Saturday Starting Five: Your Preseason Rookie Report

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Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Today’s topic? How are the rookies faring in the preseason?

The Wall is Already Great

We knew John Wall would be a revelation. But some thought there might be a learning curve. Wrong. Wall has shown the ability to make the highlight reel on a nightly basis. But more importantly, he’s averaging 8.4 assists. There was some talk before the games started being played that Wall wouldn’t be able to create many assists with as many high-usage guys as the Wizards have. But Wall has taken control of the offense and has shown that playmaking ability, and on both sides of the ball with 2.2 steals per game. He’s shooting 40%, which pretty much everyone expected and he’ll have to improve. And as always, it is the preseason. But early on, Wall looks like a leader who’s able to deliver. Already.

Cousins is Family Already

Per-48 minutes, DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 31 points and 18 rebounds. Those are numbers to make you pass out. Per-game, those numbers drop all the way down to 16.4 and 9.6. Which is still incredible for a rookie, even in preseason. The best thing about drafting Cousins versus the other bigs that went before him (who should not have gone before him) is that Cousins is ready to play, now. His natural ability at rebounding and size makes him a guy who can simply deliver, right off the bat. And that’s what he’s doing in Sactown. Cousins is going to be a surprise Rookie of the Year candidate if the early results are any indication.

So Far So Griffin

Blake Griffin has looked fantastic coming back from a broken patella. I mean, he’s not a top five power forward in the league right now, but who would actually say that? Griffin’s best asset right now has been his explosiveness to the rim. He’s able to get the ball in traffic and finish, which is a struggle for a lot of “rookies.” He’s averaging 29 and 20 per 48, and he’s shown an absolute fearlessness in putting his body on the line for a play. That’s a good thing and a bad thing, and Griffin needs to chill out a bit so he makes it through the entire season. That said, from top to bottom, Griffin looks like everything he was made out to be before the injury.

Wes is the Wolves’ Wild Guy on the Outside

Wes Johnson isn’t going to light things up this season, but he could wind up as a fine perimeter player. Johnson is shooting 53% from the arc, which is kind of ridiculous on 8 of 15 shooting. Johnson’s defense hasn’t been bad either, and he’s been part of the Wolves’ preseason success. Johnson wasn’t the best player available, but for a team that needed a shooter immediately, he looks like he might be able to fit in off the bat, and that will make the Wolves a better team.

The New Jersey Whoops

Derrick Favors is 6 of 27. That’s 22%. Which is, you know, horrible. Defensively, it’s not much better. He’s allowed a 50% field goal percentage defensively. He looks lost, he’s unable to finish, and all of his athletic talents are really helping him because he can’t coordinate them at the pro level. Favors is a project. The Nets knew that when they drafted him. So this is nothing for them to freak out about. But the level to which he’s struggled is a concern and that’s going to hurt his ability to get floor time, which is the only thing that will help him develop as a project. It’s a catch-22 and one that Favors may be stuck in for a while, unless this is just a preseason slump.

Dirk Nowitzki on Mavericks sexual harassment allegations: “It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking.”

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Dirk Nowitzki is the face of the Dallas Mavericks franchise, the best player in Dallas history, the future Hall of Famer who led them to a title.

Nowitzki was not named in the bombshell story detailing sexual harassment in the Mavericks’ workplace, nor were any of the players, coaching staff, or basketball operations people. It was all on the business side of the house. That doesn’t mean Nowitzki wasn’t going to be asked about it, as was done by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

“It’s tough,” Nowitzki said after the team practiced at USC in advance of a Friday game against the Lakers. “It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. I’m glad it’s all coming out. I was disgusted when I read the article, obviously, as everybody was. I was shocked about some of the stuff.”

“So really, really disappointed that our franchise, that my franchise, that stuff like that was going on,” Nowitzki said. “It’s very sad and disappointing. But I think [Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban] is trying to step up and lead this franchise to the right direction, and that is hiring investigators, finding out all the little details that we have to know as a franchise what really was going on. I think Mark is going to step up here …

“As a franchise, obviously, we feel bad for the victims and for what happened to some of these ladies. Like I said, it’s truly, truly disgusting. Our thoughts and prayers are definitely with some of these victims.”

That’s exactly what Nowitzki (and the other players) should say. We are all disgusted having read what was going on, and clearly since the misconduct started with a former CEO it sets a tone for the organization that this is acceptable. It is not.

There would be no reason that Nowitzki and other players would have or should have had any idea what was going on over on the business side of the Mavericks organization. Mark Cuban on the other hand… there are still questions to answer, even if he is saying and doing the right things now.

LeBron James on 1-16 playoff seeding: ‘Let’s not get too crazy’

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The NBA’s first newly formatted All-Star game went well (especially for LeBron James). It’ll probably go even better next year when the All-Star draft is televised.

Adam Silver also discussed breaking from another tradition – playoffs divided by conference. The NBA commissioner said 1-16 seeding has gotten “serious attention” from the league office.

LeBron, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“I would disagree with that,” James said Wednesday afternoon following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first practice since the break. “I think our league has been built the right way as far as when it comes to the postseason.”

“It’s cool to mess around with the All-Star Game, we proved you can do that, but let’s not get too crazy about the playoffs. You have Eastern Conference and you have Western Conference. You have Eastern Conference champions, you have guys from the Eastern Conference that win the big dance and sometimes you have it from the West as well.”

LeBron has won seven straight Eastern Conference titles, usually traversing an easier road to the NBA Finals than the Western Conference champion. With the West projecting to remain better for the foreseeable future, does this hint LeBron plans to stay East and wants to keep his advantage? Remaining with the Cavaliers seems slightly more likely now, though maybe LeBron will leave for the 76ers or some other Eastern Conference team. I doubt he knows yet, but I also think he cares about his conference-title streak for legacy reasons – to the point it could affect his free agency. So, this could be preemptive lobbying.

In the past, LeBron has had Silver’s ear. But Silver specifically said in Los Angeles he wasn’t concerned with the tradition issues LeBron raises.

I’m not either.

The NBA has always split the postseason by East and West, but teams have been too fluid between the conferences to feel beholden to the current setup. Current Eastern Conference teams Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic have all been in the Western Conference while in their current locations. And vice versa with the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. (The New Orleans Hornets were in the Eastern Conference before they became the Pelicans and surrendered their history to Charlotte, and the Pelicans are now in the West.)

To Silver, the obstacle is travel. Concern is frequently raised about the possible effects of cross-coast playoff series.

I’m more concerned about the regular season.

Right now, teams play 52 intra-conference and 30 inter-conference. To most logically implement 1-16 seeding, the NBA would have to balance the regular-season schedule. That not only means more travel, it means more awkward start times due to time-zone difference. East Coast fans don’t want to stay up until 10 p.m. to watch their favorite team tip off during Western Conference road trips. West Coast fans don’t want to rush home from work or school to see their favorite team tip off at 4 p.m. during Eastern Conference road trips.

And then there’s the biggest and maybe only real issue: It’s virtually impossible to see enough Eastern Conference owners, who benefit from the current format, voting to change it.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.