Position Battles to Monitor: Western Conference

Position Battles to Monitor: Western Conference

Last week, we broke down the Eastern Conference training camp battles to monitor for Fantasy purposes. This time around, we'll shift our focus to the ultra-competitive West.

Here are 10 situations worth keeping an eye on as training camp and the preseason get underway over the next few weeks.

Denver Nuggets: Power forward

Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr.

The Nuggets were already one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and they got even deeper in July after swiping Jerami Grant from the Thunder as part of OKC's post-Paul-George-trade fire sale. The deal cost Denver a first-round pick, but it figures to fall in the late-20s, and adding Grant, who's coming off the best season of his career, is well worth the acquisition price.

The 25-year-old Grant had never been Fantasy-relevant until last season, when he barged his way into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.4 made threes in nearly 33 minutes per game. An unheralded second-round pick in 2014, Grant's trajectory as a player is firmly on its way up, but his workload in Denver is almost guaranteed to decrease.

The Nuggets have an abundance of depth all over the roster, and while the wing rotation is particularly crowded, the power forward spot is also muddled. The veteran Millsap is the incumbent after Denver picked up his $20 million team option for 2019-20. But Millsap, now 34, played just 27.1 minutes per game last season after missing much

Last week, we broke down the Eastern Conference training camp battles to monitor for Fantasy purposes. This time around, we'll shift our focus to the ultra-competitive West.

Here are 10 situations worth keeping an eye on as training camp and the preseason get underway over the next few weeks.

Denver Nuggets: Power forward

Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr.

The Nuggets were already one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and they got even deeper in July after swiping Jerami Grant from the Thunder as part of OKC's post-Paul-George-trade fire sale. The deal cost Denver a first-round pick, but it figures to fall in the late-20s, and adding Grant, who's coming off the best season of his career, is well worth the acquisition price.

The 25-year-old Grant had never been Fantasy-relevant until last season, when he barged his way into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.4 made threes in nearly 33 minutes per game. An unheralded second-round pick in 2014, Grant's trajectory as a player is firmly on its way up, but his workload in Denver is almost guaranteed to decrease.

The Nuggets have an abundance of depth all over the roster, and while the wing rotation is particularly crowded, the power forward spot is also muddled. The veteran Millsap is the incumbent after Denver picked up his $20 million team option for 2019-20. But Millsap, now 34, played just 27.1 minutes per game last season after missing much of the previous year due to injury. Millsap could hold onto the starting job as a show of good faith, but his workload will likely dwindle even further with Grant now in the mix.

It wouldn't be surprising if, at some point, Grant takes over the starting spot, but the pair should split minutes relatively evenly to begin the year. Grant can also function as a small-ball center in certain lineups, but given the presence of Mason Plumlee behind Nikola Jokic, that may not be necessary.

The wild card in all of this is Michael Porter, Jr., who we're still yet to see play any form of NBA basketball. The 14th pick in 2018, Porter missed all of last season while recovering from back surgery, and an ankle injury kept him out of Summer League this past July. The Nuggets have title aspirations, so perhaps Porter's development will mostly unfold in the G League, but given his pedigree and level of talent, Porter is still a name to keep an eye on in dynasty formats.

Golden State Warriors: Center

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kevon Looney

This one may not carry significant Fantasy ramifications, but the Warriors have some sorting out to do at a key position. With DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Jones no longer on the roster, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kevon Looney will compete for the starting designation, though Draymond Green will still play his fair share of minutes as a small-ball five.

Steve Kerr hasn't tipped his hand either way yet, but Anthony Slater of The Athletic speculated earlier this week that Cauley-Stein will get the nod. The ex-Sacramento King is far and away the better Fantasy option of the two, and he's coming off the best statistical year of his career. In 81 starts, Cauley-Stein averaged 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 combined blocks/steals. He needed 27.3 minutes per game to do so, however, and he's unlikely to hit that number again while sharing time with Looney.

Los Angeles Clippers: Center

Ivica Zubac, Montrezl Harrell

This isn't so much a battle for a starting spot as it is a fight for minutes. Last season, the Clippers stuck almost exclusively to starting a traditional center, whether it was Marcin Gortat (43 starts), Ivica Zubac (25) or Boban Marjanovic (9). On five occasions, Montrezl Harrell worked his way into the starting lineup, but Doc Rivers prefers to use the undersized Louisville product off the bench, and that will likely continue this season.

Functioning as a reserve, Harrell still managed to play a career-high 26.3 minutes per game, and he responded with by far the best output of his career. Appearing in all 82 games, Harrell posted 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.2 blocks/steals per game while topping 61 percent from the field for the fourth straight season. Beyond Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers added some bodies to the frontcourt this summer, but they shouldn't threaten Harrell's workload, as nearly all of his 2,158 minutes last season came at center.

While Zubac is the presumed starter, he doesn't pack the same Fantasy punch as Harrell. In 26 games for the Clippers after coming over from the Lakers at the deadline, Zubac averaged 20.6 minutes, which he translated to 9.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks/steals. Those numbers were useful to owners in deeper leagues or those in desperate need of rebounds, but, like Harrell, Zubac doesn't offer any three-point production.

Los Angeles Lakers: Center

Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee

It's the year 2019 and the Lakers have to decide between JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. If you can look past the bizarre nature of the situation, there may be some Fantasy value to be had. Neither player projects to be a weekly starter, but if Anthony Davis is going to spend the bulk of his time at power forward, there will be plenty of center minutes up for grabs.

Again, I can't believe I'm typing this, but McGee feels like the safer option of the two, given that he was on the roster last season and quietly averaged 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in just 22.3 minutes per game. Of course, McGee has his flaws, but Howard is essentially on a game-to-game contract, and he missed nearly all of last season with another back injury.

With that said, Howard's pedigree means something, and he's just two years removed from putting up 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals/blocks per game for the Hornets. At this point, the 33-year-old probably isn't even worth a late-round flyer in most leagues, but, assuming he holds on to his roster spot, Howard will be a name to monitor for owners in need of rebounds and blocks as the season progresses.

Memphis Grizzlies: Wing rotation

Kyle Anderson, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke, Josh Jackson, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen

Much like last season's Knicks, the Grizzlies aren't going to win a lot of games, but they could still be a useful team for Fantasy purposes. Memphis is set at point guard, power forward and center, but under new head coach Taylor Jenkins, the shooting guard and small forward spots look to be up for grabs. 

Veterans Kyle Anderson and Jae Crowder will likely hold the advantage on the wing, but Memphis has an intriguing rookie in Brandon Clarke, as well as new additions Grayson Allen and Josh Jackson, the No. 4 pick in 2017. Then there's Dillon Brooks, who impressed as a rookie but missed 64 games last season due to injury.

Fantasy-wise, Anderson and Crowder are the most proven of the bunch and could be late-round draft targets, but Clarke -- a versatile defender and the reigning Las Vegas Summer League MVP -- holds the highest upside. Clarke will play both forward spots and has the potential to be a 2.0 blocks/steals player as a rookie.

At shooting guard, the Grizzlies will likely try out a few options, all of whom are mostly uninspiring from a Fantasy perspective. Brooks didn't offer much beyond scoring as a rookie, while Allen and Melton -- both entering their second NBA seasons -- are still very much unproven.

Jackson is somewhat of a wildcard given his pedigree, but there's a reason he was traded for Jevon Carter and Kyle Korver after just two years in the NBA. The 22-year-old showed some promise on the defensive end last season (1.6 steals/blocks), but he was wildly inefficient on the offensive end, putting up unsightly 41/32/67 shooting splits.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Starting wing

Jarrett Culver, Jake Layman, Josh Okogie

The Wolves are set at four positions with Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Maple Jordan Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, but an interesting battle is brewing at small forward. Due in part to trades and injuries, Okogie started 52 games as a rookie, but he'll face stiffer competition this time around from a pair of newcomers in Jake Layman and Jarrett Culver.

The sixth overall pick in June's draft, Culver enters the league with high expectations, but it's unclear how his Fantasy profile will develop. Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a sophomore at Texas Tech, but he shot only 30.4 percent from three and 70.7 percent at the line. He won't be asked to do much playmaking as a rookie, so if the percentages don't come around, Culver may just be a deeper-league points/rebounds/steals contributor in Year 1.

Layman holds a modicum of intrigue after going from mop-up-duty guy to nightly rotation player last season in Portland, but he was mostly a points/rebounds/threes contributor who doesn't add defensive value. Even if his workload pushes closer to 25 minutes per game, Layman -- like Culver and Okogie -- may not be relevant in standard formats.

New Orleans Pelicans: Guard rotation

Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick, E'Twaun Moore, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Over the course of a summer, New Orleans' transformed its roster into one of the deepest and most compelling in the NBA. But in swapping out Anthony Davis for a trio of Lakers, and adding three 2019 first-round picks -- plus J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors -- the Pelicans now have some decisions to make. 

Favors can be penciled in at center, Jrue Holiday is a lock to hold down one guard spot, and Zion Williamson will start at whatever amorphous position he occupies in the NBA, but at least two spots will be up for grabs between a number of capable players. The prevailing belief is that Lonzo Ball will get first crack at starting alongside Holiday, but he's battled significant injuries in each of his first two seasons and could have a shorter leash with his second NBA team. Brandon Ingram, a fellow former No. 2 overall pick, would make sense as a starter on the wing, but he, too, has dealt with injuries, including a blood clot issue that's shelved him for much of the offseason.

Beyond Ball and Ingram, J.J. Redick will command significant run, and all three of Josh Hart, E'Twaun Moore and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will vie for regular rotation spots. Had it not been for a torn Achilles in August, Darius Miller would also be in the mix.

For Redick, the question is how much, if at all, will his role be reduced after he played a career-high 31.3 minutes per game in Philadelphia last season? At age 35, a regression would be natural, though Redick has shown few signs of decline, and the Pelicans will need his floor-spacing.

After a brilliant summer league showing, Alexander-Walker certainly warrants attention in dynasty formats, but he'll likely be on the outside looking in to begin the season -- or until Ball suffers an injury. While Hart and Moore have been fringe-Fantasy options in the past, both players will likely need an injury or two before becoming waiver wire considerations.

Phoenix Suns: Forward rotation

Kelly Oubre, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric

On the heels of a fourth consecutive sub-25-win season, the Suns shuffled the deck this summer around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Simply having an NBA-caliber point guard in Ricky Rubio should bring some stability to the backcourt, but neither forward spot is solidified entering camp.

That's not to say there aren't favorites, as Kelly Oubre and Dario Saric are the mostly likely forward pairing. Oubre, whom the Suns signed to a two-year, $30 million deal in July, is coming off of an impressive, 40-game run in Phoenix last season. Meanwhile, Saric will look to get his career back on track after struggling to find a groove in Minnesota.

Oubre is a small forward by trade, but he can, and will, play both forward spots, and if Saric struggles, Monty Williams could turn to Mikal Bridges on the wing. A lottery pick in 2018, Bridges had a good-not-great rookie year but still profiles as a promising three-and-D player in the long term.

The Suns picked up another three-point marksman in Cameron Johnson, and while the 23-year-old rookie is expected to play right away, he'll probably be a single-category specialist, at best.

Portland Trail Blazers: Small forward

Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, Nassir Little

Coming off of a run to, and subsequent flame-out in, the Western Conference Finals, Portland thinned out its depth over the summer, particularly on the wing. Gone are Jake Layman, Moe Harkless and Nik Stauskas, each of whom saw the majority of their time at small forward. Evan Turner and Seth Curry have also moved on, leaving the Blazers with a pair of veterans as their primary options at the three heading into 2019-20.

Rodney Hood's reputation has taken a hit since he left Utah, but he played for in 27 games for Portland last season and had a few big moments in the playoffs. Given the familiarity, Hood may hold a slight advantage over Kent Bazemore, who came over from Atlanta in exchange for Turner. Bazemore's production dipped across the board last season, but a fresh start with a contending team should do the 30-year-old some good. He's averaged at least 1.2 steals per game in each of the last four seasons and could be due for a leap in efficiency after hitting only 32 percent of his threes a year ago.

Portland also took a flyer on Mario Hezonja this summer, and while the former top-five pick is yet to find a permanent NBA home, he'll be in a decent position to capitalize should Bazemore or Hood suffer an injury. 

Lurking in the shadows will be Nassir Little, the 25th selection in June's draft. Little entered his freshman season at North Carolina as a projected top-five pick, but inconsistency and a deep Tar Heels' roster caused his stock to progressively dwindle. Talent-wise, Little could be a massive steal at 25, but he's highly unlikely to be Fantasy-relevant in Year 1.

Sacramento Kings: Frontcourt rotation

Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Marvin Bagley, Nemanja Bjelica, Dewayne Dedmon, Harry Giles, Richaun Holmes

Even before adding Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes, the Kings had a strong frontcourt foundation in place between Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes and Harry Giles.

While a busy offseason improved Sacramento's depth, there's a case to be made that it could work against several players' Fantasy values. Of the names mentioned above, Bagley and Dedmon should be relatively safe. The former is coming off of an encouraging rookie season and should move into the starting lineup after coming off the bench for 58 of his 62 games a year ago. Meanwhile, Dedmon is expected to fill much of the workload vacated by Willie Cauley-Stein, and earning close to the 25.1 minutes per game he saw in Atlanta last season shouldn't be overly difficult.

Beyond Bagley and Dedmon, though, things could -- and, because it's the Kings, almost certainly will -- get messy. Why, exactly, the Kings felt the need to bring in Ariza is unclear, but even in his age-34 season, he'll expect to play a reasonably large role on the wing. Ariza hasn't come off the bench in seven years, but he'll almost certainly shift to a reserve role as the primary backup to Barnes. The bulk of Barnes' minutes in Sacramento last season came at the three, but he'll also spell Bagley at the four, as will Bjelica, who was the primary starter last season.

At center, Dedmon is the clear No. 1, and his addition could signal that the Kings aren't confident in Giles' ability to hold up over an 82-game season. Given the circumstances, Giles acquitted himself fairly well last season, though he'll remain a wait-and-see option for Fantasy purposes until further notice. Holmes could give Giles a run for backup minutes and have some utility in deeper formats because of his field goal percentage and shot-blocking (1.1 BPG in 16.9 MPG last season).

Read on: Eastern Conference Position Battles

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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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