NBA Training Camp Primer: Top Buzz and Latest News from the First Week

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2012

NBA Training Camp Primer: Top Buzz and Latest News from the First Week

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    Just how much money is 22-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday worth going forward?

    The Philadelphia 76ers are determining just that as the window for an extension closes at month's end. Such is NBA life in October, when the front office remains every bit as busy as the coaching staff, and players negotiate returns to the court amid more than a few lingering distractions.

    With the first week of training camp now in the books, lineups are starting to take shape, preseason contests are under way and the regular season isn't far behind it. What better time to keep tabs on the injuries, contract drama, emergent talent and competition for starting jobs? 

    We're keeping track of the biggest stories from around the league so that you don't miss a thing. Here's a look at what's happening as Week 1 of the preseason comes to a close.

Kobe Misses Practice but Returns for Preseason Game

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    Ostensibly thanks to a sore right foot, Kobe Bryant conspicuously skipped two Friday practices, briefly raising eyebrows of Lakers fans who've thus far been preoccupied by Dwight Howard's return to the floor.

    Not to worry, though, as Kobe returned for Saturday practice and played 19 minutes in Los Angeles' preseason game against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.

    It's safe to assume Friday's precaution had more to do with keeping Bryant fresh than anything else. With coach Mike Brown looking to limit Kobe's minutes this season (and for real this time), there's no better time to start than training camp.

    There's little doubt the 34-year-old will pick up on L.A.'s new offense (now fitted with the Princeton's read-and-react principles) in short order, so taking things easy in advance of an 82-game grind ranks as a more pressing priority.

    Lakers fans will just have to get used to seeing less of Bryant when he's not absolutely needed. He'll still have his share of 40-minute games, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him used far more sparingly at times, thanks to the roster's much-improved depth.

Amar'e Showing Off New Post Skills

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    Don't be too surprised if some of Amar'e Stoudemire's new moves in the low block conjure up images of the game's all-time post greats, as he spent time this summer learning from one.

    But even if the results are only a rough approximation of what Hakeem Olajuwon did for the Houston Rockets, there's no question they'll add an important dimension to the power forward's game, as Stoudemire said (via the New York Post's Marc Berman):

    I’m a player who adapted to the system I played in. I’ve been under (Mike) D’Antoni for seven, eight years. Post-up wasn’t a factor for us. We were such a high-octane, up-tempo team where speed and quickness was to our advantage. I’m now allowed to develop a post game where my speed and quickness will still be used to my advantage but add a lot of [post] skill.

    Stoudemire will remain dangerous in pick-and-roll situations, largely because he's just as good at popping as rolling. But there's a good case to be made that Carmelo Anthony was New York's best post-scorer last season, and that had to change.

    The new and improved Amar'e should become an even more valuable half-court option for the Knicks. After a stellar first season under D'Antoni in New York, Stoudemire struggled at times last season, and it became clear he needed to make some adjustments under new head coach Mike Woodson.

    Time will tell if those adjustments were enough to re-establish Stoudemire as one of the league's very best second options.

76ers Working on Extension with Jrue Holiday

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    You won't find many rosters with more young talent than that belonging to the Philadelphia 76ers, so it's no surprise the organization is hard at work to keep its emergent core intact.

    That should lead to some big investments in the near future, and not just because of center Andrew Bynum's impending free agency. The club is also looking to lock up 22-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday, potentially signing him to an extension prior to the Oct. 30 deadline.

    CSNPhilly.com's John Finger reports that "a source says the two sides have been in contact about an extension," but he couldn't get a comment out of GM Tony DiLeo.

    Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears reported earlier this summer that Holiday was in the market for a max deal, which—if accurate—could make these some intriguing negotiations.

    Holiday ranks as one of the better defenders at his position, and his upside is undeniable. But his production thus far (13.5 points and 4.5 assists last season) doesn't seem to justify top dollar.

Pekovic Wants to Stick Around

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    After entering training camp in the best shape of his young NBA career, center Nikola Pekovic is one of the Minnesota Timberwolves' less-heralded reasons to hope for a return to the postseason.

    The 26-year-old ranked as one of the league's most productive centers on a per-minute basis last season, and all indications are that he's poised for an even better season—which is saying something after the jump he made from his first to second campaign.

    That's good news for this club's future, but it's also all the more reason for the organization to keep him in a Timberwolves uniform at season's end.

    With the way Pekovic's talking, they might not have to sweeten the deal too much (via the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda):

    I would like to stay here because of everything. I just like everything. I like the area. I like the team. I like all the stuff. Now I got some friends here. Now it's real easy. It's just nice, nice people, nice town. I would like to be here.

    On the other hand, if Pekovic has the kind of season he's capable of having (a year after averaging 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in just under 27 minutes of action per game), he could become a bit pricey. As hard as it is to find a capable starting center, Minnesota won't have a lot of leverage when it comes to showing him the money.

Phoenix Suns' 2-Spot Up for Grabs

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    With the rest of the starting lineup all but etched in stone, the Phoenix Suns' preseason will have special importance for Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown, the two candidates to start at shooting guard.

    At the moment, this race is still too close to call, judging from coach Alvin Gentry's comments (via AZCentral.com's Paul Coro):

    Jared and Shannon have both played really good basketball. Both of them feel right now like they are going to be the starting two-guard and they’ve played at that level. If you talk about the two guys who have played the best in the pickup games (prior to the start of camp), they were the two best ones, probably.

    Dudley is the longer-tenured Sun, and he's coming off a season that was more productive and efficient by just about every measure. If Brown snatches this starting spot away, it will be due to his preseason performance, or simply because he winds up a better fit with the rest of the starters.

    After all, given that three of Phoenix's probable starters (Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley and Luis Scola) are new to the Suns, Dudley's incumbent status in the unit may not count for as much as it otherwise might. Additionally, Brown performed much better in his 19 games as a starter than he did coming off the bench.

    Both of these guys can spot up and hit the long-range shot or drive the baseline and explode to the rim. Their biggest inherent difference may be height, as Dudley has about three inches on Brown.

Marcus Camby Already Hobbled

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    The New York Knicks added a platoon of veterans with an aim of increasing their depth, and defensive specialist Marcus Camby will do just that, arguably giving Tyson Chandler one of the best backup centers in the game.

    The trick will be keeping him healthy, which is already proving to be a minor struggle, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone:

    Marcus Camby had an MRI on his calf. He has a strained left calf and is out 7-10 days. That means he he won't play first 2 preseason games.

    — Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) October 6, 2012

    Worried Knicks fans shouldn't read too much into the early setback—it is just a strain.

    But for a 38-year-old who has a history of missing time, even the slightest concerns are magnified. Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas are both capable of playing at center, so New York can certainly afford to play things safe with its veterans.

    Still, having Camby around would be nice. He has become one of the most efficient rebounders in the game, averaging nine boards in about 23 minutes of action last season. If he can give that kind of production as the postseason nears, the minor bumps and bruises will be long forgotten.

Have the Spurs Found Their Next Manu?

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    If you haven't heard the name Nando de Colo, you're not alone. 

    Leave it to the San Antonio Spurs to change that. The organization has always had a way of turning obscure international talent into some of the NBA's best—a knack epitomized by the growth of second-round pick Manu Ginobili into one of the game's elite shooting guards.

    Could the 25-year-old De Colo be next? 

    Taken with the 53rd pick in 2009, the swingman is already drawing comparisons to Ginobili after his brief debut in San Antonio's preseason contest against Montepaschi Siena (an Italian team).

    His electric passing certainly planted the seed in teammate Stephen Jackson's head. His take (via the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Monroe): “Nando is another Manu Ginobili.”

    Of course, the Frenchman has a few things to prove before those comparisons can be made with an entirely straight face, but you can't ask for higher praise so early into his first training camp. If that praise has anything to it, all the better for San Antonio.

    With Ginobili now 35, it's about time to start grooming the next generation.

Thomas Robinson at Small Forward?

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    Sacramento Kings rookie Thomas Robinson is having his versatility tested early on.

    According to The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones, Robinson was paired with Chuck Hayes and DeMarcus Cousins for a five-on-five match in practice, suggesting head coach Keith Smart might be testing the limits of Robinson's game. Given that Hayes has always been a bit undersized for the power forward spot, putting him next to Robinson certainly makes some sense from a defensive standpoint.

    The question will be whether Robinson can remain enough of a threat from the perimeter to spread the floor as a 3-man.

    Of course, you can't read too much into a few minutes of practice, but we probably wouldn't be seeing the atypical lineup were there not some consideration of actually using it during the season.

    Sacramento has struggled to find a long-term solution at the small forward position, especially with John Salmons struggling so mightily last season. Smart took to using Tyreke Evans at the 3, given the team's comparative gold mine of depth in the backcourt.

    Unfortunately, Evans is ultimately at his best playing one of the two guard positions, so the search continues—with Robinson apparently emerging as one of the candidates.

Joakim Noah Misses Time, Works on Offense

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    The bad news is Joakim Noah has missed a couple of days' worth of practice.

    The good news (well, sort of) is it had nothing to do with the ankle sprain he incurred in the 2011-12 first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Coach Tom Thibodeau attributed it to "a personal matter" (via the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley).

    With the passing of Noah's grandmother last week, your speculation is as good as mine.

    But the unquestionably good news is that Noah could be more of an offensive force this season after spending time this summer working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Noah has always been a solid passer, but he's earned his reputation on the defensive end, namely as an energetic, mobile defender who can guard the post and pick-and-roll equally well.

    With Derrick Rose sidelined for the next few months, the Bulls could use some interior scoring, and Noah's evolution would go a long way in getting it.