Josh Childress, Atlanta
It’s unclear how the rotation at the 2 and 3 spots will shake out for Atlanta, but it seems the Hawks will give Childress every chance to start alongside Al Harrington. It would make the most sense to have Childress and Diaw split the minutes alongside Harrington, with Josh Smith taking up the leftovers. The presence of Jon Barry on the roster confuses things. I’m not sure what value his typical 16-20 minutes a game of solid bench play gives this team. He’ll undoubtedly outplay Childress and Diaw much of the time forcing Mike Woodson to weigh his job security options: develop the young players or eke out of few extra wins.
Emeka Okafor, Charlotte
The default favorite for Rookie of the Year, Okafor is the only rookie who is his team’s best player. The only possible roadblock for him is his teammates, a mesmerizingly awful collection of sub-NBA talent that will force Okafor to adjust to the NBA while being the focus of opposing defenses. His saving grace will be that so much of his value derives from defense and rebounding.
Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni, Chicago
Deng had an excellent pre-season, proving himself the best of the Bulls’ stable of rookies. Without much competition for minutes on the wing, he should get a chance to lead all rookies in scoring.
Slightly less polished than Deng, Nocioni might lose some minutes to calmer veterans Eric Piatkowski and Adrian Griffin. Neither should challenge Nocioni for his starting job but both have their uses in certain situations and could spell Nocioni should he struggle to channel his energy in a productive direction.
Devin Harris, Dallas
Harris has won the starting point guard job on the strength of 22 steals in pre-season play. I’m not sure how the perimeter rotation will work as Don Nelson seems to have little opportunity to play Harris and Jason Terry together as Michael Finley, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels, and the rapidly healing Jerry Stackhouse all need minutes at the 2 or the 3. Jason Terry is most qualified to be a third guard and could thrive in the role. If it were up to me, Stackhouse would be at the end of the line, but more likely the hard choices will be avoided by one of the wing players being hurt at all times.
Carlos Delfino, Detroit
Slated to backup Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, Delfino will prove active on defense and useful on offense. The comparisons to Manu Ginobili seem apt.
JR Smith, New Orleans
Smith has appeared more polished than expected in the pre-season, shooting for a decent percentage from the floor (.417) and from distance (.400 on 30 shots) while only turning the ball over 10 times in 174 minutes. Smith may start the season behind David Wesley and George Lynch on the Hornets’ depth chart, but with little hope for a play-off berth in the West, Smith’s development will take precedence over short-term results as the season progresses.
Dwight Howard, Orlando
Barring foul trouble, Howard will get plenty of minutes in Orlando. Playing alongside Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley might limit his touches, but he doesn’t possess, at this early date, enough of a post game to deserve the focus of the offense. An impressively quick leaper, Howard should be an immediate factor on the offensive glass while developing the rest of his skills.
Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia
Iguodala beat out Glenn Robinson for the starting small forward job this pre-season. The move should benefit both players. Iguodala has no particularly great skill, but he’s a good basketball player and his defense and passing will benefit from increased minutes. Robinson, as a reserve, will not be exposed as such a defensive liability and give the Sixers a viable scoring option for those fleeting moments when Iverson’s off the floor. Jim O’Brien’s a good coach. I might should have picked the Sixers to win the Atlantic.
Nick Collison, Seattle
Reggie Evans will begin the season as the starting power forward, but he’s just keeping the spot warm for Collison. Vitaly Potapenko’s broken finger might test the Sonics’ patience with Collison’s development. He’ll be forced to play out-of-position at center early this year, though his quickness may be a more immediate aid there than against the great power forwards in the West. Collison will be a decent NBA player by April, but there may be some rough nights in November and December.