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NBA PM: Six Preseason Lessons Learned

The Cavs are going to be as exciting offensively as they will be disappointing defensively (and five other revelations).

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The NBA preseason wraps up Friday night, which means teams get one last weekend to prepare and/or rest ahead of the first regular season games, which take place this coming Tuesday.

With nearly a month’s worth of training camp in the books, it’s time for us to look back and break down some of the lessons we learned about certain players and teams. While it’s true that the preseason doesn’t always translate to the regular season, there have been quite a few pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises this fall. Here are a few of the most essential:

Cleveland Really Is Going to Have Some Problems Defensively

Let’s start by saying that for every concerned person that exists because of Cleveland’s undersized and underwhelming defensive frontcourt rotation, there’s two more that are equally as excited about how good the transition offense is going to be. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James should absolutely have their way with opposing transition defenses (especially with Kevin Love throwing his famous outlet passes), and there’s no question that they’re going to be ridiculously exciting to watch on that end of the floor.

Defensively, though, as we feared, the Cavaliers are going to have some issues. There is no Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen equivalent on this roster to protect the rim, which has allowed opposing guards to attack the bucket at will this preseason when facing Cleveland. Part of that is a lack of defensive talent and a lack of height in the frontcourt, but part of that also boils down to chemistry and learning the defensive rotations. They’ll get better as the year goes on, but don’t be surprised if quite a few of Cleveland’s early victories come because they outscored an opponent, rather than beating them on both ends of the floor.

This Is Going to Be a Huge Year for Jimmy Butler

While it’s possible that Butler will miss the beginning of the season with a wrist injury, there’s no doubt that he was one of the most impressive players on the Chicago roster this preseason. With so much attention on the health of Derrick Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol, it was easy to miss Butler averaging nearly 16 PPG on only 8.5 field goal attempts per game, all while shooting 59 percent from the floor and posting a PER of 33.42.

Coming off a year in which he struggled offensively, this was a great preseason for him. A good offensive year added to his status as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders could mean he’s on his way to earning a max deal or close to it. This is a contract year for him, giving him even more motivation to improve upon last year’s dismal shooting campaign.

The Boston Celtics Are Going to Be Interesting

They’re not necessarily going to be good, but the Celtics are certainly going to be fun to watch. They took a ton of three-pointers in the preseason (and actually hit them at a pretty fairly accurate clip) and also defended the ball relatively well.

Rookie point guard Marcus Smart, for example, is already locking down NBA scorers pretty effectively, as he’s one a few rookies with a big-league body. That, combined with his smarts on the court, have him looking like an early contender for Rookie of the Year, especially if Rajon Rondo ends up getting traded.

It’s going to be another long season in terms of wins and losses, but there are a lot of good things happening in Boston right now, and Brad Stevens is at the helm of it all.

Oklahoma City Still Hasn’t Figured Out How To Replace Durant

To be clear, it’s impossible to replace an MVP player, but Jeremy Lamb, who has been given quite the opportunity to see some big minutes this preseason, has failed miserably. A heel issue forced him to sit out the last two games of the preseason, but up until that point he posted a miserable 30.4/14.3/77.1 line of shooting percentages while taking more shots per game than anybody in the preseason other than Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant.

Andre Roberson and Perry Jones III were also players expected to be given an opportunity to step into the minutes left behind by Durant’s injury, but it’s starting to look like we’re going to see a lot more Reggie Jackson than we expected. Scott Brooks is pretty stubborn about his substitution patterns, which means Lamb will still earn plenty of minutes, but if he plays like this all season, they won’t be pretty minutes. Roberson, as uninteresting as he is, may be the safer guy to start, and Jackson is certainly more reliable.

Steve Kerr Is Making Golden State’s Offense Even Better

Anybody who’s watched the Warriors the last few years knows that they’ve been a pretty exciting team, particularly offensively, as they instituted a run-and-gun flow under Mark Jackson that turned Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry into two of the most respected volume three-point shooters in the league.

The three-pointers aren’t going to stop raining down this year; they’re just going to come in a different way. Kerr preaches ball movement a lot more, and based on what we’ve seen in the preseason there are going to be a lot of open looks for those deep bombers, Thompson in particular.

Remember that Golden State wouldn’t trade Thompson as the centerpiece in a Kevin Love trade. The fact that he’s due for a big year likely bodes well for his proving he was worth keeping.

Carmelo Is Going to Be Frustrated This Year

For a couple of reasons, Carmelo Anthony may find himself wishing very quickly that he’d signed with the Chicago Bulls this offseason instead of the Knicks. For starters, it sounds as if he’ll be playing more at the three than the four this season to create minutes for Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Smith, which isn’t the end of the world, but Anthony has had much more documented success the last couple of seasons facing up against power forwards than he has small forwards.

To get the most out of Anthony (and frankly, to get the most out of the team), he needs to play at the four; what other way will there be to get Iman Shumpert on the floor with Tim Hardaway, Jr., or Hardaway, Jr. with J.R. Smith, or Smith with Shumpert?

Beyond that, the triangle isn’t necessarily an offense that works to Anthony’s strengths. He himself has said that he doesn’t expect to be in contention for the scoring title this year because that’s just not the way the triangle offense works for someone playing his position. He may or may not be right, but the reality is that there will be an adjustment for him in this new offense, which could translate to some struggles, especially early on.

How much of the good and the bad of the preseason will spill over to the regular season? That’s what we’ll find out starting on Tuesday. Meanwhile, games wrap up Friday night, giving fans one last opportunity to see where there team is headed for the 2014-2015 campaign.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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