Heading into training camp, most starting gigs are fairly well set, but by analyzing the few position battles that remain, you can discover some late-round gems for your fantasy squad. Before any Al Harrington fans on the RotoWire staff try to convince me that the head-banded big man will start 50 games for Les Boullez, let's move on and explore the real playing time debates.
The starting five for the Bulls is set with Derrick Rose. Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Butler only started 20 games last year, mostly at the end of the season. During that span, he proved worthy of the promotion, averaging 14.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 trey and 2.7 assists as a starter.
The bigs in Cleveland are an intriguing mix of injured veterans and high-upside youngsters. Rehashed coach Mike Brown is optimistic that he'll get lots of games from vets Andrew Bynum (knee) and Anderson Varejao (quad, blood clot in lung), but we're more cynical. RotoWire Beat Reporter Perry Missner (@perrymissner) said, "The Cavs hope to get a season's worth of games from the combination of Varejao and Bynum. Since they won't, there will be ample time for Bennett, Thompson and Zeller."
Big Men: Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Zeller, Earl Clark
Owner Dan Gilbert was very aggressive in his pursuit of Bynum, presumably seeing him as another piece to the puzzling plan to bring back LeBron in 2014. It's a $6-million dollar risk (that's the guaranteed part of the contract) for a team hungry to return to playoff contention. The Mavs reportedly shied away from that gamble due to concerns about Bynum's ability to start the season on time or even make a 2013-14 impact. Varejao is also a risk, having averaged only 27 games over the past three seasons. Freaky hairstyles will only get these two so far. So that means potentially big minutes for Tristan Thompson, No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller. Thompson is close to becoming a double-double machine with a steady 49-percent shooting percentage, but he's weak from the free-throw line (61 percent last year). The change in shooting hands this offseason can't really hurt. Bennett has his own health problems, recovering from shoulder issues. Expect Bennett to start slow, work on his conditioning, and gradually ramp things up through the winter. Zeller proved in 77 games last year that he's a capable NBA reserve, as he averaged 7.9 points, 5.7 boards and 0.9 blocks as a rookie. Let others gamble on the vets. We recommend sticking with the young Thompson and Bennett.
General manager Joe Dumars shook up the roster after averaging only 28 wins over the last four years, but he left the shooting guard competition wide open.
Shooting Guard: Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Per RotoWire Pistons guru Shannon McKeown (@RotoShannon), "There has been some serious buzz about Chauncey Billups nabbing the gig, but I'm not buying it. Rodney Stuckey and rookie KCP are the real guys vying for the job." McKeown thinks that by December it will be KCP's job, and I agree with him. But the Pistons have a history of not rushing rookies into the starting lineup, which is why you'll see Stuckey or maybe Mr. Big Shot as the opening night starter. As the only "true" shooting guard on the roster, view KCP as a sneaky early season fantasy free agent pickup, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep tabs on him in training camp.
The Pacers are ready to once again challenge the Heat. The trade for Louis Scola was certainly a "win now" move, and free agent acquisition Chris Copeland should add scoring off the bench, especially later in the season as his left knee strengthens. The starting lineup is pretty well set with one exception: shooting guard.
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson, Danny Granger
Stephenson is certainly the safe, incumbent choice. He started 72 games last year, played solid defense and played well in the playoffs. But former All-Star Danny Granger is looming. Granger is in a contract year and will see very few minutes at small forward behind team leader Paul George. Coach Frank Vogel could very well decide Stephenson's 8.8 points a game in 29 minutes lack the punch to let the team take the next step past Miami. Granger's name could be missing from your fantasy competition's draft sheet based on his injury history, but depending on the updates we get regarding Granger's health in training camp, he could be a steal in the mid-to-late rounds.
New Bucks Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo seem locked in as the starting backcourt. And Larry Sanders just signed a big four-year extension to be the star center and anchor of the team. But the forward positions are unclear.
UPDATE 8/30/13: On August 29th, the Bucks traded for Caron Butler. That means Delfino will move to the bench, a role more suitable for his talent and health level. This also gives Delfino time to let his foot recover from surgery.
Forwards: Carlos Delfino, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo
RotoWire Bucks expert Nick Whalen's (@wha1en) analysis can't be improved, so I'll just quote him:
Much to the enjoyment of the female fan base, the Bucks brought back Carlos Delfino, but an aging, defensively-challenged three-point chucker is far from an ideal starting small forward. The other options are Khris Middleton (acquired from Detroit in the Knight/Jennings swap) and rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. "The Greek Freak," as he's affectionately known (it hasn't really caught on with NBA fans yet, shockingly), is still years away from being an NBA-ready player, but the Bucks won't be stashing the 18-year-old overseas, so it wouldn't be surprising if he sneaks his way into the rotation at some point - likely in the second half of the season. Antetokounmpo playing significant minutes will essentially be the white flag alerting the league that Milwaukee has finally surrendered and entered full-on Wiggins mode.
Of course, Delfino's lousy defense won't hurt your fantasy squad, so I still like him as a late-round flier. His three-point shooting and free-throw percentage during a four-game head-to-head week can be helpful. I think I speak for the entire RotoWire staff when I say we're dying to type "Greek Freak" as often as possible, and we sure don't want to type "Antetokounmpo." But he will be a deer (Buck?) caught in the headlights if they rush the thin 18-year-old (see Jan Vesely, Washington). Middleton will benefit most from the inevitable Delfino injury (he hasn't played 75-plus games since '09), so keep the former Texas A&M star in mind for Daily Fantasy competitions.
In early August, general manager John Hammond said Ilyasova remains the projected starting power forward. The streaky shooter is ideal for fantasy squads with lots of bench positions – so you can stash him away when he hits his usual cold spells. Henson is the young up-and-comer who could really blossom when the Bucks give up all aspirations of playoff contention. But, for now, the early signs are that he might only improve marginally on the 13 minutes per game he played last year.