The new, Texas-heavy Southwest Division is the latest stop on my NBA sleeper tour. I'm targeting the players likely to perform well above the level that they'll be selected in fantasy drafts. My Southwest sleepers include a 19-year old rookie and a 31-year old veteran. Take a look:
San Antonio Spurs
Tony Parker – If last season's postseason is any indication, Parker is poised for a huge season. In playoff series against the Grizzlies and Lakers, Parker averaged 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 1.7 treys and 1.3 steals. Parker had already established himself as one of the few point guards in the league who contributes positively in field-goal percentage, but his other roto numbers were just average among the league's floor generals. Parker is currently going, on average, between picks 70 and 80 on Draft Day. But if he continues to bring in the numbers that we saw in the playoffs a year ago, he's worthy of being taken at least 15 picks earlier.
Marquis Daniels – Daniels is another player who saw a meteoric rise in his numbers in the postseason. After averaging just 18.6 minutes played and 8.5 points in the regular season, the rookie logged 36.8 minutes and scored 15.8 points in a five-game, opening-round loss to Sacramento. Daniels' efforts should earn him 30-plus minutes a night this season. At 6-foot-6, Daniels is long, athletic and able to handle the ball like a point guard. In 15 games as a starter in the 2003-04 regular season, Daniels averaged 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals and he shot above 50 percent from the field, numbers that would put him among the top 30 fantasy players if he continues to perform at that level going forward.
Juwan Howard – Lost in the Tracy McGrady/Yao Ming show in Houston could be Howard, the veteran who has been about as steady and consistent as anyone in the NBA during his 10 seasons. Howard is playing for his fifth NBA team, and he'll be counted on to provide his usual 17 points, seven rebounds, 45 to 50 percent shooting from the field and 80 percent accuracy from the line. In a recent experts draft, I was able to land Howard outside the top 100 players. But if he hits on his career averages, he'll be worth a pick in the 75-to-80 range.
New Orleans Hornets
J.R. Smith – Smith, the 18th overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, is a highlight show. He can jump out of the gym and rain jumpers from long range. Smith, at just 19 years old, has been running with the first unit in preseason games. Through his first three games, he has averaged 15.3 points and 3.0 3-pointers. Smith's cause has been helped in exhibition play by the absence of regular shooting guard David Wesley, who has been sidelined by a strained right hamstring. Wesley has missed an average of 15 games a season for the past three seasons and given that he's already hobbled, there is a decent chance Smith will get some starts when the regular season begins. Until that happens, file away Smith's name and be ready to act should he see quality time during the season – especially if you need offense. Said Hornets veteran P.J. Brown, "The sky's the limit for that kid. His offensive game is there."
James Posey – Posey could post the same numbers as he did last season and would still have to be considered a sleeper because many fantasy owners have yet to clue into just how good those numbers are. Posey doesn't put up big scoring or assist totals, but he is strong in the under-the-radar categories like 3-pointers, steals, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage. And Posey has hinted that more offense could be in his future. In the final nine games of last season, he averaged 22.6 points, topping 30 points in three of those contests.