Fantasy Basketball – Blazer Sleepers

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This year, the Portland Trail Blazers do not have many players in the top 50 in the ESPN or NBA fantasy basketball rankings. Damian Lillard seems to be consistently a top ten fantasy option in these rankings, but he’s the only Blazer that even sniffs the upper echelon. C.J. McCollum is next in both of those rankings at 71 and 84 in ESPN and NBA rankings, respectively. This is understandable, as none of the other Blazers have had high fantasy value in recent years, and are too unproven to be ranked so high. In reality, this can turnout to be great for fantasy owners who are Blazer fans. Anyone who has played fantasy basketball, or any fantasy sport knows, the late round picks and waiver wire pickups are what usually separates the great fantasy teams from the rest. Stars are great to have, but every team has a few stars. The rest of the team is filled with solid players and sleepers. There are many possible sleepers on the Blazers’ roster.

Oct 18, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard; Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Lillard is a great player, and one of the top point guards in the game. I don’t think he is necessarily a top fantasy player though as I don’t expect him to try to get great stats. I wouldn’t look for his stats to be much better than they were last year, which were 21 points per game, 6.2 assists per game, and 4.6 rebounds per game in 35 minutes. I expect him to try to help the team out more, and get everyone more involved. Also, I think we may see a decrease in minutes for him, as playing time seemed to wear out Lillard a bit towards the end of the season. So if you get him, great, but if not, don’t worry. I think many fans who don’t know much about the Blazers expect him to be the only source of scoring on the Blazers, and might draft him too high, or pay too much for him in an auction draft.

Just because Lillard is the only remaining starter from last year does not mean the Blazers have no more good players. One thing many people forget is that no player ever goes into a season thinking that they want to lose to get a high draft pick. The same is true for coaches (or should be at least). I strongly believe that the Blazers are not tanking this year, and are trying to be a competitive team throughout the season. This means that Lillard will not be the only offensive option on the team. The Blazers have to look to other players, and these are the kinds of players who can be late round steals or great waiver wire pickups.

C.J. McCollum should come to mind immediately. When given playing time, he produced. In the playoffs, he averaged 17 points in the five games against the Memphis Grizzlies last season, and that includes a bad first few games where he wasn’t really a part of the offense. In game 5, he exploded with 33 points. Some analysts believe that he has a chance to win most improved player of the year, and if he gets the increased role he seemingly deserves, that is definitely a possibility.

Apr 29, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Portland Trailblazers guard CJ McCollum (3) attempts a shot defended by Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Portland 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

As great of a player as he can be, he will most likely be an inconsistent player statistically, even with the increased role. He capitalizes on opportunities to score, but those won’t always be there. Thus, I think we will see a season from him where he can score 30 points in any given game, or go scoreless. This makes him a great late round fantasy pick, but don’t expect a star out of him.

The next potential late round sleeper or great waiver wire pickup is the other player who stepped up last year when he had increased playing time, Meyers Leonard. He fills the center position, which can be thin for many fantasy owners. He didn’t average great stats last season, and probably won’t shock the world this season, but he has proven to be an efficient shooter and a good three point shooter. He could help win three categories: field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three pointers made (or more depending on your league scoring categories). He should also score more points and get more rebounds this season with the increased role. Thus, I think Leonard is a safe late round pick with a higher floor than most others ranked around him, but he also has a very high ceiling.

Mason Plumlee is definitely a solid big to get in the late rounds. I don’t believe that he has as high of a ceiling as Leonard or McCollum, but has a higher floor, as he should be consistent. I believe he will end up averaging around 13 points per game and 7 rebounds per game. These aren’t great numbers, but if you need a big man to start, Mason Plumlee should not disappoint.

Sep 28, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) poses during media day at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The last potential fantasy sleeper is Al-Farouq Aminu, as he will most likely start at small forward. I don’t think he will have a great statistical season, as he was mostly brought in for his defense and effort, but Aminu can still score. I would not be surprised to see Stotts run some simple plays just for Aminu to get an open midrange jumper. Also, he did produce with the increased role in the playoffs last year with the Dallas Mavericks, as he averaged 10.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. These aren’t great numbers, but those alone could make him a worthy late round pick. With that said, I expect to see better stats from him this year because he will have more opportunity to start the season as a starter.

I believe that there are other Blazers who can have great seasons, but I don’t think they have enough fantasy value right now to be worthy of a late round pick or a roster spot. Chris Kaman should be a consistent and solid player, but I doubt he will get enough playing time to be a worthy fantasy player. Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh are definitely guys you should pay attention to, as I am sure at least one of them will be a good fantasy contributor. Thus, if you have a last round pick with no one better to draft, these two won’t be bad picks.

The rest of the lineup has very questionable fantasy value right now. Gerald Henderson is a veteran who is a good addition to the Blazers, but his fantasy contributions probably won’t be so great as he probably will be one of those kinds of players who is good to have, but doesn’t get good stats. The rest of the players, such as Moe Harkless, Allen Crabbe, and Pat Connaughton can be worthy of a fantasy roster spot, but that depends too much on their spots in the rotation.

One last thing to remember is that the Blazers have been a great offensive team under Terry Stotts. No one should expect that to change, even though the roster did. Blazers will most likely play a very uptempo game to try to maximize on easy transition points and wear out other teams. This could cause for a very deep team as everyone on the team might see some playing time. This also means that anyone on the team can step up if they find their niche in the system. The roster completely changed, and the Blazers are a very young team. However, some players will have to have better statistical seasons than they had before. It honestly could be anyone on the team. So pay attention to the Blazers, and make sure not to let anyone else in your league pick them up off the waiver wire.