NBA Preseason 2013: 10 Things We've Learned so Far
Preseason performances shouldn't give reason to jump to conclusions, but they can certainly help identify potential rising talents and tweaked skill sets.
Whether it's former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis displaying that his game is superstar-caliber, or former undrafted free agent Jeremy Lin showing he's ready to lead one of the league's most dynamic offenses, there are takeaways galore from the preseason action we've witnessed thus far.
In advance of the season tipping off, here are several names and storylines you should pay close attention to.
Jeremy Lin Is Looking Much Improved
Aside from Dwight Howard getting acquainted with his new comrades in Houston, the other big storyline surrounding the Rockets involves point guard Jeremy Lin.
Lin, who posted serviceable (yet unremarkable) numbers during his first full season as a starter, is entering Year 2 as the point man for Kevin McHale's Rockets. And if his preseason play has been any indication of what's to come, McHale and Co. have to be pleased.
In three contests, Lin has been efficient, hitting on 13 of his 21 field-goal attempts. The most impressive tape comes from the Rockets' exhibition against the Indiana Pacers in Taiwan, where Lin showed range and a nifty floater that could prove to be deadly if it starts to fall with regularity.
If Lin can improve upon his lackluster PER of 14.9 and continue to cut down on turnovers (2.9 per game last season), Houston's potent offensive attack will be even more deadly.
The Utah Jazz Are Now Even Thinner at Point Guard
The Utah Jazz were thin at point guard before Trey Burke fractured his right index finger, and it appears that the rookie will be out for an extended period (though reports regarding the timetable for his recovery have been conflicting).
Now, with the former Michigan standout sidelined, Ty Corbin could lean upon veteran journeyman John Lucas III to lead his young, developing offense when the season tips off.
Lucas has only started two games in his career, and both came in 2011-12 as a member of the Chicago Bulls. Over five pro seasons, he is just a 39.3 percent shooter, averaging 5.1 points and 1.5 assists over 11.8 minutes per game.
However, if the Jazz determine that Lucas isn't the answer, ESPN's Marc Stein reports that the Bulls' Marquis Teague could be one stopgap solution.
The former Kentucky Wildcat is certainly a more intriguing starting option than Lucas, primarily because he possesses potential at just 20 years old. Whether the Bulls want to part with a prospect on whom they spent a first-round pick remains unclear, but if they determine that Kirk Hinrich is their preferred solution at backup point guard, Teague could conceivably be had at a reasonable cost.
It must also be noted that, according to Bill Oram of the Salt Lake City Tribune, the Jazz maintain "some interest" in bringing back free-agent vet Jamaal Tinsley.
Anthony Davis Is Primed for a Monster Campaign
As stated earlier, you can only put so much stock in players' performances in the preseason. But with Anthony Davis, one can feel relatively safe saying that what we're seeing is not a fluke.
The New Orleans Pelicans forward has filled up stat sheets in his first four preseason outings, posting point totals of 21, 25, 29 and 23 against the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks, respectively.
Flashing an improved mid-range stroke, Davis could quickly become one of the most feared nightly matchups in the league. He's also looked as good as ever on defense, which was evident against the Magic when he racked up two steals and four blocks in 31 minutes of action.
The new-look Pelicans will be fighting an uphill battle to claim one of the Western Conference's final playoff spots, and they're going to need their franchise player to be healthy every step of the way for that to become a reality.
Brett Brown Likes Him Some Spencer Hawes
Believe it or not, Spencer Hawes may very well be the Philadelphia 76ers' best long-range shooter. Dorell Wright, Jrue Holiday and Nick Young are all gone, opening the door for Hawes to stake his claim as the team's most versatile offensive weapon and most polished shooter from three.
It sounds crazy, but it's true. Evan Turner is traditionally streaky as can be from beyond (although he did hit on a career-high 36.5 percent of his treys last season), and James Anderson is a relative unknown entering his first season as a potential starter.
The good news for Hawes is that head coach Brett Brown seems to be taking a liking to the 7-footer's versatility and fit in the team's new system, according to Tom Moore of Calkins Media.
In addition, CSN Philly's Dei Lynam reports that Brown has been pleased with Hawes' leadership skills:
He has been really, really good. He has bought in in every sense of the word with the young guys and the style, with the length of time we have decided to practice and how we handle days after games and the attention we are trying to place on recovery. All those health-related issues, he’s been great. He’s been a real leader.
Positives will be few and far between for the Sixers this season, but if Hawes can flash some range and increase his trade value with an expiring contract, Sam Hinkie could be a happy camper come February's trade deadline.
Dion Waiters' Stock Is Rising
The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to need improvement from all of their young guns if they hope to secure a playoff berth for the first time since LeBron James departed for South Beach, and one of those key players is shooting guard Dion Waiters.
Although reports regarding a leaner, more fit Waiters are nice, it's all going to come down to his production on the court. And in that regard, Waiters hasn't failed to impress in the early going.
In 25 minutes of action against the Orlando Magic, Waiters dropped a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, dished out three assists and racked up two steals.
That sort of scoring proficiency is encouraging, particularly after he rectified some of his pre-All-Star break struggles during his rookie campaign. A 45.8 percent shooter after last season's All-Star break (39.6 percent before), Waiters showed an improved touch, one that will need to consistently be on display throughout the upcoming campaign.
Mid-range jumpers will be especially key for the second-year man out of Syracuse. If Waiters can get his shooting average from 16 to 23 feet into the mid-40s (was at 40 percent last season, with the league average at 38.4), the Cavs offense should stand to benefit on the perimeter.
Kevin Durant Is Adding the Running Hook to His Arsenal
If the terrifying move becomes a regular staple of Durant's game, opponents can be certain they'll be seeing the three-time scoring champion in their nightmares even more than usual.
For a player of Durant's size and skill to be adding such a devastating tool to his scoring utility belt is downright frightening.
Durant already owns every perimeter spot on the floor, so if he can gradually start to work out of the high post and use his long limbs to sky over defenders, the man who ranked second in the NBA with a true shooting percentage of 64.7 percent last season (per Basketball-Reference) could somehow improve upon that gaudy mark.
Michael Beasley Has a Shot at Cracking Miami's Rotation
One of the challenges facing Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat is finding an adequate replacement for Mike Miller, who was waived this summer via the amnesty provision.
The logical candidates to fill the perimeter void are vets James Jones and Rashard Lewis, but it appears that Michael Beasley may have a real shot at cracking the rotation if he buys into the system, according to Bleacher Report's own Ethan Skolnick:
"Everything I've done on offense the past two games has honestly been an accident," Beasley said. "I'm just trying to play hard on defense, trying to rebound the ball a little better than I have been."
Here's the reality: If he does those things at merely an adequate level, he's a serious threat to crack a stacked rotation.
With Lewis and Jones fairly one-dimensional in terms of their offensive skills (that is, catching and shooting), Beasley is a more attractive option if his shot begins to fall with regularity, which was a problem for the 24-year-old last year in Phoenix.
Beasley bottomed out at 40.5 percent shooting last season and hit on just 31.3 percent of his triples (the second-lowest mark of his career) over 75 games.
It sounds crazy, but the Heat may have a steal on their hands if Beasley can get his act together.
Reggie Jackson Will Make Life Without Russell Westbrook a Bit Easier
Reggie Jackson proved during the 2013 postseason that he's capable of filling in at point guard, which is exactly what he'll be asked to do over the first six weeks of the season.
With Russell Westbrook sidelined, the starting job temporarily belongs to Jackson, the 23-year-old who proved to be an effective scorer last year and continues to flash promise during the preseason.
After averaging 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 11 playoff games, Jackson has continued his hot play, exemplified by his recent outing against the Philadelphia 76ers. In 36 minutes of work, Jackson racked up 29 points on a tidy 10-of-17 shooting, dished out eight assists and grabbed six boards.
With a nose for the basket and an improving mid-range jumper, Jackson should be able to post solid numbers and keep the Oklahoma City Thunder offense flowing in Westbrook's absence.
Monta Ellis Is Looking to Remodel His Game in Dallas
Monta Ellis has a new team and a new style of play. Or so he says.
According to ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, Ellis described his personal stylistic goals during his first year with the Dallas Mavericks in the following way:
Getting out, running, taking the shots that’s appropriate, and attack the basket more. I think over the past few years I got to a point where I was settling for jump shots. At first, I attacked the basket, never was the high-end guy to shoot 3s. I think I put a lot more 3s into my game, so I’m going to get back to attacking the basket, getting out there and being a one-man fast break and bring pace to this team.
What Ellis says he will do and what he actually does remains to be seen, but it's refreshing to see that he seems to have realized the need to become more efficient in order to earn more respect from prognosticators.
Alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Ellis has a chance to reform his offensive image, becoming a dynamic one-two punch in the pick-and-roll with the future Hall of Famer.
And if he can learn some self-discipline and dedicate himself to getting to the line more while taking high-percentage jumpers, Mark Cuban and Co. will be happy with their investment.
Klay Thompson Wouldn't Mind Coming off the Bench
Klay Thompson enters his third year in the NBA firmly established as one of the game's best three-point shooters.
So, naturally, it only makes sense for him to return to the spot in which he started 82 games last season, right? Wrong.
The Golden State Warriors have experimented with bringing the sharpshooter off the bench during the preseason, and thus far, Thompson appears receptive to the idea of becoming the Dubs' sixth man, per Marcus Thompson on Twitter.
With Andre Iguodala in town, it was clear that one of the team's wings would be bumped out of the starting lineup, but Harrison Barnes always felt like the more likely addition to Mark Jackson's bench mob.
Instead, it appears as though Thompson may ultimately be the choice. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. If Thompson can still receive close to his normal allotment of minutes (35.8 per game last season) as the team's sixth man, the move will only strengthen the Warriors' rotation.
Should the move become a permanent one, expect Thompson to be one of the leading candidates for the 2014 Sixth Man of the Year award.