A Season of Change

Ryan Knaus
Ryan Knaus examines position battles and projects starting lineups for the Western Conference in this week's edition of The Numbers Game

NBA Position Battles: West

Ryan Knaus examines position battles and projects starting lineups for the Western Conference in this week's edition of The Numbers Game

Golden State Warriors

Andrew Bogut is worth a late-round pick thanks to his shot-blocking prowess, but it's become abundantly clear that chronic injuries will prevent him from being the player he once was. He played his best during the postseason last year (including a 14-point, 21-rebound, four-block gem vs. Denver) but couldn't maintain his momentum for long—in Golden State's six-game series vs. the Spurs, he averaged 6.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 0.7 blocks, with typically horrible FT shooting.

Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, started 81 games as a rookie and looked dominant for stretches during the playoffs. The Warriors are billing him as their 'sixth starter' now that Andre Iguodala has assumed starting SF duties. Barnes combines 3-point range (35.9 percent last year) and a trickle of across-the-board stats to become a viable late-round option, but don't go overboard based upon a few solid weeks in the postseason. In 25 minutes per game last year, he managed just 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks, numbers which aren’t likely to improve dramatically while Iguodala is healthy.

Toney Douglas is a nice handcuff for Stephen Curry in deep leagues, but the much-maligned David Lee may be the best value-pick on the Warriors' roster. He somehow played through a torn hip flexor in the playoffs and he's missed an average of just 7.0 games over the past three season (or 4.0 games over the past six seasons). So much for the idea that he's injury prone. With second-round upside and a price tag closer to the middle rounds, owners should view him as a potential bargain on draft day.

Denver Nuggets

JaVale McGee is the Nuggets' headlining 'breakout' candidate considering his new contract (four years, $44 million) and the team's obvious desire to give him heavy playing time as a starting center under new coach Brian Shaw. Foul trouble may limit JaVale’s minutes to around 30-32 per game (up from 18.1 last year) but that's enough for him to flirt with 15 & 10 averages and a fantasy-gold 3+ blocks per game. Owners will need to account for his career 58.3 percent FT shooting, but that's a small price to pay for elite blocks and FG percentage.

Wilson Chandler is a more obscure value-pick, but he's poised to start at SF until Danilo Gallinari returns from a partially torn ACL. Gallo isn't expected to resume basketball activities until "at least" December, and even when he's healthy Chandler can provide solid value thanks to his 3-point range, rebounding, defensive stats, and ability to play multiple positions.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Jarrett Jack will reprise his role as a do-it-all reserve guard, and a move to Cleveland shouldn't diminish the top-100 value he had in 30 minutes per game last season. He contributes in all the ways a late-round PG should (points, 3s, assists and FT percentage), and at the very least he's a solid insurance policy if you've drafted Kyrie Irving. Dion Waiters seems driven to have a breakout season but his fantasy outlook is clouded by his poor shot selection last year (41.2 percent shooting), coupled with the arrival of Jack.

The frontcourt situation is much messier. Earl Clark will likely start at SF, backed up by Alonzo Gee and Sergey Karasev. Anthony Bennett is expected to begin the season as a backup PF behind Tristan Thompson, while Andrew Bynum will start at center (if he's healthy on opening night) and Tyler Zeller will mop up any minutes that trickle down to him.

The Cavs' big man I'm most intrigued by is the one not yet mentioned, Anderson Varejao, whose 2012-13 season ended with a split quad muscle and a life-threatening pulmonary clot. He has since recovered and has been working out consistently since May, which means he should enter the regular season at full health. He was a solid second-round value (eight-cat) in the 25 games he played last year, but fantasy owners are wary enough of his injury history that he's plummeting into the final rounds of most (very) early fantasy drafts. The inherent risk in drafting him is outweighed by his stellar per-game productivity and the prospect that he'll be traded away by a Cavs team overloaded with big men.

Charlotte Bobcats

Al Jefferson has averaged a mere 3.8 DNPs over the past four seasons, and his offensive usage rate should spike on a Bobcats' team in desperate need of an interior presence. He's a fine pick in the late first round thanks to his durability, center-eligibility, and potential to average 20 & 10 with a steal, a block and solid percentages.

In the final month of the 2012-13 season, Gerald Henderson scored 19.9 points per game with 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals. With the inclusion of 47.0 percent FGs and 81.3 percent FTs he was a solid top-50 value in eight-cat leagues. He's been working on his perimeter shot and should have extra room to operate with Al Jefferson keeping defenses honest, which makes him a likely value pick on draft day.

Two Bobcats I won't be drafting are Cody Zeller (I'm not convinced he can rebound and defend well enough to earn the bulk of minutes ahead of Josh McRoberts) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG has huge potential for steals and blocks, but he needs play more consistently while proving that he can make jump shots. As I mentioned before on Twitter (@Knaus_RW), Kidd-Gilchrist took 63 percent of his shots from within 8ft of the basket last season. Beyond 8ft he shot a combined 64-of-205 from the field, including 8.7 percent from 10-15 feet.

Atlanta Hawks

Paul Millsap should have a great year as the Hawks' unquestioned starting PF alongside Al Horford, backed up by Gustavo Ayon and Elton Brand. Last season Millsap averaged a relatively quiet 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks in just 30.4 minutes per game, numbers which should all improve with increased playing time and a bigger offensive role in ATL. Former teammate Al Jefferson averaged more shot attempts and fewer assists than Horford did last season, another reason to like Millsap's outlook.

Kyle Korver re-signed for $24 million over four years this summer, and he's another Hawk who will be undervalued on draft day. He drained 2.6 triples in just over 30 minutes per game last year and he enters the season as the starting SF, backed up by DeMarre Carroll. A starting job coupled with copious 3-pointers, solid percentages and a trickle of rebounds, assists and steals are enough to recommend Korver in the late-middle rounds of most formats.

Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler is poised to have a breakout season as the Bulls' starting SG. Tom Thibodeau showed great trust in him after Luol Deng went down during the playoffs, and Butler wound up with postseason averages of 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.5 blocks in nearly 41 minutes per game. Butler also has 3-point range, and with unfettered minutes at SG he should provide mid-round value at a late-round cost.

Boston Celtics

Kelly Olynyk should be watched closely as the season progresses. The rebuilding Celtics have no incentive to humor Kris Humphries, whose $12 million contract expires next summer, and neither Brandon Bass nor Jared Sullinger are equipped to play long minutes at center. Olynyk isn't a natural shot-blocker but he did average 18.0 points per game during Summer League, while showing nice shooting range. A bout of plantar fasciitis caused him to skip playing for Canada this summer, which raises concerns, but he should be ready for training camp.

In the final two months of the 2012-13 season, Jeff Green scored 17.3 points per game with 1.2 threes, 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.1 blocks. He'll carry an enormous burden for a Celtics' team in desperate need of scorers, which bodes well, but it remains to be seen how he'll handle the inevitable stream of double-teams from opposing defenses.

Dallas Mavericks

Monta Ellis should have a nice bounce-back year as a featured scorer alongside Dirk Nowitzki, but it's his pass-first backcourt mate, Jose Calderon, whom I'm most inclined to view as undervalued. Devin Harris can play both PG and SG but his toe surgery will keep him out until "December or January," according to Rick Carlisle, and rookie PGs Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin (broken ankle) are expected to fight one another for backup minutes. That leaves a solid role for Calderon, whose per-36 minute numbers from last season are indicative of his remarkable efficiency -- 13.8 points (49.1 percent FGs, 90.0 percent FTs), 2.2 threes, 8.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.1 turnovers. He also led the NBA by shooting 46.1 percent beyond the arc, and the only damper on his value was a lack of playing time (under 30 minutes per game). He can be comfortably targeted in the middle rounds.

In the frontcourt, Brandan Wright has upside even with Samuel Dalembert starting at center and DeJuan Blair shouldering his way into the frontcourt rotation. Wright was a borderline option in 14-team leagues last season, despite playing just 17 minutes per game, and the Mavs will assuredly increase his playing time after re-signing him this summer for $10 million over two years. Give him a look if you're hunting FG percentage, rebounds and blocks in the finals rounds.

Brooklyn Nets

There may not be a single sleeper on the Nets over-filled roster. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett may earn a few precautionary DNP-CDs throughout the season, and injuries can always strike down a starter, but those aren't compelling reasons to draft guys like Jason Terry or Andray Blatche. Even Andrei Kirilenko finds himself stuck in a bench role behind Paul Pierce. When it comes to drafting Nets players this season, fortune favors the timid.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons' projected starters are each solid fantasy options with the possible exception of Rodney Stuckey, who struggled badly last year and shot 40.6 percent from the field. On the other hand, Detroit might have one of the least fantasy-friendly benches in the NBA. Chauncey Billups projects as the team's third guard, backing up both Brandon Jennings and Stuckey, and the 36-year-old can't be recommended as a fantasy pick unless you're desperate for 3-pointers and FT percentage. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a shot at the SG job ahead of Stuckey but he’ll need to have a strong training camp and preseason to convince me to draft him as a rookie. Kyle Singler barely had value as an unchallenged starter last year and he's now backing up Josh Smith at SF, and there's no hope for Jonas Jerebko or Josh Harrellson as long as Detroit's big men stay healthy.

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