Fantasy basketball sleepers, breakouts, busts for 2017-18

From ESPN - September 19, 2017

In order to put your team in the best possible position to win your league, you will need to make the most of your draft. That includes finding good values in players who will exceed their average draft position, landing at least one player who takes his game into the upper echelon, and avoiding players who flop miserably.

With that in mind, our fantasy basketball experts (Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser, John Cregan, Eric Karabell and Kyle Soppe) offer up their top sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2017-18 campaign.


Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2017-18 season.

Jim McCormick -- Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

The Rockets have led the NBA in 3-point frequency -- the percentage of total field goals that come from beyond the arc -- for the past four seasons. With Mike D'Antoni at the helm of the space-driven, seven-seconds-or-less offense, the Rockets broke their own NBA record with an absurd 46.3 percent 3-point frequency last season. Enter Gordon, who was third in the NBA with 8.8 3-point attempts per game last season. With an ADP into the 90s in early ADP results, Gordon can carry your team from 3-point range throughout the season if you do not land an elite shooter in the early rounds. 70th on the Player Rater last season, it's possible Gordon could assume increased shooting volume (and better shots) playing alongside an elite point guard like Chris Paul.

Joe Kaiser -- Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

Payton is still only 23 years old as he enters his fourth NBA season, and he's coming off a year during which he quietly put up five triple-doubles and drastically improved his shooting from the field and the free throw line. While Payton remains a big question mark from long range -- he's a career 28.9 percent 3-point shooter -- the string of triple-doubles late last season tells me that he may have turned a corner as a point guard in this league. Quietly, he has also trimmed down his turnovers per game (to 2.2 last season) every season he's been in the league.

John Cregan -- Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz

I feel like people always sleep on Rubio. He's been around forever, but at 26, he is still approaching his peak production. Rubio played the best basketball of his career after the All-Star break last season (16.0 PPG, 10.5 SPG). Now in Utah, he's in prime position for a career season. Rubio has also refined his terrifying outside shot into something less night-sweat inducing. He's good for at least a 3-pointer per game and has always been elite from the free throw line. He's a solid fifth rounder. I especially like Rubio in turnover leagues due to his elite assist-to-turnover ratio.

Eric Karabell -- D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

Russell needed a new start, and the Lakers gave him that by sending him to Brooklyn, a team so lacking in talent that the third-year player would not need to appreciably improve to be a valuable fantasy option. Then again, Russell is only 21, so he really should improve. Russell averaged 18.5 PPG and 5 APG after the All-Star break last season and shot better from the field and the line, showing some signs of on-court maturity along the way, and he should get plenty of chances to do anything he wants statistically with the Nets. This does not mean Russell will be a great player, but on this team, he will get numbers.

Kyle Soppe -- Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

The ninth overall pick in June joined Team Soppe with the 95th overall pick in our first staff mock draft: championship! He's an elite athlete, and the team is going to give him every chance to succeed, so I will be buying all the shares I can at this price. Follow me here: J.J. Barera and Devin Harris are fine NBA players but not difference-makers, right? If you combine their per-game averages last season (17.6 PPG, 7.6 SPG, and 4.4 RPG), you have a stat line that closely resembles the three-year average of Eric Bledsoe, a player who went 40th overall in our mock. Smith can approach that sooner than later, and it will be for my fantasy team -- and hopefully yours.


Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared to his previous seasons.

Jim McCormick -- Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

In a system that fuels added possessions, given coach Luke Walton's affinity for pace (sixth in the NBA last season), Randle's bid for a double-double average appears entirely realistic -- he was 17th in the NBA last season with 15.6 rebounding chances per game. Randle was also 11th in potential assists per game and ninth in points created from assists per game among forwards last season. Add up these awesome opportunity rates in a career year with what should be increased spacing on the block, thanks to the gravity Brook Lopez creates. Randle has a chance to be a really profitable investment at power forward.

Joe Kaiser -- Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

Power forward is a thinning position with players like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap no longer worth drafting in the top two rounds. Enter Randle, who improved as a shooter and distributor in his second full season in the league and even posted three triple-doubles along the way. How many other power forwards other than Draymond Green can lay claim to that? None, unless you count Nikola Jokic as a power forward. Randle may never be a huge blocks and steals guy, but the 22-year-old has a chance to set himself apart as a passing big man who averages a double-double along the way.



Continue reading at ESPN »