fantasy owners, this means Mario Chalmers will be handling the ball more than he’s done in years, so look at Chalmers for increases in assists and three-pointers, plus plenty of steals. Last season he averaged 9.8 points, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 three-pointers in 29.8 minutes. He embarked on a different conditioning program over the summer which has led to a weight loss of 10-15 pounds. With doubtful eyes cast upon a LeBron-less HEAT team, Chalmers will be determined to prove his worth, especially in light of his woeful postseason offering (6.4 points, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 threes). He always tended to shine more when James and oft-injured Dwyane Wade missed playing time, so owning Chalmers could be a real coup. He may well set career highs in steals and assists while his shot-taking will surely increase. The threat of Norris Cole, and to a lesser degree rookie Shabazz Napier, taking valuable minutes does exist, but with the viable chance that point guard Chalmers will also see shooting guard time, he’s worth it.

Tim Hardaway Jr. – New York Knicks

Hear us out. We know the Knicks have shooting guards in J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, but this season could be significant for Tim Hardaway Jr. As the group settles into the triangle offense with new coach Derek Fisher, Hardaway has the chance to contribute meaningfully in fantasy formats, including different categories we’ve not seen from him yet. Shumpert with his injury history along with Smith and his antics means Hardaway Jr. may play. A lot. There’s no question he can shoot the ball (averages last year of 10.2 points and 1.6 three-pointers) and shoot it well (42.8 percent in two-point field goals, 36.3 percent in threes and 82.8 percent in free throws). If assists and rebounding increase as would appear to be the case under the new triangle, Hardaway Jr. could end up contributing all across the board. Bonus: Fisher loves his defensive effort, which typically translates to a good amount of playing time.


Jeremy Lin – Los Angeles Lakers
Steve Nash is the starting point guard for the Lakers, but let’s point out the obvious: injuries limited Nash to appearing in just 65 games out of a possible 164 over the past two seasons, and he’s turning 41 years old in less than four months. The door will open for Jeremy Lin who figures to see plenty of time on the floor. Lin can drop numbers around nicely (points, assists and steals) and provide solid shooting percentages.

Solomon Hill – Indiana Pacers
When a player like Paul George goes down for the year, fantasy owners must always analyze the affected team to consider who will benefit from the loss. In this case, Solomon Hill is the leading candidate to assume starting small forward duties, and thus, increased playing time. He’s already demonstrated strong defensive skills; this year, he will have to prove offensive improvement to get good minutes. His last two years at Arizona provides a glimpse at what he can do – he averaged 13.2 points, 1.4 three-pointers, 6.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.7 assists.

Draymond Green – Golden State Warriors
We’re willing to bet a lot of folks have forgotten what Draymond Green did in last years’ playoffs. Don’t be one of them. The now-third-year player was nearly a revelation, logging averages of 11.9 points, 1.1 threes, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. He should have a bigger role this season, perhaps even joining the starting lineup.

Alan is an expert gambling writer who works as one of the chief editors for Basketball Insiders. He has been covering online gambling and sports betting for over 8 years, having written for the likes of Sportlens,, The Sports Daily, 90min, and His particular specialisms include US online casinos and gambling regulations, and soccer and basketball betting. Based in London, Alan holds an MA in English Literature and is a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC.

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