The preseason is upon us, with Golden State and Denver tipping things off on Sept. 30, and this is a critical time for fantasy hoops managers to watch games and check box scores to see which players look the part heading into the regular season.
While not everything translates from the preseason to when games really count, plenty can be learned from seeing the way the players look on the court, what rotations the coaches are using and how well new players mesh together. This is the knowledge you can use to your advantage when building your roster during your draft and throughout the season.
The preseason is also an excellent opportunity to zero in on certain position battles across the league, and can often shed some light on which player has the inside track.
Here are some of the top position battles with fantasy significance:
Murray played all 82 games as a rookie and has the size and athleticism to be a very good player in this league, but Mudiay -- the No. 7 overall pick in 2015 -- remains in the picture, as does the veteran Nelson. While the Nuggets would probably like the 6-foot-4 Murray to run away with this job, that's a lot to ask for a second-year pro who doesn't turn 21 until February. With the Nuggets potentially being playoff contenders, they can't afford to be overly patient. The bottom line is the Nuggets will likely go with the most efficient of the three, which gives Murray and Nelson the advantage over Mudiay (36.9 FG% in his career).
Warren only attempted 1.5 3s per game last season, but he is a highly efficient scorer who also provides rebounds and steals. The Suns showed confidence in him with a four-year, $50 million extension this week and know what they have in the 24-year-old as he enters his fourth season. Jackson comes in as the No. 4 overall pick this past June and is already drawing comparisons to Andre Iguodala for his versatile game. And the Suns' refusal to part with him over the summer in a deal for Kyrie Irving tells you how highly they regard the 6-foot-8 small forward. This is a battle to watch closely during the preseason to see how Earl Watson doles out the minutes.
Each of these three have earned the right to play, with Simmons being the former No. 1 overall pick who missed all of last season recovering from foot surgery, Saric coming off a standout rookie campaign and Johnson coming over from a contending Celtics team, where he started 153 games in the last two seasons. Johnson might get lost in the shuffle, considering that the team will need to find minutes for Simmons and Saric, but the picture is far from clear as to what the 76ers are going to do at power forward with such an abundance of good options.
While Joakim Noah is also in the picture, he looked like a shell of his former self last season in his first year in New York and begins 2017-18 serving the final 12 games of a 20-game drug suspension. Hernangomez was one of the biggest rookie surprises a season ago, averaging 8.2 points and 7 rebounds in only 18.4 minutes a game. If he can stave off Kanter for the starting job, we're talking about a youngster who shoots high percentages from the field and the free-throw line who has easy double-double ability. Kanter went from a starter in Utah to a reserve in Oklahoma City, and the significance of his role with the Knicks will determine just how valuable Hernangomez is in fantasy this season.
Smith outperformed Jackson last season as Jackson worked his way back from a knee procedure and never really looked like the same player he was in Oklahoma City. Jackson shot just 42 percent while averaging 27.4 minutes in 52 games. Smith will likely serve as the backup again, but if Jackson fails to show improvement from an efficiency standpoint, Smith could eat into his minutes the way he did last season.
The thinking is that Rondo will start at the point and Holiday will slide over to the 2-guard, but these are two players who have spent the bulk of their lengthy NBA careers playing point guard. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Holiday could start at the point with Rondo serving as the backup and Ian Clark or E'Twaun Moore starting at shooting guard. With any luck, the preseason will help clear this up.
Beverley's NBA experience gives him the inside track on the starting job, but Teodosic signed a two-year deal worth $12.3 million over the summer and is an accomplished passer and playmaker who has been playing professionally and winning titles in Europe since 2004. How well each of the two play during the preseason could shed some light as to what type of time-share they'll have in the first year of the post-Chris Paul era in Los Angeles.
Hill is the proven commodity and Fox is the up-and-comer who certainly looked the part in the Summer League after being selected No. 5 overall in June. While Hill would appear to have the starting point guard spot locked down, the degree to which Fox plays and contributes early as a rookie could determine just how valuable an asset Hill is in his first season with the Kings. If Fox impresses in October and November, he'll most certainly eat into Hill's minutes and could even become a player to target himself.
Parker's quadriceps tendon injury that ended his 2016-17 prematurely is reportedly fully healed. He's expected to return by late November, which leaves Murray and Mills to run the point for the Spurs until then. Mills thrives in the instant-offense role off the bench, which means the starting job is likely Murray's for the opening month of the season. The question is what will happen after that, because Murray showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie and impressively came up with 12 steals in the four-game playoff series against the Warriors.
Chandler started 46 of the 47 games he played last season and showed he still can be a force on the glass, averaging 11.5 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. The 34-year-old is on the down side of a terrific career as he enters his 17th season in the league, however, and this could be the year that Len finally emerges as Phoenix's top center after being selected No. 5 overall in 2013. With more minutes, Len has the upside to average 10-plus points, 9-10 rebounds and 1.5-plus blocks per game.
The Bulls look like one of the worst rosters in the league on paper and it's going to be up to Dunn and Grant to run the point, at least until Cameron Payne returns from foot surgery (December at the earliest). Neither should be considered huge fantasy options by any means, but this is a big opportunity for both young point guards to take the job and carve out a NBA career. Dunn, who has good size at 6-foot-4 and was the No. 5 pick in the 2016, is coming off a disappointing rookie campaign in Minnesota but is highly regarded for his defense. He has the inside track on the job but is also new to the team. Grant returns for a second season under Fred Hoiberg.
The young and athletic Maker represents more of the new-age big man that the league is rapidly moving toward, while Monroe is more of a traditional big man who clogs the middle. Monroe's minutes plummeted to 22.5 per game last season while Maker -- a 7-foot-1 lottery pick in 2016 -- came on late to show a wide range of skill on both ends of the court. While Monroe is the highly paid veteran, Maker is better suited for the Bucks' future and the only question is whether the Bucks shift strongly in that direction this season.
There are basically two wing positions for three players, and it remains to be seen how the minutes and roles will be divided. Ross probably makes the most sense as the sixth man, given how one-dimensional his game is as an instant-offense scorer who can catch fire. If that's the case, Fournier and Simmons will likely start at the shooting guard and small forward spots and get more time on the court.
Gordon hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations of being the No. 4 overall pick in 2014, but the 22-year-old has three years of experience in the NBA and that likely makes him the projected starting power forward early this season. If he struggles or the Magic get off to a cold start, though, Frank Vogel could turn to Isaac, the No. 6 overall pick this past June. Isaac doesn't turn 20 until next week but is advanced offensively and brings length at 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds.
Pachulia served as the starter last season and averaged 18.1 minutes per game. McGee averaged just 9.6 minutes off the bench. What McGee showed, though, was that he could still be a difference-maker in this league. Still only 29, McGee is more athletic and a better shot-blocker than the 33-year-old Pachulia and could very well see more opportunity in his second season with the Warriors.