The NBA’s shortened preseason is underway and while we’re only a couple of games in, there have been some teams who are wasting no time getting right to work on a winning mindset. Some may argue that it’s too early to tell, but there is always analysis to be done no matter how insignificant the games may seem at this point in the season.
As I write this article, keep in mind that some teams have three games under their belt while others have only played one so the stats may be a tad skewed. For example, the Denver Nuggets sit at second place in the Western Conference, and we may not be able to say that again for a long time. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at some of the top performers of the preseason so far, and brush up on some key things to know about them as the regular season approaches.
Last season, the league’s first overall draft pick, Ben Simmons, suffered a broken bone in his right foot during the preseason rendering him out for the remainder of the year. Simmons had been compared to LeBron James by draft analysts before the Philadelphia 76ers scooped him up, and the team had to go through yet another abysmal losing season with a top draft pick watching from the bench. The 76ers subsequently took another first overall draft pick for the 2017 draft, securing guard Markelle Fultz out of Washington.
This season Simmons is healthy and active. He made a splash in his debut performance with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists leading the team in both rebounds and assists for the game. The 76ers lost 110-89 to the Memphis Grizzlies that evening so they still have a long way to go, but it’s safe to say that things may be looking up. Last season, Philadelphia’s budding star Joel Embiid suffered another serious injury taking him out for the remainder of the year. However, just this week he’s been cleared for 5 on 5 drills. He won’t be able to play in the next preseason game, but the 76ers are hopeful to have him back and healthy this season.
If they don’t end up in the draft lottery again this season, the 76ers won’t get to make a pick until #9 in the 2018 draft. While that’s still a great top ten spot, Philly will need to rely on the top three picks they’ve made in the last couple of years to build their roster. With little competition in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers may begin making their way up the rankings in years to come.
The Brooklyn Nets won their first two preseason games with big contributions from D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin. Brooklyn’s opening game saw a total of 7 players in double digits which is a sign of good ball movement. Brooklyn acquired veteran Demarre Carroll from the Toronto Raptors, and D’Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers as they made room for Lonzo Ball (and his dad). Carroll averages about 9 points and 4 rebounds per game, while Russell will contribute roughly 16 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
The Nets also wound up with center Timofey Mozgov who can be very good when utilized properly under the right coaching conditions. Mozgov had a crummy opening performance, but in time I can see him working well with Carroll and Russell.
Although Brooklyn finished dead last behind the Philadelphia 76ers last season, they still didn’t end up with a lottery pick in this year’s draft, and were subsequently stuck with the 22nd overall pick having to make do with whoever was left. Fortunately, this year’s draft was packed full of talent and the Nets were able to bring center Jarrett Allen out of Texas on board. Allen’s upside will be his 7’6″ wingspan, and he will likely prove to be a great addition off the bench while he gets his NBA legs under him. The Nets don’t have a pick until #23 in next year’s draft, and with the league’s new rules on tanking the Nets may be forced to trade for their talent as they look to rebuild.
I’ll admit it. I’m a Nuggets fan. I will also admit that they’ve struggled mightily the last few years, but as any homer would say, things are looking up. Denver has won all three of their preseason games starting by defeating the all-mighty Golden State Warriors in their preseason opener on the road. It can’t be easy beating the defending champs on their own turf, but the young Nuggets looked very good coming out of the off season. Granted, they’ve had quite a bit longer to rest and train than the Warriors, but that doesn’t take away from the promising talent their roster has.
After a less-than-stellar draft performance to say the very least (basically, Denver blew it in my opinion), the Nuggets found themselves very heavy on power forwards, and not any better on defense. Denver traded down in the draft acquiring Tyler Lydon, and a myriad of other forwards building up to a total of 7 power forwards on the roster that are still in place today. They also lost their best shooter and one of their longest veterans, Danilo Gallinari, to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency over the summer. That left the 3 position a little thin moving into the season.
However, the Nuggets were able to land Paul Millsap in a 3-year, 90 million dollar contract with a 3rd year team option. It nice to see them finally bringing some star power back to the city of Denver after losing Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks many years ago. Offensively, the Nuggets have everything they need to be a top level team. Point-center Nikola Jokic has shown to be the guy the Nuggets will run the offense through, and it’s already looking like he will combine very well with Millsap on the floor. Star shooter in the making, Jamal Murray, will undoubtedly be one of the Nuggets’ biggest assets this season. They’ll need work with the roster they have but making a trade later in the season to unload some of the overabundance at forward would be wise.
The Rockets can say they had a successful off season after creating another superteam conglomerate with the acquisition of Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. I remain skeptical about how Paul and James Harden will play together. Both players tend to hang on to the ball a little too much, but it seems as though things are off to a good start.
In their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston had 5 players in double digits proving, at least for now, that the ball is moving well despite my concerns. Trevor Ariza shot 66% from the field, while Paul brought in 40% from 3 leading to their 104-97 win.
The question for Houston will be their defense. While they ranked 3rd in the Western Conference last year, this year’s Western Conference just got a lot more tough with Carmelo Anthony moving from the Knicks over to the Thunder to join Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Without any defense the Rockets still don’t stand a glimmer of a chance against the Golden State Warriors, but they already look to be an offensive threat that will carry them to a very high rank in the regular season.
Just eleven more days until things get serious, but in the meantime it’s sure nice to have the NBA back!