The Complete Guide to NBA Training Camp: Top 20 Storylines to Watch
We weren't afforded the opportunity for excitement this time last year. The NBA lockout stole that chance to eagerly anticipate the start of another season. It was replaced by Twitter reports of contract litigation that required a law degree to interpret.
This year, however, all is well with the NBA universe.
Dwight Howard is in Los Angeles, the Miami Heat added the greatest three-point shooter of all time, and Anthony Davis is set to make his professional debut. There's seemingly an unending list of storylines to monitor as training camp opens this week.
I narrowed that list down to 20.
20. Andrew Bogut Posting Up in Golden State
The Golden State Warriors traded Monta Ellis for a top-five NBA center in March. This season, they will begin to realize a return on that investment.
Despite being listed as questionable for training camp, Andrew Bogut is expected to make his Bay Area debut when the Warriors open their season on Oct. 31. If he's able to achieve a full recovery to his surgically repaired left ankle, Bogut's impact on Golden State's rebuild could be dramatic.
In 134 games from 2009-11, Bogut averaged 14.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per night for the Milwaukee Bucks. His ability to defend the painted area and score in the half court should allow coach Mark Jackson's team to play the style of defense he's been talking about since arriving last summer.
Lining Bogut up next to David Lee inside could also enable Golden State to employ one of the best center-power forward combinations in the league this season—a dynamic that will only serve to open things up on the perimeter for Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
Before any of that, though, Andrew Bogut first needs to emerge from training camp healthy.
19. John Wall Opens Season on Injured List
After playing in all 66 games during the 2011-12 campaign, John Wall’s reported stress injury to his left kneecap is expected to keep him out for at least the first dozen games this season.
Team president Ernie Grunfeld called Wall's injury “a minor setback,” but unfortunately, it could be more than that. Despite averaging 16 points, eight assists, and almost five rebounds per game over his first two seasons, Wall's unlimited potential has left many NBA observers wanting more from the former first overall pick.
He responded by rededicating himself to a stricter training regimen this offseason. There was reason to believe he was on his way to entering that conversation of the game's elite point guards as a result. Additional talent in the form of Beal was supposed to only help that effort.
To be fair, this year could still be that year John Wall takes the next step, but last week's news just made his path more difficult.
18. Brandon Roy Returns to the NBA
The day he scored 18 fourth-quarter points to come back from 23 down and beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs was poetry with a basketball.
To think we'd seen the last from Brandon Roy on an NBA stage seemed tragic.
Despite being forced to retire last season due to degenerative knees, Brandon Roy will make his return to the NBA later this month. After inking a two-year, $10.4 million deal, he will do so as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In an interview with NBATV earlier this summer, Roy said that All-Star forward Kevin Love is excited to team up with him.
"The first thing I asked David Kahn was, 'How does Love feel that I fit in?' He was just real excited to have me," Roy said. "He texted to say he would love to have me on the team and he was looking forward to training camp and improving. That made me feel great."
It will feel great for all of us to see Brandon Roy back out on an NBA court this season.
He hasn't suffered any setbacks on his road to training camp thus far and appears to be as healthy as he's been in a long while.
17. Mike Dunlap and Jacque Vaughn Start the Rebuild
Both rosters are a disaster, and each team will be awful this season—no matter who coaches them.
Which might be why each organization was forced to hire a rookie head coach.
In a quest to prove that Big East assistant coaches can make it in the NBA, Mike Dunlap arrives in Charlotte looking to turn around a league-worst mark of 7-56. He won't have Anthony Davis' help in doing so, either.
Dunlap will have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, though, and he should at least provide some hope for the future. The idea that Ben Gordon and Gerald Henderson should lead your team in scoring certainly doesn't.
Jacque Vaughn's going to have as difficult a time replacing Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. Three years ago, I'd have told you his best player is Hedo Turkoglu. Now, I'm not sure if it's Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, or Arron Afflalo.
In any event, tough sledding for both of these first-year head coaches heading into training camp. If either one wins 25 games, he should be named NBA Coach of the Year.
16. 'Linsanity' Begins in Houston
Or maybe "Linsanity" itself ends and we all just collectively agree that Jeremy Lin is a good basketball player.
That's what Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is betting three years and $25 million on anyway.
Morey invested heavily in Lin because, as he puts it, “Lin has already played for a small yet not insignificant stretch at an All-Star level.”
That stretch includes 35 NBA games in which Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists.
He also captured the NBA world's collective attention, became an international phenomenon and was as compelling a story as I can ever remember last season.
But that's all beside the point moving forward.
Lin is still an obviously compelling figure, to be sure, but this season will be more about substance. Can he do it again? Can he maintain those levels of 14 and six in head coach Kevin McHale's offense? Is he a great player, or simply a great story?
We'll begin to find that out just as soon as the season begins. Until then, Lin will be sleeping on a new teammate's couch while training camp gets underway.
15. Ricky Rubio's Return from Knee Surgery
Ricky Rubio dazzled the NBA universe upon arrival last season.
The Spanish sensation averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists through his first 41 games in the league. He might’ve even challenged for the Rookie of the Year had he been able to finish even stronger.
The unfortunate injury to his ACL on March 2 abruptly ended his season. He's been out ever since.
As training camp opens this week in Minnesota, the timetable for the Timberwolves guard's return remains very much in doubt. Last week, Rubio told the Star Tribune that his return could be in December, or even as late as January.
Whenever he is back in the lineup, hopefully there are no lasting effects from the injury. As we learned last season, the NBA’s a more exciting product with Ricky Rubio at full strength.
14. Rookie Point Guards with High Expectations
Damian Lillard, Kendall Marshall and Austin Rivers. Each first-round draft pick will begin their NBA journey this week with high expectations.
The Portland Trail Blazers will ask Lillard, the sixth overall pick from Weber State, to become that franchise point guard they've been looking for since drafting Sebastian Telfair 13th overall in 2004.
Austin Rivers, 10th overall out of Duke, will be asked to not only move over from shooting guard, but also permanently replace Chris Paul in New Orleans. Meanwhile, all Kendall Marshall has to do is replace the legendary Steve Nash in Phoenix.
After a strong showing at Vegas summer league, Lillard is a trendy preseason pick for NBA Rookie of the Year this season.
Rivers heads into training camp as the favorite to start on opening night at the point for Monty Willams, and Marshall is expected to push Goran Dragic for starting minutes in Phoenix.
Whatever happens, all eyes will be on this next wave of NBA point guards.
13. Sacramento Kings Relocation Saga Continues
The Sacramento Kings' winning percentage over the last four seasons is a combined .284.
They'll be forced to improve on that number heading into training camp with talk of the franchise leaving town swirling around their locker room.
Rumors circulated this summer of obscure relocation destinations like Virginia Beach and Anaheim. Anywhere but Sacramento, Calif., appears to be in play.
In the midst of these distractions, the Kings will be seeking on-court stability from a group headlined by Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.
Neither player has maxed out on their respective potential yet. Tyreke was arguably closest as a rookie when he averaged more points and assists (20.1 and 5.8) than he did this past season (16.5 and 4.5). DeMarcus, while supremely talented, has been inconsistent over the past two seasons despite taking a step forward statistically last year.
They will need to find a maturing calm this season amidst challenging circumstances. If they don't, and the Kings lose big again, I'm not sure anybody would buy a ticket to watch.
No matter where the Maloof's decide to play their home games.
12. New-Look Denver Nuggets
Andre Iguodala will bring more than an All-Star resume to Denver. He will provide head coach George Karl the opportunity to construct this 2012-13 Nuggets team in his own image.
Karl's Nuggets finished as a Top 10 defensive team last season. Now they will be adding arguably the league's best wing defender in Iguodala.
He will anchor a promising unit featuring the recently re-signed JaVale McGee and his 2.16 blocks per game from a season ago. Additionally, emerging second-year forward Kenneth Faried will be afforded the veteran leadership under Iguodala needed to build on an impressive rookie campaign.
Rounding out the Denver lineup is point guard Ty Lawson, who may have arrived on the NBA scene for good last season, averaging over 16 and six. Danilo Gallinari, at 24 years old, is the best young player in the NBA that nobody ever seems to talk about. Gallo has the pieces around him now to explode this season statistically in Denver.
The Nuggets will be a playoff team you won't want to sleep on.
11. An Encore for Reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving
If a No. 1 overall pick can fly under the NBA radar, then Kyrie Irving did that for much of last season. This year, he won't have that same opportunity.
After not playing on national television until being named MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend, the NBA world will be watching Irving as training camp begins this week in Cleveland.
He'll head into camp looking to prove his averages of 18 points and five assists last season were only the beginning. This time around, he'll have fourth overall pick Dion Waiters lined up in the backcourt next to him for support.
Waiters will replace the retired Anthony Parker, who started at shooting guard last season next to Irving. Almost no matter what he does, he'll be an improvement.
It's a welcomed improvement for Kyrie, too. This season, starting with game one, opposing teams will game-plan to stop him each and every night There’s now 51 games of NBA film out to aid in that effort. His response to that counterpunch will determine just how much of a step forward he makes in year two.
No lingering effects from the offseason hand injury are expected. Irving has stated heading into preseason that he will be "150 percent by training camp."
10. The Rise of Rajon Rondo in Boston
Mike D'Antoni famously wondered what Rajon Rondo would look like without a trio of Hall of Famers lined up next to him in Boston. This could be the year he begins to find out.
With good reason, too.
Rondo led the NBA in assists last season, averaging 11.7 per game. Over the last two seasons, he's averaged a double-double. But if Boston is truly going to compete for an Eastern Conference title this year, Rondo will need to emerge from camp scoring like he did last postseason.
He averaged 20.9 points per game in the conference finals a year ago, finishing with a scoring average of 17.3 over 19 playoff games. With Hall of Famers Garnett and Pierce taking an expected step back this season, the C's are going to need about five more points per game from Rondo than his 10.8 career average—along with that league-leading number of assists.
A feat not out of the realm of possibility for the Boston Celtics' best player.
9. Can the Nets Bring Playoff Basketball to Brooklyn?
This might have come after a conversation with general manager Billy King, who calls the Brooklyn backcourt duo of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson the best in the NBA.
"I think we have the best backcourt in the NBA," Billy King said. "That's no disrespect to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. I just think where these guys (Williams, Johnson) are in their careers, they are. What I really like is that they're both very physical offensively and defensively. They'll be the most physical backcourt in the league."
The Nets went deep into the luxury tax to afford that backcourt. Last season in Atlanta, Johnson averaged 18.8 points and 3.9 assists per game. After coming over from Utah, Deron Williams averaged 21 and 9 last season in New Jersey.
8. Steve Nash's Impact on Mike Brown's Offense in Los Angeles
Offensive strategy has never been Lakers coach Mike Brown's strength. He revamped his coaching staff to help in that area by hiring Bernie Bickerstaff and Eddie Jordan.
His next move might be to appoint Steve Nash offensive coordinator.
Jordan was sought out by the organization for his knowledge of the Princeton offense. Bickerstaff brings an accomplished NBA coaching resume as well. But if Mike Brown is to survive year two in Los Angeles, the Lakers will need to execute offensively.
There's no excuse not to.
Adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to a mix that includes Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol is more offensive firepower in one place than Brown has seen in his whole career. As training camp begins, one of the big questions for Los Angeles is what exactly he plans to do with all that.
If it's me, I'd hand Steve Nash not only the ball but the playbook. I'd sit him down with Eddie Jordan and give him the opportunity to call his own plays as the point guard/offensive coordinator.
Anything less than that might be too much to risk for Mike Brown, with expectations of an NBA title or bust.
7. Welcome to the NBA, Anthony Davis
The expectations for Anthony Davis in New Orleans are simple: win Rookie of the Year, then become an All-Star, and then help lead the Hornets to an NBA championship.
At 19 years old, he's already the youngest basketball player to ever win gold in the Olympics. Three of the last four No. 1 overall picks have gone on to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year, and Davis is expected to do the same.
He's certainly capable.
He enters his first training camp knowing he needs to get both better and stronger. "It's a very physical game, very physical," Davis said recently. "I definitely got to stay in the weight room."
Davis said he has already added muscle to the 220-pound frame he used to win a national title with Kentucky last spring.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder and the Difference a Year Makes
Los Angeles added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Miami brought in Ray Allen. The Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Perry Jones III 28th overall and welcome Eric Maynor back from the injured list.
If the Thunder are going to step forward this season, it will be because each player gets incrementally better.
We will find out this season how much value experience is actually worth in a quest for an NBA title. For the favorites to win the Northwest Division, it could be enough to put them over the top.
James Harden’s contract situation is real, and something that could cause a distraction. Serge Ibaka is settled into his deal at this point, and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are two of the game's best players. If Kendrick Perkins and company can do enough to support those two stars, the Thunder could win the whole thing.
5. The Return of Derrick Rose
The commercial gave me chills when I first saw it. Derrick Rose's return to the court this season, though, is more than a catchy Adidas campaign—it could eventually shift the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.
The key for the Chicago Bulls will be how well they hold up in the meantime.
After surgery on May 12th to repair the ACL in his left knee, the former MVP is expected back on the court in late February. The first 40 Rose-less games played by Chicago will go a long way in determining whether or not the Bulls are a playoff team when he shows up.
They added Marco Belinelli (11.8 ppg for NOH) and Nate Robison (11.2 ppg for GSW last year) to help some at the guard spot, as well as drafting Marquis Teague.
Chicago will need career years from Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, however, if they have any hope of making a serious push in the Eastern Conference this season.
4. Can Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire Co-Exist in New York?
Amar’e Stoudemire missed 19 regular-season games last season with injury. The Knicks went 14-5 in those games. In the 47 games he did play, they went 22-25.
During a 12-game stretch last season while Stoudemire was out, Carmelo Anthony averaged 31 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. On the season overall, Anthony averaged 22.6 on 43 percent from the floor—his lowest totals since the 2004-05 season.
The Knicks will pay Stoudemire and Anthony a combined $39.4 million this season. They need each to excel if they have any hope of doing better than a first-round playoff exit.
If we learned anything from the Miami Heat’s recent run it’s that super-teams do need time to figure things out. If New York hopes to do that this season, they’ll also need more from Stoudemire than his lowest rebounding total (7.5 rpg in 2011-12) since the 2005-06 season.
3. Ray Allen's Impact on Miami's Quest to Repeat
Kevin Garnett doesn’t have Ray Allen’s phone number anymore. The league's all-time leader in three-point shooting is now a member of the Heat, and he'll look to stretch defenses even more than before to open up driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
He should be able to as well. The Miami Heat made 370 threes last season, and 180 of those three’s came from the Heat starters. The other 190 came from Mike Miller (53) Shane Battier (62) and James Jones (46). Last season in Boston, Ray Allen made 106 threes himself, converting on 45 percent of his attempts in 46 games
In 64 games, Mario Chalmers connected on 101 three-pointers, 39 more than any of his teammates. Ray Allen’s three-pointers made per game last season (2.3) was also the highest total he posted since the 2008-09 season (2.5).
Just another reason to be excited for LeBron James and company this season.
2. Andrew Bynum in Philly
Dorrell Wright believes Andrew Bynum is better than Dwight Howard. He isn’t, but that's what Wright said about his new teammate last week.
After being traded to Philadelphia, Bynum is instantly the best center in the Eastern Conference, regardless. No offense to Roy Hibbert.
Bynum makes Doug Collins' Sixers not only a better team, but a different team. Collins said last week that Philly is "now a power team." They'll open training camp looking to build from the inside out.
Andrew Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season playing alongside Kobe Bryant, and he’s about to get the most touches of his NBA career.
The best Sixers big man since Moses Malone will be the star in Philly this season.
1. Dwight Howard in Los Angeles
This goes without saying: There will be a lot of attention paid to Dwight Howard in Los Angeles this season.
But his biggest obstacle may be only his health. At full strength, the impact he'll make on Mike Brown's defense will be immense. He will erase almost any mistake made on the perimeter, and continue to do what he does on the glass.
He was annoying last year, but that Dwightmare's over.
This season he will be held in check by Kobe Bryant, and I expect Dwight Howard to have the best season of his career statistically while making his Hollywood debut.
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