NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on Starting-Role Battles Around the League

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks looks on against the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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New York Knicks super sub J.R. Smith wants starter-type recognition this coming season, but don't expect his wild shot-taking ways to earn him a spot in New York's starting five by the time Halloween arrives. 

New York is just one of many training camp destinations around the NBA where players young and old are battling it out for a starting role come Oct. 30.

Here we break down the latest buzz surrounding some of the marquee position battles around the league this preseason.


New York Knicks

Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith wants to start in the Big Apple this season. 

Here he expresses his feelings to the New York Post's Marc Berman:

I’d rather start. I’ve been playing [eight] years, coming off the bench, whether it stays [that way] or goes, I’m going to be same person I am. I prefer to start. I’d rather be a starter. If not, I understand that.

Smith started just one game for the Knicks last season but averaged 12.5 points per game on 40.7 percent shooting from the field. He hit nearly 35 percent of his three-pointers a season ago in New York.

The veteran sixth man will be battling Ronnie Brewer for the starting 2-guard spot since Iman Shumpert is out for a few more months recovering from an ACL injury. Brewer is a much better defender and will likely earn the starting job in order to anchor New York's perimeter defense. 

Based on Smith's instant offense off the bench and familiarity with that role, I expect head coach Mike Woodson will start Brewer at SG to open the season.


Toronto Raptors

The Raptors aren't exactly sure just yet which direction they want to go in terms of who will start at center this season.

Head coach Dwane Casey will likely have to choose between rookie Jonas Valanciunas and veteran big man Aaron Gray. Gray averaged 3.9 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Raptors last season in just over 16 minutes per game. He made 40 starts for the Canadian franchise.

Gray actually praised his competition in training camp, according to the Toronto Star's Doug Smith, saying, "Jonas is a great player of the future; he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s got a great attitude."

The 20-year-old Lithuanian was drafted fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 NBA draft. At 7'0", Valanciunas is extremely long and athletic, providing Casey with an exciting project to develop as the season begins.

With Gray starting a bulk of Toronto's games last season at center, I give him the edge in earning the starting role heading into the regular season. Plus, Valanciunas still has plenty of time to develop into an every-night starter at the position.


Phoenix Suns

In the desert, Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown are fighting for the Suns' open 2-guard position. 

Dudley started 60 of Phoenix's 66 games last season, averaging 12.7 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the field. However, it was Dudley's defense and hustle that earned him the starting SG role.

Brown started 19 games for Phoenix in 2011-12, averaging 11 points per game on 42 percent shooting. 

Here's head coach Alvin Gentry on the training camp battle (via The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro):

Jared and Shannon have both played really good basketball, both of them feel right now like they are going to be the starting two-guard and they’ve played at that level. If you talk about the two guys who have played the best in the pickup games (prior to the start of camp), they were the two best ones, probably.

Dudley is a much more consistent player than Brown, though he lacks Brown's explosiveness and athleticism. Dudley is a 40 percent shooter from beyond the arc for his career and allows the Suns to stretch the floor when he's out there.

I expect Dudley to emerge in the preseason as the clear-cut starting shooting guard for the Suns come Game 1 against Golden State. Brown could see additional minutes at small forward if and when Gentry decides to go small.


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