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Fantasy Basketball: Sleepers to consider in drafts

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By Mike Barner, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

There are few things more fun in fantasy sports than discussing sleepers. The term itself might not even mean what it used to because it’s difficult to find players that most people don’t know about at all, considering the increased amount of fantasy content.

In this new world, a sleeper is more like someone who is being undervalued and selected too late in drafts. With that in mind, here are five sleepers to consider targeting on draft day based on their current Yahoo ADP figures.

Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs (Yahoo ADP 97)

The Spurs gave Poeltl a chance to start over the second half of last season and he took advantage of the opportunity. Across 51 games in that role, he averaged 9.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks over 29 minutes a game. While he shot an impressive 62.5% from the field as a starter, he only shot 55.3% from the free-throw line.

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It sounds weird to say it, but the Spurs are rebuilding. With few attractive options at center, Poeltl should start and play around 30 minutes per night again. An argument can be made for selecting him ahead of Mitchell Robinson (Yahoo ADP 78), who continues to battle injuries. He could even be more appealing than Brook Lopez (87) and Andre Drummond (89), especially considering Drummond will serve as a backup for the 76ers as long as Joel Embiid is healthy.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Pelicans (Yahoo ADP 121)

After not seeing much action during his rookie campaign, Alexander-Walker averaged 22 minutes per game last season. He averaged 11.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in this limited role. It’s encouraging that he improved in two key areas that could boost his fantasy value.

First, he was more efficient, shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from the charity stripe, compared to 36.8 percent and 67.6 percent, respectively, in his rookie season. Second, despite his limited playing time, he averaged 1.7 three-pointers per game. In his 13 starts, that figure jumped up to 3.1 makes per game (41.2% 3Pt).

New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker showed significant strides in limited action last season. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Pelicans underwent significant changes during the offseason, moving on from Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe. They did bring in Devonte’ Graham, but the starting shooting guard spot has opened up for Alexander-Walker to possibly claim. Across those 13 starts last season, he averaged 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.1 steals while posting a 24.6 percent usage rate.

Even if Alexander-Walker doesn’t start — he came off the bench in Monday’s preseason opener — he would likely have a high usage rate as the Pelicans’ primary scorer off the bench. New additions Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple may provide new head coach Willie Green with some veteran stability, but there’s no question Alexander-Walker has the highest fantasy upside of that group.

Larry Nance Jr., Portland Trail Blazers (Yahoo ADP 141)

The Blazers’ bench is a mess. Portland has been a top-heavy team in recent years; not much has changed in that regard. From a fantasy perspective, that means Damian Lillard and the rest of their starters could log a ton of minutes. One of the Blazers’ key reserves will be Nance, who could see time at center, power forward, and even small forward. If one of Portland’s starters were to suffer an injury, he could immediately be thrust into a role of more than 30 minutes per night.

Although Nance only shot 47.1% from the field last year, he should improve in that area given that he shot at least 52% in each previous season of his career. He could provide similar production like his 2019-20 season, when he averaged 10.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 three-pointers over 26 minutes per game with the Cavaliers. Another encouraging stat is that he has averaged at least 1.3 steals in four of the last five seasons.

Look for Nance’s ADP to rise as the season approaches. At the moment, he’s being drafted in the same range as Trevor Ariza (142), Eric Bledsoe (140), and DeAndre Jordan (136) — all players with significant question marks and/or low upside.

Reggie Jackson, Clippers (Yahoo ADP 143)

After Kawhi Leonard (knee) went down in the playoffs, Jackson took on a much larger role for the Clippers. He averaged 21.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 3.0 three-pointers in a whopping 38 minutes per game. He even shot 48.5 percent from the field during that stretch.

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Even with Leonard expected to miss a significant portion of the season, don’t expect Jackson to approach 40 minutes on a nightly basis. Still, he has a path to around 30 minutes per game and should see increased scoring opportunities again with Leonard sidelined. Jackson should help with assists, too, given that he averaged at least 4.1 dimes in each of his previous seven seasons before last season.

Jackson’s ADP will likely climb as draft season continues, but if he continues to be undervalued, he could be among the season’s best late-round fliers.

Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors (Yahoo ADP 190)

Just two seasons removed from winning a championship, the Raptors snagged the fourth-overall pick in the 2021 Draft. They used it on Barnes, who was a bit of a surprise selection that early. Still, he’s a versatile forward whom they hope will be one of the focal points of the franchise for years to come.

Injuries may force Barnes into a prominent role right out of the gate. Pascal Siakam (shoulder) is likely to be sidelined into November and news came out Monday that Chris Boucher is expected to be out for at least three weeks because of surgery to repair his dislocated left middle finger. To further complicate matters, Khem Birch missed Toronto’s first preseason game while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Barnes showed his versatility in that contest, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks across 25 minutes.

The Raptors’ depth at forward for the start of the season will be thin with Siakam and Boucher out, so Barnes could start right from the get-go. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll likely be in line to play significant minutes with the second unit. If he plays well, he could hold onto a prominent role throughout the season. If you’re looking to take a flier on an upside player with one of your last couple of picks, Barnes might be your man. After Monday’s showing, his ADP should be on the rise.