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Head to Head: Does The Preseason Matter?

Does the NBA preseason matter? Our writers discuss.

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People often say you can’t read too much into preseason games and that the preseason is of no consequence. In today’s Head to Head, Basketball Insiders’ Cody Taylor, Moke Hamilton and Jessica Camerato share their thoughts on whether or not the preseason matters.

It seems to be a pretty popular notion that preseason games don’t matter. The games are often overlooked in all sports, not just in the NBA. Teams tend to rest some of their veteran guys to keep them fresh for the regular season. Players usually rest in an attempt to limit the chances of potentially getting injured as well. Many preseason games weren’t even televised so it’s easy to see how these games are often overlooked.

But, that’s how preseason games are viewed from the fans’ perspective. Within organizations, preseason games do matter. They provide coaching staffs a chance to get their first glimpse at their new rosters against NBA-caliber opponents. This is especially important for coaches in their first year with a new team. While practices are a good time to see how prepared certain players are, nothing compares to the speed of a game. Equally, players are often excited to get a chance to play against different competition.

In the case of the Miami HEAT, this preseason was especially important for getting starting unit some playing time together. Their projected starting five of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside didn’t play a single minute together last season, and this preseason was their first time playing together during a game. The starting unit still has a lot of work to do, but this preseason provided them with valuable experience they can use and build on moving forward.

Training camps and preseason games also provide a time for players to make their mark on a team and for them to play their way onto the final roster. Coaches want to see how younger players approach game-time scenarios. They want to see how they prepare for a game. They want to see how the team executes the last two minutes when the game is on the line. Above all, they want to set a winning culture and that ultimately starts in training camp and in the preseason.

It’s also a time for coaches and players to earn the respect of each other. Players that show a willingness to dive for loose balls, take charges and do all of the dirty work could potentially earn more respect from the coaching staff, which could lead to more playing time. On the flip side of that, coaches can earn more respect from the players.

On Thursday night, there was a point in the game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers when head coaches Terry Stotts and Doc Rivers were seen shouting at each other on the sidelines. Stotts was said to be upset with how the Clippers’ bench reacted to the team coming back from a 35-point deficit and began yelling at Rivers to control his players. Stotts’ players took notice of that and loved what they saw.

“It just shows how invested he is into this team,’’ Damian Lillard said. “How passionate he is about all the time we have spent together so far, and the camaraderie we have grown together, not just the team but with our coaches also. He was in the trenches with us. It was a preseason game, coming down to the wire, and he was with us. So I was … it was good to see.’’

Although it looks like the league will consider shortening the preseason in the future, the games leading up to the regular season provides a crucial evaluation period for teams. We’ve already seen a number of guys this week be rewarded with a roster spot after strong preseason performances, which only further adds to the significance of the preseason. Fans may not be all in on the preseason, but a significant number of players and coaches are.

– Cody Taylor

Asking whether or not the preseason matters is like asking whether or not practice matters, and despite what Allen Iverson may have tried to lead us to believe in the past, the simple answer is…

“YES, IT MATTERS!”

NBA players are just like normal human beings (at least, in some ways). These guys play basketball for a living and they spend a great part of the calendar year being told where to be, when to be there, when they can see their families and how late they can sleep. For all but a few teams, by Memorial Day, players are free to do as they like and they are actually able to enjoy their money and status by going on extended family vacations and doing and seeing things that their occupations simply will not allow them to during the season.

The most responsible players won’t completely “let themselves go” during the offseason, but most players will return to camp with a little bit of sogginess in their midsection and with no semblance of the endurance that is required for NBA-level competition. That is why the preseason is important; it gives players an opportunity to perform in a dress rehearsal and get themselves acclimated to the physical endurance required for competition. Injury concerns are high enough as it is, but I can almost guarantee that more players would be getting hurt during the first month of the season if we nixed the preseason.

So, yes, it matters—but only from a conditioning standpoint.

In terms of competition and results, I would say that it doesn’t. Most players play half speed and in years past, the most successful preseason teams do not often fare well in the regular season. Similarly, the highest scorers do not often approach their productivity come regular season.

One thing I would like see changed, personally, is for season ticket holders to not have to pay for preseason games. Each team plays 41 regular season home games and three preseason home games. Each season ticket holder, by contract, is required to pay for all 44 games, and they are the same price. That seems unfair to me.

But, despite what anyone would lead you to believe, preseason (and practice) both matter and are very important to the NBA ecosystem.

(Sorry, Allen Iverson).

– Moke Hamilton

The preseason matters in terms of building a foundation for the upcoming regular season, but wins and losses earned during this period should not be used as a barometer to project a team’s outlook.

Each organization has its own set of priorities during training camp. Some have vacancies on their roster they are looking to fill. Others are looking to build their team around high draft picks and use this time to begin teaching them the NBA ropes. Then there are teams that signed big-name free agents and have to introduce them to the system. The needs vary across the NBA.

Compare the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, as an example. For the Timberwolves, it is imperative to get 2015 first pick Karl-Anthony Towns acclimated as he will be a focal point his rookie season. During this time, Towns is learning on the court as well as receiving waves of knowledge from Kevin Garnett and other veteran teammates. Towns, who will become a centerpiece, needs to get in-game experience in the preseason.

On the flip side, the Cavaliers have to make sure LeBron James is ready to go for the regular season. For that reason, he was sidelined from training camp participation with a back issue. It is more important for Cleveland’s star player to be healthy than log exhibition minutes in October.

Coaches use this time to identify their rotations. On the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens is experimenting with various lineups. He has been tinkering with the starting five to find the best fit for returning players as well as newcomers like David Lee and Amir Johnson. When a team has depth, training camp is useful to mix and match different combinations and find effective rotations.

While many players begin working out together before camp, the preseason is important for creating team chemistry. Those that travel overseas for exhibition games have unique team-building opportunities by spending non-stop time with one another.

The final results of preseason games do not matter, but there are many benefits to be had in the weeks leading up to the regular season.

– Jessica Camerato

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