Who between Deron Williams (left), Joe Johnson (right) and Paul Pierce will be the Brooklyn Nets' go-to scorer in the clutch this season?
With training camps just days away, NBA teams are ready to finalize depth charts and determine key roles for the upcoming season.
Injuries, offseason player movement and the like have created several unsettled roles. However, it must be noted that some of those that follow are starting positions on teams that aren't locked up and have several qualified contenders who could assume the spot.
From sixth men to emerging leaders and reserve spark plugs, a wide range of roles need to be filled across the Association.
Candidates: John Jenkins and Lou Williams
As far as roles go, the Atlanta Hawks' starting shooting guard spot remains one of the most unsettled in the NBA.
John Jenkins appears to be ahead in the race to start at the 2, but can head coach Mike Budenholzer feel comfortable with such a one-dimensional player in his lineup?
According to Hoopdata, nearly half (2.3) of Jenkins' 4.9 field-goal attempts per game last season came from three, where he shot 39.7 percent. That number isn't anything to sneer at, but it should be noted that Jenkins hardly looked to shoot between three and nine feet (0.3 attempts per game) and shot just 41 percent on shots between 16 and 23 feet.
With Kyle Korver the presumed starter at the 3, the Hawks may want some more offensive diversity in their backcourt.
Enter Lou Williams, who's coming off a devastating ACL tear suffered at the beginning of last season. While he may not be capable of starting on opening day due to physical limitations, his skill set is far more diverse than Jenkins'. Jenkins should start the season at shooting guard, but it could be Williams' job to lose once he is healthy.
Candidates: Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee
Coach Brad Stevens' first season in the pro ranks is going to be a test of his patience. Not only will he be tasked with leading an inferior product, but he will have to do so without the presence of Rajon Rondo, who continues to rehab without a timetable for a return, according to ESPN's Chris Forsberg.
In Rondo's absence, either Avery Bradley or Courtney Lee will need to assume a completely new role. Neither Bradley nor Lee is known as an effective passer, and it's evident when examining their career statistics. Over three seasons, Bradley has never averaged more than 2.7 dimes, and his career-high assist percentage is a meager 11.9, according to Basketball-Reference.
Lee's numbers are even worse, with a career-assist average of 1.5 per night. One grain of positive news is that his assist percentage increased by nearly four percent last season (up to 11.7, according to Basketball-Reference), and that was during his first campaign in Boston.
Neither option is particularly attractive, but Bradley may have the edge simply because point guard is his natural position and Stevens will lean on Lee to log the bulk of his minutes at the 2.
The Brooklyn Nets have a wide range of trustworthy scoring options. But which one should head coach Jason Kidd diagram plays for when the Nets are down two and need a bucket with the clock winding down?
Deron Williams? Joe Johnson? Paul Pierce? Brooklyn has an embarrassment of riches to choose from, especially after Johnson proved how lethal he was in the clutch last season.
Pierce is the safest bet because he has a long history of coming up with big shots on the game's grandest stage.
Elsewhere, Williams is the most versatile of the three. He has the ability to pull up and hit jumpers or penetrate and force defenses to collapse, freeing up shooters on the perimeter to get clean looks as time expires.
It's a win-win situation for the Nets, but Pierce and Johnson would appear to have the upper hand thanks to their pedigrees in high-pressure situations.
Candidates: Ben Gordon and Jeffery Taylor
Despite adding Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller to strengthen their interior scoring, the Charlotte Bobcats are still in need of reliable perimeter scorers.
Case in point: Ben Gordon was the team's leading three-point shooter last season at 38.7 percent. Unfortunately, he couldn't replicate that success inside the arc, as he shot 40.8 percent from the field.
On the season, the Bobcats only had three players shoot better than 35 percent from deep, and two of them were Jannero Pargo and Tyrus Thomas, who attempted fewer than 100 combined threes. Thomas only attempted eight, hitting on three of them.
Charlotte would like to find someone more reliable than Gordon to carry the perimeter attack, but unfortunately no move was made to relieve the 30-year-old of his duties.
It would be a lift if Jeffery Taylor, the second-year man out of Vanderbilt, could improve upon his mark of 34.4 percent shooting from three. It would allow the Bobcats to more effectively spread out the floor. In addition, his emergence could help the Bobcats improve upon their offensive rating of 101.5 from last season.
Candidates: Mike Dunleavy, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler
Offense was hard to come by for the Chicago Bulls last season. That will change upon Derrick Rose's return, but coach Tom Thibodeau would be thrilled to see his wings pick up the slack and help take some of the pressure off the former MVP.
Chicago made it a point to sign one of the best shooters in free agency this summer. The Bulls successfully came away with Mike Dunleavy, the former Milwaukee Buck who was true on a career-best 42.8 percent of his three-point attempts last season.
Along with Dunleavy, the Bulls return Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng, each of whom was lauded for their offensive and defensive contributions during a trying 2012-13 campaign. Butler was surprisingly consistent from deep during the regular season (38.1 percent from three) and even better come playoff time, when he converted on 40.5 percent of his threes.
Deng was shaky from distance last season (32.2 percent), but a heavy dose of minutes and the attention of defenses may be a few reasons for the drop-off from 36.7 percent the year before.
With three players capable of hovering around 40 percent from beyond the arc, the Bulls should have no problem improving their offensive output this season. Look for Dunleavy to become the true deep threat Chicago believes he can be.
Candidates: Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee
The Cleveland Cavaliers went 24-58 last season, and a big reason was their shoddy defense under coach Byron Scott. Fortunately for the Cavs and their fans, Mike Brown is back and has the personnel necessary to field an improved defense.
Last year, the Cavs surrendered 101.2 points per game and a ghastly 109.4 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-worst mark in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference.
The good news is that Earl Clark now resides in Cleveland, and the promising Alonzo Gee is slated to be his backup at small forward.
Clark possesses greater size (6'10'') and length than Gee (6'6''), but each has the physical tools and competitive drive to become a trustworthy go-to defender when the Cavs need a stop late in games.
Cleveland committed $9 million to Clark over the next two years, so look for him to pounce on this role immediately.
Candidates: Shawn Marion, Samuel Dalembert, Jae Crowder
According to NBA.com's Jeff Caplan, Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle knows his team needs to improve on the defensive end, saying that his team will open up training camp with "defensive practices."
After allowing the NBA's fourth-most points per game (101.7) last season, it's no wonder Carlisle wants his team to lock down defensively. In order to make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, the Mavs won't be able to lean upon what could be a dynamic offense. They'll have to show improvement on the other side of the ball as well.
The leader in the clubhouse for defensive anchor is the perpetually underrated Shawn Marion, who led the Mavericks in defensive win shares (the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense) with 2.4 last season, according to Basketball-Reference.
Then there's Jae Crowder, who, in his rookie season, led Dallas in steal percentage (2.4), per Basketball-Reference. However, if a wing player is going to take this role, it's going to be Marion.
Lastly, there's Samuel Dalembert, the free agent signed to protect the rim for Carlisle's defense. Dalembert averages a steady 1.8 blocks for his career but doesn't possess the leadership to be the centerpiece of the Mavs defense.
Candidates: Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye
Andre Iguodala is gone. That means the Denver Nuggets will be tasked with finding someone to fill his shoes this season. It won't be easy, but two players immediately stand out when discussing replacements for one of the game's premier wing defenders.
The first is Randy Foye, who joined Denver this summer. And while he is considered more of a shooter than defender, he told DenverStiffs.com that he's confident in his ability to guard on the perimeter:
The past couple years, I've gone against all the two guards, said Foye. I think I'm one of the better defenders on the team. You can ask people in Utah, you can ask people with the Clippers. When we made runs I was a big part of locking down key players on other teams.
He may not seem like an obvious choice based on the perception of his skill set, but it's a positive sign that Foye wants to assist Denver's potentially porous perimeter defense.
Wilson Chandler, the presumed starter at the 3 in Danilo Gallinari's absence, is the other intriguing candidate. With four inches and lots of length on Foye, Chandler would seem to be the preferred choice because he's capable of guarding multiple positions. The same can't be said of the 6'4'' Foye.
With the onus on Chandler in Iguodala's absence, don't be surprised to see the 26-year-old tasked with locking up opposing teams' premier scorers this season.
The Detroit Pistons made a splash this summer. With the trigger-happy Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in tow, there's no telling what sort of antics we'll see in the Motor City this season.
Both Smith and Jennings averaged an identical 15.6 field-goal attempts per game last season, with the former converting on a more efficient 46.5 percent of his looks. Jennings hit on 39.9 percent of his shots last season, which was actually the second-highest mark of his career. Go figure.
So which one will take on a larger workload during his first season in Detroit? It's tough to say, but given Smith's versatility and the fact that he's making a boatload of cash, I'd expect to see Maurice Cheeks run a fair bit of his offense through the athletic freak.
A positive sign is that the Detroit Free Press reports Smith has been working on his mid-range jumper and post moves with assistant coach Rasheed Wallace. A heavier dose of post-ups and fewer jumpers could work wonders for Smith's efficiency, productivity and overall effectiveness.
There's also Greg Monroe, the highly skilled big man who attempted 13.1 field goals per game in 2012-13. It would be a shame to see the arrivals of Jennings and Smith phase Monroe out of the offense even a little because of the potential he possesses, but the fact remains he's due to see his touches remain steady or even decrease a bit if Jennings continues to shoot at recent rates.
Candidates: Klay Thompson and David Lee
Unlike the Detroit Pistons, the Golden State Warriors know their No. 1 scoring option. The real question facing the Dubs is, who will be the second option after Stephen Curry? There are two worthy contenders, each of whom brings a distinctly different skill set to the table.
Klay Thompson, Curry's backcourt mate, established himself as one of the game's elite three-point shooters last season. In tandem with the Davidson product, he gives defenses nightmares on the perimeter. There's simply no way to stop both Curry and Thompson simultaneously. One way or another, they're going to find open looks and knock them down.
Shooting over 40 percent from beyond three during both the regular season and the playoffs, Thompson and his quick release are no joke.
And while he did have a brilliant offensive campaign of averaging 16.6 points, it was forward David Lee who finished second to Curry in scoring with 18.5 points a night.
Lee has never shot worse than 50 percent from the field for a single season, and according to Hoopdata, he was steady from a range of different areas of the floor last season. Between three and nine feet, he made good on 47.1 percent of his shots. From 16 to 23 feet, he hit on 41 percent of his looks, up from 36 percent the year before.
With Curry on the outside, Lee is the preferred No. 2 scoring option because of his reliability in the post (68.9 percent shooting at the rim last season) and ability to draw bigger defenders away from the basket.
Candidates: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and James Harden
Looking at this group and the role in question, you may have some questions. Namely, why are James Harden, a shooting guard, and Patrick Beverley, a backup point guard, included?
At first glance, it does seem strange. But when examining the advanced stats, it's clear that the Rockets have a number of players capable of handling and dishing the ball.
According to Basketball-Reference, among Houston Rockets players who appeared in more than 40 games last season, Lin (29.4), Harden (25.7) and Beverley (24.2) finished first, second and third, respectively, in assist percentage.
As you can see, there isn't a significant differentiation between the three in that category. Furthermore, Lin's turnover percentage came in at 18.8 percent, the highest of that trio. Harden (14.9) and Beverley (17.5) were slightly better. However, Harden turned the ball over nearly one time more per game last season, which was indicative of a larger role for the bearded one from a ball-handling standpoint.
Given that Harden's usage rate was nearly nine percentage points higher than Lin's last season, per Basketball-Reference, it's clear that Kevin McHale wants the ball in his star's hands as much as possible.
It's a positive sign that Lin's turnover percentage decreased by nearly three points from 2011-12 to 2012-13, but for now, Harden will be running the show.
Candidates: Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but I'd like to take a moment and break down just how integral Lance Stephenson was to the Indiana Pacers' success last season.
According to NBA.com's stats database, the Indiana Pacers were 8.8 points better per 100 possessions when Stephenson was on the floor. They were minus-0.8 points per 100 when he was on the bench. And what's even more noteworthy is that Indiana was 10.7 points better offensively per 100 possessions when he was out there. With he was on the floor, the Pacers posted an offensive rating of 106.1, nearly two points better than their team average of 104.3.
The other name in the mix here is Danny Granger, whom the Pacers hope will be able to contribute steadily without knee pain. His stature as a better outside shooter means he's the favorite to start at the 2 and swap places with Stephenson, but just be aware that the feisty New York native has a case for starting after exceeding expectations in 72 starts last season.
Candidates: DeAndre Jordan and Ryan Hollins
Doc Rivers' Los Angeles Clippers added depth on the perimeter and in the backcourt this summer, but they still lack physical, rough-and-tumble low-post presences. Look around the Western Conference and you'll see unsung heroes like Nick Collison cleaning up on the glass, earning their team extra possessions and converting on second-chance opportunities in the post.
While the Clips added frontcourt depth in Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison this summer, they don't fit the previously described role.
That means two old faces, DeAndre Jordan and Ryan Hollins, will have to pick up the slack in the dirty-work department. Jordan has the athletic and physical chops to grab boards, but his offensive game is so limited that it remains one of the few obstacles standing between LA and a Western Conference title.
Hollins is a more aggressive presence who's not afraid to mix it up, a la Reggie Evans, but he faces the same offensive roadblocks as Jordan.
Considering Jordan saw 13.4 more minutes per game last season, the role is his to lose.
Candidates: Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson and Steve Blake
There's one thing we know for certain about these Los Angeles Lakers: Depth is not one of their strong suits. And with a starting lineup that boasts aging wonders like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, Mike D'Antoni will need to find ways to get creative with his lineups to ensure that his stars are as fresh as possible for a grueling 82-game marathon.
To keep from exhausting Bryant, Nash and Gasol, the Lakers have to hope one of their middling reserves pleasantly surprises.
Steve Blake is one offensive spark plug to keep an eye on. He displayed a steady three-point stroke last season, shooting 42.1 percent from beyond. Equal praise cannot be heaped upon his teammate, Jodie Meeks, who returns to LA after shooting a below-average (considering his role as a marksman) 35.7 percent from beyond the arc, the second-lowest mark of his career.
Wes Johnson is a dark horse to assume this position because he possesses the raw athleticism to make an impact a la Earl Clark last season. The only problem is that Johnson isn't in the same ballpark as Clark when it comes to jump shooting, so expectations have to be tempered with the former No. 4 overall pick.
Chalk this one up for Blake, as he's the steadiest shooter of the bunch and can effectively run the point in Nash's absence.
Candidates: Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter
The Memphis Grizzlies finished last in three-point attempts and 24th in three-point field-goal percentage last season, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they pursued and eventually signed former Miami Heat shooting savant Mike Miller.
But just because the Grizzlies landed him, does that mean he'll instantly become the sharpshooter of choice in Memphis? Don't bank on it.
Quincy Pondexter showed up during the Grizzlies' run to the 2013 Western Conference Finals and proved to be the floor-stretching presence that was missing all along. Shooting 45.3 percent from three over 15 games, he led Memphis in three-point percentage and finished ahead of Miller (44.4 percent) in that category for the postseason.
With Pondexter being eight years younger and a far better defender than Miller at this stage in their careers, figure that the former Washington Husky will continue to be the first sniper off the bench.
Candidates: Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen
Playing small ball means sacrificing size in the frontcourt, and that's exactly what the Miami Heat have done, albeit to the tune of two Larry O'Brien trophies. It's hardly a glaring role that needs to be filled, but the Heat could use a more stout shot-blocking presence to combat imposing Eastern Conference big men like Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and Joakim Noah.
Forward-turned-center Chris Bosh led the Heat with 1.4 blocks per game last season, but it was midseason acquisition Chris Andersen who emerged as a ball-swatter extraordinaire. Although he only blocked one shot per game during the regular season and 1.1 in the postseason, he was the sort of energetic, shot-altering body that Miami craved.
Having re-upped with the Heat, Andersen now has a chance to see his nightly run increase from 15.2 to somewhere in the high teens or low 20s. If that happens, look for "Birdman" to threaten the team lead for swats.
Candidates: Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino
The Milwaukee Bucks struggled defensively last season, which was evident by the 100.4 points they allowed per game, a mark that ranked 20th in the NBA.
One big reason was that they lacked perimeter defenders who could contain and frustrate shooters and dribble-penetrators, which placed the onus on Larry Sanders and interior defenders to get the job done.
And while the Bucks didn't add any renowned lockdown defenders to their lineup this summer, they signed two new bodies at small forward. One of them could prove to be the ball-stopper they need, while the other still has a ways to go defensively.
Caron Butler is the most likely candidate to capture the role with Carlos Delfino signed more for his shooting stroke. Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times has more:
Ociepka, once an assistant coach for the Bucks, was an assistant for the Clippers last season. He said Butler proved to a capable defender.
Caron’s not known as a defensive player, but he did a good job for us, Ociepka said in a telephone interview from Chicago on Thursday. I was in charge of the defense (for the Clippers) and I put together some clips for teaching purposes. He was in a number of them.
He guarded some of the best small forwards in the game like (Kevin) Durant and did well. And Durant isn’t an easy guy to guard.
Caron definitely has the ability to be a good defender.
On a young team that needs veterans to lead by example on defense, Butler could prove to be one of the better under-the-radar signings of the summer.
Candidates: Alexey Shved, Corey Brewer and Derrick Williams
The implementation of Kevin Martin at shooting guard means a bit of roster shuffling for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who now find themselves with a bit of depth.
When searching for a sixth man, that's not a bad problem to have. With three worthy names, the Timberwolves are facing a difficult decision: Do they run with Alexey Shved, Corey Brewer or Derrick Williams as the first man off the bench?
Shved provides the least from a scoring standpoint, but his ability to distribute and significant involvement in the offense last season bode well for his chances. According to Basketball-Reference, he posted an assist percentage of 25.2 and a usage of 20.6 percent during his rookie campaign.
Williams showed what he could contribute in Kevin Love's absence last season, but he doesn't have a portfolio nearly diverse enough to garner consideration for the job.
Then there's the newest addition, forward Corey Brewer. Possessing a nice blend of skills, Brewer is skilled at running the floor (the T'Wolves ranked 11th in pace last season, per Basketball-Reference) and is a reliable perimeter defender.
Considering that Minnesota is shelling out $15 million over three years for the former Denver Nugget, Brewer could wind up edging out Shved for the gig.
Candidates: Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma
At first glance, this may seem like an odd designation for the New Orleans Pelicans. After all, they have shot-blocking maven Anthony Davis entering the second year of what promises to be a fruitful career.
However, at 6'10'' and 220 pounds, Davis is clearly a more natural fit at power forward. So, if he winds up playing power forward like he did last season, that would keep sharpshooter extraordinaire Ryan Anderson in his role as the Pelicans' sixth man, leaving the starting center job up for grabs between Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma, who recently told the New Orleans Times-Picayune he has his eyes on the gig.
Ultimately, my money is on Smith (if healthy), who has started 35 games over the last two seasons for Monty Williams. Smith isn't just sturdier than Stiemsma, but his more polished offensive game should give him a leg up entering training camp.
Candidates: Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani
If Mike Woodson chooses to stick with Carmelo Anthony at the 4, then this isn't a conversation. But to this point we've yet to receive a clear indication one way or the other from the coach regarding his starting five.
The New York Knicks thrived with Anthony at power forward last season. It allowed him to draw bigger defenders away from the basket, use his strength on the blocks and let the team spread the floor with more shooters.
Despite that success, the addition of Andrea Bargnani has led to speculation that Anthony could slide back to the 3. That would seem to disrupt the chemistry that Woodson and the Knicks worked so hard to create last season, but it may be a necessary adjustment if the Knicks don't want to play the Italian alongside Amar'e Stoudemire with the team's second unit.
In the end, the cohesion of the starting unit will be too sacred to gamble on Bargnani's inclusion in the starting lineup. Anthony will stick around at the 4, and the Knicks will pray that Bargnani and Stoudemire aren't an absolute train wreck together on defense.
Candidates: Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb
Kevin Martin bolted for greener pastures in Minnesota, which has left the Oklahoma City Thunder with a big question mark hovering over their all-important sixth man role.
The primary contenders for the gig are point guard Reggie Jackson and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, each of whom has his fair share of strengths and weaknesses. However, Jackson's strengths may outweigh Lamb's, particularly after he showed a knack for coming up in big spots during the postseason.
Lamb possesses the build and shooting qualities of a sixth man, but he has only played in 23 games for a total of 147 minutes for the Thunder to this point in his career. Conversely, Jackson is entering his third year with 1,494 minutes under his belt.
While Lamb may eventually emerge as the long-term solution off the bench, Jackson's playoff numbers (13.9 points, 3.6 assists per game) and experience should be enough to give him the edge.
Candidates: Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo
One of the downsides to being a team in the midst of a rebuild (aside from the losing) is that veteran leaders are often hard to come by. And even if you have them, they're aware that they may not be a part of the team's long-term plans. This is a situation that the Orlando Magic are becoming familiar with.
While Jacque Vaughn's team does have a few veteran pieces in Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis, none are the visible on-court leaders who will lead by example for young guns like Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic.
Afflalo and Davis, both 27 years old, are younger than Nelson, 31, who could be entering the final year of his contract (team option for 2014-15 is pending).
I'll go with Afflalo, who feels like a logical choice based on his prominent role in the offense and the backing that he's received from the team's director of pro scouting, Harold Ellis.
Candidates: Arnett Moultrie, Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young
Nearly everything about the Philadelphia 76ers is unsettled, and that includes several spots in the starting lineup. The most concerning, however, is power forward, a spot that NBA.com's John Schumann has been asking about lately.
Last season, Thaddeus Young took over the reins, but considering the Sixers' lack of depth on the wing, he could see significant time at small forward this year.
That leaves Arnett Moultrie and Lavoy Allen as the lone candidates, with Allen the favorite based on his more reliable post defense and half-decent offensive game. Moultrie has a far higher ceiling from a raw physical standpoint, and if the Sixers are serious about tanking for Andrew Wiggins, they may give the second-year man extended minutes.
To start the season I'll say Allen gets the gig, but if he disappoints like he did last season, Moultrie will soon be logging starter's minutes at the 4.
Candidates: Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Shannon Brown
It's slim pickings for the Phoenix Suns on the wing, where they're in need of three-point shooters. Right now, the depth chart at small forward is comprised of Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, each of whom shoots worse than 36 percent from deep for his career.
Green has increased his volume of three-point attempts in recent years (up from 110 to 188) but only hit on 31.4 percent of his attempts last season. Fortunately, he has been more efficient before, hitting 39.1 percent of his looks in 2011-12.
The third option is Shannon Brown, who's coming off the worst three-point shooting season of his career, statistically. He converted on 27.7 percent of his treys during his second year in Phoenix, a dismal mark considering he hits at 33.2 percent for his career.
Based on those stats, it's only fair to assume that the role of perimeter shooter will eventually belong to Green.
Candidates: C.J. McCollum and Dorell Wright
The Portland Trail Blazers shored up their depth in a big way this summer, which has left them with few unsettled roles.
The even better news is that the Blazers now have two quality players whom they can bring off the bench as a sixth man. C.J. McCollum and Dorell Wright both have skill sets that are conducive to playing the key role off the bench. One is a perimeter-oriented scorer, and the other is a prospect capable of scoring from any spot on the floor.
While McCollum is the leader in the clubhouse after being selected No. 10 overall by Portland, Wright has a track record of raining down threes on opponents with a top-notch stroke from beyond the arc. It's a win-win situation for Portland at this point.
Candidates: DeMarcus Cousins and Carl Landry
For the Sacramento Kings, no player is more important than DeMarcus Cousins. And when discussing his role with the team, his inability to mature and be a leader continues to be a flashpoint for detractors of the talented big man.
If he is ever going to prove doubters wrong, a significant amount of emotional and mental growth is going to have to take place under new head coach Mike Malone—and fast. With all of the physical tools necessary to be considered a superstar, Cousins just needs to mature enough to the point where he can lead a young core that now boasts Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore.
The other viable option is Carl Landry, who returns to Sacramento after stints in New Orleans and Golden State. At 29 years old, he could fill the vacant spot as a vocal leader from Day 1 if need be.
It's a stretch to say that Cousins has matured over the course of one summer, so for now the choice is Landry. Fans everywhere hope Cousins takes a leap toward greatness, but it's an optimistic thought to say the least.
Candidates: Boris Diaw and Jeff Pendergraph (now Ayres)
The San Antonio Spurs have filled nearly every role possible, making the battle for "scrappy rebounder" an admittedly minuscule piece of their championship puzzle.
However, the Spurs did rank 29th in offensive rebounding and 21st in total boards last season, so the stats would say that Gregg Popovich needs someone to fill the hole left by DeJuan Blair.
Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan are as reliable as they come at the starting 4 and 5, but the Spurs need a player of Blair's ilk to contribute 15 to 20 selfless minutes a night, with his focus on the glass.
The surprisingly solid Boris Diaw and newly acquired Jeff Pendergraph are each candidates, but the former would appear to be the leader thanks to his higher standing on the depth chart.
Diaw racked up 22.8 minutes per game last season, and with Pendergraph now in Blair's former position on the depth chart behind Duncan and Diaw, he is looking at somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes of run a night.
Candidates: Tyler Hansbrough, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas
The Toronto Raptors were putrid last season on the glass, finishing 28th overall in total rebounds, 26th in defensive rebounds and 24th in offensive boards. It became evident that they needed to get more physical and competitive in the rebounding department, and they addressed that concern by signing Tyler Hansbrough this summer.
An aggressive presence with a knack for getting into scraps, Hansbrough may turn out to be the man Dwane Casey relies upon to earn extra possessions for his squad and prevent other teams from gaining them.
Aside from Hansbrough, the team's rebounding leader from last season, Amir Johnson, will be in the mix as well. Much like the former North Carolina Tar Heel, Johnson stands just 6'9'' but isn't afraid to mix it up in the post.
Jonas Valanciunas is the candidate most likely to see his production increase exponentially after recording just 372 rebounds last season. Now the undisputed starter at center, he is primed for a larger role in what could be a breakout season for the 21-year-old.
Hansbrough fits the bill of what the Raptors are looking for, but watch out for Valanciunas to threaten a double-figure average in the rebounding column.
Candidates: Trey Burke, John Lucas III
A rebuilding phase for the Utah Jazz means an influx of young talent, and point guard Trey Burke is one of the players who figures to take center stage for Ty Corbin's bunch in the coming years.
But for the time being, is Burke capable of being the passer that the Jazz need to set up Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter? He was capable of doing so at Michigan, averaging 6.7 dimes during his sophomore season, but running the pick-and-roll and taking care of the ball effectively at the pro level are a whole different ballgame.
The other option for the Jazz is John Lucas III, a career journeyman who totaled 105 assists last season with the Raptors. While he would seem to be the clear backup, Yahoo's Marc Spears reported back in June that some expect the Jazz to bring Burke along slowly instead of throwing him into the fire right away.
Considering the Jazz are in a period of transition, my money would be on Utah letting Burke learn on the job, even if that means making an abundance of mistakes during his rookie season.
Candidates: Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin
The Washington Wizards possess boatloads of promise thanks to young guns like John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. However, much like the other teams trying to wedge their way into the playoff conversation, Washington still needs to fill a few holes.
One of them is a veteran hustle guy, otherwise known as a player dedicated to doing the dirty work. The good news is that the Wizards roster has a few candidates, each of whom could thrive in such a role.
Trevor Ariza is one name that comes to mind, especially because he may soon be pushed into a reserve role with Porter looming large. The Wizards would love Ariza to become a potent three-and-D dual threat, but he has lacked consistency in recent years.
A more viable candidate is backup center-turned-starter Kevin Seraphin, who averaged 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, according to Basketball-Reference. A sturdy presence who will be tasked with taking over in Emeka Okafor's absence on the glass and in the post, he is the sort of player the Wizards are hoping to count on for extended minutes in 2013-14.
Trevor Booker can stake his claim as well, coming off a season in which he pulled down 9.7 boards per 36 minutes. But for the time being, it's Seraphin who's the leader in the clubhouse after playing 21.8 minutes a game last season.