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Fantasy Basketball: Top sleeper picks to target in drafts

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By Alex Barutha, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Every season, plenty of players are selected too late in fantasy drafts. Often, it's due to lack of name recognition, an injury the previous year, or stats that just don't jump off the page. Usually, by the time the inefficiency is recognized, it’s too late.

Identifying those players heading into a draft can give you a leg up on the competition. If you know who they are, you can likely get a discount on them. Don't wait too long though, or they'll get snatched up.

Here are some players who could be under-drafted this fantasy season to keep an eye on.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Green hit four-year-lows nearly across the board last season, including in overall fantasy value. But he was also battling injury for a significant portion of the season — he played 66 games — and the continued presence of Kevin Durant drove Green’s usage down year-to-year. With Durant moving on, Green should have more opportunities to be involved again, particularly as a scorer and rebounder. Many early drafts have seen Green taken in the fourth round, but he finished between ranks 13 and 24 from 2015-16 through 2017-18. If Green can get back to his old ways in a depleted Warriors’ offense, snagging him in the fourth round could be an absolute steal.

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Otto Porter, Chicago Bulls

Fighting injury and a fluctuating role in Washington, Porter got off to a slow start last season. He was able to rekindle some of his value once dealt to the Bulls, averaging 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 threes, and 1.2 steals in 32.8 minutes. Considering how thin the Bulls’ small forward depth is, we should expect Porter to see 32-plus minutes again this season. He was a top-45 player in 2016-17 and 2017-18, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that he reaches that mark again. Considering he’s commonly being drafted in the sixth round, there’s plenty of value to be had.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

Despite hitting a three-year-low in minutes per game (27.5) last season, Smart had his best campaign to date, ranking 89th overall. Much of that was fueled by his improved three-pointer (1.6 3PM) and defense (1.8 STL). But Smart has also shown upside as a rebounder and passer, despite having a down year in both categories. He boasts career highs of 4.2 RPG in 2015-16 and 4.8 APG in 2017-18. With the departure of Terry Rozier, Smart should be in line to play more minutes and see higher usage. The combination of the two could drive his fantasy value to new heights. Chances are, he’ll still be on the board in the ninth round.

Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart could provide more categorical production than his current ADP suggests. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Jeff Teague, Minnesota Timberwolves

Teague has been a top source of assists for nearly his entire career. That didn’t change last season, as he averaged a career-high 8.2 dimes. However, he dealt with injuries, playing in just 42 contests, and the rest of his game struggled. He hit eight-year-lows in points (12.1), steals (1.1), field-goal percentage (42.3) and free-throw percentage (80.4). Considering the Timberwolves didn’t bring in any high-usage players during the offseason, it’s fair to assume Teague can get back to the level he performed at during his first season in Minnesota when he was the 50th-ranked player. He’s going as late as the ninth round in some drafts, which is a great spot to select someone with top-50 upside.

Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

Maybe Harris’ 2017-18 season, in which he ranked 39th in fantasy, was an outlier that we never see again, but he still needs to be drafted in all standard formats. The main barrier to his success is injuries, as Harris is averaging just 64.2 appearances per season since becoming a starter four years ago. But he was a fantastic three-and-D player in 2017-18 when playing 67 games, averaging 17.5 points, 2.3 threes and 1.8 steals in 34.4 minutes. Considering how deep the Nuggets are and Harris’ injury history, it seems unlikely he’ll see that kind of workload again. Still, he’s still part of the Nuggets’ true core, and it would be a shock to see him dip far below 30 minutes given his potential. His 2018-19 season, when he played 57 games and ranked 168th overall in 28.8 minutes, could be just as much of an outlier as the year prior.

Tomas Satoransky, Chicago Bulls

With John Wall suffering an Achilles injury during the middle of last season, Satoransky took over as the Wizards’ starting point guard. Across his final 45 appearances, Satoransky ranked as the 77th-best fantasy player, averaging 11.0 points, 6.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 three in 32.7 minutes. Considering the Bulls brought him in on a three-year, $30 million deal, the expectation is that he’ll play a similar workload, at least this season.

While he’ll face some competition from Coby White, there’s a real chance the rookie will struggle. And if even if White is starting-caliber right out of the gate, Satoransky’s size (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) and shooting ability mean he can play multiple positions. He even played 35% of his rookie minutes at small forward, suggesting he could get some run as a backup to Otto Porter, especially given how thin Chicago is at the position.

Nicolas Batum, New Orleans Hornets

Batum’s 2018-19 season was underwhelming as a whole, as he ceded responsibilities to Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb and finished outside the top 100. But there were points last season at which Batum demonstrated he can still be a great asset. Notably, in his 25 appearances during January and February, Batum was the 50th-ranked player, averaging 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 threes, and 1.3 steals. With Walker and Lamb leaving town, Batum should take on more usage alongside Terry Rozier. We shouldn’t expect him to be a top-50 player, but considering how well-rounded he is and how thin the Hornets are, there’s potential for Batum’s stock to rise.

Kent Bazemore, Portland Trail Blazers

Bazemore has always been an up-and-down player. In terms of fantasy production, over the past four seasons, he’s ranked 146th, 66th, 126th, and 75th, respectively, with minutes loads between 24.5 and 27.7 per game. While last season’s rank of 146 was a four-year low, Bazemore’s role was reduced on a tanking Hawks team following an injury that kept him out for 14 straight contests.

He was actually the 56th-ranked fantasy player through his first 34 appearances, averaging 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists and 2.6 combined steals/blocks across 27.6 minutes. Bazemore should see a similar role this season with the Blazers, as the team is incredibly thin on the wing. He’s going undrafted in a variety of formats, which simply shouldn’t be the case.

Ish Smith, Washington Wizards

Smith isn’t worth considering before your final pick in a standard league, but there’s potential value in deep formats, including best ball. The Wizards’ offense is barren outside of Bradley Beal, and Smith is the only other playmaker on the roster (unless you count Isaiah Thomas, who’s currently injured).

Smith is expected to snag the starting point guard job, which is a role that should afford him around 30 minutes per game. Drafting Smith is risky because he hasn’t occupied a role like that since he was dealt to the tanking Sixers during the 2015-16 season. But he was ranked a solid 96th overall while on Philly’s roster. That’s probably close to his ceiling for the upcoming campaign, but he should provide quality assist numbers, at the very least (7.0 per 36 minutes for his career).

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