NBA Rumors: Top 10 Position Battles Yet To Be Decided
As the Miami Heat aptly demonstrated last night, the first few weeks of the NBA season are largely a "lets get to know each other" process.
With players ridding themselves of preseason and off-season rust, the first month of the year is often filled with unpredictability, as coaches are constantly altering lineups in order to diagnose a team's most potent winning formula.
For many, the beginning of the season is akin to an audition, or a rather intense job interview. Be it a youngster with tremendous upside vs. a savvy veteran, or two players with similar skill sets competing for time, positional battles often bring out the best in players.
With that said, let's look at 10 starting jobs yet to be decided. Here's to hoping that these roles flip-flop more than John Kerry.
10. Nets SG: Terrence Williams VS. Anthony Morrow
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Both players are relatively young—Morrow is entering his third year, Williams his second—so there is no question that both players have upside.
Morrow started in 37 games as a member of the Golden State Warriors last season, averaging 13.0 ppg and 3.8 rpg in just under 30 minutes per contest. As a new member of this developing Nets team, he is definitely the bigger wild card in this situation.
It may be hard to believe, but Williams could almost be considered an established presence on this evolving roster. The former Louisville Cardinal put up solid numbers off the bench last season, averaging 8.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg.
NBA.com has reported that Morrow will get the starting nod for the season opener, despite Williams' impressive summer league performances and solid preseason statistics (13.3 ppg and 4.0 rpg in 26.3 minutes per game).
Although the dashingly athletic Morrow is considered to have more of an upside, don't expect Williams to back down quietly. A bigger body and a better rebounder, it may bode well for Coach Avery Johnson to have a presence who could consistently crash the boards from the guard position, especially considering Troy Murphy's health and Derrick Favors' inexperience.
9. Bucks SF: Carlos Delfino VS. Corey Maggette
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It appears likely that Delfino will get the starting job over the older Maggette, who was brought in via trade this off-season.
Offensively, Maggette is definitely the better option. The former Duke Blue Devil averaged 19.8 points per contest as a member of the Warriors, starting in 49 of the 70 games he participated in. Maggette's uncanny ability to get to the basket also allows him to draw a considerable number of fouls. As a career 82% FT shooter, Maggette's scoring chances rarely go to waste.
Delfino, on the other hand, is a much less skilled offensive player, averaging only 11.0 points as the starter last season. His lack of aggressiveness is definitely a cause for concern. He has never averaged more than two FT's per 36 minutes, a sharp contrast from Maggette's, "I'm going to get to the line or else" style of play.
On the defensive end however, Delfino is certainly the much stronger player. The Argentinian's ability to fight through screens and lock down players one-on-one could prove crucial against other Eastern conference foes, most notably the Miami Heat (LeBron), Boston Celtics (Pierce), Orlando Magic (Carter) and Atlanta Hawks (Johnson). Maggette has never been known for his defense.
This job comes down to need. The Bucks already have a cast of solid scorers in Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut and John Salmons, so adding an extra scorer into the team's primary lineup may only create role inconsistency and confusion. Considering the competition in the Eastern Conference, the small forward spot should be a defensive ace, but an offensive role-player. Think a less brutal version of Bruce Bowen. Delfino fits that role to a tee.
Expect Delfino to maintain the starting job, but Maggette should still garner considerable minutes, especially when the team is in a scoring slump.
8. Hawks PG: Jeff Teague VS. Mike Bibby
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As the Hawks look to build upon their "we'll never make it out of the second round, but at least we're kind of respectable" results, they face a tough decision at point guard. Does new coach Larry Drew start the established Mike Bibby, or does he cede to a youth movement by starting Jeff Teague?
Unfortunately for Teague, an ankle injury in the first game of the preseason hampered his audition for the job, and he has thus been unable to usurp Bibby as the team's go-to point guard.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bibby has secured the starting role for opening night.
Said Drew, "My vision was to have Jeff constantly get better and constantly grow, and if there was a clear sign of him having a major impact on the team if he played significant minutes, I wanted to be in that position to have to make a decision."
That said, don't count Teague out just yet. Having barely played in the preseason, expect the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon to log significant minutes as his ankle heals, putting coach Drew in his desired position of forced choice. Don't be surprised if Teague is the team's starter come Christmas.
7. 76ers Guard: Evan Turner?
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It's official. In tonight's season opener against the Heat, Evan Turner will be coming off the bench.
Turner's preseason has allowed Wizards fans to confess their love to John Wall even more, while giving Philadelphia fans a sentiment along the lines of "other than one time the Phillies did what they were supposed to, why does everything bad always happen to us?"
Turner will likely backup rising PG Jrue Holiday in the first few games, with Andre Iguodala and Jason Kapono at the wings. Being that Turner was the No. 2 pick in the draft and the supposed semi-savior of this franchise, don't expect Doug Collins to sit him all year.
If Turner could show even a glimpse of his Ohio State form, expect this Buckeye to appear in the starting lineup faster than you can say, "let's pray he's not Greg Oden."
6. Cavaliers PF: J.J Hickson VS. Antawn Jamison
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It's no secret that the Cavaliers are in shambles. Entering this year, many analysts (including myself) believe Hickson may end up being Cleveland's best scoring threat.
Hickson, however, has been struggling mightily with coach Byron Scott's new Princeton offense, subjecting him to some harsh criticism by his new lead man.
"He’s one we’re counting on to play a major role in what we’re doing. Right now, from an offensive standpoint, he’s not understanding what we’re trying to do," said Scott following the Cavs' final preseason game. "That’s disappointing, especially as much as we go through it every day."
Although he is certainly in the doghouse as of now, Hickson's preseason statistics were incomparable to those of the aging Jamison, whose meager 4.4 ppg and 21.1 FG% suggest that the veteran may be on his way towards the pine.
More likely than not, Scott was trying to motivate his star player. Expect Hickson to maintain the starting job throughout the season, and don't be surprised if Jamison is traded to clear cap space or bring in youth.
5. Chicago SG: Keith Bogans VS. Ronnie Brewer
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To the surprise of many Chicago Bulls fans, Keith Bogans has been named the starting shooting guard over offseason acquisition Ronnie Brewer, who was largely believed to be the starter since joining the Bulls this summer.
A preseason injury to Brewer allowed Bogans to log considerable minutes, and clearly impressed first-year head coach Tom Thibideau enough to give him the starting nod.
Brewer is by no means a dominant force, but his considerable length, solid defense and high basketball IQ make for an excellent role player and great fit for the Bulls offense. With Rose and Boozer doing the brunt of the scoring, Brewer would also be an excellent compliment to sharpshooter Kyle Korver. Their strikingly different styles of play would give the Bulls a great deal of versatility.
Bogans is a considerably better three-point shooter than Brewer (.351 vs. .234), but as previously stated, Korver already fills that role.
Don't be surprised if Brewer is starting by next week.
4. Hornets SG: Marco Belineli VS. Marcus Thornton
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If you told me last season that Marcus Thornton would not be a starter next season, I'd probably tell you that you're more full of sh*t than a flooded cesspool.
If you asked me who Marco Belinelli was last season, there's a good chance I would have told you that he was an Italian explorer.
Despite averaging 14.5 ppg as a rookie last year, Marcus Thornton finds himself on the bench, as coach Monty Williams has officially declared Belinelli the starter at shooting guard. I'm not exactly sure what Thornton did this off-season, but something tells me he didn't get around to playing much basketball.
In the preseason, Thornton put up only 4.6 points per game, shooting an atrocious 18.6% from the field. Belinelli, on the other hand, averaged 13.1 ppg and shot 41.8% from the field.
A lethal shooter, expect Belinelli to spread defenses so thin, they may risk suffering from malnutrition. The New Orleans Hornets fans, hopefully feasting on a parade of three pointers, will happily cry, "get in my Belinelli!"
3. Celtics Starting Center: Shaq VS. Big Baby VS. Kendrick Perkins (eventually)
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If you thought Shaq would play as well as he did yesterday, you probably also predicted that the Oakland Raiders would score 59 points last Sunday.
Let's face it. After hearing about how old and washed up Shaq is all summer long, nobody expected him to deliver the performance he did last night. Filling in for the injured Kendrick Perkins, Shaq compiled an extremely workman-like nine points, seven rebounds and a sweet block on Dwyane Wade in 18 minutes of playing time, completely punishing the inferior Miami Heat interior.
The key here is that Shaq only logged 18 minutes. His backup, meanwhile, had just as impressive a game, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds in 29 minutes.
Judging by both Davis' and Shaq's more than able performances last night, they will likely both garner significant minutes. At age 38 however, don't expect Shaq to log more than 25 minutes on a given night. Thus, Davis will probably always trump Shaq when it comes to playing time.
I wouldn't be too surprised if both Shaq and Davis split the starting duties until (well, if) incumbent starter Kendrick Perkins returns. When that happens, the C's arsenal of big men will prove to be more vicious than Fluffy the three-headed dog.
2. Knicks Center: Timofey Mozgov VS. Ronny Turiaf VS. Anthony Randolph
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Huge upside, but not as strong of a presence down low. Could benefit tremendously from working with Amar'e Stoudemire in the front court, and would probably assume more of a PF role. Coach Mark D'Antoni however, has had mixed feelings about the third-year player.
"He's got big potential," said D'Antoni. "What does potential mean? Up to now he hasn't done a whole lot. He's good. He's got talent, great future and we hope all that. We got to keep teaching him and he's got to keep learning. Every once in a while he'll go off on a tangent that he can't do during the regular season. We're trying to get him to understand do the easy things. But it's up to him."
Verdict: Could be good, but too much of a liability right now
Most experienced of the bunch, despite never logging more than 22 mpg in a season. Solid defender, but has very little offensive game. In some systems, Turiaf's style of play could work wonders. Unfortunately for the former Zag, he plays for Mike "You must score NOW!" D'Antoni.
Verdict: Will probably be a decent role player off the bench, but probably the least likely of the three to start.
Turned a lot of heads at the FIBA World Championships. Pedestrian preseason numbers (7.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg), but his 51.2 FG% shows consistency and stability. He also hustles, and everyone seems to like him.
Verdict: He's the last man standing. Timofey gets the starting nod...for now. If Randolph improves, he'll likely take over the position.
1. Heat Center: Joel Anthony VS. Udanis Haslem VS. Someone Please
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Among other things, yesterday's game against the Miami Heat demonstrated that the Heat have a glaring problem:
They are in dire need of a post presence.
Joel Anthony is hardly an offensive or defensive behemoth, and was soundly punished by Shaq and Davis all night long. Bosh, being more of a spot-up forward, was unable to make up for Anthony's deficiencies down low.
Anthony is the starter for now, but scoring two points every game simply will not cut it as a starter. Haslem had a significantly better performance (eight points and 11 rebounds, four more than Anthony), but he is more of a power forward and would struggle mightily at center due to his lack of size. At 6'8", 235 Ibs, he would have quite the time trying to guard some of the leagues beastlier big men.
Big Z is always an option, but at 35, his declining skill set and durability raise questions. Expect Anthony to remain the starter for now, but it will be interesting to see how Miami matches up against Dwight Howard on Friday evening.
If last night was any indication, expect the Heat to make a conscious "decision" to find a new center rather quickly.