The NBA's 2018-19 season is upon us and the feeling although it is early in the season is that teams are starting to separate themselves. Teams such as the Washington Wizards have that hopeless feeling of another lost season, even with 5 months left in this 2018-19 campaign. Their season has not gotten off to the start they had hoped and their fans are beginning to scratch their heads.
The teams that are at the top of their conference are separating themselves and bottom teams are already looking at those teams as teams to beat. When things start off slow, front offices around the league look for change. In Cleveland, that change came from the head coaching position and the General Manager felt the team needed a new voice. If not the coach, then the GM starts to look at the roster. This is where guys underperforming get the boot and a move or two may be made to give a guy a better chance to make an impact.
Starting in the NBA is coveted because rosters are thin compared to other sports and starters have leverage in negotiations when it is time for a new contract. Things may not all be so bad for reserves, as sometimes those roles can be blessings in disguise. Let's take a look at 7 guards, forwards, and centers that won't make it to the end of the season as starters.
21 Guard: George Hill - Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers are learning harsh realities in a post-LeBron era that this team will need to focus on the future instead of contending for this year's postseason. Four NBA Finals trips were costly for the Cavs as many of their assets were dealt for short-term results. After moving Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, Collin Sexton is the prized return in that move. This makes George Hill expendable, although his $20M salary won't be easy to move. On the floor, Hill may be a better option today as a veteran presence that can run an offense, but Sexton will have his moment sooner rather than later.
20 Forward: Juan Hernangomez - Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are one of the best young up and coming teams in the NBA. In the Western Conference, the Nuggets will have a chance to compete for a postseason spot and hope they can get a boost once their roster is fully healthy. Isaiah Thomas is still recovering his ailing hip, but he will be looking to have a big season. Juan Hernangomez is playing the small forward spot in the starting rotation in place of the injured Will Barton, and his shooting abilities make him a good fit along Jokic. First-round draft pick Michael Porter Jr. is the future and can really fit in well in the Nuggets fast-paced offense.
19 Center: Nikola Vucevic - Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic drafted Mohamed Bamba with the sixth pick of June's NBA draft. Typically with rookies, you see them start as a reserve and build into a bigger role within the rotation. This will happen with Bamba and the Orlando Magic. I would not be surprised if a team that needed a front court player called Orlando before the deadline to grab Vucevic. Bamba has showed that he can run the floor and defend the rim very naturally as a young player. Orlando would like to see Bamba continue to get stronger as his offense will only get better from here.
18 Guard: Markelle Fultz - Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers had high expectations entering this season as many outsiders picked Philly as a team that could make a jump into the upper echelon of the eastern conference. The potential of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is through the roof but just how good are they as a team? This is why the questions about Markelle Fultz will need to be answered before this team can figure out their true identity.
The lack of shooting in the starting lineup will eventually become an issue for the Sixers as Fultz has made strides but J.J. Redick is the better overall player right now.
17 Forward: P.J. Tucker - Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have started off the season incredibly slow and the team does not appear to be one that can challenge their win total from last year. Now, the Rockets have different personnel that will require a team that must play a system that best fits their strengths and weaknesses. Carmelo Anthony, for instance, is not the defender that Trevor Ariza was a year ago. Melo is more comfortable in isolation as opposed to catch-and-shoot opportunities. Tucker will be very important in the Rockets' spacing if he wants to remain in the starting lineup. Anthony will take the starting job to give the team a needed boost.
16 Center: Damian Jones - Golden State Warriors
If you have not watched the Golden State Warriors this season, I'm going to need you to climb from underneath whatever rock you have been hiding under. The Warriors throughout their run have been known to be weak at the center position relative to their other positions. For now, Damian Jones has been starting and playing extremely well in the JaVale McGee role. Going into the season we knew that DeMarcus Cousins would eventually join the team early next year, but it looks as though Cousins is ahead of schedule. Cousins will take over as the starter, but there still can be room for Jones to have an impact.
15 Guard: Bryn Forbes - San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have really been bitten badly by the injury bug to start their 2018-19 campaign. Coming into the year after moving Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors, the Spurs envisioned a big year for Dejounte Murray as their starting point guard. Longtime Spur Tony Parker left for Charlotte and Forbes was thrust into the starting lineup. This has served well early on for the Spurs, but once Lonnie Walker IV returns from a meniscus tear around January, he may take over as the starter. Forbes is not a natural point guard and his shooting ability allows him to play alongside Patty Mills as a reserve.
14 Forward: Justin Holiday - Chicago Bulls
Fans know the name Jrue Holiday, the guard for the New Orleans Pelicans that surprisingly swept the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of last season's playoffs. Justin Holiday is his younger brother that is starting at shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls expect their team to compete for a lower seed in the playoffs this season. Zach LaVine is playing like an All-Star and once Kris Dunn returns they need to see what he can do. The Bulls' return for Jimmy Butler, who is now in a weird situation in Minnesota, looks better and better each day.
13 Center: Hassan Whiteside - Miami Heat
The Miami Heat ended last season with a five-game series loss against the Philadelphia 76ers and it appeared that Hassan Whiteside would not be long for Miami. Maybe it was just a bad matchup in playing against one of the best centers in the NBA in Joel Embiid, but Whiteside looked like a dinosaur in a faster paced NBA. The biggest victim of position-less basketball is the traditional center. Teams are looking for versatile frontcourt players that can switch everything on the perimeter and Whiteside is better suited for protecting the paint. Bam Adebayo is in his second season and really played well for stretches last season. Adebayo is the future and sooner or later he will be ready to take his place.
12 Guard: Rodney Hood - Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers expected that this season Rodney Hood could return to his Utah Jazz form and even take steps beyond that. Last season, Hood only wanted an opportunity and with LeBron now on the Lakers, Hood has all of the chances he needs. A restricted free agent this past summer, Hood did not receive a deal that he liked and instead signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Cavs. For both Hood and the team, things have not started off how they would have hoped and the team may look at other options if things do not improve. This could mean Hood is either benched or maybe gone by the trade deadline.
11 Forward: Nicolas Batum - Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets are another team that expects to make the playoffs this season as they have one of the higher payrolls in the league, but have struggled to make the playoffs in the Kemba Walker era. In college, Walker was known for his performances on the big stage, something he has not been able to display in the NBA. Batum was their big free agent signing from the Portland Trail Blazers they hoped would put them over the hump. This past draft, the Hornets selected Miles Bridges from Michigan State and after a strong showing in the preseason, he should warrant more minutes. Those minutes will come at the cost of Batum in the starting lineup.
10 Center: Enes Kanter - New York Knicks
The New York Knicks know that their future is not with Enes Kanter. The team is without their franchise star Kristaps Porzingis and the organization knows they need the leadership of Kanter as their team is asking young players to play quality minutes. Mitchell Robinson did not play college basketball last season and the Knicks believe he has a really high ceiling. Alongside a star, Robinson would be a perfect player to do all the things that do not show up in the box score. Kanter is simply a placeholder until the team can get good performances out of Porzingis, Robinson, and Kevin Knox and attract a top free agent.
9 Guard: Patrick Beverley - L.A. Clippers
The youth movement in the NBA is real and players are learning that a starting position in today's NBA is very fluid unless you are a high-level player. Beverley is a guy who was one of the league's best on-ball defenders a few seasons ago. Beverley is still living off his past reputation and coming off an injury it will be difficult for him to stave off rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The team wants Shai to succeed and does not have the same level of investment in Beverley. These are some reasons why you will soon see Beverley in more of a reserve role.
8 Forward: Otto Porter Jr. - Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards are the most disappointing team so far in this early NBA season. The duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal was so exciting when Beal was drafted third overall in 2012, but on the court, the production has not equated into wins. Last season, a John Wall injury could have been used as an excuse as to why the team only finished as the eighth seed. This year, the team moved on from Marcin Gortat and brought in Dwight Howard so this thing must click now or it may never. Otto Porter Jr. has a high priced salary and Beal and Wall are better players. Kelly Oubre Jr. may get a shot to try to give this team a lift.
7 Center: Tristan Thompson - Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers are faced with decisions to make regarding the playing time of their veterans and young players. Thompson is another player that the team can use in the shirt term but as their focus changes getting more out of Larry Nance will be something to keep an eye out for. Nance was re-signed before the season for a four-year deal and Thompson may be of interest to a contending team around the deadline.
If the Cavs do decide to keep Tristan Thompson beyond this season, then a reserve role will fit him just fine as well.
6 Guard: Rajon Rondo - Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are stuck between being a contending team that needs to win now and a team that has to still develop its young talent. That is why we see a mixture of veterans on one-year deals with the Lakers this year because their goal is to remain flexible for next summer's free agency. Lonzo Ball was the second overall pick in last year's NBA draft and the Lakers need to figure out a way to make their roster fit with LeBron James.
Rondo is a more accomplished player, but the Lakers have to get Lonzo Ball more playing time. The only way to figure out who they will keep for the future is to have these guys on the floor, and Rondo doesn't necessarily fit into that vision.
5 Forward: Gordon Hayward - Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics and head coach Brad Stevens will have to juggle dealing with integrating Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the core that challenged the Cavs to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. Jaylen Brown has shown that he will be needed as a perimeter defender now that the team no longer has Jae Crowder or Avery Bradley to guard the opposing team's best player.
Hayward may find himself as the odd man out, and a role with the second unit come playoff time may be best for them to maximize their rotation, especially against teams with traditional bigs.
4 Center: Jonas Valanciunas - Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors finished last season as the number one seed in the eastern conference and after LeBron James went west, the Celtics were crowned as the team to beat and a plug-in for the NBA finals. The Raptors have started this season hot and will be a tough out in the postseason with a healthy Kawhi Leonard. Looking deeper into the numbers, the Raptors are just as efficient with Kawhi out of the lineup.
The one area that this team must figure out is the rotation of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Ibaka is a better small ball lineup fit and for the long run, Ibaka will get the minutes with the starters due to his defensive abilities.
3 Guard: Isaiah Thomas - Denver Nuggets
During that remarkable season in 2016-17 where Isaiah Thomas finished fourth in the MVP voting with the Boston Celtics, he was considered an elite level point guard. After dealing with a hip ailment that has hampered him since his Celtics days, IT is looking to prove he is still on that elite level. For Denver, they are hoping that Thomas can return to his old form because there was not much risk in signing him.
What the Nuggets may run into is the truth that Jamal Murray is ready now, and after scoring 48 points against the Boston Celtics recently, it will be hard to take him out of the lineup.
2 Forward: Kyle Kuzma - Los Angeles Lakers
Last season, Kyle Kuzma was a surprise rookie standout and was consistently one of the best scoring first-year players in the NBA a year ago. The Los Angeles Lakers seem to have a higher interest in the success of Brandon Ingram, their former number two overall pick out of Duke. Kuzma can adjust easier off the bench if the offense can run through him. Ingram's timetable may not be as long as we think with the Lakers and it is important for him to continue to progress. Kyle Kuzma playing off of the bench is not necessarily a bad thing and with Tyson Chandler now signed, Kuzma will no longer have to play heavy minutes at the center spot.
1 Center: John Henson - Milwaukee Bucks
For the past several years, John Henson has been the starting center in the frontcourt with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The defensive potential with Henson and Giannis has yet to really pay off for the Bucks and Milwaukee stumbled upon a steal in free agency. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer has implemented a faster system and the Bucks, who played rather slow in the past, are now playing faster and shooting more perimeter shots.
Brook Lopez was a solid starting center for a long time but Lopez should be credited with expanding his game. Now, Lopez is shooting more threes than ever and helping the Bucks get off to a really great start in the Eastern Conference.