Preseason Observations: Hayward Returns, LeBron Debuts, Doncic Shines

Preseason Observations: Hayward Returns, LeBron Debuts, Doncic Shines

This article is part of our Preseason Observations series.

The first weekend of the NBA preseason is in the books. More than half of the league was in action over the weekend, with two games on Friday, four on Saturday and five on Sunday. Kawhi Leonard made his debut for the Raptors. DeMar DeRozan played his first game as a Spur. And we finally got an up-close look at Michael Beasley in the iconic Lakers gold.

Should we read too far into anything that happens in late-September? Absolutely not. Are we going to do it anyway? You bet we are.

- Ben Simmons: still got it.

- The Sixers rolled over an overmatched Melbourne United (Australia) team on Friday night behind a near-triple-double from Simmons, who finished with 8 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds in 26 minutes. Joel Embiid added 20 points and 10 boards in 23 minutes, and Markelle Fultz, who started in the backcourt alongside Simmons, had 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

Fultz's revamped jumpshot looked better, and he appeared to be comfortable shooting off the dribble in the mid-range, but neither he nor Simmons attempted a three-pointer, which is disappointing but not necessarily unexpected. As was the case at the end of last season, though, Fultz found other ways to impact the game. He also drained both of his free throw attempts.

- The Celtics wasted no time putting their best lineup on the floor, starting Friday's matchup against the Hornets with a five of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

- Golden State is still the most talented team in the league, but Boston's versatility is going to be borderline-impossible to scheme against. Brown, Hayward and Tatum each played between 20 and 23 minutes, with Brown leading all Celtics in shot attempts (5-13 FG), eight of which came from beyond the arc. A healthy-looking Hayward finished with 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, while Tatum added eight.

- On the other side of that matchup, Charlotte started Cody Zeller at center and Marvin Williams at the four. This wasn't a particularly shocking development -- James Borrego told the media last week that every spot is up for grabs -- but it represented a potential departure from the team's commitment to starting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the league's worst offensive players. Kidd-Gilchrist has started 353 of 357 games since entering the league in 2012-13. He had a double-double in 22 minutes Friday but appeared to suffer a concussion and did not play Sunday. He'll also be held out of Tuesday's matchup with the Heat. It's no guarantee Borrego will stick with Williams at the four, but the situation is something to monitor.

- Elsewhere for the Hornets, Malik Monk was held out of the opener but returned to action Sunday and put up 13 points (on 12 shots) in 24 minutes. Rookie Miles Bridges had 10 points and eight rebounds Friday and followed up with 23 points (9-12 FG; 4-6 3PT) and six rebounds Sunday. He looks like a keeper.

-The Bulls will be without Lauri Markkanen for the better part of the next two months, which could open the door for both Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. Parker started at power forward Sunday against New Orleans -- and also played some point guard (???) -- finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. Parker was probably going to start no matter what, but without Markkanen he could be Chicago's second option to begin the season.

- Portis did about exactly what you'd expect in Markkanen's absence: 19 minutes. 21 points on 19 shots. There's a reason he finished last season with a higher usage rate than Paul George.

- Perhaps the biggest standout of the night was Antonio Blakeney, who had 21 points and went 8-of-8 at the free throw line. Seventh overall pick Wendell Carter, Jr. came off the bench to put up 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes. Carter did not attempt a three-pointer.

- A slimmed-down Jahlil Okafor took Carter off the dribble and dunked him through the rim. I don't even know what I'm typing.

- Speaking of Okafor, he finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two -- TWO -- blocks in 17 minutes before exiting with a right ankle injury.

- The Pelicans started Julius Randle at power forward alongside Anthony Davis on Sunday. Randle is the favorite to hold down that spot during the regular season, but Nikola Mirotic will be in the conversation. Mirotic was held out of Sunday's game due to Achilles tendinitis.

- Frank Jackson, a second-rounder in 2017 who missed all of last season, had 16 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes. The Duke product is probably another year away, but he's easily the most talented long-term piece on the Pelicans' bench.

- Noted basketball player Kawhi Leonard made his Raptors debut Saturday night against Portland. In 19 minutes, Leonard handed out three assists and scored 12 points, including these two after abusing poor Caleb Swanigan.

- Of note: OG Anunoby did not play Saturday while dealing with a personal matter, so the Raptors started Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, C.J. Miles and Serge Ibaka. Anunoby will presumably occupy either Green or Miles' spot in the lineup during the regular season, but the center situation is something to monitor. Valanciunas has started all but six games in his six NBA seasons, but his minutes have gradually dwindled over the last five years. Nick Nurse indicated that he'll mix up his starting lineups throughout the preseason, so we may not get a definitive answer until opening night.

- There wasn't much to report on the Blazers' side of things. Terry Stotts got 17 players into the game, 16 of whom played double-digit minutes. Seth Curry came off the bench to score three points in 13 minutes -- his first action since March of 2017.

- Turns out Luka Doncic might be alright. The No. 3 overall pick still doesn't look like he's in great shape, but he was impressive Saturday against the admittedly overmatched Beijing Ducks. Doncic knocked down a trio of three-pointers en route to 16 points, six rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 30 minutes. Like any rookie, Doncic will have his ups and downs, but he has more multi-category potential than anyone else in the class.

- Don't forget about Dennis Smith, Jr., who looked pretty good in his own right. Smith finished with 16 points and six assists in 26 minutes.

- With no Jimmy Butler, the Wolves started Derrick Rose alongside Jeff Teague against Golden State on Saturday. Rose responded with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He's back, baby!

- Fresh out of exile, Luol Deng had six points, four rebounds, a steal and a block in just five minutes of action off the bench. Just a reminder that he's somehow younger than LeBron James.

- Rookie second-rounder Keita Bates-Diop, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, had a rough debut for Minnesota, going 1-of-9 from the floor in 22 minutes.

- The Warriors looked like the Warriors. Kevin Durant (16 points), Steph Curry (21) and Klay Thompson (17) were in midseason form, as was Draymond Green, who had two points, eight assists, four rebounds and five fouls in 20 minutes.

- The Jazz were up 75-34 at the half against Perth (Australia). Not much to take from a game like that, but Grayson Allen had 19 points, including five threes, in 22 minutes off the bench.

- Hassan Whiteside got the start at center Sunday against San Antonio and responded with 20 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and two seals in 23 minutes. Whiteside is a massive question mark heading into the season, and it's unclear how he'll split minutes with Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk, the former of whom did not play Sunday due to a shoulder injury.

- Olynyk, meanwhile, went 1-of-10 from the field in 24 minutes off the bench.

- It was a relatively quiet debut for DeMar DeRozan, who played 18 minutes and put up seven points, two assist and two rebounds. He started in the backcourt alongside Dejounte Murray, but the Spurs began the second half with a three-guard alignment featuring DeRozan, Patty Mills and Derrick White, with Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge up front.

- LeBron James, the good basketball player, played his first game as a member of the Western Conference. James was mostly passive in 15 minutes of action, taking six shots and hitting a pair of long three-pointers.

- This pass was the highlight of the night for James. He nearly caught Nikola Jokic on a baseline poster but stepped out of bounds on his way to the rack.

- While LeBron was the story, Denver controlled the game from start to finish, and Jamal Murray looked the part of an emerging star, finishing with 18 points in 19 minutes. Juancho Hernangomez added 19 off the bench, and Malik Beasley had 12 points and was a plus-28 in 22 minutes. Gary Harris (hamstring) did not play.

- The Clippers pulled away from a scrappy Sydney Kings (Australia) team that featured Andrew Bogut, as well as former Pac 12 standouts David Wear and Jerome Randle. Brian Bowen, who was supposed to be the crown jewel of Louisville's 2017 recruiting class and went undrafted this past June, played 19 minutes off the bench.

- Of note for the Clippers, Marcin Gortat got the start at center over Montrezl Harrell. Gortat had 12 points and nine boards in 26 minutes, while Harrell put up 11 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley started in the backcourt, with Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari at the forward spots.

- Both of the Clippers' lottery-pick guards saw the floor, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander saw extended run (24 minutes), while Jerome Robinson played just one minute in garbage time.

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Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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