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Preseason Observations: Greek Freak Returns, Jazz Lose Exum

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 the preseason in full swing, Nick Whalen takes a look around the league at the biggest storylines of the preseason thus far.

- The already-shallow Hornets will be without Nic Batum for at least 8-to-12 weeks. The versatile wing suffered a torn ligament in his left elbow in Charlotte’s win over the Pistons on Wednesday. The good news: it’s his non-shooting arm. The bad news: Jeremy Lamb is going to play a lot of minutes.

- Giannis Antetokounmpo made his preseason debut Friday in Chicago after missing the Bucks’ first two exhibition contests in the wake of his father’s death. Suffice it to say the Greek Freak was up to his old tricks.


- The Heat once again started Rodney McGruder at small forward in Thursday’s loss to the Nets. McGruder went scoreless (0-1 FG) in 17 minutes, while Justise Winslow had eight points and three assists off the bench. Josh Richardson finished with six points and four assists in 25 reserve minutes. Spoelstra started McGruder again Saturday in Orlando. The Kansas State product would appear to have the inside track to the small forward spot as the regular season approaches.

- The Rockets put 144 points on the Shanghai Sharks on Thursday. Chris Paul and James Harden each played 26 minutes and combined for 22 assists. Paul added 11 points and four steals, while Harden tallied nine points, three rebounds and a pair of blocks. Shanghai -- playing without Jimmer Fredette -- might not be the best measuring stick, but Paul and Harden seem to be coexisting just fine so far. Houston launched 52 three-pointers as a team, a number it reached six times last season.

- Caleb Swanigan was impressive again in Thursday’s game against the Raptors. After putting up 18 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes in his debut, Swanigan followed up with six points, eight boards, three assists and a steal in 18 minutes. We can debate what his ultimate ceiling is, but the unanimous All-American looks as NBA-ready as advertised.

- Reggie Jackson will make his preseason debut Monday night against Indiana. Jackson is expected to play roughly 12 minutes in the first half, after which he’ll be evaluated. The point guard has been battling a groin issue, on top of the knee tendinitis that plagued him for much of last year. Andre Drummond (pink eye) will remain sidelined.

- Jeff Green can still dunk a basketball. Quite well, in fact.


- Markelle Fultz sat out Friday’s game against the Celtics but will be available off the bench Monday.

- Russell Westbrook made his preseason debut Friday against the Pelicans. The reigning MVP played just 10 minutes, finishing with 9 points (3-5 FG) and four assists. Paul George paced the Thunder with 25 points in 27 minutes.

- The Wizards lost Sheldon Mac for the season with a torn Achilles. Obviously, Mac wasn’t a major difference-maker, but the Wizards are right up there with Charlotte when it comes to Eastern Conference playoff contenders lacking depth.

- With Tyson Chandler resting Friday, the Suns went with a smaller lineup featuring Marquese Chriss at center with Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren at the forward spots. Jackson played 30 minutes and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, though he committed five fouls and four turnovers. Troy Daniels scored a game-high 18 points, hitting 5-of-6 attempts from three.

- The Jazz may have lost Dante Exum for the entire season. Exum suffered what looked to be a severe shoulder injury -- later diagnosed as a separated shoulder -- and will miss “significant time.” The Jazz have avoided handing down a recovery timeline, but considering Exum also suffered ligament damage, his outlook for this season is relatively bleak. The former No. 5 overall pick missed all of the 2015-16 season with a torn ACL but returned to play in 66 games last season, averaging 6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 18.6 minutes per game.

- Steph Curry dropped 40 points in just 31 minutes against the Timberwolves in China over the weekend. Golden State hit 20 three-pointers as a team, with Curry and Klay Thompson combining to make 14-of-19 attempts.

- The Warriors blew out Minnesota by 32 points, but Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns all scored in double-figures. Butler had 15 points, six assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes, while Wiggins turned in a very Wigginsy 21 points with one assist, no rebounds, no steals and no blocks in 24 minutes.

- Mike Malone said he’ll settle on a starting point guard before the start of the regular season. “I’m not ready to name a starter right now,” Malone said last week. “Obviously, we have until Oct. 18 at Utah to do that so we’ll use these last couple of game against San Antonio and Oklahoma City to figure out who’s going to give us the best chance.” Reading between the lines, Malone is essentially saying that neither Jamal Murray nor Emmanuel Mudiay have run away with the job thus far, and it’s possible veteran Jameer Nelson could throw his hat into the ring.

Nelson, who started 39 games last season, started Friday’s game against San Antonio and handed out five assists in 23 minutes. Mudiay had just four points on 1-of-6 shooting off the bench, while Murray was held out to rest. In the team’s previous game Wednesday in Los Angeles, Murray got the start and had his best performance of the preseason, putting up 20 points (6-7 FG, 5-6 3PT), two assists and three steals in 22 minutes.

Mudiay struggled off the bench, committing seven turnovers to go with his 13 points (5-10 FG) and five assists. Certainly, it’s a difficult battle to handicap at this point, but Murray would appear to have the most upside of the three. Denver plays its final exhibition contest Tuesday against Oklahoma City.

- Lonzo Ball was held out of Sunday’s game against the Kings due to an ankle injury. The Lakers did get Brook Lopez back, however, and the offseason addition put up 12 points and three rebounds in his Lakers debut. Kyle Kuzma had 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists of the bench, while Julius Randle led all scorers with 17 points to go with 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Brandon Ingram started and played 29 minutes but finished with only five points (1-6 FG) and four turnovers.

- De’Aaron Fox left Sunday’s game with what the Kings are calling a bruised lower back. Fox played only nine minutes and missed five of his six field goal attempts prior to exiting, but he made his one field goal count:


- Buddy Hield struggled again in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, hitting just 2-of-11 field goal attempts. Through three preseason games -- small sample size alert -- Hield is a combined 11-of-27 from the floor and 2-of-10 from three.

- The Knicks’ point guard situation remains a mess. Ron Baker is yet to play in the preseason, while Frank Ntilikina is currently battling a knee issue. Jarrett Jack -- the Jarrett Jack -- got the start Sunday against Brooklyn. On a more concerning note, Kristaps Porzingis will have his sore hip examined Monday.

- After missing time with an ankle injury, Allen Crabbe made his Nets debut Sunday against the Knicks. Crabbe played 11 minutes off the bench and hit 3-of-4 three-point attempts en route to 14 points. Second-year guard Caris LeVert also made his preseason debut, finishing with 12 points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes.

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