In-Season Strategy: Five Ongoing Position Battles to Watch

In-Season Strategy: Five Ongoing Position Battles to Watch

This article is part of our In-Season Strategy series.

Back in the preseason, we combed through depth charts and took a look at positions that projected to be hotly contested in the lead-up to the regular season. While some of those battles have been settled, others continue to wage as we move through Week 3 of the fantasy season.

Due to injuries, changes in philosophy or just general performance, here are five position battles worth monitoring over the course of the next few weeks:

Miami Heat: Power Forward
Entering the season, the Heat also had questions at center, but a rejuvenated Hassan Whiteside has quelled those -- at least for now. With injuries to James Johnson (hernia) and Justise Winslow, the latter of whom recently returned to action, Miami first tried out a smaller frontcourt around Whiteside before pivoting to Kelly Olynyk.

Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones, Jr. started the first three games of the season as somewhat of an interchangeable trio. Whiteside's rim-protecting allows Miami to go small, to some degree, but after a loss to the Hornets on Oct. 20, Erik Spoelstra turned to Olynyk, who's started the last four games. Olynyk played 30 and 29 minutes in his first two starts, but he saw only 16 minutes against the Kings on Monday and 21 minutes in Charlotte on Tuesday. The Gonzaga product has been hit-or-miss thus far, posting three double-digit scoring games, with a complete dud -- 3pts, 2reb, 0ast -- mixed in.

Jones, meanwhile, has played only five total minutes

Back in the preseason, we combed through depth charts and took a look at positions that projected to be hotly contested in the lead-up to the regular season. While some of those battles have been settled, others continue to wage as we move through Week 3 of the fantasy season.

Due to injuries, changes in philosophy or just general performance, here are five position battles worth monitoring over the course of the next few weeks:

Miami Heat: Power Forward
Entering the season, the Heat also had questions at center, but a rejuvenated Hassan Whiteside has quelled those -- at least for now. With injuries to James Johnson (hernia) and Justise Winslow, the latter of whom recently returned to action, Miami first tried out a smaller frontcourt around Whiteside before pivoting to Kelly Olynyk.

Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder and Derrick Jones, Jr. started the first three games of the season as somewhat of an interchangeable trio. Whiteside's rim-protecting allows Miami to go small, to some degree, but after a loss to the Hornets on Oct. 20, Erik Spoelstra turned to Olynyk, who's started the last four games. Olynyk played 30 and 29 minutes in his first two starts, but he saw only 16 minutes against the Kings on Monday and 21 minutes in Charlotte on Tuesday. The Gonzaga product has been hit-or-miss thus far, posting three double-digit scoring games, with a complete dud -- 3pts, 2reb, 0ast -- mixed in.

Jones, meanwhile, has played only five total minutes since exiting the starting lineup, while McGruder and Richardson have settled into more traditional shooting guard/small forward roles. Jones' decline in minutes was met with the return of Winslow, who made his debut on Oct. 27 against Portland and played a season-high 30 minutes Tuesday against Charlotte.

Winslow hasn't developed quite as the Heat expected, but he remains a diverse contributor who's contributions on the defensive end don't always translate to fantasy value. Both he and Olynyk have some value in deeper formats, but the situation could become a bit more volatile when Johnson returns. He's currently without a firm timetable, but he's been taking part in practice and should be back in the mix within the next week or two.

Chicago Bulls: Center
The Bulls the second-worst defensive team in the league entering Thursday and they're among the bottom-five in rebounding. While they've clearly shifted into lottery mode even earlier than expected, eliminating Robin Lopez from the rotation has only exacerbated those issues. Lopez picked up his fifth straight DNP-CD on Wednesday, as Fred Hoiberg has opted to turn the position over to Wendell Carter and -- gulp -- Cristiano Felicio for the time being.

Felicio is essentially a placeholder until Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen return from injury, but both of those players are more natural fits at power forward. Aside from those two, Carter, the seventh overall pick in June's draft, is clearly the player to own, both in season-long and dynasty leagues. The Duke product is coming off of the best performance of his career Wednesday, when he had 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks in 38 minutes.

Los Angeles Lakers: Guards
The Lakers have issue at both guard spots. Lonzo Ball looks to be the permanent starter at point guard, but he'll continue to split minutes with Rajon Rondo. Ball played 33 minutes in Wednesday's win over the Mavericks, while Rondo came off the bench and saw only 17 minutes. The split was much different during Monday's loss to Minnesota, when Rondo saw the lion's share of minutes (32), while Ball, despite starting, played just 24 minutes. The situation will remain murky going forward, with Luke Walton likely content to ride the hot hand on most nights.

Nonetheless, the prevailing belief is that, over a five or 10-game sample, Ball and Rondo will probably end up splitting the load fairly evenly. Rondo, of course, is most valuable for his assists contributions. Ball's per-game assists numbers are down relative to last season, but he continues to rebound at a decent rate for his position, and his early-season shooting splits (46.2% FG; 41.0% 3PT) are massively encouraging, though he's still struggling to both get to -- and convert from -- the charity stripe.

The shooting guard spot in L.A. may be even messier. It didn't take long for Josh Hart to usurp Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the starting job, and Caldwell-Pope's minutes have dropped off considerably since moving to the bench. He did see 21 minutes Wednesday night, but prior to that he played only seven minutes against Minnesota and 16 minutes against the Spurs. Hart, meanwhile, has played at least 27 minutes in all but two games this season -- ironically, those are the Lakers' two most recent games.

Long story short: Luke Walton is yet to settle on anything close to a consistent backcourt rotation. Still, despite a string of rough showings, Hart is clearly the preferred own over KCP. And as of now, Ball is the more valuable point guard option.

Memphis Grizzlies: Power Forward
This one is a little more cut and dried, thanks in part to an injury to JaMychal Green. The veteran began the year as the starting four, but it seemed like only a matter of time until the Grizzlies turned to No. 4 overall pick, Jaren Jackson, Jr.

Losing Green to a broken jaw on Oct. 19 accelerated Jackson's arrival, and how J.B. Bickerstaff handles the situation once Green returns -- likely sometime in late-November -- will be something to monitor. Given that Green played only a game-and-a-half before the injury, we don't have much of a sample in terms of what to expect from Jackson off the bench.

The 19-year-old has had a few strong performances since moving into the starting five -- most notably, a 24-point, seven-rebound, two-assist, two-block line against Atlanta -- but he's struggled shooting the three of late. He's also fallen victim to foul trouble on a near-nightly basis, picking up at least four personals in each of his last five games. Jackson racked up four fouls in just 10 minutes Tuesday against Washington, three nights after committing five fouls in 15 minutes against Deandre Ayton and the Suns. For what it's worth, Bickerstaff doesn't sound too concerned about Jackson's foul issues. And even in limited minutes, Jackson's all-around contributions have made him very much own-able in most roto leagues.

Sacramento Kings: Power Forward
The Kings starting the season 5-3 is among the biggest surprises of the first three weeks. On one hand, they look like a vastly improved team for the first time in several years; on the other, their success has kept some younger players off the floor. Dave Joerger has rolled with Nemanja Bjelica at the four and, to his credit, it's mostly paid off. Bjelica was a complete non-factor in Minnesota last season, but through eight games he's quietly averaging 15.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks. With those numbers, he should be owned in most formats, but the question is whether they're sustainable.

The short answer: as long as the Kings continue to win games, Bjelica should continue to produce. However, history says Sacramento's luck will eventually run out, at which point Joerger could pivot to Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, two (hopefully) long-term cornerstones. While he's coming off the bench, Bagley has still been a key rotation piece, averaging 23.3 minutes per game, which he's translated to 12.4 points (including 1.1 made threes), 7.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks. His minutes are typically capped in the low-20s, however, and he's topped 24 minutes only twice thus far.

The preseason Giles hype has been completely extinguished. The 2017 first-rounder, who missed all of last season while recovering from knee surgery, has been a DNP-CD in each of the last two games. Prior to that, he'd played just 11 combined minutes in the previous two games. Giles did get off to a relatively slow start -- 4.3pts, 3.3 reb, 27.6% FG through the first four games -- but it still seems like he was on too short of a leash considering he took well over a year off from playing competitive basketball.

Given what he showed as a scorer and playmaker in summer league and the preseason, Giles is worth keeping on the radar in dynasty leagues, but he can be ignored for now in season-long formats.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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