Preseason is an illuminating time in the NBA schedule. With the NBA becoming more and more of a 12-month sport every year, anticipation for the season has been building for months.
While the NBA preseason isn't as cutthroat as the NFL's, nor as long as MLB Spring Training, it is a time for fans and teams alike to start getting answers to the questions raised over the summer.
Far more answers will become clear starting on Tuesday, but these are the major things we learned over the two weeks of the NBA preseason...
The Lakers have a plan
The Lakers may have more unknowns than any team in the league, but they've already started to answer two very important questions.
With Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma leading the team in minutes, Luke Walton has established he's willing - at least initially - to trust the higher-upside youth over the cavalcade of veterans they acquired this summer.
In tandem with the youth movement, Los Angeles has also stuck to their promise of playing fast - though at this point, unsustainably so. The Lakers had a preseason pace of 111.4, well above New Orleans' league-leading pace of 101.6 last season and just a hair behind the NBA record of 113.7 set by the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets. The Lakers will inevitably slow down once the games matter and LeBron plays more than 15 minutes a night, but speed has worked for them so far.
With at least partial answers to those questions, LA's key unknown remains the center rotation. JaVale McGee has developed a nice rapport with Rajon Rondo, but his minutes often limit themselves due to foul trouble or exhaustion. 21-year-old Ivica Zubac has had positive moments but still has a ways to go in terms of consistency and finesse before he's a reliable rotation player.
As for rookie Moritz Wagner, he remains out with a knee injury.
The X-factor could be the Kuzma/LeBron-at-center lineups. The Lakers haven't broken them out yet because they've had no reason to tip their hand, but those extremely modern lineups could feature the pace, shooting and versatility to work in exciting five-minute bursts.
Kawhi Leonard is settling in with the Raptors
As Toronto opened up their preseason against Portland two weeks ago, all eyes were locked on Kawhi Leonard. Even playing at three-quarter speed and shaking off some understandable rust, Leonard fit in well with his new Raptor teammates.
He immediately reminded the league he's still a world-class defender and scorer, putting up 27.8 points per 36 minutes over his first two preseason games. Though there were moments you could see him react a beat slower than he was used to, Leonard had plays where he looked as fluid and dominant as ever.
Kawhi using the ball fake to perfection! pic.twitter.com/b2c85nYJ7b- NBA (@NBA) October 3, 2018
At times he showed a nuanced understanding of Nick Nurse's offense, anticipating help defense and making great dump-off passes to Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas rolling to the basket. Most importantly, he and Kyle Lowry showed obvious chemistry running the offense as options 1A and 1B. Both found plays to assert themselves and each seemed comfortable letting the other take over when the situation dictated.
If there is one concern, it's his shot. Leonard went just 10-for-19 from the free throw line and 1-for-6 from three against the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz. Given the time off and tiny sample size, taking a week or two to find his shot at game-speed is perfectly understandable. With how great he looked in every other area, there's little reason to worry; but it will be something to monitor to start the season.
Golden State's young frontcourt is on track
Last season Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell established themselves as solid, reliable NBA big men. They continued that trend in the preseason and appear more than capable of replacing the departed McGee, David West and Zaza Pachulia, but it has been presumptive starter Damian Jones who has been the most notable.
Though Jones spent much of last season in the G League, his 7-foot frame and raw athleticism make him the perfect lob target, rebounder and rim-protector to put next to Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. Jones has struggled in pick-and-roll defense - most notably against the Suns and DeAndre Ayton - but his positives have outnumbered his youthful shortcomings.
Oh, and six-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins is reportedly ahead of schedule returning from his Achilles tear. Don't worry about the Warriors. They'll be just fine.
The Bucks have revitalized their offense
Milwaukee had two key additions this summer. The first came on the bench in the form of new head coach Mike Budenholzer, and the second is starting center Brook Lopez. Together, they've helped revamp Milwaukee's spacing and make the Bucks an incredibly dangerous offense.
In the first two preseason games - the starters sat in the third - Milwaukee attempted 40.5 3s per game, up from 24.7 per game last season. While they made just 35.6 percent of those attempts, four shooters around Giannis Antetokounmpo opened up the floor and helped them cruise to a 118.1 ORtg.
Antetokounmpo's face-up game was already nearly unstoppable. Now with four shooters around him, necessary help defense will just lead to him passing out for a wide-open corner triple. He averaged a very efficient 26.9 points per game last season in a pretty congested offense. If the Bucks embrace the fast, wide-open system that Budenholzer wants to run, Antetokounmpo will quickly become a legitimate MVP candidate.
Carmelo Anthony is a compelling Sixth Man … for now
Early in the preseason, Anthony got a tempting taste of starting for the Rockets due to a PJ Tucker injury. Once Tucker returned for the third preseason game, Anthony embraced the bench role he'll have to start the season.
There were many questions with how he would cope with a role he rebuked last season, but the early outlook is positive.
Anthony played well in his game coming off the bench, putting up 12 points and six rebounds en route to a victory over the Spurs. For now, everything is copacetic in Houston. If that will remain the case once the season starts remains to be seen, but for now, both Anthony and the Rockets are benefiting from him embracing a sixth - really seventh - man role.
Boston has their starting five
Immediately to start the preseason it was clear the Celtics had their starting unit. It was the same one they settled on to start last season and the one that played just five minutes together before Gordon Hayward's devastating injury.
With Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Hayward and Al Horford, Boston has as good a fivesome as anyone outside Oakland. There will be nights were Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes will play starter-level minutes given certain matchups, but Boston is going to go into the year starting their five best players.
The group that gives them their best chance to win title number 18.