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Six NBA Preseason Lessons Learned

The preseason is in the books, so here are six lessons we learned from the exhibition games.

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The preseason is in the books and the NBA season officially gets underway on Tuesday. Knowing that, here are six lessons we learned from the 2015-16 preseason:

#1 – Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard seem primed for career years.

Before everyone was talking about how many points Kyle Lowry was pouring in during the preseason, the big story about Lowry was that he lost a significant amount of weight in the offseason to help him stay healthier over the course of the grueling NBA campaign. While he has been fairly healthy the last two seasons, Lowry does have a history of getting dinged up and losing weight is a great way to approach correcting that heading into a new season.

Regarding those points, though, Lowry looked like the league’s preseason MVP through his first three contests, averaging over 30 PPG in that time, including a 40-point performance in under 30 minutes back on October 12. His final two performances of the preseason were much more human, but we’ve seen just how effective Lowry can be and how much his new body type has helped his effectiveness. He’s in for a big year.

Damian Lillard, meanwhile, could lead the league in scoring for an extremely young and inexperienced Portland team that is going to need him to put up points in bunches. He averaged 26 PPG for the preseason but scored 32 and 39 points in the two games where he played over 30 minutes. His percentages may be ugly, but he’s about to be an offensive powerhouse in the NBA, just like everyone expected once last year’s Blazers starters scattered this past offseason.

#2 – The Oklahoma City Thunder are back.

Last year was no fun with former MVP Kevin Durant missing the bulk of the season and not looking at all like himself in the few times that he was able to play. But this preseason, it’s absolutely clear that Durant is back to his old self and should play some of the best all-around basketball in the league this season, just like the good ol’ days.

Durant played modest minutes in his five preseason appearances, but over his last two games in which he averaged 30 minutes, Durant scored 52 points on only 19 field goal attempts. He rebounded well and played stellar defense, too, which should really help the Thunder get back on track this year.

Obviously Russell Westbrook is still a force, and he and Durant showed no rust in getting back into the swing of sharing the ball. Serge Ibaka is healthy, Dion Waiters is playing surprisingly well and everybody seems to love Billy Donovan’s offense. The vibes are good around Oklahoma City right now. Not that the Western Conference needed more competition, but the Thunder look as good as any team heading into the season.

#3 – The Miami HEAT’s swingman rotation is going to be a lot of fun.

NBA.com ran a “Top 10 Dunks of the Preseason” video on Monday that in truth could have been renamed, “Top 7 Gerald Green Dunks of the Preseason With A Few Others Sprinkled In Unnecessarily.” Green, who led the HEAT in scoring during the preseason with 17.8 PPG, looked as good as he has in a couple of years and while he won’t be the featured offensive weapon in the regular season, he’s putting up these numbers in under 22 minutes per night, which means it’s not ridiculous to assume that some of this could be sustainable. He already is looking like one of the steals of the offseason, as our own Alex Kennedy predicted he’d be in August.

Justise Winslow wasn’t as productive as Green statistically but he also looked strong in the preseason, and with both Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade nearing the end of their careers with plenty of miles on their odometers, both Winslow and Green could be asked to play bigger roles for the HEAT at times this year. Based on the way things have kicked off, though, that really shouldn’t be a problem. Assuming Chris Bosh stays healthy, Miami could be the comeback team of the year.

#4 – The Dallas Mavericks are in trouble.

John Jenkins aside, the Mavericks did not exit the preseason with a whole lot of good vibrations. They finished their series of exhibition games with exactly zero wins, just behind some of the European teams who scrimmaged against NBA teams this autumn. Maccabi Tel Aviv and Fenerbahce Ulker, for example, each won a game against their NBA opponents whereas the Mavericks could not.

Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews got in some minutes for the final preseason game, but neither player is at 100 percent and Chandler Parsons still isn’t back on the court yet. All three guys are aiming for an opening night return, but that may be unrealistic or at the very least unwise assuming Parsons or Matthews isn’t fully healthy when they decide to come back.

Whatever the opening night starting lineup looks like, it already has become clear that the DeAndre Jordan hangover continues to linger and that this very likely will be a long season for the Mavericks.

#5 – The Chicago Bulls have way more talent than they need in the frontcourt.

Rookie power forward Bobby Portis was the revelation of the preseason, putting up big numbers in his first six games as an NBA player and proving what a steal he was at No. 22 in the 2015 NBA Draft. In his first six games (excluding his final appearance, in which he played only nine minutes), Portis averaged 12.2 PPG and 10 RPG, easily some of the better numbers among all rookies and more than enough to carve out at least a small role for himself in a crowded Bulls frontcourt.

That crowded Bulls frontcourt will be the problem for Portis, though it’s an incredible advantage for Chicago, especially with so many of those big guys coming off of injuries or just heading toward the end of their career. Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah all have had their injury issues over the course of the last few years, and Gasol in particular has played in just shy of 1,100 games including the playoffs, so having the depth that Portis and second-year standout Nikola Mirotic provide is a lucky thing.

Chicago could make a trade if they felt so inclined (there is a dearth at the swing positions), but there’s no rush to get Portis involved and the depth is good considering the personnel. This is a frontcourt rotation that is going to beat up and wear out a whole lot of teams this year.

#6 – The Washington Wizards could have the East’s most effective offense.

Even before the preseason began, many people were predicting that the Washington Wizards were in for a good season. Now that they’ve gotten some games under their belt, it has become clear just how efficient they could be on the offensive end this upcoming season.

Jake Whitacre of Bullets Forever assembled a pretty nice list of Washington’s preseason accomplishments, which breaks down that they led the NBA in points, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, offensive rating and fast break points. They also were second in field goal percentage, took (and made) a ton of three-pointers and saw both John Wall and Bradley Beal continue along their individual paths of prolonged dominance. Wall didn’t score a ton, but he did average 8.5 assists in only 22.7 minutes per game, while Beal averaged 15 points playing only 22.8 minutes per contest. Those numbers will get significantly more impressive when both are playing 30-34 minutes a night.

Big things are coming for this Washington team, and the preseason only teased them.

These six lessons learned should usher us neatly into the upcoming NBA season, but plenty could change once the games start counting. The Thunder and Wizards could be one injury away from all those good vibrations reverberating off into the horizon, while the Mavericks absolutely could turn things around if healthy. As great as Bobby Portis has been in the preseason, there’s no way he’ll get the minutes to duplicate that success in the regular season, and Kyle Lowry might not have made as big a leap as we think.

All that uncertainty is what makes the upcoming season so exciting, and the good news is that it won’t be upcoming for much longer.

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

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