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Four Hornets position battles to watch as preseason heats up

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Only one starter is guaranteed for the Hornets going into the season, which should make for interesting competition for the other four spots.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Monday was media day for the Charlotte Hornets. It was a day of excitement as the team and head coach James Borrego answered some questions about what you may expect this season. But the most interesting thing was what Borrego said a few weeks ago, when he stated the only guaranteed starter is Kemba Walker at point guard. That means there will be four position battles during training camp, and things could get interesting. Here is what to expect for each position battle, and who is likely to start.

Shooting Guard

Last year the starter at shooting guard was Nicholas Batum, but he is likely moving to small forward. The primary battle this year will be between Jeremy Lamb and second-year player Malik Monk . Lamb had a breakout season last year and besides Kemba, Lamb was the only player who had a good season in 2017-18. He averaged a career-best 12.9 points and 2.3 assists per game and 37 percent from three. Lamb is also 26 and entering his prime.

He has improved his passing, 3-point shooting and defense significantly in the past couple of seasons and still has room for growth. Lamb has the experience and the size advantage of Monk. It’s a big year for Lamb as he will be a free agent at the end of the year. Lamb will have an opportunity to either increase his trade value if the Hornets start slow and decide to deal him, or he will earn himself some money with the Hornets or someone else.

Why Lamb is the heavy favorite to start at shooting guard, don’t completely rule out Monk. Monk had a rough rookie season but showed flashes towards the end of the season and in one game of Summer League earlier this year. Where he has the advantage over Lamb is shooting, ball handling, and the ability to explode to the rim. Right now Lamb is the better passer, but Monk could catch up this season. He is behind in defense and as a mid-range scorer. I don’t think Monk starts, but I am high on him this year. Even though they will be undersized, expect Monk to get a fair amount of time with Kemba.

One another note: Borrego, Kemba and newly added Tony Parker all indicated Parker would play with Kemba some. Expect this lineup to close games.

Small Forward

Batum will be transitioning to the three this season and is the favorite to start there. All of Charlotte is frustrated with Batum after a down year and an albatross of a contract. Batum struggled on both ends last season. He turned the ball over 14 percent of the time, shot only 34 percent from 3, and his defense dropped off significantly. The only thing that stayed consistent was his passing as he had an assist percentage of 25 percent, which was in the 97th percentile. Moving to the three will help him. His average shooting won’t be as big of an issue, and he is far better at defense playing the three. Batum struggles with quicker two guards and pick-and-roll defense, so he should have easier matchups at the three, but physical wings do give him problems.

Last season, Michael Kidd Gilchrist was the starter at the three, but expect him to play the four more this season. If he does play at the three, expect him to be surrounded by shooting — likely Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams, with Monk and Kemba in the backcourt.

Then there is second-year player Dwayne Bacon. Bacon was pretty miserable on offense as a rookie but showed some great defensive chops. He had a positive defensive RPM of 0.25. Bacon has good size and uses it well, and he is an excellent rebounder. To get consistent minutes, he must improve offensively. That starts with 3-point shooting, as he shot only 30% percent from deep last season. Bacon looked good in Summer League, and if he has a good camp, he could be the first wing off the bench behind Batum.

Then there is the first round draft pick Miles Bridges. Bridges figures to get some time at the three and the four. He had great two seasons at Michigan State and impressed in Summer League. He has strength and is a great athlete. Offensively, he can get to the rim and defensively he can guard multiple positions. Bridges should be an excellent rebounder for his position, and even though he didn't shoot well, he showed the ability to score in multiple ways.

Power Forward

Marvin Williams, the longtime veteran, is the favorite to start at the four once again. Fans may be getting tired of his mediocre stats, but Marvin is an anchor. He is solid on both ends posting positive RPM’s on both ends of the court. Marvin has his holes, he is not the best rebounder or passer, but the pros outweigh the cons. Williams still shoots 41 percent from deep and can guard multiple positions. It’s the right decision to start him.

Both MKG and Bridges figure to get some time at the four. In his time in Charlotte, MKG has not spent a lot of time at the four. I like the move for him, though, he is a great rebounder, his lack of shooting won’t be as much of an issue, and Borrego can get more creative with him on offense. They should use him in the post more as a screener and a cutter, something I wish Steve Clifford had done more. Defensively MKG should be fine against most four’s.

Bridges have the size and strength to see some time here as well. The other player who played most of his minutes at power last season is Frank Kaminsky. All indications are that Frank will spend more time at the five this season, but he still may see minutes at the four. If he does expect him to play with Cody Zeller a duo that has always done well together. Frank is looking stronger and leaner. The five is a better position for him as he struggles with quick fours immensely on defense.

Center

This is the position battle I am most excited for. Zeller is in the early lead and has long been vital to the Hornets success. He is a plus/minus god and key to the Hornets chemistry. Zeller is a master screener, a solid rebounder, and rim protector and midrange shooter. The guy is a master of the little things, but can he stay healthy?

Zeller’s main competition will be Willy Hernangomez. Hernangomez had a great summer, getting stronger and adding a 3-point stroke. He has always had talent, and after a strong Summer League, he is poised to break out. Borrego recently said he has the talent to average a double but has to pressure the coaching staff to play him. That means improving his defense and getting better at finishing inside. Still, there is a lot to like about Hernangomez game, and he played well with two likely starters in Kemba and Marvin Williams. He is an excellent rebounder, pick and roll player and is good at drawing fouls, plus he doesn’t turn the ball over much.

Then there is Frank Kaminsky, who a lot of Charlotte fans are frustrated with. He stinks on defense and is a terrible rebounder, but there is still hope. Moving to the five will have on defense, and his shooting and passing can still be weapons. Kaminsky shot 38 percent from deep last season and posted an 11.3 assist percentage, both of which make him valuable in Borrego’s offense.

The questions is, is there enough minutes for all three. Zeller should start, Hernangomez will be the first big off the bench, and Kaminsky will get time at small ball five and some minutes at the four next to Zeller. Don’t expect to see Bismack Biyombo much this season.

Add it up and it will be an extremely competitive training camp. We will learn more Friday night against Boston.