Thursday was the penultimate day of the preseason, with five games on the schedule. One matched two of the younger teams in the NBA as one night after holding off the Knicks, the Hawks were in Chicago to take on the Bulls in the preseason finale for both teams. And while Zach LaVine did what Zach LaVine does, scoring 23 points (8-of-11 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) with three rebounds, two assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in 25 minutes, he wasn’t the Bulls guard that most postgame conversations focused on.
That would be rookie guard Coby White, shot had his best game of the preseason in Chicago’s 111-93 victory. While played 23 minutes, shooting 10-of-14 from the field and 3-of-3 from the foul line, finishing with a game-high 29 points, six rebounds, one blocked shot and six 3-pointers (on eight attempts). Interestingly enough, White did much of his production as part of a lineup that featured three point guards on the floor at the same time. With Tomas Satoransky starting alongside the aforementioned LaVine, that left White, Kris Dunn (five rebounds, three assists and three steals in 20 minutes) and Ryan Arcidiacono (four assists, two rebounds in 15 minutes) to play with the second unit.
Which point guard on that second unit initiated the offense tended to come to do which one was closest to the ball in the backcourt, with all three having the opportunity to run the offense at various points in the game. At 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, White has the size to play either guard position, and during the preseason he put up solid shooting percentages (45.5% from the field, 43.2% from three) playing in this role. But how often will Jim Boylen put a lineup of the three point guards, forward Thaddeus Young and center Luke Kornet (11/3/3 with three 3-pointers Thursday) on the court once the regular season begins? That’s the question for the Bulls second unit, with the concern likely being whether or not they can hold their own defensively.
Otto Porter Jr. tallied 15 points, one rebound, one steal and three 3-pointers, with Lauri Markkanen grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds. And Wendell Carter Jr. started for the second straight game after missing the first three with a bruised tailbone. The second-year center scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting while also tallying eight rebounds, three blocks and two assists, and even though he hasn’t shot the ball particularly well since returning Chicago’s defense is noticeably better with Carter on the court. If he can shake off the rust offensively (he also tweaked his surgically-repaired left thumb during shootaround), Carter produces enough as a rebounder and defender to make him a good option at center in most leagues.
For the Hawks, Jabari Parker shot 6-of-10 from the field and put up a line of 15 points, four rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer in front of the hometown crowd. He could have threatened the 20-point mark, but a poor 2-of-7 night from the foul line put an end to that. Trae Young scored 11 points with four rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three-pointer, but what was also noteworthy was that he had just one turnover in 17 minutes played. Turnovers have been an issue for the young point guard at times, and that can adversely affect his standing in nine-category leagues.
Last season Young was outside of the top-100 in nine-cat, but just outside of the top-50 in eight-cat with an average of 3.8 turnovers per game. He finished these five preseason games with an average of 4.8 turnovers per night, more than double his average in five games last preseason (2.2 tpg).
John Collins did not play, which opened up a spot in the starting lineup for the aforementioned Parker. That also freed up a few more shots for Alex Len but the center didn’t take advantage, scoring four points on 2-of-10 shooting. The positive for Len was that he grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and dished out four assists, but he also turned the ball over four times on the night. Two guards who are likely to spend the majority of their time with the Hawks’ G-League affiliate, Jordan Sibert and Brandon Goodwin, scored 14 and 13 points respectively Thursday night.
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Heat 107, Magic 98
In each of the three preseason games that both Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic have played in, it’s been Winslow who’s started with Dragic coming off the bench. In Thursday’s win over the Magic Winslow filled the stat sheet in his 28 minutes on the floor, scoring seven points (3-of-9 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) with 12 assists, six rebounds, three steals and three turnovers. Dragic played 23 minutes, accounting for five points (2-of-7 FGs), three assists, one rebound, one steal, one three-pointer and one turnover. Based upon the rotations used during the preseason, it appears as if Erik Spoelstra has come to the conclusion that Winslow is a better fit alongside Jimmy Butler (23 points, six rebounds, six assists, one steal, one blocks an four turnovers in 28 minutes) than Dragic.
Not counting Thursday, of Winslow’s 26.7 minutes per game during the preseason nearly 19 have been played alongside Butler per the NBA’s official stats. During those 18.7 minutes per Winslow is averaging 6.0 points, 5.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 turnovers and 0.7 steals per game. When he hasn’t been on the court with Butler, the fifth-year forward is averaging 3.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 turnovers and 0.7 steals. Winslow’s offensive rating when on the court with Butler: 104.0. Without: 69.1.
By comparison, Dragic played alongside Butler for an average of 6.7 minutes per in Miami’s first three preseason games. In those minutes he averaged 5.0 points, 1.3 assists, 0.3 rebounds, 0.3 steals and 0.3 turnovers. The veteran point guard played nearly 15 minutes per without Butler, averaging 3.3 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 2.7 turnovers. Like Winslow, Dragic’s offensive rating with Butler (108.9) is better than the figure he produced without the four-time All-Star (88.1). But the drop-off isn’t as severe, and the question is whether or not the numbers have been backed up by what the coaches have seen in their analysis of the game tape.
Also worth noting for the Heat was the preseason debut of Kelly Olynyk, who sat out the team’s first three games due a bone bruise in his right knee. Olynyk played 15 minutes, scoring 14 points (6-of-8 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) with one rebound, one assist and one three-pointer. He’ll be part of an interior rotation led by Bam Adebayo, who scored six points with 13 rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot in 24 minutes. Meyers Leonard added ten points, three rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in 28 minutes.
On the perimeter Duncan Robinson took advantage of his opportunity to start, shooting 4-of-8 from three and scoring 17 points with two rebounds and a block in 16 minutes. Tyler Herro scored eight points with two rebounds, two steals, two 3-pointers and a blocked shot, but he also tallied a team-high (tied with Butler) four turnovers on the night.
For the Magic, Evan Fournier led the way with 16 points (5-of-8 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) to go along with four assists, two rebounds, one blocked shot and one three-pointer in 22 minutes. Nikola Vucevic (six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block) and Mo Bamba (three rebounds, three 3-pointers and one block) added 14 points apiece, with the latter shooting 60% from beyond the arc. After averaging just 1.5 three-point attempts per game as a rookie, shooting 30%, Bamba, who averaged 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game during the preseason, put up 3.0 three-pointers per game and made 50% of his attempts. If Bamba can carry that production, especially as a face-up five, into the regular season that will improve his fantasy value.
Outside of the team’s three double-digit scorers the Magic struggled offensively, with Aaron Gordon (seven points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer) shooting 3-of-12 from the field and Terrence Ross (seven points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer) making just three of his 11 shot attempts. D.J. Augustin made three of his five shots, tallying six points to go along with three assists and two steals, while back up point guards Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams combined to score nine points with eight rebounds, two assists (both my Fultz), four steals and one blocked shot (by MCW).
Bucks 118, Timberwolves 96
After having missed Milwaukee’s last preseason game due to illness, Giannis Antetokounmpo was back on the court Thursday night. And the MVP filled the stat sheet in his 27 minutes, scoring 26 points (9-of-15 FGs, 7-of-9 FTs) with 14 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, two steals, one three-pointer and four turnovers. Antetokounmpo did what he’s done on many occasions throughout the course of his career, and he won’t last too long on draft boards in any kind of fantasy league.
The Bucks were able to put the starting five that they’re expected to use in next week’s regular season opener on the court for a dress rehearsal of sorts, with Giannis being joined by Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, George Hill and Wesley Matthews. Middleton accounted for 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer in 28 minutes, while Lopez added ten points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer. Hill and Matthews scored nine and five points respectively, with the latter going 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Robin Lopez (14 points, six rebounds, one assist, one block, one steal and two 3-pointers) and Ersan Ilyasova (ten points, seven rebounds, one assist, one block and two 3-pointers) led the way among the Bucks reserves.
For Minnesota many of the team’s top options had tough nights shooting the basketball. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 16 points on 3-of-9 shooting, but he had more success offensively than either Andrew Wiggins (ten points on 4-of-18 shooting) or Jarrett Culver (eight points on 2-of-12 from the field). Robert Covington (13 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and three 3-pointers) and reserves Kelan Martin and Shabazz Napier had solid nights, the starting lineup’s struggles proved to be too much for the Timberwolves to overcome.
Minnesota essentially went ten deep, with Jordan Bell (eight minutes as he continues to work his way back from injury) and Tyrone Wallace (four minutes) playing sparingly. The aforementioned Martin is on a two-way contract, so while his 13-point effort was certainly a positive showing it’s unlikely that he’ll be part of the rotation in the regular season. With Keita Bates-Diop out with back spasms some minutes opened up, and Martin took advantage of the opportunity.
Nuggets 110, Trail Blazers 104
Portland played its preseason finale without three expected starters, as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were given the night off (rest) and Hassan Whiteside is recovering from a sprained left ankle. As a result of the absences Anfernee Simons, Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver started alongside Zach Collins (13 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one three-pointer and six turnovers in 30 minutes) and Rodney Hood. Bazemore played just 12 minutes but was productive during his time on the court, scoring 13 points with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and two 3-pointers. Simons played a game-high 32 minutes, accounting for 11 points, four rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer, and Tolliver finished with six points, four rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 20 minutes played.
Bazemore, Simons and Tolliver all stand to be in the rotation once the regular season begins, as does Mario Hezonja, who put up a line of 18 points, six assists, five rebounds, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in 28 minutes off the bench. Two other lines of note were put up by Skal Labissiere (12 points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 16 minutes) and Moses Brown (eight points, six rebounds, one steal and two blocks).
Labissiere’s NBA career has been uneventful to this point, but with the injuries that Portland’s dealing with in the front court there may be a couple minutes to be earned early in the season. As for Brown, after the game it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Portland was converting his Exhibit 10 contract into a two-way deal. That’s good news for the undrafted rookie out of UCLA, who is a project at this stage in his career.
As for Denver, the only expected rotation players to either approach or surpass the 20-minute mark were Malik Beasley (four points, two rebounds, two steals and one assist in 19 minutes), Monte Morris (12 points, two assists and one three-pointer in 20 minutes) and Will Barton (13 points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and one three-pointer in 22 minutes). The Nuggets will be one of the NBA’s deepest teams, and how Mike Malone distributes the minutes will be interesting to see.
As for the starters, Nikola Jokic (11 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer) and Paul Millsap (13 points, two rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers) scored in double figures while Jamal Murray dished out a team-high six assists. These two teams will meet in the regular season opener for both Wednesday night in Denver.
Mavericks 102, Clippers 87
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis finished their respective preseasons on high notes, as both posted double-doubles for the second straight game. Doncic played 25 minutes, scoring 15 points while also tallying 13 rebounds, three assists, four 3-pointers and nine turnovers, while Porzingis finished with a line of 18 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot, one three-pointer and two turnovers in 23 minutes. Doncic’s turnover count wasn’t pretty, and he averaged just over five per game during the preseason.
As a rookie Doncic was just outside of the top-50 in eight-category leagues, but in nine-cat he barely managed to stay within the top-100. And that was with an average of 3.4 turnovers per game. The expectation is that he’ll put up even better numbers in 2019-20, but the turnovers are something to keep an eye on during the early portion of the regular season. As for Porzingis he’s looked healthy during the preseason, scoring on all three levels while also grabbing nearly ten rebounds per game. The question for the “Unicorn” is how much of an impact can he have defensively, especially with the Mavericks still waiting for Dwight Powell to return from left hamstring strain that has kept him off the floor.
Porzingis blocked a shot Thursday night, but for the preseason he accounted for 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. The steals figure is likely to stay at that level, as he’s averaged 0.7 per game for his career. But in three seasons with the Knicks, the 7-foot-3 power forward accounted for 2.0 blocks per game. Of course different teams have different defensive approaches, but consistently blocking a couple shots per game would only increase Porzingis’ fantasy value. In addition to Doncic and Porzingis, reserves Justin Jackson (18 points, six rebounds, and three 3-pointers), Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points, two assists and three 3-pointers) and Boban Marjanovic (4/7/1 with two blocks) had solid nights, and J.J. Barea dished out six assists.
Kawhi Leonard made his second appearance of the preseason Thursday night for the Clippers, playing 22 minutes and accounting for 13 points (5-of-19 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), three rebounds, two assists, four steals, two 3-pointers and two turnovers. While the reigning NBA Finals MVP wasn’t as efficient shooting the basketball as he can be, he looked good from a physical standpoint with the TSN announcers noting that Leonard told them prior to the game that this is the best that his knees have felt since before the injury issues began in San Antonio.
The load management plan that Leonard was on in Toronto last season worked, and a similar plan could be in the offing this season. But how much will the absence of Paul George impact those plans, especially given how deep the West is this season? Load management has negatively impacted Leonard's fantasy standing in most leagues, despite the fact that he's one of the NBA's best players.
With George sidelined one player who’s received a longer look is rookie guard Terence Mann, who accounted for eight points, two rebounds, two steals and one assist in 23 minutes against the Mavericks. Mann can defend multiple positions on the perimeter, and offensively he can be used to initiate offense or play without the ball in his hands. Of course there was the exchange with Doncic during the third quarter that fired up the Clippers bench, and at this point the rookie’s versatility and toughness appear to have pushed him into the rotation as Los Angeles waits for George to be fully cleared for play.
Another talking point during the preseason has been the shooting struggles of Landry Shamet, who shot 1-of-8 from beyond the arc on the night. For the preseason the second-year guard shot just 27.5% from the field and 16.7% from three, numbers that are a bit concerning. While Shamet didn’t shoot the ball particularly well during the preseason last year with the 76ers, shooting 40.7% from the field and 35.3% from deep, those numbers aren’t as bad as the ones he produced in five games this month. It’s worth noting that Shamet shot 42% from three last season, so maybe he’s simply destined to struggle during the preseason.