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.

Warriors first team favored over the field for championship entering season since Michael Jordan’s Bulls

7 Jun 1998:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls walks on the court during the NBA Finals Game 3 against the Utah Jazz at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bulls defeated the Jazz 96-54. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
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When asked my prediction for the 2017 NBA champion, I say the Warriors have about a 50-50 chance. Some call that a copout answer – but it’s really not.

For a team to have even odds against 29 others combined entering the season is extraordinary.

Just how rare is it?

David Purdum of ESPN:

Jeff Sherman, head NBA oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, remembers the 1997-98 Bulls team, which was coming off a 72-win season, being around a minus-125 title favorite entering that season.

But Sherman and other sports betting industry veterans struggled to recall another team — in basketball, baseball or football — that was an odds-on favorite to start the season.

Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen led Chicago to the championship in 1998 (which was actually two seasons removed from the 72-win year).

Will Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson also meet their oversized expectations and deliver a title this year?

Flip a coin.

Report: Minnesota still talking Tyus Jones trade, Sixers may have interest

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 08:  Tyus Jones #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a portrait during the 2015 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 8, 2015 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Tyus Jones has a lot to like — he’s a point guard who makes good decisions, his shot is developing (40 percent from three at Summer League), and he’s got skills. Minnesota won the Summer League championship because of Jones’ leadership — just drafted and highly touted Kris Dunn was out for the title game, that’s where Jones shined.

But Dunn is the future at the point in Minnesota, and Ricky Rubio is still there. So Minnesota is seeing what might be out there for Jones, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota has had talks with Philadelphia, New Orleans, and others about Jones for a while.

Jones is likely a steady backup point guard at the NBA level — he’s a smart passer, knows how to run a team, and as his shot develops he becomes more dangerous. His downside is defense, but as a reserve that’s less of an issue.

For a team like the Sixers — without Jerryd Bayless to start the season — or while New Orleans waits for Jrue Holiday‘s return, Jones makes some sense. The only question is the price going back to Minnesota.

Report: Bucks preparing for Greg Monroe to opt in next summer

Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe, center, drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca, left, and guard Tyreke Evans, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
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The Bucks got a rude awakening about Greg Monroe‘s value when they tried to sell low on him this offseason – and still got no takers.

Now, Milwaukee seems to have gotten the picture. Monroe – whose agent claimed the center could name his contract terms from multiple teams last year – might opt into the final year of his deal, which would pay $17,884,176.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Milwaukee is already preparing for the possibility Monroe opts into his deal for 2017-18, league sources say.

The Bucks indicated this thinking when they extended Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s contract, putting a large 2017-18 salary rather than a relatively low cap hold on the books to begin next offseason. If Monroe opts in, the difference in Antetokounmpo’s initial cap number is far less likely to matter. (Though Antetokounmpo’s extension wasn’t a complete giveaway into Milwaukee’s Monroe expectation, because the Bucks saved over the life of the extension.)

Don’t put it past Monroe to opt out if he believes he can find a better situation. After all, he signed the small qualifying offer to leave a tough basketball fit with Andre Drummond in Detroit. Monroe also took the risk of a shorter detail in Milwaukee. He’s secure enough in himself to at least consider moving on if he’s unhappy.

It’s also possible he finds a satisfying role with the Bucks. They’ll bring him off the bench, which could hide his defensive shortcomings and give him a chance to mash backup bigs. Heck, he could even play well enough to justify opting out.

There’s still a full season before Monroe must decide on his option, and a lot can change by then. But it seems Milwaukee now has a realistic expectation.

Report: NBA increases 2017-18 salary-cap projection to $103 million

AP Money Found

The NBA is reportedly closing in on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the new deal will still call for owners and players to split Basketball Related Income about 50-50.

So, July’s projection of a $102 million salary cap in 2017-18 still carries weight – except it’s been updated.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Why the change?

Perhaps, the shortfall adjustment – which increases the cap when teams don’t spend enough the previous year – is being revised in the new CBA.

More likely, the league anticipates more revenue. These projections tend to start conservative then rise as July nears.