It’s finally here. The night we have all been waiting for. Months full of roster changes and hypothetical scenarios have all led up to this: the 2019-20 home opener, happening Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets. To say mid-October is like Christmas in October for basketball fans is an understatement.
With the regular season starting in mere days, I started to think: what can we as fans make of the preseason? Even though we must take the results and stats with a grain of salt, there are still story lines worth exploring. Here’s what I saw when looking at the stats.
Development Continues for Second & Third-Year Players
Statistically speaking, Zach Collins had a great preseason. Using stats from RealGm, Collins was the third-leading scorer at 13.6 per game (behind CJ and Dame), and added 7.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Additionally, he shot 50.9/22.2/71.4 which, aside from the low percentage from deep, is pretty good for a 21-year old. With his role expected to be significant this coming season, I don’t think this preseason could have gone much better. Plus, he didn’t get hurt which is the main goal during the five exhibition matchups.
As for Anfernee Simons, his averages of 12.4 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists aren’t jaw-dropping, though shooting 11/22 from behind-the-arc is. The second-year guard has shown flashes of his potential throughout summer league and preseason as he continues to draw rave reviews from within the organization. It now comes down to Simons to prove that he can produce on a regular basis against NBA-caliber opposition.
Skal Labissiere, who is now in a contract year, also showed well. His 8.2 rebounds per game led the team, adding to his 7.8 points and 1 block. He also shot the ball well, connecting on 41.2% of his shot attempts and made 71.4% of his free throws. While he might not have played many minutes during the regular season last year, he could have a chance to prove himself early this season with Gasol still on the mend and Nurk's continued absence.
Injury updates: Whiteside tweaks ankle, Gasol doesn’t play
The team stayed relatively healthy throughout preseason play, with the only real injury being Hassan Whiteside's sprained left ankle. While it was Whiteside's second time injuring his left ankle since camp started, Joe Freeman of the Oregonian tweeted that Whiteside will be ready for opening night. Freeman also added in a separate tweet that Pau Gasol won’t be ready to play against the Nuggets as he continues to rehab after an offseason foot surgery.
Noteworthy observations: Bazemore’s steals, Hezonja’s well-rounded game
Aside from the expected production of Dame (16points/3.3 assists) and CJ (20.7 points/3 assists), Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja both had solid preseasons in terms of productivity.
Bazemore’s 3-and-D ability showed, as he led the team with 2.4 steals per game. Last season, the league-leader in that category was Paul George who averaged 2.21. Baze also shot 44% from three on 3.6 attempts which, out of the players who attempted more than one three point shot per game, was second on the team behind CJ McCollum. Given how Portland tends to be a place where players rejuvenate their careers, I think it could be worth watching Bazemore's play this season.
Another player who could succeed in Portland’s culture? Mario Hezonja. The fifth-year forward has had some underwhelming years into Portland after being drafted fifth overall in 2015. With preseason averages of 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.6 steals, Hezonja’s production this preseason is the best across his previous four seasons – whether that be preseason or regular season. Granted, five games is a small sample size, but with career best production and positive remarks coming from the locker room, he could be in line for a breakout season.
The Blazers and Nuggets tip-off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Moda Center, with a national broadcast on ESPN and local broadcast on NBC Sports Northwest.
With all these considered, let us know in the comment section #RipCity - who are you most excited to watch this coming season?