NBA preseason takeaways: Melo may thrive with Thunder; Cavs look totally different
Preseason has shown us that Joel Embiid remains an absolute monster, the Rockets seem scary
NBA preseason is for the diehards. You don't tune in to early-October games unless you're a little obsessive. Stars sit out or play limited minutes, results don't matter and there is a general lack of intensity. If you only start following the league when the regular season starts, you don't miss that much.
That said, in October of 2014 Ethan Sherwood Strauss, then of ESPN, correctly predicted the Golden State Warriors would win the NBA title based on what they had shown in the preseason. New coach Steve Kerr had completely revamped their offense, and they have essentially owned the league since then.
The lesson: You don't need to pay attention to exhibition games, but that doesn't mean you can't learn anything from them. Here are 12 takeaways from the past couple of weeks:
1. No one can guard Embiid
Joel Embiid's complicated contract extension was the biggest news of the preseason, and his 15 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets were as close to must-watch as you can get this time of year. In those 15 minutes, he got to the line an absurd 18 times, channeled Dirk Nowitzki with a one-footed fadeaway and once again made the case that -- when healthy -- he is already the best center in the world.
The high point: After banking in a jumper over the helpless Trevor Booker, he pumped his fist repeatedly and exclaimed, "They can't f----- guard me!"
(Hilariously, Embiid's second exhibition game was also dramatic, thanks mostly to Hassan Whiteside afterward.)thrown back and forth with
2. The Rockets are going to be a handful
It's easy to Luc Mbah a Moute has played some point guard, effectively rendering positional designations meaningless. Everybody keeps asking D'Antoni about using James Harden and Chris Paul together, and he seems a bit bored of coming up with different ways to tell people that the two superstars wanted this partnership and are committed to making it work., and coach Mike D'Antoni is getting even crazier than expected when it comes to lineups. The 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker has played some center and the 6-foot-8
"To be honest with you -- and I'm not trying to be cute -- it's not challenging at all," D'Antoni said at a recent shootaround.
3. Thunder Melo could be great
Carmelo Anthony hasn't transformed into a point forward or anything, but his first few games with the Oklahoma City Thunder have been encouraging. He is fitting in well at power forward, moving the ball and creating matchup problems.
There could still be issues in crunch time. The Thunder's three stars have all been used to being able to pound the ball, size up the defense and make plays. Oklahoma City's roster is not full of expert passers. It will take some work for this team to be more than the sum of its parts. Buying in his half the battle, though, and it looks like Anthony has done that.
4. The Cavs are going to be weird
You could make the case that either playing Dwyane Wade at point guard or starting veteran Jose Calderon would make more sense than what the Cleveland Cavaliers have chosen to do at the beginning of the season: starting Wade next to Derrick Rose and moving J.R. Smith to the bench. Kevin Love is also moving to center with Jae Crowder replacing Tristan Thompson in the first unit, so the Cavaliers are going to look completely different than they did last season.
It's possible that coach Tyronn Lue goes back to a more familiar look when Isaiah Thomas returns, but it's still worth monitoring how all of this goes. The preseason wasn't particularly instructive, as LeBron James only appeared in one game.
5. Everybody loves Teodosic
While the new-look Clippers are , it took Milos Teodosic no time to establish himself as one of the most entertaining players in the league. He is willing to try passes that other guards -- even the Ricky Rubios and Lonzo Balls of the world -- wouldn't dare, and it looks like it would be incredibly fun to play with him (on offense, at least).
6. The Kuzma and Mitchell bandwagons are approaching capacity
What's not to like about Kyle Kuzma and Donovan Mitchell? These two rookies, selected No. 27 and No. 13, respectively, earned big-time buzz at summer league and have backed it up in the preseason. They even had a duel!
Kuzma has a much more complete all-around game than he was given credit for coming out of college. He has a knack for drawing contact, he can stretch the floor and he has the quickness to guard multiple positions. Despite the presence of Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., he is going to force coach Luke Walton to make him a major part of the Lakers' rotation. Mitchell has no fear on either end of the court, and his combination of athleticism and ballhandling already make him the Jazz's most exciting player. He'll probably be a streaky shooter in his first year, but his form looks excellent.
7. Surprise: Another Sixers rookie isn't 100 percent
Speaking of shooting form … ugh. It was a relief when The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor got Markelle Fultz to admit that his worrying free throw stroke was a direct result of a shoulder injury, not a temporary bout of insanity.
Fultz was a fine shooter in college. His ability to make pull-up midrange jumpers and standstill 3s is partially why he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. If he's going to reach his potential, he'll need to be deadly hitting 3s off the dribble, too. The weird free throw shooting was alarming precisely because most of his game is so smooth and seemingly effortless. He needs to get his shoulder healthy and start shooting normally again so we can all stop freaking out.
8. Irving and Hayward aren't the only Celtics to watch
Keep an eye on Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, who need to have huge seasons if Boston is going to make up for losing Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley over the summer. Based on the preseason, Smart looks like a solid candidate for Most Improved Player, with more confidence in his jumper and more quickness thanks to his weight loss. Brown, meanwhile, has made a nice case for himself getting more minutes in the Celtics' crowded wing rotation, answering coach Brad Stevens' call to become a stopper and even spending some time defending point guards.
9. The Raptors are reinventing themselves
Toronto is trying something fascinating. Instead of sticking with its conservative, guard-heavy approach to offense, it has asked All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to empower their teammates. The Raptors are often stationing five players on the perimeter, even when one of them is Jonas Valanciunas, and running sets reminiscent of Stevens' Celtics. The goals are simple: more passing, more 3s, less predictability. There is risk, however -- limiting turnovers and getting to the free throw line have been part of their identity, and they shouldn't sacrifice these strengths.
This is one of those things that probably won't pay off right away. While Toronto tries to find its rhythm, it will likely lose games. The key is whether the Raptors stay with it or revert to their old habits; the idea is to fully commit to it and avoid stagnating in the playoffs.
10. There's a new preseason tradition: Veggie watch
Damian Lillard went vegan over the summer to lose weight. So did Jahlil Okafor. Kyrie Irving said he has "been on a more plant-based diet," which has given him more energy. Al Jefferson misses chicken, but went vegetarian after a down season with the Pacers. This trend is sweeping the NBA; just don't tell Evan Turner he has to get in on it.
"I'll never go vegan," Turner said. "Nah, I never would. If I'm 75 and they're like, 'Yo, if you don't stop eating pizza -- you go vegan or you die, I'll probably just call it early."
11. The bigs are at it again
Here's a non-exhaustive list of big men trying to expand their range beyond the 3-point line: Timofey Mozgov, Taj Gibson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jeff Withey, Jusuf Nurkic and Dewayne Dedmon. Nikola Vucevic and Blake Griffin are upping their 3-point frequency, too. Let's see how many of these guys keep it up all year.
12. Exum has the worst luck
You have to feel bad for Dante Exum. The Jazz guard was a before injuring his shoulder in his third preseason game. He could be out for the whole year, which would be awful news for anybody, let alone someone who was sidelined for the entirety of 2015-16 because of a torn ACL. The Jazz will miss him, and there's just not enough information for them to make an educated decision on his next contract when he hits restricted free agency next summer.
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