The hunt for the darkhorses of fantasy hoops continues as I turn my attention to the West. I'm targeting the players likely to perform well above the level that they'll be selected in fantasy drafts. With that in mind, here is a sleeper from each of the Pacific Division teams.
Golden State Warriors
Jason Richardson – Richardson is likely to fall out of the top 60-70 players on Draft Day. I've seen it happen already. Perhaps those owners didn't pay attention to how Richardson closed out last season, averaging 21.3 points, 8.5 boards and 4.1 assists in April. And in new head coach Mike Montgomery's structured offensive approach, Richardson expects to benefit by producing his best numbers. He'll need to if he hopes to cash in at season's end. He faces the prospect of being a restricted free agent, meaning his play this season determines the number that will be on his paycheck next season. Fantasy owners can't ask for a better incentive. Move him inside your top 50 players overall.
Leandro Barbosa – Don't write off Barbosa because the Suns signed Steve Nash this offseason. Sure, Barbosa will have to come off the bench but, because of durability concerns, the talk is that Nash will be limited to 30 minutes a night. That'll open up a fair chunk of time for Barbosa at the point, but he'll also see time backing up at the shooting guard position. The Suns will make sure that Barbosa finds his way onto the floor each night because of his quickness, shooting range and defensive prowess. Keep Barbosa in mind in the late rounds of deeper fantasy leagues. Even if he doesn't see enough time to make an impact in the scoring and assists categories, he should still offer value in steals and treys. He closed out the final 15 games of last season averaging 2.0 picks and 1.7 three-pointers.
Los Angeles Clippers
Marko Jaric – Put Jaric down as another player looking for a larger contract following this season – when he'll be a restricted free agent. Jaric enters training camp nursing a broken left thumb, but he should be more than ready to go by opening night. In fact, he's been participating in drills despite the injury, and head coach Mike Dunleavy calls him the best-conditioned player on the team. Jaric is already an accomplished pickpocket, averaging 1.6 steals per game last season. But he needs to improve on his consistency as a scorer and distributor. Jaric is fully aware that this is a make-or-break season, saying: "It's my year to show if I'm ready to improve and really be one of the good point guards in this league, or if I'm going to be somebody in the middle – which I would hate, honestly."
Los Angeles Lakers
Lamar Odom – Odom is not a sleeper in the traditional sense. He's a known commodity who has been a star fantasy player in the past. Now he takes on a Robin role to Kobe Bryant's Batman. This seems to be perceived negatively in fantasy circles where he is falling into the late third and early fourth rounds. Odom belongs among the top 20. One of the knocks on his fantasy game has been a poor shooting percentage (43 percent last season). Playing power forward in L.A. will bring him closer to the basket and allow him to take more high-percentage shots. And given that Chris Mihm and Brian Grant will lend support in the middle, he should be the exclusive post scoring option, allowing him to continue to push 20 points night. It would not be surprising if Odom posts averages of 18-20 points, 9-10 boards, 3-4 assists and a shooting percentage north of 46 percent. And given that he'll be defending in the post, his long arms should afford him somewhere between one or two blocks a night. You heard it here that Odom is headed for his finest fantasy season to date.
Darius Songaila – Count on Songaila getting plenty of playing time this season. After all, he is backing up Chris Webber, who has missed an average of 34 games a season in the past three years and has proven to be as durable as wet paper. Webber is coming off knee surgery and was already scratched from the lineup for the team's preseason opener because of soreness. He's denied a report that he's considering a second surgery on the knee and one local Sacramento paper is calling the situation a huge concern. If/when Songaila is inserted into the starting lineup, he should put up numbers to warrant fantasy consideration. In seven games as a starter a season ago, Songaila put up 11.9 points, 7.3 boards, 1.0 steals and shot 56 percent from the field. It was just his first season in the league after spending time overseas, so he should be able to build upon his experience.