In fantasy sports, a “sleeper” is a player who outperforms his average draft position. NBA fantasy owners are always trying to find value in the mid-late rounds, and every year, fantasy owners strike gold with sleepers, who put up numbers that warrant earlier-round value. It’s an unpredictable art form of predicting who will break out this year, and who will merely end up at the end of a fantasy team’s bench.
For example, last year, John Collins was drafted around the middle rounds of a typical 13-round format. He ended up having a breakout season, and as a result, this season he’s being drafted around the early third round.
In this article, when we talk about average draft position (ADP), we’ll be using FantasyPro’s aggregate list of average draft position. The list combines Yahoo’s and ESPN’s (the largest two fantasy basketball hosts) average draft positions for players. For example, John Collins’ current ADP is 27th, which would be the third pick in the third round.
Predicting sleepers is not an exact science. It’s a combination of a million different factors that lead to players surpassing their expected value: injuries to players higher on the depth chart, more minutes, a higher usage rate, a better fit on a new team, etc. It’s always difficult to predict, but let’s take a stab at the top five potential sleepers in the 2019-20 season:
5. Kevin Huerter
Kevin Huerter looks to build upon his strong rookie season for the Atlanta Hawks. He’s a shooter who averaged 9.7 points per game last year on 38.5% from three. That’s an admirable percentage considering he took 4.7 three’s per game. As he continues to let it fly, he’ll grow, alongside Trae Young and John Collins, into a solid scoring option for the Hawks.
His current ADP is 129th, but if the Hawks make the leap this year with newcomers De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish also joining the mix, Huerter’s shooting will have to play a key part. With a strong shooting year, Huerter can solidify himself as Trae Young’s backcourt running mate for years to come.
Additionally, the Hawks ranked first in pace last year, and they like to run and score quickly. If Huerter continues to grow as a high-volume shooter, he’ll rack up three’s and points, and expect his field goal percentage to be higher than last year’s 41.9%. He’s a prime candidate to be a sleeper, and well worth that late-round value with the number of three’s he’ll be shooting in the Hawks’ offense.
4. Dario Saric
Now on the Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric’s value should rise. Last year, he was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the blockbuster Jimmy Butler deal. On the Timberwolves, Saric saw his minutes plummet from 30 a game down to 23.9. Still, he proved himself a capable scorer and long-range shooter. After another trade to the Suns, Saric finds himself on a young team that seems to forever be in rebuilding mode.
While the Suns have pieces like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, in all likelihood, they frankly won’t be very good this season. The plus is that they’ll have loads of minutes for Saric, as opposed to his time in Minnesota, and he’ll get to showcase his three-point shooting nightly. He’s a career 35.8% three-point shooter, averaging 4.4 three’s a game over his three-year career. He’ll continue to put up high-volume numbers on the Suns, and his stats look likely to surpass his current ADP of 116.
3. Caris LeVert
Caris LeVert has huge upside, being a six-foot-seven wing who can flat-out score. He averaged 13.7 points per game last year, but missed a huge chunk of the season due to a foot injury. This year, he joins Kyrie Irving and the new-look Brooklyn Nets, who await the arrival of Kevin Durant next season. Until KD returns, LeVert should be able to fill the scoring void this year. He won’t put up 30 a game, but he’s primed for a breakout season.
Given that he stays healthy, he’ll have plenty of scoring opportunities on this Nets team, and the fourth-year player should be able to see his scoring numbers jump as one of the primary scoring options on the team. LeVert’s current ADP is 95th. Around him are guys like Jeff Teague (91), Larry Nance Jr. (93.5), and Dwight Powell (102). LeVert should easily outplay all of those players in terms of his numbers this year, and he’d be a steal at 95.
2. Justise Winslow
After wondering if his NBA career will just be a dud after the hype around him out of college, Justise Winslow finally started to prove the doubters wrong last year. After Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic went down with an injury, coach Erik Spoelstra moved Winslow to point guard. There, he thrived.
Winslow played much better with the ball in his hands, and finally started to flash his potential as the tenth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. While he only shot 43.3% from the field and 37.5% from three on the season, he grew as the season progressed. And the Heat may have finally found how to best utilize him. After the All-Star break, Winslow shot 46.9% from the field and 39% from three while taking 3.9 triples a game.
Now with Jimmy Butler on the squad, the Heat have a chance to make a little bit of noise in the Eastern Conference, and they’re a trendy playoff pick. Winslow will continue to grow, and if he does, he’ll make fantasy owners look silly for passing up on him, as his current ADP is at 140.
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s new point guard of the future sits atop our list for potential sleepers. His current ADP is 82nd, which would put him around the middle of the sixth round. Which might be reasonable if he was still on his old team. But his role on OKC will be much bigger than what he had with the Los Angeles Clippers. Even with Chris Paul on the Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander will see plenty of minutes. The Thunder don’t look nearly as good without Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and Gilgeous-Alexander will get all he can eat as a developing second-year player.
With inconsistent minutes last year, he never really found his footing. But he showed flashes of brilliance, and averaged 14.2 points and 4.5 assists per game in the month of March, while shooting 52.3% from the field. In OKC, he’ll have the added bonus of being mentored by one of the best point guards in the game. Rumors will continue to swirl about Chris Paul being traded–maybe for most of the season–and if he does leave, the door will be wide open for Gilgeous-Alexander to have a major role in the offense.
He’ll be a key part of OKC now and for years to come, and without the restrictions that the Clippers clamped on him, Gilgeous-Alexander’s full potential will start to be unleashed. Expect him to have a big jump in his sophomore campaign. And it’s not a stretch to think he could average 20 points a game in the near future. Especially with Chris Paul aging and possibly being traded at some point, Gilgeous-Alexander looks primed to make fantasy owners thankful they took him in the sixth round. He was included in the Paul George trade, along with a load of picks, but he may just end up being a real steal–both in real life and in fantasy.