2019-20 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Position battles to know for every team

Position battles that should interest Fantasy players as the new season kicks in:

Atlanta Hawks: Small Forward

For a team in the midst -- if not the latter stages -- of a rebuild, the Hawks' depth chart is relatively straightforward. Trae Young, John Collins, and Alex Len are locked in, while Kevin Huerter is the expected starter at shooting guard once he shakes a nagging knee injury.

The small forward spot is a bit more complicated, though rookie De'Andre Hunter appears to have emerged as the top option ahead of Cam Reddish and DeAndre' Bembry. Hunter has started two preseason games thus far, and through three contests overall, he's averaging 9.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 made threes (3-12 3PT) in 24.7 minutes per game. As was the case at Virginia, Hunter's defensive intangibles are where his true value lies, so even if he holds onto the starting spot for the duration of the season, he could struggle to be Fantasy-relevant in many leagues.

Boston Celtics: Center

Boston is yet to settle on a starting center, and it's looking increasingly likely that Brad Stevens will never name a permanent starter. On Sunday, Stevens reaffirmed that he's not committed to any one of Robert Williams, Enes Kanter or Daniel Theis as an every night starter, and he referred to the center spot as a "rotating position."

That's less than ideal, from a Fantasy perspective, but it could be good news for owners who took a flyer on Williams or even This late in drafts. Of the three, Kanter still figures to have the best chance to contribute to most Fantasy teams, given his pedigree as a scorer and elite rebounder, but Williams carries plenty of upside on the defensive end. In 30 minutes of preseason action, the 21-year-old has registered 10 points (5-6 FG), eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and five blocks.

Brooklyn Nets: Center

Opening night is a week away, and we have no more clarity on the Nets' center situation than we did back in July when they brought DeAndre Jordan on board. Thus far in the preseason, the two have each slotted in as the starter, and they've each played -- you guessed it -- exactly 63 total minutes.

That even split has made it difficult to glean much from what are ultimately meaningless exhibitions, but it continues to look as though this timeshare will carry over to the regular season. If Allen and Jordan each average around 25 minutes, their respective upsides will inherently be limited, but they should still be capable of holding value in most leagues.

So far, it's Jordan who's fared significantly better as a rebounder. Allen has been fine, but he's still not totally comfortable from 3, and he's struggled to take care of the ball:

Jordan: 63 min, 20 pts (6-9 FG, 8-12 FT), 26 reb, 6 ast, 3 tov, 2 stl, 3 blk, 5 fouls
Allen: 63 min, 26 pts (10-17 FG, 0-2 3PT, 6-10 FT), 15 reb, 5 ast, 9 tov, 2 stl, 6 blk, 2 fouls

Minnesota Timberwolves: Small Forward

The Wolves are set at four positions with Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, but a spot on the wing remains up for grabs. Jake Layman, Josh Okogie, Treveon Graham and rookie Jarrett Culver are all in contention. Layman got the nod in the preseason opener, while Graham got a turn against Golden State on Oct. 10.

But of those four, Culver, a lottery pick in June, has played the most minutes (75) this preseason. Early returns on the Texas Tech product have been positive, as he's averaging 13.0 points (45.7% FG), 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks in 25.1 minutes per contest. Layman and Graham have also looked good, though, so it's very possible Ryan Saunders never truly settles on one permanent starter.

If that's indeed the case, it'll be difficult to justify rostering Layman, Okogie, Graham or Culver in many leagues, though Culver, especially, is an appealing dynasty-league prospect.

Portland Trail Blazers: Forwards

When we last saw the Blazers, in the Western Conference Finals back in May, it was Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu holding down the starting forward spots. But with both players now in new cities, Portland's starting five will have a new look.

Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood remain in a battle at the three, while Zach Collins and Anthony Tolliver look to be the primary candidates at the four. Hood and Collins started against the Nuggets on Oct. 8, while Bazemore and Tolliver got the nod four days later against Phoenix.

The Blazers haven't said much to tip their hand either way, but Collins is the higher-upside play at power forward, even if it's not his natural position. Through three preseason games, he's played the most minutes of anyone not named Anthony Simons, posting averages of 14.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 23.7 minutes per game. However, Collins is 0-of-6 from beyond the arc. Tolliver has a longer track record of providing floor-spacing, but he, too, has struggled from 3, hitting just one of his first seven attempts. 

On the wing, Hood may have an edge over Bazemore given his familiarity with the system, but both players figure to be key pieces at multiple positions. Bazemore struggled to find his niche for a rebuilding Hawks team a year ago, but he still managed 1.3 steals in 24.5 minutes per game, and he's due to bounce back after a down year shooting the ball.

Denver Nuggets: Forwards

While there may eventually be a mini-competition between Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant for the power forward spot, the more pressing battle is taking place on the wing. Since the start of camp, Mike Malone has maintained that he'll take his time in picking a starter, and he's yet to firmly indication which way he's leaning with one preseason game left on the schedule.

Torrey Craig, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez and Michael Porter are each involved, though Craig and Barton -- two very different players -- appear to be the primary contenders. Barton battled through injuries for much of last season, and it was Craig who started at small forward to end last season.

Now healthy, Barton started the first two preseason games, but Craig got the nod Monday night in Phoenix. Craig airmailed his first corner 3 and struggled from the field, but Malone hinted that his eventual decision will be based on who meshes best with the rest of the starting unit. Given his defensive abilities and willingness to defer to Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic, Craig may best fit that mold. Still, even in what could perhaps be reduced minutes, Barton is the better Fantasy option of the two, as he's the far superior playmaker who's just two years removed from averaging 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.9 3s.

In the long-term, Porter is the player to keep the closest eye on. After missing all of his rookie year while rehabbing a back injury, the 21-year-old has looked every bit the part of a blue-chipper coming out of high school. In 49 total preseason minutes, Porter has 32 points on 15-of-24 shooting (62.5%) to go with 13 rebounds. He hasn't shown a ton as a playmaker (one assist) or defender (two steals, two blocks), but scoring has always been Porter's calling card, and the hope is that he can continue to be a source of instant-offense during the regular season.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Point Guard

At some point, the Cavaliers are going to start Darius Garland. It just hasn't happened yet. New head coach John Beilein appears intent on making Garland earn the position, as he's rolled with Matthew Dellavedova at the two alongside Collin Sexton thus far.

Having sat out one of Cleveland's three preseason games to date with an ankle injury, Sexton has played just 26 minutes. But he's a plus-34 in that span, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go with two rebounds and four assists -- just one fewer than Sexton has in 69 minutes of action.

Of course, it's possible that Beilein begins the regular season leaning on his veterans, but at some point, Sexton figures to take over alongside Sexton, and he could push last year's lottery pick to more of an off-guard role. Sexton turned heads with his shooting ability as a rookie, but he struggled as a playmaker, whereas Garland projects as a more natural floor general -- and perhaps just as reliable of an outside shooter.

For Fantasy owners, there could be some tough sledding early on if Beilein sticks with Dellavedova, or even Brandon Knight, but holding on to Garland could pay dividends as the season progresses.

Los Angeles Lakers: Center

Don't look now, but the Lakers' two-headed monster of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee hasn't looked all that terrible through four preseason games.

Fantasy-wise, McGee has been the more productive of the two, but the slimmed-down Howard has shown he can still rebound at a borderline-elite rate. In just 18.6 minutes per game, Howard is averaging 9.0 boards, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks, while hitting 53 percent of his field goals. Meanwhile, McGee is putting up 9.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 16.5 minutes. For Howard, the lack of blocks is somewhat of a disappointment, and he's still struggling at the free throw line (56.5%).

As expected all along, both players will likely split time at the five, with Anthony Davis shifting up to center in crunch time. Thus far in the preseason, Howard has started twice, McGee has started once, and Davis has notched one start at center in a game during which LeBron James moved up to power forward.

Other notables

  • Tyler Herro is making a serious push to snatch the starting shooting guard spot away from Dion Waiters in Miami. The rookie went off for 14 points in the first five minutes of Monday night's game and finished with 23 points, including five 3-pointers, in 25 minutes of action. Herro has started each of the last two games, but it's worth noting that Waiters has been away from the team for the last several days due to a personal matter. Through three preseason games, the 19-year-old Herro is averaging 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.7 made 3s (53.3% 3PT).
  • Derrick White has appeared in all three of the Spurs' preseason games, but he's yet to play a single minute alongside Dejounte Murray. Though the pair are a bit of an odd fit on paper, we expected the Spurs to start White alongside Murray after the former's mini-breakout toward the end of last season. Thus far, though, Gregg Popovich has rolled with Bryn Forbes at the two-guard alongside Murray. Given the presence of DeMar DeRozan at the three, shoehorning some shooting into the starting five makes sense. But the rest of Forbes' game is extremely limited on both ends of the floor. Thus far, White has struggled off the bench, hitting just 3 of 16 field goal attempts in 54 minutes of action. Even if White remains in a sixth-man role going forward, he'll still have Fantasy value, but a likely reduction in minutes could make it difficult to top his rising ADP.
  • Joe Ingles appears to be set to move to a bench role for the Jazz this season. It's a fairly surprising development for the 32-year-old, but Utah apparently believes it can maximize his passing and floor-spacing off the bench. Offseason addition Bojan Bogdanovic has started all three preseason games, while Jeff Green and Royce O'Neale have traded off as the starter at the other forward spot. The concern, of course, is that a move to the bench could result in a reduced workload for Ingles, but there's also a chance that it could unlock more playmaking opportunities. Ingles averaged a career-best 5.7 assists per game last season, and he assisted on more than a quarter of Utah's baskets when he was on the floor.

Kanell & Bell

Our Latest Stories