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Offseason Beat

NBA Position Battles: West

by Jonas Nader
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

I took a look at some key position battles in the Eastern Conference in September which you can check out by clicking here, so now it’s time to take a look at which starting roles are up for grabs in the West. I always prefer to have my fantasy drafts as late as possible because I want to know as much information as I possibly can prior to drafting, and for a lot of you your leagues will have their drafts on Sunday or Monday night (season starts Tuesday). Also, make sure to freshen up by checking out our awesome Draft Guide which is packed with hundreds of player profiles and in-depth columns that will help lead your fantasy team to glory.

 

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Rockets’ PG

 

The Rockets made the right call when they brought in Ty Lawson from Denver, and while it’s obvious that he has some serious maturity issues, playing in a winning culture such as Houston with Kevin McHale at the helm can only help him. It also helps that his contract will come off the books next season if things don’t work out. Lawson has looked decent in the preseason next to James Harden with averages of 10.2 points, 3.0 assists, 2.8 boards, 1.2 steals and 1.2 3-pointers in 22.8 minutes per contest, but he has been slowed down by a minor back ailment.

 

Meanwhile, the Rockets re-signed Patrick Beverley to a four-year, $25 million deal (a bargain) during the offseason and he figures to see a substantial chunk of minutes as well. Beverley doesn’t have Lawson’s playmaking ability and he struggles to create his own shot, but he is arguably one of the most tenacious perimeter defenders in the NBA. Beverley has preseason averages of 7.7 points, 3.7 assists, 3.4 boards and 1.9 3-pointers in 24 minutes per game, but he is shooting just 34.0 percent from the field.

 

It’s possible that we could see some two-PG lineups since the entire NBA seems to be playing more small ball anyways, but this has the potential to become an ugly timeshare. Lawson is fully expected to open the season as the starter, but McHale won’t be afraid to make a change if he doesn’t perform. Beverley barely posted top-100 value in standard leagues last season as a starter, so it isn’t going to help that his minutes will take a hit. I won’t be targeting Lawson too aggressively either, as I fully expect his assists numbers to drop off as he takes a backseat to James Harden in the offense.

 

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Nuggets’ SG

 

Randy Foye was initially the favorite to start at shooting guard, but the Nuggets have been experimenting with Gary Harris in the first unit during the preseason and it has yielded some pretty good results so far. Harris was mostly invisible in his rookie year, but the Nuggets are clearly headed for the draft lottery this season and he could get a lot more opportunities. Foye has been battling a hamstring injury recently, so Harris just might get the nod on opening night.

 

So does this mean you should target Harris in drafts? Not necessarily. Harris has preseason averages of 11.5 points, 2.8 boards, 1.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 assists in six games, but he hasn’t been heavily involved in the offense and it should be noted that he has struggled to score efficiently early on in his NBA career. As for Foye, we all know what he brings to the table and he should still have a role because of his lethal 3-point shooting, but the 32-year-old veteran could see reduced minutes as the season progresses. Both players are basically just deep-league options, so don’t reach for either one simply because they are starting.

 

Kings’ center

 

Despite forking over a lot of money to acquire Kosta Koufos this summer, head coach George Karl finally admitted that Willie Cauley-Stein will “probably” start at center next to DeMarcus Cousins on opening night. I don’t think it makes any sense to move Cousins further away from the paint because that is where he is most effective, so floor spacing could be an issue for their frontcourt.

 

Cauley-Stein is a freakish athlete and he could be a monster on the defensive end right out of the gate, but his minutes might be low in the early going because his conditioning was an issue in training camp. His preseason averages of 5.8 points, 6.5 boards, 1.3 blocks and 0.7 steals on 53.8 percent shooting is a decent foundation to build off because his minutes were in the low 20s, and the only thing that really worries me is whether or not his body will be able to hold up over 82 games.

 

Koufos is a low-end asset at best anyways, so it makes sense to gamble in the later rounds on a player such as Cauley-Stein because of his upside in blocks.

 

Jazz’s PG

 

Dante Exum (knee) is out for the season and Bryce Cotton has been waived, meaning Trey Burke and Raul Neto are the only two point guards on the roster. Before you get too excited, I’m not sold on either guard and I actually think that the Jazz would be better off letting Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward run the offense.

 

Burke has been a high-volume, inefficient scorer early on in his career, and his defense is below average. As for Neto, he is pretty flashy and has some nice passing skills, but he is very unproven and it doesn’t take an expert to know that he is going to struggle to score at the NBA level. Neto shot just 34.3 percent from the field during the preseason, but he did show a lot of improvement as he became more comfortable running the offense towards the end.

 

Burke actually played better when he came off the bench last season because he is more aggressive in that role, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much better he has looked this preseason. Regardless of who starts, Burke is the point guard to own in Utah, but you won’t need to reach for him until the late rounds.

 

Suns’ SF

 

Probably my favorite position battle of the preseason so far, this one is going to come right down to the wire. Tucker is still the favorite to start and he hasn’t done anything to lose the job, but Warren’s play in the preseason has opened some eyes. The former N.C. State forward is averaging 13.7 points, 5.0 boards, 2.0 assists and 1.8 boards in around 25 minutes per contest.

 

It’s hard to figure out what the Suns will look like this season, and while I fully expect them to be competitive, I see them eventually falling out of the playoff hunt which means they could set some of their young studs loose (Warren included).

 

Tucker is very steady and I still view him as a must-own player in standard leagues for now, but you better believe that the presence of Warren is going to put some pressure on him. View Warren as a late-round sleeper with the potential to help you out in points, boards, field goal percentage and steals, but don’t expect him to take many 3-pointers or block shots.

 

Clippers’ SF

 

This position battle has turned into a three-headed monster with Lance Stephenson, Wes Johnson and Paul Pierce all in the mix at small forward, but Stephenson is currently listed with the starters. It makes sense to bring Pierce off the bench because it will reduce his workload in his age-37 season, while Johnson has shown next to nothing in the preseason so far.

 

In case you’re wondering, I don’t see Stephenson having a bounce-back season and his averages of 4.7 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting from the field is not surprising. This is a position battle that fantasy owners will want to ignore.

 

Kings’ PG

 

Rajon Rondo had an up-and-down preseason, and while he is expected to be the starting point guard on opening night, Darren Collison has clearly been the better player. Rondo posted averages of 5.7 points, 5.2 assists, 3.5 boards and 1.5 steals on 50.0 percent shooting from the field, but his free throw percentage (40 percent) is still a buzzkill. As for Collison, he has averaged 15.3 points, 5.5 assists, 3.8 boards, 1.7 steals and 1.2 3-pointers on 53.7 percent shooting from the field, and it looks like he is 100 percent after sitting out down the stretch last season.

 

George Karl praised both players several times during the offseason and he hinted that they could share the court at times, but I just don’t see how Rondo can hang onto his job with Collison playing this well. Rondo’s ceiling in standard leagues isn’t good anyways, while Collison should be available towards the end of drafts and has the potential to post mid-round value if he gets enough minutes.  

 

Honorable mentions

 

The Thunder appear to be rolling with Steven Adams as their starting center as opposed to Enes Kanter, but I think it’s the right decision. Kanter will be a lot more active in the second unit because Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are going to eat first in OKC.

 

The Jazz flirted with the idea of plugging Rodney Hood in as the starting shooting guard in their last game of the preseason, but it’s still Alec Burks’ spot to lose. To be clear, both players are going to have huge roles this season and they are two of my favorite late-round targets.

 

The Kings still haven’t made up their mind as to who will start at shooting guard, and it seems like Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli, James Anderson and even Darren Collison is in the mix. This rotation could be a little too deep for me to get excited about it, but hopefully we will have some clarity on the position soon.