Fantasy basketball: Top 10 sleepers to target in drafts

It's hip to say that there is no such thing as a sleeper anymore in fantasy sports.

Waves of high-quality analysis, podcasts that foster critical thinking, and the nonstop NBA news cycle undeniably make for a more informed and sharper fantasy hoops market. The accurate way to frame this is that finding sleepers -- those players who are underrated and undervalued in most fantasy formats -- has become more difficult.

This premise doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't try to hunt for value each and every new season. If sleepers were truly a retired premise, it would be difficult to explain how Trey Murphy III, who went undrafted in most leagues last season, finished seventh among shooting guards on the Player Rater thanks to a 3-and-D fueled breakout for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Or what about Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Jalen Williams becoming a league-winning two-way force for a stocked young team? Such outcomes are the epitome of the market getting caught sleeping, so there are indeed returns in pursuing value as a process each autumn. From mid-rounds of drafts last season, Lauri Markkanen turned into a fantasy force in Salt Lake City. The list goes on.

In addition to leveraging the potential gems I list below, be sure to also check out our staff's roundtable on sleepers, breakouts, and busts, in which I nominate sophomore center Mark Williams as a deep-sleeper of note. For the following list of notable sleepers, the focus is only on players found outside of the top 100 picks on average in ESPN live draft results.

Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs

Tabbed as a breakout candidate in the aforementioned roundtable, Vassell also qualifies as a certifiable sleeper. If he hadn't dealt with multiple injuries last season, his draft stock would likely be far higher than it currently sits, as he improved by substantial margins in nearly every meaningful offensive statistic. On a team without much playmaking acumen, the ceiling is the roof, as Michael Jordan likes to say. There are few, if any, players I will roster as much as Vassell this season.

Robert Williams III and Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers

A shift to a non-contending team is actually a big boon for Williams' statistical upside; he'll consume more minutes, post and lob touches, and, most valuably, gobs of shots defended at the rim. Let's remember he was the betting favorite for Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-22 prior to incurring an injury. Sharpe, meanwhile, won't be playing nearly as much defense this season, but the man can score. In 15 appearances as a starter last season, he averaged 18.5 points on a robust 25% usage rate. The arrow is up for both of these Blazers.

P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets

Flush with a new contract and fresh from a career season on a young roster, Washington was the rare player to average at least two 3-pointers and two combined blocks and steals. The team is no longer leaning on several veteran bigs, opening up big minutes in a rotation in real need of Washington's rim protection and floor-spacing from both frontcourt spots. Teammate Miles Bridges also should out-produce his ADP by a notable margin, as Steve Alexander notes in his breakdown of risk/reward players.

Bennedict Mathurin and Obi Toppin, Indiana Pacers

Somewhat similar to Sharpe in that buckets are the primary production you'll get from Mathurin, it's also worth noting that second-year talents often enjoy a sizable leap in feel and efficiency. A 20 PPG season, especially with Buddy Hield trade buzz still emitting, is entirely within reason. Toppin, for his part, could see far more freedom and minutes to find his game now that he's shifted to Indiana.

Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors

Buried deep in our draft results data, Trent is likely due for, in addition to his awesome shooting and steal rates, a significant uptick in on-ball touches in the wake of Fred VanVleet's exit. Despite missing 22 games last season and oscillating in and out of the starting group for then-coach Nick Nurse (just 45 starts), Trent still finished 33 in made 3-pointers. Even while he's known as a specialist for 3-point volume, he's also averaged nearly two steals per 36 minutes the past two seasons.

Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

Will we ever really see Isaac return to the exciting two-way form that he flashed prior to missing much of the past several seasons to injury? No really, will we? If the tea leaves about him being finally healthy are accurate at all, it's worth remembering that 3.9 combined blocks and steals in the 2019-20 season. The risks are obvious, but they are also baked into his draft cost.

Christian Wood, Los Angeles Lakers

There's some Larry Brown energy with Wood in that he's barely in an NBA spot for more than a year or two. The statistical potential for him with the Lakers, however, is impressive in that he's likely going to get elevated into the starting role a good amount in a frontcourt with Anthony Davis and LeBron James, players prone to missing some time deeper into their respective careers. Even from the pine, as he mostly operated from last season with Dallas, there should be strong scoring, rebounding, and block results.

Amen Thompson and Tari Eason, Houston Rockets

With Kevin Porter Jr. being told by the Rockets that he's no longer part of the team, any delay in Thompson's takeover as a lead initiator and distributor has shortened. Which is to say, the opportunity rates could be rich right away while his impressive defensive rates prior to the NBA should surface as well. The floor is low for this late-round fantasy pick, but at least Ime Udoka might empower him early. As for Eason, he gives off Jaden McDaniels vibes in that he's a glue guy who might be able to help carry your defensive rates in Udoka's aggressive defensive scheme.

Honorable mentions

The Atlanta Hawks' AJ Griffin enters the season with real appeal as both an efficient catch-and-shoot option and a player due for a rise in minutes and opportunities. ... Jevon Carter isn't exactly an exciting signing for Chicago, but he could very well earn the starting point guard gig for the Bulls after shining as a spot-starter for the Bucks at times last season. ... The Spurs have a lot going for them in regards to exciting prospects, while veteran Zach Collins is still likely to log heavy minutes and bring his Olynyk-like numbers to the floor. ... Nassir Little could see a fairly big role in Phoenix for a shallow team in need of his bounce and upside.