Position Logjams NBA Teams Need to Solve
Depth is great, but too many players vying for minutes at the same position is typically a sign of a bad NBA roster.
If you have a surplus of good wings who all deserve to play, you don't have one player who clearly owns the position. Less is more in that scenario.
Think of it this way: As long as Kawhi Leonard is in San Antonio, the Spurs will never have a logjam at small forward.
Positional gluts aren't so bad for rebuilding teams. Fostering competition is fine for training camp battles—and even the regular season. Not every prospect is going to pan out, so for squads looking to find the guy at a certain spot, there's value in letting several candidates fight it out for the title.
We'll see that happen with the Sacramento Kings.
Here, let's delve into several crowded positions the draft and free agency failed to sort out.
Sacramento Kings: Wings
This is one of those rebuilding situations where having several bites at the apple makes sense.
Perhaps Buddy Hield is the answer at shooting guard. After winning Rookie of the Month last March upon his arrival in Sacramento, he'll surely get the most minutes and the best chance to prove it. But heading into his second season, Hield is a long way from taking total ownership of a big-minute role.
As such, the Kings are better off letting a handful of other prospects make him earn it. That's why Malachi Richardson, Justin Jackson and Bogdan Bogdanovic will all be in the mix on the wing.
Though that quartet would constitute a logjam on its own, Sacramento also has Vince Carter and Garrett Temple on the roster. Those two are steady, proven contributors who would normally have no expectation of playing time on a team like this.
But the Kings likely wouldn't have signed Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill in free agency if they intended to cede every minute to developing young players. That means Carter and Temple will see the floor, and they might even be the ones occupying the 2 and 3 in the fourth quarter.
With six players vying for time at two positions—or one, if you accept the changing categorization in the league that makes shooting guards and small forwards interchangeable—Sacramento has some decisions to make.
Prediction: Hield and Bogdanovic start, but Richardson makes a push while Carter sees time in clutch situations.
Chicago Bulls: Point Guard
Kris Dunn has to be viewed as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves because Zach LaVine is out with a torn ACL and is due for a qualifying offer in 2018. Even if you believe LaVine is sure to regain his otherworldly athleticism, the uncertainty of his contractual future means Dunn is the cornerstone of the deal.
Which is bad. Real bad.
Dunn isn't even assured of a starting gig in Chicago, and Cameron Payne is his only real competition. Unless you count Jerian Grant, which...don't.
Payne, you'll recall, was part of the return for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott last year. In fact, he was the main part of the return.
Right about now, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Man, the Bulls really shouldn't be allowed to trade for point guards anymore."
That's a reasonable stance.
Per Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com, neither contender for the starting spot fared well in Summer League: "The two young point guards, both acquired in trades within the past five months, shot a combined 12-of-38 (31.6 percent) and 3-of-12 from 3-point range. They also had more turnovers (nine) than assists (eight)."
The Bulls are tanking, so turning the offense over to a point guard who'll take his lumps and (maybe) develop in a difficult environment isn't the worst outcome. The problem is, Chicago doesn't even know which of its two options deserves a chance to endure those growing pains.
Prediction: Dunn, with the lottery pedigree and legitimate defensive game, gets the gig.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Power Forward
Getting Butler meant no matter what they did subsequently, the Timberwolves couldn't have a bad offseason.
But they could have done better than a slight downgrade at point guard—yes, Ricky Rubio is better than Jeff Teague—and it would have been nice to set up an obvious frontcourt hierarchy.
Taj Gibson brings several things the Wolves need—toughness, experience and defensive accountability chief among them. But he doesn't stretch the floor, which could be an issue when Butler and Andrew Wiggins likewise fail to scare defenders from deep.
Nemanja Bjelica was a disappointment last year, but he's at least a theoretical spacer at the 4. Perhaps he could alleviate the shooting crunch and allow Gibson to come off the bench against backups.
What about Gorgui Dieng, though? He signed a $64 million extension less than a year ago. He has to play, right?
Cole Aldrich isn't terrible, either, especially if you need a dirty-work guy alongside Towns and want to save Gibson for late in games.
In a perfect world, the Wolves would downsize and let Butler or Wiggins play the 4 in the minutes that count. But head coach Tom Thibodeau has always been a fan of two-big lineups because of the defense and rebounding they provide. We'll see if he expands his thinking this season, but the addition of Gibson and financial commitment to Dieng only make that tougher.
Towns is a lock for as many minutes as he can handle...or as many minutes as his notoriously demanding coach thinks he can. But between Wiggins, Butler, Gibson, Bjelica, Dieng and Aldrich, there's a lot that needs to get sorted out.
Prediction: Gibson starts at the 4 and cramps spacing, but he helps produce a league-average defense.
Boston Celtics: You Name It
The Boston Celtics' positional congestion arises out of too many enticing options rather than several mostly unworthy or imperfect candidates duking it out.
Isaiah Thomas will undoubtedly start at the point, but beyond that, head coach Brad Stevens can get wild with lineups.
Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Jae Crowder could all start on the wing. Crowder and Morris are better utilized at power forward, but that's where Al Horford figures to get plenty of minutes if Aron Baynes is the starting 5.
Horford at center opens up time for Crowder or Morris at the 4, but the Celtics could get really spaced out and athletic if they combined Brown, Tatum and Hayward at the 2, 3 and 4.
One of Boston's biggest issues was a lack of rebounding last season. Baynes is on board to help bump that rebound rate up from 27th, where it ranked in 2016-17. If he's logging 20 minutes a night, it further squeezes opportunities for players looking to contribute everywhere from shooting guard to power forward.
Prediction: Smart, Hayward and Crowder start with Thomas and Horford. Brown sees minutes at three positions, and Morris closes more than a few games at the 4.
Miami Heat: Backup Guard
Dion Waiters was born for this role, but he's a safe bet to start at shooting guard alongside Goran Dragic. It seems unlikely the Miami Heat would have given Waiters $52 million to come off the bench.
Granted, that's effectively what they did by matching Tyler Johnson's four-year, $50 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets last summer.
Further complicating matters is Josh Richardson's emergence as a three-and-D weapon. If he's healthy, he showed more than enough in 2016-17 to warrant minutes.
Then there's Wayne Ellington, who somehow developed into more than a pure catch-and-shoot weapon after grabbing a spot with the injury-riddled Heat last year. Who knows where he'd be right now if Miami hadn't lost so many bodies, but after hitting 37.8 percent of his treys—and demonstrating a newfound acumen for hitting them off screens and handoffs—Ellington should be in line for playing time as well.
Rodney McGruder also factors into the discussion.
Prediction: Johnson opens the season as the backup 2, but injuries result in him playing fewer minutes than Richardson because he can't help diving on the floor. By his own admission, he may not be meant to have teeth.
Orlando Magic: Small Forward
Terrence Ross dunks, shoots loads of threes and once scored 51 points in a game, but he fails to show up for more than two or three games in a row.
Mario Hezonja was the fifth overall pick in 2015, but he hasn't looked anything like a rotation player since being drafted. He regressed last year after averaging 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a rookie, and his 45.0 true shooting percentage in 2016-17 was second-worst in the league among players who attempted at least 330 shots.
Jonathon Simmons profiles as an athletic defender with the physicality and San Antonio Spurs pedigree to beat out both for the job, but the Spurs don't just give up on guys for no reason.
One of these three will likely start at small forward in Orlando, and each brings a mixed bag of intrigue and red flags.
Further complicating matters: Arron Afflalo just agreed to a one-year deal with Orlando, further clogging the logjam, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
None of these options are perfect, but anyone who keeps the Magic from messing around with Aaron Gordon at the 3 again will go down as a hero among men.
Prediction: Ross hangs onto the gig because he's a proven shooter (career 37.4 percent from deep) in a lineup that needs spacing, while Simmons logs minutes as a backup at both forward spots. Hezonja will be better than last year, but that isn't saying much.