Preseason basketball has begun and training camps around the league are now open. Teams will begin to work on lineups and solidifying their rotations as the regular season approaches. Some position battles are tested and revealed during the preseason, but they are decided in the intense training camp environments.
Some teams will be title contenders this season, while others are in the process of rebuilding for the future. No matter what the expectations for the season are, there are position battles and playing time up for grabs. There was an enormous amount of offseason movement this summer, leaving many question marks around the league.
Below are a few of the major battles to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.
Knicks: Dennis Smith Jr and Elfrid Payton
New York went through a major overhaul this summer, beginning with RJ Barrett. The focal point of the offense now will shift to Julius Randle. After being traded to the Knicks, Smith averaged 15 points and 5 assists in 21 games last season. If the 21-year old point guard can retain the starting point guard duties, he could build strong chemistry with the likes of Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. He will need to show an improvement on the defensive end of the floor, as they do not have great defenders around him.
Payton signed a short-term deal this summer that surprised a lot of people. He is four years older than Smith and has been a steady and reliable player. Last season, Payton had a fantastic season playing 42 games in New Orleans. In March, he became just the fifth player in league history to record a triple-double in five consecutive games. His 7.6 assists per game average from last year is something that head coach David Fizdale will have to consider when putting his lineup together.
Pistons: Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose
Another point guard battle in the East will take place in the Motor City. The Reggie Jackson experiment has not yielded great success, and a former MVP was brought in this summer. The three-time All-Star had a resurgent season last year in Minnesota, where he was a large part of the offense. Rose averaged 18 points and 6 assists in 51 games while shooting over 48 percent from the floor. His shooting from distance was a revelation and something Detroit could definitely use.
Rose is only a year older than Jackson, who is entering his sixth year with the Pistons. He has started every game he has appeared in during the last two seasons, including all 82 games a year ago. He has been somewhat productive, but nothing spectacular. If Jackson can continue to be a steady presence on offense next to Blake Griffin, Rose could be in line for the spark plug role off of the bench.
Nuggets: Wing Rotation
Denver boasts one of the deepest rosters in the league, which means there are many different lineups it could utilize depending on the opponent. It can be a tricky situation to manage for the head coach, but also a problem that any coach would love to have. The depth on the wing is something that the Nuggets will lean on heavily as the season progresses. Outside of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, nothing is set in stone as far as starters are concerned.
Gary Harris will look to have a bounce-back year, but he has guys like Will Barton and up-and-coming players such as Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig to compete with for minutes. Denver’s big X-factor is Michael Porter Jr, who will make his professional debut this season as well. Don’t overlook the recent acquisition of Jerami Grant, either. The explosive big man will surely challenge Paul Millsap for minutes, but would also benefit from playing behind and learning from the veteran.
Pelicans: Lonzo Ball, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart
The makeover in New Orleans was an unprecedented combination of free agents, draft picks and acquired players. Among them are three guys battling for backup minutes behind Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick. Ball would seem to be the most likely backup at point guard, but Alexander-Walker had a sensational summer league debut after being drafted 17th overall.
When fully healthy, Hart has shown that he can be a quality role player for a team. His fit on this young Pelicans team is ideal, as he can provide help at different positions. New Orleans may opt to play more small ball with so much depth on their roster. Finding the right lineup and rotation may take some time, but David Griffin has stated that he will be patient with this young core.
Bulls: Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Dunn
The Bulls are another young team with a group of guards to sort out. A sign-and-trade brought Tomas Satoransky to town, where he will lock down the starting point guard position. The backup role is up in the air with three guys vying for the spot. Chicago drafted Coby White seventh overall this summer, which signals the end of Kris Dunn’s tenure in the Windy City. Speculation is that he will be moved at some point during the season, if and when another team shows interest.
White will need to improve his outside shooting, but his ability to push the pace is something that will definitely earn him minutes early on. Ryan Arcidiacono may not have the upside of White, or the physical tools of Satoransky, but he does have more than 100 games under his belt – all with the Bulls. He won’t blow you away with his performance or his numbers, but he provides solid insurance for the rebuilding Bulls.
The regular season begins on October 22, so teams will have a few weeks to figure out how to optimize their rosters. With the way the game has shifted, coaches will be tasked with incorporating new talent, as well as having different looks for small-ball lineups and traditional lineups. As each position battle unfolds, internal competition and team chemistry will strengthen the overall group.
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