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The NBA preseason is here! Between the short training camp (compared to NFL or MLB) and the preseason games, it’s a chance for coaches and front offices to sort through their rotations and rosters. While the NBA features much smaller rosters than NFL or MLB, there are still decisions to be made. We’re going to go through the biggest rotation and roster decisions each team has ahead of them over the next month or so. We’ve already covered the Atlantic Division, Southeast Division, Southwest Division and Pacific Division teams.

Chicago Bulls

Who starts at point guard? 

The Bulls will be without Lonzo Ball for the entirety of the 2023-24 season. Ball is recovering from another knee surgery, but this time there is optimism he’ll make it back for the start of next season.

Until then, Chicago needs someone to play point guard.

The lead guard position for the Bulls doesn’t have to be your traditional playmaker. Billy Donovan runs a lot of his offense through DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Ayo Dosunmu started for most of last season, with Patrick Beverley taking over after being added during buyout season. Neither of them is really a pure point guard.

Dosunmu is back this season, as is Coby White, after both young guards re-signed with the Bulls this summer. Chicago also added Jevon Carter in free agency. Alex Caruso (who has shifted away from point guard reps over the years) and Carlik Jones are also returning.

We can probably eliminate the latter two from this competition. Caruso is the Bulls version of a utility player in baseball. He’ll play a lot by playing a little bit of everything. Jones is coming off an impressive summer with South Sudan at the FIBA World Cup, but he remains very unproven at the NBA level. He’s still a developmental project for Chicago.

That leaves a three-way tussle between Dosunmu, White and Carter. All have reasons to believe in them, while also having reasons to question them.

Dosunmu has started 91 of his first 157 NBA games. He’s got the experience alongside DeRozan and LaVine. He knows his role is to defend, function as a secondary or tertiary creator and to make shots when open. It’s that last part where things went sideways last season. After hitting an exciting 37.6% from deep as a rookie, Dosunmu fell off to a terrible 31.2% in his second year. If he’s not making shots, he can’t play regularly. Someone needs to open the floor for DeRozan and LaVine.

The potential good news? As a freshman at Illinois, Dosunmu hit 35.2% of his triples, before falling off to just 29.6% as a sophomore. In his junior year, Dosunmu bounced back to hit 38.6% from behind the arc. If he can experience a similar bounce-back as a third-year of NBA play, Dosunmu might win back his starting job.

White got the start in the Bulls first preseason game. He’s 23 years old now and has four NBA seasons under his belt. White has also been pretty durable, so he has a good amount of experience.

The downside? White’s role has been all over the place in his four-year career. As a rookie, he was an on-ball scoring option off the bench. He was inefficient, but that’s true of most rookies. As a second-year player, White was the team’s starting point guard. He showed signs of improving his playmaking ability, while his efficiency took the expected upturn.

With Ball joining the team, White went back to the bench role in Year 3. He was even more efficient, but his playing time and number of shots both took a marked downturn. Year 4 was easily White’s most efficient scoring season, but he played and shot the least amount in his NBA career.

Now, the door seems open for White to take back the starting point guard spot. His shooting from behind the arc has stabilized. He hits for a solid percentage on a pretty good volume of three-pointers. White is also the best at creating his own shots, or shots for others, out of the threesome competing for the starting gig.

The one thing Donovan and staff will be looking to see from White is better defense. As reserve, some of his “Ole!” style of swiping for a steal and then waiting for an outlet pass, can be overlooked. A lot of scoring guards play that way off the bench. As a starter, White needs to freelance less and he has to be competitive. The tools are there, he just has to harness them.

Harnessing defensive ability is no problem for Carter. He’s one of the best on-ball pests in the NBA. Few players are as adept at picking up full court and harassing an opposing ballhandler. Carter isn’t a steal merchant. He’s just always there, a constant annoyance for the guy he’s guarding.

Carter is also the best shooter of this group, as he’s a tick under 40% from deep for his career. Carter’s entire NBA run has also been as a spot-up guy, playing off teammates. That’s a good skill for Chicago, considering DeRozan and LaVine will run the show there.

The challenge with Carter starting is that he hasn’t done it much. He’s started 48 games in five years, and 39 of those starts came last season. That might be one of those situations where we don’t know how a guy will hold up until he gets a shot, but it’s enough of a question that the Bulls will think about it. There’s also the fact that both White and Dosunmu have some organizational cache built up, which matters more than many think.

The guess here is that White takes the job. As long as he defends enough, he should be able to keep it. But Dosunmu has started as recently as last year, and Carter is around. None of the three should feel overly comfortable, even if they start on opening night. And that’s probably best for the Bulls for keeping all of them on their toes.

Who is the backup power forward? 

Patrick Williams is going to start at the four again. That’s fine, even if he might still ideally be more of a wing. But Chicago does enough with him, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine switching and matching up defensively, that it probably doesn’t matter.

What does matter is who is backing up Williams. That spot seems to be wide open.

Last season, Billy Donovan picked from a grab bag of Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr. and the decidedly not-a-four Alex Caruso behind Williams. Caruso is back, but he recently spoke that playing the four takes a toll on him and it’s something he and Bulls would like to avoid, given his overall importance to the roster.

This year the backup minutes at the four will probably fall mostly to Torrey Craig. And that’s probably a big upgrade over last season, given Caruso will be able to contribute more behind DeRozan and Lavine.

Craig was one of the better value signings of the summer, as the Bulls got him on a two-year, veteran minimum deal. Although Craig is a prototypical small forward, he’s logged plenty of time as a small-ball power forward. Last season might have been an outlier, as Craig hit 39.5% of his threes. If that repeats, Chicago will be thrilled with Craig as the ideal Williams backup.

What makes Craig ideal is the way the Bulls play. As mentioned above, they kind of treat Williams, DeRozan and LaVine as a trio on defense. Williams takes the best perimeter guy, with DeRozan and LaVine taking the lesser threats. Even when the opponent plays with two bigs, Williams is generally still on the best perimeter option, with DeRozan guarding up a spot.

Craig can do what Williams does on defense, albeit with a bit less size. If he’s making shots at a nearly 40% clip, that’s a pretty good replication of Williams too.

The one challenge comes if there are injuries elsewhere. If a wing goes down, and Craig is pressed into service there, then there isn’t a good option behind Williams on the roster. That could be a place where some of the point guard depth is traded to plug that hole. Something to keep an eye on into the middle of the season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Who is the fifth starter? 

Assuming Jarrett Allen’s ankle injury doesn’t keep him out for too long, the Cavs have four of five starters set. Allen will be joined by Evan Mobley up front, and Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are the starting backcourt. It’s that middle spot at small forward that is up for grabs.

Last season, the fifth spot was split somewhat equally between Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro, with a sprinkling of Dean Wade mixed in. All three are back in Cleveland, along with Max Strus, who has started 41 playoff games over each of the last two postseasons.

LeVert and Wade are probably out of the mix to start. LeVert has found a really good role coming off the Cavaliers bench. He gets to handle the ball a lot in that role, and can kind of do his thing as a primary option on the second unit. Wade isn’t really a small forward, and he might find far more usage as a backup big option. The Cavs are a little light behind Allen and Mobley, which could press Wade into option up front.

That leaves Okoro vs Strus. Okoro has the organizational cache. He’s been there for three years, he’s a slightly better defender (with the tools to be a much better defender) and he did make shots last year. But it’s that last part where things swing decidedly toward Strus.

Okoro has experience a steady upward climb in his shooting, going from 29% to 35% to 36.3% year over year. Strus, on the other hand, was at 41% and 35% from deep the last two seasons, on a volume well over double that of Okoro’s.

If the Cavs are hellbent on opening up the floor more, they’ll start Strus. He simply carries gravity that Okoro doesn’t. Defenses bend towards Strus, whereas they flex away from Okoro. If Cleveland stays with the status quo, and wants the better defender on the floor, they’ll stick with Okoro.

One last consideration: Strus came to Cleveland via a four-year, $62.3 million sign-and-trade. Okoro is in the final year of his rookie scale deal. Strus can fit on a roster featuring Okoro or not, but the contracts could be a sign that Cleveland is moving away from the former fifth overall pick.

Who wins the final roster spot? 

As of this writing, Cleveland has 14 players signed to standard contracts. They have four players battling in training camp for that final spot, assuming the Cavaliers fill it at all.

Of that group, Sharife Cooper might have a slight edge, and it’s got little to do with production. Instead, it’s about position.

Cooper is a point guard. As it stands right now, Cleveland is really light at the point guard position. Darius Garland is an All-Star-level guy, but there just isn’t a lot behind him.

Ricky Rubio remains away from the team, as he continues to work on a personal issue that arose over the summer. The Cavs have expressed support for Rubio and are giving him all the time and space he needs. That’s exactly the way it should be.

But that means someone has to step up behind Garland in the interim. Ty Jerome will get the first shot. He’s played as a point guard plenty in his career, even if he’s more of a combo guard. Considering guys like Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert will have the ball plenty when Jerome is on the floor, the fifth-year Virginia product should be just fine.

But that leaves the third point guard spot open. Craig Porter is on a two-way deal, and he’ll get the first crack at any available minutes. He was a Summer League standout, but had exactly one season of high-volume production at Wichita State. He’s got a lot to prove, and a lot of G League time is necessary.

And that brings us back to Cooper. He’s small and his NBA experience is negligible, but Cooper has stood out in the G League. If Cleveland needs someone until Rubio is back, converting Cooper to a standard non-guaranteed contract, is probably the way forward for some additional point guard depth.

Detroit Pistons

How do they get Ausar Thompson minutes? 

The Pistons are sending signs that this question could be resolved by opening night. Monty Williams seems likely to shoehorn Thompson into the rotation, including in a possible starting spot.

You read that right. Despite Detroit having a lot of varying talent on the wing, Thompson might start right out of the gate.

It was one preseason game, and one where some regulars were out, but Thompson started and held his own. He didn’t shoot it well, and that’s going to be a major question for him until it isn’t, but Thompson did a lot of everything else. He scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out six assists and blocked a shot.

That production mirrored what Thompson did in four Summer League games. He also displayed that chaotic energy on defense, where he’s kind of everywhere all at once. That was also a carryover from Summer League.

But when games matter, is Thompson really going to start over established guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks or Joe Harris? Is he going to leapfrog young players like Jaden Ivey or Isaiah Livers?

It seems like the answer is: kind of.

Bogdanovic is still going to play, and he’s probably going to start. Cade Cunningham has the most upside, but Bogdanovic is still Detroit’s best player. Burks is going to play, and there should be room for both him and Thompson in the rotation. What happens with Harris is really interesting. He’s the best pure shooter on the roster, and the Pistons can use that skill. But he’s on an expiring deal and probably not a part of the future in Detroit. If he’s out of the rotation to open the year, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

The Pistons are making noise about playing Ivey off the bench, despite the fact that he started 73 games as a rookie. Maybe it’s a way to make sure Ivey still gets on-ball reps with Cunningham back. Maybe it’s all subterfuge and he’ll start on opening night. For now, it’s something to watch. And Livers seems more like he’s in the frontcourt mix as a small-ball four than he is a part of the wing rotation.

Thompson is overflowing with upside. Detroit probably isn’t going to be very good this season. That combination necessitates him playing as much as he can handle. And it seems like the Pistons will make sure that happens.

Who gets the third two-way spot? 

We’ll keep this relatively short. Detroit has filled two of their two-way spots with undrafted Malcolm Cazalon and the returning Jared Rhoden. Both of those guys are wings, which makes for an interesting competition for the third two-way spot.

Buddy Boeheim is back after being on a two-way last year, but he’s another wing. Same is true of Stanley Umude, who did a 10-day run with Detroit last year. Tosan Evbuomwan is also in camp, and he’s a bigger wing, but he’s still another wing.

That kind of seems like the competition could be between big man Jontay Porter, who has done a few different NBA stints, and guard Zavier Simpson.

Porter still has some of that prospect tag attached to him. He’ll turn 24 in late-November, but there’s still intrigue with a near 7-footer who can step out and shoot it some, while rebounding and blocking shots on the other end.

Simpson is a G League veteran, and he was terrific in the minors last year. His lack of size seems to be all that is holding him back from landing a full NBA spot. If the Pistons want some additional point guard depth, Simpson would be nice to have on a two-way deal.

We don’t really have a prediction here. Evbuomwan is probably the most interesting player, given he’s still pretty unknown. Porter probably has the most upside, while Simpson is probably the most ready-to-contribute guy in the mix. Let the best man win.

Indiana Pacers

Who starts? 

We can ink Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner into the Pacers starting lineup. That means the poles are taken care of. In between the point and the center, everything seems to be up for grabs.

Last season, the Pacers went small around Turner. They played a mixture of guards and wings, with Buddy Hield, Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith the most common starters. All three of those players are back, along with last season’s sixth man Bennedict Mathurin. And the Pacers added Bruce Brown to that mix in free agency.

Indiana also added bigger options in trading for Obi Toppin and drafting Jarace Walker. And that’s where things get interesting for Rick Carlisle.

Hield might be out of the mix to open the season. He requested a trade after extension talks broke down, and the Pacers are trying to accommodate him. Even if he’s still with the team to open the year, Hield might see his role reduced in favor of longer-term options.

This offseason, Maturin said the team told him he would start this season. We’ll take him at his word, and plug him into one spot. Considering Mathurin is very much a swing player, that leaves a backcourt and possible frontcourt spot open.

It seems likely that Indiana will be a bit more traditional this season, because they have the talent to do so. That’s why we’re leaning towards Brown and Toppin joining Haliburton, Turner and Mathurin in the starting five.

Brown was given $45 million this summer ($22 million guaranteed). That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to start, but it doesn’t not mean that either. In a more compelling case, Brown’s mix of defense, on- and off-ball offensive ability and his shooting are a terrific fit with the Pacers other starters.

Toppin is the best four on the roster right now. Maybe Walker overtakes him, but that’s a down-the-line thing. Toppin’s entire profile has been screaming for a bigger role throughout his three years in New York. That was never going to come with Julius Randle entrenched in front of him, so Toppin is now in Indiana. Given Haliburton’s excitement about the addition, we feel good saying Toppin will claim the fifth starting spot, and will give Indiana a real four in the lineup.

None of this is to suggest that Nembhard (who the Pacers love), Nesmith (who finally stayed healthy last year) and Walker (who the team gushes over) won’t get their chances. Indiana remains high on all of them, and they’ll all factor in, whether they start or not.

Related: How do the Pacers get Jarace Walker enough minutes? 

Indiana acquired Obi Toppin after drafting Jarace Walker, but that was about seizing a good buy-low opportunity more than it was anything about the rookie forward. Talk to anyone with the Pacers and they’ll inevitably express a great deal of excitement about Walker.

That means he’s going to get on the floor. But how is the question. Indiana has a lot of NBA guys on their roster. If they don’t trade Buddy Hield, there are about 12 guys who could be in the mix for real minutes. That’s a lot of guys, and Walker is going to have to beat out several of them to play.

On one hand, if Toppin starts, Walker looks like the ideal backup power forward. And “backup” is sort of in name only here, as they could very well split the playing time at the four pretty evenly. If Rick Carlisle stays with multiple wings and guards around Myles Turner, things could get a little messy for both Toppin and Walker to play.

Neither is a real option at center. Walker could feature in some lineups on the wing, but he profiles as a smaller four right now. But it doesn’t really matter all that much, Walker’s talent is going to get him on the floor eventually.

As stated above, Toppin is our pick to start next to Turner up front. But if Toppin doesn’t grab that role fully, then Walker might snatch it from him. His shot is shaky, but Walker is ready to do everything else. In a system where the Pacers want to run, his grab-and-go ability will be as prized as Toppin’s ability to fill the lane in transition.

Look for Walker to get eased in somewhat. But that doesn’t mean a small number of minutes. It’s more about him not starting right away. Starting might eventually come, but the Pacers prized rookie forward is going to force his way on the floor no matter what.

Milwaukee Bucks

Who is the backup point guard? 

If your biggest offseason question is about a 15-minute-a-night backup, you’re probably in pretty good shape. And the Bucks are certainly in pretty great shape. Yet, a pre-trade question still remains a valid one.

Damian Lillard is going to start at point guard. He’ll probably play somewhere around 33 minutes a night. That’s less than he’s played in recent years, but Milwaukee has big goals and they tend to not put too much on their key guys in the regular season.

Behind Lillard, as it was behind Jrue Holiday, is a question. Prior to the trade, the Bucks would likely have swung Grayson Allen over to the on-ball role behind Holiday. But both of them went out in the trade for Lillard, leaving the backup point guard just as big of a question.

Milwaukee did well to sign Cameron Payne after the trade, and he’ll clearly get the first shot at the backup role. But he’s coming off two shaky seasons in a row, after an outstanding first full year with the Phoenix Suns. Payne hasn’t shot it or finished quite as well over the last couple of years, which was an issue when the Suns had to press him into a bigger role with Chris Paul out.

Still, Payne will probably be fine behind Lillard…when he’s available. If Payne has injuries again, that’s where things get really questionable for the Bucks. There isn’t another proven point guard on the roster.

We aren’t going to overreact, because Milwaukee can run most of their offense through Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton if they need to. At that point, they can stick any capable shooter on the floor, and it’s probably fine.

The biggest issue could actually be defensively. Holiday was a top-tier defender, and the Bucks don’t have that anymore. Lillard’s offense will make up for any defensive drop-off. But behind him, they don’t even have that terrific change-of-pace guy, as Jevon Carter left in free agency.

Maybe Marjon Beauchamp puts it all together and snags a rotation role. Lindell Wigginton, TyTy Washington and Omari Moore are really interesting guys, but being on two-way deals limits how much they can play. This space is a big fan of A.J. Green, but he’s not really an on-ball stopper. And Andre Jackson Jr. is really fun, but that’s asking a lot of a rookie wing.

Much like with questions we asked of other contenders, we’ll leave this one in the “Not a problem until it is” category. But it’s still worth monitoring.

Related: Will Marjon Beauchamp see real minutes? 

Marjon Beauchamp was as advertised a rookie. The size and athleticism show up regularly, but he wasn’t ready for real minutes on a contender.

As a second-year player, the Bucks might need Beauchamp to be a lot more ready.

Milwaukee’s wing and guard rotations were hit this offseason through free agent departures and trades. That’s left some openings for guys to step in. The Bucks would love for Beauchamp to snag a rotation role this year.

Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton are assured of rotation minutes. Middleton will start when he plays, and Connaughton may grab the fifth starter spot that opened up from the Damian Lillard trade. Malik Beasley could start instead of Connaughton, and he’s going to play a lot either as a starter or off the bench.

From there, it’s a lot more up in the air. Jae Crowder seems more like a four than a wing at this point, and that’s fine for what the Bucks need him to do. That’s especially true, as Bobby Portis is the primary backup center.

All of that leaves Beauchamp battling guys like A.J. Green, Andre Jackson Jr. and maybe Chris Livingston for minutes. Green has the best standout skill of that group with his shooting, but it’s still a very close competition.

The guess here is that it’s Beauchamp vs Jackson for the backup wing minutes that are available. If Beauchamp can shoot it a little better, and that’s a big if, he’s probably got the advantage. He did log 701 NBA minutes last season, where Jackson is coming in as a rookie.

But Jackson has an intriguing mix of all-around skills. If Jackson could shoot, we’d lock him in for backup wing minutes. But it’s that lack of a shot that puts him in competition with Beauchamp.

It’s not make-or-break time for Beauchamp by any means. But he did just turn 23 and isn’t exactly a super young prospect anymore. He’s got this season plus two more on his rookie scale deal, so there’s still a little time. But if Beauchamp doesn’t seize a rotation role this season, Milwaukee might need to start thinking about him in terms of being a tradable piece to fill that rotation hole that he couldn’t.