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The NBA preseason is officially underway and even a sample size of a single game we’re already seeing some rookies showing out against the increased level of competition and more experienced players benefiting from the different situations around him. Here are the most surprising stars after the first game of preseason action.
Otto Porter Jr., Golden State Warriors
Porter Jr.’s reputation has slowly declined since his 2017-18 season with the Wizards when averaged 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, shooting 44.1 percent from beyond the arc. A big reason for that was a slew of injuries that allowed him to appear in just 98 of a possible 219 games over the past three seasons. That’s why his signing by the Golden State Warriors wasn’t met with much fanfare. But after one preseason game, it’s worth imagining what he could do for the Warriors this season if he stays healthy.
Porter Jr. played just over 17 minutes in the Warriors’ win over the Trail Blazers, putting up 19 points, 4 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals, shooting 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Even through all his injuries, he was still an elite shooter, hitting 39.6 percent from beyond the arc over the past three years. He’s also a smart defender and above-average passer whose ability to play both the 3 and the 4. There should be plenty of minutes available for him this season even if his role is smaller than it was in Washington and playing off Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is going to allow him to lean into what he does best in a way he hasn’t ever really been able to.
You don’t want to get too excited by a single game but it was just a reminder of who Otto Porter Jr. can be and what it could mean for the Warriors as they look to battle for another championship.
Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Giddey was something of a surprise for the Thunder with the No. 6 pick but they found themselves intrigued by his combination of size, vision and playmaking ability. The 6-foot-8 point guard played just five minutes at Summer League before suffering an ankle sprain so Monday night’s 113-97 loss to the Hornets was the first extended look at the rookie against NBA combination.
Giddey finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, shooting 8-of-12 from the field and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He looked fantastic in the settings where his skill would be expected to translate quickly — grab-and-go in transition, finding seams in the pick-and-roll — but he also flashed some stretch skills. Giddey created some buckets for himself, attacking the basket and finishing in traffic, and even hitting a pair of catch-and-shoot 3s (the most important swing skill for him).
Again, it’s one game. But Giddey looked confident and under control with the ball in his hands and played aggressively against the Hornets’ regular rotation and alongside several of the Thunder’s core starters. Even if he’s not replicating this level of efficiency throughout his rookie season he’s clearly a piece with plenty of upside.
Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Raptors’ fans were swooning over Barnes’ preseason debut, and rightly so. He finished his first game with 13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks, shooting 6-of-10 from the field. His six assists came in a variety of settings — hitting cutters from the low-post, hit-aheads in transition, glorified hand-offs top open shooters. He also added a dunk on an aggressive drive, a pull-up jumper from the top of the key and 25 minutes of wild, suffocating defense.
Barnes is going to make lots of mistakes and have some rough games with turnovers and fouls, but he’s incredibly skilled and incredibly aggressive, and is going to play a lot of exciting minutes for the Raptors this season.
Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
Injuries to Markelle Fultz and a slew of trades forced Cole Anthony into a much larger offensive role as a rookie than he was probably prepared for. He averaged 12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game but shot 39.7 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from behind the arc. Anthony has a much higher ceiling as a shooter but playing as often the only creator for his entire team put him in a tough spot.
In Orlando’s 98-97 loss to the Celtics, Monday night, Anthony came off the bench, played 22 minutes and put up 16 points with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Most importantly, he shot 6-of-12 from the field and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Anthony was 3-of-4 on catch-and-shoot 3s and 1-of-3 on pull-ups, although one of those was forced as the shot clock was expiring.
A whopping 43 percent of Anthony’s 3-pointers last season were pull-ups and that number should come down dramatically, to his benefit this year. Sharing the creation load with Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac, Gary Harris and Franz Wagner should give him opportunities to be more selective with his pull-ups and drives and attempt far more open catch-and-shoot attempts. Anthony is not a star but he’s a skilled offensive player who should benefit dramatically from the increase in talent around him.
Upsets are exceedingly rare in the WNBA Playoffs but we’re watching two Cinderella runs playing out across the WNBA semifinals.