NBA Preseason: The 15 Biggest Surprises
It’s never a good idea to overreact to preseason outcomes. Wins and losses don’t matter until October 30, when the NBA’s regular season gets underway. The preseason gives executives a chance to evaluate the fringe players on their roster and decide who to cut while coaches teach their system and build their rotation. That’s the purpose of these exhibition games – the final score is an afterthought.
The Los Angeles Lakers are perhaps the most talented team in the NBA, but at 0-6 they’re also the only team in the league that’s currently winless in the preseason. Last year, the New Orleans Hornets were undefeated in the preseason, but went on to finish with the worst record in the Western Conference and win the draft lottery. At the end of the day, preseason records don’t tell us much.
However, there is something that can be taken away from preseason games. Team performances may be misleading, but individual performances can be revealing. Players get to show what they’ve worked on over the offseason. Rookies get their first taste of NBA action. Reserves finally get a chance to step onto the court and showcase their skills. By now, every team in the league has played at least five preseason games, which means we have a nice sample size to judge players on.
Here are 15 players who have turned heads during the 2012-13 preseason:
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – When the Pistons selected Drummond with the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft, they did so because of his unlimited upside. At 19 years old, Drummond was very raw and the rebuilding Pistons were willing to be patient with him as he developed and matured. Throughout the draft process, everyone labeled Drummond as a project and nobody expected him to contribute right away. Apparently, Drummond didn’t get the memo. Through six preseason games, Drummond has been very impressive, averaging 9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 17.5 minutes off of the bench. He’s already recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Milwaukee Bucks and he had a four-block performance against the Orlando Magic. Not only has Drummond put up impressive numbers, he has filled the highlight reel with monster blocks and dunks. If Drummond can continue to play at this high level, he may be moving into the starting lineup and forming a twin towers with Greg Monroe sooner than anyone expected.
Corey Brewer, Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets are just too deep. As if they didn’t already have enough talented swingmen on their roster with Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, they now have Brewer playing out of his mind as well. Brewer has always been known as a very good perimeter defender who can score when he gets out in transition. However, through four preseason games, the 26-year-old has been scoring at will. Brewer currently leads the Nuggets in scoring with 17.5 points per game, and he has the seventh-highest scoring average among all players in the preseason. He’s shooting 60.5 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from long range. Not to mention, he’s putting up these numbers off of the bench and playing just 21.3 minutes per contest. Brewer has been a pleasant surprise during the preseason, giving Nuggets head coach George Karl yet another weapon to deploy.
Nick Young, Philadelphia 76ers – When the Sixers signed Young over the offseason, they knew they were getting a talented scorer who could help replace Lou Williams and spread the floor with his range. The 27-year-old has done just that through six preseason games, and then some. He’s averaging 16 points per contest, leading the Sixers in scoring without starting a single game. Even more impressive is the fact that Young has been incredibly efficient, which was rarely the case earlier in his career when he developed a reputation as a chucker. He’s shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc. Young has played very well and seems poised for a breakout year.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics – Three months ago, Sullinger was red-flagged at the draft combine because of a back issue that could potentially shorten his career. Teams were concerned and the 20-year-old slipped on draft night, falling to Boston at No. 21. Sullinger’s back may cause him problems down the road, but it hasn’t slowed him down during the preseason. Through eight games, he has been one of the most productive rookies in the league and showed that he’ll be able to make an impact right away with the Celtics. He has averaged 10.9 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 56.1 percent from the field. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has been extremely impressed with Sullinger, starting the rookie ahead of Brandon Bass in five of Boston’s eight preseason games.
Glen Davis, Orlando Magic – For years, Davis has wanted to be a starter and have an increased role. Now, with the Magic in rebuilding mode, he’ll get that opportunity. During last year’s playoffs, Davis showed what he can do as a starter, averaging 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks against the Indiana Pacers despite playing out of position at center and giving up five inches to Roy Hibbert. Now, he has picked up right where he left off, averaging 19.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals through four preseason games. He has the league’s third-highest scoring average among all players who have appeared in multiple preseason games, trailing only Carmelo Anthony (21.3 PPG) and Kobe Bryant (20.3 PPG). Davis has solidified himself as a starter in Orlando and he may end up being the number one option in the Magic’s offense. The 26-year-old has been extremely productive and, with his minutes and touches significantly increasing, he’ll have every opportunity to succeed this season.
Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets – Three months ago, the Washington Wizards paid Blatche to go away. They used the amnesty clause on the power forward, who was considered a cancer in the locker room. Throughout the course of his six-year career, Blatche butted heads with coaches, fought with teammates and had a number of embarrassing off-court incidents. He also developed a reputation for being lazy and, at one point, was benched indefinitely for poor conditioning. After being amnestied, teams weren’t exactly lining up to sign Blatche, which was a humbling experience for the 26-year-old. The Brooklyn Nets decided to give him a one-year, non-guaranteed deal. Blatche realized that he couldn’t afford to make any more mistakes and he’s taking this second chance seriously. He has worked hard, lost 20 pounds and been on his best behavior in Brooklyn. It seems like Blatche has finally grown up and he has been a pleasant surprise for the Nets. It looks like he’ll make the team and, through five preseason games, he’s averaged 12.8 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 56.5 percent from the field.
Brandon Roy, Minnesota Timberwolves – Roy is just two years removed from being an All-Star so his preseason success shouldn’t be surprising. However, this time last year he was retired due to chronic knee issues and it seemed as if he had played his last NBA game. Even when he announced his comeback and signed a two-year deal with Minnesota over the summer, nobody was sure what to expect from the 28-year-old. After all, Roy’s knees have been operated on six times and no longer have any cartilage. Could he stay healthy? Would he be a shell of his former self? Through five games, Roy has been productive and, more importantly, pain-free. He has started every game for the Timberwolves and his minutes haven’t been limited. Roy is averaging 11.4 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the field. He has even shown glimpses of his former self, dropping 19 points in 25 minutes last week. He has been Minnesota’s second-leading scorer in five preseason games and he’ll be asked to carry the scoring load when the regular season starts since Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be sidelined. Roy seems healthy enough to do that, which is remarkable given everything he’s been through.
Maalik Wayns, Philadelphia 76ers – After going undrafted in June, Wayns has been on a mission to make every team in the league regret passing on him. First, he dominated in the Orlando Summer League and now he’s playing very well during the preseason. Wayns is averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 rebounds through five games with the Sixers, and he has become a fan favorite since he was born and raised in Philly and starred at Villanova. Not only does Wayns seem like a lock to make Philadelphia’s roster, it seems he has earned a spot in 76ers head coach Doug Collins’ rotation.
Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls – Last season, Robinson played well with the Golden State Warriors, averaging 11.2 points, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 51 games. He was productive off of the bench and stepped up when injuries forced him into the starting lineup. However, even after a bounce back year with the Warriors, Robinson had a tough time finding a new team when he became an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 28-year-old settled for a veteran’s minimum deal with the Bulls. Through five preseason games, that contract looks like a bargain for Chicago. Robinson has averaged 11.4 points, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals in 23 minutes. Last week, Robinson had one of the most impressive performances of the preseason when he recorded 24 points, 13 assists and 2 steals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Once Derrick Rose returns from injury, there may not be many minutes for Robinson. But until then, he should be able to provide a spark off of Chicago’s bench just as he has done during these exhibition games.
DeQuan Jones, Orlando Magic – Who? Many of the names on this list are recognizable, but Jones is still a relative unknown. The 6’8 swingman spent four years at the University of Miami, but he didn’t do much to distinguish himself at the college level. During his senior season with the Hurricanes, Jones was a reserve who averaged just 5.9 points in 17.3 minutes. Jones received a camp invite from the Magic, but nobody expected him to stick. Now, after six preseason games, Jones has emerged as a significant contributor for Orlando and he has a shot at making the final roster. He dropped 22 points on the Detroit Pistons (his college career-high was just 16 points) and he has averaged 10 points per game. Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has been very impressed with Jones. Vaughn has started Jones in three games, a move that surprised everyone including Jones. The rookie is a freak-of-nature athlete who has had plenty of highlight-reel plays during the preseason. Fans in Orlando have fallen in love with the underdog and are hoping he makes the team. Several weeks ago, Jones was an obscure prospect who seemed poised to sign overseas. Now, he’s turning heads around the NBA. “DeQuan Jones took someone’s job tonight,” texted one league source after watching Jones’ impressive 10-point performance against the Indiana Pacers. “He’s making the team for sure. He might be the most athletic player in the NBA.”
Brian Roberts, New Orleans Hornets – After going undrafted in 2008 and spending four years overseas, Roberts is finally on the verge of realizing his NBA dream. The 26-year-old earned a camp invite from the Hornets after dominating in the Las Vegas Summer League, scoring in the double-digits in every game. Now, through six preseason games, Roberts continues to produce for the Hornets. He has been New Orleans’ second-leading scorer in the preseason behind only Anthony Davis, averaging 10.7 points as well as 4.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds. In his lone start of the preseason, Roberts finished with 16 points (7-9 from the field) and eight assists against the Charlotte Bobcats. He’s taken an unconventional route to the NBA, but he’s making the most of his opportunity and has been one of the pleasant surprises of the preseason.
Eddy Curry, San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs added Curry to their roster on a non-guaranteed deal several days before training camp began. It was a low-risk, high-reward signing to see what the 29-year-old had left in the tank. Last year, Curry won a championship with the Miami HEAT, but played limited minutes throughout the season and appeared in just 14 games. After working hard over the offseason, Curry is determined to prove he belongs in an NBA rotation. The Spurs decided to cut Curry on Tuesday afternoon, but that doesn’t take away from what he was able to accomplish during the preseason. He was impressive during San Antonio’s training camp and produced when given the opportunity during the Spurs’ five preseason games. Curry averaged 8.4 points while shooting 68 percent from the field. He even started one game, putting up 11 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks. Players who work out with Curry each offseason rave about his game and swear that he’s still capable of being a significant contributor in the league, and his preseason production lines up with that. Don’t be surprised if another team signs Curry in the coming weeks – he received interest from several other franchises before inking his deal with the Spurs.
Perry Jones III, Oklahoma City Thunder – There were plenty of questions about Jones during the pre-draft process. He was inconsistent at Baylor and never seemed to play to his full potential. Then he was red-flagged for an issue with his meniscus, and some teams worried that the injury would require surgery and cause problems down the road. Now, the only question being asked is how did 28 teams pass on Jones? He has been outstanding during the preseason, averaging 10.8 points in 23.5 minutes as a reserve for the Thunder. He’s shooting 64.5 percent from the field, which is currently the fourth-highest field goal percentage in the league. Jones’ stats would be even better, but he’s been limited in two of Oklahoma City’s four preseason games. When given the chance to play 30 minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats, Jones delivered with a 17-point, five-assist, four-rebound performance. The jury is still out on Jones, but the Thunder have to feel good about their 28th overall pick after his preseason action.
Chris Copeland, New York Knicks – Copeland has never played in the NBA, but he has plenty of professional basketball experience. The 6’8 forward has played for teams in Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in addition to a stint in the NBA Development League. Copeland has been the epitome of a journeyman since going undrafted in 2006, but now it seems he’s on the verge of making the Knicks’ roster. Through five preseason games, Copeland has been extremely impressive, averaging 15.4 points in 22.4 minutes. Copeland began to turn heads when he scored 21 points in 19 minutes against the Boston Celtics. Then, one week later, Copeland had his coming out party in a rematch with the Celtics, finishing with 34 points and six rebounds. With Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined for the near future, it seems like Copeland will stick with the Knicks. Now if only he could play every game against Boston.
Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks – Crowder has been able to impact games on both ends of the court for the Mavericks. The second-round pick has been filling the stat sheet on a nightly basis, averaging 9.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals. While it’s unlikely that the 22-year-old will earn many minutes under Rick Carlisle, he has turned heads with his perimeter defense and scoring ability. Crowder enters the season buried on the depth chart behind swingman like O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, but he deserves credit for his outstanding preseason play. He does a little bit of everything and finds ways to help his team.
Who has surprised you in the preseason? Leave a comment below!