My NBA fantasy sleeper tour continues with a look at the Atlantic Division. I'm targeting the players likely to perform well above the level that they'll be selected in fantasy drafts. In a recent Yahoo! Sports Fantasy NBA experts draft. none of the five players listed below were drafted in the first 90 picks:
Willie Green – Eric Snow is now a Cleveland Cavalier and that has almost everything to do with Green. It was the 76ers' belief that Green was ready for a larger role that made Snow expendable. Green, whose scoring average per 48 minutes played last season was just shy of 23 points, brings a similar score-first mentality to that of backcourt mate Allen Iverson. It will be interesting to see how the two gel. Green was afforded an average of 25 minutes per night in the final month of last season and turned in averages of 14.6 points, 3.1 assists and nearly a steal per game. Those numbers should improve with a starting role and an expected extra 5-10 minutes of court time.
New York Knicks
Mike Sweetney – Sweetney made a giant splash in summer league, averaging 20.3 points, 10.8 boards while shooting 57 percent from the field. Basically, Sweetney has a fantasy game similar to that of Portland's Zach Randolph. He just needs a little more experience. As a rookie last season, Sweetney averaged just fewer than 12 minutes per game, but still managed to grab almost four rebounds and his rebound average per 48 minutes was north of 15. And more, Knicks assistant Mark Aguirre seems to be in his corner: "Right now Sweetney's on the verge of being something pretty special." There is talk that Sweetney could unseat Kurt Thomas as the team's starting power forward.
Raef LaFrentz – Remember the days when LaFrentz would consistently score 13-15 points, grab 7-8 boards and block 2-3 shots a night? At that time, it was vogue for fantasy owners to cry, "Viva, LaFrentz!" after a particularly good outing from the 6-foot-11-inch former Jayhawk. While those days seem ages ago, it has, in fact, only been a couple years since LaFrentz was a valuable fantasy commodity. His decline started with a trade to Dallas – understandable considering the Mavericks were overloaded with talent. Furthering his woes was a trade to Boston last season and a season-ending knee injury after just 17 games. LaFrentz is healthy again and ready to reclaim his place in fantasy circles. He's expected to start at power forward and he's excited about the running system that new head coach Doc Rivers has installed. The offense reminds him of the one he ran at Kansas. Fantasy owners should be excited at anything that reconnects LaFrentz to his past glories.
Rafer Alston – Alston averaged 12.2 points, 5.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 2.1 treys in 28 games as a starter for Miami last season. His performance earned him a six-year deal from the Raptors in the offseason, who will make him the team's starter this season. Alston is ready to log big minutes as former starter Alvin Williams is dealing with a sore knee. Williams avoided surgery on the knee during the offseason and now he is out indefinitely as he tries to gain strength. Given the impact that Alston offers in steals and treys, in addition to solid scoring and assist averages, you'd be wise to place him among your top 15 point guards on Draft Day.
New Jersey Nets
Zoran Planinic – With Jason Kidd likely out until after the new year, Planinic could lead the Nets from the point for at least the first two months of the season. And if Kidd is traded, his tenure as a starter could be extended. At 6 feet 7 inches tall, Planinic is a tough matchup for smaller point guards. He brings the usual solid fundamental European game and he brought 15 less pounds with him to the Nets' training camp. That bodes well for him in his competition with Travis Best and Jacque Vaughn for the starting job. Also working in his favor is the fact that he is already proficient in the team's new motion offense, something that Best and Vaughn are not. Keep Planinic in mind as a late-round flyer. On a team so stripped of proven talent, he has an opportunity to breakout.