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NBA Fantasy Sleepers: Southwest Division

With the Eastern Conference sleepers now complete, this week we move to the Western Conference, beginning with the Southwest Division. The Western Conference has seen an increase in talent in general, and the same can be said for most of the Southwest. Three teams added players that could pay off immensely and impact the fantasy value of themselves and their teammates. Two of those players made the cut as fantasy sleepers, and we begin with the more controversial choice.

Rajon Rondo, New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans took a big risk when they signed Rajon Rondo this offseason. His fit is somewhat questionable, but if he can play how he did at his best, the payoff could be enormous. Luckily for fantasy owners, Rondo is a great add regardless of how he fits with the Pelicans’ rotation. Rondo is known for hunting for assists by holding the ball unless a teammate is wide open. That isn’t conducive to winning basketball, but it’s fantastic for fantasy basketball. Rondo should be highly effective in the pick ‘n’ roll (PnR) with both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.

Thanks to his assist hunting, Rondo averages 8.5 assists per game for his career. That number peaked two seasons ago at 11.7 when he played with Cousins. I expect a campaign similar to that year for Rondo. Last year he averaged 7.8 points per game, 6.7 assists per game, and 5.1 rebounds per game, all numbers that should increase this season. He even improved as a shooter, making 37.6 percent of his threes. If he can maintain that shooting from deep, and increase his counting stats, Rondo should be a valuable starter in fantasy basketball this year.

Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

[the_ad id=”384″]Dennis Smith Jr. was the fourth point guard taken in this year’s draft, but he has a chance to make the biggest impact of any rookie. Smith will take the reins of the Mavericks’ offense as soon as he steps on the floor. He will be playing with a lineup of shooters that consists of Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki. That will open the lane for him, something that rarely happened while he was at North Carolina State. If Nerlens Noel also resigns, Smith will have the perfect PnR partner to go with the shooters.

Smith should contribute across the board in fantasy basketball. He’s an explosive scorer who can score at all three levels, while also being a willing passer. He crashes the glass, and his tendency to gamble on defense should net him some steals and blocks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get close to his college stats of 18.1 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, and 6.2 assists per game. While Smith is not as hyped as someone like Lonzo Ball, he has a strong chance to be the best rookie this year, and an elite fantasy point guard.

Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets

Ryan Anderson had a bit of a down year last season after leaving New Orleans for Houston. His points per game dropped, even though he shot more threes than the previous year, and made them at a higher rate. With the addition of Chris Paul to the Rockets, Anderson should experience a rebirth in Houston, and his fantasy owners will benefit from it. Paul will open the floor for the Rockets, which should create even more open looks for Anderson. It would not be a surprise to see Anderson play more small ball five this year, either, as the Rockets look to attack the rim and shoot threes at an unheard-of rate.

If Anderson does play more at the five, he will be able to increase his 2PA from 3.7 last season to around six or seven this season. That will be the key to Anderson’s growth as a fantasy player. It would create an opportunity for him to score more, while also being around the rim more to increase his rebounding numbers.  Anderson is already a quality fantasy contributor thanks to his shooting ability, but an increase in his counting stats could make him a much more impactful player in fantasy basketball.

Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs

While Dejounte Murray looks to take over the starting point guard role, he won’t be the Spurs’ best fantasy sleeper this year. That will be Patty Mills, who will be relied upon to lead the second unit. Mills led that unit last year, but he did so alongside Jonathon Simmons. Simmons has departed for Orlando, leaving Mills to be the primary scorer and initiator off the bench for the Spurs. Even though he will technically be the backup, Mills should still see an increase in minutes with Tony Parker’s injury and Simmons’ departure. He is a good fit with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as an off-the-ball shooter.

Mills should see increases across the board in his counting stats, thanks to the increased workload he’ll receive. He should tally close to 14 points per game this season as the team’s best shooter off the bench. The real benefits will be seen in his assist numbers. Mills taking on Simmons’ role as an initiator should allow him to get over five assists per game this season. And if Dejounte Murray falters as the starting point guard, Mills could take that role, which would drastically increase his fantasy value.

Ben McLemore, Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies had one of the oddest offseasons in the NBA. They let veterans Tony Allen and Zach Randolph go, even though the team is hamstrung by the contracts of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. As long as those two are around, it will be difficult to rebuild, which makes letting Allen and Randolph go perplexing. They did bring in one free agent that could help them in the long run and replace Allen’s production in the short run. That is Ben McLemore, the former top-10 pick who struggled in Sacramento before being let go.

McLemore should replace Allen on the wing in the starting lineup, and immediately make the Grizzlies better offensively. He is a quality shooter who should benefit from the passing ability of both Gasol and Conley. Unlike his stay in Sacramento, McLemore should be able to settle into a role on the Grizzlies, which should benefit his development. While it’s easy to write him off as a bust, signing with Memphis will be the perfect opportunity to rehabilitate his career. Receiving a specific role and minutes should allow McLemore to reach some of the potential he displayed at Kansas. We could see him eclipse 10 points per game this season, with the big increase coming from attacking the wide-open lane in Memphis. If he does that, a Most Improved Player award and a major increase in fantasy production should be in McLemore’s future.

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