Ryan Knaus

Offseason Beat

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NBA Position Battles: East

Monday, September 23, 2013

Magic PG, SG, SF, PF


Nikola Vucevic will start at center for the Magic. That’s all we know for sure. I imagine Orlando will begin the year with a starting five of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Tobias Harris and Vucevic. It shouldn’t take long for Victor Oladipo to overtake Nelson or Afflalo, however, which boosts the rookie’s fantasy outlook (and Rookie of the Year odds) while presenting a conundrum for anyone considering Jameer or Afflalo in the later rounds. If you have safer options, take them and let another owner fret over Jacque Vaughn’s backcourt rotations.


Moe Harkless is the probable starting SF, though he could shift to a reserve SG/SF role if Tobias Harris shifts down to accommodate Andrew Nicholson or Glen Davis at PF (Big Baby is still recovering from foot surgery and his status for the season opener remains uncertain). Tobias has the most upside of the bunch. He was excellent over the final two months of the 2012-13 season, averaging 17.3 points, 1.0 threes, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He should be safe to target in the late-middle rounds, and Harkless is worth a flier pick, but Nicholson and Big Baby should be left on the waiver wire.


Knicks SG


There will be no SG position battle to begin the season – with J.R. Smith suspended five games due to a third-strike violation of the league’s drug policy for marijuana, the starting SG job belongs to Iman Shumpert. Smith is also still recovering from left knee surgery and his suspension won’t start until he’s medically cleared to play, so it’s far from certain that we’ll see him in uniform vs. the Spurs on Nov. 10 (the Knicks sixth game of the year). Smith was a solid mid-round value in 33 minutes per game last season, averaging 18.1 points, 1.9 threes and 1.3 steals on his way to Sixth-Man of the Year honors. Those numbers all seem like best-case scenarios for the upcoming season, and Smith’s combo knee surgery/suspension mean I don’t plan to touch him before the seventh round.


Iman Shumpert played 59 games as a rookie and just 45 games in 2012-13, as ACL surgery kept him sidelined until mid-January. An optimist could point to his career per-36-minute averages of 11.6 points, 1.3 threes, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 steals, and the fact that he made 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers last year. Unfortunately, his sub-40 percent FG shooting is a major drag on his value and it’s doubtful that he’ll log 32+ minutes per game once J.R. Smith is healthy and back on the court. If you draft Shumpert in the late rounds, consider trading him early in the season while his numbers are inflated by J.R.’s absence.


Knicks PF


This is simply a reminder that Amare Stoudemire is a bench player for New York. Andrea Bargnani will start at PF and Amare will give the Knicks whatever he can in limited minutes off the bench. The Knicks have suggested keeping STAT on a 20-minute limit, which is ample reason to avoid him in fantasy leagues.


Bucks SF


Caron Butler may have walked into the starting job for Milwaukee thanks to Carlos Delfino’s unexpected right foot surgery this summer, which will likely keep him sidelined on opening night. GM John Hammond said that the Bucks “project [Butler] to be our starting small forward, project him to play a lot of minutes for our team, project him to help us win games.” In other words, the job may be Butler’s lose even when Delfino is 100 percent healthy.


At this point in his career, Butler is most effective as a spot-up shooter. He’s lost the athleticism that once allowed him to beat defenders one-on-one. He knocked down 38.8 percent of his 3-pointers last year, averaging 1.6 makes per game, but that was his designated role on a team with solid spacing and Chris Paul at PG. Things will get more adventurous with Brandon Knight at the helm of the Bucks’ offense, and I’d avoid Butler unless you need a cheap SF and/or a handful of 3-pointers in the final rounds.


Carlos Delfino had a terrific year from the perimeter in 2012-13, making a whopping 2.4 triples per game on 37.5 percent shooting. Unfortunately, he also missed 15 games last year and has averaged 20 DNPs over the past three seasons. He’ll begin the season recovering from surgery and battling for minutes at SF, which makes him a tough sell before the final round in any fantasy league. Another wildcard is Khris Middleton, acquired from the Pistons in the deal for Brandon Knight. It’s entirely possible that Middleton will crack the rotation, and thus further obscure the outlooks of both Butler and Delfino.


Bucks PF


The starting PF job belongs to Ersan Ilyasova, so this isn’t a true position battle. It’s worth noting, however, that the Bucks are eager to find minutes for John Henson, who posted terrific numbers when given sufficient playing time last season (including five games with 15+ rebounds). The bad news is that Zaza Pachulia should gobble up any available backup C minutes and the Bucks seem resistant to using Ersan Ilyasova at SF, which leaves Henson scraping for backup minutes. If one of the Bucks’ frontcourt players gets injured, however, owners shouldn’t think twice about snatching Henson off the waiver wire.


Pacers SG


There isn’t much to say here. Danny Granger (knee) is expected to start at SG if he’s healthy, but that’s nowhere near certain. He has progressed to on-court workouts and scrimmages, but won’t address his status for the regular season until the Pacers’ media day on Sept. 27. Lance Stephenson will start at SG if Granger isn’t ready to go, otherwise Stephenson will serve as a sixth-man off the bench (a role he’s already said he’s fine with). Granger is an exceedingly risky option whose name-brand may inspire owners to gamble on him in the late-middle rounds, but I plan to avoid him and the inevitable drama that will follow.


Pistons SG


Rodney Stuckey is the favorite to start at SG, but he’ll face competition from rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope throughout training camp and the regular season. KCP’s superior outside shooting (2.6 triples per game with Georgia last year) seems like a natural fit to spread the court for Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, whereas Stuckey’s slash-and-pass game would encourage defenses to pack the paint with defenders and thereby eliminate interior seams and spacing. Until KCP is starting, however, fantasy owners should be wary of the SG position. Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum are both threats to steal playing time, and Stuckey’s value is limited by his career 42.1 percent FG shooting, including a paltry 28.8 percent from downtown.


For more information on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and every other fantasy-relevant rookie, be sure to read my in-depth 2013 Rookie Breakdown column in Rotoworld’s Draft Guide.


Check back next week for Part 2, detailing position battles in the Western Conference.

Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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