Saturday Starting Five: Your Preseason Rookie Report


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.

Frank Vogel says Paul George is best two-way player in game

Paul George, John Wall
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The moniker of the “best two-way player” sounds more like something an agent made up to gain a little leverage contract negotiations. It’s a nebulous concept. It’s an intentional dig at whomever is perceived as a better player, suggesting they don’t play enough defense.

But it’s part of the NBA lexicon now, and Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel thinks he has the best two-way player in the game in the resurgent Paul George. Tuesday night George dropped 40 points on Wizards and Vogel said this after the game, via the Washington Post.

“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”

Paul George’s return to an elite level of play is one of the best stories of this young NBA season — for nine straight games now he has scored at least 25 points, he has pushed the Pacers to a 9-5 record with a top 10 NBA offense and defense. Tuesday night John Wall talked about how George’s improved jumper has made him a far more dangerous, more difficult to guard player. And he’s still a lock-down defender.

But George is not the best two-way player in the game — that’s Stephen Curry. George does not have the offensive impact that Curry brings to the Warriors, plus Curry has developed into a solid NBA defender. Curry gets steals, plays smart, and is a positive on defense, plus he’s the best offensive player in the league right now.

That doesn’t make the return of Paul George any less fun, any less good for the game. It’s great to see George back. Whatever you want to call him.



Kobe Bryant “not really worried” about his shooting after 1-of-14 night

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Sometimes a picture can tell the story better than words.

That’s why above you can see all of Kobe Bryant‘s shot attempts against the Warriors Tuesday, a night where he went 1-of-14 from the floor (and “facilitator Kobe” had two assists). If you want another picture, here is Kobe’s shot chart for the game.

Kobe shot chart vs. Warriors

On the season, Kobe is shooting 31.1 percent overall, 19.5 percent from three, and he has a career low true shooting percentage of 41.5 percent. It’s hard to watch. On a team that is supposed to be developing their young stars, Kobe took as many shots as D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle combined. Laker coach Byron Scott is good with Kobe doing whatever he wants.

But Kobe is worried about his shooting performances, right? Not so much. From Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

If Kobe can figure out the Lakers’ system this season, he will be in a club of one.

I could go on a longer rant here, but the bottom line is this is just a sad spectacle to watch. And there’s a lot of season left to watch it.

Kobe Bryant: Warriors can make run at record 33-game win streak

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Pat Riley compared the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to one of the legendary guard tandems the game has ever seen — Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. Two Hall of Famers who led the 1972 Lakers to an NBA title.

That West/Goodrich team also won 33 straight games that season.

The Warriors are off to the fastest start in NBA history at 16-0 after destroying the hapless Lakers on Tuesday night, and the question of “when will they lose?” Kobe Bryant thinks these Warriors could get to that legendary 33 mark, as he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“Yeah, they could do it – because they’re good,” Bryant said afterward. “It’s a very young league, and they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players, and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend (the record).”

The Warriors are not even halfway there and have shown some flashes of one-game vulnerability of late (a rough game against the Nets, for example). They have an upcoming seven-game road trip with a couple back-to-backs where they likely stumble at least once.

Then again, look at their next dozen opponents: Suns, Kings, Jazz, Hornets, Raptors, Nets, Pacers, Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Bucks, Jazz. Teams such as the Raptors and Pacers are certainly playing well, but there is no team on that list that makes you step back and say “that’s a loss.” Get through that dozen and the Warriors are at 28-0 and the Lakers’ record is within shot. The Warriors are not going to stop doing what they do — if the wearable science tells them Curry needs a night off, he’ll sit — but if they can get close, for a team trying to establish a legacy of greatness this would be a step in that direction.

The 16-0 mark already is.

Nick Young wears Gilbert Arenas’ old shoes during game (PHOTO)

Nick Young, Devin Harris
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In a disastrous Lakers season, one thing can be counted on (besides Byron Scott saying absurd things about Kobe Bryant): Nick Young will always be able to lighten the mood. He brought some levity to the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Warriors on Tuesday night with a blast from the past: a pair of gold shoes formerly worn by his ex-Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas.

These shoes, like Swaggy, and like Gilbert before the injuries and the guns, are awesome and should be celebrated.