Every NBA Roster's Strongest Position for 2013-14 Season
Point guard. Shooting guard. Small forward. Power forward. Center.
Those positional designations are starting to mean less as NBA teams adopt more amorphous systems, but each of the Association's 30 teams still has a spot in the lineup that stands out above the rest.
Maybe it's because the best player on the roster plays that position. Maybe it's because so many players can shift out of their natural spots and play there. Maybe it's because there's just so much depth at that spot.
Whatever the reason, and whatever the position, one leading contender has emerged for each squad.
To identify it, I'll be looking at two things.
First are Rotoworld's depth charts and who's listed in the rotation at each position. This is the part where my opinion doesn't come into play. But the second part allows me to subjectively decide which players on the roster can play out of position, and that can make a rather large impact on the final decision.
Atlanta Hawks: Power Forward
The Rotation: Paul Millsap, Mike Scott, Gustavo Ayon
Other Capable Players: Al Horford, Elton Brand, Pero Antic
The Atlanta Hawks have a number of strong positions, and the acquisition of Dennis Schroeder almost pushes point guard over the top, but there are just way too many quality players on the roster who can line up at power forward.
Paul Millsap figures to be the starter at the 4 after he was signed during the free-agency period. The long-armed little big man will be a breath of fresh air for Hawks fans, as his constant hustle and consistent play should stand in stark contrast to Josh Smith's.
Then there's Al Horford. Although the Florida product has spent his entire career playing center, he's still a natural power forward who can slide over to the position in question without any hesitation.
Elton Brand, Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon and Mike Scott can all play the 4 as well.
It's a stacked position, beating out the four-man point guard rotation of Jeff Teague, Schroeder, Lou Williams and Shelvin Mack.
Boston Celtics: Point Guard
The Rotation: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey
Other Capable Players: Jordan Crawford
The Boston Celtics aren't deep enough to beat out the roster's best player in this battle, especially when one of the most valuable secondary players can play point guard as well.
Rajon Rondo is the unquestioned stud in Beantown.
He's one of the truly elite point guards in the NBA, showing off fantastic court vision and supreme passing skills on a daily basis. A legitimate All-Star and All-NBA floor general, Rondo shouldn't have much trouble continuing to thrive even after the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Avery Bradley also helps the cause here. Although he's a natural shooting guard, he played point guard in the injured Rondo's stead during the 2012-13 campaign and will likely shift to the 1 whenever Rondo needs a breather in 2013-14.
Quite frankly, no other position is close to this one.
Brooklyn Nets: Small Forward
The Rotation: Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Tornike Shengelia
Other Capable Players: Joe Johnson, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic
Even if Joe Johnson never moves up a spot in the lineup to help the Brooklyn Nets play small ball, the team is absolutely stacked at small forward after two of its big offseason acquisitions.
Paul Pierce came over from the Boston Celtics and figures to be the starter at the 3. Although The Truth won't be the superstar he was in Boston, he'll be one of the best role players in the NBA, drilling spot-up jumpers and focusing more than ever on his elite—and underrated—perimeter defense.
As for Andrei Kirilenko, he was the bargain signing of the offseason, and he'll make a fantastic sixth man.
AK-47's versatility allows him to capably play shooting guard, small forward or power forward, although the middle one is undoubtedly his primary position. He can shut down just about anyone on defense, and he's a walking Swiss Army knife of offensive tools.
Brooklyn is strong across the board, but the one-two punch of Pierce and Kirilenko allows small forward to stand out above the rest.
Charlotte Bobcats: Center
The Rotation: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood
Other Capable Players: Cody Zeller
Not only is Al Jefferson the best player on the Charlotte Bobcats roster (no offense, Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker), but he's backed up by a solid defender and plays a position where the talented rookie can line up.
Point guard is a close second to center because Ramon Sessions is a quality backup to the rising star that is Walker, but the biggest position on the court still stands out.
Jefferson owned the left block in Salt Lake City, and he'll likely do the same in Charlotte. Plus, Cody Zeller is going to surprise a lot of people as he starts justifying his lofty draft selection. His game was always better suited for the NBA than the NCAA, and this is his first chance to prove it.
The Bobcats in general will shock the basketball world as well. They aren't going to compete for a playoff spot or anything, but they'll at least finish with a record significantly better than the team that eventually earns top lottery odds.
Chicago Bulls: Small Forward
The Rotation: Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell
Other Capable Players: Jimmy Butler
There are four stars or potential stars on the Chicago Bulls roster.
Derrick Rose is the obvious name, seeing as he's a former MVP and set to finally return from his torn ACL. Then there's Joakim Noah, who really stepped up in Rose's absence and established himself as one of the truly elite centers in all of basketball.
Luol Deng is already established as an All-Star thanks to his scoring abilities and defensive prowess, and soon Jimmy Butler will be in the established category as well.
Two of those four can play small forward: Butler and Deng.
Rose and Noah are limited to just one position—point guard and center, respectively—and the secondary options just aren't as appealing. Marquis Teague may one day be a strong enough floor general to give Rose the necessary help, but we haven't reached that point in his career.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Point Guard
The Rotation: Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack
Other Capable Players: None
This is a tough one.
Point guard and center are both logical choices, but I'm rolling with floor general because it's a safer pick. There are fewer injury concerns, and that's saying something considering we're dealing with Kyrie Irving.
If Andrew Bynum begins to look like the Los Angeles Lakers version of himself, then center will take the cake. But it's been a full year since he's set foot on an NBA court, and it's not like Anderson Varejao is the picture of perfect health either.
Due to those concerns, I feel perfectly comfortable picking the position at which the team's best player and premier backup both line up. Even though there are only two capable point guards on the roster—Dion Waiters may be able to play some at the 1—the position still stands out because of Irving's offensive skills.
But again, this could easily change due to health.
Dallas Mavericks: Power Forward
The Rotation: Dirk Nowitzki, DeJuan Blair
Other Capable Players: Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder
The Dallas Mavericks provide another tough decision. Should we go with small forward or power forward?
Power forward boasts the clear-cut best player on the roster: Dirk Nowitzki. He stands head, shoulders and maybe torso above the rest of his teammates, and he's backed up by a solid role player. Brandan Wright can play at power forward as well, as can Jae Crowder in smaller lineups.
But is that enough to beat out the impressive depth of the small forward position?
The 3 doesn't have as much talent at the top, but Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Crowder make for a formidable trio, even if there's a strange mix of ages there.
Having the best player is usually a good recipe for success, though, so power forward is the choice here.
Denver Nuggets: Point Guard
The Rotation: Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson
Other Capable Players: None
This was one of the easiest decisions to make. Period.
Not only is Ty Lawson the best player on the Denver Nuggets roster after the departure of Andre Iguodala, but he's part of a three-headed monster that seems like it belongs in Greek mythology. It's that deadly.
Andre Miller, the man with the PhD in basketball, is one of the best backup point guards in the NBA, and he'll continue throwing picture-perfect lobs while providing steady play whenever Lawson needs a rest.
And now you get to add Nate Robinson into the mix after he signed a surprisingly cheap deal to escape the free-agent pool. Talk about bringing in some dynamic scoring off the bench.
The Nuggets have it all at point guard, and while this is still a deep roster, no other position comes remotely close.
Detroit Pistons: Power Forward
The Rotation: Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva, Tony Mitchell
Other Capable Players: Josh Smith
When a team's two best players can both line up at the same position, it's a pretty safe bet which position will be represented.
Such is the case for the Detroit Pistons and the power forward spot in the lineup, as both Greg Monroe and Josh Smith will be spending a lot of time at the 4. And with those two included in the analysis, there's no point in even mentioning anyone else since Andre Drummond hasn't reached the point where he's in the same tier as those two studs.
Power forward it is.
Golden State Warriors: Small Forward
The Rotation: Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green
Other Capable Players: Klay Thompson
I was already sold on Harrison Barnes as the small forward of the future, ready to predict a breakthrough during his sophomore season. Then the Golden State Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala after a complicated concatenation of offseason maneuvers.
While that will hinder Barnes' development, it makes the position incredibly strong. Strong enough to counter the Stephen Curry-fueled point guard rotation, in fact.
Iggy may not score a ton of points, but he's a true stat-sheet stuffer, a man who thrives making an impact in every facet of the game and showing off some of the best perimeter defense in basketball. He'll push the Dubs over the top this season, and he'll do so while lining up primarily at small forward.
Draymond Green, who showed off nice defensive tools as a rookie, and Klay Thompson are just gravy.
Houston Rockets: Center
The Rotation: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Marcus Camby, Marko Todorovic
Other Capable Players: Greg Smith
There's stacked, and then there's whatever you want to call the Houston Rockets rotation at center.
Not only does the team boast the best big man in basketball (Dwight Howard), but it also lays claim to one of the greatest defenders, particularly in pick-and-roll sets, and a veteran presence capable of playing efficient ball on both ends of the court if he ever gets playing time.
There's a reason that Houston has been looking for ways to get both Omer Asik and Dwight on the court at the same time. Even though playing them together is an ill-fated idea, they're both talented enough centers that they need large chunks of playing time.
This isn't just the strongest position on the Rockets; it's one of the strongest groups in the Association.
Indiana Pacers: Small Forward
The Rotation: Paul George, Solomon Hill
Other Capable Players: Danny Granger, Lance Stephenson, Chris Copeland
Now that Danny Granger is healthy again, the Indiana Pacers are unfairly stacked at small forward. And yes, that's true even though Solomon Hill is listed as the primary backup.
That won't be the rookie's true role on the team. He'll be subject to much more limited playing time as the Pacers constantly throw out two-man combinations of Paul George, Granger and Lance Stephenson at the 2 and the 3.
George is one of the league's true rising stars, and he's likely to assert himself as a top-10 player once he develops a more consistent jumper and set of handles. He's the best player on the roster, but Indiana's group of players is strong enough that George alone can't win the positional battle.
It's the depth that does the trick.
Los Angeles Clippers: Point Guard
The Rotation: Chris Paul, Darren Collison, Maalik Wayns
Other Capable Players: Jamal Crawford
This is another one of the competitions that really isn't very close.
Power forward is the only other position with a star player (Blake Griffin), but there isn't any depth to speak of. Depth is present at small forward with Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Willie Green and a little J.J. Redick sprinkled in for good measure, but there isn't any star power.
Point guard has both.
Chris Paul is quite clearly a star and the best player on the Los Angeles Clippers roster. He's also backed up by a quality, underrated point guard (Darren Collison) and plays at a position that can also see Jamal Crawford run the show.
Los Angeles Lakers: Shooting Guard
The Rotation: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks
Other Capable Players: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson
The only high-quality backup on the Los Angeles Lakers roster is Jordan Hill, and that's assuming he's able to regain the career arc he was on before an injury-plagued 2012-13 season. But Hill and Chris Kaman together aren't enough to dethrone the Mamba.
Kobe Bryant stands well above everyone else on the Lakers, including Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
This is still his team, even as he recovers from an Achilles injury.
Until Kobe retires, shooting guard is going to be the strongest position. Period. End of story.
Memphis Grizzlies: Center
The Rotation: Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos
Other Capable Players: Zach Randolph, Fab Melo
The Memphis Grizzlies have a horde of players capable of playing power forward, but Marc Gasol isn't one of them. He's very much a true center, and he's also the best player on the squad.
Gasol, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is a true game-changer on both ends of the court.
He can capably function as the team's leading scorer, run the offense with his fantastic passing from the blocks and elbows or serve as a secondary option who thrives doing the little things. And that's only on offense, where he impacts the game less often than he does with his textbook defensive play.
Zach Randolph is capable of playing center in a small lineup as well, and the newly acquired Kosta Koufos is a solid, nonglamorous big man who should provide quality minutes off the pine whenever the Spanish center needs a quick breather.
Power forward does keep this race a little close, but not close enough to dethrone the DPOY.
Miami Heat: Power Forward
The Rotation: Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen, Jarvis Varnado
Other Capable Players: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier
Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Jarvis Varnado don't make for a very impressive rotation at power forward.
That's all right, though, as that trio won't be spending much time in the starting lineup. Chris Bosh will play his natural position if Greg Oden emerges as a healthy stud once more, and LeBron James just spent the vast majority of the 2012-13 season playing at the 4.
So two members of the Miami Heat's Big Three can play power forward.
Milwaukee Bucks: Center
The Rotation: Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Ekpe Udoh, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Miroslav Raduljica
Other Capable Players: John Henson
Center wins for the Milwaukee Bucks due to both quality and quantity.
First of all, there are just an insane number of strong contributors at the position. Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh in particular need to play big minutes.
Then there's the individual prowess of a few of the players.
Sanders is a defensive machine, and if he starts closing out on spot-up shooters more effectively, he could emerge as a strong Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Pachulia is a solid backup center who always maximizes his limited physical tools, and Henson is another breakout candidate with two-way potential.
There's a lot to like about the center position in Milwaukee, and that's a statement that doesn't apply to any other position, with the possible exception of the less-deep power forward slot.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Power Forward
The Rotation: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Dante Cunningham
Other Capable Players: Ronny Turiaf, Chris Johnson
As you've probably realized by now, the position that boasts the team's best player is at a distinct advantage when no position is stacked with quality players.
Such is the case for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kevin Love.
While Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic are also stud players for the 'Wolves, they aren't joined by enough standout bench players at their respective positions to dethrone a healthy Love.
It's just not that close.
New Orleans Pelicans: Shooting Guard
The Rotation: Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers
Other Capable Players: Tyreke Evans, Anthony Morrow, Lance Thomas
Expect big things from Eric Gordon this season.
The shooting guard was supposed to be the next scoring stud after transitioning from Los Angeles to the bayou, but that move was anything but seamless. He didn't want to play for the then-New Orleans Hornets, and his knees just wouldn't allow him to play.
That all changes in 2013-14.
Gordon has had a full offseason to recover, and he's going to be happy playing alongside his former AAU teammates. It doesn't hurt that the Pelicans will be a—gasp—competitive team.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't be surprised when Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis become a (kind of) Big Four.
Notice that two of those players are listed up above?
New York Knicks: Power Forward
The Rotation: Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, C.J. Leslie
Other Capable Players: Carmelo Anthony, Metta World Peace
It's all about the other capable players here, namely because that section includes some guy named Carmelo Anthony.
While the power forward rotation is a solid bunch—especially if Amar'e Stoudemire can actually remain healthy for a full season—'Melo was at his best playing the 4 during the 2012-13 campaign. He should continue to line up there whenever possible, as his post game is just about unstoppable at this point in his career.
While shooting guard is another strong position with Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., it still pales in comparison to the top one on the roster.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Power Forward
The Rotation: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Grant Jerrett
Other Capable Players: Kevin Durant, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, the question about the team's top position boils down to whether you'd have Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson or Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
Since most sane basketball fans would rather have Durant than Westbrook and Ibaka over Jackson, there really isn't much of a debate.
Durant doesn't play power forward too much, but he's still more than capable of using his long, lanky frame at the 4. We'll start to see that much more often as he continues to build strength and develop his post moves.
While Westbrook proved his value when his torn meniscus clearly hindered the Thunder's championship dreams, losing Durant would be even more detrimental to the cause.
Orlando Magic: Small Forward
The Rotation: Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Hedo Turkoglu
Other Capable Players: Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo
This was one of the toughest decisions of all.
The Orlando Magic have a surprisingly talented, surprisingly balanced roster. With a projected starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic, there's talent at every position on the court.
That means that depth comes into play here more than normal, and that's what gives small forward the advantage.
While Harris may not be the best starter (he might be, though, if his end-of-season breakout was legitimate), there are four more high-quality players who can capably line up at small forward. Victor Oladipo should only do so in small-ball situations, but he can still play the 3.
While power forward comes close, no other position boasts this type of quality depth.
Philadelphia 76ers: Small Forward
The Rotation: Evan Turner
Other Capable Players: Thaddeus Young, Royce White, Arsalan Kazemi
I'm not including Jason Richardson here after the news that he may be out for the season, and the small forward position is still the most balanced on the Philadelphia 76ers roster.
That's not saying much, though, as Philly is devoid of established talent this year.
Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young are the only two standouts with NBA experience, and they can both play at the 3. Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Nerlens Noel may get there one day (read: they will get there one day), but they haven't played a single NBA game, so they can't carry a position quite yet.
Maybe small forward will remain the top position next offseason when Andrew Wiggins comes to town.
Phoenix Suns: Point Guard
The Rotation: Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall, Diante Garrett
Other Capable Players: Eric Bledsoe
Goran Dragic is the best player on the Phoenix Suns, bar none.
Eric Bledsoe may very well emerge as the No. 2 player, but he also has enough potential that he could immediately supplant Dragic as the top guy. And while he's going to begin the season as a starting shooting guard who can't shoot, his natural position is still point guard.
If Alex Len's lower extremities decide to function properly, he and Marcin Gortat could help the 5 give the 1 a run for its money, but that seems like foolhardy thinking going into the season. Then again, Phoenix's medical staff must practice black magic or something given their ridiculous success rates at healing players.
Still, for now, I'm putting my money on point guard.
Portland Trail Blazers: Point Guard
The Rotation: Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, Earl Watson
Other Capable Players: C.J. McCollum, Terrel Harris
Is Damian Lillard the best player on the Portland Trail Blazers?
Nope, that would be LaMarcus Aldridge, at least until the talented young point guard learns how to play better defense and actually navigate pick-and-roll sets. But the gap isn't large enough that it can't be made up by depth.
Would you rather have Thomas Robinson or Mo Williams as the primary backup? The answer might change next year, but for now, I'll take Williams.
Additionally, C.J. McCollum should be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year, and he's very much a combo guard capable of lining up at either the 1 or 2. It's close, but the Lehigh product pushes point guard into the No. 1 spot.
Sacramento Kings: Point Guard
The Rotation: Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Thomas, Ray McCallum
Other Capable Players: Jimmer Fredette
First of all, can we just acknowledge the hilarious height disparity between the Sacramento Kings' starting and backup point guards? Greivis Vasquez just looks like a giant next to Isaiah Thomas, and yet they play the same position.
That position would be the strongest one on the roster, although it's close. And it's not just close to one other.
The Vasquez-Thomas one-two punch is as strong as it gets in Sac Town, but DeMarcus Cousins alone keeps center in contention. So too does the combo of Ben McLemore and Marcus Thornton at the 2 and John Salmons and Luc Mbah a Moute at the 3.
Sacramento has effectively created a logjam of a roster, and the top position may shift multiple times throughout the season. But entering the 2013-14 campaign, it's the floor generals who reign supreme.
San Antonio Spurs: Power Forward
The Rotation: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Jeff Pendergraph
Other Capable Players: Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, Kawhi Leonard
No disrespect meant to Manu Ginobili, but he's no longer one of the three best players that Gregg Popovich coaches. That trio is now comprised of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, two of whom can capably line up at power forward.
Duncan bounces between power forward and center. Offensively, he's the team's power forward thanks to his impressive range and deadly bank shot. But defensively, he's staying closer to the rim than ever before and is effectively functioning as the team's center.
As for Leonard, he's definitely a small forward by trade, but he's going to find himself playing at the 4 next to Duncan quite often during the 2013-14 season. The Spurs have to get him on the court as often as possible, and he's versatile and big enough that he can play either forward spot.
Add in some nice depth with Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, and it's clear why this position stands out above all the rest.
Toronto Raptors: Small Forward
The Rotation: Rudy Gay, Steve Novak, Quincy Acy, Landry Fields, Quentin Richardson
Other Capable Players: Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Austin Daye
The Toronto Raptors basically have a laundry list of players capable of lining up at small forward, including the best player on the roster: Rudy Gay.
That combination of depth and premier talent is an unbeatable one, especially since the Raptors have questionable backup options at other positions with standout starters. Aaron Gray doesn't help out Jonas Valanciunas, and D.J. Augustin doesn't do much for Kyle Lowry.
Small forward is just overflowing with athleticism (Gay, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and Quincy Acy), and Steve Novak is a great change-of-pace 3 who can come in and space the court with his sharpshooting ability.
If the Raptors are able to shock the NBA and make the postseason, the middle of the lineup will be a big reason why.
Utah Jazz: Center
The Rotation: Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, Andris Biedrins
Other Capable Players: Derrick Favors
The Utah Jazz roster is just a mass of confusion, filled with expiring contracts, worthless veterans and high-upside young guns. But there's no bigger clump of talent than the one you can find at center.
Trey Burke and John Lucas won't make for a very formidable duo during the 2013-14 season. Alec Burks and Brandon Rush are underrated, but they aren't true standouts on this team. Gordon Hayward might be the best player on the roster, but being backed up by Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson doesn't help much.
That leaves power forward and center, but while Derrick Favors can slide over to the 5, the same doesn't apply to Enes Kanter and the 4. In a nutshell, that's why center is the position du jour in Salt Lake City.
Utah won't have the most successful season, but the Jazz do have two emerging big men who finally have a chance to play major minutes.
Washington Wizards: Point Guard
The Rotation: John Wall, Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple
Other Capable Players: None
The Washington Wizards are one of the few teams that don't have players with much positional versatility. Most players can capably play one position, and one position only.
For that reason, it's all about identifying the best player in the nation's capital, and that would quite clearly be John Wall.
The point guard recently inked a five-year, $80 million contract, making him the unquestioned franchise centerpiece. While Bradley Beal and Otto Porter may later join him in the realm of stars, they haven't managed to reach that point quite yet.
This is definitely Wall's team, and they'll go as far as he takes them.