NBA Stats

Oct 15 2013 8:02PM

First Impressions from the Preseason

By Brian Martin

How much can really be learned from games that don't count toward the final standings? More than you might think. The preseason is the first time we have a chance to see offseason acquisitions with their new teams, it's the second time (after the Summer League) that we can see the rookie class against NBA competition and it can be our first look (in a while) at players coming off injuries.

Here are 10 first impressions -- and some numbers to go along with them -- from the first 10 days of preseason.

1. Welcome Back, Derrick (we hope)

This piece of video illustrates two things beautifully:

  1. The first 30 seconds serve as a reminder of how special Derrick Rose is on the basketball court.
  2. That's followed by a look at how much of the Bulls' offense funnels through Rose, based on leaders in usage rate in 2011-12 (Rose's last season before the injury).
    • Carmelo Anthony (36.3%)
    • Kobe Bryant (35.6%)
    • Derrick Rose (34.4%)
    • LeBron James (33.2%)

We likely won't see that level of usage early on in the season and Rose shakes off the rust -- it's been 17 months since his last real NBA action.

But what we've seen in the preseason -- in limited minutes -- are glimpses of the player that earned 2010-11 MVP honors and pushed the Bulls back to championship contention.

"I knew I was going to play the same way," Rose said after his first preseason game. "Play aggressive, make them stop me, but get out in the open floor. They (teammates) hit me in practice. If I was going to the hole they're going to foul me the same way. I was used to it. I'm used to getting hit, falling, slipping, all that stuff. I got that out of the way in training camp."

The numbers themselves aren't eye-popping, but at this point they don't need to be. What does catch the eye is the level of aggressiveness Rose that Rose is playing with and the explosive moves he's been able to execute.


While things got off to a promising start, Rose was held out of the Bulls' game against the Washington Wizards in Brazil on Saturday after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired knee. The Bulls are being cautious with the 25-year-old point guard during training camp/preseason as he prepares for the long 82-game season ahead.

"My knee was good," Rose told reporters on Monday. "I never was worried about it. I could have played (Saturday in Rio). But the front office made a decision to sit me out. My health is No. 1."

Let's keep an eye on Rose's usage rate as the season progresses and see if he gets back to his 2011 level once again.

2. OKC without Russell Westbrook

Before getting hurt in Game 2 of Oklahoma City's opening round playoff matchup with the Houston Rockets, Russell Westbrook never missed a game. Not in the NBA. Not in college. Not in high school.

The Thunder played nine games without Westbrook in the Playoffs before bowing out in the Western Conference Semifinals, and they'll now face the first 4-6 weeks of the 2013-14 season without their starting point guard, who needed additional surgery on the knee he injured last postseason

In the Playoffs, the Thunder went 3-6 and saw a dramatic decline in their offensive efficiency (110.2 points per 100 possessions in the regular season with Westbrook; 100.3 points per 100 in the nine games he missed in the playoffs). The injury moved Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup and put more pressure on Kevin Durant to carry the team.

Durant had a 29.8% usage rate during the regular season, which ranked fourth-highest in the league behind Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Westbrook. It jumped to 32.8% with Westbrook out; only Anthony (37.0%) had a higher usage rate during that time.

The Thunder will be more prepared to play without Westbrook this time , however. And they'll need to be: he will miss approximately 13 games if he is out four weeks and 21 games if he is out for six weeks.

Facing a quarter of their season without their floor general, the Thunder will need Jackson to step into the starting lineup again and help fill the void. And with the departure of Kevin Martin in free agency, the Thunder will need a player like Jeremy Lamb to provide some additional scoring punch on the wing.

Through two preseason games, Jackson has looked sharp, averaging 19 points, 6.5 assists and shooting over 60 percent from the field in just under 30 minutes per game. Meanwhile Lamb has been unable to find his shot, shooting just 28.6 percent from the field and eight percent from 3-point range in 35.5 minutes per game.


"A guy like Reggie Jackson played his tail off and learned a lot," Kevin Durant said. "And that's going to help him this season."

3. Lakers without Kobe (and Dwight)

Let's finish the injury-related section of this story with a look at the Lakers, who will be without Kobe Bryant for the foreseeable future as he continues to recover from tearing his Achilles tendon late last season. They will also go without Dwight Howard, who opted to sign with the Houston Rockets as a free agent rather than return to the purple and gold.

The Lakers have brought a few new faces -- Nick Young, Chris Kaman -- and a few familiar faces -- Jordan Farmar and coaches Kurt Rambis and Mark Madsen -- into the fold as they reshape their roster and try to stay in the playoff picture in the deep Western Conference.

After spraining his ankle in last Friday's preseason loss to the Kings in Las Vegas, Steve Nash is participating fully in practice and was able to play in Tuesday's game against the Warriors in China (eight points, four assists in 18 minutes). Bryant, meanwhile, is still looking to get back to a full practice before he can look ahead to when he could possibly suit up for the Lakers this season.

With Kobe out and Dwight gone, Pau Gasol will serve as a focal point of the Lakers' offense, and, as such, has seen a lot of touches early in the preseason. Gasol has averaged 13.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists in just over 24 minutes on the floor during the Lakers' first five preseason games.

Gasol is coming off of the least productive season in his brilliant 12-year career -- posting career-lows in points (13.7 ppg) and field-goal percentage (46.6%) in 2012-13. He missed 33 games due to injury and was often relegated to the perimeter, with Howard playing the post in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.

Now Gasol is back to his natural position and with Bryant out and the 39-year-old Nash expected to play limited minutes this season, he will need to help carry the Lakers early this season.

4. Anthony Davis ready to make a leap

Last year's No. 1 overall pick averaged 13.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his rookie campaign, finishing second to Damian Lillard in the Rookie of the Year race.

In each of the Pelicans' four preseason games Davis has scored over 20 points, something he did 10 times during his entire rookie season. His 29-point 9-rebound effort against the Magic surpassed his top-scoring game of his rookie season (28).

"He's worked on his game," Monty Williams said of Davis. "He spent a lot of time in the gym this summer to prepare for the things that he couldn't do last year. And he's only scratching the surface. He's going to get better."

G1 (@ Rockets): 21 pts, 3 reb, 2 blk
G2 (@ Mavericks): 25 pts, 7 reb, 1 blk
G3 (@ Magic): 29 pts, 9 reb, 4 blk
G4 (vs Hawks): 23 pts, 9 reb, 1 blk


"I've been in the gym with some of the coaches working on my stuff and I'm just trying to put it to use," Davis said. "I know it's preseason, but we're trying to send a message that we're trying to be one of those top tier teams in the West."

While much of the talk around the Pelicans has surrounded their offseason acquisitions in the backcourt -- Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans -- don't overlook the sophomore leap that appears to be on the horizon for Mr. Davis.

5. Is Lob City Really Dead?

"Lob City doesn't exist anymore. Lob City is done. We're moving on and we're going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City."

Those were the words of Blake Griffin, declaring the end of the term he and DeAndre Jordan coined upon hearing about the arrival of Chris Paul to the Clippers two years ago.

In each of the last two seasons, the Clippers led the league in alley-oop dunks with 107 in 2011-12 and 148 in 2012-13. The Clippers' 148 alley-oops last season alone is more than every other team over the past two years combined, with the exception of the Denver Nuggets (206 total).

San Antonio was the antithesis of Lob City, posting just five alley-oops over the last two seasons combined, with only one in all of 2012-13. Check out a full breakdown of alley oops by team for the past two seasons below.

While Griffin and the Clippers may have retired the moniker of Lob City, the alley-oop should still be a part of their offensive arsenal. It's a pretty high percentage shot.

2012-13: 148 dunks on 159 attempts (93.1%)
2011-12: 107 dunks on 115 attempts (93.0%)

And the first two games of the preseason have shown us three things:

  1. The alley-oop is still alive and well in Clipper land. They have converted six alley-oops in two games (four vs Portland and two vs Utah).
  2. DeAndre Jordan is the oop guy, converting five of the six alley-oops for the Clippers. The other was finished by Brandon Davies.
  3. While Blake Griffin does not have any alley-oop dunks through the first two preseason games, he does have two alley-oop assists.

Lob City can't be completely dead if the guy that declared it gone is throwing the lobs?

Alley-Oops By Team, Last Two Seasons

Eastern Conference12-1311-12Total
Atlanta Hawks442569
Boston Celtics362561
Brooklyn Nets112839
Charlotte Bobcats203050
Chicago Bulls131124
Cleveland Cavaliers231134
Detroit Pistons471966
Indiana Pacers261541
Miami Heat6051111
Milwaukee Bucks23932
New York Knicks8066144
Orlando Magic143145
Philadelphia 76ers271744
Toronto Raptors422163
Washington Wizards286795

Western Conference12-1311-12Total
Dallas Mavericks121830
Denver Nuggets14759206
Golden State Warriors201636
Houston Rockets192544
Los Angeles Clippers148107255
Los Angeles Lakers6384147
Memphis Grizzlies392665
Minnesota Timberwolves542680
New Orleans Hornets67572
Oklahoma City Thunder254368
Phoenix Suns141731
Portland Trail Blazers6339102
Sacramento Kings122234
San Antonio Spurs145
Utah Jazz303767

6. Can LeBron win Defensive Player of the Year?

There isn't much hardware missing from LeBron James' trophy case. But one item he would like to add is the Defensive Player of the Year award. To say he was disappointed to finish as the runner-up to Marc Gasol for last year's award is an understatement.

According to the Palm Beach Post:

"It sucks," James said. "It sucks. It sucks."

James was asked if his candidacy for other awards -- notably the MVP -- hurt his chances. "I don't know," James said. "It definitely sucks, though. Finishing second? Who wants to finish second?"

Was this his best defensive season? "Probably," James said. "I mean, I guard everybody on the floor. I don't know if there's one player in NBA history who's guarded one through five (positions). It's over with now, but that's cool."

James has finished as the runner-up for the award twice (2012-13, 2008-09), has two fourth-place finishes (2011-12, 2009-10) and one ninth-place finish (2010-11).

The last time a non-big-man won Defensive Player of the Year came in James' rookie year when Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest) took home the award. Looking back at the history of the trophy, which debuted at the end of the 1982-83 season, it has been dominated by big men.

Only a handful of perimeter players have been selected for the honor, and most of them came early: Sidney Moncreif in 1982-83 and 1983-84; Alvin Robertson in 1985-86; Michael Cooper in 1986-87 and Michael Jordan in 1987-88.

After Jordan won the award 25 years ago, only two perimeter players have held the DPOY title: Gary Payton in 1995-96 and Artest in 2003-04.

Can James be the one to break through and end the reign of the big men that have hauled this trophy home for the past decade? His coach, Erik Spoelstra, thinks so.

"This year, it would be great to see him be acknowledged for the defensive work that he does," Spoelstra said at the Heat's media day. "There's no one else in the league that can do what he does. He's been banging on that door, getting close. I don't want it to be a campaign. It has to be earned. But he has that type of potential to be Defensive Player of the Year."

7. Monta's Impressive Debut in Big D

Last season for the Milwaukee Bucks, Monta Ellis averaged 19.1 points on just 41.6 percent shooting from the field and 28.7 percent from three (the worst percentage among the league leaders in 3FGM). He signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent this offseason and it looks like the change of scenery -- and teaming up with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki -- is serving him well.


The most efficient season of Ellis' eight-year career came in 2007-08 as a member of the Golden State Warriors. That year he shot a career best 53.1% from the field (the only time he's eclipsed the 50-percent plateau) and posted an on-court offensive rating of 110.1 -- meaning the Warriors scored 110.1 points per 100 possessions with Ellis on the court. His defensive rating that year was 106.5, which led to an on-court net rating of +3.6 -- the best mark of his career and the last time he posted a positive number in this category.

And while he shot his lowest percentage from 3-point range that season (23.1 percent), he only attempted 52 threes in 81 games. Over the past few seasons, Ellis had become more of a volume 3-point shooter and has vowed to get back to attacking the basket and settling for less threes.

Through three preseason games, Ellis has shot 14-of-28 (50 percent) from the field and 4-of-8 (50 percent) from 3-point range. He's averaged 13.3 points and 6.7 assists against only 1.3 turnovers -- an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.15 compared to his career-best of 1.95 in each of the past two seasons.

8. Danny Granger Returns for Indy

The Pacers won the Central Division last year and pushed the Heat to the limit in the Eastern Conference Finals with former All-Star Danny Granger wearing a suit rather than a uniform. Granger played in just five games all season due to a knee injury.

There are many questions about Granger's role on the team once he returns: Will he be a starter? Will he come off the bench? Can he return to All-Star form? Will he be a complimentary piece to the core of Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill? Of course the only way to get answers to those questions is to get out and play and see how his knee, and his game, responds.

While he has yet to start a game in the preseason, Granger has led the Pacers in minutes played at 29.0 per contest through three games.


"It was a good first step. My second wind didn't kick in during the first half like it usually does, but it was good to get that under my belt. ... I'm still testing (my knee) and trying to figure out things on it, but to play 28 minutes, that's not far from a regular game," said Granger following the preseason opener.

"He looked a little rusty, clearly. And I wouldn't expect anything besides that. What I saw is he looked healthy. He looked like he was moving fine, cutting fine, playing hard and the game timing and game conditioning is part of this month's process of what we call 'the final phase of his recover," said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.

Let's attribute Granger's 27.3 field goal percentage to the rust that Vogel mentioned after the first preseason game. With five more preseason games before the season opens at the end of the month, hopefully Granger will be rust-free and pain-free come November.

9. Truly a Global Game

With the China Games underway between the Lakers and Warriors, the NBA is close to closing the preseason portion of the 2013-14 Global Games. There will be two regular season games played outside the United States, with games in Mexico and the United Kingdom on tap.

Let's take a look at the NBA Global Games by the Numbers:

2: First time playing international regular-season games in two countries (Mexico and United Kingdom)

4: Places NBA games will be played for the first time (Brazil, Philippines, Bilbao, Spain and Manchester, England)

10: NBA Cares events being held in nine cities in eight countries on four continents

12: NBA Legends traveling to interact with fans around the world

20: International players from the NBA participating in Global Games 2013

146 and 20: Following these games, the NBA will have staged 146 games (regular season and preseason) in 20 countries and territories across Europe, the Americas and Asia since 1978

215: Countries and territories where Global Games 2013 will be broadcast

1,138: Media credentials issued

116,341: Miles NBA teams collectively will travel

10. A second Look at the Rooks

After giving us a glimpse of the future in the Summer League, the 2013-14 rookie class enters the preseason with a chance to show what they can do and find their role on their respective teams.

Friday night gave us a matchup between the top two picks in the 2013 Draft as Anthony Bennett and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced Victor Oladipo and the Orlando Magic.

Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick, scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Cavs rallied for a 110-105 victory over the Magic. It was an interesting night for Bennett, who missed his first five shots and picked up five fouls before hitting his last six field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers. Oladipo, the No. 2 pick, paced the Magic with 18 points and eight rebounds.

Through three games, Oladipo leads the Magic in scoring (13.3 points per game), rebounding (8.0), assists (5.3) and steals (2.0). Meanwhile, Bennett has played a complimentary role to the Cavs' young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristin Thompson. Through two games, Bennett has averaged 11.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.

A trio of rookies from the top 10 are currently have been sidelined with injuries since training camps opened, including No. 3 pick Otto Porter, whose hip injury has left him unable to practice, let alone play in the preseason. Joining Porter on the mend are Utah's Trey Burke (broken finger) and Portland's CJ McCollum (foot).