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Preseason Observations: Fox, Kuzma Among Standouts in Early Preseason Action

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 Magic started Terrence Ross at small forward in Monday’s preseason opener. It looks like it’ll be Ross’s spot to lose, though Jonathon Simmons could push Ross for minutes. Rookie Jonathan Isaac is also waiting in the wings, but just how NBA-ready the No. 6 pick is remains to be seen. Isaac looked plenty comfortable Monday, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 29 minutes.

- How will Milos Teodosic’s game translate to the NBA? If Sunday’s preseason opener was any indication, he’ll be just fine. While the 30-year-old rookie missed all five of his field goal attempts, he handed out a team-high eight assists, some of which drew oohs and ahhs from the Staples Center crowd. Teodosic won’t be able to replicate Chris Paul’s two-way dominance -- Teodosic is going to struggle on the defensive end -- but he has the smarts and vision to do a reasonable Ricky Rubio impression in LA this season. For now, though, the Clippers will go with Patrick Beverley as the starter. Austin Rivers got the nod alongside him at shooting guard Sunday.

- Lonzo Ball had an up-and-down NBA debut over the weekend. The No. 2 overall pick finished with five points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals, but he needed 36 minutes to do it and hit just 2-of-9 field goal attempts. Outside of a few silly turnovers and ill-advised drives, Ball was fine. But it’s clear that he’s going to need some time to adjust, as was the case during summer league. In the Lakers’ second preseason game Monday night, Ball had eight points and four assists in 21 minutes before a minor ankle injury ended his night.

- The Heat might be this year’s version of the Celtics: An exceptionally deep team loaded with a bunch of good players but no great players. Miami is especially deep on the wing, having lost almost no key pieces from last year’s all-hands-on-deck rotation. Erik Spoelstra opted to bring Justise Winslow off the bench and start Rodney McGruder at small forward, a spot that could be a revolving door this season, depending on injuries and matchups.

“We see somebody that will not be denied," Spoelstra said of McGruder. "He's proven himself with us. As we've gotten to know him, from him helping us win a [development-league] championship in Sioux Falls, but also breaking into a rotation and starting for us, so many games last year, he's a winner. And he's so committed, every single day, consistently working diligently to improve.”

As impressed as Spoelstra may be with the progress of McGruder and Josh Richardson, you’d think the hope is that Winslow eventually reclaims the small forward spot. Coming off of essentially a lost season, it shouldn’t take long for Winslow to remind teams why Danny Ainge was willing it giveup 900 future first-round picks -- including the one that became the untradeable man himself, Terry Rozier -- for him on draft night.

- Elsewhere in Miami, Bam Adebayo went from Draymond Green to Andre Drummond -- 1-8 FT -- in a hurry.

A couple things: 1. The Heat were… deliberately letting Adebayo run point? Why did he never dribble the ball at Kentucky? 2. Missing 7-of-8 free throw attempts is one thing, but getting to the line eight times in six minutes is even more impressive. For what it’s worth, Adebayo was a 65% free throw shooter in college.

- The Kyle Kuzma Takeover Tour is rolling right along. Kuzma played 26 minutes off the bench and finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the Lakers’ preseason opener and followed up with a team-best 23 points (9-17 FG, 4-9 3PT) Monday night. Where Kuzma will fit in the regular season rotation is a bit of a mystery, but the most-hyped 27th overall pick in the history of the NBA -- yes, even more than Primoz Brezec -- will be difficult to keep off the floor.

- Turns out the Warriors are, in fact, washed up. Golden State dropped its preseason opener to Denver on Sunday, thanks in large part to one of the worst shooting nights in franchise history. The Warriors hit just 4-of-33 attempts from beyond the arc, with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green combining to go 1-of-19.

- The Celtics rolled out a starting five of Aron Baynes, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Kyrie Irving for Monday’s preseason matchup with the Hornets. While Baynes will likely move to the bench when Marcus Morris returns, Brown appears to have the upper hand over Marcus Smart at the two. Brad Stevens told reporters that he values Smart’s leadership on a young second unit, and Smart, himself, apparently requested to come off the bench. Boston returns only four players -- Smart, Brown, Horford and Terry Rozier -- from last year’s 53-win team.

- The Spurs announced over the weekend that Kawhi Leonard will miss the entire preseason with a right quad issue. Apparently, it’s something Leonard has battled for quite some time, but it’s nonetheless a significant concern, especially if he’s still limited in the days leading up to the regular season. If Leonard misses any time, Rudy Gay could benefit, but it was Kyle Anderson who started in his place Monday in Sacramento. Dejounte Murray also started at point guard over Patty Mills but it’s the Spurs and it’s Gregg Popovich so this probably means Murray will spend the entire year in the G-League.

- Blake Griffin started and looked every bit the part of a No. 1 offensive option in the Clippers’ preseason opener Sunday. Griffin hit 6-of-10 shots, including a pair of threes, en route to 18 points, and he tacked on three rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes of action. Any concerns about Griffin missing time after an offseason toe procedure can be put to rest -- at least for now.

- With the Hawks all but waving the white flag this season, Dennis Schroder is in an ideal bad team/good stats situation. Schroder played a team-high 22 minutes in Sunday’s preseason opener in Miami and finished with 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal. More importantly, he jacked up 17 shots, nearly as many as the rest of Atlanta’s starters combined (20).

- Speaking of starters, it was Ersan Ilyasova who got the nod at power forward, as expected, but rookie John Collins -- 9 pts, 15 reb, 5 fouls in 20 minutes -- is a name to keep an eye on. The 19th overall pick was the most productive player in the nation’s best conference last season and has the athleticism to hang with NBA bigs. The job will be Ilyasova’s to lose, but if -- or rather, when -- the Hawks accept their high-lottery fate, Mike Budenholzer could give Collins a longer leash. If you’re playing in a league that counts charges-taken, pray that Budenholzer sticks with Ilyasova.

- The point guard situation in Denver remains muddled, at best, and Mike Malone called it what it is at media day -- an open competition. Jamal Murray started the preseason opener Saturday, while Mudiay got the nod Monday night in L.A. Malone said the decision to start Mudiay on Monday was pre-determined, and it looks as though the competition will continue throughout the preseason and perhaps into the regular season. Mudiay, who shined in Game 1, finished with six points, four assists, four rebounds and four turnovers Monday. Murray added seven points (2-9 FG) and three assists off the bench.

- The Cavaliers added little-known veteran guard Dwyane Wade last week, which means the Cavaliers now have to decide who to start -- Wade or incumbent J.R. Smith -- at the two. Given that Smith is a much better three-point shooter and superior defender at this point in his career, he should have the advantage. But Dwyane Wade is Dwyane Wade, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Wade worked with the second team at Monday’s practice, and one option could be to use him as the de facto backup point guard when LeBron James and Derrick Rose -- and eventually Isaiah Thomas -- are off the floor. Wade and Rose simply can’t play together under any circumstances, though the Cavs are apparently considering a frontcourt tweak to help with spacing.

Per Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, the Cavaliers plan to bench Tristan Thompson in order to start both Jae Crowder and Kevin Love alongside James in the frontcourt. Losing Thompson means sacrificing interior defense but gaining flexibility and firepower on the other end to help compensate for replacing one of the best three-point-shooting point guards in the league with one of the worst.

- Mirza Teletovic is now wearing what appear to be safety glasses. Like the kind you would use while operating a circular saw.

- Dennis Smith, Jr. made his debut for the Mavs on Monday night against the Bucks. After confirming that he can dunk a basketball during warmups, Smith struggled, putting up just three points on 1-of-5 shooting in 12 minutes, but Rick Carlisle was nonetheless complimentary of his performance. Milwaukee’s Jason Terry even dropped a casual Steve Francis comparison. Also of note: Seth Curry got the start at shooting guard over Yogi Ferrell.

- The Kings brought De’Aaron Fox off the bench and started Garrett Temple alongside George Hill in their first preseason game Monday. Sacramento also rolled out a starting frontcourt of Kosta Koufos, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter. Interesting.

Fox looked great in 17 minutes off the bench, finishing with 16 points and two assists on 7-of-8 shooting. Buddy Hield added 12 points in 25 minutes, and Skal Labissiere chipped in 15 points, four rebounds, and two assists (and five turnovers) in a game-high 33 minutes.

- C.J. Miles got the start at small forward in the Raptors’ win over the Clippers on Sunday. The veteran, acquired in the Cory Joseph deal, will attempt to hold off Norman Powell for the spot.

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