Of the four major professional sports, the NBA's preseason is the most straightforward. There's a longstanding saying that "basketball is basketball," which simply means players who excel on one level typically do well on another.
Great high school players become great college players become great pros. While exceptions obviously apply, it's a good rule of thumb to remember whenever evaluating college prospects or assessing expected performance levels. Case in point: Last season, Blake Griffin led the NBA in scoring, Chris Paul in assists, Steven Adams in field-goal percentage, Andre Drummond in rebounds, Pau Gasol in blocks and Gordon Hayward in steals.
The only outlier in those statistics proved to be Hayward. Griffin, Paul, Drummond and Gasol each finished inside the top 10 at their respective categories. Adams would have had he taken enough shots to qualify for league-wide percentages.
From a team perspective, only three eventual playoff teams (Clippers, Bucks Spurs) posted below-.500 records in the preseason. Even if it's not entirely perfect, there are takeaways we can have from games that don't exactly count. Remember, at this time last year, Kevin Durant's foot was still intact.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the biggest storylines heading into training camp.
NBA Training Camp/Preseason Information
|NBA Training Camp Dates|
|Saturday, Sept. 26||Boston Celtics|
|Los Angeles Clippers|
|Tuesday, Sept. 29||Atlanta Hawks|
|Golden State Warriors|
|Los Angeles Lakers|
|New Orleans Pelicans|
|New York Knicks|
|Oklahoma City Thunder|
|Portland Trail Blazers|
|San Antonio Spurs|
Full preseason schedules are available at NBA.com.
Top Preseason Storylines
Injured Stars Making Their Returns
The Indiana Pacers forward will not just be continuing his comeback from a broken leg suffered at Team USA camp last summer. He'll also be learning a new position. Pacers coach Frank Vogel offered his projected starting lineup Thursday, which will feature George playing power forward full time.
“An idea on paper is to have a starting lineup of George Hill, Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles, Paul George and Ian Mahinmi,” Vogel said, per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star.
As for George's thoughts on the situation, well, let's say he's not exactly pleased.
"(We’ll) start camp, see how camp goes," George told Sam Amick of USA Today. "Again, I’m not too thrilled on it, but it could change the more comfortable I get at the position. But we’ll see. But again, I could very much end up loving it, so it’s all up in the air. I’m open to the position.”
George raises concerns that anyone with two eyes could see. At 6'9", he has the length to play power forward, but he's not built like LeBron James or Draymond Green; the bulk factor just isn't there. With George also coming back from a debilitating injury that cost him 76 games last year, it's a curious decision to say the least.
Let's get this out of the way: I hope Kobe returns this season and gives us one more vintage season. He's one of the dozen best players in history, a competitive zealot who deserves to go out on his own terms. I hope he goes out gunning until his shoulder falls off.
Unfortunately, Bryant's shoulder might actually fall off. We're about 29 months removed from Bryant being an effective NBA player. In the meantime, he's suffered a ruptured Achilles, fractured knee and torn rotator cuff. He's played 41 games over the last two seasons and not done so at a particularly high rate of effectiveness.
The former MVP got his medical clearance to return last week, and the focus in Los Angeles already appears to be getting Bryant on the floor as much as possible.
"I know Kobe's a competitor and he's going to play as many minutes as you want him to play," coach Byron Scott told Bill Oram of the Orange County Register. "I'm also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win."
Scott went on to say the team would stick to a minutes limit if needed but that there hasn't been one established. Bryant and the Lakers front office should probably get on that, pronto.
Bosh had perhaps the scariest injury of last season, as he was diagnosed with blood clots in his lung, which cost him most of the second half. The All-Star forward said he is off blood thinners and will be available for full contact when the Heat open training camp.
"The recurring risk comes from a hereditary gene," Bosh said, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Fortunately, I don't have that. That was one of the dangers I faced earlier, was: am I going to be able to play the game? Because if this test comes back that it's a recurring thing, it's going to be a problem. Anyone, if they don't take the precautions, it can be a recurring thing, yes. But I'm a lot smarter now. I know about the precautions."
Bosh returns to a Heat team that fashions itself a contender for the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami's starting lineup, which also features Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside, is one of the NBA's best on paper. It's veteran-laden and a little spacing-cramped, sure, but there are probably only a handful of teams league-wide that wouldn't trade places.
Bosh's absence late last season propelled Miami to the lottery and prevented that group of five from getting on-court time. We should all be thankful that shouldn't be a problem this season.
You know of the impending free agency. You know of the foot injuries. You know of Durant's unending self-belief. What we don't know, however, is whether Durant's foot can hold up and allow him to return to his former heights.
"He's been playing without restriction, 5-on-5 and competing as normal," general manager Sam Presti said, per Royce Young of ESPN.com. "With that said, as any of our players coming off injury, we're going to be watching and managing practice, recovery time; we're going to be watching. But as far as limitations, he doesn't have any."
There's not much analysis needed here. Durant's going to be great if he's healthy. He's one of the two or three most talented basketball players on the planet and is in the prime of his career. The question is whether Oklahoma City has done enough to surround him, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka with the talent to make a Finals run.
As someone who's been beating the "trade Melo" drum for months, Anthony proving he's healthy will be paramount to those efforts if New York Knicks president Phil Jackson chooses to make a move. Melo played on a damaged knee until the All-Star break last season for reasons that remain perplexing, which makes his unreadiness for Team USA camp in August a little concerning.
"I'll deal with that when the time comes," Anthony said of getting back into shape, per Robert Horne of Newsday. "As I start pushing it and taking my rehab, workouts and training up another level, I'll know where I am at as far as if my legs are underneath me."
Despite the injury issues, Melo averaged 24.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season. He remained a solid three-point shooter, though he showed marked signs of regression. We can say whatever we want about his contract, about his lackadaisical defensive approach, about his ability to lead the Knicks to a championship.
This is still an awesome basketball player. Just one who may be better off elsewhere.