While Cleveland and Boston loaded up on talent, every team in the Southeast either got worse or stood pat. (Full confession, I think Dwight Howard to Charlotte falls into one of those two categories, but I canít decide which). Other than Washington, these teams might really struggle. But bad teams usually create fantasy opportunities, as unheralded players can wind up with big minutes. Letís dive into the details.
Hey, another Eastern Conference team in rebuild mode. Expect Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon (sleeper!) to see crazy minutes. And rookie John Collins could also be in position for significant minutes off the bench. But what about the three?
Small Forward: Taurean Prince, DeAndreí Bembry, Marco Belinelli
Iíll forgive you if youíve never heard of those three. Iím lumping in old man Belinelli because sometimes Bazemore will move down to the three so the Italian Sniper can cast away from deep. Prince was Atlantaís first-round pick in 2016 (12th overall), but he only saw 17 minutes per game last year. He started slowly, but showed improvement by the end of last season and held his own in the playoffs. The small forward spot is his to lose.
Bembry was selected only nine spots lower than Prince, yet his per 36 minute stats were significantly worse. Most troublesome was his lack of three-point shooting, a serious no-no in the Hawks system. If Bembry, a strong defender, improves in that area, heíll factor into the rotation.
Is anyone buying this third version of ďDwight Howard is a new manĒ storyline? Me neither. The Hornets look destined for another sub-500 season. The rotation, due to a serious lack of depth, is pretty set. The starting five are Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Howard. Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller will lead one of the Eastís shallowest benches.
Perhaps the most intriguing battle will be for backup point guard minutes. With Michael Carter-Williams on the shelf, rooke Malik Monk will get some looks.
Miami is bringing back a team that hopes to get better via internal improvement and better chemistry. New reserve Kelly Olynyk will help support the bigs. The biggest question is at small forward.
Small Forward: Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder
Based on pedigree alone, the job should belong to Winslow. But the 21-year-old missed most of last season and, before being shut down with a shoulder injury, was shooting less than 40 percent from the field. The hope, one would think, is that Winslow comes back strong and takes the job, but Richardson just signed a long-term deal after a strong 2016-17 season and will command a rotation spot.
In the teamís preseason opener, it was McGruder who got the start. The former Kansas State standout might be the least-talented of the three, but heís the type of all-around, complementary player Erik Spoelstra likes on the wing.
As is the theme in the Southeast, the question marks seem deepest at the three for Orlando.
Small Forward: Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac, Jonathon Simmons
Of the three, the future upside is certainly with the 19-year-old Isaac. But at 6í11Ē, 205 pounds, Isaac looks like heís made of balsa wood. A stiff breeze might knock him over. With not much to play for in 2017-18, the Magic will likely bring Isaac along slowly, seeing a regulated dose of minutes at both forward spots.
That means Ross and the newly signed Simmons could see the bulk of minutes at the three. Ross has the early lead, having played 24 games for the Magic last year after coming over from Toronto, but heís an inferior defender and hasnít demonstrated a ton of improvement.
Hence, the fully-guaranteed three year deal for Simmons. The former D-Leaguer-turned-Spur will probably stick with his familiar bench role, while also helping Evan Fournier at the two.
This starting five is etched in stone. Major minutes will go to John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat. Kelly Oubre will lead things of the bench. Just like last year, depth will be a major issue all season long.