Fantasy Basketball 2013: Sleepers and Busts

Who is in a prime situation for a career year? Who should be avoided?

Fantasy leagues aren’t won by choosing Kevin Durant over LeBron James with the first overall pick. They aren’t won by simply choosing the highest ranked player in your draft. Fantasy leagues are won by finding value in your draft by grabbing talented players who will out-perform their average draft position (ADP), and by avoiding those whose arrow is pointing down and won’t reach their ADP.

But to find those players, you’ll need some help. So without further ado, the 2013-2014 NBA sleepers and busts:

Note: I will be using the metric of nERD often, so it’s best you understand the meaning it. numberFire Efficiency Rating Derivative (nERD) is a metric that quantifies how many wins above .500 a player would account for on a league-average team. Of the many factors that go into calculating nERD, the most relatable for NBA fans are usage rate (percent of a team’s offensive possessions a player uses), offensive rating (players offensive contribution over 100 possessions) and defensive rating (how many points a player allows per 100 possessions).


PG - Mike Conley (ADP of 39.8 in standard leagues)

The Ohio State product is about as consistent as they come in fantasy. Over the past three years with the Grizzlies, Conley has averaged between 12-15 points, 6.1-6.5 assists, and 1.8-2.2 steals per game. While consistent, Conley is also improving as he’s only 26 years old. The speedy point guard posted career highs in True Shooting percentage (TS%), teal percentage (STL%), usage rate (USG%), and offensive rating (Ortg).

This is all a nerdy way of saying that Conley is doing more, and doing it efficiently, resulting in his nERD of 8.2 last year, a top-20 mark in the league. With all that being said, Conley is being severely underrated in fantasy drafts, going behind point guards such as, Brandon Jennings, Tony Parker, and Jrue Holiday. Conley is easily a top-10 point guard, and should be considered in the top-20 overall as a career year is looming.

SG - Gordon Hayward (ADP of 81.4)

Many sleepers have similar traits, and the one that occurs the most is young and talented players who will have large USG%. Hayward blossomed last year, especially towards the end, finishing with 14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3 apg, and 1.4 threes, all in less than 30 mpg. This all culminated to a very good ORtg of 113 and a nERD of 2.4. With the Jazz looking forward to next year’s rookie class, Hayward is poised to demolish his USG% of 22.1 last year, thus improving his fantasy numbers.

Hayward makes his money behind the line and as a distributor, where he is vastly underrated. A career 40% 3-point shooter, he will likely have the chance to shoot up to five trey-balls a game, which would extrapolate to 2.0 threes per game. He also posted a career-high assist rate (AST%) of 16.7, so the underrated passer could eclipse 5.0 apg while point guard Trey Burke is injured. A vote of confidence in the youngster well indubitably go well for you, as he should easily outperform his ADP.

SF - Evan Turner (ADP of 86.6)

Another OSU alum, Turner is in the perfect situation to put up insane fantasy numbers. The 76ers are going to tank, tank, and tank some more this year, meaning their team lacks much talent for this season. That leaves Turner to take the wheel on offense as the team traded their offensive leader in Jrue Holiday this summer.

The former 2nd overall pick is not very popular when it comes to advanced metrics, as his career defensive rating (Drtg) of 106 and TS% of .478 show his shooting deficiencies and lack of defensive aptitude, leading to a nERD of -8.4 (yikes). But in fantasy, we can live with that. Turner will likely crush last year’s USG% of 21.2, in route to career highs in points, assists, rebounds and threes. Drafting Turner past 70 is a steal, as you simply won’t find someone with this much upside at such a weak position that late.

PF - Amir Johnson (ADP of 107.0)

Perhaps my number one sleeper this year, Johnson is poised for a breakout of astronomical proportions. The 26 year old’s per-minute numbers have always made me drool, and we got a solid preview of what he’s capable last year. Johnson put up career highs in points and rebounds at 10.0 ppg and 7.5 rbg, and his 1.4 bpg was his highest output since his second year.

With Andrea Bargnani gone to the Knicks, Johnson has every reason to approach 35 minutes per game at the power forward spot. Johnson is a defensive monster, as his DRB%, BLK%, and DRtg are often among the league leaders, and that will allow Johnson to post huge rebound and block numbers. In addition to his career FG% of .575 and underrated steal numbers, look for the Raptors big man to be on many championship teams.

C - Enes Kanter (ADP of 96.8)

If you learn one thing from this article, it should be that young and talented players who are likely to see a huge boost in minutes are fantasy gold, and Kanter fits this description more than most. Another per-minute superstar, the third-year center is finally going to be unleashed. After Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap left in free agency, Kanter has a clear window to all the minutes he can handle, and he will flourish.

The more offensively potent between him and Derrick Favors, Kanter will thrive as the offenses premier option in the post. Living off a diverse arsenal of post-moves, Kanter dominates the restricted area and will likely shoot in the mid 50% from the field. He should also collect his fair share of boards, as Kanter boasts a career DRB% of 20.4%. With starter’s minutes, Kanter could post 16 ppg, 10 rpg, a steal, block and shoot at an elite clip, numbers you get from Greg Monroe but 50 picks later.


PG - Jrue Holiday (ADP of 33.9)

Due to a mammoth 26.6 USG% last year with the 76ers, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans are ball dominant players who struggle without it. With that being said, Holiday’s USG% will likely drop to around 20%, the number he averaged in his first three years in Philly.

Not only will his minutes and usage decrease, but Holiday’s fantasy value will suffer due to the fact that he is an extremely inefficient player. Never breaking the 45% shooting barrier, Holiday loves to shoot mid-range twos, and shoots threes and gets to the free throw line at terrible rates for a point guard, culminating in a TS% of less than 50% the past two years. In addition to the bad shot selection, Holiday averaged 3.7 turnovers per game last year, the 3rd highest figure in the league. With a career nERD of -3.55, you’re paying for an inefficient player coming off a career year that is due to have a big regression in minutes and usage. Let him be someone else’s problem.

SG - Klay Thompson (ADP of 35.7)

Flashy. That’s how I’d describe Thompson’s numbers, style of play, nickname, and team. But what does flashy actually accomplish when you’re paying such a steep price? The second half of the “Splash Brothers” chucks up three pointers at a huge rate, and makes 2.6 per game, but what else? He shot 42% last year, gets to the line less than two times per game, and has an embarrassingly low 5.7 career TRB%. This results in a career nERD of -4.1, which shows just how inefficient a player he is.

Not to mention the Warriors addition of Andre Igoudala, adding to their already loaded wing positions including talented sophomore Harrison Barnes. Barnes and Iggy are both much better defensively and as offensive creators, where Klay is simply a catch and shoot player that’s limited on the defensive end. This leads me to believe that Thompson could get the short end of the stick during crunch-time lineups and fail to reach his lofty 35.8 mpg from last year. Don’t waste an early pick on a three point specialist, as threes are the most abundant stat in fantasy and can be found later in the draft for much cheaper.

SF - Paul Pierce (ADP of 48.9)

The Celtic legend is now in Brooklyn in pursuit of another title, but coming off one of his best seasons in years, Pierce’s fantasy value is as low as it’s been since his rookie year 16 years ago.

After Rajon Rondo got hurt last year, The Truth took over on offense and posted a USG% of 27.4, an absurd number for someone his age. This allowed him to post his highest totals in threes, assists and rebounds since 2007. Pierce was the team’s number one scorer and distributor, but his role will undoubtedly diminish with the Nets.

After trading for Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets are the most talented team Pierce has ever played on outside of the 07-08 Celtics, and all those players will need touches. Brook Lopez is the best offensive center in the league, and should be the focal point of the Net’s offense. Guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are also high usage players who require touches and shots.

That leaves Pierce as the third or fourth option, a role he has never experienced in Boston. Head Coach Jason Kidd has expressed his desire to keep the aging veteran on a minutes limit and keep him fresh for a playoff run, so he could reach a career-low in playing time. While he should have an increase in shooting efficiency, Pierce simply won’t be used as he has in the past, and his fantasy production will suffer.

SF/PF - Josh Smith (ADP of 25.1)

Throughout his career in Atlanta, Smith was always worthy of a high draft pick, as his statistical diversity was something only a few players could match. Every year you could count on Smoove for around 16 ppg, 1.5 spg and bpg, and excellent rebound and assists totals. But where he struggles is efficiency. Smith is an excellent near the basket, where he shot an elite 63% last year, but for some reason he loves to shoot long two pointers and threes.

A terrible jump-shooter, Smith has a career eFG of 48%, a horrid number for a big man that is likely due to his career 28% from deep. This has resulted in negative nERD outputs in six of his nine seasons. Now Smoove is in Detroit, but left his fantasy value in Atlanta. The Pistons have one of, if not the best, frontcourts in the NBA with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, both young and talented players who will take up touches. This will also cause him to play further away from the hoop as a small-forward, causing him to shoot more inefficient shots. Throw in the fact that they added score-first point guard Brandon Jennings, and Smith’s USG rate should plummet from his average the past two years of 27.5%. The hustle stats and assists should remain, but adjust your scoring and rebounding expectations when taking Smith.

PF/C - Dirk Nowitzki (ADP of 19.9)

The fact that Dirk is still being taken ahead of guys like Al Jefferson, Anthony Davis, and Al Horford is perplexing. He has been one of the decade’s best players, but his fantasy value is plummeting at an alarming rate.

At 24.2% Nowitzki had his lowest USG% since his third year in the league, and that contributed to his lowest scoring output in over 10 years. To pile on the negatives, Dirk doesn’t get enough steals, blocks, or rebounds for a big man, and has missed 49 games the past two years. This has contributed to his decreasing nERD from 13.2 in 2010 to 3.1 last year. Throw in the fact that the Mavs added one of the league’s highest usage and most inefficient players in Monta Ellis, and it’s looking like Dirk is going to be used less and put up his worst numbers in a decade.