Nets frontcourt among top position battles to watch in fantasy basketball

Jarrett Allen was poised for a breakout campaign in the Nets' frontcourt ... until DeAndre Jordan arrived. How will the minutes be split this season? Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

October is here, and around NBA training camps that means it's time to get going and compete. This is the time of year when coaches take a long look at their new roster and determine their rotation for the season ahead.

For fantasy managers, it's time to pay attention. You don't want to be the person who drafts a player in the middle rounds only to find out that they are now a reserve, while someone else gets great value by taking the player who ends up winning a position battle.

Here is a look at some of the key position battles to keep a close eye on leading up to the start of the season.

Dennis Smith Jr. vs. Elfrid Payton, New York Knicks

Smith played 21 games after coming over from Dallas in the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade, averaging 14.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, 1.3 SPG and 1.1 3PG. A tremendous athlete, who was drafted No. 9 overall in 2017, Smith struggles with efficiency but can fill up the stat sheet when given the minutes.

Payton signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Knicks after one injury-marred season in New Orleans, where you might recall him racking up five consecutive triple-doubles back in mid-March.

Crystal ball: Smith likely begins the season as the starting point guard, given that he was the key piece in the Porzingis deal, while Payton solidifies a role off the bench as more of a traditional pass-first distributor. If Smith fails to show improvement or the Knicks get off to a really bad start to the season, shifting Payton into the starting lineup is a very real possibility.

Dwight Howard vs. JaVale McGee, Los Angeles Lakers

Howard, who is still only 33, rejoins the Lakers after a lost season in Washington where he was limited to only nine games and underwent spinal surgery to address a herniated disk. He has trimmed down considerably and is only one season removed from averaging 16.6 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 1.6 BPG with Charlotte in 2017-18.

The 31-year-old McGee saw his minutes rise considerably last season after averaging 9.5 and 9.6 MPG in his two seasons with the Warriors. That jumped to 22.3 in his first campaign with the Lakers and led to an impressive 12.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 2.0 BPG.

Crystal ball: New Lakers coach Frank Vogel has expressed praise in the early going for both veteran 7-footers, and with DeMarcus Cousins likely out for the season while recovering from a torn ACL, it will almost surely be a timeshare for Howard and McGee, with both players getting around 20-25 MPG. The big question is whether they can stay healthy.

Coby White vs. Kris Dunn vs. Tomas Satoransky, Chicago Bulls

White joins the Bulls after being selected No. 7 overall this past June, and he brings scoring and lighting-quick handles to the point guard spot.

Dunn offers length and athleticism as a clamp-down defender and distributor (6.0 APG last season), but what he offers defensively, he lacks as a scorer and efficient shooter on the offensive end of the court.

Satoransky comes over in the sign-and-trade with Washington on a three-year deal, and at 6-foot-7, 210-pounds, he brings versatility in terms of what he can do on the court and the ability to play different positions.

Crystal ball: The presence of Dunn and Satoransky allows Bulls coach Jim Boylen the ability to bring White along slowly as a first-year player. Satoransky has a good chance to start next to Zach LaVine in the backcourt and could also spell Otto Porter Jr. at small forward later in games, which would allow Dunn and/or White to get time at the point.

DeAndre Jordan vs. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets

Jordan signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Nets over the summer after splitting last season between the Mavericks and Knicks. The 31-year-old has averaged a double-double in each of the past six seasons and has blocked 1.6 shots per game over the course of his career.

Allen was one of the more pleasant surprises among young big men last season, starting all 80 games he played on his way to 10.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG and 1.5 BPG in his second NBA season. He doesn't turn 22 until April.

Crystal ball: The Nets probably didn't bring in Jordan to come off the bench, at least initially, and it's likely that coach Kenny Atkinson starts the veteran over the up-and-coming Allen. That doesn't bode well for Allen, who saw his minutes rise from 20.0 as a rookie to 26.2 last season. He'll have a hard time matching that number this season with the ever-durable Jordan in the fold.

Collin Sexton vs. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

Sexton played all 82 games as a rookie, starting 72 of them, and logged a heavy load with 31.8 MPG. The No. 8 overall pick in 2018 proved to be more of a scorer than a passer or defender, averaging 16.7 PPG and just 3.0 APG and 0.5 SPG as a rookie.

Garland enters the mix after being selected No. 5 overall this past June, and the Vanderbilt product brings with him a reputation as a scorer and shooter. Like Sexton, he isn't much of a passer or distributor.

Crystal ball: Cleveland center Tristan Thompson tweeted on Sept. 30, "We're trying to build a CJ-Dame situation." That's fitting when you look at creating a young backcourt around a pair of 6-foot-2 score-first guards. Both of them will likely start under first-year Cavaliers coach John Beilein.

The Knicks' entire frontcourt

It's rare to see a team hoard a bunch of big men the way the Knicks have this season with the group of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson. It's a talented collection mixed with youth and veterans; offensive players like Randle, Portis and Knox, and defensive specialists like Robinson and Gibson.

The challenge will be for coach David Fizdale to figure out the best rotation, and this is the part to watch closely because there are only so many minutes to go around.

Crystal ball: It's difficult to imagine Randle doing anything but starting, and he'll probably get the nod at power forward. Robinson is coming off an incredible rookie campaign, when he averaged 2.4 BPG in only 20.6 MPG, so if he starts at center and plays closer to 25.0 MPG, those block numbers could approach 3.0 per game. Knox could see time at small forward, while Gibson, Portis and Morris may be the best candidates to come off the bench.

Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors

Cauley-Stein joins the Warriors after spending four years with the Kings, where he averaged 10.1 PPG and 6.4 RPG in 24.0 MPG. A foot injury will keep him sidelined throughout training camp and the duration of the preseason, as he's been instructed to stay off his foot throughout the month of October.

At 6-foot-9, Looney doesn't have the size of Cauley-Stein, but he made major improvements to his game last season while being in the best shape of his four year-career. His efforts as a rebounder, defender and shot-blocker make him an important part of this new-look Warriors team, where he's one of the few proven frontcourt players.

Crystal ball: Looney will begin the season as the starting center, and after playing through injury during the playoffs last season, he certainly has earned coach Steve Kerr's trust and admiration. Once Cauley-Stein fully recovers from his injured foot, he has a strong chance to move into the starting lineup and shift Looney into a role as the first big off the bench.

Reggie Jackson vs. Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons

Jackson improved as a 3-point shooter last season, cashing in with a career high 2.1 3PG, but he didn't contribute much in too many other categories aside from his 15.4 PPG and 4.2 APG.

Rose signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Pistons in the offseason after putting up 18.0 PPG in 27.3 MPG last season in Minnesota. At age 30, the former MVP still has something left in the tank.

Crystal ball: Similar players at this stage of their careers, it may not matter which one starts. Jackson is a year younger and more familiar with Dwane Casey's system, having played under him last season, while Rose has started only 20 of 76 games the past two seasons with the Timberwolves and Cavaliers. Despite all that, there's a strong likelihood that both players end up with right around 25-27 MPG this season.