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NBA Fantasy Sleepers: Northwest Division

This week our fantasy sleeper series comes to a close with the Northwest Division. This is the most improved division in the NBA, and it’s filled with guys who could make a big jump this year. The divisions contain two vets who find themselves in improved situations and two young players poised to fill a new role. Of course, the fifth player is our biggest fantasy sleeper of the season, and a player with serious superstar potential.

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets put themselves in a position to contend for a playoff spot this year thanks to their acquisition of Paul Millsap. Although Millsap vaults the Nuggets into the playoff discussion, their ability to achieve that goal will be firmly on the shoulders of Jamal Murray. Murray, the 7th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, should have an opportunity to make a major leap as a player this season. Murray averaged only 21.5 minutes per game last season, but that number should approach 30 this season if he starts.

[the_ad id=”384″]Murray is a good shooter who has also flashed some passing ability as a guard. He struggles to get to the hoop on occasion but makes up for it thanks to his shooting ability. He was only a 33.4 percent shooter from deep last season, but that number should increase. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit league average this season (about 36 percent) with even more room to grow. Murray has the ability to contribute points, made threes, assists, and even a few rebounds. Watch for him to take a big developmental leap this season.

Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves

If you listened to our debut podcast this week, you already know how much I love the Minnesota Timberwolves. For as much as I love them, they are lacking in backcourt depth. That lack of depth should benefit Jamal Crawford heavily in fantasy basketball. Crawford should be the first guard off the bench and the team’s sixth man. He’ll be leading a second unit that lacks scorers, and as everyone knows, Crawford loves to score. His spot in the rotation should be cemented early on in training camp, even getting some starts when Andrew Wiggins or Jimmy Butler gets the night off.

Crawford should be able to improve upon his numbers last season. He averaged only 12.3 points per game and 1.4 made threes to go with an 85.7 percent free throw percentage. His role was diminished because of his role in Los Angeles, but that will not be the case this year. His points per game total could climb toward 16 while he averages closer to two made threes per game. His scoring ability hasn’t diminished as he’s aged, and fortunately for fantasy owners, neither has his willingness to shoot. Look for Crawford to regain some of the stats he had when he initially arrived in Los Angeles.

Patrick Patterson, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when they traded for Paul George. That move may have vaulted them into an on-the-floor contender, but it was a much less heralded move that will help them in fantasy basketball. Patrick Patterson signing with the Thunder should immediately provide the spacing Russell Westbrook so badly needed last season. Patterson can stretch the floor and rebound, while also maintaining a low usage rate. That will allow George and Westbrook to continue to control the offense.

As far as his fantasy numbers are concerned, Patterson should be primed for a breakthrough. His minutes should increase to around 30 or so per game this season. That will help him immensely. His scoring should approach 12 points per game this season, and his rebounding may hit seven or eight. Those two stats alone would make him a good fantasy contributor, but the difference comes in his shooting. Patterson is an above-average shooter who should see plenty of open looks thanks to George and Westbrook. He should be consistently making two threes per game. That, alongside his scoring and rebounding, make him an easy sleeper choice for the Thunder.

Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers were in a bad spot this offseason. Cash-strapped thanks to an expensive offseason in 2016, the Blazers had no room to make moves. Looking to bring down their tax bill, they moved Allen Crabbe to the Nets in what was essentially a salary dump. With Crabbe’s minutes gone, Maurice Harkless will have to step up and fill the void that he left. Harkless isn’t the same player Crabbe is, but he should ultimately fill the same role. Harkless will be asked to make even more threes this year and be more of a scorer on the perimeter.

Harkless shot 35.1 percent from three last year, which is a drastic improvement from his 31.5 percent career shooting from deep. He will look to grow that number even more as he gets most of the open looks that went to Crabbe last season. Harkless could get closer to two made threes per game this season, although 1.5 is more likely. His increase in minutes should also cause an increase in rebounds, from 4.4 to closer to six. It will also cause an increase in scoring, from 10 to around 13. That improvement alone will make Harkless a much more valuable fantasy wing. If his shooting increases as well, then he could become a premier 3-and-D player in the NBA.

Dante Exum, Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz suffered a huge blow this offseason when they lost Gordon Hayward in free agency. Hayward was an all-star wing, and that sort of production will be difficult to replace. Fortunately for the Jazz, they are incredibly deep across the board. I expect that replacement production to not come from a wing, but to come from guard Dante Exum. Exum is a former top-five pick who has elite size for his position. He can get to the hoop and uses his height to get assists that most guards wouldn’t be able to see.

Exum should take the leap this season and become the primary scorer for the Jazz. His ability to score around the rim should be aided by an increase in shooting ability. I expect Exum to be a league average shooter, which will help him immensely. Exum is poised for a breakout this season thanks to Hayward’s departure, and it could be a massive breakout. I would not be surprised to see him average 17 points per game to go with six rebounds and six assists. That makes him the biggest sleeper candidate in the NBA.


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