After a long break, the wait is over. Josh’s alley-oops and air balls are back. With less than a month until the playoffs start, look for teams to make a serious push during this stretch of the season. This is also the time where teams out of playoff contention start to give their young guys more playing time and experience since their season will be cut short.
Every Wednesday, I will bring the top sleeper picks that can potentially make a difference in your lineup along with the players that you should avoid picking up despite the temptation.
In the last edition, I was fairly accurate with my picks, and hopefully I can continue the streak.
Stanley Johnson (Small Forward, Detroit Pistons) – Johnson hit the sophomore slump this season as his minutes and points have gone down significantly. As of late however, he has regained the form that made him a top-10 pick. In February, Johnson came alive. He is the Pistons’ best defender and the statistics back that up. With Johnson on the floor, the Pistons limit opponents to just 92.2 points per 100 possessions while accumulating 9.9 steals per 100 possessions, 1.4 steals more than any other Pistons player. Johnson is also helping the Pistons on offense, showing that he is a two-way player. With Johnson on the floor, the Pistons are scoring an outstanding 112 points per 100 possessions. Expect Johnson to see his role expand and his minutes increase as the season progresses.
Goran Dragic (Shooting Guard, Miami Heat) – The Dragon. Ivan Drago. The Slovenian Ryan Gosling. Whatever you want to call him, make sure that you get a fire extinguisher because the man has been on fire. Dragic is trying to lead the Miami Heat to the NBA playoffs and has been playing like a MVP candidate. Over the last five games, Dragic averaged 21 points per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range. Look for Miami Heat to make a playoff push and Dragic to lead the charge.
Jordan Crawford (Shooting Guard, New Orleans Pelicans) – Crawford can thank the two-year deal that he just signed with the New Orleans Pelicans to his recent play. Crawford has been a great pickup for the Pelicans who have now won four out of their last five. During that stretch, Crawford averaged 14.2 points and shot an astounding 51 percent from three-point range while playing 22 minutes per game. Expect Crawford’s production and minutes to expand as the Pelicans make a playoff push.
Tyler Ulis (Point Guard, Phoenix Suns) – The adage is true: heart over height. Ulis makes up with his heart what he lacks in height. Even though he is only a rookie, Ulis is one of the fiercest competitors in the NBA. With the recent Suns’ decision to shut down both Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe for the remainder of the season, Ulis’ minutes and production have skyrocketed after hardly receiving playing time at the beginning of the season. Over the last five games, Ulis averaged 13.4 points and 8.6 assists while playing 33.8 minutes per game. Look for Ulis’ production and efficiency to improve as he gets more comfortable moving forward.
Ivica Zubac (Center, Los Angeles Lakers) – The Croatian rookie center is another player who has benefitted from his team shutting down their players, as the Lakers hare sitting Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov for the remainder of the season. Since that decision, Zubac has started at center for the Lakers and his production has improved quite a bit. Over the last five games, Zubac averaged 13 points while shooting 68 percent from the field. With the Lakers being eliminated from playoff contention, look for Zubac’s production improve and confidence to increase.
Players to avoid:
Nick Young (Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Lakers) – Swaggy P has been anything but swaggy lately. The nine-year veteran’s minutes have decreased more and more as the season has progressed due to the Lakers trying to develop their younger players. Over the last five games, Young has only scored 16 total points while shooting 26% from three-point range and 30 percent from the field. Young was also ejected during Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. If Young’s play continues to worsen, his time in Los Angeles could be over.
Derrick Williams (Power Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers) – With Kevin Love returning to the Cavaliers after missing two months due to injury, Williams’ playing time and production should decrease as the playoffs get closer and closer. He has not played in two out the last five games for the Cavaliers after receiving close to twenty minutes per game. Williams was never going to be a major factor for Cleveland, and Kevin Love’s return cements that.