Thankfully the NBA season is just eight days away, with the preseason schedule coming to a close on October 18. As fantasy players are either going through the draft process or doing some last-minute mocks before the real thing, the question of “who looks ready to break out” is one that will be asked quite often. One name that’s likely already on the radar of many is that of Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who put up good numbers last season and has been excellent during the preseason.
In Chicago’s 105-91 win over the Raptors in Toronto Sunday afternoon, LaVine made the most of his 24 minutes on the court. He shot 9-of-14 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line, scoring 26 points with five rebounds, four assists, two steals and four 3-pointers (six attempts). He had as many turnovers as assists, which isn’t great when it comes to nine-category leagues, and LaVine did say during the offseason that he wants to take better care of the basketball.
After averaging 3.4 turnovers per game in 2018-19 the sixth-year guard is averaging 3.3 per during the preseason. But that figure is about the only negative that can be taken from LaVine’s preseason thus far. After Sunday’s effort, he’s averaging 23.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 3.7 three-pointers in 23.7 minutes per game during the preseason. And LaVine is doing this with shooting splits of 55.8% from the field, 57.9% from three and 78.6% from the foul line. While it’s “only” the preseason, those are numbers that can’t be ignored.
That all being said, LaVine is going to put up numbers this season. The question for Chicago: who does he fit best with on the court? While there’s familiarity between he and Kris Dunn, new addition Tomas Satoransky may be the better fit. Satoransky started alongside LaVine on Sunday, playing 22 minutes and finishing with 12 points (4-of-5 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), four assists, three rebounds, three 3-pointers and two turnovers in 22 minutes played. Not only has Satoransky be productive, but his presence has also managed to open things up for LaVine.
Per the NBA’s official stats LaVine is posting averages of 16.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.3 3-pointers and 2.0 turnovers per game when on the court with Satoransky. And during those 15.4 minutes per, he’s also produced shooting splits of 64.0/58.3/90.0 with an offensive rating of 123.1 and a defensive rating of 98.1. While there isn’t much of a difference in LaVine’s defensive rating when he and Satoransky aren’t on the court at the same time (100.0), his offensive rating drops down to 109.7. Given how effective those two have been on the court together, that should be the backcourt that Jim Boylen goes with once the regular season begins. Whether or not he’s of the same opinion remains to be seen.
Also worth noting from this game from the Chicago angle was the preseason debut of Wendell Carter Jr., who started and played 16 minutes after missing time due to a tailbone contusion. The second-year big man shot just 1-of-6 from the field, scoring two points with seven rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot. Carter and Lauri Markkanen (15 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, one turnover and two 3-pointers in 21 minutes) started in the front court along with Otto Porter Jr., which ultimately meant fewer minutes for rookie Daniel Gafford.
After playing 31 minutes (nine points, eight rebounds, five steals and two blocks) in Friday’s loss to the Pacers, Gafford played just nine on Sunday and finished with two points and one rebound. At this point it’s fair to assume that he’s third in the front court pecking order (among the reserves) behind summer signings Thaddeus Young and Luke Kornet. Young played 20 minutes against the Raptors, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out three assists to go along with his two points, while Kornet added eight points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 15 minutes.
As for Toronto, the Raptors were without Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. With five rotation players sidelined that gave others the opportunity to shine, and unfortunately there weren’t many positives to be found. OG Anunoby, who will be a more important figure with Kawhi Leonard having moved on, shot 5-of-9 from the field and finished with 15 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals and one three-pointer in 26 minutes. Chris Boucher did a little bit of everything in his 20 minutes on the court, tallying 11 points, two rebounds, two steals, four blocks and one three-pointer, and Matt Thomas scored 12 points with two assists, one rebound and two 3-pointers in 18 minutes off the bench.
There wasn’t a whole lot to be taken from this game when it comes to what Toronto’s rotation will look like once the season begins, as the five players who sat are guaranteed to be in it. Another negative for the Raptors: Patrick McCaw left the game in the third quarter with what was announced as a twisted left knee. More will be learned about his status for Friday’s preseason finale against the Nets, and beyond that the start of the regular season, in the coming days.
Celtics 118, Cavaliers 72
Boston made two roster moves ahead of Sunday’s blowout win, converting guard Max Strus from a two-way contract to a partially guaranteed deal in order to get center Tacko Fall on a two-way. And Strus made the most of his time on the court, as in 17 minutes off the bench he accounted for a team-high 14 points (4-of-7 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs) with four rebounds, two assists, two turnover and four 3-pointers.
The race for that final guaranteed roster spot will be an interesting one, as Javonte Green has had a good preseason. Green was relatively quiet on Sunday, finishing with two points, two rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and three turnovers, but one mediocre showing shouldn’t erase the good he did in the games prior. Tremont Waters, who’s on a two-way contract, racked up 11 points, four assists, two rebounds, one steal, one three-pointer and one turnover in 17 minutes, and Carsen Edwards (11 points, one rebound, one three-pointer and three turnovers) had solid days off the bench.
As for the mainstays in the Celtics rotation, the starting five of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis looked comfortable together on the floor. Walker scored 12 points with three triples to lead the starters in scoring, with Brown and Hayward dishing out three assists each and Tatum grabbing nine rebounds. With it being the preseason, and Cleveland looking brutal without Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, it’s difficult to take too much from this game when it comes to how Boston will play against the other contenders in the East. But the Celtics looked comfortable on the court, and with Marcus Smart, Robert Williams and Enes Kanter among the top reserves Brad Stevens’ rotation won’t lack for versatility this season.
The lone negative for Boston was the sprained right knee suffered by rookie Romeo Langford, who now has another injury to deal with. He played much of his lone season at Indiana with a torn ligament in his right thumb, and just as he was returning from that the rookie injured his groin. It has yet to be determined if he’ll play Tuesday night in Cleveland.
As noted above Cleveland was shorthanded, as Love was given the day off and five other players (including Thompson) were held out due to injury. But outside of Sindarius Thornwell, who’s unlikely to be a rotation player once the regular season begins, the Cavaliers who were available to play did not show much. The starting perimeter trio of guards Collin Sexton and Matthew Dellavedova and small forward Cedi Osman combined to shoot 3-of-24 from the field (0-of-14 from three) on the day. While Osman was 1-of-10 from the field Sexton had the worst day of the three, as in turned the ball over seven times while scoring four points on 1-of-8 shooting.
A lottery pick last season, Sexton may have a longer leash heading into the season. But with Darius Garland, who did not play Sunday, in the fold you have to wonder how patient John Beilein will be if the second year guard continues to turn the ball over at that rate once the regular season gets underway.
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Clippers 118, Melbourne United 100
With Paul George still recovering from his offseason shoulder surgeries and Kawhi Leonard getting the day off for “load management,” other Clippers had the opportunity to show that they’re worthy of a rotation spot when the games actually count. Unfortunately Doc Rivers now has some more injuries to deal with, as Patrick Beverley tweaked his calf and Landry Shamet injured his left wrist. While Shamet’s injury isn’t believed to be severe, with Rivers saying after the game that he could have kept playing if it were a playoff game, there has yet to be a determination regarding the severity of Beverley’s calf injury.
The veteran guard, who finished the game with 11 points, four rebounds, three assists, two 3-pointers, two steals and one turnover in 20 minutes of action, is a key contributor for the Clippers. And with George set to miss the start of the regular season and Leonard’s minutes set to be managed, they’ll need Beverley to be at full strength. That being said, Beverley’s “real” value is greater than what he brings to the table from a fantasy standpoint. Montrezl Harrell (22 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and one blocked shot) and Ivica Zubac (ten points, eight rebounds, two blocks and one steal) both had good afternoons at the office, and the same can be said for reserve guard Jerome Robinson.
Robinson played 32 minutes Sunday, accounting for 15 points (4-of-11 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), five rebounds, three assists, two 3-pointers, one steal and two turnovers. With George and Rodney McGruder (high ankle sprain) currently sidelined, there could be room for Robinson to earn some early-season minutes and make his case for playing time once the roster is whole.
Pelicans 123, Spurs 114
To the surprise of virtually no one Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson did more “Zion Williamson things” in San Antonio, scoring 22 points (8-of-11 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs) with ten rebounds, two steals, one assist and two turnovers in 31 minutes played. He still has a ways to go when it comes to the perimeter shooting, but Williamson has proven to be very good at getting quality looks around the basket despite opposing teams knowing where he’s aiming to go on the offensive end of the floor. The combination of athleticism and physical strength makes the rookie forward a very difficult assignment for many teams to deal with.
Williamson wasn’t the only Pelicans rookie to play well, as forward Nicolo Melli and guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker also had good nights in San Antonio. Melli shot 3-of-6 from three, scoring 14 points with nine rebounds, two blocks, one steal and turnover in 18 minutes. Given the Pelicans’ issues shooting from the perimeter last season, and Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball combining to shoot 2-of-10 on three-pointers Sunday night, Melli’s ability to hit those shots consistently boosts his value not only to the Pelicans but fantasy-wise as well. His name hasn’t come up much in the mock drafts that we’ve done for Rotoworld, but Melli may be worth considering in the latter stages due to his ability to knock down shots as a pick-and-pop power forward.
As for Alexander-Walker, while he shot just 4-of-15 from the field he did a little bit of everything. The rookie out of Virginia Tech tallied 13 points, seven assists, five rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 23 minutes. J.J. Redick being given the night off for rest opened up a few more minutes for both Alexander-Walker and Frank Jackson, who scored 12 points in 17 minutes off the bench. New Orleans doesn’t lack for depth on the perimeter thanks to the offseason signings and the Anthony Davis trade. But Alexander-Walker has played well during the preseason, and it would not be a surprise if he was in Alvin Gentry’s rotation when the regular season begins next week.
As for San Antonio, no LaMarcus Aldridge resulted in Trey Lyles moving into the starting lineup. He didn’t shoot the ball well, making one of his five shots from the field (five points), but Lyles did account for six rebounds, two assists and one steal in 19 minutes played. He and Jakob Poeltl, who grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots with one assist and one steal, combined to score 11 points on the night. The high scorer among San Antonio’s front court players was DeMarre Carroll, who shot 3-of-4 from three and finished with 13 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.
While the rotation isn’t set in stone, it’s worth noting that Carroll and Aldridge have not been on the floor much together during the preseason when both have been available to play. Per the NBA’s official stats Carroll has been on the court with Aldridge an average of 3.0 minutes per game. The same can be said for guards Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, who haven’t played together at all during the preseason. White replaced Murray just over six minutes into the first quarter, and when Murray (who’s coming back from a torn ACL) returned with 9:51 remaining in the second it was in place of White.
Murray finished with six points (3-of-7 FGs), four assists, two rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and two turnovers in 18 minutes, with White accounting for four points (2-of-3 FGs), four rebounds and three assists. Both attempted just one three-pointer, and the lack of perimeter shooting is likely why they aren’t sharing the court. Bryn Forbes knocked down three of his six triples, scoring a team-high 18 points (7-of-13 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) with one rebound, one assist and four turnovers.
While the turnover count isn’t good, keep in mind that in 82 games last season Forbes averaged just 1.0 per game. Sunday was an anomaly for the fourth-year guard, who has value due to his perimeter shooting and the Spurs’ need for it given the fact that the team has multiple rotation players (Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Murray and White) who don’t take many three-pointers.
76ers 126, Magic 94
Orlando played this game without three rotation players, as Evan Fournier (back spasms), Terrence Ross (sprained right ankle) and Nikola Vucevic (sprained left ankle) were all held out. As a result Mo Bamba and Michael Carter-Williams moved into the starting lineup, with Bamba tallying 12 points (4-of-6 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), three rebounds, two blocks and two 3-pointers and Carter-Williams adding nine points (4-of-11 FGs, 1-of-3 FTs), two rebounds, two assists and one steal. For the preseason Bamba is averaging 10.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 three-pointers in 17.7 minutes per game, shooting 58.8% from the field, 46.2% from three and 58.3% from the foul line.
The key this season will be for the second-year center to produce on a consistent basis. While he certainly had some good games prior to the season-ending stress fracture in his tibia that ultimately ended his season, Bamba would also have outings in which he would struggle to have much of an impact.
Markelle Fultz played 21 minutes off the bench against his former team, shooting 5-of-11 from the field and finishing with 12 points, five assists, one rebound, two steals and two turnovers. He did the majority of his work offensively in the paint, where he took seven of his 11 field goal attempts. Outside of the paint Fultz was 1-of-4, with a 16-footer off the dribble being the lone make. He was one of three Orlando reserves to score in double figures, with Al-Farouq Aminu scoring 12 points with three rebounds, one steal, one block and two 3-pointers and Wesley Iwundu adding ten with two rebounds, one assist, one block and two 3-pointers.
For Philadelphia, Joel Embiid made his return and tallied 15 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer in 22 minutes of action. As we’ve come to expect the All-Star center’s minutes will be watched closely, with the team giving him the occasional night off for “load management” purposes. But Embiid looks healthy with the regular season just over a week away, which is good news for the 76ers. Four of Philadelphia’s five starters scored in double figures, with Tobias Harris adding 14 points, Josh Richardson 13 (along with four rebounds, five assists and five steals) and Al Horford ten. Ben Simmons finished with just three points in his 24 minutes, but the point guard also accounted for nine rebounds, four assists and two steals (and five turnovers).
Off the bench rookie Matisse Thybulle continues to make his case for immediate rotation minutes, as he finished with ten points (3-of-7 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), one assist, one steal, one block and one three-pointer in 17 minutes of action. Zhaire Smith, with whom he’s likely competing for regular season playing time, accounted for eight points (2-of-4 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs), one rebound and one three-pointer in his eight minutes. The lone “concern” for Philly is the health of reserve wing James Ennis, who did not play in the second half due to tightness in his right calf. He’ll be in the 76ers’ rotation, but Ennis doesn’t provide much value from a fantasy standpoint.
Bucks 115, Wizards 108
Milwaukee was shorthanded Sunday night, as five players who will be in the opening night rotation were held out for various reasons. While Robin Lopez and Pat Connaughton were given rest days, Eric Bledsoe (rib soreness), D.J. Wilson (strained left hamstring) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (illness) all sat due to health issues. George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova started alongside Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Wesley Matthews, with Ilyasova knocking down three 3-pointers and finishing with 18 points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 19 minutes played. As for Hill, while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (five points on 2-of-7 shooting) he did contribute five rebounds, three steals and one assist.
Middleton paced Milwaukee with 22 points (9-of-14 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) to go along with nine rebounds, four assists and two 3-pointers. Sterling Brown, who averaged nearly 18 minutes per game last season, scored 18 points with three rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 24 minutes off the bench and offseason signing Dragan Bender added 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one three-pointer. Bender’s time in Phoenix did not go well, but the change of scenery could work wonders for the 21-year old power forward.
In four preseason games he’s averaging 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.8 three-pointers with shooting splits of 60.7/53.8/84.6. Now it’s unlikely that he’ll play similar minutes (18.1 ppg) once the regular season begins, as Milwaukee should have its full rotation outside of Bledsoe available, but Bender looks more confident while on the court. Viable fantasy option? Probably not, but his development in Milwaukee is something to keep an eye on. It’s funny what being part of a stable franchise can do for a young player.
On the Wizards side, Washington played without Ish Smith as he sits due to a hamstring injury. With Isaiah Thomas (left thumb) also out, that opened up a starting spot for rookie point guard Justin Robinson. Robinson struggled during his 15 minutes on the court, missing all four of his shot attempts and going scoreless with two assists and one rebound. He was one of two Wizards starters that went scoreless, with Isaac Bonga tallying one rebound, one assist and one steal before leaving the game in the third quarter with a left ankle sprain. Among the reserve guards fighting for a chance, Chris Chiozza (14 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two 3-pointers) and Garrison Mathews (12 points, five rebounds, one assist and four 3-pointers) had solid nights, but Mathews also turned the ball over a team-high five times.
All-Star guard Bradley Beal had a solid night (20 points, three assists, two rebounds, one block and two 3-pointers), and rookie Rui Hachimura went for ten points, 12 rebounds, three steals, one assist and one three-pointer. But the headliner for the Wizards was center Thomas Bryant, who continues to show off his improved perimeter shooting. In scoring 17 points the third-year center shot 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, and for the preseason he’s averaging 1.8 made triples per game while shooting just under 39% on those shots.
Bryant also grabbed five rebounds and dished out an assist, but his improvement as a shooter can potentially open up the floor due to the pick-and-pop possibilities. if opposing teams have to respect that shot, Bryant becomes a more dangerous offensive weapon for the Wizards. Last season Bryant attempted 99 three-pointers, making 33.
Timberwolves 131, Maccabi Haifa 101
Ryan Saunders’ Timberwolves outscored the visitors by a 34-14 margin in the second quarter and didn’t look back, with Treveon Graham leading the way with 14 points (three rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers in 12 minutes). The rotation used Sunday night looked nothing like what we expect from Minnesota once the season begins, as all 17 players who saw action played at least ten minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins tallied nine points apiece, with Jarrett Culver and Shabazz Napier scoring 11 points apiece off the bench. Culver played a team-high 24 minutes, and in addition to the point total he accounted for four assists, three rebounds, one blocked shot and one three-pointer.
His ability to play either on or off the ball offensively while also being a solid defender is going to get the rookie out of Texas Tech into the rotation sooner rather than later (if he hasn’t already locked up a rotation spot). The fourth double-digit scorer for Minnesota was Jake Layman, who knocked down two threes and finished with ten points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. Given how the minutes were distributed, and the fact that this game was a blowout with Minnesota leading by as much as 42 at one point, it’s tough to take too much away from this game. Robert Covington filled the stat sheet, finishing with six points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, one steal and two three-pointers, Noah Vonleh grabbed eight rebounds off the bench, and Gorgui Dieng added eight points, three assists, two rebounds and two 3-pointers.
Josh Okogie racked up nine points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer in 14 minutes off the bench, and he stands to once again be part of the Timberwolves rotation after putting together a solid rookie campaign. Jordan McLaughlin, Jaylen Nowell and Lindell Wigginton, who are all likely to spend more time with the team’s G-League affiliate in Iowa, all had solid nights off the bench.