The new NBA season is less than two months away and now is the perfect time to start doing research for your fantasy basketball teams next season. And the good news is that we’re here to help.
Our NBA fantasy series will assist you with identifying potential sleepers and undervalued players that have a chance to outplay their draft positions and help your teams dominate next season.
Some of these bargain pickups can potentially have a breakout year, while others may bounce back from mediocre ones. As such, these NBA players should be on your fantasy radar as drafting them at an opportune time will be key in helping you build a championship team.
This time around, we take a look at the Central Division and identify one player from each team that should be on your NBA fantasy watch list in 2017/18.
Chicago Bulls - Nikola Mirotic
The Chicago Bulls no longer have Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, while Dwyane Wade doesn't look like he will last an entire season with the team. At the same time, Zach Lavine looks like he will miss a chunk of time early in the season. Therefore, there won't be many bona-fide go-to options in the Chicago's offense. Having said that, there will be plenty of opportunities for players to step into a bigger role, and one of those players you should have on your radar is Nikola Mirotic.
Although Mirotic is currently unsigned, he is likely to return to Chicago and has a good chance to be the Bulls' starting power forward. If you look at the Bulls' projected starting five (Kris Dunn, Dwyane Wade, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez), there aren’t many shooters there. So Mirotic will likely get plenty of shots, making him a very valuable fantasy asset. He is a rare stretch-four who shows he can steal (0.8), block (0.8), rebound (5.5), and most importantly hit-threes (1.7 threes NBA career average per game).
He put up reasonable stats with very inconsistent minutes last year, but given the situation he is going into this year, Mirotic has potential to have a bounce-back season in 2017/18.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Walter Tavares
As long as LeBron James is on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, there isn’t really any player on the team with major breakout potential. Considering how high LeBron's usage rate is, finding a bargain pick up on the Cavaliers may be tough since most players are usually drafted at fair value. However center Walter Tavares might be the closest thing to a late round steal or a bargain pickup. He was the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year in the D-League for the Raptors 905 last year and looks like he will become a full-time NBA player with the Cavs soon.
Cleveland are not deep at the center position and probably don’t want to overplay Tristan Thompson to keep him fresh for the playoffs. With that in mind, Tavares has a good chance to see consistent minutes off the bench this year. The Cape Verdean will also be a huge benefactor of garbage time in blowout games this coming season. In super deep leagues, if you need someone who can get you blocks, rebounds, and easy baskets, take a late round gamble on Tavares.
Detroit Pistons - Jon Leuer
Jon Leuer set some career highs last year, including points (10.2) and minutes played per game (25.9). It looks like his stats will continue on the uptrend in 2017/18, as he stands to be a huge part of the Detroit Pistons moving forward. Although Leuer is traditionally a power forward, head coach Stan Van Gundy hinted that he is considering using him occasionally as a stretch five next season, especially when opposing teams are trying to take Andre Drummond off the floor by intentionally fouling him.
Leuer's versatility and extra playing time will increase his draft value. Right now, according to CBS fantasy NBA rankings, Leuer is ranked as the 69th best forward in the fantasy baseball. That is rather low considering his ability to hit threes, get rebounds and a respectable percentage (76.5%) at the line for a power forward. Expect the 28-year-old to put up even better numbers next year and set new career highs in 2017/18.
Indiana Pacers - Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo is coming off a rather disappointing fantasy season as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder last year. His production took a dip, and he was bounced out of the top-60 fantasy players for the first time in a few years. However, that is understandable considering that Oladipo played alongside Russell Westbrook, who had the highest usage rate amongst NBA starters at 40.8% in 2016/17.
Fast forward to 2017/18, and Oladipo has come into a perfect situation to have a bounce-back year. With Paul George gone, the Indiana Pacers don’t have many elite fantasy players aside from Myles Turner. As a result, Oladipo should be one of the Pacers' primary ball handlers, and be depended upon to generate offense. We should see Oladipo bounce back and possibly become a top-30 fantasy NBA player this season.
Milwaukee Bucks - Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton was only limited to 29 games for the Milwaukee Bucks last season and averaged 14.7 points per game, which was a huge drop off from his 18.2 average from 2015/16. For that reason, many pre-draft rankings might have Middleton ranked lower than he should be. Right now, according to ESPN fantasy NBA rankings, Middleton is the 41st best player and is surprisingly ten spots behind a player like Carmelo Anthony.
Given Middleton's age (26), he is due for a bounce-back year. You can find so much more value and upside in taking Middleton over a player like Carmelo. For a shooter, Middleton rarely takes bad shots and boasts career averages of 45% FG attempts made and 40% from beyond the arc. Heading in 2017/18, Middleton should be right back where he left off in 2015/16, flirting with that 20 points-per-game average. Additionally, he has no competition at the small forward position in Milwaukee and will take a lot of shots given the Bucks don't have many elite shooters on their roster.
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