NBA

Six performances worthy of overreactions in 2021 NBA preseason

The preseason is the perfect time for unbridled optimism. Yes, the wins and stats get pushed aside the moment Brooklyn and Milwaukee tip-off on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean this has all been meaningless.

Now is the opportunity to overreact to some small sample sizes. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt, but it's far more worthwhile to bask in the positives of the preseason than to harp on the negatives.

These four young players and two teams put on a show over the past couple of weeks and have every reason to be optimistic about the upcoming year.

Tyler Herro

Herro wasn't doing anything dramatically different during the preseason, but that is a positive in and of itself. He was fifth in the league with 22.4 points per game - 29.9 points per 36 minutes - and the Heat were 5-0 in games he played.

The game is clearly slowing down for him. He is attacking the defence in the same ways he did in his first two seasons, he just looks far more comfortable and in control while doing so.

It feels like the public soured on Herro last season and the perception seems to be that he took a step back after his fantastic rookie season. The reality, though, was much closer to stagnation.

Tyler Herro's first two seasons
Pts/Gm FG% 3PA/Gm 3P% Ast/Gm Reb/Gm +/-
2019-20 13.5 42.8 5.4 38.9 2.2 4.1 -0.4
2020-21 15.1 43.9 5.5 36.0 3.4 5.0 -1.6

Given all the external factors, his relatively disappointing 2020-21 was understandable.

Miami lost Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Oct. 11, 2020. With only about 130 days to rest, recover and prepare for a gruelling condensed season, it's no wonder Herro didn't take a massive step forward. Now that he has had a full offseason to improve, it looks like that leap has arrived.

Miami is one of the older teams in the league and is going to look to Herro and Bam Adebayo to carry the load during the regular season. If his preseason play is indicative of how he'll perform in that larger role, we can expect big things from Herro this season.

Jordan Poole

Speaking of third-year breakout candidates, Poole had an incredible preseason.

Contrary to Herro, however, Poole looks like he has completely retooled his game. He looks stronger and has more force when driving to the rim. His shot looks quicker and smoother and, as a result, it's dropping at a much higher rate. He was sixth in preseason scoring at 21.8 points per game and shot 36.4 percent from three on 8.8 attempts per game.

Poole is going to be foundational to all Warriors success this season. Steve Kerr is going to look to him to run the second unit offence but he's also going to start next to Stephen Curry until Klay Thompson is healthy.

Having another player who can create his own shot is massive for this offence. Curry hasn't consistently played next to a guard who can create off the dribble and score at all three levels since Monta Ellis. Guard is admittedly doing a lot of work in that sentence because of, you know, Kevin Durant, but the point still stands.

Regardless of where he falls in the rotation, Poole is going to bring some much-needed dynamism to this team. As the Warriors get healthy and coalesce, he is going to be a major piece to their season.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings finished fifth in preseason defence, giving up just 97.6 points per 100 possessions. That may not mean much for some teams but considering the bar Sacramento set last season, that's a notable achievement.

This was the worst defence in the league a year ago. They couldn't defend the 3-point line, couldn't grab defensive rebounds and they fouled a ton. Name a negative defensive tendency and chances are the 2019-20 Kings did it too often.

It's early, but their defence appears to at least be heading in the right direction. They gave up the 12th-fewest offensive rebounds, fouled at the 16th-lowest rate and held opponents to the lowest 3-point percentage in the preseason. Those numbers aren't sustainable for 82 games, but signs of life are important.

For a team with a playoff drought creeping up near its Sweet 16, any step forward is welcome. This was a borderline top-10 offence last season so, if this defensive improvement continues, they can absolutely be in the Play-In mix.

Jordan Nwora

With Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday playing sparingly, Milwaukee frequently ran its offence through Nwora in the preseason. That will obviously change come Tuesday, but he made the most of his opportunity and averaged 17.8 points per game while shooting 41.2 percent from three.

While he may be slightly more anonymous among fans than Herro or Poole, Nwora's emergence isn't coming out of the blue. The 45th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft played just 274 minutes as a rookie but he played well when given the chance. He averaged 22.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals per 36 minutes while shooting 45.2 percent from three.

His preseason performance doesn't seem like a random blip for an otherwise ineffective scorer. This looks like a natural development for a promising young player.

Nwora doesn't have a guaranteed role, but he'll have an opportunity to factor into the rotation. There should be minutes available behind Khris Middleton and, if his preseason performance is any indication, Mike Budenholzer isn't going to be able to keep him off the floor.

OG Anunoby

Anunoby was the focal point of Toronto's preseason offence and he looked remarkably comfortable stepping into that role.

He's still capable of playing off-ball and slashing to the rim, but most of his improvement has come from the 3-point line. Over half of Anunoby's team-leading 19.3 points per game came off 3s and he shot 54.2 percent from deep.

He routinely pulled up off the dribble and let it fly in the preseason, something we almost never saw from him in his first four seasons. 46.2 percent of Anunoby's 3s were unassisted in the preseason, an absurd number considering just 2.9 percent of his 3s were unassisted last season. We're witnessing a dramatic flip in his offensive approach.

For reference, only 13 players in the league were unassisted on more than 46.2 percent of their 3s last season. Nine of those 13 were All-Stars. That level of efficiency on self-created 3s isn't something you can brush off. It's an elite offensive skill that Anunoby is developing before our eyes.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls were third in preseason offence and first in defence. Their +19.8 net rating was the best in the league after three games before Dallas broke the scale by beating Charlotte by 68 points.

Chicago accelerated the timeline quite a bit this summer and, so far, plans seem to be working as designed. Zach LaVine is still playing like an All-Star and DeMar DeRozan looks comfortable in his new role as the second option. The Bulls outscored opponents by 72 points in 86 minutes when both were on the court, so I would say the early signs have been positive.

Lonzo Ball created havoc on defence - he averaged an absurd 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game - and Alex Caruso excelled as the backup point guard, averaging 5.5 assists in just 23.3 minutes per game.

This dominance came without Patrick Williams and once he returns, this should be an even more dynamic team. The new-look Bulls still have far to go, but they've made a fantastic first impression.

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