Positional Battles Across the NBA

What do these battles mean for your fantasy team?

The popular question about rotations seems to be shifting from “who’s starting” to “who’s finishing games.” The idea is that you finish the game with your five best players. Manu Ginobili always finished games for the Spurs as did Lamar Odom for Lakers in 2009 and 2010. But starting still means something in the NBA. Ask Carmelo Anthony. Ask Allen Iverson. There’s merit to starting.

There’s a handful of positional battles around the league that will have significant fantasy implications. Here’s a few of those battles to monitor during the pre-season.

Toronto Raptors - Small Forward
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are gone and with them so is a good chunk of the Raptors’ offense from last year’s championship team. Sliding OG Anunoby (Pre-Season Rank: 144) to one of those two starting positions is a given which leaves Norman Powell (178), Stanley Johnson (260), Patrick McCaw (385), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (248) to battle for the other starting spot. The Raptors also appear to love Matt Thomas (698) as much as they once loved Matt Bonner.

Fred VanVleet (82nd) wants to start in a contract year but it’s unlikely he’ll receive that opportunity in Toronto ahead of Kyle Lowry (55). Head Coach Nick Nurse is open to adjusting the starting lineup on a game-by-game basis which makes for even more uncertain operating conditions for fantasy managers.

Orlando Magic - Point Guard
Did you see this?

He’s back! DJ Augustin (Pre-season rank: 135) is ranked ahead of Markelle Fultz (245) in the pre-season rankings. I assume those rankings were finalized before that dunk. Draft Augustin at your own risk.

New York Knicks - Power Forward
Mitchell Robinson is ranked 26th overall in Yahoo’s fantasy rankings to start the season. Yahoo thinks Robinson is going to make a leap this season. If we trust Yahoo, that means the majority of minutes at center are going to Robinson.

That leaves the remaining back-up center and power forward minutes to be split among four players — Julius Randle (Pre-Season Rank: 65) Bobby Portis (155), Marcus Morris (174), and Taj Gibson (233).

Logically, Robinson and Randle eat up the majority of the minutes in the front court. But what are those other professional NBA players going to do in the meantime? Portis, Morris, and Gibson are in New York to earn their next contract. Players usually need to play to get paid.

New York Knicks - Point Guard
The highest ranked point guard on the Knicks to start the season is RJ Barrett (Pre-Season Rank: 135). The others — Elfrid Payton (159) Dennis Smith Jr. (200) Frank Ntilikina (355) — lag behind. I assume Wayne Ellington and Allonzo Trier will play significant minutes at one of the guard spots as well.

I don’t know what to make of any of this. Maybe Barrett will play alongside another point guard? Can any of these guards strategically manage touches for the army of power forwards in New York? Will any of them play enough to properly develop as the future point guard of the Knicks?

Detroit Pistons - Shooting Guard
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Pistons should start Luke Kennard (Pre-Season Rank: 181). He’s a former lottery pick who shot 39.4 percent from three on 4.3 attempts-per-game last season. His scoring average increased each month of the regular season last year and he shot over 40 percent from three from February to April.

Yet, the Pistons signed veterans Derrick Rose (137) and Joe Johnson (443) during the off-season and traded for Tony Snell (246). Bruce Brown (222) also had a number of decent summer league performances. Where does that leave Kennard? Eventually the Pistons have to play their lottery pick significant minutes but it’s uncertain whether he will start this season.

Denver Nuggets - Shooting Guard, Small Forward, and Power Forward
A good real-life team can be a nightmare for fantasy managers. The Denver Nuggets are that team this year. The team is loaded at almost every position which raises questions about the fantasy value of everyone except Nikola Jokic (6).

Jamal “Microwave” Murray (54th) often concedes situational minutes to super back-up Monte Morris (189th). Some combination of Gary Harris (100) Will Barton (138), Malik Beasley (184), Torrey Craig (300), and Michael Porter Jr. (685) are going to play the shooting guard and small forward spots. Harris has been the staple starter at the two-spot but has only appeared in 57, 67, and 57 games in the last three seasons due to a variety of injuries. An injured Harris only further divides the minutes between the remaining options.

Even Paul Millsap (116) is backed-up by former Thunder starter Jerami Grant (151) this season. Grant may even end up starting at some point during the season depending on how the Nuggets juggle their lineup. Also, don’t you dare underestimate the potential of Juancho Hernangomez (312) after he had a great FIBA tournament this past summer.

These are all great problems to have in real-life. The Nuggets are going to be a ton of fun this season even though their collective fantasy ceiling sits well below their real-world championship aspirations.

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