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Mark Black/Associated Press
Down to around six weeks remaining in the NBA regular season, we’re beginning to see new faces take on bigger roles. Don’t wait for a fantasy sleeper to ascend and become a well-known steal. At that point, you’re behind the curve.
Front-office executives showed their hand at the trade deadline, moving veterans to open spots for upstart players on the roster.
In one of the most fascinating transitions, the Orlando Magic gutted their starting lineup, which created opportunities for fantasy managers to take fliers on young talent who could shine for the remainder of the campaign.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are only 4.5 games behind the Dallas Mavericks who occupy the eighth seed. Yet the club relayed a subtle and clear message about its focus for the coming weeks.
Going into Week 15 of standard fantasy leagues, managers should take an active approach on the waiver wire following the trade movement last week. They should also prepare for the forthcoming shifts in starting lineups across the league.
We’ll rank the top 10 sleepers and dig deeper into players who could put together a strong finish to the 2020-21 term. All selections are available in at least 50 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
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New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-WalkerRusty Costanza/Associated Press
1. SG/SF Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans (35 percent rostered)
2. PF Chuma Okeke, Orlando Magic (42 percent rostered)
3. SG/SF/PF Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (35 percent rostered)
4. SG/SF Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors (45 percent rostered)
5. SF/PF Jae Crowder, Phoenix Suns (39 percent rostered)
6. PG Theo Maledon, Oklahoma City Thunder (15 percent rostered)
7. SF Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (34 percent rostered)
8. SF Aleksej Pokusevski, Oklahoma City Thunder (18 percent rostered)
9. SG/SF Grayson Allen, Memphis Grizzlies (6 percent rostered)
10. C Daniel Gafford, Washington Wizards (14 percent rostered)
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Jae’Sean Tate isn’t talked about enough among the sleepers going into Week 15. He starts for a Houston Rockets squad that’s in the beginning stages of a rebuild, has the eligibility to play three positions and averages 2.9 steals and blocks combined a night over the last two weeks.
Over the last two games, Tate has come close to logging double-doubles and has five swats and three steals in total. He’s not a consistent three-point shooter but contributes in just about every category with a high field-goal percentage (52 percent) and a manageable free-throw conversion rate (70.6 percent).
The Rockets sat Christian Wood because of a sore right ankle Saturday. Because of his inability to stay healthy this season, the club may err on the side of caution with him for the remainder of the campaign, which opens up scoring opportunities for Tate and others.
Even if Wood returns to the lineup sooner rather than later, Tate has a strong grip on a starting position, averaging 28.5 minutes per game. He should be rostered in more leagues. Don’t leave him on the waiver wire.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
The Oklahoma City Thunder decided to shut down Al Horford for the season, which is good news for managers who have Moses Brown and Isaiah Roby on their rosters. Theo Maledon isn’t directly connected to that decision, but the move shows the team wants to evaluate the younger talent on the roster.
As a result, we can expect Maledon to hold his starting position for the remainder of the term. The Thunder traded George Hill to the Philadelphia 76ers before the deadline, which clears the pathway for the rookie guard to play significant minutes down the stretch.
Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed the last two outings because of right foot plantar fasciitis, and he’s out indefinitely. As Oklahoma City shifts its focus to roster development, don’t expect their lead guard to return any time soon.
Maledon will have room to set up the offense and make plays in the final two months of the regular season. He erupted for 22 points (four triples), eight rebounds, four assists and two steals against the Boston Celtics Saturday. Whether you view that performance as a fluke or not, take the chance on him with his prominent role.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Although centers have great value in fantasy rotisserie leagues, Daniel Gafford ranks last on the list of sleepers because he’s not a starter and has only played 20-29 minutes twice in 32 games this season.
The Chicago Bulls traded Gafford to the Washington Wizards before the deadline. He flashed some fantasy potential with his new team, recording 13 points, five rebounds, a steal and three blocks in 14 minutes against the Detroit Pistons Saturday.
Head coach Scott Brooks seems intrigued by the second-year pro.
“I love his ability to finish around the rim,” Brooks said. “He’s a big-time lob threat. We haven’t had that since I’ve been here. He’s very bouncy around the rim. He’s not looking for jump shots, he’s looking for rim shots.”
Gafford may not play 30 minutes per night, but he could see an expanded role over time.
At 16-28, the Wizards are at the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference. Ahead of Gafford on the depth chart, Alex Len has averaged 15.7 minutes per outing in 29 appearances with the team. In his age-32 term, Robin Lopez doesn’t have any upside to his game.
Gafford could easily carve out a decent role, playing 20-plus minutes off the bench or perhaps enter the starting lineup while the Wizards develop talent for the future.