Dwight Howard looks new, improved and refreshed with the Houston Rockets.
NBA teams wait all offseason for these moments. The moments where they can evaluate the talent they have accumulated over the summer and see which moves appear to be panning out and which ones aren't.
It has been an entertaining training camp and preseason to say the least, with several ballclubs looking completely different, some to the delight of their fans. Others, however, are in all-out rebuilding mode.
So, what answers has each team received thus far? Are they prepared for the grind of an 82-game season? Are certain players standing out or proving to be disappointments? What surprises have they witnessed?
All of this, and the regular season hasn't even begun yet.
I loved this kid's game before the draft, and I love it even more now.
Dennis Schroeder had a very impressive summer league performance, and now he is making game-winning shots in preseason.
The German point guard possesses blinding quickness and huge hands that allow him to handle the basketball like it's on a string.
Many have compared him to Rajon Rondo, and you can easily see why. He has a similar build, good instincts and is a pest defensively.
Sure, Jeff Teague is the Atlanta Hawks' starting point guard for this year, but he better keep looking over his shoulder for the future. Schroeder is coming.
The primary reason why Jared Sullinger fell to the Boston Celtics in the 2012 draft was because of concerns about his back.
Well, during the middle of an impressive rookie campaign with the Celtics, Sullinger indeed injured his back and was forced to undergo surgery.
He then ran into some off-the-court issues recently, as he was arrested and charged with assault and battery in a domestic dispute, per CSNNE.com.
From the way Sullinger looks thus far in this preseason, you would never think he had had a difficult offseason.
Sully looks lively, energetic and completely healthy. It appears he is relishing the opportunity to be the team's best big man now that Kevin Garnett is playing elsewhere.
As long as Sullinger can remain healthy and stay out of trouble, Boston may have found its power forward of the future.
I was watching the Brooklyn Nets' first preseason game against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 8, and one thing really stood out to me: the sheer size of Brook Lopez.
Lopez has bulked up significantly, and that should help him greatly on both ends of the floor. Now, what was already a very good low-post game should be even deadlier for the big man.
Lopez was able to go to work against Nene (who is not a small man himself), looking so impressive that Kevin Garnett was in awe at what he had witnessed, according to Roderick Boone of Newsday.
We all know how tough and physical of a player Garnett is, not to mention Reggie Evans. If Lopez can suddenly become that type of guy too, the Nets' front line is going to be nearly impossible to deal with.
Things are looking very good in Brooklyn.
The Charlotte Bobcats finally went out and spent some money this summer, inking Al Jefferson to a three-year deal. While some ridiculed the signing, questioning why the Bobcats would spend money on Jefferson when they are not even close to being ready to win, you still have to give them credit for trying.
Well, in the Bobcats' second preseason game, Jefferson went down with an injury and Charlotte held its collective breath.
Fortunately for Jefferson and the Cats, it was only a sprained ankle, but it was severe enough that Jefferson will have to be in a walking boot for a few days and will be re-evaluated afterward. You just have to hope the injury won't persist.
Also, youngsters such as Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been thoroughly unimpressive through three exhibition games.
You have to feel for the Bobcats, as it seems absolutely nothing can go this franchise's way.
Did you expect Derrick Rose to be this explosive right off the bat?
I certainly didn't.
Rose quelled any fears that he would show signs of rust or tentativeness in his return from the torn ACL that kept him out for the entire 2012-13 season, demonstrating his usual aggressive and relentless style of play in the Chicago Bulls' first preseason contest and then doing so again two games later (Tom Thibodeau rested him in the ballclub's second contest).
Rose did sit out of Saturday's preseason contest in Brazil due to some knee soreness, per K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune, but it doesn't seem too serious and was more of a precaution than anything else.
So, you can rest easy, Bulls fans. Your star looks good, and you now have renewed hope because of it.
It's hard to think of a team that has had a more satisfying preseason thus far, and Rose is the sole reason for that.
In case you hadn't heard, Tristan Thompson is no longer a lefty. He is now a right-handed shooter, and it is absolutely amazing how seamless the transition has gone for him.
In Thompson's first preseason game, he shot 7-of-10 from the floor. In his second contest, he went 4-of-8. You can probably do the math yourself, but that is a combined 61 percent.
That would be impressive if he didn't switch hands. The fact that he made such a colossal change and is shooting such an awesome percentage is unheard of.
With Thompson, Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Anthony Bennett, the Cleveland Cavaliers are loaded up front. If all of those guys can stay healthy, the Cavaliers are going to be a problem in the Eastern Conference.
In just 24 minutes during the Dallas Mavericks' second preseason game, Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 points off 7-of-10 shooting, knocking down both of his three-point attempts while also collecting six rebounds and three assists.
Monta Ellis has looked pretty solid as well, averaging 7.5 assists in the Mavericks' first two exhibition contests.
Remember, we all doubted Dallas back in the 2010-11 campaign, and it ended up winning the whole thing. That's not to say the Mavs will win it all this year, but there is absolutely enough talent on this team to put a scare into a contender during the playoffs.
As long as Nowitzki is still on his game and Ellis is able to successfully integrate himself into Rick Carlisle's system, the Mavericks will be a dangerous ballclub.
JaVale McGee has looked pretty good thus far in preseason.
McGee has been playing within himself, taking good shots, rebounding the ball and has been a positive influence on his entire team, recording a plus-eight in the Denver Nuggets' first preseason game and a plus-one in the next.
With Kosta Koufos now gone, McGee takes center stage as the starting center of the Nuggets. He has always had the talent and the skills. The biggest issue with him has always been his lack of instinct and basketball IQ.
He doesn't need to be as savvy as Hakeem Olajuwon, but if McGee can simply curb his mistakes, he could develop into one of the better big men in the NBA.
To no one's surprise, the Detroit Pistons have been miserable from beyond the arc thus far, going a combined 14-of-61 in their first three preseason games. That's 23 percent.
The good news is that Andre Drummond looks poised to dominate this year.
After a solid seven-point, nine-rebound, three-block performance against Maccabi Haifa, Drummond proceeded to dismantle the Miami Heat's front line to the tune of 21 points and 11 boards off 8-of-11 shooting. He followed that up with 15 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes against the Nets.
Do not be the least bit shocked to see Drummond average a double-double for the 2013-14 campaign.
The trio of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith up front is going to be incredibly difficult for opponents to deal with.
Now if only the Pistons could find some outside shooting...
Klay Thompson came off of the bench in the Golden State Warriors' first two preseason games. His numbers in those contests came to 21.5 points per game off of 54.3 percent shooting.
Due to Harrison Barnes' bum foot, Thompson started in the Warriors' third contest. His stat line for that game? Five points on 2-of-8 shooting.
In all seriousness, this is obviously far too small of a sample size to judge Thompson off of, but perhaps having Barnes and Andre Iguodala's athleticism in the starting lineup and the threat of Thompson's three-point stroke off the bench is the best way for head coach Mark Jackson to go.
Jackson already has Stephen Curry in the starting five for outside shooting, so why not bring Thompson off the pine?
The biggest knock on Dwight Howard (other than his free-throw shooting) has always been his lack of a low-post game. He can get points off of dunks on offensive rebounds, but he has never been able to score consistently on the low block.
Well, all of that may be changing.
Howard looks much quicker in the post, not to mention more confident. He has also developed quite a soft touch, particularly on his bank shot. Obviously, Hakeem Olajuwon has had a significant influence on Dwight, and Olajuwon's affiliation with the Houston Rockets' organization further illustrates how perfect of a situation this is for Howard.
If Dwight can continue to develop his post game, the rest of the league is in huge trouble. Not only will it make Howard that much better, but it will also completely open up James Harden, Chandler Parsons and company out on the perimeter.
That's a scary thought.
Remember last year? The Indiana Pacers' primary big man off the bench was Tyler Hansbrough. No disrespect to Hansbrough, a guy who is somewhat productive and gives 100 percent effort every time he is out on the floor, but he isn't someone you want on the floor late in big games.
Enter Luis Scola, whom the Pacers acquired in the offseason to "replace" Hansbrough.
Scola has already demonstrated why his addition to this team is going to pay dividends. He is an incredibly intelligent player, generally always making the right basketball plays and displaying excellent floor vision for a big man. He also possesses a good low-post game and a soft touch.
Scola was particularly impressive during Indiana's second preseason contest against the Rockets. He scored 10 points, pulled down eight boards and made some truly spectacular passes to his teammates.
He isn't flashy, but he brings an element to this Pacers ballclub that it sorely missed last season.
During a Los Angeles Clippers team scrimmage last Wednesday, Blake Griffin suffered a bone bruise in his left knee after attempting to dunk over Lou Amundson, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles.
Let's remember that this is the same knee Griffin has already had surgically repaired twice. First, he underwent surgery to repair a broken kneecap during his rookie season (a season in which Griffin did not play a single regular-season game). Then, Griffin tore the meniscus in that knee before the 2012 Olympics and had to be operated on.
Clearly, Griffin has some sort of weakness in his knees, a weakness that is compounded by his violent style of play.
Griffin uses so much of his strength to jump and throw down rim-rocking jams that he is putting significant strain on his legs. It's scary that he has already had three left knee injuries by the age of 24, and if he keeps playing as recklessly as he currently does, these problems likely will not cease.
It's time for Griffin to start using some finesse, not only to broaden his game, but to also prolong his career. Thankfully, Doc Rivers is now in tow to help Blake do that.
The Los Angeles Lakers bench was nothing short of miserable in 2012-13. While it doesn't look much better on paper for 2013-14, it definitely looks like it has some promise based on the preseason.
The Lakers signed guys such as Xavier Henry, Shawne Williams and old friend Jordan Farmar with the hopes that they can provide some production on the cheap as reserves, and thus far, that experiment is working.
Henry has had a couple of very good exhibition contests, dropping 29 points in L.A.'s first game on Oct. 5 and following that up with a 15-point performance one night later. Williams and Farmar have also been solid, and even Marcus Landry has contributed positively.
Plus, once Kobe Bryant returns, Los Angeles will have either Nick Young or Jodie Meeks coming off the bench, and let's not forget that Jordan Hill and Steve Blake are healthy.
The Lakers are still not what one would call a "deep" team, but thus far, they look considerably stronger in that department than last year.
When the Memphis Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay last season, Ed Davis was the key to the deal. The young big man was very impressive during his short time at the University of North Carolina, and the Grizzlies clearly saw some promise in the 24-year-old.
Davis has opened up some eyes in this preseason, going for 13 points and five rebounds in Memphis' exhibition opener and then posting a double-double a couple of nights later.
Let's face it: There is always the possibility that the Grizzlies try to deal Zach Randolph at some point, so Davis has to be ready to step into service at any time. While he is still raw and has some growing to do as a player, he obviously has talent and could end up forming a nice pairing with Marc Gasol up front down the line.
If nothing else, Davis provides Memphis with a very capable backup this season, something the Grizz sorely lacked in 2012-13.
Perhaps the most comical (yet not particularly surprising) story to come out of preseason so far is the report that Michael Beasley was so upset with himself over a mistake during a game that he started punching himself in the head and had to receive medical attention because of it, per Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald.
Beasley and Erik Spoelstra have denied that the 24-year-old had to seek medical attention because of a self-inflicted wound. While Beasley did admit to hitting himself, he and Spoelstra said the team trainers were working on him due to an inadvertent elbow he took from Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, according to Goodman and Michael Wallace of ESPN.com.
Regardless of which incident caused Beasley's brow to swell up, this is still pretty funny either way, and the fact that it's Beasley kind of diminishes the shock factor.
That being said, Beasley has played fairly well for the Miami Heat in preseason, his best game being a 13-point, five-rebound effort against the Bobcats.
This is a transition year for the Milwaukee Bucks, so they might as well evaluate all of their young talent and see what they have for the future.
One of their best pieces is young big man John Henson, a UNC product who quietly enjoyed a very solid 2012-13 rookie campaign.
The Bucks have played three exhibition games thus far, and Henson has started two of them. In the two contests he did start, he averaged 13 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 56.5 percent from the floor. Plus, in one of those two games, he recorded a double-double.
Henson has the potential to put up those kinds of numbers over the course of the full 2013-14 season, and Milwaukee head coach Larry Drew should make sure he gets the chance to do just that.
A front line of Henson and Larry Sanders looks pretty darn good for the long haul.
Due to a myriad of injuries, "depth" and "Minnesota Timberwolves" could not be used in the same sentence in 2012-13 unless you were talking about their lack of it.
Now, things are a bit different.
The Timberwolves look very deep right now, particularly at the wing spots with Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Alexey Shved and Shabazz Muhammad, not to mention tweeners Derrick Williams and J.J. Barea, who can play on the wing as well.
Yes, it stinks that Chase Budinger injured his knee again, but Minnesota is prepared to deal with that this season.
Could this finally be the year the Timberwolves get over the hump and make the playoffs? Well, as long as they stay healthy, their bench shouldn't be an issue in attempting to do so.
Anthony Davis had a very good rookie campaign, but he was overshadowed by Damian Lillard.
Well, based on his performance throughout this preseason, it appears he has no intention of being overshadowed again.
Davis has been an absolute monster for the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging 24.5 points per game off of 55.1 percent shooting. It would be nice to see him rebound the ball a bit more, but you can't help but be enamored with what the kid has been doing offensively.
With an improving Davis and new guys like Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans aboard, the Pelicans could be ready to make a run at one of the lower playoff seeds in the Western Conference.
Let's just hope they can stay healthy.
In 2012-13, Carmelo Anthony spent most of his time manning the power forward spot. He was certainly productive, putting together an MVP-caliber season, but he got beaten up. Anthony dealt with a couple of injuries, including a knee problem during the regular season and a bum shoulder during the playoffs.
Those ailments were likely a result of constantly battling with bigger players in the post, and while Carmelo is not a small guy himself, that's not something he was accustomed to doing. Players such as Kevin Garnett, Zach Randolph and David West brutalized Melo inside.
Thankfully for Anthony, the New York Knicks went out and made moves to accommodate his switch back to small forward. With guys like Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace now on the roster, Anthony can focus on playing his natural position and using his own size advantage at the 3-spot.
It helps that World Peace has looked pretty good during the preseason, and, at the very least, Bargnani has been getting to the free-throw line.
With Russell Westbrook sidelined for the first 4-6 weeks of the season, many pontificated about where a No. 2 scorer would come from on the Oklahoma City Thunder's roster.
It looks like Reggie Jackson is ready to step up to the challenge.
After an efficient 4-of-6 performance in the Thunder's opener against Fenerbahce Ulker, Jackson exploded for 29 points, eight assists and six rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers, only turning the ball over once in the process.
It was a Westbrook-type performance, as Jackson utilized his quickness and his mid-range jump shot to give the 76ers fits. He also closed out the game with Kevin Durant on the bench, displaying remarkable poise and composure for a second-year player.
No, he may not be Westbrook, but he is the closest thing Oklahoma City has to its starting point guard.
So let's recap the main parts of the monster four-way deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers prior to the 2012-13 season.
The Lakers got Dwight, the Nuggets received Andre Iguodala, the 76ers picked up Andrew Bynum and the Orlando Magic hauled in Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo.
Now, Howard is in Houston, Iguodala is with Golden State, and Bynum is in Cleveland.
It seems safe to say the Magic won the deal.
Orlando has done a heck of a job rebuilding its roster, not only acquiring a solid veteran in Afflalo, a double-double machine in Vucevic and an extremely talented young wing in Harkless, but also trading for the likes of Tobias Harris and drafting players such as Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn and Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo in particular has been awesome thus far, following up a strong summer league showing with a couple of great performances in the team's first two preseason contests.
The Magic are probably a year away from contending for a playoff spot, but you have to admire the job GM Rob Hennigan has done. This team is going to be pretty good soon.
The 76ers are going to stink this year. There really is no way around it. As a matter of fact, there is a good chance they end up being the worst team in the league.
However, these guys are going to fight hard night in and night out, and they might be able to hang around in games against even the best ballclubs.
Thaddeus Young, who is now basically Philadelphia's best player by default, is enjoying a very solid preseason, as is Evan Turner. Plus, Tony Wroten has shown that the Grizzlies may have made a mistake by giving up on him so early, and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has flashed a bit of promise.
The Sixers probably won't even win 20 games this season, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the more games they lose, the more of a chance they'll have at landing Andrew Wiggins.
With Eric Bledsoe now on the roster, Goran Dragic becomes a bit redundant. For the Phoenix Suns, a team that is not even close to being ready to contend, trading Dragic may be the best way to go.
It helps that Dragic has been very effective this preseason, but it's doubtful other general managers around the league are going to base Dragic's trade value on exhibition games. They know what he is capable of over the course of a full season, and for that reason, they may be willing to part with some valuable chips to get him.
Perhaps a contending team will be in need of a point guard and will call up the Suns to ask about Dragic this season? If that does indeed happen, Phoenix would be wise to move him. After all, the Suns have Bledsoe and Kendall Marshall, so sending away Dragic would clear the logjam at the point guard position.
Right now, Phoenix needs to acquire assets, and it can add a few more assets to its arsenal by trading Dragic.
As bad as the Lakers' bench was last season, the bench of the Portland Trail Blazers was even worse. The Trail Blazers were quick to remedy that problem over the summer, adding guys like Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright to the mix.
Let's also not forget the fact that they drafted C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, although McCollum is going to miss some time with that broken foot.
Now, Portland has a capable pine, one that could be capable enough to get this team into the playoffs. The fact that Will Barton appears to be improving as well is also huge, as he could represent another great weapon for the Blazers to have in reserve.
Portland has an excellent starting lineup with Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard. If guys like Williams, Wright, etc. can give head coach Terry Stotts consistent production off the bench (and if McCollum can come back healthy), no one is going to want to play the Trail Blazers this year.
Some feel Ben McLemore will be the best player to come out of the 2013 draft class.
He has done nothing but give credence to that faction's opinion so far in the preseason, averaging 12.5 points while connecting on five of his 10 three-pointers in his first two exhibition contests.
Of course, it is a very small sample size, but you have to like how McLemore has bounced back after his slow start in summer league, scoring 27 points in his final outing and getting out of the gates rather quickly in preseason.
The Sacramento Kings probably won't make the playoffs this year, but they should be considerably tougher than they were in 2012-13, and the future is bright with guys like McLemore and DeMarcus Cousins leading the way.
The Rockets stole the headlines by signing Dwight, the Thunder have the flashy duo in Durant and Westbrook, the Clippers have Doc Rivers and Lob City, and the Warriors own the new darling of the NBA in Stephen Curry, but the San Antonio Spurs remain the best team in the Western Conference.
The Spurs are a well-oiled machine. Instead of panicking after their devastating Finals loss to the Heat, San Antonio stayed the course and made no dramatic changes to its roster. Instead, it merely added Marco Belinelli to take some of the onus off of Manu Ginobili on the bench, and it hopes that young players such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green continue to improve.
As usual, everyone will overlook the Spurs as they win around 60 games and probably embark on one or two monster win streaks over the course of the season. Then, once the conference finals roll around and San Antonio is once again a part of them, pundits and fans alike will ultimately start to pay homage and respect to Gregg Popovich's group.
If the Spurs are hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June and you find yourself surprised, then you really need to start paying more attention.
The Toronto Raptors are off to a pretty solid start this preseason, and it's a start that really isn't all that shocking. There is a good amount of talent here; it was just a matter of it finally jelling.
Not only do the Raptors have some outstanding wing depth with Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields, but they also have plenty of size in the way of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Austin Daye.
As an added bonus, Toronto has a pretty nice backup point guard in D.J. Augustin.
Plain and simply, this team is deep all around, and in a division where it is no longer the bottom-feeder, we could very well see the Raptors make the playoffs this season. Of course, they will be fighting with other improved ballclubs such as the Cavaliers, Pistons and Washington Wizards for the final spots, but they should be good enough to hang with those squads.
This is also a pretty big year for Gay. He could be a sleeper All-NBA candidate in his first full year in Toronto.
This is clearly a rebuilding year for the Utah Jazz, as they lost their two starting big men (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) to free agency and will almost certainly not challenge for a playoff spot in the deep Western Conference.
However, preseason has not exactly provided a ton of answers for the Jazz moving forward.
With Jefferson and Millsap gone, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have taken center stage. Let's face it: Kanter and Favors are the primary reason why Utah let both of those guys walk, so the ballclub has high hopes for them.
However, Kanter has not shown all that much in this preseason, and Favors has been inconsistent.
In the Jazz's most recent contests, the two young bigs went 3-of-15 combined, as they were massively outplayed by the Clippers duo of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
In addition, Gordon Hayward was supposed to take over as Utah's best player and team leader. Well, he is shooting 37.1 percent. The Butler product is making some plays for his teammates, as he tallied eight assists in the club's first exhibition contest and five dimes a few nights later, but he needs to be more efficient, especially considering that his shooting percentage has dropped each year since his rookie campaign.
There is definitely talent here, but the Jazz need to find out where their biggest holes are entering the 2014 offseason so they know what to address first.
One last note: Keep an eye on Alec Burks. The kid could be in for a breakout season.
Of all of the teams on the come-up in the Eastern Conference (namely the Wizards, Cavaliers, Pistons and Raptors), Washington may be the squad with the best chance of heading to the postseason.
If you look up and down the Wizards roster, it is quite impressive.
They have a solid frontcourt with Nene and Emeka Okafor, not to mention a wealth of big men off the bench in the way of Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton and Al Harrington. Throw in an outstanding young backcourt tandem composed of John Wall and Bradley Beal along with reserve guards Eric Maynor and rookie Glen Rice Jr., and you have a pretty nice ballclub.
This isn't a 50-win team or anything, but it would not be surprising to see Washington win around 45 games and end up with the No. 7 seed.
Hopefully, Otto Porter can get healthy, too. That hip flexor has been nagging him for quite a while.