It's time to check in on the fantasy sleepers of the Central Division. I'm targeting the players likely to perform well above the level that they'll be selected in fantasy drafts. This tour includes a foreign rookie, a former superstar and a couple of young players looking to turn their "potential" labels into real value. Take a look:
Drew Gooden – More was expected of Gooden in his first two seasons in the league. Both Orlando and Memphis tired of his soft inside game and now the former Kansas Jayhawk All-American is with his third team in as many seasons. With the Cavaliers, Gooden has his best opportunity to finally make his mark. As their starting power forward, he'll see little competition from backups Robert Traylor or rookie Anderson Varejao. And he'll be coached by one of the smartest and most rugged power forwards the league has ever seen in Paul Silas. One look at the early preseason returns bares this out as Gooden is averaging nearly 13 boards through his first four exhibition games. If you can get him outside the top 80 picks in your draft, he's a gamble well worth taking.
Desmond Mason – Keep Mason in mind near the end of your fantasy draft if you find your roto squad lagging in points. He certainly qualifies as a scoring specialist. He's managed to average 14-plus a game in Milwaukee while coming off the bench. And he's reaching a point in maturity where he could dial things up a notch more. The preseason certainly points to that as he leads the Bucks in exhibition play with an average of 15.8 points through the team's first four games. And Mason is a career .457 shooter, so his offensive mentality doesn't come at the price of decreased accuracy, as is often the case.
Jamaal Tinsley – Looking for cheap assists on Draft Day? Why not Tinsley? He's very likely to be had outside the top 100 picks and his contributions aren't limited to just assists. He's added some depth to his fantasy game. Last season, he averaged 1.5 3-pointers a game, which was up from his previous career-best average of 0.6. He continues to be a proficient pick-pocket, never straying far from his career average of 1.7 steals. And for the first time in his career, Tinsley saw his field-goal percentage move north of .400 (.414). Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle recently singled out Tinsley as one of the players who had made the biggest strides over the summer. Expect Tinsley to log more than 30 minutes a night this season, with a likely assists haul over 7.0.
Andres Nocioni – Ben Gordon and Luol Deng will be the most hyped of Chicago's rookie class, but Nocioni, a free-agent signee, could make the biggest splash in his first NBA go-round. Nocioni is another fine Argentinean product, following in the footsteps of Manu Ginobili and Carlos Delfino. And he was considered one of the best players in Europe last year while playing in Spain, where he averaged 16 points and 7.6 boards and shot 50 percent from the field. At 6-foot-7, he's expected to start at small forward and, while he may not make it on too many fantasy draft boards, he bares watching.
Antonio McDyess – No, I'm not going to suggest that McDyess is going to see a return to the days when he was pulling down 20 points, 10 boards and two blocks a night. The reality is that injuries have taken their toll and the opportunity (he's backing up Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace) isn't what it once was. But McDyess's problematic knee appears sound for the first time in years. He has been showcasing his health in the preseason, averaging seven points and six boards in less than 18 minutes a night. Pistons head coach Larry Brown will use a deep rotation this season and he has plans for a recovered McDyess. Said Brown: "He's a terrific player. As long as he's healthy, he's going to play a lot. There's no way you can keep anybody like him on the bench. … If he's healthy, he's as good as anybody at his position in the league in my mind."