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.
You know you have problems at center when you find yourself pining for the salad days of Kendrick Perkins.
Center: Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Vitor Faverani and Lucky the Leprechaun
Four power forwards, one international man of mystery and one mascot must will fill all the minutes at center and power forward. Luckily for the C's, there are few true post-up centers in the East, which should allow them to run smaller lineups often. Humphries filled in admirably on some bad Nets teams (averaging a double-double in two seasons) when Brook Lopez was hurt. He's also in a contract year, and we expect him to get the first shot at starting at center. Sullinger will probably be the starting power forward, but should also get minutes at center. Rookie Olynyk is a legit 7-footer, but his face-up offensive style has most believing he'll get his minutes at power forward as the first big off the bench. Bass, who started 69 games last year, could be in a playing time free fall as the Celtics try to both train their youngsters and showcase Gerald Wallace for a trade. The 25-year-old Faverani will fill the "puzzling Brazilian" role vacated by the luxury-tax trade of Fab Melo for Donte Greene. Some scouts like Faverani's athleticism, and you have to like this nickname, "El Hombre Indestructible." Lucky has absolutely no post-up game, but check-out his trampoline work:
The starting five is pretty darn tight with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Lopez. Who says money can't buy you love? The real battle will be for sixth-man minutes and backup power forward minutes.
Sixth Man: Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry
Rumor has it that for every double-double he collects, AK-47 will earn a free Siberian oil field from owner Mikhail Prohorov. (Dear Russian Mafia, that was a joke.) I don't know how else to explain him walking away from $10 million and the T-Wolves for $6.4 million over two years with Brooklyn. Regardless, an aging Pierce (35) will need rest, and he-of-the-heinous dragon-tattoo is the perfect solution. (Seriously, it's ugly.) Terry, he of the 2008-09 Sixth Man award, can hopefully reduce the 37 minutes per game work load (17th highest last year) that the 32-year-old Johnson played last season. As RotoWire NBA scribe Nick Whalen (@wha1en) said, "Pierce and Johnson are essentially the same player, and keeping both on the court at the same time could actually do more harm than good against certain matchups." There will be times the Nets will use Terry to spread the floor and lean on his 37-percent 3-point shooting.
Backup Power Forward: Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche
Despite a superior work ethic, the 37-year-old Kevin Garnett will need rest. The team has even discussed the possibility that Garnett will sit out the second game of back-to-back sets, which would have Garnett scheduled to miss 16 games without even factoring in any injuries that might happen. Evans started 56 games last year but will return to roughly 18 backup minutes per game, helping out Garnett and Lopez. Last year, Blatche came back from seven turbulent and sometimes comical ("she was not dressed as a prostitute") years in Washington, to be a productive backup power forward and center for the Nets. He averaged 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 51 percent shooting in 19 minutes per game last season – not bad for the former sponsor of "Lap Dance Tuesday." KG should be a good influence on him, but expect slightly less production as Garnett will eat up many more minutes than the departed Kris Humphries.
(Side note: I live in Vermont, home of "Wrap Yourself in Hemp Tuesday.")
New York Knicks
Coach Mike Woodson likes to experiment with rotations and has a few egos to juggle. Felton is a lock at point guard and Chandler is the unquestioned center. Melo will certainly start, but the question is whether he will play more small forward or power forward?
Wings Not Named "Carmelo": J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace, Andrea Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni, Amar'e Stoudemire
Things could change all season between shooting guard, small forward and power forward. Woodson may sometimes fiddle with two-point-guard lineups, featuring Felton and Prigioni on the court together. But Shumpert's defense demands that he should get the most minutes at shooting guard. Smith is recovering from knee surgery and isn't expected to return until mid-November. Despite his fashion sense, Stoudemire is expected to be restricted to 20 minutes per game, especially with Bargnani around. The big question might be who gets more time: World Peace or Bargnani? I like RotoWire Knicks writer Mark Barner's suggested New York Post headline: "Bargnani Loses Battle With World Peace".
The 2014 draft can't happen soon enough for Philly fans. Las Vegas says the odds of the Sixers winning the championship are 300/1. That seems generous. The starting point guard will be rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who shot 27 percent during the Orlando Summer League, and he faces no roster competition for minutes. Nerlens Noel (knee) probably won't play until January. How many wins can a team get with Evan Turner (13.3 points) and Thaddeus Young (14.8 points) as your expected leading scorers?
That all said, due to lack of depth, the starting five is pretty set at Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten (that could be ugly), Turner, Young and five-awesome-games-a-year-followed-by-mediocrity from Spencer Hawes. Hawes did improve after the All-Star break last season, though. In a league shallow at center, the 25-year-old Hawes could be a sneaky pick for future double-doubles and 30-plus made three's. Did I just talk myself into Spencer Hawes? Arnett Moultrie and Lavoy Allen will also compete for minutes in the frontcourt as long as Noel is sidelined, and there's a chance the team could solve their wing depth issues by pushing Turner to shooting guard and Young to small forward, which would open up more frontcourt minutes.
For Raptor fans (both of you) who'd like to enjoy the end of the Il Mago Era, I recommend this gem at Raptors HQ.
With Bargnani finally gone, Raptor fans can now debate if Rudy Gay and his 42-percent shooting are worth building a franchise around.
General manager Masai Ujiri is to be congratulated for moving Bargnani, but he now needs to focus on adding depth to the Raptors' lineup. They have depth but the talent level of their depth pretty much starts and ends with roll players. We should see them put out a pretty set starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is a fantasy find. RotoWire NBA Editor Kyle McKeown (@RotoWireNBAKyle) has pointed out that Valanciunas closed out the season with 14.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 31 minutes per game through the last seven games. But the Toronto center needs a nickname. (Please suggest some in the comments.)