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Eight Fantasy Basketball Sleepers for 2016

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Charlotte Hornets v Miami Heat - Game Seven Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I was initially going to lump a few undervalued players into this post - specifically, Goran Dragic, Myles Turner, and Enes Kanter - but I already profiled those players in my top-hundred series, and it seems lazy to sing their praises once again. Moreover, I am using a simple demarcation between “undervalued players” and “sleepers.” The former, in my mind, are those that are players that most everyone would agree deserves a spot on your fantasy team; it’s simply a matter of when you should take them, and how much confidence you should have in their abilities. And the latter are players that there is no real consensus on.

That distinction is important here, as the players that I’m going to discuss are not all cut from the same cloth. Some may be players that could slink into the top-hundred by breaking out; others may be specialty types that could bolster a sagging category for your squad.

Without further ado:

Tim Frazier, PG - New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday seems to miss time with injuries every year, and will miss the start of 2016-17 as he cares for his wife. Frazier will start at the point while Holiday is away, and he performed brilliantly in his 16-game cameo with the Pelicans at the end of the season, putting up the following line - 13.1 points, 7.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 45.0%/41.9%/76.3%.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt that Frazier will reach such lofty heights again - he’s almost 26 and has played only 62 games in his career, and for three teams at that. Nevertheless, he has an opportunity for serious minutes this season, and he is clearly comfortable in the Pelicans system. At the very least, he averaged right around 7 assists and 1.3 steals per-36 prior to joining his current team, so he can be counted on there.

Danny Green, SG - San Antonio Spurs

From 2011-12 through 2014-15 (his first four years as a starter), Green averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 44.0%/42.3%/83.2% shooting. His numbers were consistent on a year-to-year basis, as well, with little fluctuation. And then he forgot to shoot in 2015-16, as his FG% and 3P% plummeted to 37.6% and 33.2%, respectively. His fantasy stock is dependent upon his efficiency, so he was all but unplayable even though his counting stats remained roughly the same.

It is possible that Green is damaged goods, but there are two things working in his favor. The first is that something seemed to click in the playoffs, as he drained 24 of 48 attempts from deep and continued to shoot with confidence. And the second is that he had LASIK in the off-season. It couldn’t hurt, right?

JaMychal Green, PF - Memphis Grizzlies

Less than a week ago, ESPN reported that Green would be starting for the Grizzlies this season, with Zach Randolph coming off of the bench. The 26-year-old has only 16 career starts under his belt, and played just 18.5 minutes per game last year - but this is the sort of opportunity that fantasy owners should pay close attention to.

In those 18.5 MPG, Green averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds, shooting 46.5% from the field and 75.2% from the charity stripe. If he plays 25 minutes or so per game and maintains that efficiency, he could average 12 and 8 with a steal and a block. He’s an athletic, active defender, so we could see an even larger jump in rebounds, steals, and blocks than one would anticipate, to boot.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF - Brooklyn Nets

Yes, Hollis-Jefferson played only 615 minutes last season. And, sure, he doesn’t really have much in the way of a jump shot. What he does have, however, is jaw-dropping athleticism, and per-36 averages of 9.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks. If you’re looking for a player that can help in everything but scoring, Hollis-Jefferson may well be your man - and he stands to play big minutes for the rebuilding Nets this year.

And, for what it’s worth, he shouldn’t be a drain on your offense, as he can’t miss the shots he doesn’t take (and he is rather gun shy).

Tyler Johnson, SG - Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade is in Chicago, Josh Richardson is recovering from a partially torn MCL, and the Heat gave Johnson a fat $50 MM contract this off-season. Put it all together, and you have a compelling case for Johnson seeing a great deal more than the 5 starts and 24 MPG he played last season.

In that limited action, however, Johnson put up strong all-around numbers, averaging 8.7 points, 2.2 assists, and 3.0 rebounds on 48.6%/38.0%/79.7% shooting. He’s currently in-line to start at shooting guard on opening night, and he has been spelling Goran Dragic at the point in pre-season games. Johnson has long been regarded as a combo guard, so there may not be too much concern that his playing time will be impacted by the aforementioned Richardson (who is more likely to bounce between SG and SF).

Terrence Jones, PF - New Orleans Pelicans

Jones missed about half of the Rockets games over the last two seasons, and he was generally ineffective in his time on the court last year. However, he was an intriguing player in 2013-14 and 2014-15, before injuries fully took their toll. In that time he averaged 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.4 blocks on 53.8%/31.9%/60.6% shooting, playing just over 27 minutes per game. His field goal percentage jumps off the screen, and his rebounding and shot-blocking rates were strong, too (9.1 and 1.9 per-36 minutes, respectively). A healthy Jones is a genuine asset.

It is worth noting that Jones fell out of favor with the Rockets last year, as well. There are rumors as to why that happened that aren’t necessarily worth repeating - but a change of scenery could help here, too.

Ish Smith, PG - Detroit Pistons

Smith is something of a known commodity at this point, as a serviceable back-up point guard. He stepped up his game a bit last year, though, as he played a career-high 77 games (including 53 starts), averaging just over 29 minutes per game. And, with Reggie Jackson slated to miss up to the first 20 games of the season, he could be seeing that sort of playing time for a month or two (if not more, as Jackson eases back into the swing of things once healthy).

This may be a short-term play, not unlike Frazier, but Smith did average 12.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.1 steals last year, and that seems within reach in October and November. If he impresses and/or Jackson’s timetable is pushed back, that could lead to a consistent role throughout the year.

Cody Zeller, C - Charlotte Hornets

If I was to pick any player on this list to end up among the top-hundred by year’s end, it might just be Zeller. A lingering knee injury and the presence of Roy Hibbert put an obvious damper on that, but Zeller has put up strong numbers throughout his brief career even as he deferred to Al Jefferson (who packed his bags for Indiana this off-season).

The 24-year-old played just 24.3 MPG last year, yet he still averaged 8.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Those prorate into tantalizing per-36 numbers, particularly with a big man that shot 52.9% from the floor and 75.4% from the line. There’s little reason to doubt that he can do that again, which makes him a nice fantasy depth piece. With more playing time, though, he could be so much more.