NBA training camps don't open for another month, but with Fantasy draft season just around the corner, here's a look at nine position battles to monitor leading up to the start of the regular season on Oct. 22:
Atlanta Hawks: Wing rotation
The Hawks have two franchise cornerstones in place in Trae Young and John Collins, while Kevin Huerter projects to hold down the two-guard spot for the foreseeable future. With Dewayne Dedmon out of the picture, Alex Len is the obvious option at center, but the Hawks still have some sorting out to do on the wing.
Both Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, who combined to start 82 games last season, have moved on, leaving behind an intriguing-yet-unproven array of younger options. Atlanta's pair of 2019 lottery picks, De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, figure to get first crack at the starting small forward spot, but veterans Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and DeAndre' Bembry will also be in the mix.
Hunter is more of a true forward, so he'll also spend time at the four, while Reddish can slide down and play the two behind Huerter. If one of the two rookies ultimately claims the lion's share of minutes at the three, there's a chance they'll be relevant in deeper Fantasy formats. But as things stand in early September, both Hunter and Reddish are prospects to keep an eye on in longer-term formats. Reddish is coming off of an underwhelming freshman season at Duke, and while Hunter is considered one of the best -- if not the best -- defenders in the draft, that didn't translate to gaudy steals/blocks numbers at the college level.
Brooklyn Nets: Starting frontcourt
There's an obvious two-time Finals MVP to fill the nominal power forward vacancy, but he'll be in street clothes this season, so in the meantime the Nets will likely turn to a combination of Rodions Kurucs, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler. A positive PED test will keep Chandler out of the first 25 games of the season, lending opportunity for Kurucs or Prince to grab hold of the starting job.
A relatively unknown second-round pick in 2018, Kurucs surprisingly started more than half of the Nets' games last season, appearing in 63 contests overall and averaging 8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 combined steals/blocks in 20.5 minutes. As somewhat of an incumbent, Kurucs may hold the upper hand, though it's unclear if a recent domestic violence incident will impact his standing. That aside, Prince is also the one with the more proven Fantasy track record.
Over the past two seasons in Atlanta, Prince averaged 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steal and 2.2 made 3s (38.7% 3PT). With Chandler on track to return in mid-December, there's a good chance Prince won't reach the 28.2 minutes per game he saw in Atlanta last season, but he should have some utility as a source of steals and efficient 3-pointers -- at least through the first two months of the season.
Meanwhile, the more pressing battle for minutes will take place at the center position, where incumbent Jarrett Allen will attempt to hold off DeAndre Jordan. Chances are, both will play relatively even minutes, which is less than ideal, from a Fantasy perspective, but really the only way this can play out.
At age 31, Jordan is still a rebounding magnet, but he's no longer the hyper-efficient finisher who led the league in field goal percentage for five consecutive seasons. He's also taken a step back as a shot-blocker, though he did post career-bests last season in both assists (2.3 per game) and free throw percentage (70.5%).
Allen is on a much different trajectory as he enters his third NBA season following an encouraging sophomore campaign. The 2017 first-round pick put up 10.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 26.2 minutes per game last season, leaving Fantasy owners to daydream about how much better those numbers would look under a heavier workload. With Jordan in place, that Fantasy unlikely to come to fruition in 2019-20, but Allen should, at the very least, be able to replicate last year's production -- perhaps with a few more 3-pointers.
As for Jordan, he'll still be roster-able in many leagues as a rebounds/field goal percentage specialist, but he's unlikely to play enough minutes to be a truly elite source of boards. And unless he reverses the trend of the last two seasons, Jordan could have a difficult time clearing 1.0 block per game.
Charlotte Hornets: Shooting guard
Talk about a heavyweight fight. The Hornets are not going to be a very good basketball team this season, but even the worst rosters are still home to a handful of Fantasy-viable players. Neither Dwayne Bacon nor Malik Monk can be counted among those players thus far in their careers, but with both Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb gone, there's opportunity in the Hornets' backcourt.
Terry Rozier will be something of a much-less-efficient plug-and-play for Walker, but the other guard spot is wide open. A lottery pick in 2017, Monk has the higher pedigree, but Bacon, a second-rounder in the same draft, appeared to hold the advantage for much of last season. While he bounced back and forth between Charlotte and its G League affiliate in Greensboro, Bacon started 13 games and averaged 17.7 minutes per contest, compared to Monk's 17.2. Bacon was also a significantly more efficient scorer (47.5% FG, 43.7% 3PT) than Monk, though neither player provided much in terms of ancillary stats on either end of the floor.
Entering what's clearly the early phases of a multi-year rebuild, the Hornets may give Monk a longer leash than he's had over the last two years. And as a former lottery pick, that's perhaps what he deserves. But through 136 NBA games, Monk, an explosive scorer at the college level, is shooting just 37.6 percent from the floor and 33.5 percent from 3. If he's unable to put it together and demonstrate tangible improvement in this situation, his days in a Hornets uniform might be numbered.
Bacon isn't under the same pressure as Monk, but in some ways this season could be his unofficial audition for the rest of the league as his free agency approaches. Bacon is set to make just over $1.6 million this season before he's due a $2 million qualifying offer for 2020-21. A productive season, even if it comes for a 17-win team, could change the trajectory of his career.
At the end of the day, neither Bacon nor Monk is likely to have a major impact on the Fantasy landscape, but given the roster situation -- as in, the Hornets have virtually no other options -- the minutes split will be something for owners to monitor.
Chicago Bulls: Backup PG
Back in June, it looked like the Bulls had found their successor to Kris Dunn in Coby White. The North Carolina product added another young piece to what's quietly become one of the better young cores in the league. That may still be true, but White's arrival as the primary floor general will likely be delayed by Tomas Satoransky, who the Bulls inked to a three-year, $30 million contract 10 days after drafting White.
Assuming Satoransky grabs hold of the starting job, White and Dunn will be left to battle for leftover minutes, and while that may not translate to Fantasy relevance in most leagues, it'll be worth noting whether White's development prompts the Bulls to deal Dunn at some point.
A former top-five pick, Dunn came to Chicago as part of the Jimmy Butler trade, but he's struggled to stay healthy, appearing in only 98 games over the last two seasons. When healthy, Dunn has been a solid source of assists and steals, but he's a below-average shooter, and he posted the worst free throw rate of his career last season.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Primary ball-handler
The Cavs' two most recent lottery picks won't battle over minutes so much as they'll battle over who's doing what in those minutes. Coming off of a surprisingly productive rookie season, Collin Sexton has some momentum, but while he excelled as a scorer to a greater degree than expected, he underwhelmed as a playmaker and -- more surprising yet given his collegiate pedigree -- as a defender.
Darius Garland played all of 139 minutes at Vanderbilt, so much of the hype around the rookie is speculative, but on paper at least, he projects as the better creator with a superior feel. Sexton has the experience, though, so it's difficult to project how new head coach John Beilein will handle the young duo. They'll likely start together, at times, but even near the end of last season, the Cavs internally floated the idea of bringing Sexton off the bench as an offensive spark plug, so it wouldn't be a surprise if that happens at some point.
It may take several months to get a firm grasp on how things will play out, but the good news for Fantasy owners is the Cavs understand where they are in the process, and both players should see significant workloads. If you're a believer in Garland hitting the ground running after nearly a full year away from sanctioned basketball, he projects as the better Fantasy option. But Sexton can have some utility in deeper leagues as a points/3s contributor who makes his free throws (84% last season), and he may hold some untapped steals potential based on his defensive history.
Indiana Pacers: Starting wing
Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren
Early on, there should be plenty of minutes to go around, and both Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren will likely start, but the competition should pick up after Victor Oladipo returns from injury. When, exactly, that will be remains to be seen, but once Oladipo is back up to speed, one of the two projects to shift down to a sixth-man role.
Given the track records at play, even a reduced role could still translate to borderline-top-100 value, though Warren, in particular, carries some major durability concerns. In five seasons with the Suns, Warren never topped 66 games, and he's coming off a year in which he played only 43. To Warren's credit, he looked like an improved player last season when healthy, averaging 18.0 points and tripling his 3-point attempts per game, while hitting at a career-best 42.8 percent clip. Warren also added 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks, so if most of that production carries over, he'll still be an attractive Fantasy commodity, even if his workload (31.6 MPG last season) is slightly smaller.
Lamb, meanwhile, enters a much better basketball situation but could take a step back after functioning as the Hornets' de facto No. 2 option last season. There's an argument to be made that Lamb has at least four teammates in Indiana who are better than any non-Kemba-Walker Hornets, so a regression may be inevitable. Early on, though, Lamb will be tasked with helping compensate for Oladipo's absence. The question is whether he'll shoulder enough of the scoring burden to maintain his value over the course of 82 games.
Milwaukee Bucks: Shooting guard
The NBA isn't built for talent to be stockpiled in the long-term, and the Bucks suffered a salary cap casualty this summer in the form of Malcolm Brogdon. Losing Brogdon is no doubt a significant blow for the East's best regular season team, but the shooting guard position will still be in capable hands.
None of the replacements can replicate Brogdon's combination of versatility and devastating efficiency, but the likes of Wes Matthews, Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver, George Hill and Sterling Brown will all have their shot at filling the void left by the league's most recent 50/40/90 club inductee.
The fight for the starting job figures to be primarily waged by Matthews and Connaughton, but Hill will play an important role as the only one of the group who can match Brogdon's ability to play both guard spots. Fantasy-wise, Hill may benefit most from Brogdon's absence, but both Matthews and Connaughton will probably sneak onto your waiver wire radar at some point this season.
Barring injuries, Brown is much less of a consideration, while Korver should only be considered by owners in desperate need of 3-pointers. Even then, it's tough to envision Korver finding his way to the 19.1 minutes per game he averaged between Cleveland and Utah a season ago.
New York Knicks: Frontcourt rotation
Virtually the entire Knicks' roster is one big position battle. New York entered free agency with grand hopes, and while those hopes quickly disintegrated, you have to commend the front office for managing to sign every available, league-average forward. Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson are all new arrivals to a roster that appears to be engineered to win no more than, and no fewer than 30 games.
From a Fantasy perspective, this is a nightmare. The Knicks might not matter in the grand scheme of the NBA playoff race, much less the title chase, next season, but there's always value to be mined from bad teams. In this case, however, it's impossible to discern how minutes will be divided up, as each of the aforementioned veterans will expect to play. And that's before factoring in Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson -- two of the franchise's most coveted future assets.
Given his borderline-historic inefficiency as a rookie, and a lackluster 2019 summer league, Knox is on the outskirts of the Fantasy radar. But Robinson could be poised to claim the unofficial 'Best Defensive Center in the League' title -- that is, if the minutes are there.
David Fizdale was reluctant to deploy Robinson for more than 20-25 minutes on most nights as a rookie, but the rangy big man showed more than enough to warrant a larger role in Year 2. The question is whether the additions of Gibson, Randle and Portis -- all of whom played significant minutes at center last season -- will prevent Robinson from moving closer to the elite tier of Fantasy big men.
While we're at it, the Knicks' backcourt rotation isn't exactly written in stone, either. Third overall pick R.J. Barrett is a lock to play big minutes and handle the ball a ton, but beyond that, the guard depth chart is populated by a cocktail of unproven young players (Dennis Smith, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier) and middling veterans (Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton) who don't exactly complement each other.
Smith, a key acquisition in the Kristaps Porzingis deal, should have every opportunity to earn the starting job, but if he falters, it wouldn't be shocking for Fizdale to turn to Payton, who joins his fourth team in three seasons. The former lottery pick is barely a 30 percent 3-point shooter for his career, but he notched six triple-doubles last season and is perennially a dependable source of assists and rebounds.
Washington Wizards: Starting frontcourt
Poor Bradley Beal. Aside from the two-time-All-Star guard, the Wizards' roster is in rough shape. Seven of Washington's top 10 minutes leaders last season are no longer on the roster, and that doesn't even include John Wall, who could very well miss the entire season while rehabbing a torn Achilles.
For better or for worse, the point guard position is now in the hands of Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas, while Beal will, of course, hold down the shooting guard spot. Coming off of a surprisingly strong sophomore season, Thomas Bryant can be penciled in at center, but the two forward spots are up for grabs.
On the wing, veteran C.J. Miles will compete with Troy Brown, the 15th overall pick in 2018. Beyond that pair, the depth chart features second-round picks and G League cast-offs. As the far more experienced veteran, Miles could have the early edge, but his Fantasy upside is quite limited. While he may be a source of high-volume 3s, Miles has never averaged more than 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists or 0.9 steals in a single season.
The 20-year-old Brown has some upside, but he only played 730 minutes as a rookie and a shot a disappointing 31.9 percent from beyond the arc. Neither player should be selected on draft day, but given the amount of available opportunity, Brown's progression is worth keeping a cursory eye on.
At power forward, the options are a bit more intriguing. Ninth overall pick Rui Hachimura looked fantastic in summer league, and he'll compete with offseason addition Davis Bertans for the starting job. They're vastly different players, but Hachimura has the higher long-term upside as a provider of efficient scoring and rebounding, with some blocks and 3-pointers sprinkled in. If you're in need of high-volume, high-efficiency outside shooting, however, Bertans is the superior Fantasy option.