With a good chunk of the 2013 NBA preseason in the rearview mirror, it's time to break down some of the early surprises and disappointments around the Association.
We're not going to put much stock in wins and losses. Coaches are still tinkering with rosters, and many high-profile players are getting heavy rest. Instead, we're looking for head-turning performances, unexpected trends and early letdowns.
Who has caught us off guard so far?
Surprise: DeAndre Jordan's Two-Way Presence
The last time we saw DeAndre Jordan, he faded quietly into the offseason with a horrendous 2013 first-round playoff series.
He's quickly erasing that memory, putting up monster numbers for the Los Angeles Clippers on both ends of the floor. Jordan is scoring in a variety of ways (but still flushing a steady diet of lobs), and he's swatting shots at a colossal rate.
The breakout potential was there. We just didn't expect video-game numbers.
He's using both hands to finish, demonstrating good court sense on slip screens and exhibiting improved timing while shot-blocking.
If that's what Jordan can do after just a few weeks of Doc Rivers' tutelage and motivation, Clippers fans should be ecstatic about what he can do by the year's end.
His statistics will come back down to earth once the regular season starts, but his upgraded skills will aid the club all season long.
Surprise: Taj Gibson's Massive Impact
The Chicago Bulls and most of the league knew Taj Gibson was good, but he's turning heads this autumn with his all-around game, and even Bulls fans are impressed.
Gibson is sporting a refined jumper and a confident low-post repertoire to go along with his usual energy and defense. He's shooting extremely efficiently from the floor and gobbling up rebounds left and right.
Tom Thibodeau has to love the presence and numbers Gibson is supplying. The fifth-year pro is poised to be one of the best backup forwards in the game.
There was never a gigantic drop-off in impact when Carlos Boozer went to the bench and Gibson checked in. It looks like Gibson has closed the gap even more, ensuring that the Bulls are a 48-minute machine.
Expect more Gibson-related highlights and double-doubles throughout the season.
Surprise: Tim Hardaway Jr. Exceeding Expectations in Big Apple
As a late first-round pick (24th overall), New York Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. needed to prove his worth to earn playing time in 2013-14. He had some impressive stretches in summer league, but we wanted to see what he could do alongside big league performers.
He thrived in his preseason debut, posting 16 points and drilling the game-winning bucket.
The eye-opening outing was enough to earn him some regular-season love from head coach Mike Woodson.
Hardaway has notched double-digit points three times this preseason, but it's not just the shooting and scoring that are impressive.
He's playing confident and smart, and he passes and rebounds well for a shooting guard. Hardaway seems comfortable in his role and should get substantial minutes as a part of New York's crowded backcourt.
When he was drafted, there were mixed opinions about whether he'd make an immediate impact. Through four preseason games, it looks like he could be a key contributor in the Knicks' title quest.
Surprise: Omri Casspi Quickly Jelling with Houston Rockets
After seeing his role diminish over the last three years on the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers, Israeli forward Omri Casspi signed a modest deal with the Houston Rockets.
Thus far, the Rockets are glad they picked him up. He scored 20 points in his debut and followed that up with 17 and 13-point outings. Casspi cooled off from the field in his most recent performance but dished five assists.
He's proving to be much more than a stretch-4 gunner. The Rockets love his ability to fill the lane, finish and connect with teammates as a passer.
If he keeps it up, he'll earn a much bigger role than the Rockets anticipated. Casspi gives Kevin McHale more flexibility, as he can play power forward but also step out and score from the perimeter.
We don't expect him to explode for a star-caliber season, but his hot start gives a glimpse of what could be a productive year on a playoff squad.
Surprise: Anthony Davis Ready for Superstardom, New Orleans Pelicans Ready for Playoffs?
If his preseason production is any indication, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis will be making the jump to superstardom a lot sooner than we all expected.
After a solid (but not outstanding) rookie season, Davis has torn up exhibition play, averaging 23.2 points on 53 percent shooting.
ESPN Insider Chad Ford weighed in on Davis being ranked the 33rd-best NBA player by ESPN.com:
Davis is moving extremely well without the ball, working along the baseline to find soft spots to catch and finish. His face-up game and post-up skills are also promising. He's a matchup nightmare for most players in the league.
Add his usual cagey defense and end-to-end energy, and you have a beast in the making.
His versatility and consistency are big reasons the Pelicans are 5-0 in the preseason and have an outside chance to steal a playoff spot this year.
Disappointment: The Milwaukee Bucks
There's still some time for the Milwaukee Bucks to right the ship and become competitive in the middle tier of the Eastern Conference in 2013-14.
However, I'm not about to give them a pass for the ugly preseason.
The winless Bucks have failed to eclipse 90 points in three of their four preseason contests. Even in a game in which the Cleveland Cavaliers coughed up the ball 26 times, Milwaukee struggled to capitalize and posted just 87 points.
Speaking of turnovers, it seems like every rotational player has suffered a rash of giveaways, as the team is averaging 20.5 per game.
Some of the shortcomings are a product of weak chemistry, which they hope to sort out once they play together more. The Bucks were unable to maintain the lead against a Memphis Grizzlies squad playing without Zach Randolph, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller and Kosta Koufos.
It's looking like the Bucks have the early edge to claim the Central Division basement.
Disappointment: Trey Burke's Finger Fracture
All injuries are disappointing, but this one was really a bummer for the Utah Jazz and Trey Burke.
In his third preseason game, the rookie point guard broke his right index finger against the Los Angeles Clippers. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Burke will be out for roughly six weeks.
That means the youngster is slated for a return in late November or early December. The promising prospect had a rocky summer league, so it would have been nice for him to have a substantial preseason to get comfortable. Now he'll be thrown right into the fray once healthy.
Meanwhile, the Jazz are left to figure out their point guard situation just a couple of weeks prior to opening night. Alec Burks and John Lucas III will likely see some reps, although Utah may look elsewhere to find a fill-in.
We didn't anticipate an exciting playoff run for the Jazz, but we did hope to see Burke's NBA career start off smoothly.
Disappointment: Mario Chalmers' Inconsistency
One night, he's tossing assists smoothly, defending expertly and swiping steals in bunches. Next time out, he's racking up turnovers and shooting atrociously.
Not the kind of steadiness the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat want from their starting point guard.
Chalmers is shooting a paltry 29 percent from the field so far this preseason. He's also had three games of three-plus turnovers and a handful of flops along the way. His worst performance came in Miami's recent loss to the Washington Wizards:
Miami doesn't need Chalmers to be a 17-point, seven-assist player in 2013-14. However, he does need to take care of the ball and avoid foul trouble. At this point in his career, he shouldn't be struggling with those tasks.
Erik Spoelstra hopes this is just a rough patch, or maybe it's Chalmer's not-so-funny way of getting all his blunders out of the way in the preseason.
A Heat three-peat depends on Chalmers' effectiveness, so he needs to get sharp in a hurry.
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