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 Hawks finally gave up on Josh Smith, letting him walk this summer as a free agent. And they still haven't filled their shooting guard void since trading Joe Johnson to Brooklyn in 2012. With the freed up "Smith money" going to Paul Millsap, Atlanta again has to choose from familiar, but uninspiring options on the wings.
Wings: Kyle Korver, Louis Williams, Jared Cunningham, DeMarre Carroll, John Jenkins
Korver is now making starter's money (four years, $24 million), so he should be the starter at small forward despite starting only 17 games per year over his 10-year career. (Yes, he's that old.) Carroll will earn minutes at small forward as the Hawks' defensive stopper, offering very little fantasy value.
Shooting guard is messier. A healthy Louis Williams could prove to be an under-the-radar late pick if your squad needs a three-point shooter – he made almost two three-pointers per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. But he'll also start slow and probably play reduced minutes as he strengthens his knee. Jenkins and Cunningham are both intriguing yet unproven youngsters. Jenkins should see more time, based on his 38-percent three-point shooting over 61 games last year.
Oh, Michael. Shirt tags are not that annoying. A three-year winning percentage of .270, that is ANNOYING.
As for position battles, the lineup seems surprisingly set. A lack of depth can make for pretty poor job competition. Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller will get major minutes at the five and four. Gerald Henderson is a lock at shooting guard after re-signing for another three years of "Buzz." (Back The Buzz is the new team slogan.) Kemba Walker may face some competition from a healthy Ramon Sessions, but that's doubtful. Sessions is the only Bobcats reserve worthy of fantasy consideration (14.4 points, 3.8 assists per game before his knee injury last season). Yes, I'm aware that Ben Gordon is on the pine. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have every opportunity (and then some) to improve his game at small forward. Jeffrey Taylor is a sleeper to keep an eye on. He had a dominant showing at the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 20.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.8 steals and 1.8 three-pointers in 31 minutes per game through four contests. Even if he comes off the pine all season, the potential is there for Taylor to get significant minutes at shooting guard and small forward.
Miami's championship starting five returns intact for 2013-14. Little has changed, unless Greg Oden somehow turns into Cal Ripken instead of Sam Bowie. That ain't gonna happen. So instead of debating minor minute fluctuations, let's instead enjoy those inexcusable Heat fans who left Game 6 early, mistakenly thinking the Spurs had won the championship:
My favorite part is the guy who asks "Why did I walk out?" Because you are a d-bag, sir.
Draft Tobias Harris. I know that's not an eloquent opening, but sometimes things just must be said. Now that I have that off my chest, I should quote RotoWire Magic scribe Alex Rikleen (@arikleen): "guard is complicated, and forward is downright puzzling." ‘Nuff said.
Guards: Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo
What to do when your priorities are the 2014 draft? Do you push your injury-prone 31-year-old captain and point guard, Nelson, to play another 35 minutes a game? Probably not. Do you squeeze more out of your can't-hit-a-three shooting guard (30 percent last year)? It's hard to top Affalo's 36 minutes from last year, so also expect a decline. Do you confuse your hotshot new rookie by asking him to play both point guard and shooting guard? Apparently. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan (whom Rikleen refers to as a "smiling Belichick"), when pressed about Oladipo's position, keeps hinting he'll play both spots. Expect 30 minutes per game from each of them, with spikes for Oladipo when Nelson misses his inevitable 15-25 games.
Forwards: Tobias Harris, Glen Davis, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn
Can someone please explain why the Magic named Glen Davis co-captain with Nelson last season? Please!?! "Hey, Captain, can you give me advice on how to shoot 42 percent (2011-12) as an alleged ‘big'?" Hopefully, they threw Davis that bone, and a bucket of other fried foods, in exchange for giving his minutes to more talented youngsters Harris, Harkless and Nicholson. Davis (foot) will probably start the season injured, giving Harris and Harkless the starter minutes they deserve. Harris is the fantasy hidden gem, with the versatility to both hit threes and block shots. In 34 games as a starter last year, he averaged 13.4 points, 6.8 boards, 0.8 treys and 1.1 blocks. Expect improvement on those numbers after he goes through his first training camp with Orlando. Rikleen predicts 30 minutes per game for Harris and Harkless, with O'Quinn and his large 6-10 frame improving to 15 minutes per. Nicholson saw a good amount of run at power forward and center last season, but he fell off and has severe limitations on defense that could make him a forgotten commodity.
Everyone knew the Wizards were drafting Otto Porter with the third pick this past summer, but to some it was a surprise that they also re-signed Martell Webster to another four years. Both play small forward. Hmmm ...
Small Forward: Martell Webster, Otto Porter, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton
Porter's Las Vegas Summer League performance was lacking enough that Webster could begin the year as the starter. And that may have always been the plan, as the young Porter may have to wait his turn while the coaching staff focuses on getting the most out of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Porter's talents may prove more valuable in reality than in fantasy hoops. Ariza will play the "crafty vet who can play multiple positions" role, but expect his 26 minutes per game from last year to go down. First-round busts Vesely and Singleton will take up roster space until next year, when the Wiz can decline the team options for both of them. That said, should injuries strike, Vesely will get the first chance to try to re-prove himself. Expect that to go poorly.