The ‘it’s only preseason’ mantra will never go away, but it’s still something that’s worth monitoring in the NBA. Players can build off their strong summer leagues and coaches can tip their hands on how they’re going to run their rotation.
Although, things don’t always work out as planned. Perhaps no player caught more hype than Byron Mullens last year. He came out of the blue with his sudden 3-point shooting, but eventually fizzled out due to poor defense and injuries. It really wasn’t for lack of opportunity, though. Mullens took 5.2 3-pointers per game in November 2012, which was absurd considering he shot just 0.8 triples per game in the 2011-12 season.
It’s all about opportunity. Like Mullens and the 2012-13 Bobcats, teams that tend to be cellar dwellers have more reason to play guys that remain a bit of a mystery. Some teams don’t have their roles clear yet and that’s where owners will want to target in the late rounds picks. Your last few picks should focus almost solely on upside. If you had a solid draft and don’t have any needs, your last picks should be based entirely on hitting a home run and trying to get a guy that can win your league. Last draft season, Chandler Parsons, Nikola Vucevic and Kemba Walker come to mind here.
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We’re going to go through each preseason game from Thursday and Friday night. There were 11 games, so we’ll be covering 22 teams. We will be talk of the players and their collective preseasons, so the games are more of a structure than anything else. Plus, I’ll be going over some trends I’ve seen in drafts. Here we go:
You can find me on Twitter breaking down action to go with stats and injury updates @MikeSGallagher.
Sixers at Bobcats
It was the old team that was a joke taking on this year’s version. This year’s Sixers are terrible and their rotation is one of the messiest in the league. They don’t even have a starting five that’s really set. Let’s start with what we know: Thaddeus Young, who was a DNP on Thursday, is going to be very busy and he’s scored 14.5 points this preseason. Spencer Hawes is going to be the main man in the middle and he’s hit 1.3 triples to go with 1.0 blocks so far this month, but he’s not a really big minutes eater. Evan Turner also looks like a new player, averaging 19.8 points per game in the preseason.
As far as drafting those guys, I’m all about targeting Young and Hawes, but I’m a little worried about Turner even though he has a huge upside. Last season, he had just 0.2 blocks, 0.7 triples, 0.9 steals and shot just 41.9 percent from the field. Plus, getting to the line just 2.5 times per game was horrible last year. This preseason, he’s actually been very aggressive, getting to the line 7.8 times per game. He’ll be better, but based on where I’ve seen him go, I always have my eyes on at least other five guys when he’s plucked off the board.
OK, now the messy part. After those three, the next player off the board figures to be Michael Carter-Williams. His summer league was a nightmare, but he hasn’t been too bad this preseason. The positives include averages of 1.4 turnovers, 1.2 triples, 1.0 steals and 5.0 assists. He’s been struggling at scoring with just 8.6 points per game on 39.0 percent shooting, which has been his much-publicized weakness since the NBA Draft. He’s getting some pressure from Tony Wroten, who just scored 20 in the Thursday game. It was his second 20-point game this preseason and coach Brett Brown has an affinity for him. Of course, that’s not going to continue with Wroten shooting an embarrassing 30.4 percent from the floor this month. He is getting to the line a lot and has two games in which he’s taken 12 freebies. MCW should certainly go off the board first and I’ve drafted him a few times, but Wroten is someone to think about in deep leagues for his upside. Just remember he’s shot 38.4 percent from the field in his career, couldn’t buy a bucket in summer league and he’s been terribly inefficient in October.
The situation at shooting guard is even worse. The team brought on James Anderson and he is expected to get most of the minutes. He’s turned in a solid preseason stats-wise with 2.2 triples per game and 1.0 steals, but he hasn’t quite solidified anything yet. That said, there are worse players to take late in deep draft. Vander Blue seems to be his stiffest competition and he turned in a gem on Thursday with 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, one block, two steals and three 3-pointers on 5-of-9 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line in 27 minutes. The eight-cat line is interesting and he’s likely going to get more minutes the rest of the way this month.
Digging into the really deep part – those of you in standard leagues can skip this part and I won’t be mad -- Royce White hasn’t really done anything to suggest he’ll get it turned it around. His totals in three games include 13 points, 10 boards, 11 fouls and nine turnovers on 35.7 percent shooting. Daniel Orton saw 27 minutes and looked good with six points, three boards and four blocks. He’s a raw talent and his career has been cut short from his ACL surgery in college, so he might be up the Sixers’ alley. It was his first game with the team and he’s probably the most intriguing of the bunch. Lastly, Lavoy Allen said on Friday that his knee isn’t 100 percent, so we can’t really judge him for his quiet lines. Still, he hasn’t done much in his career to support the idea of him busting out this year.
UPDATE: Lavoy Allen overslept on Saturday and missed practice. He’ll get a meeting in Principal Brett Brown’s office soon.
Surprisingly, things are pretty clear in Charlotte. Al Jefferson missed Thursday’s game with his ankle injury, but he said it’s realistic for him to play in the season opener. He’s a player to take at the turn of the first and second rounds. Kemba Walker scored 13 points on just seven shots on Thursday, a very encouraging sign. He doubled his shots at the rim last year compared to his rookie season and it sounds like coach Steve Clifford is coaching him up to take better shots. The UConn product shot 44.1 percent in April and that could actually be a possibility for him this year. The last safe pick for the Bobcats is Gerald Henderson. He reportedly worked on his 3-point game and it was going to be a new wrinkle. Sadly, he’s 0-of-7 in his five preseason games. It’s all good, though. Some people can’t juggle, some can’t kick a dope freestyle and some can’t shoot threes. I have no idea about his juggling skills, but Emcee Hendo does sound like a sick hip-hop name.
Cody Zeller looks to have the inside track for the power forward job and Clifford had a telling explanation for playing Zeller just 14 minutes on Thursday. "He’s played in practice many, many more minutes than anyone else," Clifford said. "When he got his third foul [against the 76ers], I said, ‘Fine, play him less tonight.'" Reasonable. The team has been raving about his basketball IQ and work ethic, and obviously Josh McRoberts is not the answer. I wouldn’t be too overzealous in selecting Zeller since Clifford has said on multiple occasions that his top three scorers will be Kemba, Al and Gerald. He’s a low-ceiling guy, but has a shot at a 10-8 line with good percentages.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been working with shooting guru Mark Price and he doesn’t look to have made many leaps forward. In Thursday’s game, he shot 3-of-8 from the field and all three makes came from within two feet. The likelihood of Jeffery Taylor taking the job from last year’s lottery pick is very real. Taylor was relentlessly getting to the rim in summer league, looked great at EuroBasket and he’s kept it up this month. There’s no reason to draft MKG while Taylor is worth a look late.
Knicks at Wizards in Baltimore
Mike Woodson has been taking it easy on his guys. Thursday he played Raymond Felton 15 minutes and Tyson Chandler six minutes. Woody did say he’ll play those two more in Monday’s game and their roles are locked in. It’s worth mentioning that Tyson Chandler is shooting more jumpers in practice and in games, which might explain his 3-of-9 from the field in his last two outings. Hopefully, the Knicks come to their senses and realize this is a silly idea.
The biggest news that came from this game was that Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni both sustained elbow strains. The good news is that they’re both expected to be ready for Monday’s exhibition. Shumpert is expected to start on opening night, but he’s been very quiet in the preseason so far. Plus, making 39.6 percent of his shots isn’t going to help his case as a late-round pick. Prigioni is going to share the backup PG role with Beno Udrih, who scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes on Thursday. Udrih and Prigs are going to cancel each other out even if Felton has to miss time.
The Knicks got a pair of 14s from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Toure Murry. Both players could get some burn while J.R. Smith serves his five-game suspension and recovers from knee surgery. If you’re deep-league fishing, I’d give the edge to Hardaway because Woodson admitted he’ll be in the rotation multiple times.
The Wizards have some bench issues and that’s a factor in why John Wall and Bradley Beal could be in for spectacular seasons. Beal is one of the hottest players in the league, exploding in his last two games with 21 points on Thursday and a 29-point performance on Tuesday. Yes, it’s preseason, but Beal seriously looks like an All-Star, resembling a mini-James Harden with his shots at the rim and getting plenty of looks from downtown, too. The 20-year-old guard shot 48 percent in February and March before the injury bug bit him, so he could pick up right where he left off. For what it’s worth, his field goal percentage went up in every month from October to February. You’re going to have to reach, but I’m all for it. As for his backcourt mate, John Wall also tore it up after the break and he’s been experimenting with new ways to score when the games don’t count. He’s a top-10 option for keeper leagues and big things are coming this year.
Otto Porter Jr. is still out with his hip flexor strain and it’s a bummer. The Wizards may be inclined to play OP just a handful of minutes throughout the year since he’s been unable to sustain any level of health throughout his brief NBA career. It’s hard to count on him in fantasy even though he has a very well-rounded game. That means Martell Webster should continue to be a factor off the bench. Martell ‘The Dictionary’ Webster didn’t spell trouble on Thursday with no 3-pointers, but he made it to the line eight times for 13 points in 21 minutes. Hopefully, his back holds up again like it did for much of last season.
Another very interesting position battle in the NBA landscape is the frontcourt of the Wizards. As far as performance goes, Trevor Booker gets the edge. He seems healthy from his knee injury and is exerting a lot of energy on the glass. He pulled down four offensive rebounds and finished with nine total rebounds, seven points, three assists and one block vs. the Knicks. His persistent style may explain his lack of durability, but while he’s healthy, he could be one of Washington’s leading big men. Book is also shooting a pristine 80 percent from the field in his three preseason games. However, the Wizards seem like they really want Kevin Seraphin to be the guy. He saw more minutes than any other player with 31, plus the players and coaches have spent extra time with him in practice. He had a nice stat line with 11 points, seven boards, two assists, three steals and one block. His 1.8 blocks this preseason is a nice improvement from his 0.7 last year and since he might have to play more center, the blocks could be there more frequently. I’d take Seraphin over Booker in drafts. For what it’s worth, Nene, who did not play after coming back from Brazil, looks like he should be the first Wizard big taken. If you’re scoring at home, Jan Vesely’s jersey still had Jan Vesely in it, so there’s no reason to put Jan Vesely on your non-Jan Vesely fantasy team. Sorry, I’m trying to knock out the “Jan Vesely” quota early here, folks.