New Faces In New Places Around The NBA
Now that we’ve ventured well into NBA training camps and preseason, we wanted to take a look back at some of the new faces in new places following one of the more active offseasons in recent memory. Beyond the 13 new head coaches, or 43 percent of the potential 30 available positions, dozens of NBA players of all skill sets and calibers have also found their way into new surroundings as we head into 2013-14. As a reminder, yesterday, we examined some of the preseason’s key injuries that could impact the regular season. Here is a look at how some of those new faces have settled in:
Andre Iguodala – Golden State Warriors -
The Golden State Warriors knew exactly what they were doing when they brought snatched Andre Iguodala’s services from their conference-mate Denver Nuggets over the offseason. In Iguodala, the Warriors are not only adding one of the league’s better swingman defenders, but a veteran presence among a sea of early-20-something’s and a third-year head coach in Mark Jackson. Now, I’ve been on record that having three viable options for two starting positions could be a coach’s dream, but (admittedly) if could also lead to never ending nightmares when dealing with some of today’s professional athletes.
Much of why Jackson’s case is less of a concern for me than it has been for others centers around the collective temperament(s) of the individuals involved. With all that Iguodala brings to the table, having one of the league’s better-shooting two-guards in Klay Thompson is a nice luxury, but adding second-year Harrison Barnes to that mix gives the Warriors a true embarrassment of riches.
With versatile swingmen (players able to play both the shooting guard and small forward) playing such a large role in today’s NBA, having a glut of anything that can be utilized as an advantage is still preferred over the alternative. Again, turmoil among the ranks isn’t anticipated due to the personalities in question, but this will still be a situation worth keeping an eye on throughout the season.
Doc Rivers – Los Angeles Clippers- Head Coach, Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations
Rivers’ Clippers may only be a game into the preseason, but we’ve already had plenty of developments over the first couple weeks of training camp. For starters, Rivers (justifiably) put an end to the whole “Lob City” persona the team’s ‘growing’ fanbase so eagerly embraces. Rivers understands that while focusing on the lobs and exciting plays may make fans happy in December and January, for the Clippers to bring fans the ultimate joy of rooting for their team in May and June the team will need to focus on more than the Sportscenter highlights.
Outside of placing warranted responsibility upon Chris Paul’s worthy shoulders, Rivers has also taken steps to instill the type of focus and drive championship basketball requires within his young, athletic tandem at the power forward and center positions. Rivers has gone as far as to remind Blake Griffin that he can’t pick and choose when to be a leader, even paraphrasing Vince Lombardi’s famed quote, “Leadership isn’t a sometimes thing; it’s an all-the-time thing,” during the process.
The larger challenge may be finding a way to get De’Andre Jordan to duplicate the type of effort and productivity that led to the 16 point, eight rebound, four block (in 24 minutes) performance he churned out in the team’s lone preseason game (to date) against the Blazers. Like HOOPSWORLD’S Eric Pincus acknowledged, the Clippers’ eventual outcome could very well rest on the shoulders of Jordan, and be determined by Rivers’ ability/inability to draw a breakout season from his starting center.
Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets – Center
In a rare case where a “superstar” talent plays for his third team in consecutive seasons, Howard, to his credit, seems to be settling in to what will likely be his permanent residence for at least the next four-to-five years. There were those that questioned Howard’s initial desire to play beneath the scrutiny of a larger market, and going by what we’ve seen over the past few seasons they were probably right to have such reservations.
Houston, while not a small city by any stretch, permits Howard to play in the comfort of a franchise 18-years-removed from an NBA title. While fans and teammates alike are understandably excited over what these next few seasons could mean for the franchise, Howard doesn’t have nearly the amount of built-in pressure and immediate expectations he seemed very relieved to leave behind in Los Angeles.
Through his first couple preseason games, Howard looks about as fluid as he has for several seasons, from a physical standpoint. Questions still remain regarding the ultimate fit, as projected starting frontcourt mate Omer Asik has yet to play in the preseason due to a sore calf. Over the years, Howard has been susceptible to excess turnovers when attempting to navigate on offense when the lane is clogged. Since it shouldn’t be anticipated that Asik will somehow ‘magically’ morph into a floor-spacing power forward, some type of change seems likely for when (projected starter) Asik is available for action. We’ll all just have to wait and see whether that ends up being additional roster movement, or a simple lineup adjustment.
Mike Malone – Sacramento Kings – Head Coach
The offseason hiring of Malone not only meant a total completion of the new triumvirate of power atop the Sacramento Kings, but it also signified an entirely new direction and outlook regarding the team’s future. Having finished in either fourth or fifth in the Pacific Division every year since the start of the 2005-06 NBA season, the long-awaited security that came along with these changes and the knowledge of the ownership group’s desire to stay in Sacramento must have been absolute music to Kings’ fans collective ears.
Few people outside of Sacramento have nearly the appreciation for DeMarcus Cousins’ skillset and promise they should rightfully have. Granted, some of the on-court antics and emotional outbursts that plagued his progress early-on are likely the cause of a deflated sense of his actual value, but these Kings are literally banking on Cousins developing that superstar potential into his/their reality. With new, minority-owner Shaqille O’Neal reportedly on-board to personally mentor Cousins, Malone could have an even smoother transition than anticipated.
Alongside Cousins (just turned 23), Malone has a bevy of young, talented players to mold and develop. Greivis Vasquez, yet to play during the preseason due to an ankle injury, could be the perfect addition once healthy. At 6’6, Vasquez gives Malone the flexibility of being able to determine his backcourt based upon the matchup.
This team aren’t likely to end up being world-beaters, but don’t be surprised to see a significant improvement out of Sacramento over the next few seasons as Malone has time to get fully entrenched.
Eric Bledsoe – Phoenix Suns – Point/Shooting Guard
For fans unfamiliar with Bledsoe as a result of him playing in a reserve role behind Chris Paul for several years to start his career, he is literally a walking, sprinting, leaping ball of energy when on the court. With first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek reportedly planning on pushing the tempo at every opportunity, there may not have been a better option to pair with Goran Dragic in the backcourt of all available players in the offseason.
If Bledsoe’s 14 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 steals over his new team’s first two preseason games aren’t enough to prove how active he can be, just wait, as he will undoubtedly have several plays throughout the course of what could end up being a long season in the Valley of the Sun that will leave Suns fans nearly speechless.
Even though these Suns are likely one of the top candidates for the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, they should be an exciting group to watch. Judging by some of the numbers Bledsoe has already put up, he is certain to play a large part in that.