The arrival of NBA training camps brings the usual training camp stories. Coaches offer familiar bromides about "pushing the tempo" or "a renewed commitment to defense." Those plans usually blow up by November when a coach realizes he does not have the personnel. If he did, his team would have displayed those traits the previous season. I never buy into these stories. A third popular training camp meme is when we are told "don’t read too much into player combinations" during training camp/preseason to divine who might be a starter. As fantasy players, we are interested in unsettled starting jobs. We want to know which player will emerge from the competition. The position battles in training camp are where sleepers come from. While I look askance at plans to push tempo or play lock-down defense, I’m on board with not making rash judgments based on early lineup configurations. Coaches use training camp and the first 10 days of preseason as a laboratory, to experiment with different lineups. Nevertheless, these experiments are worth following. C.J. Miles may be an ordinary wing player, but if he is Cleveland’s starting shooting guard, having him as a depth option on your fantasy roster – to insert in daily transaction leagues or to use when Klay Thompson is day-to-day – can be helpful for your hoops domination.
With a shout-out to my basketball writing brethren at RotoWire, we’re providing a look at the position battles in this year’s training camps. Not every team has an active battle for a starting spot, but we’ll hit on all the teams.
The offseason moves of new general manager Danny Ferry – trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams – opens up two wing spots in the starting five. It’s a relatively undistinguished crew on the perimeter, but there are a few names we’re familiar with, and anyone landing a 25-30 minute-per-night job is worthy of consideration come draft/auction night.
Wings: Anthony Morrow, Louis Williams, John Jenkins, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson
Korver and Stevenson finished up training camp running with the starters, started the team’s preseason opener, and then were on the bench the following game while Williams got a start. Expect more shuffling. I’m interested to see how the Hawks view themselves and if that view changes as the season wears on. They started a roster reconstruction when they traded Johnson and Williams, but will they finish it? Or are they rebuilding on the fly without dropping to lottery land? That’s a dangerous game in the NBA. You don’t want to land in the stagnant middle class.
The starting five should be all set when everyone is healthy, but Avery Bradley will miss the start of the season and beyond due to injuries to both shoulders. With no general timetable for his return, that leaves a significant amount of playing time at shooting guard.
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee, Jason Terry
Lee started at shooting guard in the preseason opener in Turkey. He missed some open jumpers, picked up five fouls and was minus-17 in the first half. Terry started the second half and was much better than Lee, creating his own shots and scoring 12 points early. Terry followed up as the starter a few days later in Italy. Each scored 11 points. The conventional wisdom is that Terry’s experience and success as a reserve makes him an ideal sixth man in Boston.
Despite not landing Dwight Howard, the Nets had a fun offseason. It’s always fun to spend a wealthy Russian’s money, and the Nets spared no expense as they moved into their new 'hood. They mostly spent to retain existing players, re-signing Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez, and then they cleaned out the junk drawer of expiring contracts (and two draft picks) to land Joe Johnson from Atlanta. That’s your Brooklyn Nets starting lineup from now until 2015.
At media day, new coach Mike Dunlap said nobody has a lock on a starting job, which is natural for a team coming off a historically bad season. To a certain extent, we believe what Dunlap’s saying, but in order to grow the Bobcats, there is no way Ramon Sessions will be starting over Kemba Walker at point guard. They will be a young team with Walker, Gerald Henderson (SG), and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF), leaving the frontcourt up for grabs.
Power Forward: Bismack Biyombo, Tyrus Thomas, Byron Mullens
The Bobcats will need to find a spot for Biyombo, who has the size of a power forward but might be forced to accommodate a move to center in order to get the best starting five on the floor. Thomas is an active defender, who has more experience than the other two. Mullens, a perimeter player in a seven-footer’s body, started both preseason games so far — one at power forward and one at center. Dunlap is looking for Mullens to bring his game closer to the basket.
Center: Bismack Biyombo, DeSagana Diop, Brendan Haywood
We’ve seen Diop and Haywood before. Is there really a desire to have one of them blocking Biyombo’s development? Could be. Haywood’s started two of the first three preseason games. Biyombo started the Bobcats’ second preseason game and has been active either as a starter or reserve.
The only uncertainty entering training camp is who will take Derrick Rose’s spot at point guard while he’s rehabbing from knee surgery. The Bulls are optimistic Rose will return this season, but we won’t be seeing him until after the All-Star break. His replacement should receive ample minutes.
Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marquis Teague
Hinrich started the first preseason game and brings some organizational experience with him. He spent seven years with the Bulls and was a teammate of Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson. It looks like Robinson will be the leader of the Bulls’ Bench Mob. Coach Tom Thibodeau intends to use different lineups in the preseason, but I’d be shocked if Hinrich wasn’t starting and playing 30 minutes per game.
Cleveland enters Year Three AL (After LeBron) after two seasons with a combined record of 40-108 (.270 winning percentage) and two season’s worth of lottery picks. This season should be the time when the young players take on bigger roles and expectations set in. Some spots in the starting lineup are well established: Kyrie Irving (PG), Anderson Varejao (C), and Tristan Thompson (PF). Coach Byron Scott is looking for Thompson to be a more active defensive rebounder. If he falters, the Cavs have rookie Tyler Zeller to push for minutes. That leaves two spots open on the wing and several players in the mix.
Wings: C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, Omri Casspi, Dion Waiters
Casspi was a major disappointment in his first season with the Cavaliers and is looking to atone for that. He lost the starting small forward spot to Gee, who was handed a three-year deal in the offseason. Miles can play both spots and has experience as both a reserve and starter in Utah. Waiters, the fourth-round draft pick who disappointed mightily in Summer League, has shed some weight and reported to camp lighter. Gee and Waiters started the first preseason game, and then it was Gee and Miles in the second game.
Despite an overhaul of the roster, the Mavericks don’t appear to have any position battles entering the 2012-13 season. There will be new starters at three positions: Darren Collison (PG), O.J. Mayo (SG), and Chris Kaman (C). They’ll join returning starters Dirk Nowitzki (PF) and Shawn Marion (SF). Those are the starters penciled in as we begin training camp. The bench includes several former NBA starters: Vince Carter, Elton Brand, Delonte West, and Rodrigue Beaubois.
Denver continues to churn its roster after the Carmelo Anthony drama played itself out two years ago. We know four-fifths of the starting lineup: Ty Lawson (PG), Andre Iguodala (SG), Danilo Gallinari (SF), and Kenneth Faried (PF). That leaves the center position under open competition.
Center: Timofey Mozgov, JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos
Koufos started the preseason opener against the Clippers – a nod to the good work he’s put in during the preseason – but this doesn’t look like the end of the battle. All three centers played in the win over Los Angeles with Mozgov getting 19 minutes, McGee getting 17, and Koufos playing 15. McGee, the former Wizard, had a nice 20-game audition late in 2011-12, but I don’t see any of the three running away with big minutes.
The Pistons have four of their five starters set. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt, Tayshaun Prince at small forward, and Greg Monroe will be one of the bigs – most likely at center. If he’s not starting at center, it’s because one of the rookie centers – Andre Drummond or Vyacheslav Kravtsov – is having an extremely impressive camp. That leaves the power forward job open.
Power Forward: Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye
Maxiell and Jerebko are the two leading candidates, though Maxiell finished last year as the starter and is considered the favorite this year. There was little difference in production between those two last season. Jerebko was coming off Achilles surgery and was not always on form. There’s more dimension to his game than can be found in Maxiell’s. Jerebko and Villanueva, both of whom can play the three as well, hold more fantasy value than Maxiell, who got the start in the Pistons’ preseason opener. Maxiell played 22 minutes with Jerebko getting 20 minutes and Villanueva playing 22 minutes off the bench.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors will be dealing with some new players in their starting lineup and face the problems all NBA teams have when putting personnel together for the first time. Andrew Bogut (ankle) is doing well in his rehab and is expected to be ready for his debut in time for the regular season. If not, rookie Festus Ezeli will fill in. Stephen Curry (ankle) will be ready as well. Curry’s backcourt mate will be Klay Thompson, who was a starter in the final two months of the season, but that was at a time when Curry was injured. David Lee remains a constant at power forward, which leaves an opening at small forward.
Small Forward: Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, Harrison Barnes
Early on, this looks like Rush’s job. He’s started the first two preseason games, though Barnes will get his chance to start, too. Looking at the rest of the starting lineup, it makes sense to have the best defender of the trio in the starting lineup, and that favors Rush. Jefferson appears to be accepting of the veteran-off-the-bench role, though he’ll have a significant spot in the rotation.
The Rockets are in full-blown rebuilding mode after shedding starters and payroll in a futile effort to acquire Dwight Howard. They were left with a starting five that will be completely different from the group we saw in 2011-12. Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin will start in the backcourt and Omer Asik is expected to start at center. That leaves a murky situation at the forward spots.
Forwards: Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Carlos Delfino, Royce White
We suspect the returning Rockets, Patterson and Parsons, will eventually nail down the starting jobs. Both were in the starting lineup in Houston’s preseason opener. Delfino serves as a three-point specialist and can slide between both perimeter spots. Jones was uber impressive in his preseason debut, scoring a team-high 20 points. He’ll get good minutes in the rotation if he doesn’t win a starting job. White’s unfortunate situation – it was revealed he has anxiety issues when traveling by plane – makes it difficult for the Rockets to rely on him.
The starting five is all set. George Hill (PG), Paul George (SG), Danny Granger (SF), David West (PF), and Roy Hibbert (C) return en masse as the same starting unit that finished last season. The real challenge for coach Frank Vogel will be in developing a quality bench among several new pieces. Gerald Green should be the leading fantasy prospect on the second unit, though Vogel has been real high on Lance Stephenson, a third-year guard who has seen very little court time since being drafted in 2010.
Los Angeles Clippers
In a healthy world, the same starting five that started last season would line up again in 2012-13. However, Chauncey Billups’ Achilles injury makes that impossible. So, for an undetermined amount of time to start the season, there will be a new shooting guard. And there’s a chance Grant Hill claims the starting small forward job from Caron Butler at some point.
Shooting Guard: Willie Green, Jamal Crawford
Green started in the preseason opener and is the favorite to start there. He has a history with starting point guard Chris Paul from their time in New Orleans. Crawford is pigeonholed as a bench scorer, and that will likely remain his role with the Clippers. Eric Bledsoe could slide over from his backup point guard job, or coach Vinny Del Negro could try Hill or Matt Barnes at the two.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ starting unit is set, so there’s not much position drama in camp this season. Antawn Jamison will see the most minutes off the bench, and coach Mike Brown really wants to get Jordan Hill minutes. Hill will be the only other big man Brown uses in addition to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will back up Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant at the two guard spots.
The Grizzlies are in the middle of a competitive window, mostly carried along by their starters. The franchise has not been able develop a deep or reliable bench, nor have they had a draft pick pop since Mike Conley Jr. was drafted in 2007. The same starting five return from last season: Marc Gasol (C), Zach Randolph (PF), Rudy Gay (SF), Tony Allen (SG), and Conley (PG). The focus in preseason for coach Lionel Hollins is to develop a second unit he can trust. The high-profile additions this offseason include free agents Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and first-round pick Tony Wroten, who are all looking to earn a rotation spot.
With the Heat, it’s all about making tweaks on the fringes. There aren’t any surprises cracking the starting lineup. Miami’s offseason goal was to upgrade the bench, and adding Ray Allen certainly meets that objective. We will see one tweak to the starting five – coach Erik Spoelstra wants to see more of Chris Bosh at center. He’s started the first two preseason games there. This means Shane Battier enters the starting lineup at power forward.
The Bucks are incorporating two new faces into the starting lineup. Samuel Dalembert comes to town from Houston to start at center and shooting guard Monta Ellis enters his first full season in Milwaukee. They will join Brandon Jennings (PG) and breakout forward Ersan Ilyasova in the starting five. The one area of uncertainty on the roster is at small forward.
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tobias Harris, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Mbah a Moute’s recovery from knee surgery will keep him out of the lineup at the start of the season. That creates an opportunity for Dunleavy and Harris. Coach Scott Skiles prefers Dunleavy coming off the bench, so it looks like the 20-year-old Harris will get a shot. He ran with the first team in training camp and started the preseason opener.
The Timberwolves are looking to improve on their 2011-12 record – their best finish in the past six years. We expect to see a starting role for newcomer Andrei Kirilenko (SF) and quite possibly Brandon Roy (SG). Until Ricky Rubio returns and they can better assess the long-term health of Roy’s knees, the guard spots are an open battle.
Guards: Jose Barea, Brandon Roy, Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved
Both guard positions are wide open until Rubio returns. Roy will likely be the starter, or at least the player with the most impact, at shooting guard. However, his minutes may be rationed, and he may sit out some games (especially back-to-backs). Ridnour may get the bulk of his minutes at shooting guard with Barea at point guard. Shved is a wildcard who could also factor into both guard spots as well. Once Rubio is back to full speed, he'll be the primary point guard with an open competition for minutes at shooting guard.
New Orleans Hornets
Five rotation members from last season’s team are gone, leaving the Hornets with several new players. We’ll see four-fifths of their starting lineup replaced. The one returning starter, shooting guard Eric Gordon, has been dealing with a knee injury and missed the preseason opener. He was replaced by rookie Austin Rivers, though Gordon is due back for the start of the season. When he’s healthy, Gordon will play alongside point guard Greivis Vasquez. Anthony Davis (PF) and Robin Lopez (C) are the starting bigs. Al-Farouq Aminu is the small forward for now, though he’s been a disappointment since entering the league.
New York Knicks
The Knicks will be a slightly different team in 2012-13, no longer playing the speedball game favored by former coach Mike D’Antoni. Now it’s coach Mike Woodson’s turn to put an imprint on the team. The frontcourt is stable with returnees Tyson Chandler (C), Amar'e Stoudemire (PF), and Carmelo Anthony (SF). The backcourt will have some changes. There will be a new point guard – Raymond Felton will start with Jason Kidd backing him up – and shooting guard is up for grabs between J.R. Smith and Ronnie Brewer.
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer
Brewer is recovering from offseason knee surgery but said he will be ready for the regular season opener. Smith was the Knicks' sixth man off the bench last season and after playing that role for most of his career, he said during training camp that he prefers to start this season. He is clearly a better offensive player than Brewer, but the Knicks have plenty of scoring options in their starting lineup and may benefit from having more of a defensive presence. If Smith can improve his defense in training camp, he would seemingly have a much better chance of earning a starting role. Although nothing was said, it seemed like Smith had a slight edge at the start of camp but is certainly far from a lock to earn the starting job.
Oklahoma City Thunder
We keep waiting for the day when James Harden takes on the starting two guard spot, but it never happens. Thabo Sefolosha’s defense keeps him in the Thunder’s starting five, and that should continue into 2012-13. Sefolosha sat out Oklahoma City’s first preseason game and coach Scott Brooks used Daequan Cook as the starting shooting guard, preferring to leave Harden with the second unit.
The obvious opening is at center, where Dwight Howard will not be patrolling the paint for the first time in eight seasons. The other four starters, we know: Glen Davis (PF), Hedo Turkoglu (SF), Jameer Nelson (PG), and Arron Afflalo (SG). Afflalo is dealing with a hamstring injury and wasn’t in the starting lineup for the preseason opener. We anticipate J.J. Redick getting good minutes as the team’s third guard, and while Davis is starting at power forward, we’ll be keeping an eye on Al Harrington when he returns from a staph infection in his knee.
Center: Gustavo Ayon, Nikola Vucevic
Ayon started at center in the preseason opener in Mexico City. Perhaps coach Jacque Vaughn was giving Ayon, a Mexico native, the starting nod in his home country. Vucevic led the Magic with nine rebounds in just 15 minutes in the opener and then posted a double-double as the starting center in the next preseason game. Vucevic, who's bigger with more diversity in his game, came into camp as the favorite and still is for the moment. He provides an outside shooting threat and is the better rebounder. Ayon is the stronger defensive player and has impressed in camp. Vucevic's versatility on offense gives him the slight edge at this point. This is a battle that could be updated with each day in camp and certainly after each preseason game.
The Sixers are adding several new players to their rotation this season, including center Andrew Bynum. Whether he can give them a full season of good health is questionable, but coach Doug Collins is excited to have a legitimate low-post threat. Bynum joins Jrue Holiday (PG), Evan Turner (SF), and Spencer Hawes (PF) in the starting lineup. The one position open is shooting guard, the spot last occupied by Andre Iguodala, who the Sixers let go in order to land Bynum.
Shooting Guard: Nick Young, Jason Richardson
Two newcomers are competing for the shooting guard job. Richardson came over from Orlando in the Howard/Bynum mega-deal, while Young signed as a free agent. The early going in training camp favors Richardson, who should provide a three-point threat the Sixers lacked last season. Young can shoot the three-ball, too, but has less of a track record than Richardson.
The Suns have reshaped their roster and have several new players in the starting lineup. Goran Dragic (PG), Michael Beasley (SF), and Luis Scola (PF) are the new pieces joining Marcin Gortat (C) as starters. That leaves an open competition at shooting guard.
Shooting Guard: Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown
Dudley is the incumbent and the favorite for the job, but Shannon Brown looked good when given a chance to start last season and coach Alvin Gentry hasn't tipped his hand yet. With Beasley, a noted toreador, now at small forward, we suspect the better defender will be needed at the two, and that's Dudley.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers will run with rookie Damian Lillard as their starting point guard. He joins LaMarcus Aldridge (PF), Nicolas Batum (SF), and Wesley Matthews (SG) in the starting lineup. The center position will be an open battle.
Center: Meyers Leonard, J.J. Hickson, Joel Freeland
Hickson is the clear frontrunner in this battle. He entered training camp as the incumbent and started Portland’s preseason opener. He and Aldridge displayed good chemistry in Hickson’s 19-game stint with the Blazers last season. Leonard, 20, is being groomed as the center of the future but needs time to develop after just two years of college. The Blazers liked Freedland enough to give him a three-year deal. He’s played the position in the Spanish ACB League and could be a starter if Hickson becomes a scoring threat on the reserve unit.
Coach Keith Smart can go one of two ways with his starting lineup, and it all depends on how he wants to use his top-three guards. His decision will impact the starter at small forward, too. There’s also a chance that rookie Thomas Robinson could sneak up on Jason Thompson at power forward, based on the praise he’s received from coaches during training camp, but we fully expect the veteran to open the season as the starting four.
Guards: Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas
This will be decided by whether or not Smart decides to bring Thornton off the bench as the sixth man. If he does, Evans would slide to the two and Thomas would stay at the one. In that scenario, James Johnson would likely take the wing forward job. If Smart decides to keep Thornton in the starting lineup, then Evans would move to the wing, with Thomas at the point. In the Kings’ first preseason game, all three guards were in the starting lineup.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs keep chugging along. Their sustained success can be chalked up to the stability of their starting lineup, so you won’t be surprised to hear that there are no training camp battles. Perhaps at some point – after Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker – there may be some drop off, but they do such a good job of infusing the roster with contributors. Players like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard help sustain the Spurs brand. Boris Diaw, a late-season acquisition in 2011-12, will join the starters this season as the center, though DeJuan Blair has been impressive in the first two preseason games and is looking for a share of those minutes. A sleeper threat is Nando De Colo, a wiry Ginobili clone who could find his way into a significant role as he blends with the current roster.
The Raptors have uncertainty at a few positions, with only Andrea Bargnani (PF) and DeMar DeRozan (SG) comfortable as starters. But the real story in training camp is the excitement for Jonas Valanciunas, the Lithuanian big man who was drafted fifth overall in the 2011 Draft. He’ll be the favorite to start at center, though he has been dealing with a calf injury. The other areas of competition are at small forward and point guard.
Small Forward: Landry Fields, Linas Kleiza
Fields, the former Knick, has the edge due to his defense, basketball IQ, and big contract, but coach Dwane Casey hasn't ruled out using Kleiza and his three-point shooting as his starter to add some offense to the unit.
Center: Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray
Valanciunas should get the starting job, but he's currently nursing a calf injury, and if he ends up missing too much of the preseason, Casey may elect to give the starting reins to Gray and let Valanciunas get his feet wet in North America off the bench.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon
Lowry’s tenure in Toronto got off on the wrong foot, or leg, as it were. He will not participate in any games during the first week of preseason due to a strained thigh. So, for now, Calderon is getting the bulk of the minutes at point guard with John Lucas backing him up.
The primary storyline coming out of Utah is who will start at power forward. Paul Millsap, entering the final year of his contract, has been a mainstay at the four, but the Jazz know they have a good one in Derrek Favors. The other issue to clear up is where Gordon Hayward winds up starting.
Power Forward: Paul Millsap, Derrek Favors
Millsap is likely to start, but the Jazz want Favors to play as much as possible as a key piece to the inside game. Millsap started with Favors coming off the bench in Utah’s preseason opener. There’s a distinct possibility Favors eventually becomes the starter, as Millsap, in the final year of his deal, could realistically be traded at some point.
Small Forward: Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams
Hayward is almost certain to start but at what position? Both he and Williams are tweeners - Hayward on the small side, Williams on the large. Williams was signed with the expectation to start at small forward because of such a deep frontcourt. But the guard position is deep too, and Hayward could end up starting at either forward or guard. They both were in the starting lineup in Utah’s preseason opener – Hayward at shooting guard, Williams at small forward. In that configuration, Randy Foye and Alec Burks would come off the bench. If Hayward moves to the three, then we can expect Foye or Burks to start at off guard.
The poor Wizards. Working on their fourth coach in five years, the franchise has a .282 winning percentage since its last playoff appearance in 2007-08. With such a poor track record, you’d think starting spots would be available, but not so much. Two veteran newcomers – Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor – were added. And Nene is around for a full season. Health is the biggest concern - Nene and Okafor have yet to play this preseason. Those two along with Ariza will comprise the Wizards’ frontcourt. The backcourt is where all the action is at. Shooting guard is up for grabs, and John Wall’s knee injury will keep him on the shelf through the end of November.
Shooting Guard: Jordan Crawford, Bradley Beal
Crawford started the preseason opener, taking the "shoot" out of shooting guard. He went 3-for-12 and missed all three of his three-point attempts in 22 minutes. He started the second preseason game and shot better (6-for-13, two three-pointers). Beal, the third overall pick in the draft, was more effective opening night, hitting 7-of-17 and two three-pointers, and followed it up with a 15-point effort in which he got to the free-throw line seven times.
Point Guard: Shelvin Mack, A.J. Price
Price started the first two preseason games and has more experience than Mack. But he is a shoot-first point guard – 10 shots in 25 minutes in the preseason opener – and has six turnovers to four assists. It depends on what coach Randy Wittman wants from his Wall replacement. Mack had a more traditional line with seven assists and zero turnovers in 23 minutes in the opener, then barely played (six minutes) in the second game.