You gotta give Oklahoma City and Minnesota credit Ė they sure are doing anything but standing pat. OKCís big three will be very fun to watch and itís certainly time for the Jimmy Butler-led T-Wolves to take the next step. The Northwest might have the most talent top to bottom. But which big minutes jobs are up for grabs?
This is supposed to be the first full year of Nikola Jokic leading the offense, but will Jokic or new arrival Paul Millsap be the alpha dog? Both pass well enough for this to work. But whatís going on at the three?
Small Forwards: Wilson Chandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Will Barton
Is it me, or does Chandler seem like heís been in the NBA for 32 seasons? Heís actually only 30 heading into his 10th season, but does the cagey veteran fit into Denverís future plans? Heís been a part of trade rumors for the past three years Ė sooner or later Denver could pull the trigger and create minutes for Hernangomez and Barton. The future certainly seems to belong to Hernangomez, a 6í9Ē, 22-year-old who hit 41% of his threes as a rookie. Barton is destined for the bench scorer role, where his streaky shooting can occasionally light up the box score. Let someone else go for Bartonís flash and take a late-round flier on Hernangomez. With its eye on returning to the playoffs, Denver probably doesnít deal Chandler this season, and he could be a nice value on the wing with Danilo Gallinari no longer in the way.
New uniforms highlight a shift in on the floor leadership as Jimmy Butler injects some much needed veteran savvy into this talented young lineup. Other new arrival Jeff Teague will man the point, with standouts Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in the front court. The confusion is at the four.
Power Forwards: Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica
You never want to be on Coach Tom Thibodeauís bench because Thibs plays his starters until their knees bleed. Thatís the dilemma facing Gorgui Dieng. Dieng started all 82 games last year for the T-Wolves, but now he faces competition from Thibs-favorite, Taj Gibson. Thibodeau and Gibson go back to their Chicago days, with the coach going out of his way to add Gibson to the roster. Minnesota is saying all the right things about Dieng getting minutes at backup center and back-up power forward, but let me stress this one more time: Coach Thibodeau hates playing his bench. Is he really going to want to rest Karl-Anthony Towns? No. Assume a decrease in minutes for Dieng.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Any interest in watching Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony play together? I canít wait, even if Iím not sure about Melo playing the four. The starting five for the Thunder is set with Westbrook, Andre Roberson, George, Anthony and Steven Adams. Patrick Peterson and Raymond Felton will provide punch off the bench. All roles in OKC are pretty clear, so letís move on.
Portland Trail Blazers
I might be in the minority, but I think Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic could be a lethal Big 3. During the 20 games Nurkic played last year in Portland, he averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 blocks. Wow. But enough of my sleeper pick suggestions. The Portland forward situation is messy.
Forwards: Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Caleb Swanigan
I gotta believe Portland regrets the four year, $70 million deal they threw at Turner. Heís clearly in over his head, but Portland doesnít have other options. Harkless was a perpetual disappointing sleeper before finally showing signs of life last year, earning 29 minutes per game. Turner is the small forward starter for now, but I think theyíll demote him to lead the second squad, like he did in Boston.
Power forward will get real interesting as Swanigan looks to build on his impressive Summer League and early pre-season success. He looks NBA-ready right now, but with a handful of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, weíll see how much run heís able to earn as a rookie. Portland is trending up, despite making less-flashy moves relative to other teams out West.
It will not be fun replacing Gordon Hayward. Rodney Hood, the time is now for your breakout. Weíll see. Joe Ingles will offer stable, unspectacular help, but only Hood could provide the same box score stat stuffing that Hayward delivered for many years in Utah.
Overall, the roles in Utah are fairly set. Newly acquired Ricky Rubio starts at the point, Ingles will drain threes and snag steals at the two, Hood should soak up minutes at the three, a healthy Derrick Favors will get the nod at the four, with Rudy Gobert entrenched at center. The only semi-important debate is whether rookie Donovan Mitchell is better suited at the point or at shooting guard. Assuming the Jazz struggle in the loaded West, Utah will have plenty of time to experiment with Mitchell at both spots.