“The NBA preseason doesn’t matter.”
It’s a common disclaimer that becomes almost reflexive in October each year, but in the process of trying to look patient and smart and not overly reactive, we can just as easily overlook early indications of what a team (and its individual players) may look like come the regular season. It’s not to say there isn’t an absurd amount of noise in a six-game sample of games that don’t count, but it can certainly be instructive, especially for young players growing into expanded roles. For instance, consider what we wrote about Giannis Antetokounmpo in our preseason recap last year:
After a forgettable first two games, Giannis Antetokounmpo thankfully began to look a bit more like a potential two-way star over the past week. Buoyed by a strong finish including a 23-point effort in Minnesota, the Greek Freak posted preseason per 36 averages of 16.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks to go with 56.2% true shooting and a PER of 18.2 -- not exactly superstar numbers, but clear improvements on his 14/15 figures (14.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per 36, 55.2% true shooting and 14.8 PER). Also of note is how Giannis did his scoring: while he was probably too willing to huck up contested mid-range jumpers, he also hit 3/6 from deep while still boosting his free throw rate from a year ago. He still has a ways to go as a roll man and initiator from the elbow, but there's no reason to think he can't improve markedly in both areas. If it happens? Look out.
Now compare those per-36 numbers above with what Giannis actually did in 80 regular season games last year: 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 56.6% true shooting and an 18.8 PER. Will the 2016 preseason prove similarly predictive for Giannis and some of his other teammates? And will we be happy if it is? Let’s dig into the numbers (via RealGM’s excellent stats page) along with part one of our preseason wrap-up podcast:
Giannis and Jabari stuff the box score. Despite some early struggles, both Giannis and Jabari finished the season with the kind of numbers you’d be happy to see come regular season. Offensively, both topped 21+ points per 36 — add a point to each if you adjust for the Bucks’ slow pace — on terrific efficiency, and they at least showed some willingness to shoot from deep (4.1 attempts/36 together).
Encouragingly, Jabari also nabbed nearly nine boards per 36, including a 20% defensive rebound rate that’s well above the paltry 13% he posted a year ago. Giannis also dished out 5.2 apg — not quite the 7+ he averaged after last season’s all-star break, but indicative of the central playmaking role he’ll need to play.
Delly’s fit. Matthew Dellavedova’s start in Milwaukee has been exactly as advertised, as he averaged 10 points and nearly nine assists per 36 while hitting 5/11 threes and posting an excellent 57.4% true shooting mark in his first exhibition season. While he wouldn’t start for most teams, the way he complements the rest of the roster makes him the only obvious starter other than the Giannis and Jabari.
Speaking of which, the Bucks’ young studs were even more efficient with Dellavedova on the court: Giannis’ true shooting bumped to an excellent 61.5% while Jabari’s was boosted to 60.7% in 87 preseason minutes with Delly on the court (via NBAWowy.com). And while the Bucks’ defense left much to be desired — they allowed nearly 1.11 points/possession when that trio was together — their offense posted an excellent 1.09 points/possession as well.
Preseason Promises. As we discussed on Thursday, Jason Kidd’s vow for the Bucks to play faster and shoot more threes has been thus far...well, a bust. The Bucks finished the preseason ranked last in pace, 27th in offensive efficiency, 27th in threes made, and 28th in threes attempted. The Bucks were a fair bit better defensively (16th), but overall there was a substantial gap between what the Bucks were in October and what they hope to be this season.
Thon’s transition. Thon Maker impressed in his Vegas with his activity and shooting touch, but so far we’ve yet to see evidence he’s ready to translate that into productive NBA minutes. Some of that is due to circumstance — Maker sprained his wrist on the first day of training camp, missed the Bucks’ first exhibition game and might have been limited by it over the past few weeks.
Still, in 73 preseason minutes, Maker tallied a paltry 10 rebounds, one block, one assist and no steals. He showed good mobility and an ability to track players of different sizes all over the court, but that was about it. We all knew that he’d need to add strength and refine his offensive skillset, but he’ll need to be able to make some plays defensively to earn minutes this season.
Vaughn’s valley. Khris Middleton’s injury provided Rashad Vaughn a golden opportunity to earn major rotation minutes, but so far his preseason has somehow been even more disappointing than what came before it. Appearing in just two games due to a recurring ankle injury, Vaughn hit just 1/11 threes and 2/13 shots overall in 46 exhibition minutes. The Bucks have until the end of the month to pick up his third-year player option, so it was interesting that they exercised Jabari Parker’s fourth-year option last week without doing the same for Vaughn; previously they’ve always picked up all of their rookie options at once.
Beasley. Michael Beasley only played 47 preseason minutes, but those were enough to make me not look forward to watching him this season. It’s not for a lack of counting stats -- he piled up 19 points and a whopping 14 boards per 36! But he also lackadaisically chucked his way to 29% shooting from the field and an ulcer-inducing number of off-balance mid-range jumpers.
Moose doing...stuff. Weirdly, Greg Monroe couldn’t get buckets (16.6 pts/36 but on a miserable 38% true shooting) — the one thing he normally does. Even weirder, he did pretty much everything else: 12.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 4.0 steals (huh?), and 1.8 blocks (ok!). I don’t expect that will make him any easier to move, but stay tuned.
The other rook. Malcolm Brogdon showed enough two-way composure for the Bucks to feel comfortable shipping Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago, though it wasn’t because of Brogdon’s preseason numbers. Though he was an extremely efficient scorer at UVA, Brogdon’s shot hasn’t looked particularly convincing thus far (32% overall, 24% from three) and his assist/turnover ratio fell dramatically from 22/3 in Vegas to 21/14 in exhibition season.
Classic John Henson. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: John Henson was fairly efficient, rebounded worse than you’d expect, blocked a bunch of shots....and didn’t play as much as you might think.