NBA's 10 Biggest Surprises of 2012-13 Training Camp Thus Far
There have been a number of interesting developments thus far in the preseason, and players exceeding expectations are just the tip of an intriguing iceberg that fans like to devour as we eagerly anticipate the beginning of the season.
From rule changes to comeback stories, the preseason has offered some interesting stories so far, and it's time to take a look at 10 such things as we whet our appetite for the first full season since the infamous lockout of 2011.
Eddy Curry Being In Shape and Productive
It was easy to write Eddy Curry off after ballooning to close to 400 pounds, but he shed over 100 pounds last year and worked himself into respectable-enough shape to land a contract with the Miami Heat. I wrote for Yahoo! Sports last season that he should serve as a model of what hard work can accomplish rather than a subject of ridicule.
Many lambasted this notion by saying he never should have allowed his weight to reach such absurd proportions to begin with. Be that as it may, he's continued to work hard and now has a legitimate chance of making the Spurs' roster.
Curry told the San Antonio Express-News he worked hard this summer and went on to say that he's focused on defense and rebounding and "just showing everybody what (he) can do." His performances have been humble so far, but Curry himself is just as humble, commenting, "I think I'm going to make it. Until they tell me I'm not, I feel like I'm part of this team."
Curry's story is refreshing and a feel-good tale for anyone who has ever struggled with being overweight, and there is an actual opportunity for playing time on the Spurs since they start an undersized Boris Diaw at center.
Will Curry reach the level of play he did with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks early in his career? That's doubtful. But I wouldn't count anything out from a guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure he can do what he still loves to do—play basketball.
Damian Lillard Has Franchise-Player Potential
Damian Lillard was taken No. 6 overall in the 2012 draft, but from the hype he has received so far in this young season, it's quite possible the Portland Trail Blazers may have a franchise talent. Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey threw that label around on draft night, and one of the main reasons he's been a surprise is because of the lack of fanfare he received in college at a small school (Weber State) in a lackluster conference (Big Sky).
To aid Lillard's development, the Blazers brought in David Vanterpool, a former scouting and player personnel manager from the Oklahoma City Thunder organization. Vanterpool has been as equally high on Lillard as Olshey has been.
Vanterpool, a former point guard himself, gave an in-depth scouting report of the youngster to BlazersEdge.com:
He can flat out shoot the basketball. He has a quickness. He has some very, very good explosion. Being able to affect the game at any moment, being able to shoot the basketball the way he does, from our 3-point line, is not always the easiest thing, especially for a rookie coming in. You come in as a point guard, you get other guys the ball, you don't always shoot immediately, but he has the ability to wait it out, take a shot and it's going in. You get a lot of confidence and consistency with that. Those are three of the things that really stand out to me: his ability to shoot the basketball, which is great, his quickness, and his explosion.
He's also pretty good at finishing around the rim. Being so small and compact he can still finish around the rim. He can definitely take contact, his body is built for that.
Being such a special kid, a good kid. Character plays a big part in this league in my opinion. Where I came from, Oklahoma City, that was way up high, dealing with guys and dealing with people we wanted in our organization. What's being built here will hopefully be a part of that. Damian is a big part of that, he's one of those good character guys.
Lillard has the potential to be Rookie of the Year in a very loaded rookie crop, and the Blazers feel that he has the potential to be their point guard of the future, which is nice since he'll pair up with another franchise talent in LaMarcus Aldridge. Blazers fans are beginning to feel much better about having lost Brandon Roy to retirement (never mind the fact that he came back with Minnesota) and Greg Oden to injury after injury. Life goes on.
Jared Sullinger Is Possibly the Steal of the Draft and May Start
Kevin Garnett doesn't often take a shine to rookies, and he's lauded Jared Sullinger after just a few preseason games. Garnett said Sullinger is a "very intelligent basketball player" with a "very, very high basketball IQ."
Despite Brandon Bass' impressive play last year during the 2012 NBA playoffs (and the Celtics re-signing Bass to an extension), Sullinger may start. Doc Rivers told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that he was going to experiment with the lineup and "throw Brandon (Bass) in and then put Darko (Milicic) in a couple times," adding that "no decision has been made on anything."
The Celtics have a lot of lineup versatility this season and Sullinger will be seeing minutes. That much is clear. It's important to remember, Sullinger was projected at one point to be a Top Five overall draft pick before questions regarding his health and work ethic caused him to plummet to No. 21 overall, where the Celtics were smart enough to nab him.
People have questioned his size and ability to thrive at the NBA level, but so far, all indications are that he'll be just fine—if not quite good.
Rasheed Wallace Returning to the NBA
Rasheed Wallace is 38 now, and that's hardly setting a record for the oldest player ever, but it's not far enough off the mark to make his comeback any less implausible. After all, the Knicks already have an ancient roster with Jason Kidd ambling through the final years of his career and Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby. Wallace will fit right in with the geriatric crowd.
But perhaps what is the most surprising is that a guy who made over $150 million in his career is going to consider suiting up for a minimum contract. He's clearly matured (maybe that is an overstatement or unfounded assumption?) and is ready to sacrifice some pride just to play the game of basketball. While Wallace is far from a lock to make the Knicks' roster, his skill set is still there even if his body isn't. It's going to be interesting to see how his comeback plays out.
Eric Bledsoe Is the Next Big-Time Backup Point Guard
Eric Bledsoe's short NBA career has been plagued by injury, but there's no denying his talent. In Chris Paul's absence, he put up 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists while connecting on 12-of-17 from the floor against Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets in the preseason opener.
While the game was high-scoring and low on defense, it did exhibit Bledsoe's talent. The Clippers may have the deepest roster in the NBA, and if they can showcase Bledsoe, they may be able to receive something nice for him at the trade deadline.
Maalik Wayns Has Outplayed a lot of Drafted Rookies So Far
The Philadephia 76ers are short on backcourt depth after the departure of Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala, which leaves the door wide open for undrafted rookie Maalik Wayns. Wayns starred at Villanova and has seemingly grasped what it will take to be successful at the next level.
"Whatever my coach needs me to do I'm going to do," Wayns said. "Last year they needed me to score so that's what I did. We weren't that successful doing it, but now I get to get back to my roots and the way I play. Now I can just be comfortable and play my game."
Wayns' comfort level he speaks of could be the biggest difference maker in whether or not he pans out and outperforms the draft position he never had. He hasn't come in with a chip on his shoulder regarding all 30 NBA teams passing him up in the June draft.
Wayns had a nice night Saturday (Oct. 13) against the Brooklyn Nets, as he posted 18 points in 23 minutes of play while also dishing out three assists. At this point, it would be a surprise if he didn't make the roster; and beyond that, a surprise if he didn't receive significant minutes backing up Jrue Holiday.
19-Year-Old Andre Drummond Is NOT D-League Bound
Andre Drummond was hyped heavily headed into his last NCAA season at UConn, but his lackluster performance caused him to fall from what could have been a No. 1 or No. 2 overall selection all the way down to No. 9, where Detroit happily snatched up the 6'11" forward who compares very favorably to a young Dwight Howard.
Drummond, so far, has exceeded the low expectations that followed his freshman one-and-done campaign at UConn and posted 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 9-of-13 from the floor in a Pistons loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday (Oct. 13) night. Drummond will likely see some minutes alongside Pistons center Greg Monroe this season as Detroit attempts to develop its front court of the future. It's a welcome change from what many perceived to be a likely trip to the D-League.
The Hornets Starting Lineup Experiments
When Anthony Davis was drafted No. 1 overall, the assumption was that the New Orleans Hornets had drafted their starting center of the future. So far, however, Davis hasn't played center. The 7-footer has started alongside former Suns center Robin Lopez and manned the 4-spot. Davis is still a bit wiry to bang with the bigger bodies in the NBA and will take time to adjust to manning the paint.
What this does, of course, is push 2011-12 Most Improved Player of the Year Ryan Anderson to the bench. That's a $10 million contract coming off the bench, and while Anderson will still see significant minutes, it also lowers the talent level of the starting lineup since Lopez is pretty offensively deficient.
Davis has been fairly impressive thus far and is the odds-on favorite to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award, but he'll be doing it from a position most didn't anticipate he would be playing.
The NBA's Flopping Rules
The league enforcing fines for flopping seems a bit harsh and extreme. It's going to pose a new challenge for players since flops will be heavily penalized, costing players $5,000 initially and up to $30,000 after they've continued to flop.
Blake Griffin spoke out candidly, saying, "It's not going to win or lose games or anybody. It's a good way for the NBA to get more money."
Expect players to quickly grow frustrated with the penalties for something that has become part of the game, for better or worse. Like the hand-checking rules that were put it in place, it will take time for players to adjust to this, and the fact that they will shell their hard-earned cash out as they do will be more than just a minor annoyance.
Surely, the NBA could have come up with a better solution to end flopping than fining players. As to what that solution could be, or could have been, your speculation and guess is as good as mine.
2011 No. 2 Pick Derrick Williams Thriving After Forgettable Rookie Season
The Timberwolves realized last year that depth can be a curse when it comes to developing premier talent. Despite landing a real heist by taking Michael Beasley off Miami's hands for the mere cost of a second-round pick, it gave the Wolves a logjam on the wings. The solution was to trade both second-year player Wes Johnson and Beasley to the Phoenix Suns to clear the way for Derrick Williams.
Judging by his performance last Friday (Oct. 12), that appears to have been the right decision.
Williams posted a team-high 25 points in the five-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, while also grabbing six rebounds and hitting 2-of-3 from behind the arc.
When Ricky Rubio returns, the Timberwolves are going to boast a lot of talent in a starting lineup that projects to be Rubio at the point, the rejuvenated Brandon Roy at the 2, Williams at small forward and superstar Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic rounding out the frontline.
The Wolves and other franchises realized Williams had a lot of talent coming out of Arizona in 2011, but he saw only 21 minutes per game last season and averaged just under nine points.
Expect Williams to see close to 34 minutes this season, with point-per-game production likely nearly doubling with higher usage and the increase in burn.