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Winners and Losers of the NBA Preseason

Alec NathanFeatured Columnist IVDecember 30, 2016

Winners and Losers of the NBA Preseason

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    Rejoice, NBA fans. Our long preseason nightmare is over. 

    And while it was tough to watch at times, there were plenty of takeaways that will guide our understanding of happenings throughout the Association in the early going.  

    Whether it was John Wall and the shaky Washington Wizards or Derrick Rose and the red-hot Chicago Bulls, preseason action provided us with a sneak preview of which teams may thrive and which will falter after months of speculation. 

    And along with a focus on the league's streakiest teams, we've got a recap of which players' stocks are rising and falling as the 2013-14 season nears tipoff.

Winner: Anthony Davis

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Coming off of a rookie season in which he posted a player efficiency rating of 21.7 and averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds, Anthony Davis has proved throughout the preseason that he's going to best those numbers, and then some, in 2013-14. 

    Stacked stat lines have become the norm for Davis, as was evident in Wednesday night's bout against the Miami Heat, when he posted 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks in 32 minutes of work.

    On what could be the Western Conference's most improved team this season, Davis has already established that he's the official cornerstone of a squad that added Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans over the summer.

    By the end of 2013-14, don't be surprised to hear Davis' name grouped with elite forwards like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan. 

Loser: Banged-Up Rookie Guards

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    For rookie guards selected in the 2013 lottery, it's been a rough preseason. Whether it's been Trey Burke sidelined due to a broken finger or C.J. McCollum knocked out with a fractured bone in his foot, their careers have each gotten off to rocky starts. 

    For the Utah Jazz, the loss of Burke is an especially big blow considering how thin they are at point guard. John Lucas III and the newly re-signed Jamaal Tinsley will run the point in Burke's absence, which can only be described as disappointing for a team that was hoping to see its first-round pick contribute from day one. 

    Fortunately for Burke, the Jazz won't be competing for many wins this season, which will give him plenty of time to develop and learn on the fly upon his return. 

    When it comes to McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers, the story's a bit different. Counting on the rookie out of Lehigh to be their sixth man from the jump, the Blazers now have a void in the backcourt that will need to be filled by Mo Williams and Will Barton. 

    On a team that has its sights set on the playoffs, the loss of McCollum is certainly disappointing, for it's unclear how much instant offense Williams and the rest of the bench mob will be able to muster in his absence.

Winner: Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls

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    Shane Bevel/Getty Images

    If you hadn't noticed by now, there's a considerable amount of buzz surrounding the Chicago Bulls now that Derrick Rose is back and looking better than ever. 

    With Rose back in the fold, talk regarding how deep a playoff run the Bulls could make has ramped up, with some prognosticators projecting Chicago to go as far as the NBA Finals. 

    And quite frankly, those projections are easily defensible given how electric Rose and the Bulls have looked in the preseason. 

    Scrapping their way to the Eastern Conference semis without Rose last season on the back of their defense, the Bulls now have an offense that will become more consistent, efficient and watchable thanks to the former MVP. 

    It's reasonable to be wary of preseason hype, but in the Bulls' case, it's easily justified.

Loser: The Washington Wizards' Future

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    The Washington Wizards are one of the Eastern Conference's most popular up-and-coming squads, mostly due to the play of budding stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. 

    However, those two aren't going to be able to carry the Wizards to the playoffs all by themselves and will need the help of their supporting cast in a big way. 

    That group was shaken up on Friday afternoon, when ESPN's Marc Stein reported that the Wiz agreed to trade injured center Emeka Okafor and a top-12 protected first-round pick in 2014 to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee. 

    While the trade looks good for the Wizards on the surface, I'm not so sure it was the right move long-term. It comes across as a trade incited by panic after the Wizards struggled in the preseason due to the absence of Okafor's defensive presence in the middle, but Gortat isn't exactly an otherworldly talent. 

    He's a decent placeholder on an expiring contract, but the Wizards were clearly motivated to make the deal with the playoffs in mind for this year and this year only. 

    And if they do make the playoffs, the Wizards are sacrificing a first-round pick in the most talented draft class since 2003, one that will be replete with talent beyond the lottery. 

    Short-term, sure, it's a sensible move that eases the burden on their frontcourt, but in the long run, the Wizards didn't do much to improve their standing in the Eastern Conference. 

Winner: Brooklyn's Bench

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett are the Brooklyn Nets' big guns, and they will rightfully have a bright spotlight shone on them throughout the season. 

    However, don't ignore Jason Kidd's bench, one that gives the Nets the ability to mix and match lineups with several high-quality reserves. 

    Primary among them are point guard Shaun Livingston, wings Alan Anderson, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, and bigs Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans, each of whom demonstrated their value at one point or another during the preseason. 

    Ponder this for a moment: Any combination of those six bodies may be better than the starting lineups that division rivals like the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics will roll out on opening night.

    With depth that legitimately stretches 11 men deep, the Nets should have no problem managing the minutes of older stars like Pierce and Garnett as the season wears on.

Loser: Jeremy Lin

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    One year after signing a three-year, $25 million contract to become the Houston Rockets' starting point guard, Jeremy Lin may be in line for a demotion. 

    However, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech (subscription required), Rockets coach Kevin McHale has downplayed the "starting" designation. 

    "As a player, I always found it irrelevant," McHale said. "I came off the bench in a lot of games. What is the big difference in playing 27 1/2 minutes off the bench and playing 26 minutes as a starter? I guess it is a big deal to some people."

    And if McHale does make the switch, it will be perfectly understandable. Patrick Beverley is a superior defender and three-point shooter compared to Lin. 

    Beverley was true on 37.5 percent of his triples last season, whereas Lin hit on just 33.9 percent of his three-point attempts. 

    Consider that Lin's strengths come in the ball-handling and instant-offense department, and it's rather obvious that he would be a better fit as a spark plug off the bench, leaving Beverley with the tall task of defending opponents' starting point guards for extended stretches.

Winner: Greg Oden

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    If you had asked me at the beginning of last season who would return to the hardwood first, Greg Oden or Andrew Bynum, I would have taken the latter option with confidence. 

    And although Oden only saw the floor for four minutes in Wednesday night's 108-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, it was a triumphant return for the former No. 1 overall pick, who slammed home his first two points as a member of the Miami Heat.

    If you want to know just how much that one dunk meant, take a look at the reaction from Miami's bench (Michael Beasley, in particular).  

    Totaling two points, two rebounds, two turnovers and two personal fouls in limited action, it was a refreshing sight to see Oden putting in productive minutes after suffering through knee injuries and sitting out basketball since 2009-10. 

    With a chance to become a contributing defensive presence and rim-protector on the inside for the Heat, Oden's comeback has a chance to be the most uplifting story of the season.

Loser: Thaddeus Young and the Philadelphia 76ers

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    If it's somehow possible, the Philadelphia 76ers roster looks even uglier than we thought it would.

    Want to know just how bad things have gotten in the City of Brotherly Love? Sixers coach Brett Brown recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey that the Sixers only have six NBA players on their roster. Six! 

    There are only two sure things about the 76ers' active roster.

    The first thing is that Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes are the clear starters. The second thing is that power forward/center Lavoy Allen is an experienced NBA player who is finding his way back into shape.

    "And after that, who knows?" Sixers coach Brett Brown said before Monday's 104-93 setback to Cleveland in Columbus, Ohio. "You have six NBA players and then you have a bunch of guys who are fighting for spots and want to be seen and need opportunity."

    And it's hard not to feel especially bad for Thaddeus Young, who is far and away the Sixers' most talented player. 

    If Philly wants to get even more serious about tanking (if that's even possible), it'll find a taker for Young at the trade deadline and ship him out of basketball purgatory once and for all. He's paid his dues, and simply put, he deserves better. 

    Let's get the hashtag trending, guys: #FreeThaddeus. For everyone's sake.

Winner: Young Guns Who Received Contract Extensions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    To date, five young stars have inked contract extensions prior to the Oct. 31 deadline, although it appears that a sixth may be on the way to signing one as well, according to ESPN's Marc Stein

    Here's a brief rundown of those who have already put pen to paper:

    • John Wall: Five-year, $80 million extension with the Washington Wizards 
    • DeMarcus Cousins: Four-year, $62 million extension with the Sacramento Kings
    • Paul George: Five-year, $90 million extension with the Indiana Pacers
    • Derrick Favors: Four-year, $49 million extension with the Utah Jazz
    • Larry Sanders: Four-year, $44 million extension with the Milwaukee Bucks

    It's hard to argue against any of those extensions, as each team is paying for future production and not past performance, specifically when it comes to the bigger salaries of Paul George, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

    Each of those five talents is fully capable of living up to the massive dollars that their respective teams bestowed upon them, particularly George, who has already broken through into superstardom. 

    Cousins is arguably the biggest question mark of the five. It's common knowledge that the Kings' big man has all of the talent necessary to be an elite center, but he needs to polish his game on offense, commit himself on defense and mature in order to become the leader Sacramento has dreamed of.

Loser: Boston Celtics

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    It was hardly a shock to the system to see the Boston Celtics falter in the preseason given the current state of their roster. 

    While there were pleasantly surprising performances throughout from up-and-comers Phil Pressey, Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani, vets such as Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace were underwhelming.  

    That, and Rajon Rondo continues to be noncommittal about a return date from his torn ACL, per The Boston Globe. The concerning part? Rondo is sounding an awful lot like Derrick Rose did last season:

    “If they want me to ease into it — it’s going to be hard to tell me to ease into something,” he said. “Once I get back out there, I want to go full speed. I don’t want any limitation. That’s when I’ll return, when I’m able to do that."

    And when will he know when he’s ready?

    “I’ll know when it’s right,” he said. “Everybody is different, each injury is different… For me, when I come back, I won’t come back unless I know I’m myself again.”

    While it's not imperative that Rondo return this season (sitting out would undoubtedly give the C's better lottery odds), Brad Stevens won't truly know what he has in his young group until the team's leader is back on the floor.

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