With 2021 fantasy basketball drafts starting up shortly, you’ll want to keep tabs on the best potential sleepers for the upcoming season. The superstars you select in the early rounds draft will shape your roster, but it’s the potential breakouts who are too low in the rankings that elevate a fantasy team’s floor and ceilings. You’ll want to make note of all these under-the-radar players below on your draft cheat sheet or on your waiver wire watchlist if they go unselected.
Below, we offer up one potential sleeper pick from each NBA team, along with advice as to if you should spend a draft pick on them or wait until the waiver wire opens up.
Keep in mind, we have to be creative with the definition of “sleeper” when trying to find a pick for each team. Some names below are more familiar than others and are simply being overlooked because they’re perceived to be “boring veterans;” others will need a few breaks, like an injury to a player in front of them on the depth chart. Either way, if things break right for these guys, they could really outperformer their average draft positions.
2021 FANTASY BASKETBALL RANKINGS:
Point guard | Shooting guard | Small forward | Power forward | Center | Top 200
Fantasy Basketball Sleepers 2021: One potential breakout from every NBA team
All position eligibility based on ESPN settings
Atlanta Hawks – Jalen Johnson, SF
Johnson was one of the breakout rookies in Summer League, and although he’ll be behind rising star forward John Collins on the depth chart, he’s worth taking a flier on late in your fantasy draft. His versatility, athleticism and offensive prowess make him an easy fit alongside superstar guard Trae Young.
Boston Celtics – Aaron Nesmith, SF
It took Nesmith until the final month of the season to get comfortable in the NBA, but he found his groove down the stretch and that carried into Summer League. He dropped 33 points with seven threes in a game, and while that’s far from the production you should consistently expect, it is an idea of the type of rhythm he can find as a shooter if he’s given the playing time. He’s not worth a draft pick, but keep him on your radar as a streaming option/early-season waiver pickup.
Brooklyn Nets – Patty Mills, PG
Mills doesn’t really fit the bill of a traditional “sleeper,” but the veteran guard is worth a late-round flier in your draft. History indicates that James Harden is bound to miss some time at some point in the season (and we all know the unpredictability of the Kyrie Irving situation), and Mills could easily find himself in a lead guard role replicating his FIBA production for Brooklyn’s high-powered offense.
Charlotte Hornets – Kai Jones, PF
Jones will be caught behind newly acquired center Mason Plumlee on the depth chart to start the season, but with his speed and athleticism, he’s a perfect fit for the Hornets’ fast-paced offense. Don’t be surprised if Jones sees an uptick in playing time once he hits his stride, making him an asset for boards, blocks, and field goal percentage. Don’t be in a rush to draft him, but keep him on your watchlist.
Chicago Bulls – Derrick Jones Jr., SF
The Bulls’ offseason is highlight by the additions of Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, but one thing that goes under the radar is their lack of frontcourt depth. Expect to see Jones take on the bulk of reserve forward mintues, making him an intriguing streaming option as someone who can add scrappy points, boards, and occasional defensive counting stats.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Ricky Rubio, PG
Rubio is another non-traditional “sleeper,” but with the focus on the backcourt duo of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, the veteran playmaker may get glossed over even in the late rounds of drafts. Don’t forget about Rubio as an automatic boost to your assists and steals, even as a backup.
Dallas Mavericks – Dorian Finney-Smith, SF/PF
Finney-Smith broke out in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, and his defense is vital to the Mavericks’ game plan. The minutes will always be there. He’s worth a late-round pick as a player who can add threes, rebounds, blocks, and steals.
Denver Nuggets – Bones Hyland, PG
Hyland is one of our favorite sleepers this fantasy season. With Jamal Murray expected to miss a chunk of the upcoming season while recovering from last year’s ACL injury, Hyland can emerge as one of the best guard options in a thin Denver backcourt. He’s a smooth scorer and sound playmaker who nearly averaged 20 points per game in Summer League while dishing out five or more assists twice. He’s worth a late-round draft pick.
Detroit Pistons – Kelly Olynyk, C/PF
Olynyk was a fantasy stud at the end of last season, showcasing his well-rounded game as a member of the Rockets. He falls in the “sleeper” category because of his unknown role with his new team, but Olynyk did enough last season to make us believe he’ll find a way to make a fantasy impact. He’ll likely be a mid-to-late round pick, so keep an eye on him and jump when he starts to float toward the top of the “remaining players” list.
Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, SF/PF
Kuminga could be a fantasy gem if playing time allows it. He might hurt your team’s field goal percentage on some nights, but he can legitimately contribute to every counting stats category and should have plenty of opportunities to make some noise on the Warriors’ second unit. He’ll likely be one of the first couple rookies off the draft board, so keep an eye on him in the middle rounds.
Houston Rockets – Kevin Porter Jr., SG/PG
Porter Jr. was a fantasy star at times last year, stuffing the stat sheet for a struggling Rockets team. His 50-point, 11-assist double-double last year is a solid indicator of just how talented the 21-year-old swingman is, but playing time may be hard to come by at times, as he’s stuck behind veteran guard John Wall and No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green. He’s worth drafting and stashing, though, just in case he sees an uptick in minutes.
Indiana Pacers – Oshae Brissett, PF
Brissett was another player who broke out toward the end of last season, and it appears as though he has solidified his spot in the rotation as a backup forward. Averaging 13 points, seven boards, an assist, a steal, a block, and nearly two threes over the final 15 games last year shows the balanced attack he could provide your fantasy team. Don’t be afraid to burn a late-round pick on him, and certainly keep him on your radar if he lands on the waiver wire.
LA Clippers – Terance Mann, SF
Mann exploded on to the scene in the playoffs, scoring 39 points on seven threes to advance the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals. While that shouldn’t be your nightly expectation as his fantasy owner, he did prove to be a viable streaming option last season when either Paul George or Kawhi Leonard were out. With Leonard expected to miss a significant portion of the 2021 season, Mann is worth a pick during your draft.
Los Angeles Lakers – Malik Monk, SG
Deciphering value between the Lakers’ role players will be nearly impossible this season, but Monk looks like a solid streaming option for points and threes. He should have plenty of opportunities to create for himself on the second unit or work as a spot-up three-point shooter alongside LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. It’s fine to let Monk go undrafted, but keep an eye on his workload early in the season.
Memphis Grizzlies – Desmond Bane, SG
Bane was a solid streaming option last season, and many anticipate him taking on an even bigger role in Memphis this season. He’s an efficient scorer who can provide points, threes, assists, and steals, and he’ll likely emerge as the top reserve guard option behind Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks. He’s worthy of a late-round pick.
Miami Heat – Tyler Herro, SG/PG
Herro is far from a “sleeper” in terms of popularity, but after a down year last season, his average draft position may drop off in 2021. We’re Herro believers, and he should find his groove with less pressure this upcoming season playing behind Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson in Miami’s backcourt. He’s an above-average rebounder for a guard and will provide points, assists and threes. Don’t be afraid to take an early swing on him in the middle rounds.
Milwaukee Bucks – Bobby Portis, PF
Portis was a fan-favorite streaming option last season, and his role increased as the Bucks went deeper into the playoffs on their way to an NBA title. Points and rebounds are the name of the game for Portis, but he’ll also provide defensive counting stats with some surprise threes here and there. There’s no need to reach for him, even in the later rounds, but there’s no harm in using a late-round pick on him either.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Jaden McDaniels, SF
McDaniels had his moments as a valuable streamer last season because of his ability to rack up defensive counting stats. His defense and versatility will make him a mainstay in Minnesota’s rotation, so he should have no problem tallying points and rebounds, too. He’s worth using a draft pick on because of his potential.
New Orleans Pelicans – Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG
Alexander-Walker has the look of a top breakout player this season, meaning his fantasy value will increase, too. He’s a talented scorer who can put up numbers when given the opportunity, and he might have the chance to crack the Pelicans’ starting lineup with Lonzo Ball now in Chicago. When the player pool is starting to get thin, take a swing on Alexander-Walker.
New York Knicks – Nerlens Noel, C
Noel went from a solid streaming option to a must-roster player once Mitchell Robinson went down. He provides boards, blocks, and steals with the occasional double-double. Even if Robinson is good to go for the start of the season, Noel is worth watching on the waiver wire because of his ability to add defensive counting stats, even in limited playing time.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Darius Bazley, SF/PF
Many people thought last season might be Bazley’s breakout year, especially as a fantasy player. A midseason injury derailed a bit of his momentum, but the 21-year-old forward still showed an ability to fill a box score and provide value across the board for fantasy owners. Now two seasons into his NBA career, this could finally be the year Bazley has a very strong fantasy season, so don’t be afraid to reach a bit in your drafts.
Orlando Magic – Chuma Okeke, PF
Once Okeke got healthy, he became an asset to fantasy teams. He can do a little bit of everything, providing points, boards, threes, steals, and blocks. Depending on when forward Jonathan Isaac returns from the ACL tear he suffered in the 2020 NBA bubble, Okeke could be a worthwhile starter early on in the season. His role may regress upon Isaac’s return, though, so don’t reach too far for him in your draft.
Philadelphia 76ers – Tyrese Maxey, SG
It’s looking like Maxey will take over the starting guard role for Ben Simmons, making him a prime sleeper. Maxey is a prolific scorer and could provide the 76ers with a burst of playmaking to their starting lineup. He’ll see much more playing time than last season, settling into consistent role where he can thrive alongside Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. You might have to do some scrolling on your draft board to find him, but Maxey is worth a mid-to-late-round pick now that he’ll be the starter.
Phoenix Suns – Jalen Smith, PF
Smith rarely saw the court last season, but with Dario Saric expected to miss the majority of the season after suffering a torn ACL in the playoffs, the second-year forward could fill those reserve minutes. Smith was dominant at Summer League, averaging 16.3 points and a league-best 12.5 rebounds per game. His potential makes him worth a late-round pick.
Portland Trail Blazers – Larry Nance Jr., PF
Nance was sent to the Blazers by way of a three-team trade, and it might end up being the best thing for him. He was a very valuable fantasy player last season, especially when he was leading the league in steals before a series of injuries and ailments derailed his progress. Nance’s defense will carve out plenty of playing time in Portland, and his balanced skillset will make him one of the best fantasy sleepers this season.
Sacramento Kings – Tyrese Haliburton, PG/SG
It’s hard to classify a Rookie of the Year finalist as a “sleeper,” but Haliburton’s name doesn’t typically draw as much attention as Sacramento’s two other lead guards, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. This upcoming season, don’t be surprised to see the Kings try a three-guard attack where Haliburton receives much more playing time — enough to make him worthy of a mid-round pick. His scoring efficiency, playmaking, threes, and steals will be valued on any fantasy roster.
San Antonio Spurs – Jock Landale, PF
Landale signed with the Spurs following a strong showing with Australia at the 2020 Olympics. The 2021 NBL MVP was a monster overseas last season, averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.4 three-pointers per game. He’s the definition of a sleeper because some owners in your league may not even know who he is, but it won’t be long before he’s a household name in fantasy circles. Take a chance on him in your drafts.
Toronto Raptors – Khem Birch, C
Birch solidified himself as the Raptors’ starting center at the end of last season and was rewarded with a contract this offseason. Averaging 11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks over his 17 games with Toronto, Birch proved to be a valuable fantasy player who has nightly double-double potential. When you’re looking for a reserve big for your fantasy team, don’t be afraid to scroll down and take a flier on Birch.
Utah Jazz – Eric Paschall, PF
Paschall was traded to the Jazz this offseason, and he’ll be a scoring threat for their second unit. He won’t be worth a draft pick because of the uncertainty surrounding his role, but don’t be surprised if he carves out playing time, providing a scoring punch, rebounding, and defense for Utah’s bench.
Washington Wizards – Kyle Kuzma, PF/SF
For the first time in his career, Kuzma will not don a Lakers jersey, but it might be for the best. Assuming a new role, Kuzma will likely have more opportunities to put up numbers and he should be a starter from Day 1 in Washington. He recorded 13 double-doubles last season, to give you an idea of his fantasy value, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he surpasses that number this season. He’ll give your team points, rebounds, and threes, making him& worth a mid-to-late-round flier.