The NBA preseason is a time for growth, a time when teams strive to develop chemistry and, most notably, a time when improbable regular-season heroes are born.
Certain players come into the preseason with little to no expectations and with no guarantees as to where they will fit upon its conclusion.
Which is why for them, the preseason means everything and nothing at the same time.
Because while the games mean nothing, the stats, the displays of athleticism and the ability to stand out in general means something.
Yet, regardless of performance, they'll still go overlooked as the regular season approaches; they may earn themselves a spot in the rotation, but they won't be held in immediate high-regard.
And from that heap of doubt, the true gamers will emerge.
They'll be the ones up to the challenge of proving their continuous doubters wrong, silencing the critics and skeptics, and ultimately embarking on what is an unexpectedly successful campaign.
Let's get this party started with a controversial bang, shall we?
Mike Conley is far from unproven, but shocking the world entails reaching a level of production that exceeds the fans' wildest dreams. And Conley will wind up fitting that bill.
In four preseason performances, Memphis' point guard is averaging 18.5 points and five assists while shooting a 54.5 percent clip from the field. His three-point accuracy has been otherworldly as well; Conley has converted on 64.3 percent of long-range attempts.
The Grizzlies' Achilles heel has always been at point guard. Conley has been sound, but they've been unable to find a backup to run the offense in his stead. Yet a backup point guard is of little concern when your starting floor general is a bona fide star. Just ask Rajon Rondo and the Celtics.
This is going to be the season Conley breaks free from the confines that come with being a solid role player who has found himself in the starting lineup and enters into the realm of stardom.
He has used the preseason to develop his own identity, his own scoring prowess on the offensive end and has taken great strides toward improving his lateral defensive quickness.
Now, courtesy of Conley's emergence as a top point man, the Grizzlies, for the first time, will experience what it's like to be clad with a star-caliber facilitator.
Color the basketball world surprised.
Even though Perry Jones III was considered a steal for the Thunder in this past summer's draft, no one expected him to make too much of an impact.
Well, that's all going to change.
In three preseason contests, Jones is averaging 13 points and 3.7 rebounds on a whopping 64.3 percent shooting from the field. He's also knocked 40 percent of his attempts from the beyond the arc.
Though the small forward may find himself buried three or four deep in the bench rotation, he's already proved himself effective on both ends of the floor. He's shown great anticipation on the defensive end thus far—0.7 steals in 26 minutes per contest—and has come out the other side of the draft with a much improved jump shot.
And while the competition clearly isn't as intense during the preseason, Jones has both the size and intelligence to ensure he continues to further his progress upon the regular season's inception.
To the point where he may emerge as a dark horse candidate for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award.
I believe in Festus Ezeli, do you?
Understandably, the Warriors—and the rest of the NBA—could not bank on Ezeli making an immediate impact. After all, this was Golden State we were talking about. From Andris Biedrins to Andrew Bogut, the team has hardly had the best luck with big men.
Ezeli, however, may represent a shift in tides. Through five preseason performances, the last pick of the first round has proven he belongs.
The 6'11" center is averaging an understated 6.2 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots on 81.3 percent shooting in just over 22 minutes per game.
Not bad for the player who had the potential to become a heavier, almost as useless version of Biedrins, is it?
Not at all. And while most will continue to sleep on Ezeli as an impact player, the Warriors must know better.
Because with Biedrins as big of a non-factor as ever and Bogut toiling with the prospect of another injury-riddled campaign, Ezeli provides the team with what has become a foreign reality—a stable, yet capable presence in the low post.
Three cheers for some improbable frontcourt relief in New York.
After spending five years in Europe, the 28-year-old Chris Copeland is finally getting to take a stab at the NBA. And to the surprise of everyone, he's making the most of this opportunity.
Thus far, Copeland is averaging 12 points on 50 percent shooting from the field in 17 minutes per game. He has proved to be a point-totaling machine, a reality that recently culminated in a 21 points in a 19 minute outburst against the Celtics.
And while the forward still needs to improve in many areas of the game—defensive anticipation, rebounding and three-point shooting to name a few—he has provided the Knicks with a both athletic and durable presence in the low post.
When you play on team that consists of perpetual injury risks like Amar'e Stoudemire, Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler and the ever-aging veterans Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace, that's not just important, it's vital to the team's ultimate cause.
Which is exactly what Copeland will prove to be during the regular season—an integral cog in what the Knicks hope is a championship-worthy machine.
This is finally the year when Nick Young will develop into—wait for it—a multifaceted talent.
Young has been nothing short of superb for the 76ers this preseason. He's averaging 19 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 dimes per contest on 51.1 percent shooting from the field overall and 57.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Considering Young has is a career 43 percent shooter and has never averaged more than 1.2 assists per game for his career, this level of efficient, unselfish production—one that he has maintained through four games—is more than noteworthy.
However, given the reputation he has built for himself over the last five years, people are unlikely to forgive and forget that quickly; he'll have to prove himself further once the regular season rolls around.
Which is exactly what the current dynamic in Philadelphia will allow him to do.