Early Winners and Losers of 2013-14 NBA Training Camp
How much can you learn from the first few live games of the NBA's training-camp festivities?
Turns out there's a lot to be gleaned if you know where to look. Players are making their debuts in new uniforms, established studs are making transitions and teams are looking to find their new identities for the 2013-14 campaign.
It's a volatile time, so any of the eight players/groups of players/concepts you'll find throughout this article could quickly reverse course, but there have already been decisively positive and negative indications.
And, unfortunately, the injury bug has already struck in a few prominent places.
With the exception of the injured players, do take into account that small-sample-size warnings aren't really going to matter here. Preseason games are all we have to look at thus far, so it's only natural that we're attempting to learn a lot from a little.
Here's hoping your favorite team has a winner.
Winner: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard did everything that the Houston Rockets could ask for and then some (cough technical foul cough) during his preseason opener on Oct. 5 in a red-and-white uniform.
Not only did he look healthy and motivated, but the skills were present on both ends of the court. From the spinning turnaround jumper he hit during the first quarter to the emphatic putback dunks in the second half, D12 was just clicking.
He finished the first preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans with a rather impressive line: 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a block in just over 27 minutes of action. However, the percentages were even more exciting.
Not only did Howard make 6-of-11 shots from the field, but he actually drilled seven of his 11 attempts at the charity stripe.
How's that for a good sign?
Loser: Tyreke Evans
There's never a good time to get injured, but during training camp when you're a new acquisition on a team hoping to exceed expectations through an influx of young talent? That's the worst time of all.
Tyreke Evans was actually having a good debut with the New Orleans Pelicans on Oct. 5 before a collision with Patrick Beverley resulted in a sprained ankle. Fortunately, there's no fracture anywhere in the guard's lower extremities.
But still, not good.
Evans finished the game with seven points, two rebounds and an assist in just 10 minutes of run, but that impressive performance was overshadowed by the scene you can see up above.
With Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon both in the NOLA lineup, Evans is already the odd man out. He's either going to accept playing small forward (where he's less effective) or coming off the bench as a James Harden-esque super sixth man.
Both of those require adaptation, and now his ability to do so before the season starts is limited.
Winner: Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose is playing basketball.
Quite frankly, the Chicago Bulls point guard would have been ruled a winner if he'd missed each of his first 20 shots, recorded 10 turnovers and no assists and left the court in tears. He still would have been suiting up for the Bulls in that famous red No. 1 jersey.
But Rose actually played quite well and hit some transition buckets that required so much spring and change in direction that there should be no doubt about the status of his ACL.
The dynamic floor general played 20 minutes in his debut, struggling with turnovers but still recording 13 points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals. Then he was even better in the follow-up game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Rose finished that Oct. 7 outing with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and only one turnover. But most importantly, he looked he belonged and was back in tip-top physical condition.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers gave us a wonderful sneak preview of how their 2013-14 campaign will unfold. You might want to flock to Las Vegas and start placing legal bets on the team's ability to win only single-digit games.
Going into the fourth quarter of their Oct. 6 preseason opener, the team was actually losing by a single point. The Sixers used a 27-24 victory in the final period to escape with a win, but they shouldn't have had so much trouble putting away Bilbao, even while playing an away game at Bizkala Arena in Spain.
What makes this worse than other performances like the Minnesota Timberwolves needing overtime to put away their international opponents was the fact that Philly was playing its regular-season lineup.
Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner all played normal minutes, checking in over 30 in all cases. And the rest of the rotation players were in action as well, with Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown and Arnett Moultrie serving as the only expected contributors to sit out in Spain.
This is not a good sign for the team's ability to remain even remotely competitive.
Davis Bertans, the No. 42 pick of the 2011 NBA draft who has yet to play in the NBA, was the leading scorer for Bilbao. Philly will surely be facing tougher players once regular-season action begins.
Winner: The Phoenix Backcourt
Can we just stop worrying about the Phoenix Suns' backcourt's ability to mesh?
Admittedly, the sample size is only a single game and the contest was an Oct. 7 outing against Maccabi Haifa, but Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe looked absolutely sensational in their preseason debuts.
Dragic finished the game with 16 points, two rebounds and five assists, and he did so on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. While he did struggle with his handles on a few possessions, the incumbent point guard was incredibly efficient and showed no willingness to relinquish his grip on the starting spot.
He won't need to if Bledsoe continues to look as stellar at the 2.
As impressive as Dragic was, Bledsoe was that much better during his debut in a Suns uniform.
The former backup for the Los Angeles Clippers made life a living hell for the Maccabi guards, torturing them with heavy pressure whenever he was on the court and finishing the game with five steals and a block. He also recorded a game-high 22 points to go along with his three rebounds and four assists.
Together, the two guards shot 16-of-22 from the field, 2-of-6 from downtown and 4-of-7 at the free-throw line.
Not too shabby.
Loser: C.J. McCollum
That pesky fifth metatarsal bone.
The one in C.J. McCollum's left foot just wouldn't cooperate. He broke it during a Portland Trail Blazers' practice before he'd received a chance to play in even a single preseason game.
Now we go from expecting the Lehigh product to be a strong Rookie of the Year competitor to wondering when he'll return. According to the Blazers, McCollum will eventually have surgery to repair the fracture, but there isn't yet a timetable on when he'll be able to debut for Rip City.
It's unfortunate timing for the scorer.
Rookies are already at a disadvantage as they learn how to thrive in the NBA, but McCollum is now beginning his career behind the eight ball. Not only does his absence threaten the depth that Portland built over the offseason, but it will also make it harder for him to earn substantial playing time later in the season.
Winner: Klay Thompson as a Sixth Man
You can read a fantastic breakdown of why Klay Thompson can thrive as a sixth man for the Golden State Warriors here, courtesy of B/R's Stephen Babb, but I'm going to stick to the results we've seen thus far in preseason action.
Thompson has come off the bench in each of the Dubs' first two games, and there have been nothing but positives. He's shown an attacking mentality that wasn't as readily apparent when he started next to Stephen Curry, and it's becoming quite clear that he should be the favorite for Sixth Man of the Year if he does indeed come off the pine.
Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Thompson debuted with a team-high 26 points on a sparkling 11-of-18 performance from the field. And he proved it wasn't a fluke by dropping 17 points on 8-of-17 shooting on Oct. 7 against the Sacramento Kings.
Everything was falling for the Washington State product, and his confidence was palpable. Mark Jackson might not want to mess with a good thing here.
Loser: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins worries me.
The big man has a ton of talent, and his skill set indicates that he could factor heavily into the competition for the coveted "best center in the NBA" title before too long. However, mental issues have always plagued him and limited his effectiveness out on the court.
Now that he's been handed a lengthy deal with guaranteed money, the Kings have to wonder if he's going to stay motivated and hungry for success. So far, the results aren't so positive.
To be fair, this was a preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors. It's hard to draw too many conclusions based on one Oct. 7 game, but it's also all we have to work with.
Boogie's 2-of-10 outing from the field was paired with five fouls and five turnovers, which—last time I checked—isn't a very good combination. There will be plenty of chances for Cousins to live up to expectations, but this was not the start that Sac-Town was hoping for.
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