SleepersSeptember 21, 2008

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Sleeper Watch

By Phil Londen

With October approaching, it is time to identify sleepers for the upcoming NBA fantasy season. While there are many traditional sleepers being tossed around – Devin Harris, David Lee, Rudy Fernandez, Troy Murphy, etc. – there are also many players that are cruising well below the radar that have the potential for success this year. In most cases, they have been aided by team shakeups.
Most of these guys are not normally worthy of roster consideration under standard formats. They are instead deep sleepers who may deserve roster consideration in deeper leagues. However, some of the players have serious potential to be roster-able in any format (Barnes, Kleiza, and Blatche lead the pack in this regard). In addition, one key injury could thrust these players into the fantasy spotlight, which requires us to track their progress throughout the season.

The Deep Sleeper Team
PG – Roger Mason
SG – Kareem Rush
G – Jarrett Jack
SF – Matt Barnes
PF – Amir Johnson
F – Linas Kleiza
C – Andray Blatche
C – Robin Lopez
Util – James Posey
Util – James Jones

Roger Mason – Mason has a real opportunity to flourish in San Antonio this season. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have yet to find a suitable backup point guard to Tony Parker. Mason should have no problem outperforming veteran Jacque Vaughn to become Parker’s primary backup. The Spurs pursued Mason this off season because of his ability to take care of the basketball and his knack for spreading the floor with the three point shot. If Parker misses any extended time due to injury, look for Mason to step up and be the man for the Spurs.

Kareem Rush – Elton Brand’s relocation to the City of Brotherly Love has immense implications for both real life and fantasy basketball. In real life, the Sixers now look to be potential contenders in the Eastern Conference. However, the one weakness that their team has is a serious lack of three point shooters to spread the floor and help keep opposing defenses honest. Enter Kareem Rush, formerly of the Indiana Pacers. If there is one thing that Rush does well, it is hit the three ball. Last season in just over twenty minutes per game, Rush hit 1.4 threes at a nearly 40 percent clip.

Jarrett Jack – Jack has found himself in a much better fantasy situation this season. The Pacers are one of the most fantasy friendly teams in the league right now. In addition, he is backing up one of the more fragile starting point guards in the game. There has also been some talk of playing both Ford and Jack in the back court at the same time to increase the tempo of Indiana’s offense. All of these signs point to increased production from Jack. If Ford goes down again this season for an extended period of time, look for Jack to fill the production void. Also, Jack can be drafted in tandem with Ford as an insurance policy against injury.

Matt Barnes – Barnes has shown flashes of his potential throughout the past couple of seasons while playing under Don Nelson in Golden State. In his new environment in Phoenix, he will have a great opportunity to produce. His defense, versatility, all around hustle, and ability to hit the three ball all point to Barnes earning minutes in Phoenix. In addition, he is playing for money, as he only has a one year contract with the Suns. His primary competition for minutes is Grant Hill, who will probably be utilized less this season in order to keep him rested for the playoffs. All of these factors point to Barnes being in line to get some serious run this season.

Amir Johnson – Amir has some stiff competition in Detroit for minutes. He is fighting Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell and Kwame Brown for minutes down low. However, the window is rapidly closing on the current Pistons’ starting lineup’s chances of winning another title. In order to prepare for the future, the Pistons must start giving their future stars a chance to develop and mature. Last season, the emergence of Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell evidenced this trend. Amir Johnson is clearly talented and if he can stay out of foul trouble, he could make an impact in limited minutes this year.

Linas Kleiza – With a few key changes in Denver, Kleiza looks primed to have a solid year. Kleiza no longer has Eduardo Najera to compete with for minutes off the bench. He appears to be the leading contender for the sixth man role in Denver. In addition, Denver is one of the most fantasy-friendly teams in the league right now. Last season, Kleiza played 24 minutes per game in his third year. This year, look for more minutes and more production from the fourth year Lithuanian forward.

Andray Blatche – Last season Blatche saw a large jump in his minutes played due to injuries to some of his fellow Wizards. This offseason, few seem to remember the production that came along with those minutes. Blatche proved to be versatile and posted solid stat lines when given the minutes. With Gilbert Arenas injured, Blatche is one Caron Butler injury away from being a fantasy stud again. His center eligibility is a nice bonus to go along with his solid block numbers.

Robin Lopez – With much of the attention on his brother Brook as a sleeper, Robin also has some serious sleeper potential. Robin will help spell the aging Shaq. He is also the future center of the Suns franchise as he will provide the perfect defensive compliment to Amare Stoudemire’s polished offensive game. Look for the Suns to give the rookie the chance to develop down low as the Suns begin to plan for the post-Nash and post-Shaq era. Lopez has Anderson Varejao-like potential this season.

James Posey – Posey was one the most highly coveted mid-level free agents this offseason. Coming off a championship season with the Celtics, Posey signed with the emerging New Orleans Hornets. His veteran experience, tenacious defense, and heart and hustle will guarantee Posey big minutes in the Big Easy. Last season, he clocked in at around 25 minutes per game. Look for increased minutes and increased value from Posey as he plays the role of sixth man off the paper-thin Hornets bench. Playing with the best point guard in the game should also give Posey more open looks from behind the arc.

James Jones – Jones is returning home to Miami after a stint in Portland. He has earned his keep in the NBA as a three point specialist and has done extremely well in that regard. Joining Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley in Miami, Jones’ role will be to help spread the floor while playing decent defense. Look for him to match or exceed the 22 minutes per game and 1.6 threes per game Jones contributed in Portland.

Phil Londen is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Phil in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of plonden.
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