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NBA Draft Kit: Position Battles (Central Division)

Ken Crites

Ken Crites

An early RotoWire contributor from back in the 90s, Ken returns with the grace of Gheorghe Muresan and the wisdom of Joe Gibbs. Tweet him at @KenCrites or e-mail him at ken@rotowire.com. Ken won the FSWA 2014 Humor Article Of The Year award. And he still owns a RotoNews shirt.

Who would have guessed that all the red-hot offseason news would take place in the Central Division? LeBron James coming home, Paul George out for the year, Pau Gasol leaving the Lakers for Chicago, Detroit handing the reins over to Stan Van Gundy, and Milwaukee adding to their impressive stable of young talent. That sure beats getting excited about Carlos Boozer. Let's debate the resulting position battles from all this hectic activity.

Chicago BullsChicago Bulls
How did it take this long for the Bulls to rid themselves of Carlos Boozer? Oh well, the Windy City is once again excited for the NBA season. I don't think the United Center will be adding a Gasol statue next to Michael Jordan's, but Gasol is a serious upgrade from Boozer. With a healthy Derrick Rose (fingers crossed), Jimmy Butler, Gasol, and Joakim Noah, the only debate about quality is at small forward.

Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott

With all the injury turmoil last year in Chicago and the trade of Luol Deng, Dunleavy and Snell had opportunities to shine. Dunleavy started 61 games last year (up from three starts each of the two previous seasons), and the rookie Snell averaged 20+ minutes per game December through February, but clearly, the Bulls' brass were concerned about small forward for the coming season when they traded up to get McBuckets with the 11th pick in the draft this summer.

Everyone knows the Bulls need outside shooting, and they hope they can get it from McDermott. He averaged 2.7 three-pointers per game while shooting 45 percent from long distance last season at Creighton.

I'd be shocked if coach Tom Thibodeau threw McDermott into the starting lineup to start the season. McDermott will clearly have a lot to learn on the defensive side of the court in the NBA.

The 33-year-old Dunleavy should hold on to his starting spot for the first month or two, but Dunleavy is an on-going health risk. From the 2008-09 season through that 2012-13 season, he averaged only 55 games per season, though he did play in all 82 games last year.

Both players would be better served if Dunleavy could be the leading scorer for the second unit and McDermott could have his defensive issues covered by Butler, Noah, and Rose. Snell made the decision at small forward more complicated with a strong summer league showing in Las Vegas, where he averaged 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 30 minutes per game through five games.

Look for Dunleavy to start and get relatively heavy minutes, but to gradually give way to McDermott, while Snell vultures about 18 mpg at small forward and shooting guard.

Cleveland CavaliersCleveland Cavaliers
Have you ever, ever heard someone yell, "Yes, CLEVELAND!"?

Unless you live near South Beach (in which case you are too busy applying hair products to subscribe to RotoWire), you had to be happy this summer for the Mistake By The Lake. I lived in Cleveland for six years trust me, that town needs some good news. And these are some sweet t-shirts...ooops, sorry...I meant these t-shirts.

At this point, the word is Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, and the Cavaliers' 2015 first-round pick are headed to Minnesota for Kevin Love. (FYI, Bennett is then supposed to go to Philly for Thaddeus Young, but I digress.)

That means power forward, small forward, and point guard are locked up in The Forest City. (It's true, that's a nickname for Cleveland.)

Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters, Matthew Dellavedova, Ray Allen, Craig Ehlo

This really should be Waiters' job to lose, but it became quite clear last year that Waiters and Kyrie Irving do not play nice with each other. So, does coach James, er, coach David Blatt give Waiters a chance to grow up or does Dellavedova's outside shooting and defense help improve floor spacing for James and Love? Also, does Ray Allen retire or join King James in The Cleve? (Yes, also a nickname.) I suspect Dellavedova may get the minutes, but Waiters, by leading the second squad, has a better chance of getting shots and putting up fantasy points.

With that said, you know who really deserves to start? Craig Ehlo. Come on, let Ehlo play with "the man" and forget this ugly memory: (Watch him just collapse after MJ's shot goes through.)



Center: Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson

This will be dictated by the health of James' pal Varejao. Maybe they talked about this in Brazil. Varejao somehow managed to play in 65 games last season, this after averaging only 27 games the three previous seasons. Like Waiters, Cavs fans keep waiting for Thompson to have his breakout season, but it hasn't happened. Frankly, this debate may be pointless assuming Love gobbles up most of the rebounds and inside buckets. If forced to choose the better fantasy option, I'd go with Thompson strictly based on Varejao's health record.

Detroit PistonsDetroit Pistons
Our in-office Pistons fans are very excited about the arrival of Stan Van Gundy. I don't know if this is praise for SVG or disgust with Joe Dumars' past few seasons, but as of today (8/12/2014), Greg Monroe is still hanging out in restricted free agent land. It's not 100 percent that he'll return to the Motor City. (Now, that's a legit nickname.) So, we'll do our best with what we know now, but remember, this situation is fluid.

Wings: Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, Joe Smith

This situation was murky last year, and it didn't get much clearer, even after adding Meeks and Butler. Butler is 114 years old. (OK, he's 34.) SVG was eager to sign Meeks, surprising some with a quick three-year, $19 million deal. That kind of cash implies the shooting guard job is Meeks' to lose. After four mediocre seasons, Meeks exploded last year for 15.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 2.1 three-pointers per game, and he did it while shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.

Did Meeks finally blossom, or was it the case of someone forced to score on a very bad team? The nice shooting percentages suggest the former. I bet Meeks' shooting looked particularly good after viewing video of KCP shooting 40 percent from the field last year. When your point guard also shoots worse than 40-percent, you need a real SHOOTING guard. You know, somebody who can shoot and space the floor.

That someone could have been Singler, who got the chance to start 29 games at shooting guard last year, but Singler is a natural small forward at 6-9 and too slow to guard guys like Bradley Beal and Lance Stephenson. If (big IF) the Pistons don't keep Monroe, then Josh Smith can move to his better position of power forward, and Singler can play small forward, as he should. We'll see.

I think RotoWire's Detroit Pistons beat writer Shannon McKeown says it best:

IF Monroe doesn't return, Josh Smith will plays power forward, and some combination of Meeks, KCP, Singler, and Butler will play the two and three. If Monroe comes back, I think Smith moves to a sixth-man role, or he and Monroe battle it out. I think SVG is too smart to start them both with Drummond at center, which clearly did not work last year.

I agree with Shannon, but I'll still beat him in this year's RotoWire NBA Keeper League.

I'm really, really, REALLY looking forward to more SVG press conferences. Remember this gem?



Also, if you are a Pistons fan, you MUST watch the documentary NBA TV did last fall on the
Bad Boys for ESPN's 30 for 30 program. Kudos to friend Don Cheney and the rest of the NBA TV team for that delicious deep dive on the Detroit dynasty.

Indiana PacersIndiana Pacers
Paul George, say it ain't so! No team deserves to lose their superstar. Ask fans in Chicago how fun that can be. Now, losing Stephenson to the Hornets looks REALLY bad, too. Plus, this team still lacks a true point guard. (Sorry, George Hill doesn't count.) For the guard spots, George Hill and Rodney Stuckey can expect to see heavy minutes in both roles, but the giant gaping hole is at small forward.

If you really want to get depressed, watch this 20 minute August 11 press conference with both Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel, their first after George's injury.

Small Forward: Solomon Hill, Chris Copeland, C.J. Miles, maybe Shawn Marion

Wow, I can't believe I just typed those names. I have Hill in the above mentioned keeper's league, yet even I'm wincing at the idea of him getting major minutes. Vogel says he can be an "elite defender". That's good for the Pacers but not for your fantasy squad. This team is already defense-heavy. They need a scorer and no one seems available. Shawn Marion (mentioned in the presser) did visit with the Pacers' brass, but my bet is he goes to Cleveland. Besides, Marion is a defense-first guy, too. I like Hill as a late-round fantasy gamble.

For better League Pass viewing, I hope they let Copeland get major minutes.
He shot 42 percent from three-land the last two years. Let him come in and provide the spacing for David West and Roy Hibbert. Vogel said, "We will play through David and Roy maybe more." To me, that says they should get guys who can catch and shoot on the floor. Copeland won't start, but he could be a sneaky source of cheap three-pointers. The same goes for Miles, who could improve on the 19 minutes per game he played last year in Cleveland.

Milwaukee BucksMilwaukee Bucks
It's time for Milwaukee to get its FREAK ON! By that, I, of course, mean it's time to give 28+ minutes a game to Giannis Antetokounmpo. After playing point guard in the Las Vegas Summer League, they clearly want him handling the ball more, either as a point-forward or maybe as a truly freakish 6-11 shooting guard.

Admittedly, despite the format of this column, it really doesn't matter who starts at the beginning of the year for the Bucks. Playing time will be fluid all season as new coach Jason Kidd experiments with multiple lineups to develop this team's young talent. It's not exactly a role Kidd has experience with, so this could be interesting. Rising 22-year-old point guard Brandon Knight is a lock in the starting lineup. He emerged as fantasy gold last year with 17.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 threes-pointers per game.

RotoWire is collectively aroused by the idea of Antetokounmpo playing major minutes at shooting guard. I'd sure rather see that than another season of O.J. Mayo phoning it in. Need more titillation? Watch this summer league highlight from July.



The Freak at the two would also free up Jabari Parker (19) to play small forward, John Henson (23) to play power forward, and Larry Sanders (still only 25) to play center. That is a core you can build on. They need to deal 27-year-old Ersan Ilyasova by the trade deadline and focus on the future.

While everyone focuses on Parker and Antetokounmpo, Henson could be the affordable breakout candidate in Milwaukee. Henson had 1.7 blocks per game last year and proved he deserves minutes, despite the status of Sanders. The coaching change in Milwaukee probably helps Henson the most as his minutes were very erratic last season.

Well, that's it for pre-training camp Position Battles in the Central Division. Go here for our Atlantic Division Position Battles.
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