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NBA Draft Kit: Position Battles at Opening Tip

John Clemeno

John Clemeno writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Atlanta Hawks: When we last left the Hawks, they were looking to fill perimeter spots and juggling several candidates. Atlanta head coach Larry Drew used several different starting lineups, but appeared to settle on Devin Harris at shooting guard. Harris was injured when preseason games started up, but he operated alongside Jeff Teague in the starting backcourt since returning. Lou Williams will be third guard in the rotation while Anthony Morrow spells both wing spots. That leaves the starting small forward job where Drew has yet to name a starter. Kyle Korver and DeShawn Stevenson have been getting starts, though my hunch is that Stevenson, the better defender, gets the nod.

Boston Celtics: The only mysteries when training camp opened were who would start at shooting guard and how Jeff Green would look in his return from a heart condition that forced him to miss the entire 2011-12 season. It looks like head coach Doc Rivers has settled on Courtney Lee to start at shooting guard while Avery Bradley recovers from not one, but two shoulder surgeries. Bradley’s not expected to return until mid-December. Jason Terry will fill a bench role, one that he’s certainly accustomed to by now in his career. Green looks like a different player than the one that initially showed up in Boston late in 2010-11. That version of Green looked confused about his role and fit with Boston’s veterans. The Green we’ve seen this preseason is more in line with what the Celtics were expecting when they traded Kendrick Perkins for him. He hit 49.4 percent from the field (38.1 percent from three-point range) and averaged 13.9 points per game. His conditioning does not appear to be an issue as Green averaged 35 minutes per game over the final three exhibition games. He’ll back up both forward spots and, along with Terry, will provide the offense from the second unit.

Brooklyn Nets: Figuring out the bench rotation was head coach Avery Johnson’s goal during the preseason. The top three reserves during training camp were C.J. Watson, Andray Blatche and MarShon Brooks. Brooks has the most upside of the bunch, but Watson has given him a run as the third guard/sixth man. Blatche, who’s been a serial disappointer, produced well during the preseason with 11.7 points (51.8 percent shooting) and 7.5 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game. The sleeper of the second unit is Mirza Teletovic, a stretch four that Brooklyn committed to instead of re-signing Gerald Green. Teletovic has range to spare and will be part of Johnson’s small ball lineup. It looks like Brooks and Blatche are the two Nets’ reserves most worth considering.

Charlotte Bobcats: It’s not surprising that several spots were open on the roster. Teams with a .106 winning percentage don’t enter camp with much roster certainty. Other than Kemba Walker at point guard, no player was a lock. Second-overall draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to start at small forward, though he shot just 31.9 percent (15-for-47) from the field. He also played some power forward in small-ball lineups. Gerald Henderson, who was named a team captain, will start at shooting guard. That left the position battles to the big-player spots. Which players will start at power forward and center? Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap has been pleased with Bryon Mullens, who has range and may be the most improved Bobcat. He’s averaged 15.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and appears to have improved his defense. Somewhere in the mix of Bismack Biyombo, Tyrus Thomas and Brendan Haywood will emerge the other big-man starter. Biyombo’s still a little raw; Thomas is still a mystery; and Haywood is still Haywood. In the end, if any of them can score, that will help a team in need of offense.

Chicago Bulls: Finding a replacement at point guard for Derrick Rose (left knee) was the only battle in the preseason. Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson each got their opportunities, though Hinrich was the starter whenever he was healthy. Robinson was great in his two starts, but we’ve all seen the level of his play fluctuate. Apparently, so has head coach Tom Thibodeau, who will go with Hinrich as the starter. Hinrich is dealing with a sore groin, which apparently improved over the weekend and he’s expected to play in Wednesday’s opener against the Kings. The timetable for Rose’s return is uncertain; I figure Hinrich will have a good hold on the job until at least February. The Bulls also need to replace an effective bench from last season. They lost Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver. Joining Robinson on the second unit will be Nazr Mohammed, Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson. Vlad Radmanovic is around, too, but didn’t get used much by Thibodeau in the preseason.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Most of the position-battle action occurred on the perimeter where the Cavaliers were unsettled at shooting guard and small forward. Head coach Byron Scott was looking at four candidates and used various combinations in the preseason before settling on shooting guard Dion Waiters and small forward Alonzo Gee. C.J. Miles got a serious look, but will serve as the back up to both starters. Notionally, Omri Casspi was in the mix, but he’s an end-of-the-bench guy in Scott’s rotation. Gee, who finished last season as the starting three, gets the job for his work on the defensive end. Cleveland’s received some punditry backlash for taking Waiters with the fourth overall pick, so there might be an element of that playing into Scott’s decision. He shot just 37 percent during preseason and had been yanked from a guy for not knowing plays. Scott noted the rookie had improved greatly in practice in the past 10 days. Elsewhere in camp, second-year power forward Tristan Thompson solidified his hold on the power forward job. He got stronger in the offseason and the Cavs are looking for a more aggressive version of the rookie we saw last season. And rookie Tyler Zeller is emerging as a rotation player.

Dallas Mavericks: Despite much roster change, when training camp opened, there was no uncertainty in Dallas’ starting lineup. That changed when Dirk Nowitzki underwent knee surgery. He’s not expected to return until early December. This means offseason acquisition Elton Brand will fill in at power forward. The injury also means more playing time available for forwards deeper down the depth chart. Like Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder. Wright was a surprisingly effective bench piece for the Mavericks last season, while Crowder, a second-round draft pick in 2012, has been a revelation in training camp. After Nowitzki’s knee injury, Crowder averaged 14.8 points on 46 percent shooting in 25 minutes per game over six games. The injury bug didn’t stop with Nowitzki. Now it appears Chris Kaman will miss the season opener with a calf injury, and incredibly, that leaves Dallas looking at Eddy Curry as the possible opening-night starter.

Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets entered training camp looking to establish a starter at center and their rotation beyond the starting five. JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos started games with little separating the three by the end of the preseason. The popular notion entering camp was that McGee would start – after all, the Nuggets re-signed him to a four-year contract that pays him $10 million per. And that could eventually happen, but Koufos ($3 million per year) will open the season as the starter. Going deeper into the rotation, Corey Brewer had a nice preseason, averaging 15.2 points on 51.6 percent shooting and should have a significant role. Another important bench player, Wilson Chandler, will not play in back-to-back games at the start of the season as he recovers from hip surgery.

Detroit Pistons: Detroit’s training camp has been all about sorting out the big-man rotation – which position will Greg Monroe start at and who will start where Monroe doesn’t. Monroe has been locked in at center during preseason games, and it looks like Andre Drummond is head coach Lawrence Frank’s choice as his backup. Jason Maxiell, who started all seven preseason games he played in, looks to be the starting power forward, with a combination of Drummond and Jonas Jerebko backing him up. Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye are on the outside. Charlie V. averaged just 12.3 minutes; while Daye was a DNP in the final three exhibition games, a point in the preseason at which a coach is forming his regular rotation.

Golden State Warriors: The only legitimate battle for a starting spot was at small forward, where Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson and rookie first-round pick Harrison Barnes competed. It became evident early on that Jefferson was not part of head coach Mark Jackson’s equation at the three. Barnes and Rush each started games, but Barnes started the final six preseason games. There was much nothing separating the two, statistically, during the preseason, but Jackson is going with Barnes. Jackson became comfortable with Barnes’ ability to defend, but Rush’s versatility to back up both wing spots factored into the decision as well. Rush, who was a productive member for the Warriors last season while coming off the bench, will get ample playing time. Elsewhere, Andrew Bogut’s recovery from ankle surgery got a positive evaluation by his doctor, but the center only recently began 5-on-5 drills. If he misses any time at the start of the season, rookie Festus Ezeli will start, though I’m banking on seeing more small lineups (David Lee and Carl Landry being the bigs) on the court than Ezeli. Stephen Curry’s recurring ankle problems reared itself again, forcing him to miss the final two preseason games. If that lingers, Jarrett Jack becomes a more prominent piece.

Houston Rockets: The Rockets’ offseason remodeling meant lots of change in the rotation and some uncertainty in the starting lineup. And the remodeling job didn’t stop there; Houston traded for James Harden, the third wheel in Oklahoma City’s “big three” just days before the start of the regular season. The Rockets sent the Thunder a package of draft picks along with guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. The quick read is that Harden will sign a long-term extension with the Rockets and start at shooting guard, a spot formerly occupied by Martin. Prior to the Harden acquisition, roster uncertainty was addressed in the free agent market – Jeremy Lin will start at point guard and Omer Asik will start at center. Harden, Lin and Asik are the Rockets’ building blocks for the next competitive window. Joining them in the starting lineup will be forwards Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons. Those last two pieces were the position battles head coach Kevin McHale needed to figure out when training camp began. Rookie Terrence Jones, who started the final two preseason games at power forward when Patterson (quadriceps) was unavailable, will be a significant part of the rotation.

Indiana Pacers: Other then establishing a more reliable bench, there wasn’t much head coach Frank Vogel’s to-do list during training camp. Free agent acquisition Gerald Green was the best Pacer in camp and he should be the second unit’s primary scorer. He’ll back up Danny Granger at small forward and could also get reserve minutes at shooting guard. That’s because Lance Stephenson, who was all but anointed the backup two-guard in the offseason, has struggled with his shot. He shot an abysmal 24.4 percent from the floor. Elsewhere, point guard D.J. Augustin initially looked uncomfortable with his new teammates, but finished the final two preseason games with 24 assists to five turnovers. He becomes important because George Hill missed all seven preseason games. First, it was a thumb injury and now it’s a hip. Hill participated in a scrimmage Sunday and all reports are good for him to play in the season opener. Vogel has also been getting a good look at Jeff Pendergraph at power forward with an eye toward pushing Tyler Hansbrough, though it looks like Hansbrough will hold onto the job.

Los Angeles Clippers: With Chauncey Billups (Achilles) set to miss at least the first month of the season, the major training-camp battle was finding his replacement. Willie Green and Jamal Crawford were looked at the two most viable candidates. Crawford has made a decent career at being a sixth-man/third-guard and that looks like it will continue for the Clippers. Green started every preseason game in which he appeared and his previous experience with Chris Paul in New Orleans probably played a role in the decision to sign him. The major players off the Clippers bench will be Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes. Hill (back) and Odom (knee) have been hurt, while Odom showed up needing to be in better condition.

Los Angeles Lakers: There wasn’t much of a battle going in Laker Town – unless you count the battle to stay healthy. Kobe Bryant’s been dealing with foot and shoulder injuries, while Dwight Howard (back) didn’t play until the team’s sixth preseason game. The starting five is set, with Steve Nash at point guard, Bryant at shooting guard, Metta World Peace at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and Howard. The Lakers were looking to sort out the rotation pieces. Antawn Jamison, who struggled with his shot in the preseason, will back up at small forward. And it looks like Jodie Meeks will join him to be part of the scoring mix on the second unit. Steve Blake will back up Nash at point guard. The Lakers were hoping to get Jordan Hill a lot of minutes, but was sidelined and missed five games with a herniated disc. He finished the exhibition season with a nice two-game run and will be the primary big-man backup. Head coach Mike Brown intends to have either Gasol or Howard or both on the floor at all times.

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies’ starting five was settled before training camp started, so it was all about which bench players would emerge. The bench has been an Achilles’ heel during the Memphis’ recent run of success. Marresse Speights and Darrel Arthur (when he returns from a leg injury) will back up front-court starters Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Free-agent acquisition Jerryd Bayless backs up at point guard. That leaves head coach Lionel Hollins a choice between Quincy Pondexter and Wayne Ellington as the backup to Tony Allen at shooting guard. There wasn’t much separating the two players when looking at the preseason stats. Either has the ability to hit from long range and the relative success of each player’s jump shot will determine their usage.

Miami Heat: The Heat were looking to develop subordinate pieces around their big stars with a little impact on the starting lineup. Chris Bosh, who’s been a power forward for much of his career, started at center in all eight preseason games with Shane Battier at power forward. Whether it’s Battier or Udonis Haslem who starts at the four, it doesn’t really matter much when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are on the team. They’ll get the backup minutes at both forward spots while Haslem can serve as a center in a small lineup. Ray Allen, Miami’s marquee addition in the offseason, didn’t shoot well during the preseason and has admitted to some soreness in his ankle.

Milwaukee Bucks: The major battle in the Bucks’ camp is at small forward, where second-year man Tobias Harris and 11-year man Mike Dunleavy Jr. fought it out for the right to fill in for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who does not have a set timetable to return from a knee injury. Harris started all eight preseason games and appears to be a lock to open the season as the starting three. The 2011 first-round pick was a bit player in his lockout-shortened rookie season, but is participating in his first full training camp. He’s shown bits of offensive upside and has an opportunity to take the job full time, even when Mbah a Moute returns. Samuel Dalembert should open as the starting center, but the Bucks have a few bigs in reserve, including Joel Przybilla, Epke Udoh, Larry Sanders and rookie John Henson. Milwaukee will go as far as the back-court of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis takes them, though neither guard shot very well in the preseason.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Training camp started with the Timberwolves looking to sort out their backcourt – who would replace the injured Ricky Rubio (knee, mid-December) and who starts at shooting guard. But then it was all about an injury to power forward Kevin Love, who is out until December after undergoing surgery to repair a broken hand. Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea both received starts at point guard. Ridnour was bothered by a back injury, but started every game when he was healthy. Still, there’s been no decision made. Brandon Roy (10.0 points, 45.7 percent FG) played well during camp and will start at shooting guard as long as his knees hold up. I liked the aggressiveness of Alexey Shved, who could emerge with a significant role off the bench. To replace Love, Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman will shift the versatile Andrei Kirilenko from small forward while rookie Derrick Williams had a quick audition at small forward, scoring 31 points while getting to the free-throw line 15 times in the final two preseason games.

New Orleans Hornets: Outside of having someone ready at shooting guard if Eric Gordon’s knee injury prevents him from starting the season, there were no position-battle mysteries in the Hornets’ starting lineup. Austin Rivers, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, started the first six preseason games before suffering an ankle injury. He’s expected to be ready for the start of the season, though the question remains will Gordon? Looking elsewhere on the roster, newcomer Ryan Anderson has come off the bench in all but one game. He’ll be getting a regular turn in the rotation, splitting time as backup to both forward spots. Al-Farouq Aminu hasn’t shot well in preseason, but he’s been a multi-category producer and will serve as the starting small forward. Given enough minutes, he might have some value on fantasy benches.

New York Knicks: The Knicks’ only position battle when training camp began was at shooting guard, where J.R. Smith and Ronnie Brewer were competing. Injuries since have left some uncertainty in the front court at both power forward and center. Brewer missed some time early with a knee injury, while Smith was bothered by an ankle injury late. It looks like Brewer will be the starter, joining point guard Raymond Felton, small forward Carmelo Anthony, and whichever power forward and center are healthy enough come opening night. Tyson Chandler got favorable MRI results and should be ready for the start of the season. Amare Stoudemire, on the other hand, will miss two-to-three weeks with a knee injury, according to the team. Marcus Camby (calf) has been inactive and now the Knicks are looking at Kurt Thomas as the starting four with Rasheed Wallace and Chris Copeland backing up.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Oklahoma City was rolling along with little change in the rotation during camp, but that all changed when they traded James Harden to Houston after preseason games ended. That shouldn’t change the starting lineup at all, but it does change the shape of the second unit. Kevin Martin, acquired from the Rockets in the deal, will be the scorer off the bench – a scorer who’s averaged 20 points per game in six of his nine NBA seasons. The other players traded weren’t big parts of the rotation, but Daequan Cook did average over 17 minutes per game last season. Backup guard Reggie Jackson will get some of those minutes and perhaps some will go to first-round draft pick Perry Jones III. The other wrinkle as the result of the trade is that Hasheem Thabeet becomes the back up to Kendrick Perkins at center, though the Thunder can operate with Serge Ibaka as Perkins’ backup, if they feel Thabeet isn’t ready.

Orlando Magic: First and foremost, the Magic needed to find a replacement for Dwight Howard at center. Nikola Vucevic won the job, outdueling Gustavo Ayon even though Ayon had better overall production. Vucevic is the more gifted offensive player, but the Magic could benefit from a better defender in the low post. He joins power forward Glen Davis, small forward Hedo Turkoglu, shooting guard Aaron Afflalo and point guard Jameer Nelson. J.J. Redick will hold some value as Orlando’s scorer off the bench. We never got to see Al Harrington, who was sidelined all preseason by a knee, so early on, rookie Andrew Nicholson will get some backup front-court minutes. Nicholson, the 19th overall draft pick in the 2012 draft, averaged 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game in seven exhibition games.

Philadelphia 76ers: Training camp began with Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins looking to find a replacement for Andre Iguodala at shooting guard. That decision appears to have been easy enough for the coach, who used Jason Richardson as his starter in five of Philadelphia’s seven preseason games. Nick Young will serve as the backup off guard. A bigger concern now presents itself at center, where Andrew Bynum (knee) did not practice or play in a game during the preseason. It’s looking increasingly like he won’t be ready for the start of the season and that alters the starting lineup. Lavoy Allen, who started the final five preseason games and averaged 7.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 27.3 minutes per game in seven games, will start in place of Bynum. And Thaddeus Young will start at power forward. Collins had planned to start Bynum alongside Spencer Hawes at the four. Hawes now comes off the bench with Nick Young.

Phoenix Suns: The Suns will be a new-look team in 2012-13: three new starters and at least that many in the rotation. Point guard Goran Dragic, power forward Luis Scola and small forward Michael Beasley are the new starters, joining center Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, who emerged at shooting guard ahead of Shannon Brown. The shooting-guard battle was never really fought. Head coach Alvin Gentry had Dudley start all seven preseason games and it’s his job. Brown rejoins the second unit that will also include center Jermaine O’Neal (when healthy), power forward P.J. Tucker (specializing in hustle plays), point guard Sebastian Telfair and swing man Wesley Johnson.

Portland Trail Blazers: Other than sorting out the bench rotation, the Trail Blazers were looking to see who would be the team’s starting center when the regular season opens. Truthfully, this was probably J.J Hickson’s job all along, but the notion of competition with 2012 first-round draft pick (11th overall) Myers Leonard and former first-rounder (2006) Joel Freeland was presented publicly at the start of training camp. Hickson did emerge as the starter with Leonard being the first big off the bench. Elsewhere in the rotation, Sasha Pavlovic, Jared Jeffries and Ronnie Price (when healthy) will open the season as part of head coach Terry Stotts’ nine-man rotation.

Sacramento Kings: Other than DeMarcus Cousins as the starting center, training camp was used to determine the starters at the other four spots. Head coach Keith Smart used several combinations during the exhibition season, but looking at the unit he threw out there against the Lakers in the preseason finale looks like a good place to start. Playing with Cousins was Jason Thompson at power forward, James Johnson at small forward, Tyreke Evans at shooting guard and Isaiah Thomas at the point. That would leave Marcus Thornton and Thomas Robinson coming off the bench.

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs didn’t have much to determine during their training camp. The starting five were set, with Manu Ginobili the sixth man. We kept an eye on the front court, where Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter could lineup next to Tim Duncan. Diaw, who started six of the Spurs’ seven preseason games, will open the season as the starter, but all three will share front-court minutes. The last concern is Ginobili, who sat out the preseason finale with back spasms, though the move to sit him was deemed precautionary. A subsequent announcement that Ginobili will not play in the regular-season opener means for more minutes for Stephen Jackson.

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors were looking for starters to fill in around Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. The answers are Kyle Lowry at point guard, Landry Fields at shooting guard and rookie Jonas Valanciunas at center. Valanciunas overcame a calf injury to win the job that was really his to lose. Head coach Dwane Casey saw enough in a six-game preseason look, in which the rookie averaged 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 23.3 minutes per game. His presence should make Bargnani a more effective player, giving the Italian the luxury to play away from the basket. DeRozan had a nice camp, though the Raptors aren’t ready to extend his contract. At point guard, the team’s strength, Lowry will start ahead of Jose Calderon and John Lucas III.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz’s major battle was at the wing spot, where newly acquired Marvin Williams and Randy Foye, along with returnees Gordon Hayward and Alex Burks, were getting looks. Williams and Hayward each started all eight preseason games and will be the starting wings. To some extent the power forward job was of interest, with offseason speculation about Derrick Favors being ready for a starting gig, but Paul Millsap retains the job. Long term, Favors figures to be the man to target at power forward. And by “long term,” I mean the second half of the season. Millsap is attractively in the final year of his contract and a candidate to be traded. And while we’re looking ahead, you should target center Enes Kanter, the backup to Al Jefferson, also entering the final year of his contract. Kanter averaged 13.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game during preseason. I saw a glimpse of the future in Salt Lake City during the Jazz’s preseason finale. Kanter/Favors scored 42 points with 18 rebounds while Jefferson/Millsap had 25 points and seven rebounds. Get in now while the prices are cheap.

Washington Wizards: Washington enters the regular season no more settled than it was when training camp started. They needed to find a replacement for point guard John Wall for the first month of the season, determine a starting shooting guard, and to see how Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor fit in the team’s plans. Those are three veteran NBA starters, but the Wizards are also looking to develop Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker. Injuries will help make head coach Randy Wittman’s decisions easier. In addition to Wall, Nene and Seraphin will not be available for opening night. A.J. Price has emerged as the Wall replacement at point guard. He beat out Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo. Okafor will start at center with Booker the presumed power forward. Small forward comes down to Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. Webster was the more consistent scorer during preseason. At shooting guard, there was barely any gap between rookie Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford. They each made plays, but also shot below 40 percent. The rotation and roles should be pretty volatile, so do your research before jumping on any one player.

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