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Preseason Observations: Morris Brothers Cleared, Simmons Dazzles

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

With all 30 NBA training camps in full swing and the first batch of real, actual (exhibition) games in the books, Nick Whalen takes a look around the league at the biggest storylines of the preseason thus far.

- The Morris twins were officially cleared of all charges by a jury in Phoenix. They’ll now report to their respective camps and are unlikely to face any further discipline from the NBA. Marcus is expected to step in as the starting power forward in Boston, while Markieff will fill the same role in Washington once he’s fully recovered from surgery to repair a sports hernia. The Celtics confirmed that Marcus will play in Friday’s game against Philadelphia.

- The Knicks started Kyle O’Quinn at center and Ramon Sessions at point guard in Tuesday’s opener against the Nets. Ron Baker and Joakim Noah (rest) were both unavailable, so it’s tough to ascertain what it all means. This is a lineup that could be in flux all season, and Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway, Jr. might be the only constants.

Frank Ntilikina struggled in 18 minutes off the bench, finishing with five points on 1-of-7 shooting. Michael Beasley scored eight points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists if you’re into that sort of thing.

- D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin started in the backcourt for the Nets in a possible preview of what we’ll see when the regular season opens. That pairing makes the most sense, but the Nets are loaded with a number of young guards, including Sean Kilpatrick, Isaiah Whitehead, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert.

LeVert and Crabbe, who has a good chance to start over DeMarre Carroll at small forward, were both sidelined Tuesday with minor injuries.

Kenny Atkinson implied Wednesday that Whitehead might be the odd man out.

- Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo each played at least 30 minutes Tuesday against the Bulls. And the Pelicans lost. Yes, it’s the preseason, but it wasn’t the most encouraging start to the Rondo era in New Orleans.

Rondo had five points and eight assists, while Davis (24pts, 10reb) and Cousins (20pts, 10reb) both put up double-doubles.

- Josh Jackson made his debut Tuesday night against Portland. The fourth overall pick came off the bench and finished with 14 points (5-12), three rebounds and six turnovers in 15 minutes. Most encouraging? Jackson hit two of his three attempts from beyond the arc.

Interestingly, in the NBA’s annual GM Survey, not a single GM picked Jackson to win the Rookie of the Year Award. But Jackson was the leading vote-getter in the Which rookie will be the best player in five years? category.

The small forward spot in Phoenix is one to keep an eye on. Jackson will likely begin the year coming off the bench behind T.J. Warren -- who put up 24 points and six rebounds Tuesday -- but he could push for a starting spot later in the year. Regardless, the rookie should be a regular rotation player from day one for what will likely be one of the three worst teams in the West.

- A slimmed-down Jusuf Nurkic put up 16 points (8-13 FG) and three rebounds against the Suns, abusing Marquese Chriss a few times in the process.


Meanwhile, rookie Caleb Swanigan looked good in his first NBA action, finishing with 18 points (6-10 FG, 2-2 3PT) and six boards in just 17 minutes. “It’s safe to say the rookie will play and play a lot this season,” tweeted Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest.

- James Harden and Chris Paul combined for 27 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds, five steals, two blocks and seven turnovers in their debut Tuesday night. Harden accounted for 10 of those assists -- and all seven turnovers -- in 29 minutes, while taking 16 shots, compared to Paul’s five.

- On the other side of that matchup, the Thunder, playing without Russell Westbrook, got 19 points from Carmelo Anthony and 15 from Paul George.

-Andre Roberson will not be participating in the three-point contest at All-Star Weekend.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to Bucks practice Wednesday following the death of his father.

- Ben Simmons might be alright. In his first real NBA game action Wednesday, Simmons handed out nine assists to go with six points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes. He was only 2-of-8 from the field -- both of his makes came on floaters near the basket -- but it was clear he was the most talented player on the court. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was mildly impressed by the rookie, to say the least:

“Oh my God, I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years,” Fizdale said. “That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. The way he moves with the ball, his ability to see the floor, the way he can get places on the floor. Once he gets confidence in his shot where you really have to close out all the way to the three. Wow. He is a big-time talent.”


- While Simmons shined, Markelle Fultz struggled in his Sixers debut. The No. 1 overall pick finished with four points on just 2-of-13 shooting, with two rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, the Sixers let Jahlil Okafor play in a basketball game, and he finished with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks (!!!) in 19 minutes off the bench. EA Sports NCAA March Madness 2005 coverboy Emeka Okafor scored two points and grabbed five boards in his first NBA action since 2013.

- We got our first look at the Kevin-Love-at-center version of the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Playing without LeBron James, the Cavs started Love, Jae Crowder, J.R. Smith, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, each of whom played 15 minutes before taking the rest of the night off. Once James returns, Ty Lue will have to decide between Smith and Wade at two-guard.

In other Cavs shooting guard news, Iman Shumpert will miss the next 7-10 days with a sprained left foot. LeBron James also went through a full practice Thursday.

- The Bulls lost by 47 points in Dallas on Wednesday. The preseason is the preseason, but 47 points is a lot of points. So many points. Considering Chicago is one of the few teams that’s preseason rotation won’t be all that different from its regular season look, this was not a great sign. Kris Dunn, the centerpiece (I guess?) of the Jimmy Butler deal, finished with two points (1-9 FG), six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes off the bench, while Jerian Grant got the start at point guard.

- While Lonzo Ball sat out with a minor ankle injury, Kyle Kuzma once again stole the show in the Lakers’ loss to Denver on Wednesday. Kuzma finished with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting and has now led the Lakers in scoring in all three of their preseason games.


- Giannis Antetokounmpo warmed up prior to Wednesday’s game against the Pacers but did not play. He’s expected to return to game action within the next week.

- With Glenn Robinson III out indefinitely, the Pacers will lean on Bojan Bogdanovic for increased contributions at small forward. Bogdanovic started Wednesday alongside Myles Turner, Thad Young, Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison. Turner led the way with 17 points, nine boards and three blocks in 24 minutes, while former (possibly current?) And1 endorsee Lance Stephenson added 17 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals off the bench.

- Is Brandan Wright... back? Wright has played in 40 total games for the Grizzlies since signing as a free agent two summers ago and is finally healthy after a lengthy list of injuries. With Marc Gasol sitting out Wednesday in Philly, Wright put up 16 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. Memphis has one of the NBA’s shallowest frontcourts, so Wright should be a key contributor off the bench this season, provided he stays healthy.

- Stanley Johnson got the start at small forward in the Pistons’ preseason opener. With Marcus Morris out of the picture, the third-year wing looks to be the top candidate to move into the lineup, but if he struggles, Stan Van Gundy could pivot to Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson, or even rookie Luke Kennard.

- In his second taste of preseason action, Malik Monk put up 19 points off the bench and hit four of his 10 three-point attempts in 23 minutes. The Hornets will be desperate for bench scoring, and something tells me Monk will be more than happy to offer his services.

- Joel Embiid did not play in Wednesday’s preseason opener, and he’s already been ruled out for Friday’s matchup with the Celtics. However, at Thursday’s practice Embiid took part in full-court, 5-on-5 scrimmages for the first time.



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