Five Position Battles to Watch
This is the time of year when typically rosters are about set. Teams have done all the retooling they are going to do from the end of the previous season, starting with the June NBA Draft and then following through free agency, evaluating their choices in summer leagues and in training camp.
Even with no free agency yet, some teams have storms brewing when it comes to competing for starting positions. Here are five teams where a decision is going to have to be made.
Portland, Shooting Guard: Wes Matthews v. Brandon Roy
If Brandon Roy proves he is healthy this won’t be an issue, but most aren’t holding their breath. However, even a reduce Roy could be pretty dang good. Matthews is the better defender and better shooter, but Roy does a better job of finding the open man and creating his own shot. Roy also has three All-Star appearances on his resume, is a respected leader, and being paid like a franchise player.
Ideally Coach Nate McMillan would allow these two to openly battle for the starting spot, but the reality is if the pair is even close Roy will get the edge. Is that a good idea? Arguments can be made either way, but a fully engaged Roy coming off the bench is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because of the leadership he can bring to a second unit. Matthews would be solid in the role, but his defense (and health) makes him a better fit starting.
Cleveland Cavaliers, Point Guard: Baron Davis v. Kyrie Irving
When the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Baron Davis for Mo Williams back at the trade deadline last season, it wasn’t about bringing in Davis even though he’s a two-time All-Star with career averages of 16.5 points and 7.3 assists. No, they made the trade because the Los Angeles Clippers gave them their first-round pick, a pick that ended up number one overall – and became point guard Kyrie Irving.
It’s clear Irving is the future of the franchise, not Davis. While Davis may initially get the nod due to experience, it won’t be for very long. And if everyone knows that and the plan is for Irving to take over quickly in the hopes he makes an impact like previous top point guards Derrick Rose and John Wall, why wait? The Cavaliers aren’t contending for anything soon, so give Irving the job. Davis is a solid backup Irving can learn some of the finer points of the NBA game from, but he’s not the future. Let the future start now.
Denver Nuggets, Point Guard: Andre Miller v. Ty Lawson
The Nuggets are in a similar situation with their point guards as Cleveland, but the problem here is they traded a point guard who felt he was a starter (Raymond Felton) away for…a point guard who feels he should be a starter (Miller). And guess what? He’s right. Miller is one of the most durable and productive point guards in recent history and has done nothing to show he either deserves to be a backup or will embrace that role.
Well, that’s not exactly true. If Coach George Karl comes into camp and says how these two play will determine who starts and Lawson wins the job on the floor, Miller will have no issues backing him up. Will that happen? Why should Miller expect it will, when Felton didn’t get that chance? Lawson finished the season as the starter after the Carmelo Anthony trade that also included Chauncey Billups and he played very well, to the tune of four double-doubles and scoring 20 or more points eight times (and twice more in the playoffs). Unfortunately for Miller it’s unlikely he gets a true shot. Denver could do him a favor and trade him to a team where he will start, because his starting days are not behind him.
Minnesota Timberwolves, Small Forward: Michael Beasley v. Derrick Williams
On one side sits the second overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, a player who can play either forward position and is a proven big-time scorer – Michael Beasley. His rebounding is suspect, has a history of off the court issues, and some have questioned his commitment to improvement. On the other side is…a player who can player either forward position and is a big-time scorer, the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft – Derrick Williams. Unlike Beasley, no one questions Williams’ commitment and he showed in college he can be a very effective rebounder.
While both players can play both positions, the reality is neither of them will see many minutes at power forward because Kevin Love owns that spot. New coach Rick Adelman may have some fun with his lineup, moving Love to center at times and playing all three of them together, but that’s not a starting lineup. So who starts at the three? Beasley would seem to lean towards the four while Williams is more of a three than a four. Bringing Beasley off the bench – and still playing him 30+ minutes a game – gives them a fantastic scoring punch and makes the Wolves that much more dangerous (and don’t sleep on the Wolves – they will improve fast under Adelman).
Oklahoma City Thunder, Shooting Guard: James Harden v. Thabo Sefolosha
This may be the most difficult pick of the bunch. Sefolosha is a defensive specialist, charged with taking on the other teams top wing scorer (or point guard, if the PG is a scorer) to take pressure off stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In a starting lineup where Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and even Kendrick Perkins get all the headlines, Sefolosha is the glue guy, the one who doesn’t need the ball to be successful and help his team to wins.
Harden, on the other hand, is a scoring machine. He’s a decent defender, but he needs the ball in his hands to be effective. There has been a lot of talk about what Harden could do in the starting role, but the reality is there may be no better fit for the Thunder as the third guard than Harden. He brings instant offense off the bench and should be a Sixth Man of the Year contender. By moving him to the starting lineup Durant and Westbrook would have to be more focused defensively, which could make them less effective on offense, and the bench would lose explosiveness. Frankly, putting Sefolosha on the bench is wasting his best talent: defending the league’s best scorers.
Agree or disagree with the choices? What other starting position battles do you see shaping up? Leave them in the comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter and hit up his weekly chat, every Monday at 8pm Eastern.