NBA Training Camp 2013: Biggest Takeaways from First Week of Action
Basketball's beautiful grind is back. Or at least its close relative has returned.
Real games are still a few weeks away, but NBA action is back in full swing. Every team has at least one preseason game under its belt, and already the storylines are endless.
From an overdue return in Chicago to a highly anticipated debut in Houston, the hoops world is buzzing right now. Most of the excitement is good, but there are a few precautionary tales popping up, too.
Let's touch on the biggest happenings of the first week of NBA training camp action.
16 Months Later, Chicago's Rose Still Just as Sweet
A preseason outing isn't the Derrick Rose sighting Chicago Bulls fans have been dying to see, but it should suffice for now.
If his first two outings are any indication, he's understandably rusty—after missing all of the 2012-13 season due to a torn ACL—but absolutely worth the wait.
His numbers won't blow anyone away (13.0 points and 3.0 assists in 21.5 minutes per game), but the way that's he filling the stat sheet should. His explosiveness is back, and the Bulls (2-0) have rallied around his presence.
He has a long way to go to live up to his claim to be the best in the business, but his resume (three All-Star selections, one MVP) suggests he has a shot to validate his words.
Even in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Bulls have a chance to do something special this season. That alone could ease the sting of those last 16 months.
Trouble in Paradise?
Outside of hobbled sharpshooter Mike Miller, who was amnestied in July, the Miami Heat returned all key contributors from last season's championship squad.
They also added former lottery picks Greg Oden (No. 1 in 2007) and Michael Beasley (No. 2 in 2008) over the summer in a pair of boom-or-bust signings that only the elite teams have the luxury of making.
So, what could possibly be going wrong in title town?
His absence was surely a cautious maneuver, but it's something that could continue given his injury history. South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman said that the Heat were already looking at ways to preserve Wade's health this season, and this would seem to back up that claim.
Given everything at stake this season—besides the obvious championship aspirations, there's also the possibility that Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh can opt out of their contracts next summer—Wade is not someone Miami can afford to lose.
With only 38-year-old Ray Allen behind him on the depth chart, coach Erik Spoelstra will have to lean on Wade as heavily as his knees can stand to bear. This doesn't remove Miami from being the championship favorite, but it casts another ominous cloud over this season in South Beach.
Turkey Day is still several weeks out, but the Houston Rockets already have so many things to be thankful for.
The winners of this summer's biggest free-agent sweepstakes, Houston didn't have to wait long for a return on its investment. Dwight Howard bulldozed his way to 19 points (including a 7-of-11 showing at the foul line) and nine boards in less than 28 minutes during the Rockets' preseason opener on Oct. 5.
But Howard's far from being the only reason for celebration in the H-Town.
James Harden sprinted to an efficient, stat-sheet-stuffing effort in Thursday's 116-96 rout of the Indiana Pacers. The bearded All-Star scored a game-high 21 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and four steals in 27 minutes.
Chandler Parsons (13.0 points on 66.7 percent shooting) showed why he's the league's best bargain ($0.9 million this season). Terrence Jones (9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds) and Donatas Motiejunas (10.0 points and 4.5 boards) have each made compelling cases for Kevin McHale's starting power forward spot.
Jeremy Lin dazzled in his first run as Houston's sixth man on Thursday with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Omri Casspi has yet to find a shot he couldn't hit (78.9 percent from the field, 50.0 percent from downtown).
Houston's going to be a big factor in the Western Conference playoff picture, and that won't have as much to do with Howard and Harden as you might think.
Help on the Way for KD
With superstar running mate Russell Westbrook sidelined for the first four to six weeks of the regular season by a second surgery on his right knee, Durant will have as many touches as he wants this season.
But finding a secondary scorer might be a little more challenging.
The lack of reliable interior offense limits Serge Ibaka's scoring ceiling (16.5 points per game in the preseason). Jeremy Lamb has plenty of seasoning left after spending the bulk of his rookie season in the D-League.
But Westbrook's replacement, Reggie Jackson, might be ready to fill his shoes.
A compact package of speed and springs at 6'3" and 208 pounds, he thrilled in his second run as Scott Brooks' starting point guard. He led the Thunder to a 103-99 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday with 29 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Jackson was good, not great, as Westbrook's stand-in during the 2013 postseason—15.3 points and 3.7 assists after Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus. But Durant will need Jackson to be a lot closer to great in order for Oklahoma City to hold the West's top spot until Westbrook returns.
Photo Finish in R.O.Y. Race
For being so thin on star power, the 2013 rookie class certainly doesn't lack for intrigue.
Few, if any, will change the fates of their franchises this season, but all will help shape the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award race into one for the ages.
The early clubhouse leader is the Orlando Magic's Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 overall pick. He'll have plenty of opportunities to shine for a team short on expectations, and he has the right combination of skill (10 points, nine assists, five boards and four steals in his debut) and flash to excite the voters.
But the playing field is thick.
Trey Burke (12 points and three assists in his debut) has arguably a better opportunity as the starting point guard of the youthful Utah Jazz. Michael Carter-Williams (7.0 points and 5.0 assists) has his own starting gig with the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben McLemore (13 points, 4-of-8) has perhaps the highest ceiling of all rookies.
Top pick Anthony Bennett gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a strong presence on the glass with 10 rebounds in less than 23 minutes in his debut. Cody Zeller was quiet, but effective with nine points and five boards in 23-plus minutes in the Charlotte Bobcats' opener. Boston Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk started his campaign at the Orlando Summer League with 18.0 points and 7.8 rebounds.
And that group doesn't include the two rookies with game-winning shots already on their NBA resumes: Dennis Schroeder of the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks' Tim Hardaway Jr. Or the two top-five picks whose debuts are delayed by injuries: Philly's Nerlens Noel and the Phoenix Suns' Alex Len.
This class might not sell the most jerseys, but you'd be wise to learn all of these names right now.
Indiana's Perfect Problem
The Indiana Pacers have a problem on their hands, but it's an incredibly fortunate dilemma to have.
Coach Frank Vogel has yet to solidify his starting group. This late into the process, that's a sign of vulnerability for some teams. For the Pacers, though, it's simply the effect of an abundance of riches.
Vogel was non-committal about his starter at the Pacers media day, although he has opened with Stephenson in each of the team's first two preseason games.
But that shouldn't necessarily be read as a tip of his hand. After Granger played just 74 minutes last season, it makes sense to ease him back into action. Plus, Granger has the early edge in minutes played (46) over Stephenson (36).
The beauty of this debate, though, is the fact that there aren't any wrong answers here.
If healthy, Granger is a dominant scorer and capable of spacing the floor for the Pacers offense. Stephenson is a hard-nosed defender and rugged rebounder (career 4.8 per 36 minutes).
Vogel will have to settle this situation at some point, but whichever call he makes will be the right one.
Respect the Brow
Anthony Davis was deceptively dominant in his rookie season.
Mired by a series of nagging ailments, Davis' only real disappointment was the fact that he was held out of 18 games. In the 64 he played, though, his talent was on full display: 16.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, 51.6 field-goal percentage, 21.7 player efficiency rating.
But due to those DNPs and the fact that his production was hidden on a bad New Orleans Pelicans team, the single-browed star had a way of sneaking up on hoops heads.
Consider his days of flying under the radar extinct.
Healthy, bigger, and bolstered by a strengthened supporting cast, Davis has put up superstar numbers in limited doses this preseason.
Through three games—two of them Pelicans wins—he's averaging 25.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.7 steals while shooting 52.7 percent from the field. That's All-Star production over 48 minutes, but it's jaw-dropping when you consider he's playing just 27.8 a night.
New Orleans dramatically raised its ceiling this summer, but no offseason addition was more valuable than Unibrow 2.0.
Swaggy Scoring Champ?
I'd love to see Nick Young's signature on his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
I picture something like this, only not nearly as uniform. He had to be shaking with excitement when he inked that deal.
And that doesn't have anything to do with the L.A. native's chance to suit up for his hometown team.
It has everything to do with the microwave scorer known as "Swaggy P" joining forces with the free-wheeling offensive mastermind Mike D'Antoni.
Few shots are bad shots in D'Antoni's book. The only bad shots Young knows are the ones he doesn't take. With D'Antoni promising Young "leeway," via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Young's excitement should be mirrored by hoops heads everywhere.
He's wasted no time getting to work. During his first three games with the Lakers, he's averaged 11.7 field-goal attempts in just 23.4 minutes.
With still no timeline set for Kobe Bryant's return from his torn Achilles, Young will be staring at major minutes until we're told otherwise. And for Young, major minutes means plenty of shots and horrendous shot selection.
If he was half the scorer he thinks he is, the Lakers could really have something. Unfortunately he's a 42.7 percent shooter for his career and just a 34.3 percent shooter through three preseason games.
Still, I'm dying to watch his attempt at a scoring crown.