NBA preseason takeaways: Debut of Lakers' new star duo; Zion as advertised; Ben Simmons finally hits a 3
We look at the 10 biggest takeaways from early in the preseason as teams prepare for the start of the regular season
The 2019-20 NBA season is right around the corner, and teams have spent the past few weeks preparing for the 82-game grind with training camp and preseason games. It's always important to remember that preseason action is a far cry from the speed and intensity that teams will be playing with once the games count for real, but even so it's worthwhile to check in on what's been happening. The outcomes don't matter, but it's still interesting to get a glimpse of what we have to look forward to when they do.
With that in mind, here's a look at 10 key takeaways from the preseason action we've seen so far, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis' successful debut, Ben Simmons finally hitting a 3 pointer and Zion Williamson looking as good as advertised.
1. LeBron and A.D. look great in debut
For the second straight summer, the Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest splash. A year after signing LeBron James, they finally found their second star, swinging a blockbuster trade for Anthony Davis just a few days after last season ended.
Davis and LeBron combined for 37 points on 14-of-26 shooting, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in just 18 minutes a piece. Yes, yes, the preseason caveat applies, but still. That was exactly why everyone was so excited.
But then ...
2. Davis suffers thumb injury
Amid all of the controversy stirred up by Daryl Morey's tweet, the Lakers traveled to China later in the preseason. During their second game against the Brooklyn Nets, Davis suffered a thumb injury in the first half and had to leave the game after playing just 12 minutes.
The good news is that the MRI, and Davis has been diagnosed with a sprain. There's no public timeline for his recovery yet, but considering he escaped any serious ligament damage he shouldn't be out for a long period.
Still, the injury scare with Davis shows how thin of a margin the Lakers have in terms of health. No team can really afford to lose a star for any significant portion of time, but especially not the Lakers, who have all of their hopes riding on LeBron and Davis playing together.
3. Zion as advertised
We only got a glimpse of Williamson at Summer League, as the Pels shut him down after just one game, so Atlanta Hawks. A few days later he was even more impressive, going for 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting from the field against the Chicago Bulls, while adding to his already incredible highlight reel.was a must-watch event. He didn't disappoint, throwing down a ridiculous slam after just a few minutes, before finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals against the
So far this preseason, Williamson is averaging 23.3 points on a ridiculous 71.4 percent shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Perhaps the expectations were not high enough.
4. Simmons hits first career 3-pointer
After two entire seasons, Ben Simmons finally hit a 3-pointer. It was late in the second half of a preseason game against the Guangzhou Long Lions, and he hasn't even taken another one, but still. It was a big deal that he finally hit a 3 in a game. If you don't believe me, just look at how his teammates and the fans reacted. It was as if he hit a buzzer beater in the playoffs. .
5. Curry looks ready to carry Warriors
Kevin Durant is gone to Brooklyn, Klay Thompson is out until sometime around the All-Star break due to a torn ACL and D'Angelo Russell has arrived in the Bay, all of which is to say the Golden State Warriors are going to look a lot different this season.
There are still plenty of questions about just how good they're going to be, and their margin for error is pretty small considering their lack of depth. One thing that is certain, though, is that Steph Curry is will have to carry this team in a way he never has before.
If his performance against the Timberwolves last week is any indication, he's more than ready. He on 14 of 19 from the field, while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out six assists in just 25 minutes. Expect more of the same from Curry this season; he's going to put up some ridiculous numbers.
6. Mixed returns for Porzingis-Doncic partnership
The Mavericks made a big investment this summer when they gave Kristaps Porzingis a five-year, $158 million max deal, despite the fact that he hadn't played in an NBA game since tearing his ACL in February 2018.
Physically, he looks much bigger and stronger, and in theory he'll form a dynamite pick-and-roll partnership with last season's Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic. They appear to have a solid understanding on the floor, especially , but it hasn't resulted in much success -- at least for Porzingis. The big man has been content to float around the arc and launch deep 3s, and is shooting just 25 percent on a whopping eight attempts per game.
Those were his first two games in well over a year, so there's no reason to freak out or anything, but his progress will definitely be one of the main stories to watch this season.
7. Fultz back in action
Another player trying to get back in the swing of things is Markelle Fultz. The former No. 1 overall pick is with the Orlando Magic now after a trade last season from the Sixers. It's encouraging to see Fultz back on the court on a consistent basis after everything he's gone through injury wise in the past two seasons, but the feel-good story will only last so long if he can't contribute.
He's shownso far; his ability to get downhill into the paint will be quite useful on this Magic team, and he can be a disruptive defender with his size on the perimeter. But of course he'll never reach his full potential without a reliable jumper, and that aspect of his game doesn't seem fixed at all. He's just 2 of 16 from outside of 15 feet, and 0 for 5 from 3.
8. Is Lonzo's shot fixed?
Speaking of fixing jump shots, Lonzo Ball debuted a during training camp. His funky release has been fixed, and he no longer slings the ball over to the left side of his body before releasing the shot. Instead, his shot is much more compact and orthodox, which will make his release quicker and more repeatable.
The process is good, but so far the results haven't been there. Through four preseason games, he's shooting 30.4 percent from 3 on over five attempts per game, a mark that is actually a bit lower than what he shot last season. Still, his form looks much better, and over the long run that should bring more success over the long run.
9. Giannis already dominating
Giannis Antetokounmpo made the leap last season, winning his first MVP Award while leading the Bucks to the best record in the league. Now, he's the favorite to win the honor again, and for good reason. He has unlimited freedom in Mike Budenholzer's offensive system, which spaces the floor to create all the space he needs to operate, and on the other end of the floor he's one of the best defenders in the league.
He's played sparingly in the preseason -- just 44 minutes -- in part perhaps because he goes too hard when he's out there. But when he has been on the floor he's, averaging 28 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a steal. Again, all in just 22 minutes per game.
There are a ton of talented players in the league, and the possibility of voter fatigue does exist, but it's almost hard to envision a scenario where Giannis doesn't win MVP again. The Bucks are going to win 50-plus games and finish near the top of the East, he's going to put up spectacular numbers and affect the game on both ends of the floor, and players winning back-to-back MVPs is surprisingly common. Since 2002, it's happened five times: Tim Duncan in 2002 and 2003, Steve Nash in 2005 and 2006, LeBron James in 2009 and 2010, as well as 2012 and 2013 and Steph Curry in 2015 and 2016.
10. Stars make their debuts with new teams
There was all sorts of player movement this summer, which was one of the wildest in NBA history. We've already touched on some of the players making debuts for their new teams, including Anthony Davis and Lonzo Ball, but there were far from the only ones who went through that experience.
After leading the Toronto Raptors to the title last season, Kawhi Leonard decided to team up with Paul George on the Los Angeles Clippers, but so far we haven't seen much of him on the floor. He played 10 minutes against the Denver Nuggets last week and looked pretty sharp, putting up seven points and six assists. It seems we'll have to wait until the regular season to really get a feel for him in a Clippers uniform, though.
Kyrie Irving also made a big change this summer, leaving the Boston Celtics to join the Brooklyn Nets alongside Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, we've seen even less of him on the floor than Leonard. Irving suffered a facial fracture during training camp, and then one minute into his first preseason game he was in the face by Rajon Rondo. He left the game and did not return, then sat out the Nets' second game against the Lakers in China.
Speaking of the Celtics, they replaced Irving with Kemba Walker as they try to remain competitive at the top of the Eastern Conference. Walker hasn't played a ton, but far more than either of Leonard or Irving. So far, he's shot the ball really well, hitting 62.5 percent of his attempts from 3, and overall has been solid as he tries to fit in with his new team.
Another new face in a new place is Jimmy Butler. After spending a few months with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, Butler took his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat. He's only played in one game so far, but there's little doubt about how he'll fit in the culture the Heat have created.
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