The 1 Reason to Watch Every NBA Team During Training Camp
Diehard and casual NBA fans alike may dismiss anything to do with training camp before the actual 2013-14 regular season starts, but there are still key reasons why every fan should watch their favorite team during this important juncture.
Whether fans are keeping an eye on young players, evaluating marquee names coming back from injury or assessing the value of free-agent additions, this time of the year will provide valuable insight.
Games don’t officially count until the regular season starts, but each team’s preparation prior to that point pays big dividends.
The New Orleans Pelicans will see if Anthony Davis can embrace his potential as an NBA sophomore. The Los Angeles Lakers will eye the time line of Kobe Bryant. The Indiana Pacers will evaluate where Danny Granger fits best in a playing rotation that nearly made the NBA Finals a season ago.
Not every team in the NBA will garner the same amount of hype, but fans of each squad should be excited for different reasons.
Atlanta Hawks: All Eyes on Rookies
At least on paper, the Atlanta Hawks came away with one of the most tantalizing rookie classes in 2013.
Dennis Schröder, the promising point guard from Germany, headlines the rookie class. However, Lucas Nogueira and Mike Muscala—who are both expected to develop by playing overseas next season, per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated—could both play meaningful roles down the road.
Of course, that fails to mention the addition of 31-year-old rookie Pero Antic. The 6’11”, 260-pound big man won Euroleague championships in 2012 and 2013 with Olympiacos.
Antic will likely play a minimal role as a backup frontcourt player, but he's still excited. “I’m going to do my best that I can—score, rebound, play defense, whatever, just to be a part of the team and help the team win so everybody will be happy,” he told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He’ll be an important acquisition who provides depth behind Al Horford and Paul Millsap, but Schröder is expected to garner the majority of attention.
The young point guard has been drawing comparisons to Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Although Hawks fans should temper those expectations, the Rondo lookalike had a respectable NBA Summer League performance.
Not everything he did showed up in the box score. He played tenacious defense and frequently set up teammates for scores.
Barring some unforeseen circumstances, Jeff Teague will continue to be the starting point guard in Atlanta. With that said, Schröder is garnering a lot of attention as a mid-first-round pick, and the hype is justified.
Boston Celtics: Can Jeff Green Make 'The Leap'?
With that said, numerous reports—including this one from Matt Moore of CBS Sports—say that Rondo will miss the entire preseason and part of the regular season as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL.
Because of that, Celtics fans won’t be able to monitor Rondo’s timetable during training camp. Nonetheless, there are plenty of important storylines regarding Boston’s storied franchise.
The progress of youngsters like Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley will keep fans occupied during training camp. However, the bulk of expectations lie with Jeff Green.
The 27-year-old forward had a rather pedestrian regular season after coming back from heart surgery. He posted meager averages of 12.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but he shined in the postseason.
In the six-game series against the New York Knicks, Green notched 43.2 minutes per game. He delivered by averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists and shooting a scorching 45.5 percent from three-point range.
Now Celtics fans will look for him to build off that success. He isn’t necessarily expected to match those numbers, but there’s reason to believe he’s poised for a breakout year.
Green averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during his sophomore season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In four seasons since that point, he hasn’t been able to improve those averages.
Look for that narrative to change in 2013-14, especially now that Green will fill the void left by Pierce and KG.
Brooklyn Nets: Jason Kidd's Coaching
The Brooklyn Nets made the biggest splash of the summer by bringing in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett via trade. They have been around long enough to give fans an idea of what to expect, but the same can’t be said for Jason Kidd in his new role as head coach.
During the 2013 offseason, 13 teams hired new head coaches—the most turnover ever, according to Kevin Zimmerman of SB Nation. Included in that list is Kidd, who is making the immediate jump from NBA player to head coach.
Unlike other first-timers like Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns), Brian Shaw (Denver Nuggets) and David Joerger (Memphis Grizzlies), Kidd has never spent time as an assistant.
The future Hall of Famer has the added benefit of coaching a championship contender in Brooklyn. However, he has a lot to prove as far as leading guys who were his NBA peers just a season ago.
The Nets boast a starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez. If Kidd can’t get those five key players to jell in a specific system, their chances of winning a title will be hindered.
Training camp provides a good barometer for Kidd’s coaching abilities. It will be interesting to see how much poise and composure he shows on the sidelines, especially when drawing up plays in crunch time.
Charlotte Bobcats: New Additions a Blessing or a Curse?
The Charlotte Bobcats image has taken a beating in recent years, and that narrative continued during the 2013 offseason.
Even though Charlotte improved the talent level of its roster, doing so prior to a loaded 2014 draft may prove to be the wrong move.
Let’s take a look at Charlotte’s first-round draft picks since 2004 (draft day trades are in parentheses).
2004, Pick 2: Emeka Okafor
2005, Pick 5: Raymond Felton
2005, Pick 13: Sean May
2006, Pick 3: Adam Morrison
2007, Pick 8: Brandan Wright (traded to Golden State)
2007, Pick 22: Jared Dudley
2008, Pick 9: D.J. Augustin
2008, Pick 20: Alexis Ajinca
2009, Pick 12: Gerald Henderson
2011, Pick 9: Kemba Walker
2011, Pick 19: Tobias Harris (traded to Milwaukee)
2012, Pick 2: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2013, Pick 4: Cody Zeller
Of the 13 first-round selections since 2004, only four remain on the current roster. Three of those four guys were drafted within the past three years.
The Bobcats’ poor draft history is well documented, but it’s alarming to see that they have failed to land a franchise player. Kemba Walker is the closest they’ve come, and he’s played well, but he isn’t capable of leading an NBA squad to a championship as the team’s best player.
This is exactly why the Bobcats are receiving so much criticism for signing Al Jefferson. Yes, he makes the team better, but at what cost?
Jefferson is a tremendous offensive interior talent. He has averaged at least 17 points and nine rebounds for six consecutive seasons. His defense, however, is abysmal.
According to a Grantland.com column by Zach Lowe, Jefferson admitted as much by saying, "It ain't no secret around the league that I struggle with my defense." Well, then.
When accounting for his porous defense, Jefferson doesn't make Charlotte a playoff team. His offensive capabilities may net the Bobcats 30 wins, but that still leaves the team in NBA no-man’s land. They don’t appear to be playoff bound, and they don't appear to be one of the league’s worst teams either.
Watching the offensive prowess of Jefferson and Zeller is a huge upgrade for Bobcats fans. Unfortunately, they may not be able to enjoy them if it means missing out on a top-five draft pick next season.
Seeing chemistry develop between Walker, Zeller and Jefferson is a reason to watch, but the short-term gain doesn’t outweigh the potential long-term consequences.
Chicago Bulls: D-Rose Better Than Before?
The reason for watching the Chicago Bulls during training camp can be summed up in two words: Derrick Rose.
Bulls fans have been waiting for what feels like an eternity to see the former MVP back on the court, and if the point guard’s recent updates are any indication, his return will be worth the wait.
According to an interview with Slam's Adam Figman, Rose said, “I think I’m a lot quicker, a lot more explosive...I got a little more strength behind me, so I think going to the hole, taking those shots, I’ll be able to finish a lot stronger this year. There should be a lot more and-1’s, hopefully.”
Rose was one of the most explosive players in the game before the injury. If he believes that he’s “a lot quicker,” "a lot more explosive" and stronger, then the rest of the league is going to have a serious problem.
The major thing to look out for during training camp, though, is his shooting stroke.
He has never been a solid outside shooter even though he’s won an MVP award. He’s a career 31 percent shooter from downtown. If Rose can improve that mark and stretch the defense, he’ll be that much more dynamic in 2013-14.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Camp Battle
Considering that free-agent addition Andrew Bynum has “no idea what the schedule’s going to be” for his return, according to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, Cleveland Cavaliers fans should focus their attention on a marquee training camp battle.
Because the 2013 NBA draft was arguably the weakest in more than a decade and didn’t have a consensus No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett has been overshadowed by countless other storylines.
He can prove to everyone that he shouldn’t have been overlooked, but in order to do so, he’ll have to win the starting job.
According to Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer, Bennett will compete with fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson. Thompson started all 82 games for the Cavs a season ago, posting career highs in points (11.7) and rebounds (9.4).
“They have to go out and compete,” head coach Mike Brown said of Bennett and Thompson. “They may be buddies, but once they cross that line, I think they’ll get after each other. They’ll want to make themselves better, as well as the team.”
Brown makes a great point. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the camp battle should bring out the best in both players. As a defensive-minded coach, Brown might go with the better defender to start the season.
No matter how you slice it, the Cavaliers have plenty of depth in the frontcourt. Look for the competition to light a fire under both Thompson and Bennett as they compete for minutes.
Dallas Mavericks: Plenty of New Pieces
While the Dallas Mavericks may have thrown up an air ball in free agency with regard to Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in recent years, they still managed to upgrade the supporting cast around Dirk Nowitzki.
Fans aren’t clamoring over the additions of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair. However, they are upgrades over Darren Collison/Mike James, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
The trio of Nowitzki/Calderon/Ellis has the potential to be a nightmare on the defensive end of the floor, which will put added pressure on Dalembert to protect the rim. However, he’s more than capable of doing so with a career average of 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes.
Aside from some defensive question marks, Dallas has the potential to score a lot of points next season.
Calderon has consistently been one of the best distributors in the NBA, with a career average of nine assists per 36 minutes.
Ellis, despite his egregious shot selection, has averaged 19 points or more in six of his eight seasons as a pro.
It’s conceivable that these Mavericks, with a healthy Nowitzki, will be improved from a season ago. Fans in Dallas should keep their eyes on the new additions throughout training camp.
I’m in the minority, but I believe the Mavericks are a dark-horse playoff team in 2013-14 in a tough Western Conference.
Denver Nuggets: McGee's Time to Shine
Shortly after winning Coach of the Year and watching the David Lee-less Golden State Warriors defeat his Denver Nuggets, George Karl was fired as head coach in the Mile High City.
Part of the reason why Karl was removed from his duties was because he didn’t give Tragic Bronson, sorry, JaVale McGee more minutes.
According to an Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post, Karl said, “We won 57 games and are in a great place. Continuity, consistency, togetherness all are so much more valuable than what they have on their priority list of playing JaVale McGee or the young players.”
Again, this isn't the only reason why Karl is no longer the head coach in Denver. However, management has hinted that McGee is the future by removing Karl and trading Kosta Koufos to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Now it’s McGee’s time to either reward the front office’s faith in him or make them look like they don’t know how to run a basketball team.
As a 7-footer with boundless athleticism, he has the potential to be a star in this league. Unfortunately, he’s spent his early 20s making bonehead plays and essentially founding TNT’s segment “Shaqtin’ a Fool” all by his lonesome.
McGee is a huge X-factor entering the 2013-14 season, and he is a reason for Nuggets fans to pay attention during camp.
Detroit Pistons: Will Josh Smith Fit In?
Josh Smith’s four-year, $54 million deal with the Detroit Pistons was met with opinions on two very opposite ends of the spectrum.
Bill Simmons of Grantland.com wrote in a July column that Smith was the eighth-best forward in the NBA and went on to say, “So Detroit paid less than max money for, right now, the eighth-best forward in basketball. That’s a bad idea???”
Contrarily, Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick labeled it the “worst deal of the summer so far for both sides” via Twitter in July.
There’s no question that "J-Smoove" is a talented player. He makes a difference on both ends of the floor, and as Simmons points out, “Since 2008, Josh Smith has won more playoff series (three) than Chris Paul (two).”
With that said, Smith still appears to be a poor fit in Detroit’s current system. The Pistons already have two talented frontcourt players: Greg Monroe at power forward and Andre Drummond at center.
Due to that, Smith is going to spend most of his time at the small forward spot, which doesn’t make sense.
Monroe and Drummond will be taking up space on the interior, so the logical choice would be for Detroit to add a shooter who can spread the floor around those guys. Smith is perhaps the least qualified forward to fill that role.
During the 2012-13 season, he shot 60.4 percent in the paint, 29.9 percent on 344 mid-range shots and 30.2 percent on 199 three-point attempts, according to Vorped.com. He’s far more effective when he’s taking the ball to the rim, but with Monroe and Drummond on the interior, there may not be any space for him to operate.
Considering that fans need to shield their eyes whenever he attempts a jump shot, Smith could quickly frustrate fans in Detroit just as he did to fans in Atlanta. Watching the Pistons' training camp should help answer a lot of these questions.
Golden State Warriors: Andrew Bogut a Top-Five Center?
Andrew Bogut will continue to be a huge X-factor for the Golden State Warriors moving forward as the team’s defensive anchor. He can cover a lot of David Lee’s defensive shortcomings, but only if he stays healthy.
Here is the good news for Dubs fans, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports via Twitter: “A Warriors player said a healthy @andrewbogut is looking like a Top 5 NBA center with his dominant play on both ends during recent workouts.”
It’s easy to forget that Bogut is a former No. 1 overall draft pick. He has experienced a plethora of debilitating injuries throughout his career, which have diminished his statistical output. However, he’s a true two-way center who can block shots on defense and score through post-ups on offense.
As a career 57.2 percent free-throw shooter who notches 3.2 personal fouls per contest, he still has some areas that he can work on. Nevertheless, in a league devoid of dominant centers, he has a chance to be one of the very few.
If Spears’ source is truly seeing dominance from Bogut in workouts, there’s a good chance Warriors fans will see the same from him during training camp.
Houston Rockets: Who Starts at Power Forward?
It’s the million-dollar question facing the Houston Rockets right now. Who starts at power forward?
With Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard filling four-fifths of the Rockets’ starting rotation, training camp and preseason will decide who the fifth man will be.
Sliding D12 to power forward and keeping Omer Asik as the starting center is an intriguing option. Those twin towers would create a two-headed monster defending the rim, but they wouldn’t be able to spread the floor on offense or defend power forwards who can shoot from outside.
Ultimately, it’s an interesting option that would probably work out better in NBA2K14.
With Asik likely moving back to the bench, the options include Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Greg Smith. Of the three, Motiejunas has the most potential as a floor-spreading option.
Smith has attempted just one three-pointer in his NBA career (shocker, he missed). Jones attempted 19 threes last season and only made five of them (26.3 percent). Motiejunas wasn’t much better at 28.9 percent. However, he attempted 83 three-point shots, proving that he has the confidence to let it fly when he gets an open look.
If he continues to develop an outside shooting stroke, he should have no problem winning the starting job. With that said, the power forward spot in Houston appears to be open for competition.
Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger a Seamless Fit?
Due to recurring knee problems, Danny Granger played a grand total of five games for the Indiana Pacers a season ago. Fortunately for Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers, Paul George stepped up in Granger’s place and blossomed into a star.
Despite Granger’s absence, the Pacers still managed to come within one win of the NBA Finals in 2013. So by adding Granger back to the fray, Indy should improve its chances of becoming a championship team, right?
Well, George and Granger both seem to think so. In fact, both players have alluded to their championship aspirations during the offseason.
According to Joel Brigham of Hoopsworld, George said, “With everyone coming back together again, there’s no doubt in mind that we should win a championship."
Granger said, “I think we have all the pieces, we just have to put them all together and go attack it,” according to Scott Agness of NBA.com.
There’s no lack of confidence coming from Indy’s two stars, and team president Larry Bird has echoed that the two players complement each other well.
Via Michael Pointer of IndyStar.com, Bird said, “I think it’s a great combo. Paul not only can play the (shooting guard) or (small forward) positions, he can guard anybody. I think that takes a big load off of Danny.”
"The Legend" makes a great point. Due to George’s defensive prowess, he can, in theory, take on the tougher defensive assignments, while Granger assumes the offensive responsibilities.
It’s difficult to disagree with George, Granger or Bird, but we won’t know how these two play together until we see them in action.
Los Angeles Clippers: Will New Additions Make Same Impact?
The Los Angeles Clippers are closely tied to the nickname “Lob City,” but the second unit got plenty of admiration last season for forming “A Tribe Called Bench.”
Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Ronny Turiaf, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom have all departed. The Clips, however, re-signed Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins while bringing in J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens and rookie Reggie Bullock.
The Clippers bench was the team’s biggest strength last season. The second unit finished first in minutes per game (21.4) and third in points per game (40.1), according to Hoops Stats. It appears to be a valuable asset once again, as long as the new pieces can build team chemistry.
Collison, Jamison, Mullens and Bullock will revamp the bench. Redick and Dudley, meanwhile, are projected to start. Those two veterans share commonalities like outside shooting and high basketball IQs. These traits should allow them to fit in comfortably, especially under new head coach Doc Rivers.
Nevertheless, Clippers fans should watch training camp to familiarize themselves with all the fresh faces.
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant's Time Line
As far as the Los Angeles Lakers' 2013-14 season is concerned, Kobe Bryant will determine team success. If he’s healthy enough to make an impact, the Lakers will compete for a playoff spot. If not, well, at least last season will have fans prepared for disappointment.
Fortunately for Lakers fans, Bryant is reportedly ahead of schedule. The Lakers “not only expect Bryant to be back by the start of the regular season but believe he could be back by the preseason," according to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles.
Markazi also writes, “The initial timetable for his recovery was six to nine months, and six months would have Bryant back sometime during training camp.”
Fans can monitor the play of Nick Young and Wesley Johnson, but there’s an outside chance of a Bryant sighting during training camp. I wouldn’t put an early return past Bryant. His competitive fire is unmatched.
Also, Lakers vice president Jim Buss referred to Bryant as “a machine” and “inhuman.” So there’s that.
Memphis Grizzlies: Will Key Role Players Be Improved?
Quincy Pondexter, Jerryd Bayless and Ed Davis are still part of the second unit.
Aside from the offseason acquisitions of Kosta Koufos, Mike Miller and rookie Jamaal Franklin, there isn’t much new to note.
As a result, Grizzlies fans will have to note small changes—in this case, whether or not key role players have improved their overall game.
Mike Conley’s outside shooting touch will be a major X-factor this season, as will any improvements made by Pondexter, Koufos and Bayless.
The latter three will have to take pressure off the starters throughout the regular season and playoffs, so their play off the pine will be huge for new head coach Dave Joerger.
In an NBA landscape where numerous championship contenders got better, there will be some concerns in Memphis if role players fail to show improvement.
Miami Heat: Greg Oden and the Veterans
Although “Greg Oden and the Veterans” sounds like a fictitious band name, it’s actually what Miami Heat fans will have to look out for during training camp.
Oden, who hasn’t played a single NBA minute since the 2009-10 season, is trying to make a successful comeback with the defending champions. Not only will the big man have to prove that he can contribute to team success, but he’ll also have to show that his body won’t continue to betray him.
If he stays healthy, he can make a big impact for the Heat even if he’s limited to 10-20 minutes per game. As he’s shown in the past, he doesn’t need to log big minutes to make a meaningful impact.
In 21 games played during the 2009-10 season while playing 23.9 minutes per game, he ranked eighth in the NBA with a 23.14 player efficiency rating. That trailed only LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. That’s elite company, to say the least.
Oden may never reach the top 10 in PER again, but he doesn’t have to do so to add a much-needed interior dynamic to the Heat.
Additionally, aging veterans like Shane Battier (35), Dwyane Wade (31) and Ray Allen (38) may start to lose a step (all three of those guys already have lost their luster to some extent). But because they’re such a huge part of Miami’s championship success, the Heat could be looking for short-term answers if age catches up to them in a significant way next season.
Wade has already suffered through numerous nagging injuries, Allen is nearing 40, and Battier had to defend bigger opposing power forwards for much of last season. Something has got to give.
Miami fans need to hope that there aren’t obvious signs of decline during training camp.
Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders
The only positive takeaways from the Milwaukee Bucks offseason were that they now have a roster that can tank for a good draft pick in 2014 (intentional or not) and they extended Larry Sanders’ contract.
Locking up Sanders for the foreseeable future was a great move. The shot-blocking specialist became a cult icon in the eyes of analytics experts as a result of this Sports Analytics Conference paper by Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss.
When measuring interior defense, Sanders proved to be one of the league’s best at thwarting baskets around the rim. In other words, he was the opposite of David Lee.
Despite the fact that he was a tremendous interior defender, he had his flaws. He was often in foul trouble (recording 3.3 personal fouls per game), which limited his minutes. He also needs to develop more on offense, because he shot just 32.8 percent from the field on mid-range shots last season, according to Vorped.com.
By losing Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in free agency, the Bucks are no longer a playoff team—and by "playoff team," I mean perennial eighth seed.
However, fans can still enjoy watching Sanders grow as a player. He has the potential to become an NBA star.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Finally Healthy?
Last season, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger and Nikola Pekovic missed a combined 168 games due to injuries. The Minnesota Timberwolves were never at full strength and experienced yet another losing season as a result.
Can the T-Wolves finally stay healthy in 2013-14? We’ll have to wait and see.
At the very least, Timberwolves fans can scope out the type of team they have during training camp.
On paper, many believe that Minnesota is a playoff team in the Western Conference. Of course, the paper never gets injured and doesn't account for team chemistry. The Timberwolves need to prove that they can stay healthy and jell as a team before they’re thinking about the postseason.
It won’t be easy considering that the aforementioned players are projected to make up four-fifths of the starting lineup next season. Considering that they missed a combined 168 games, the rust factor is sure to work against them.
Seeing Love and Rubio share the court together has been a rare sight for Timberwolves fans. Training camp will be a way to see those two youngsters create a stronger on-court bond.
New Orleans Pelicans: Second-Year Leap?
Anthony Davis entered the NBA amidst comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. After one injury-riddled season, New Orleans Pelicans fans are hoping for a bounce-back sophomore season from the 20-year-old.
All things considered, Davis still showcased a solid rookie campaign. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals to go with a 21.80 PER.
He missed out on the Rookie of the Year award because he missed 18 games and Damian Lillard stole the show in Portland.
Now with the help of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, Davis can work toward embracing his potential as a No. 1 overall draft choice.
Pelicans fans should keep an eye on him during training camp by looking for signs of an improved jump shot. The former Kentucky Wildcat shot just 30.4 percent on 227 mid-range attempts last season, according to Vorped.com.
New York Knicks: Amar'e Stoudemire/Andrea Bargnani
The New York Knicks continue to be an Eastern Conference contender, but their success will hinge on the play of Amar’e Stoudemire and new addition Andrea Bargnani.
Neither player is renowned for his defensive capabilities, but both have the potential to make a huge difference on the offensive end of the court.
The last time Stoudemire stayed healthy throughout the regular season (2010-11), he averaged 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. During that same season, Bargnani averaged 21.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.4 blocks per game for the Toronto Raptors.
Both guys have shown that they can be 20-point-per-game scorers when healthy. For that to happen again, however, both guys will have to develop team chemistry with last year’s scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony.
Knicks fans should keep a close eye on Stoudemire and Bargnani in training camp. Both guys will be huge X-factors for New York’s championship aspirations as they attempt to lock down the power forward position.
Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden's Replacements
Now that Kevin Martin has departed for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s trade haul from the James Harden deal has dwindled to Jeremy Lamb and rookie Steven Adams.
Lamb is a relative unknown. The bulk of his minutes in the NBA have come during garbage time at the end of blowout games.
He performed well in the D-League, averaging 21 points, 5.3 rebounds and three assists per game, but those stats are a poor indicator of how he’ll perform at the NBA level. Remember, Andrew Goudelock won D-League MVP a season ago and still can’t get an NBA roster spot.
The 20-year-old Adams, meanwhile, averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and two blocks per game in one season at Pittsburgh. Those numbers aren’t bad, but he shot an alarmingly low 44.3 percent from the free-throw line in college.
Training camp will be a major test for these guys, especially Lamb. In theory, he’s looking at a huge increase in minutes now that Martin is no longer on the roster.
If he can step up and average approximately 16 points per game—like Harden did when he won Sixth Man of the Year—the awful trade won’t sting as much.
Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo, ROY Favorite?
The Orlando Magic are still working toward a successful rebuild following the departure of Dwight Howard, but adding Indiana standout Victor Oladipo via the 2013 draft was a nice piece to the puzzle.
In fact, many pundits are calling for him to win the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year. ESPN Insider Chad Ford ranked the young guard No. 1 on his list of ROY candidates and wrote the following about his chances at the award:
Oladipo is the perfect storm of a ROY candidate. He can physically play in the NBA from day one—few athletes have had his combination of strength and athletic ability coming out of college. He also has two skills that should earn him major minutes right away: (1) He plays as hard as anyone in the NBA, and (2) he can immediately be a lockdown defender. With the Magic in full tank mode, the team won't be afraid to throw Oladipo to the wolves right from the start.
With that ringing endorsement, it seems as if the stars have already aligned for Oladipo to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Magic fans should certainly take the time to watch him compete in training camp, because he hustles on every play.
Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The Philadelphia 76ers are going to be very bad in 2013-14.
They finished dead last in the NBA last season by scoring 93.2 points per game. On draft night, they traded away the team’s best offensive player (Jrue Holiday) in exchange for Nerlens Noel, a raw offensive talent who is on the mend from an ACL tear. That equation will likely add up to some grisly offensive results.
Moving forward, Philly’s offense will be dependent upon the exploits of Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner.
Young experienced a hit-or-miss season last year. He averaged 14.8 points per game on 53.1 field-goal shooting, but he also shot career lows from three-point range (12.5 percent) and the free-throw line (57.4 percent).
Turner, meanwhile, averaged career highs in points (13.3), rebounds (6.3), assists (4.3) and three-point percentage (36.5 percent). However, he shot a career-low 41.9 percent from the field.
Both players had areas of strength and areas of concern. But now that Holiday is gone, Young and Turner will have to replace his offensive output if Philadelphia has any hope of becoming at least a mediocre offensive team.
The good news? The Sixers appear to be the front-runners for Andrew Wiggins’ services in 2014.
Phoenix Suns: Bledsoe/Dragic Backcourt
Much like the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns are poised to join the popular “Riggin’ for Wiggins” sweepstakes.
Although they’re the favorites to finish last in the Western Conference again, the Suns have an exciting dynamic for fans to pay attention to.
Phoenix is projected to use a backcourt tandem of 23-year-old Eric Bledsoe with 27-year-old Goran Dragic. Both players fit best at the point guard spot, but these two can conceivably emulate the Boston Celtics backcourt that played Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley simultaneously.
There’s no guarantee that the experiment will work in the desert, but that’s all the more reason for Suns fans to see for themselves.
If the backcourt duo fails to jell together, Dragic could get traded to enhance the Suns’ chances at bottoming out for a draft pick.
New general manager Ryan McDonough is embracing the future by collecting young players and draft picks. In addition to the Bledsoe/Dragic backcourt, the play of rookies Archie Goodwin and Alex Len could provide Suns fans with a look toward the future.
Portland Trail Blazers: We Have a Bench?
The Portland Trail Blazers bench finished last in minutes (13.3) and points (18.5) per game a season ago, according to Hoops Stats. Now that the front office used the 2013 offseason to revamp the league’s worst bench, Trail Blazers fans won’t have to hold their collective breath when head coach Terry Stotts rests his starters.
With a second unit now loaded with Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Earl Watson, Portland’s bench has a chance to become one of the league’s best. At the very least, it shouldn’t finish last in minutes and points again.
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the team’s unquestioned leaders. However, they were put under an unbelievable amount of pressure a season ago because nobody could provide them with considerable rest.
Vast improvements to a woeful second unit that proved to be Portland’s Achilles' heel all season long are just as important to the overall product as Lillard and Aldridge are.
Trail Blazers fans will quickly realize how much they were missing a season ago.
Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins' Motivation
As DeMarcus Cousins nears an extension reportedly in the $80 million, five-year maximum-deal range, it appears as if "Boogie" will remain with the Sacramento Kings for the foreseeable future.
DMC has received high praise from new Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, new owner Vivek Ranadive and new head coach Mike Malone, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. They’ve all given him ringing endorsements and appear poised to commit to him long term.
With that noted, it will be interesting to see how motivated Cousins is moving forward, especially if he lands that lucrative contract.
He’s had quite a few maturity issues in the past, including a feud with former coach Paul Westphal, which led to Westphal’s firing.
Cousins has had his share of ups and downs throughout a three-year career. If the Kings choose to pay him max money and he decides not to work as hard, Sacramento will be in a world of hurt.
Fans may not have to worry about that, though, considering that Cousins has a solid support system in place. In addition to the support from D’Alessandro, Ranadive and Malone, minority owner Shaquille O’Neal has been brought in to mentor the young big man, according to Stein.
Do Kings fans have the precursors to a monster year for Boogie? We’ll have to wait and see how he looks in training camp.
San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter's Response to New Deal
During the 2013 offseason, the San Antonio Spurs front office watched Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair leave in free agency. Instead of showing any interest in those two departures, the Spurs re-signed Brazilian center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal.
The timing of the contract extension may seem odd considering that Splitter looked overmatched throughout the 2013 playoffs. He struggled in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, frequently getting benched in favor of the veteran Boris Diaw.
Nevertheless, Splitter played well during the regular season and continued to improve his shooting stroke at the free-throw line—up to 73 percent after shooting 54.3 percent as a rookie in 2010-11.
San Antonio is often meticulous with it comes to big contracts, so the Spurs must be confident in the 28-year-old’s abilities.
Now fans will have to see how Splitter responds after signing the big contract. Will he deliver by continuing to improve or clam up as he tries too hard to justify that $36 million figure?
Training camp will be the first indication toward that answer.
Toronto Raptors: Will Valanciunas Build off Summer-League Dominance?
Jonas Valanciunas didn’t live up to his (admittedly unfair) hype as a rookie last season. He finished the year averaging 8.9 points, six rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
Over the summer, however, the 21-year-old Lithuanian raised eyebrows for his performance in the Las Vegas Summer League.
He averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 56.1 percent from the field and 87.9 percent from the free-throw line. His impressive numbers earned him summer league MVP.
Although the double-double average is enough to make Toronto Raptors fans salivate, they should temper their expectations to some degree.
In those four summer-league games, Valanciunas averaged five turnovers and 5.8 personal fouls per game. Because players can’t foul out of summer league games, he was allowed to accumulate nine personals in just 29 minutes of action against the Sacramento Kings in an 81-70 win.
So as you can see, the gaudy double-double numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
Nevertheless, the promising youngster did make great strides during summer-league action. He needs to tone down the turnovers and the foul trouble, but he’s on the right track.
Utah Jazz: Plethora of Young Studs
Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Rudy Gobert. Suffice it to say, the Utah Jazz have a hoard of young players ready to take the reins from the departed Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
As Favors, Kanter and either Burke or Burks acclimate themselves into starting roles, there are sure to be some growing pains. However, Utah is finally embracing the future after spending time in NBA no-man’s land with Jefferson and Millsap on board.
Favors and Kanter, who are 22 and 21 years old, respectively, should have Jazz fans excited even though their lack of experience may not translate to many wins. They’re two of the most promising young big men in the NBA today, and now they’ll finally get their time to shine with Jefferson and Millsap departing for the East Coast.
Although I wouldn’t bet on either player to make the All-Star team next season, they’re both serious candidates for the league’s Most Improved Player award.
Perhaps Trey Burke could make a dark-horse run at Rookie of the Year as well.
The future is bright in Utah, even if the present seems a little rough around the edges.
Washington Wizards: Can Otto Porter Jr. Redeem Poor Summer-League Showing?
Let’s just say that if Otto Porter Jr. continues to play like he did in the Las Vegas Summer League, the Washington Wizards won’t be feeling great about their third overall pick.
Porter, who spent the majority of the summer league playing out of position at shooting guard, struggled. He averaged 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, shot 30 percent from the field, missed all five of his three-point attempts and suffered a hamstring injury in his third game.
Mike Prada of SB Nation summarized his performance as follows:
No question about it: Porter’s play in Las Vegas was disappointing until his hamstring injury. He struggled with his shot, seemed overwhelmed at times with the pace of the game and sometimes had trouble staying with players off the dribble.
So was Porter’s poor performance a fluke brought on by playing primarily at the shooting guard spot, or does the youngster have more work to do before he’s ready for the NBA?
Honestly speaking, he can’t play much worse than he did in the summer league, so Wizards fans should watch training camp just to get the sour taste out of their mouths.
In any case, Washington will have a hard time making the postseason if Porter doesn’t find a way to contribute.