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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Preseason Winding Down

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With the regular season starting in under a week, here’s a look at a few items of discussion going on in the NBA right now.

NBA: Preseason-Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Good:

Patrick McCaw: Somehow, the biggest story of the Warriors’ preseason is not how Kevin Durant is fitting in, or why their team might be the greatest of all time, or the exact way Draymond goes around kicking opposing players in the groin. No, the most discussed player on Golden State’s roster is Pat McCaw, a 2nd round rookie from UNLV (and a pre-draft favorite of mine). He is fifth among rookies in scoring and steals in preseason, and is doing so in just 23 minutes per game. McCaw’s strengths in college --playmaking and defense—have translated so far, as he has shown a knack for running the pick and roll and getting into passing lanes. He’s even hit game winning and tying shots for god’s sake. McCaw generally makes the correct play on the court, and teammates and coaches are already raving about his abilities. The last thing the Warriors need is yet another versatile wing who can play multiple positions, hit threes, and handle the ball, but McCaw looks like he could check off all those boxes. Pat still needs to bulk up, and there is every possibility that his preseason stats won’t translate to rotation-level play (at least this season). But he has been perhaps the most impressive rookie so far, and that is a bad sign for the rest of the NBA.

Few Major Injuries: While a handful of players will be out for a couple weeks (Gordon Hayward and Reggie Jackson are the most significant of these), only rookie Ben Simmons and Khris Middleton are out for the season, and both were injured before the preseason began. Middleton’s injury is a serious blow to the Bucks’ playoff chances, but they weren’t exactly a title contender. Simmons being out might cause greater damage to the NBA product as a whole (people were really excited to watch him), but again, it’s not going to effect the outcome of the season. Let’s hope the injuries stay few and far between this season!

Bad:

Length of Preseason: Remember how excited we all were when preseason began a couple weeks ago? Me neither. Most teams have six or seven preseason games, which is just far too many. Players only need a few games to get back into the swing of things, especially since they train and practice all summer anyway. Because most players aren’t going full throttle, and star players are on minute restrictions, the preseason games don’t even help as much as regular season contests. Yes, it is helpful for coaches and general managers to get a last look at end of the bench players, but most of them already know who they want on the regular season roster, and spots are super limited anyway. Coaches check out different lineups and rotations, but again, due to the limit on most players’ minutes, the rotations aren’t what they will be during the season.

The only thing the additional games do is provide an extra opportunity for injury in a meaningless contest, and a chance for fans to attend games on the cheap. Three preseason games, maybe four, should be the maximum. The season could be started a bit earlier, and would also be more stretched out; there would be fewer of those awful four game in five night stretches that teams still go through. Limiting injuries and sheer miles on legs is a good consequence as well, and just about everyone on the “operations side” of the NBA is in favor of the move. The downside is losing gate and television revenue from the removed games, but if eliminating them improves the NBA product that people actually care about, the overall revenue might not change much at all.

Ugly:

Tony Snell/Michael Carter-Williams Trade: This was a depressing trade. Michael Carter-Williams won rookie of the year just two seasons ago, and is already on his third team. Tony Snell was the 20th pick in the draft for a Bulls team that needed shooting, athleticism, and sheer youth. He was just what the doctor ordered. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. Snell was almost useless at anything but low-volume three point shooting, and saying that his defense “came and went” is being charitable. Two (very) different coaches put him on the bench in important situations, and he appeared to be out of the rotation already at the start of this season. This trade, therefore, makes sense in terms of giving MCW and Snell fresh starts.

However, Carter-Williams is joining a roster that already has too many high-usage players who can’t shoot. He might be the second best perimeter defender on the team behind Jimmy Butler (Dwyane Wade can’t keep up his play on that end for more than short stretches), but his lack of shooting makes him unplayable with most of the Bulls’ best players. There are two other intriguing young options on Chicago’s bench already in Jerian Grant and Spencer Dinwiddie, and while it is possible that MCW pushes Rajon Rondo for the starting position, it’s equally likely that he gets pushed out of the rotation completely.

The Bucks are a team that desperately needs help at the guard positions—Snell will probably start on opening night. This seems ideal like an ideal situation… but so did Chicago. Jason Kidd has a short rope with players, and just as in Chicago with MCW, there are young players behind Snell who might push him for minutes. Malcolm Brogdon was a favorite of many draft analysts, and Rashad Vaughn has been talked up by coach Jason Kidd. While I think MCW is able to hold onto his rotation position, I don’t think he will shine there. My prediction is that Snell will be out of the league after this season. Again, depressing stuff.