Well, that was an intriguing game of cat and mouse between Dallas and Houston this summer. Dallas bets big on Chandler Parsons, knowing Houston can’t resist going for Chris Bosh. And Dallas wins, plus makes a nice deal for Tyson Chandler. Meanwhile, Houston takes a step back, the champion Spurs stay strong while New Orleans and Memphis make modest changes. How, you ask, does this affect the starting lineups?
The pretty boy factor just went up in Dallas. And so does the floor spacing. Parsons got huge minutes in Dallas (38 per game, 7th in the league) and should expect similar minutes on a not-very-deep Mavs team. That said, the battle exists at the point.
Point Guard: Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, Monta Ellis
There were a few weeks there when Raymond Felton looked like a possible bounce-back candidate, then the Mavs gave Devin Harris a four-year contract and Jameer Nelson a two-year deal. Harris could be a great undervalued option at PG this season. At 30 minutes per game, Harris could return to his 15+ points, 6.5+ assists, 1+ steals a game days. While Harris is no Iron Horse, the 32-year Nelson has a long history of health issues – he’s averaged 61 games played since the 2008-09 season. And frankly, Raymond Felton, in addition to battling some personal issues, is just plain old fat. Pudgy. Non-athletic looking. Read for his community softball league. You’d expect Ellis to see some time at point guard, but with no depth at shooting guard, I don’t think we will.
Making a play for Chris Bosh and wanting some financial flexibility moving forward, the Rockets choose to not match Dallas’ offer for Parsons and replaced him with Trevor Ariza. If Ariza can match last year’s career numbers, it’s an even swap considering Ariza’s defensive skills. But if Ariza returns to his career averages, then general manager Daryl Morey might have some regrets.
So, as usual, and with no Chris Bosh, the position battle in the starting rotation will be at power forward.
Power Forward: Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Jeff Adrien, Joey Dorsey
Jones owned this starting spot last year, averaging 29 minutes, 12.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and a nice 1.3 blocks per game. And that production came with 54.5 percent shooting from the field. Frankly, he’s earned the right to start this coming season, too. And at 22 years of age, and a year of playing with Dwight Howard and James Harden under his belt, there is room for upside. The only threat is the hot summer that Donatas Motiejunas had in Las Vegas. D-Mo averaged 16.8 points (59.3 FG, 38.5 3Pt, 71.1 FT), 8.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 0.4 steals, and 0.4 blocks in eight games, making the Las Vegas Summer League’s First Team. Coach Kevin McHale could turn to D-Mo when he wants to stretch the floor. Jones’ 31 percent from three point land doesn’t qualify him for stretch-four play. At 7”0’, D-Mo will also get minutes backing up Howard. Adrien averaged a double-double his final eight games last year, getting minutes on a “out-of-it-a-long-time-ago” Milwaukee squad. He and Dorsey will provide some bench strength.
The main lesson is this: look for both Jones and Motiejunas to be draft day bargains.
The starting five in Memphis seems fairly well set, but also a little old. Mike Conley (the youngster at 26) will man the point. The frontcourt will feature Zach Randolph (a heavy mileage 33 years old) at power forward, Marc Gasol (29, but missed time last year due to a sprained MCL) at center and a wobbly Tayshaun Prince (34 and not very productive) at small forward.
Age and poor performance means the wing positions are pretty wide open:
Wings: Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter
Those are not the most inspiring names, though the Carter signing was crafty for a squad that wants to win now. The former dunk machine is now 37 years old and made 1.8 threes per game last year. In fact, Vinsanity played in 81 games each of the past two years – not bad for someone with his mileage. Dallas was wise to keep his minutes at about 25 per game. Memphis may be tempted to play more, but that would be a mistake.
It’s assumed Lee and Allen will battle for the starting shooting guard spot, but it could be Prince who sits. That’s seems to be the case when looking at the seven game Round 1 playoff gem-of-a-series last year between OKC and The Griz. Prince started the first six games, but saw reserve minutes, averaging only 16 minutes per game. Allen and Lee both averaged over 30 minutes, with Lee starting all seven games and Allen starting Game 7. Pondexter returns from injury and hopes to prove he’s worth the contract he signed at the end of the 2012-13 season – he’s signed through 2016-17.
Remember the young Vince Carter? Let’s enjoy some of those crazy Vinsanity dunks. My favorite is the Behind-The-Back-And-1 he put on Rod Strickland.
New Orleans Pelicans
The key question in New Orleans isn’t “who is going to start?” it’s “who is going to stay healthy.” Point guard Jrue Holiday played only 34 games, missing the last three months due to a stress fracture in his right tibia. Stud Anthony Davis played 67 games while dealing with back, finger and shoulder issues. Davis has bulked up some in the off-season. Eric Gordon played in 64 games, high for him, but is recovering from a knee issue. And Ryan Anderson played in only 22 games due to a back injury.
Shooting Guard: Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons
Those are some big names. Tyreke Evans played surprisingly well last year in Holiday’s absence, leading coach Monty Williams to make a few statements saying Evans could continue to start with Gordon coming off the bench. Considering Gordon’s history of health issues, Evans is looking like an undervalued opportunity, despite his inefficient past. Take a look at Evans’ 22 starts from last year: he somehow put up 19.9 points per game while still shooting 50-percent from the field. That’s not the Tyreke Evans of old. Throw in that he also grabbed 5.3 rebounds during those starts, and maybe Evans, and not Ryan Anderson, will see the bulk of time at small forward. Considering the Pelicans’ history with injuries, this dilemma will probably work itself out. Rivers, Fredette and Salmons are all big names with no upside unless multiple injuries occur – which is always possible with this group. Those still clinging to Rivers in keeper leagues can at least celebrate the departure of Brian Roberts to Charlotte. That means Rivers is probably the primary backup at point guard.
San Antonio Spurs
Please tell me you are not looking to San Antonio for turmoil? There isn’t any. The starting five is set with Tony Parker at the point (he of the newly signed three-year extension) and Danny Green at shooting guard. Tim Duncan will anchor the power forward spot with electric Kawhi Leonard at small forward and Tiago Splitter at center. While basketball purists love coach Gregg Popovich’s system (myself included), his desire to give the entire roster minutes can be frustrating for fantasy players, especially daily fantasy players. All of Pop’s starters will get days off. In fact the Spurs are reason #1 daily fantasy players should always check the RotoWire NBA Daily Lineups page.
Let’s enjoy coach Pop’s championship locker room speech one more time…wait, what team lost that series again? (Insert evil laugh here).
Well, that’s it for the Southwest. Go here for Atlantic Division Position Battles, here for the Central Division Position Battles , and here for the Southeast Position Battles.