Commentary

Which position battles have the most fantasy impact?

Updated: September 30, 2008, 9:48 AM ET
By Adam Madison | Special to ESPN.com

NBA training camps are set to open, which marks the beginning of a new kind of rivalry: camp battles, the first step to a sleeper season. Player value can fluctuate week-to-week and even day-to-day rather severely, especially as owners find and lock on to their favorite sleepers and those players make their way up the Average Draft Position charts. The first step is making sure you know what the information means, whom you want (or don't want) if they get the playing time, which incumbents are at risk and which have the skill set to carve out roles during the season. There's a lot to watch for, so let's get to it.

Heat point guard

The candidates: Chris Quinn, Marcus Banks, Mario Chalmers

The skinny: The Heat have the personnel (Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley) to turn into a run-and-gun team, so whoever is steering the ship looks to be in line for a fair amount of fantasy value. Quinn showed off his fantasy potential with 2.3 3-pointers per game and 6.6 assists to 1.8 turnovers in April, averaging 35 minutes per game, and has to be considered the favorite. Banks turns the ball over too much and is too inconsistent shooting the ball (career 33.9 percent shooter on 3s) to seriously pencil him in as the starter without an astronomical camp. Chalmers is just a rookie, so by all accounts it should be Quinn's job to lose, unless the Heat pick up Stephon Marbury when/if the Knicks waive him, which many consider a formality.

Best-case scenario: Either Quinn asserts his hold on the position with a mistake-free camp and becomes one of the better value buys in your draft, or the Heat pick up Marbury, he proves he's in good enough shape to play heavy minutes in a fast-paced offense and revives his career in the process.

Worst-case scenario: Banks vultures enough minutes from Quinn to become a pest, limiting the latter's upside. Or, if the Heat do pick up Marbury, they get the unmotivated version and Marbury and Quinn essentially split value.

Magic shooting guard

Mickael Pietrus
Rocky Widner/Getty ImagesMickael Pietrus is hoping to receive more consistent playing time in his new home in the Eastern Conference.
The candidates: Mickael Pietrus, Keith Bogans, J.J. Redick

The skinny: Bogans started 35 games last season and supplied the defense-and-3-point-shooting role on the team. Pietrus is the import with the tools to become a more athletic upgrade to Bogans, picking up the steals and blocks that Bogans does not. The Magic parted with their mid-level exception to sign Pietrus to a 4-year, $25 million contract, so you have to like his chances. With the Warriors, it often seemed like all Pietrus needed was a change of scenery; that and a better defense behind him should help him cut a foul rate which grew exponentially during the Don Nelson years.

Best-case scenario: Pietrus wins the job, sees minutes in the low 30s, and becomes a valuable contributor in three rare categories: blocks, steals and 3-pointers.

Worst-case scenario: Pietrus is unable to separate himself from Bogans, resulting in the dreaded time-share, or J.J. Redick actually asserts himself and reminds everyone why he was a lottery pick.

Trail Blazers small forward

The candidates: Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw

The skinny: Well, it's rather simple: Outlaw is the one with the fantasy potential, while Webster is more of a placeholder. Webster's just 21, and a former No. 6 overall draft pick, but he's yet to show he's anything more than a spot-up shooter. He's quite good at it, though (1.6 3-pointers per game on 38.8 percent shooting), so it is tough imagining Outlaw getting the playing time he needs. Another dagger: Nate McMillan's team has been 28th, 29th and 28th in possessions per game since he took over as head coach.

Best-case scenario: The Blazers realize Outlaw gives them a better chance of winning, admit Webster is essentially a bust at this point, and see what Outlaw can do.

Worst-case scenario: Same old, same old: Webster and Outlaw split time, for the most part killing each other's fantasy value outside of injuries.

Rockets small forward

The candidates: Ron Artest, Shane Battier

The skinny: Battier is an iron man who has never played fewer than 78 games and has averaged 35-plus minutes in each of the past three seasons. Ron Artest has dealt with constant injury problems the past three seasons while averaging 37-plus minutes. The latter might not be a coincidence, not when you consider Artest's hard-nosed style and responsibilities on both ends of the floor, which lends credence to the idea that he really might come off the bench. The Rockets acquired Artest as sort of a backup plan for Tracy McGrady's annual injuries, and it wouldn't make sense to push Artest to the point that both end up injured. In this situation, it doesn't matter too much if he does come off the bench, as he should see similar minutes and production either way, but you never know.

Best-case scenario: Artest sees a slight decrease in minutes, but doesn't have to tax his body as much and sees similar productivity by sharing the load with T-Mac and Yao Ming.

Worst-case scenario: The Rockets become infatuated with the idea of Artest in a Manu Ginobili-like role off the bench.

Clippers small forward

Al Thornton
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesAl Thornton averaged 15.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 31 starts as a rookie in 2007-08.
The candidates: Al Thornton, Ricky Davis, Tim Thomas

The skinny: Thornton had a decent season last year for a rookie, but you have to remember, he'll be 25 in December; there's not a ton of upside here. He shot below 43 percent for the season, turned the ball over often and had a woeful rebounding rate, so you don't know if the Clippers believe he's more of a bit player -- hence the acquisition of Ricky Davis -- or if they chalk his deficiencies up to being a rookie and have a big role planned for him this season. It also helps that Thornton played at power forward, too, last season, meaning if Thornton's production warrants it, Kaman and Camby could split more time at center, with Thornton picking up minutes if/when Camby gets injured.

Best-case scenario: The Clippers make it clear Thornton's their guy and create playing time for him.

Worst-case scenario: Thornton's age limits his upside and the Clippers, trying to enter the playoff picture in the West, start splitting everyone's minutes based on whoever is playing the best.

Suns small forward

The candidates: Grant Hill, Matt Barnes

The skinny: The Suns plan to limit Grant Hill's minutes this season, which -- considering he averaged under 32 per game last season, a bit on the low end for a starter -- does imply Barnes has a decent shot at starting. This has a ton of potential for Barnes; if you remember, he averaged a box score-stuffing 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.2 3-pointers, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks when he started 23 games for the Warriors back in 2006-07. Those Warriors back then (92.8 possessions per game) didn't run as much as the Suns do now (95.1 last season). All Barnes has to do now is, you know, actually win the job.

Best-case scenario: Barnes has a breakout season from out of the woodwork a la Boris Diaw a couple of seasons ago, taking minutes from (here's one for irony) the disappointing Diaw himself.

Worst-case scenario: The Suns have no plans to seriously give Barnes 30-plus minutes, and instead Barnes is just a glorified utility man off the bench, becoming a giant tease.

Kings small forward

Francisco Garcia
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesFrancisco Garcia has become a fantasy favorite for his ability to contribute in 3-pointers, steals and even blocks.
The candidates: John Salmons, Francisco Garcia

The skinny: Garcia received the contract extension (five years, $30 million) and is the former first-round pick, but Salmons still has $16-plus million on his own three-year contract, so it may be a true camp battle. Garcia's improvement over the past three seasons has been consistent and impressive, but he still seemed a bit stretched as a starter at times last season; he averaged a whopping 3.8 fouls in 12 starts at small forward, and 3.1 in eight starts at shooting guard. Salmons is more of a force offensively and is the incumbent, so consider him the favorite.

Best-case scenario: Either one outright winning the job, as there are a lot more minutes to go around without Artest. The Kings ran often last season, finishing eighth with 93.3 possessions per game, and have the personnel to continue more of the same, so the fantasy potential is high.

Worst-case scenario: A time-share, of course, but the chances of that happening seem rather low. Both should have decent value and even the loser should be kept on your radar.

Bucks point guard

The candidates: Luke Ridnour, Ramon Sessions, Tyronn Lue

The skinny: Ridnour really fell out of favor with the Sonics (now Thunder), going from a high of 33 minutes in 2005-06 to firmly entrenched in a backup role last season, averaging just 20 minutes and starting only five times. Even at his best, Ridnour was a mediocre starter, and his skill set -- small, mistake-free distributor with minimal offensive game -- screams for a backup role. Sessions, on the other hand, averaged 13.1 assists to 3.6 turnovers in a seven-start audition in April, averaging nearly 43 minutes per game. Sessions is a bit bigger than Ridnour, rebounded the ball well for his position and is just 22 in a contract year, so the Bucks may want to see what the kid can do. Expect a competition, but consider Sessions the favorite for now.

Best-case scenario: Sessions wins the job outright, averages 31-33 minutes and relegates Ridnour to split backup duty with Lue.

Worst-case scenario: Sessions is more of a flash in the pan than a true starter, and it's more of a point guard platoon similar to Ridnour's time-share last season with Earl Watson.

Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball and baseball analyst for ESPN.com.