October 21, 2010

Every fantasy basketball manager would absolutely love to own the equivalent of the Miami Heat as his fantasy team, but reality and fantasy don't always mix. Oddly enough, it's the reality that is looking better when it comes to the Heat, which leads me to believe that Pat Riley's soul must be promised to someone else. However, alleged deals with other-worldly evil beings aside, even Miami needs "lesser" players if they want to win an NBA championship this upcoming season. So, too, do fantasy basketball managers if they wish to win their league.

Enter, sleepers.

Sleepers are players who don't get the love that superstar players get, but can make a significant difference in winning one, a few, or several categories. Usually sleepers consist of category specialists, rookies, a player who showed promise with limited burn on the court, or someone getting a shot to shine. Below is a list of these types of players you shouldn't ignore during your fantasy basketball draft or even the first few weeks of the upcoming 2010-11 NBA season.

After failing to meet sleeper expectations with the Warriors and the Raptors, Belinelli might finally be in a place where he can satisfy fantasy owners. Slated to play shooting guard alongside Chris Paul in New Orleans, Belinelli will never play with a better table-setter. He's done well in the preseason, averaging 26.6 minutes, 14.7 points, 2.3 three-pointers, 2.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 steals per game in seven contests. Expect a good amount of points and treys from Belinelli this season.

Even before Samuel Dalembert's injury, the fiery Cousins was going to do damage in the NBA. Dalembert's will miss the first month of the season, opening the door to a debut some already believe will end in a Rookie of the Year award. To say Cousins is playing with a chip on his shoulder after dropping to the fifth overall pick would be an understatement. He's started all six games this preseason, averaging 25.5 minutes, 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks per game. If he can fulfill his defensive potential, Cousins' value takes a big jump.

Sure, the Bulls signed free-agent Carlos Boozer during the offseason, but he's already hurt and will miss the beginning of the season. Gibson will start in Boozer's place and should do well, especially considering what Gibson did in 31 post All-Star games last season -- 10.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks. Head coach and defensive guru, Tom Thibodeau, will find time for Gibson, even when Boozer returns. Gibson hasn't come close to the aforementioned numbers during the preseason (19.4 minutes, 5.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.4 blocks in five games; missing two games due to a foot injury), but he should be solid in rebounds and blocks once the season begins.

Many people wondered why Hickson was such an "untouchable" commodity before the NBA trade deadline this last season. Well, watching Hickson during preseason you can see why -- 23.7 minutes, 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks. He seems to play with purpose now that some guy who took his talents to South Beach is no longer there and the franchise is left with looking for an identity. Hickson could assume that role and should give fantasy basketball managers relatively great numbers in points and rebounds, as well as offering position flexibility.

Before being drafted in 2008, Ibaka was compared favorably to Shawn Kemp because of his athleticism, length and explosiveness. Ibaka is very raw still, but the one thing he can do well right now is block shots. In 30 games after last season's All-Star break, Ibaka averaged 8.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and an eye-opening 1.8 blocks in only 20.5 minutes per game. He also shot 57.5 percent from the field, averaging six shots a game. In the Thunder's first round playoff showdown with the Lakers, Ibaka continued to do well versus the big front line of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. In six games series, he averaged 25.5 minutes, 7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and shot 57.1 percent. All due respect to Nenad Krstic, Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens, but Ibaka is better than all of you. This preseason Ibaka hasn't disappointed, averaging 27.2 minutes, 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 assists, and 2.8 blocks per game. There's a lot of upside with Ibaka.

Lopez is now the big man for the Suns with Amar'e Stoudemire's departure for the Big Apple during the offseason. Lopez should handle the title just fine; in 31 starts last season he averaged 24.5 minutes, 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks with a 59.7 field-goal percentage and 74.2 percent from the line. Lopez has done fairly well in limited minutes during the preseason, averaging 19.9 minutes, 9.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in seven games. He's in line to receive more minutes on the court, more shots as the Suns' only real post player and should have lots of space to maneuver, especially considering all of the Suns' shooters. Something around 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks with relatively excellent percentages is achievable for Lopez.

Miller is one lucky dude. He'll basically have to spot up, keep his hands level, catch and shoot. Defenders will be busy chasing around LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as well as doubling down every now and then on Chris Bosh. Still, Miller is a very good all-around player, offering scoring, passing, rebounding and floor-spacing threes. In five preseason games, Miller is averaging 24.6 minutes, 9.4 points, 2.0 three-pointers, 2.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. Should the Heat choose to go with a big lineup, Miller will find himself with more time on the hardwood playing alongside the Big Three. Expect good percentages, tons of threes and solid assists and rebound totals from Miller.

Last season, Morrow shot 45.6 percent from beyond the arc, which was fifth-best in the NBA, while making an average of two treys per game. The Nets were second to last in the league in three-point percentage last year at 31.8 percent, which was well below the NBA team average of 35.5 percent, and dead-last in field-goal percentage at 42.9 percent (NBA average: 46.1 percent). Morrow will boost those numbers, and from all indications from the preseason (17-for-39 from three-point range; 43.6 percent), he'll have the green light to put up shots. Morrow averaged 26.6 minutes, 10.6 points, 2.1 three-pointers, 1.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in eight preseason games. Morrow will provide excellent percentages, copious amounts of triples and solid point production in his first season as a Net.

Sessions has flashed big potential in two of his three seasons in the NBA, but has never been used to his maximum ability on a consistent basis. All of this should change with the Cavs this season. During the preseason, he's been getting solid minutes and producing -- 25.4 minutes, 12.6 points, 4.4 assists, 0.6 steals, and 5.0 rebounds in seven games. He's scored in double-digits in every contest and should see some time at the shooting guard position as well as the lead guard. A small backcourt of Sessions and Mo Williams may get significant time, particularly in the fourth quarter. Sessions could average 16 points and eight dimes per, and considering where he'd probably be drafted, will end up being one of the best bargains of draft day.

Teague is the reason that Mike Bibby is looking over his shoulder and worried his starting job is in jeopardy. However, an ankle injury has limited Teague to only one of the five preseason games the Hawks have played. But what a game Teague had. In 31 minutes of play, he scored 20 points, dished out six dimes, and had two steals. He came off the bench for that first and only game, but he's expected to eventually jump over Bibby on the depth chart. Considering Teague's quickness and playmaking ability, the change can't come soon enough for the rest of the Hawks.

Dennis Velasco is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Content Director for Fanway.com. If you don't mind offensive humor mixed with sports knowledge, follow him @dv140.

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