7 Biggest Takeaways from the 1st Week of 2013-14 NBA Training Camp
Week 1 of NBA training camp is in the books, and it certainly didn't lack for intrigue.
From Derrick Rose's return to a culture change that's enveloping the Los Angeles Clippers franchise, contenders from both conferences made headlines over the first seven days of camp.
And while opening day is still a few weeks away, it's refreshing to be back in the swing of analyzing personnel happenings and actual on-court performances. Let's get started with a look at some of the biggest takeaways thus far, with superstars and a few title hopefuls in the spotlight.
Kobe Bryant's Looking to Come Back Stronger Than Ever
It remains to be seen whether Kobe Bryant will be ready for opening day, but one thing's for certain: The "Black Mamba" is doing all he can to ensure that when he does hit the floor, he'll be as good as new.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, Bryant traveled to Germany last week to undergo another round of Orthokine treatment on his right knee, the same procedure he underwent in 2011:
But a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed that, as was the case leading up to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, Bryant has headed to Germany for another round of platelet-rich plasma therapy on the same right knee that ailed him back then.
And according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Bryant waited until shortly before the start of the season to undergo treatment in hopes of gaining a medical edge for the duration of the upcoming campaign.
While his Achilles will remain the dominant storyline throughout 2013-14, Bryant's quest to come back stronger and more durable will be worth tracking all season long.
Dwight Howard Is Happy in Houston (for Now)
By all accounts, Dwight Howard is happy with his choice to join the Houston Rockets thus far. And according to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, the prized free-agent signee feels that he will thrive under head coach Kevin McHale:
I feel like me and Kevin just have a special relationship already, from just the first time we've talked until now. He said he watched almost all my games. It was just a shock. You got Kevin McHale, one of the greatest players to play the game, our coach, dissecting my game and all my tapes.
Whether that sense of happiness can be sustained throughout the course of a grueling 82-game season is a whole different animal.
For the time being, though, Howard seems more than content. He looked rock-solid in 27 minutes of action against the New Orleans Pelicans in Houston's preseason opener. Scoring 19 points (6-of-11 shooting) and hitting seven of his 11 free-throw attempts while pulling down nine boards and blocking a shot, Howard looked exactly like the dominant center everyone knows he's capable of being.
And if those free-throws start falling with regularity, you can bank on the three-time Defensive Player of the Year flashing plenty of smiles as the season wears on.
Just don't be surprised when frustration emanates from the big man should the Rockets hit a rough patch or the offense not cater to his needs.
Tyreke Evans Will Lead the Pelicans' Second Unit if Healthy
On paper, perhaps no team improved more than the New Orleans Pelicans this summer. One reason was the addition of Tyreke Evans, who will assume an unfamiliar role off the bench during his first season in the Big Easy.
Evans played almost exclusively as a starter during his four years with the Sacramento Kings (starting 247 of a possible 257 games), but the influx of talent in the Pelicans backcourt has pushed him to the team's second unit, a role he's happily accepting, according to NOLA.com's John Reid.
"It's a different situation for me, but it's exciting that I'm going to play with these guys," Evans said. "It's going to help me out a lot and help them."
Evans is also looking forward to playing with head coach Monty Williams' second unit because of the freedom it will afford him on the offensive end, per Reid.
"I'm most effective with the ball in my hands,'' Evans said. "With that group and Jason picking and popping, it's definitely going to make the game easier on me.''
Two key names that will be joining Evans in that second group will be sharpshooter Ryan Anderson and the aforementioned Jason Smith. With those two flanking Evans, the Pelicans will have a unit full of bounce and energy, one that figures to show drastic improvement from a season ago.
However, the biggest questions surrounding Evans at this point are those regarding his sprained left ankle. Considering the Pelicans are being cautious with Eric Gordon at this stage of training camp, they simply can't afford to have another critical piece of their offense go down for an extended period of time.
Mystery Surrounds the Knicks' 5th Starter
We have a fairly good grasp on who four of the New York Knicks' five starters will be when the season opens. Raymond Felton will run the point, Iman Shumpert and Carmelo Anthony should flank him on the perimeter, and Tyson Chandler will protect the paint.
What remains to be seen is whether that vacant spot will go to a guard or forward. There are several candidates, each of whom has a legitimate case. The most intriguing option, one that would undoubtedly please Knicks fans, sees Pablo Prigioni slot in at shooting guard, with Shumpert playing the 3 and Anthony at the 4, where he was so successful last season.
By playing Prigioni next to Felton, the Knicks wouldn't be tampering with the continuity they achieved during their 54-win campaign, and head coach Mike Woodson can trust the Argentinian to run high pick-and-rolls in his spread attack.
The second option has Metta World Peace starting at the 3, with Shumpert at shooting guard and 'Melo holding steady at the 4. The pros to starting World Peace are obvious: He's a proven wing defender, and although he may be an offensive liability at times, the Knicks need to bolster their perimeter defense after allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions last season, per Basketball-Reference.
A third option would be starting J.R. Smith at shooting guard. While that seems a bit odd given the hardware he took home last season, ESPN New York's Ian Begley reports that Woodson is considering making the switch:
He's in the mix, too, Woodson said Thursday of Smith, last season's Sixth Man Award winner. If things turn out well for him coming back, he could possibly slip in. At this point, I don't know. I'm going to use this month to evaluate and see where I am when we start the regular season.
Lastly, there's the least appealing lineup permutation, one that would slot Andrea Bargnani alongside Anthony at the other forward spot. That would mean the presence of another three-point shooter, but Bargnani has only ever appeared comfortable taking spot-up threes, which limits his effectiveness.
One must also consider Bargnani's defensive limitations, of which he has many. With slow feet and an aversion to rebounding (4.8 per game for his career), the Knicks would sacrifice a fair bit of their defensive integrity by starting the Italian seven-footer.
'Lob City' Is a Thing of the Past
Head coach Doc Rivers' arrival in Los Angeles is being accompanied by some significant cultural changes in the Clippers organization. The most noticeable will be the end of "Lob City," the high-flying phenomenon that has captivated audiences since Chris Paul's arrival in Hollywood.
"Lob City doesn't exist anymore. Lob City is done," Griffin told ESPN's Shelley Smith in an interview this week. "We're moving on and we're going to find our identity during training camp, and that will be our new city. No more Lob City."
Griffin stressed that new coach Doc Rivers has been instilling a defensive-minded culture and said his offensive game will change noticeably this season. The up-tempo, exciting style of play the Clippers have become known for since point guard Chris Paul joined Griffin and fellow high-flyer DeAndre Jordan in 2011 has already been de-emphasized.
While it would be ridiculous not to expect Paul to throw his fair share of oops this season, Griffin's comments speak volumes about the championship mentality that Rivers is attempting to instill in the minds of his star players and leaders.
Playoff success has eluded Paul, Griffin and Co. each of the past two seasons, but fear not, for Rivers brings a championship pedigree to L.A. that his players seem to respect and admire.
Derrick Rose Looks Like the Derrick Rose of Old
Derrick Rose's stat line from Saturday night's preseason win over the Indiana Pacers may not have been impressive, but the burst he showed time and again over 20 minutes of run was particularly encouraging.
Rose didn't hesitate attacking the rack, flashing his trademark burst and agility en route to 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. While the Chicago Bulls point guard did commit four turnovers and dish out just three assists, it was expected that he would show a bit of rust in some departments, and it was clear that his decision making wasn't as sharp as it needs to be moving forward.
The key takeaway is that Rose's surgically repaired knee doesn't look like it will hinder the athletic tools that made him such a dynamic threat in the past. Thanks to the former MVP's return, the Bulls are quickly garnering hype as an NBA title contender, hype that shouldn't be ignored.
Portland's Depth Is Starting to Disappear
The bigger blow for the up-and-coming Western Conference squad was the news that rookie guard C.J. McCollum will undergo surgery after fracturing the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during last Saturday's practice, per the Blazers PR account on Twitter.
While it remains to be seen how much time McCollum will miss, it's a considerable letdown for a team with playoff aspirations. Two seasons removed from their last postseason appearance, the Blazers were thought to be in the running for one of the conference's final two playoff spots thanks to their improved depth.
Unfortunately, with the No. 10 overall pick sidelined, the Blazers will need to find other sources of scoring off the bench. The onus will be on vets Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson to pick up the slack for the second unit in McCollum's absence.