The wildest NBA season has come and gone, and the draft is now in the rear view mirror. With the season already upon us, just two months after the "NBA Bubble" ended, we are halfway through the preseason. Having talked to some GM's and NBA personnel over the past couple of weeks, the busyness of the offseason is finally put behind, but the stress of maintaining the teams health and fluidity of this season is now the focus.
I wanted to create a new series that I will be doing weekly as I get back into the swing of the NBA season. This is to cover the prospects of the 2021 class, as well as the current rookies in the 2020 class to review my own predictions I had, and the development that they are currently achieving. With only two games left this preseason for each team, I wanted to review my thoughts on the rookies play thus far with ten takeaways.
1. LaMelo Ball play style and skill are as advertised (Love)
LaMelo came into the league with a bigger social media following than a lot of the teams that were looking to have him, he starred on his own TV show, and played overseas professionally. In my mind that put a sour note in many NBA fans mouths. The chance for twitter fingers to "clown" on Melo for bad games was imminent in my mind. After the first few games, while his shooting is still very meh (as expected), his game looks to be tremendously fun. He actually superseded my expectations in the very, very small sample size we have of him in the NBA. His vision and playmaking ability are already great, which leaves his floor on offense pretty high, while his defense isn't amazing, his size allows him the ability to continue to develop that side of the floor as he learns the NBA schemes. If you're an NBA sportsbook junkie, he is also my favorite for rookie of the year. His playing time and usage will be the top among rookies, and will only be competing with Graham and Hayward for time. Many of the other rookies vying for the award are playing alongside ball dominant players, such as Wiseman and Edwards. The only other players I could see having a developed enough game, and get the responsibility to win ROY is Killian Hayes (if the Pistons end up trading Rose and Griffin), or Okoro who has looked polished and will get shots (later on this...)
2. Covid-19 Taking Players Out of Games (Hate)
We knew it would happen, but the excitement of the NBA season sometimes takes over the rationale of our expectations. Covid came to play and before the season already started we are seeing its effect on the landscape of this season. James Wiseman was one player that I was very excited to see play as he was one of the bigger unknowns to go in the early parts of the draft. With such a small sample size of recorded play in his 2019-20 college season, we got to see a glimpse of his potential, but just something to wet our tongues when we really are starving. The thing I dread, barring the lingering hope for a mass produced vaccine before the end of the season, is this will be the norm for this season. In addition to that, the possibility that games will be cancelled similar to what we are seeing in NCAA with Covid spreading to too many players on teams. As I hope to continue to watch top talent such as Jalen Suggs, I am deprived of that due to Gonzaga needing to cancel their last five games. This will make for an interesting draft next year, especially with two of the five projected in my Top 5 for 2021 are in the G-League.
3. The Chance for Players to Shine (Love)
The best part about preseason, aside from the outlandish reactionary determinations of rookies skills and teams future performances, are that we get to watch the players that don't get to typically play. While Talen Horton-Tucker isn't a rookie this year, he only played 81 total minutes before getting meaningful minutes in the Western Conference playoffs last year. A small sample size to really determine how good a player is, but after a couple months of THT is back at it and proving it wasn't all a fluke. The preseason allows for players to experiment as much as the coaches. It also allows for the rookies to have the green light on offense, and for us viewers to really get a inkling as to what we might be able to expect over the course of the season. With only four games this year in the preseason, that doesn't offer a whole lot for us viewers, but what it does offer is a different game than the regular season. With Kyle Guy shooting a last second buzzer-beating game winner last night, to Isaac Okoro and Theo Maledon making their case for getting very meaningful playing time this season.
4. The Media Reactions (Hate)
The hardest thing to hear while following this preseason thus far is the immediate praise and disgust for players so quickly off the bat. Not superstars or the proven players, but the young guys with very limited minutes in the NBA. I've seen many panelists for the major websites display a smug superiority that they indeed know the skill of certain players through only their first two games. With the way that the media is followed in the NBA, this really sways the perceptions of these players and in my opinion is very unfair. There are a fair few rookies who took more than a year to develop themselves into a good role on their respective teams, especially when they are designated as the playmaker. We have been lucky enough to get very productive players in the last few drafts that have been able to perform right away, think of Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, and Zion Williamson. None of these guys are perfect, but they have slotted themselves as top 50 players within their rookie seasons, and that is now the bar for rookies coming into the NBA. I'm not a fan, and I typically hold judgement on the ceiling of a player until at least half a year, and then reassess when they are in their second year.
5. G-League Ignite and the Changing Draft Climate (Love)
Looking at the past couple drafts there is a huge shift to where the top talent is coming from, whether that is professionally overseas, or now with the G-League direct training platform. I don't anticipate this to change, but I think this brings a very different element to the NBA as different styles converge and create a more interesting game with more interesting players. Look at Luka Doncic, a Slovenian who played in Spain who isn't the prototypical uber athletic wing that NBA teams salivate over, yet he is the hottest prospect and MVP favorite for next year. Even Facundo Campazzo, a veteran rookie from Argentina who is defying the new 6'4"+ point guards measuring in at 5'11", but he even he admits it's 5'10" is set to be one of the best passers in the league. The thing I love about all this, is that is continuing to expand. The G-League Ignite team is utilizing the different academies that the NBA holds in continents around the world to gather it's top talent and showcase it to NBA teams in order to get better insight on whose out there. To me, this makes the NBA more fun to watch, and the incoming players that much more interesting as they embark on journeys from across the globe.