Welcome to NBA Preseason. A time in which we get to see the work that a number of players put in throughout the offseason. It's also a popular time to see some fresh new faces around the league. Rookies from the previous draft class are finally getting their first taste of what it's like to play in an NBA game. But the preseason is also a popular time for overreactions from fans and analysts. Sure, it's always important to "pump the breaks" a little when you're evaluating what certain players are doing in these games. But there's also a fine line here when we are talking about evaluating specific "skills" when it comes to these performances.
Let's not beat around the bush here. Most of the veterans that you see in the preseason are most likely going through the motions. Teams are experimenting with rotations and trying to rapidly prepare for the long haul of the upcoming season. BUT I do firmly believe that there's a benefit to watching these games, especially when taking a look at the incoming class of rookies. As we've talked about before, the 2020 class had more time to prepare for the upcoming season than any previous draft class. This means that a number of prospects were able to focus on specific areas of their games that some of us considered being a weakness. Below I wanted to breakdown some of the rookies that have impressed during this preseason and why it's not a terrible idea to overreact to some of these players performing at a high level in these games.
ISAAC OKORO, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
This is a perfect example of a rookie in which we absolutely should be thrilled with out of the gate. The former Auburn product was selected 5th overall in the 2020 Draft and basketball fans were thrilled to see what Okoro could do immediately on the defensive side of the ball. What they didn't expect was Okoro's offensive game to come along so rapidly. Okoro was a draft prospect that had some questions about his outside shooting. After shooting just 28.3% last year at Auburn, Okoro has shown promising developments with his outside shooting. Sure, the sample size has been small (3 games), but the confidence that Okoro has shown with his shooting from deep is encouraging. So far, Okoro is averaging 14.3 PPG while shooting 61.9% from the field and 62.5% from 3. Of course, it's incredibly unlikely that Okoro will sustain those numbers, but it also shows that Cleveland Cavaliers fans should be thrilled with the rapid development of their brand new toy.
Isaac Okoro has been outstanding for CLE, averaging 16.5 PTS in 2 GP while knocking down 3-of-5 3s and bringing toughness. High IQ passer, dynamic in transition, defends everyone, nose for the ball. Okoro should end up as one of the most impactful rookies: https://t.co/6rt5BmEqij pic.twitter.com/XxndcdhLwn— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) December 15, 2020
LAMELO BALL, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Another prospect that has generated some serious buzz around the league, and it's not just because of his scoring ability. LaMelo Ball came into this draft with questions about his outside shooting. While that's going to be a question that swarms around LaMelo Ball like a shark in open waters, it's other aspects of his game that have brought serious energy into this Charlotte Hornets roster. Ball was no doubt one of the most electric passers in this draft class. His vision in the open floor and overall feel for the game are outstanding. Ball has transitioned effortlessly, and you can see the energy that the Hornets players have whenever LaMelo has the ball in his hands. The outside shooting will come with time throughout the year and this year's 3rd overall selection is likely to have some nights where he struggles from outside. But the small sample size so far has proven that LaMelo will be one of the more exciting players to keep an eye on throughout the regular season. In 3 games, LaMelo is averaging 10.0 PPG, 5.0 REB, and 3.7 AST.
DENI AVDIJA, WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Another player that some might have thought would take a while to hit the ground running. That's just been the opposite case for 9th overall selection Deni Avdija. The former Euroleague product was thought to be a bit of a "project" due to his lack of production overseas. But it's always important to point out that the Euroleague isn't a walk in the park in terms of competition. Avdija has looked fantastic during his small sample for the Wizards. The former Maccabi Tel Aviv forward came into the draft with serious concerns about his outside shooting. They were fair, as Avdija didn't put up the production from deep that made people comfortable with his outside shot projecting immediately. So far so good for Avdija, as he's shown confidence in his outside shooting. In just two games, Avdija is shooting 42.9% from 3 while averaging 11.0 PPG, 4.5 REB, and 2.5 AST. Avdija has been so impressive so far that head coach Scott Brooks has mentioned how it might be hard to keep the rookie out of the starting lineup. We would hope so Scotty.
MALACHI FLYNN, TORONTO RAPTORS
The final player on this list of rookies that deserves some serious love is this year's 29th overall selection. So far, it looks as if the Toronto Raptors found themselves a good one in Malachi Flynn. The former San Diego State product has demonstrated a fantastic feel for the game and has been a walking bucket every time he takes the floor. Flynn looks to be a promising asset for the Raptors off of the bench and should be in line for some serious playing time in the Raptors rotation. The scoring ability isn't the only thing that has stood out when it comes to Malachi. He's done a great job of creating good looks for his teammates as well. In 2 games, Flynn is averaging 13.0 PPG in just 19.8 MIN of action, while shooting 42.9% from 3.
Have been impressed with #Raptors rookie Malachi Flynn so far this preseason.— Backcourt Violation (@backcourtv) December 15, 2020
The 29th pick in the 2020 #NBADraft has shown great confidence and ability to create offense so far. Although a small sample, Flynn is currently averaging 13.0 PTS while shooting 52.6% from the field. pic.twitter.com/eGFTLFq9wy
Yes, it's always important to take the preseason with a grain of salt. But it's also an important time to see if previous players' "weaknesses" have started to improve on the fly. With a shortened preseason, overreactions are going to be more lethal than ever. But it's never a bad thing to be intrigued by what you've seen from a certain player. Only time will show us if what we are seeing can withstand throughout an entire NBA season.