The NBA is back! While regular season action hasn’t quite started yet, the preseason has been a great way to get a first look at the highly speculated off-season transactions. Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul, and Lonzo Ball all made their preseason debuts for their new teams (Boston, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles).
The preseason, however, has also given us an opportunity to notice the underrated, and internal improvements of different players and teams that were less covered by the media.
Right off the bat, the Denver Nuggets shocked the Golden State Warriors in a 108-102 win. Denver has been playing well, and started off the preseason 3-0 before dropping their last two games. In his lone preseason game, Paul Millsap had 22 points, 11 rebounds, and a steal on 63.6% shooting, and Denver has since showcased excellent front court depth behind Nikola Jokic and him.
While the Lakers have struggled early through preseason gameplay, their 1-4 record is definitely not the fault of Kyle Kuzma, who has continued his summer league excellence with 19.2 points and 4.0 rebounds on 56.2% shooting through the five games so far.
Perhaps most shocking is the extent to which Kuzma has outplayed fellow Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. Compared to Kuzma’s elite play, Ball has struggled with just 6.0 points per game on 33.3% shooting.
The biggest surprises, however, have occurred in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic, after going a measly 29-53 last season, are now 3-2, with wins against the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, and Dallas Mavericks when the starters have played, and losses to Dallas and Memphis when the played minimally or not at all.
Aaron Gordon has finally looked like the star so many fans predicted he would become the past few seasons. Gordon has averaged 17.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on 51.9% shooting, including an elite 27 point and 11 rebound showing against the Western Conference powerhouse Spurs.
While Orlando is on the come up, the Chicago Bulls are thought to be tanking, but it certainly has not reflected in their preseason record. Chicago is 3-2, but with big wins against Cleveland (with LeBron James playing,) Milwaukee (with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing,) and New Orleans (with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins playing).
Without Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo from last season, with Zach LaVine injured to begin this season, and Nikola Mirotic just having been re-signed. There was no clue as to who would step up for Chicago. That man has been NBA journeyman Justin Holiday.
Holiday had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and three steals on 50% shooting and 4/7 from three vs. Cleveland, 21 points and two steals on 5/7 three point shooting vs. Milwaukee, and he’s averaging 19.0 points all in all for the preseason.
The biggest surprise of all, though, has to be the Brooklyn Nets. The organization that was the laughing stock of the NBA for its terrible management for years has shown a side of analytical mastery that the average NBA team has not quite reached yet.
Brooklyn was demolishing its opponents in the first three games versus New York and Miami. The margins for those games include leading by 15 at the end of the third quarter game one, a 19 point victory over Miami with full player particiption by Miami game two, and a 34 point victory against New York game three. Brooklyn ran into an animal in Philadelphia game four against Philadelphia with Joel Embiid healthy, but still outscored Philly in half two.
The scoring is relatively balanced for Brooklyn. D’Angelo Russell is leading the way with 17.0 points per game, and six other players are averaging double digit points per game. Brooklyn does not feature many big names or tantalizing prospects outside of Russell, but their brand of basketball has allowed them to win by being smart and efficient.
Only time will tell which, if any, of these teams and players continue their successes through the regular and postseasons. With the NBA only five days away, however, the time for teams to come together is now.