Predicting Every NBA Team's Hardest Preseason Roster Decision

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

Predicting Every NBA Team's Hardest Preseason Roster Decision

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    The 2012-13 NBA regular season is less than a month away, but there are still several roster decisions for each coaching staff to make before the preseason draws to a close.

    Rebuilding franchises like Charlotte and Orlando have yet to determine who's starting at multiple positions, while the trickiest decision for playoff teams like Oklahoma City and Boston is choosing which undrafted rookies to keep.

    Teams such as Utah and Minnesota are loaded with forwards and have to figure out how to divide the playing time among the talented ballers on their roster.

    Let the exhibitions begin!

Washington Wizards: Splitting Up PG Time While John Wall Is Out

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    A recent ESPN report projects John Wall to be sidelined until the end of November with an injury to his left knee.

    That puts some pressure on head coach Randy Wittman to establish a reworked backcourt rotation for the first month of the regular season until the Wizards' star floor general returns.

    Shelvin Mack and A.J. Price are the candidates to step up in Wall's stead, but Bleacher Report NBA featured columnist Maxwell Ogden reminds us that neither is experienced or prolific at the point:

    With all due respect to Shelvin Mack and A.J. Price, their inexperience suggests that they are not yet comfortable within a motion offense. For that reason, it's not too hard to imagine Bradley Beal taking on a greater role as one of the primary ball-handlers.

    Wittman must really test his guards throughout training camp to see what the best combination and rotation of ball-handlers should be.

Utah Jazz: Starting Power Forward

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    The Utah Jazz's toughest decision results from the fact that the team has too many capable power forwards.

    They have Paul Millsap, who's a versatile competitor, able to start and excel at small forward or power forward. Then there are the two up-and-coming towers, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, who are ready to grow exponentially both skill-wise and mentally.

    No matter what combination they use, it's going to be tricky figuring who to start at the 4.

    Kanter and Favors have almost identical point and rebound production, along with similar offensive and defensive ratings.

    If Kanter improved enough over the offseason, he could make this training-camp, power forward battle extremely interesting for Tyrone Corbin.

Toronto Raptors: Starting Small Forward

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    There is a truckload of possible combinations at the swingmen positions for the Toronto Raptors, and picking the starting small forward will be the hardest decision coming out of training camp.

    There are three primary candidates to fill the two starting slots.

    DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and Terrence Ross can all play shooting guard, and each of them has a chance to fill that role. However, DeRozan and Fields can also play small forward because they have the height and skill to attack and defend small forwards.

    Because the aforementioned three competitors aren't lights-out shooters (Ross isn't yet), Linas Kleiza is also a dark horse to grab the No. 3 slot if he has a great training camp.

San Antonio Spurs: Which Combo Guard Will Back Up Tony Parker?

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    The San Antonio Spurs have a remarkably deep roster, and Gregg Popovich has such a keen command of the squad that the hardest roster decision isn't a nerve-racking one.

    Popovich will have a close eye on the backup combo guards throughout training camp. Gary Neal and Patty Mills are both competent reserves looking to earn an increase in playing time for the 2012-13 campaign.

    Mills is the more explosive of the two with a greater scoring capacity and a higher ceiling for playmaking distribution. He averaged 22.8 points and 5.4 assists per 36 minutes in 2011-12, while Neal averaged 16.6 and 3.5. However, Mills coughed up nearly twice as many turnovers.

    Numbers are only a small part of the story for a guy like Popovich. He's going to go with the guy who's compatible with more lineups and plays within the system, but he will take into account the fact that Mills is more dynamic and Neal is more conservative.

Sacramento Kings: Starting Point Guard

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    There are several playmaking combo guards who will see significant minutes this season, and it's up to Keith Smart to decide which ones will start and which ones will be substitutes.

    Second-year pro Isaiah Thomas and newcomer Aaron Brooks are the front-runners for the starting point guard position, while Jimmer Fredette and Tyreke Evans are more inclined to be wing players than run the show.

    Brooks has far more NBA experience than Thomas, yet Thomas had an impressive rookie campaign and already has a better feel for the Kings' system than Brooks.

    Brooks might be better equipped to dish more assists on a consistent basis, but this competition should be tight because the two are quite similar offensively and defensively. They both struggle sometimes defensively due to their size, but they make up for it on offense with their speed and unpredictable shooting tendencies.

Portland Trail Blazers: Backup Guard Rotation

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    The reason Portland might not be quite ready to take the big step up to the playoffs is the lack of depth in the backcourt.

    Who will emerge as the Trail Blazers' primary backups at point and shooting guard?

    First-year head coach Terry Stotts must critically evaluate Nolan Smith, Ronnie Price and Will Barton to see who can step in and seamlessly relieve Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews.

    Portland wasn't terrible offensively in 2011-12—thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum—but it did get outshined from beyond the arc by an average of almost 20 percentage points per night (Portland shot .346 from distance, while opponents shot .363).

    The reserves' offensive continuity and defensive cohesiveness are keys to closing that gap and creating a winning culture again.

Phoenix Suns: Backup Center

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    Marcin Gortat is the undisputed starting center for the Phoenix Suns, and he will continue to produce in the desert alongside returning point guard Goran Dragic.

    However, it's going to be difficult for Alvin Gentry to determine who should back Gortat up.

    Phoenix doesn't quite have a prototypical center to back him up, as Jermaine O'Neal, Channing Frye and Solomon Jones are all power-forward/center-post players.

    Each has something unique to contribute. O'Neal has experience and power, Frye has the shooting skills to make him more versatile and Jones is the most athletic of the three.

    According to an Associated Press report, Frye is out indefinitely with an enlarged heart, so O'Neal and Jones form an extremely thin line for Gentry.

Philadelphia 76ers: Third Point Guard

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    Do the 76ers have more important decisions to make than picking their third point guard? Yes, but those are decisions that will work themselves out as the regular season unfolds.

    Doug Collins has ample personnel at the swingmen and forward positions, so he doesn't have an urgency to make concrete playing-time decisions for them. But he does need to decide which young guard to keep on board.

    Maalik Wayns and Xavier Silas will make the choice difficult. Between the two of them, they have played a grand total of two NBA games (both Silas).

    Silas has the size advantage and prides himself on defense, but Wayns has more potential to use his penetration to be a facilitator and scorer. In just a handful of practices and exhibition games, Collins must come to a conclusion as to who fits better.

Orlando Magic: Starting Center

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    Similar to Phoenix, Orlando finds itself in a pivot-man quandary. The difference is that the Suns know who their starter is.

    The Magic have several returnees, but much of the roster is in a rebuilding phase, and that includes figuring out who Dwight Howard's successor will be.

    Nikola Vucevic posted solid per-minute numbers during his rookie season with Philadelphia, but Gustavo Ayon and Kyle O'Quinn will give him a run for his money, and Glen Davis may move over to center just because he's an established NBA player.

    Who will Orlando trot out to anchor the paint come November? The shorter yet skilled Davis, or a younger, taller player?

Oklahoma City Thunder: Which Youngster Deserves Time?

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    The defending Western Conference champions don't have any roster issues at the top, as top-notch contributors fill every starting and major reserve role.

    But there is a crop of young talent seeking to prove their mettle to Scott Brooks and show him they belong in the association.

    Lazar Hayward and Cole Aldrich are third-year pros looking to get more than mop-up minutes. Andy Rautins returns from an impressive year in Spain, seeking to latch on as a shooting guard. Daniel Orton, Hasheem Thabeet, Walker Russell and Hollis Thompson are all fringe players hoping to avoid D-League assignment.

    With this many hopefuls, it's going to be hard for Brooks and his staff to trim down the roster for the winter.

New York Knicks: Establishing Point Guard Hierarchy

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    If Raymond Felton plays up to his potential in training camp, he will win the starting job over Jason Kidd, but it's not a complete lock. Felton is a more dangerous ball-handler and mid-range scorer, but Kidd has the veteran intangibles.

    That must mean Kidd automatically gets the backup role if he loses the starting job, right? Not necessarily.

    Rookie Pablo Prigioni, 35, is taking his Argentinian talents to Madison Square Garden, where he'll compete with Kidd for the backup point guard role. Prigioni is a pass-first guard who's not afraid to attack when he needs to and is feisty and active on both ends of the floor.

    The Big Apple will be interested to see what the pecking order ends up looking like.

New Orleans Hornets: Which Forwards Are Out?

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    The top of the frontcourt rotation for the New Orleans Hornets is pretty well established, with Robin Lopez, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson starting, while Jason Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu and Hakim Warrick see significant bench minutes.

    Of the remaining reserve forwards, at least two will either be cut or assigned to the D-League.

    Darius Miller, Dominique Morrison, Lance Thomas and Solomon Alabi will duke it out to see who survives the cut and stays on the big-league squad heading into the regular season.

    The four players have a combined three years of NBA experience, so Monty Williams will be basing a heavy portion of his decision on training camp.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams vs. Chase Budinger

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    In Minneapolis, Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko will likely earn the most minutes at the small forward spot due to his defense and overall versatility.

    The other two forwards battling for substantial playing time are Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger, and they are two different ballplayers.

    Budinger has more mobility to defend the wing better, and he's also a much better outside shooter (40 percent from the three-point line in 2011-12). Meanwhile, Williams is more of a power player who also possesses exceptional athleticism and agility to finish at the rim.

    The forward who can use his unique skills to help Kevin Love and Brandon Roy will be the one who gets more opportunities as camp breaks.

Milwaukee Bucks: Establishing a Rotation at Center

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    Scott Skiles' resources at center are much different than they were a year ago. Andrew Bogut is no longer anchoring the paint, and a new cast of pivot men are in Milwaukee to replace him.

    Samuel Dalembert will start at center, but allotting playing time beyond that is going to be interesting. Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, Joel Przybilla and John Henson are all second-tier centers with aspirations of being the backup center.

    Henson's preseason progress and durability in the paint will be a major factor that affects the whole rotation. He's long enough and skilled enough to score down low, but is he strong enough to rebound and defend as a power forward/center?

Miami Heat: The Center Confusion

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    Having basketball icons like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh around helps mask a lot of deficiencies, especially when Bosh is capable of playing center.

    Erik Spoelstra would love to see a legitimate center emerge during the preseason, because that way he wouldn't need to consider putting Bosh there to start the year.

    Joel Anthony, Josh Harrellson and Dexter Pittman all have a chance to improve their stock during training camp sessions and exhibition games.

    Pat Riley knows he needs someone better if the Heat are going to compete with the Los Angeles Lakers. Anthony has a fairly low ceiling, and Harrellson and Pittman are still young. Unless one of them stands out, Spoelstra may choose Bosh as the starter.

Memphis Grizzlies: Which Guards Will Make Roster?

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    A talented quartet of guards will keep Memphis in contention out west, as Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and Tony Allen will play the majority of the No. 1 and No. 2 guard minutes.

    A couple additional guards will make the roster, but beyond Josh Selby, it's tough to tell who really deserves to wear the Grizzlies blue come November.

    D.J. Kennedy barely has any pro experience, Flip Murray hasn't played in the NBA for two years, Tony Wroten can't hit an outside jump shot consistently yet and Kyle Weaver has been a benchwarmer in his three-year career.

    That's the glass half-empty.

    The good news for head coach Lionel Hollins is that this logjam will likely bring out the best in these four players and give him some decent options to add depth to the roster.

Los Angeles Lakers: Splitting Up PG Time When Steve Nash Rests

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    While Los Angeles Lakers fans are fantasizing Nash-to-Howard and Nash-to-Bryant scenarios, Mike Brown is busy figuring out who will be running the point when Steve Nash is taking a breather.

    The all-world floor general will be turning 39 this season, and his playing time and production have gone down the last five seasons. It's unlikely he'll play much more than 30 minutes per game, so reserve guards will be a key factor every night.

    Does Mike Brown go with the known quantity in Steve Blake, who had a whopping 8.5 PER in 2011-12, or does he give Darius Morris and Chris Duhon a chance to back up Nash? Darius Johnson-Odom is another point who will vie for time, but he's a long shot.

    Blake is the incumbent backup point, Duhon has the most experience and Morris has the most potential. It should make for an intense preseason and a head-scratching decision for Brown.

Los Angeles Clippers: Guard Rotation While Chauncey Billups Recovers

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    According to an interview with ESPN Los Angeles, Los Angeles Clippers veteran combo guard Chauncey Billups will miss the first few weeks, and potentially first couple months, of the season while recovering from Achilles' heel surgery.

    There are a couple of playmaking guards hopeful to fill the void and get more playing time during Billups' rehab.

    Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Willie Green are worthy placeholders.

    Bledsoe is more of a point guard compared to the other two, which gives him an advantage if Chris Paul is in foul trouble or injured. But he's not as good a scorer as Crawford or Green.

    Crawford is the most decorated scorer of the bunch, but his per-minute numbers aren't that much better than Green's, and his shooting percentages from the field and three-point land are actually worse than Green's.

Indiana Pacers: Which Non-Guaranteed Contracts Should They Keep?

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    A bevy of guards enter Indiana Pacers camp with either non-guaranteed contracts or partially guaranteed contracts, and not all of them will be suiting up when the regular-season whistle blows.

    Frank Vogel has the unenviable task of choosing the best of this less-than-elite crew:

    1. Lance Stephenson, 6'5", third year

    2. Sam Young, 6'6", fourth year

    3. Luke Neville, 7'2", rookie

    4. Orlando Johnson, 6'5", rookie

    5. Sundiata Gaines, 6'1", fourth year

    6. Blake Ahearn, 6'2", third year

    7. Ben Hansbrough, 6'3", rookie

    Vogel has a short amount of time to sort all that out.

Houston Rockets: Starting Power Forward

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    Should Rockets head coach Kevin McHale play the known commodity or roll the dice with the unproven talent?

    Patrick Patterson has the power-forward size and skill set, but he's not overwhelming enough to make himself an exciting selection as the starter. However, McHale knows what he's getting.

    The same goes for Chandler Parsons, except Parsons would be better suited to spend more time at the No. 3 slot. But he is an option at power forward simply based on his length and versatility.

    The bolder selection at power forward would be Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas. The two rookies are untested in live NBA-level action, but they both have encouraging potential.

    Jones was a monster in summer league action (18.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG in just 25 minutes per contest), and if he can carry that into training camp, McHale's decision is easier. If not, the position is up for grabs.

Golden State Warriors: Small Forward Playing Time

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    Mark Jackson must settle on an optimal rotation at small forward, and because there are a couple of rookies involved in the conversation, training camp and preseason games will carry a lot of weight.

    Harrison Barnes and Richard Jefferson are the top nominees for the starting role, and once that's figured out, Jackson still has to determine which reserves get the most minutes.

    In addition to the loser of the Barnes/Jefferson battle, there are 2012 second-round pick Draymond Green and veteran swingman Brandon Rush to consider.

    Rush will push Barnes and Jefferson because he has improved markedly from three-point range throughout his young career. In 2011-12, he shot 50 percent from the field, including 45 percent from three-point territory (connecting on 99 of 219 attempts).

Detroit Pistons: Starting Power Forward

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    Assuming Andre Drummond will develop as a post player in a reserve center/power forward role, the Detroit Pistons' starting power forward position will be a hotly contested battle between Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko.

    Head coach Lawrence Frank will choose between explosive enforcer (Maxiell) and up-and-coming scorer (Jerebko).

    Pistons.com writer Keith Langlois says Maxiell has good odds to retain his starting status but notes that the presence of Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva will make the competition close:

    Lawrence Frank is on record with his disdain for the concept of "incumbent starters," but it’s going to be difficult for anyone to unseat Maxiell despite the apparent depth the Pistons enjoy at power forward.

    Jerebko's level of offseason progression will ultimately determine who becomes the starter.

Denver Nuggets: Balancing the Mozgov-McGee Court Time

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    Timofey Mozgov's improvement over the last couple seasons has given George Karl a difficult task this year in determining when to play the Russian tower and when to play the lengthy, springy JaVale McGee.

    An interview with the Denver Post indicates Karl is leaning toward starting Mozgov but plans on giving McGee loads of playing time with guard Andre Miller. It will be a balancing act that he needs to refine as the regular season approaches.

    Mozgov presents a personnel predicament because of his size, advancement and skill level. The seven-footer has great timing for rebounds and blocked shots, solid footwork and a nice mix of post moves.

    His enhanced skills earned him more time on the Nuggets in 2011-12 than he saw in 2010-11 with the Knicks, and they also made him a major factor in Russia's bronze-medal run in London. The improvement makes it more pressing for Karl to give him longer stretches of time.

Dallas Mavericks: Backup Point Guard

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    Although Dallas Mavericks guard Delonte West is a proven veteran and saw more playing time than Rodrigue Beaubois in 2011-12, the stats show that the two guards are evenly matched.

    West boasts a better field-goal percentage, but Beaubois has better per-minute assist and point totals by a slim margin. Interestingly, they posted identical player efficiency ratings in 2011-12, each notching a 15.3 PER.

    There is already enough veteran presence in Dallas' lineup, which makes the speedy Beaubois an attractive choice for Rick Carlisle.

    But West offers better size and better outside shooting, two factors that cannot be ignored.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Starting Small Forward

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    In northern Ohio, a three-way battle for the Cleveland Cavaliers' starting small forward position is brewing.

    C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee and Omri Casspi are vying for the role, as it's Cleveland's most open-ended starting slot.

    If we're considering their 2011-12 campaigns as their auditions for the position, no one stood out or impressed enough to gain a sizable advantage this fall.

    Fortunately, Byron Scott won't have to rely on the 3-spot for much scoring, as Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao will fill the hoop.

    However, he can't play a complete pushover at the position. Miles should step up and show why the team took the effort to bring him in, and Casspi and Gee should push him to truly earn the spot.

Chicago Bulls: Starting Point Guard in Derrick Rose's Absence

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    The much-anticipated return of Derrick Rose won't happen until mid-winter, so it's up to a three-pronged committee to make up for his absence.

    It's impossible to replicate what D-Rose does and how he influences each possession, but Tom Thibodeau will keep the bar raised high for Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague.

    Hinrich is the most complete player of the bunch, but his inability to consistently put pressure on defenses off the dribble will open the door for Robinson and Teague to show their skill.

    Can Robinson actually play point guard and efficiently set up his teammates? Will Teague live up to his first-round pick status, or is he overrated and masked by his Kentucky counterparts' success? 

    Thibodeau hopes to discover enough this preseason to make a decisive move.

Charlotte Bobcats: Who Will Start in the Frontcourt?

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    Unlike 2011-12, the current Charlotte Bobcats have enough talent on their roster to beat most ACC squads. A big reason for that is the depth in the post.

    Let's remember, it's a frontcourt deep with second-tier talent. But having a lot of second-tier talent is better than nothing. There are five forward/centers on Charlotte's roster over 6'9", and they are all relatively close in value and potential.

    Byron Mullens, DeSagana Diop, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood and Tyrus Thomas will tangle in the paint throughout October to earn new coach Mike Dunlap's respect.

    Biyombo and Thomas are more suited to the power forward role from a physical and athletic perspective. On the other block, Haywood, Mullens and Diop will fight for center playing time.

    On a franchise that has seen the peak of humiliation, no roster spot is safe, and all five of these post players control their own fate.

Brooklyn Nets: Which Rookies Should They Boot?

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    Over the summer of 2012, the Brooklyn Nets acquired a handful of rookies to try on for size.

    There are currently six newbies on the roster, and not all of them can stay into the regular season. Avery Johnson must decide which young talent is worth keeping and grooming.

    The front office has the strongest financial commitment to Mirza Teletovic, so he is a safe bet to make the regular-season roster. Beyond him, no one is a lock.

    Tyshawn Taylor had an impressive summer league showing, considering he was a second-round pick, but the Nets are already set at backup point guard with C.J. Watson. Taylor needs a solid training camp to justify a third point guard.

    Rounding out the rookie hopefuls are Tornike Shengelia, Stephen Dennis, Carleton Scott and James Mays. Coach Johnson has a lot of evaluating to do in the next couple weeks to determine which newcomers should get packing.

Boston Celtics: Which Rookies Should They Boot?

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    Boston is in a similar rookie situation, but the Celtics' rookies are more talented.

    Jared Sullinger is a 100 percent lock to see significant playing time, so he shouldn't worry at all about a possible pink slip.

    But demotion to the D-League is a distinct possibility for Fab Melo, Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph and Jamar Smith.

    Doc Rivers will keep almost everyone in green and white, but one or two of these young guns will be wearing Maine Red Claws uniforms when exhibitions conclude. Rivers has to decide whether to assign a big man like Melo or go with one of the two swingmen.

Atlanta Hawks: Starting Shooting Guard

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    The Atlanta Hawks have a playoff-caliber roster, but finding the most compatible combinations and right rotation could heavily influence exactly how good they are and how deep they'll go in the postseason. 

    Larry Drew will have some trouble sorting out his shooting guard rotation, where he currently finds three incoming players capable of filling the role.

    Free-agent pickup Lou Williams has the all-around scoring ability to be a starting shooting guard, but he might not be tall enough to log starter-type minutes. He might stick to being a reserve combo guard.

    Anthony Morrow certainly fulfills the "shooting" requirement to be a No. 2 guard, as the former Net can score from the wing. But he lacks the facilitating and playmaking prowess of Williams.

    Then there's John Jenkins, whose pure shooting skills make him the player most likely to collaborate seamlessly with Jeff Teague and Josh Smith.

    Decisions, decisions.

     

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