Want to build a well-balanced fantasy basketball roster? Select high-floor players in the early rounds and gamble on upside with your later-round picks. You can take a few early risks, particularly on players who appear poised for larger roles (Andre Drummond, for instance), but your big swing-for-the-fences choices should come after you’ve built a solid foundation with early and mid-round selections.
By comparing FantasyPros.com’s Expert Consensus Rankings to the Average Draft Position of players on Yahoo, CBS and ESPN, you can start to get a sense of which players the industry is higher or lower on than an average drafter. From there, you can begin to build your own list of sleepers to target with your later-round picks.
Using ECR as a baseline, we’ve highlighted 10 such sleepers — two at each position — all of whom have an ECR below 90. In head-to-head leagues, you shouldn’t hesitate to grab these guys at least one full round ahead of where their ECR would suggest. (In other words: A player with an ECR of 115 is worth an 11th-round pick rather than a mid-12th-round pick in a 10-team league.)
PG: Kendall Marshall, Philadelphia 76ers (ECR: N/A)
Let’s start with the ultimate home-run target this year: the Philadelphia 76ers’ up-in-the-air point-guard position. At the moment, Isaiah Canaan appears poised to win the starting gig by default, as he’s the only healthy option of the three main competitors. Even after Tony Wroten returns to the court, though, Marshall appears poised to run away with the job once he’s healthy enough to play.
Before training camp began, Sixers head coach Brett Brown sang Marshall’s praises, telling reporters he can “pass the hell” out of the ball. Seeing as the Sixers’ top priority is likely to be feeding their bigs down low, a pass-first point guard with a reliable perimeter stroke is a far better fit than a slashing scorer like Wroten. If your league has a deep bench and/or an IR spot, Marshall makes for an excellent final-round selection, considering he averaged 8.0 points and 8.8 assists in 54 games with the Los Angeles Lakers two seasons ago.
PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets (ECR: 116)
When the Nuggets shipped Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets this offseason, it sent a clear message: This is Mudiay’s team now. Though the rookie will undoubtedly go through some ups and downs this season, he’ll have no shortage of opportunity in terms of playing time, as head coach Mike Malone has already installed him as the team’s starter.
Owners in nine-category leagues will need to tread a bit more lightly, as Mudiay figures to be a turnover machine with a sub-par field goal percentage. Through four preseason contests, he’s shooting just 33.9 percent from the field and coughing up the ball 4.8 times a night. His other averages, though— 13.3 points, 6.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 treys and 1.0 steals in 28.7 minutes — justify his placement as a savvy late-round pick, particularly if you’re punting turnovers.
SG: C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (ECR: 114)
The fantasy industry is head over heels for McCollum this year, and rightfully so. Portland lost four of its five incumbent starters this offseason via trades and/or free agency, deciding instead to rebuild around Damian Lillard and a young core of high-upside players. That means McCollum, who’s played just 14.5 minutes a night over his first two seasons, is likely in line for 30-plus minutes per game this coming year.
Considering the Lehigh product averaged 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 treys and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes last season, a drastic uptick in playing time will only mean positive things for his fantasy value. This preseason, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 assists, 2.3 treys, 2.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks in 27.9 minutes, speaking to the type of production that fantasy owners can reasonably expect. After going off for 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 10, expect his ADP to shoot up as we inch closer to the regular season.
SG: J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers (ECR: 138)
Does the idea of drafting the oft-inconsistent Smith give you stomach ulcers? You’re not the only one. Given the injury situation in Cleveland’s backcourt at the moment, however — Iman Shumpert won’t be back until January, at the earliest, after undergoing surgery on his right wrist, while Kyrie Irving’s return date remains unclear — Smith appears to be in line for a huge early-season role.
During the 31.8 minutes per game he averaged in Cleveland during the 2014-15 regular season, Smith put up 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.8 treys, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals. Considering he’s a virtual lock to match that playing time in the early going, at least until Shumpert and Irving return to the lineup, fantasy owners shouldn’t hesitate drafting him with one of their final picks and attempting to flip him for a buy-low target if (when?) he gets off to a hot start.
SF: Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards (ECR: 125)
After two years of living in fantasy anonymity, Porter made a name for himself during the Wizards’ 2015 playoff run, averaging 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 triples in 33.1 minutes per game. With Paul Pierce now taking up residence in Los Angeles, Porter is in line to take over the starting 3 spot permanently, making him an intriguing late-round fantasy target this year.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Porter has been “more aggressive in attacking the rim, taking shots and crashing the glass” during practices this fall, perhaps growing more comfortable with his fit as a long-term building block in Washington. Though Jared Dudley, Martell Webster and Kelly Oubre are lurking as competitors for playing time, Porter should be headed for upwards of 30 minutes per game, giving him significant upside toward the end of fantasy drafts.
SF: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz (ECR: 181)
Depending on the size of your league and the size of your benches, there’s a decent chance Rodney Hood goes completely undrafted. Owners looking for a high-upside flyer in the final few rounds of their drafts won’t let that happen, though, as the Jazz swingman could wind up returning top 120 value despite having an ECR in the 180s.
From the All-Star break onward last season, Hood averaged 11.8 points on 46.4 percent shooting, 2.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 treys and 0.8 steals in just 24.1 minutes per game. With Dante Exum done for the year due to a torn ACL, the Jazz have been experimenting with zero-PG lineups in the preseason, trotting out a backcourt of Hood, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward. Despite facing competition from Burks, Hayward and Joe Inglis, Hood should once again be in line for upwards of 25 minutes per game, which, judging by his post-All-Star-break production, is more than enough time to make a significant fantasy impact.
PF: Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic (ECR: 172)
Gordon is the definition of a late-round high-upside flyer, as his role is virtually impossible to predict at this juncture of the preseason. With Channing Frye and Andrew Nicholson lurking and Tobias Harris likely to steal a few minutes at the 4 each night, the Arizona product will certainly have competition for playing time, making him one of the highest-variance sleepers featured here.
Gordon showed off a brand-new jumper at Orlando Summer League, where he averaged 21.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 treys, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals in 32.7 minutes per game, although those statistics need to be taken with a massive grain of salt. He isn’t likely to receive 30-plus minutes of playing time, given the depth of talent Orlando has at the 4, but even 20-25 minutes could enable him to make a wide-reaching fantasy impact nevertheless.
PF: Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans (ECR: 95)
Anderson’s fantasy stock was on the rise even before Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik suffered injuries that are likely to sideline them at the beginning of the regular season. With Alvin Gentry installed as the Pelicans’ new head coach, they’ve gone from the fourth-slowest pace in 2014-15 to the eighth-fastest this preseason, which comes as little surprise given his background as the Golden State Warriors’ offensive coordinator.
Assuming that uptempo attack keeps up during the regular season — and there’s no reason to believe it won’t — it only means positive things for the fantasy stocks of Anderson and the other Pelicans. The oft-injured big man recently sang the praises of the system to Basketball Insiders’ Joel Brigham, saying, “We’re pushing it up the floor and pushing the pace. That’s good for me.” Hop on Anderson’s fantasy stock before it’s too late.
C: Roy Hibbert, Los Angeles Lakers (ECR: 109)
Roy Hibbert’s fall from grace has been pronounced over the past two seasons, as he’s gone from two-time All-Star to fantasy afterthought. In 2015-16, he has a chance to resurrect his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and based on the early returns, he’s looking like a sneaky late-round fantasy value, too.
Hibbert isn’t going to provide much offensive value — through five preseason contests, he’s only scored in double digits once — but he pulled down at least 10 rebounds in four of those games and swatted eight shots in total, too. Fantasy owners looking to bolster their rebounds and blocks category would be wise to take a late-round flyer on the Georgetown product, as his upside remains high given the Lakers’ dearth of other reliable big men.
C: Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers (ECR: 130)
After Portland lost four of its five starters this offseason, a number of young, high-upside players will have plenty of opportunities to carve out a regular role and make a significant fantasy impact, including Leonard. Last season, the 7-footer averaged 13.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.0 treys per 36 minutes, reaching the vaunted 50-40-90 shooting percentage club in limited playing time.
Though Leonard’s percentages will assuredly drop as he moves closer to 30 minutes per game, he appears in line to start alongside Mason Plumlee, per the Oregonian, making him well worth a late-round pick. Considering what he did Monday against the Utah Jazz — he finished with 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting, eight rebounds, four treys, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes — his draft stock may be on the precipice of skyrocketing.
All of these players have an ECR of 70 or above, but I’d take them at least one full round ahead of their ECR in head-to-head leagues.
PG: Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (ECR: 53)
SG: Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers (ECR: 51)
SF: Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans (ECR: 68)
PF: Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (ECR: 67)
C: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets (ECR: 48)