Lakers, Kyle Kuzma
Oct 2, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) shoots the ball against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

By Shane Young

In an offseason where Lonzo Ball was the center of hype for the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s rookie Kyle Kuzma exploding onto the scene early in preseason.

With three years of college experience, Kuzma is proving to be a more NBA-ready contributor than Ball or Brandon Ingram. Through two preseason games, Kuzma is shooting 18-of-29 (62.7 percent) from the field as the Lakers’ primary sixth man. Against the Denver Nuggets, he nearly propelled a comeback with four triples, savvy decision-making and off-ball cuts not always prevalent with stretch fours.

Through summer league and two preseason games, Kuzma is showing to be more than just a shooter, making tremendous reads in transition:

The battle for minutes between Kuzma and Julius Randle will be the most fascinating part of October and November. Head Coach Luke Walton has lionized Randle since taking the head coaching gig, and justifiably so. Randle’s rebounding, playmaking in both the halfcourt and transition, and midrange shooting screams Draymond Green-lite. However, Kuzma appears to be sprinkling doses of everything Randle is capable of, on top of the gravitational pull from beyond the three-point arc.

At just 22, Kuzma should be able to carve out a role similar to what Kevin Love benefits from in Cleveland as the stretch big. Plus, he’s pulling out running hook shots from 10 feet extended. With Magic Johnson in the first row! The audacity!

Ball did have his share of positive moments in his Staples Center debut, notably in the first quarter. He’s going to provide the closest thing to Showtime the Lakers have seen in some time, bursting up the court after a turnover.

When Walton says this team is going to run every chance it gets, he isn’t exaggerating. With Ball on the court against the Nuggets, the team had a pace of 119.1 possessions per 48 minutes. While they did get outscored by 12 during that time, it’s evident they will be top 10 NBA League Pass entertainment, at worst.

As for the Nuggets, this is already the team we envisioned when they acquired Paul Millsap. I projected Denver to finish with the league’s third-highest offensive rating this season – behind Golden State and Houston – and it should come to fruition.

Gary Harris set flames to Hollywood on Monday, scoring 25 points on just 11 shots. There may not be a more underrated player in the league, as he was already fourth among all shooting guards in points per shot last season. I’ve written about how much Harris takes the little parts of the game and lifts Denver’s status in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets’ transition game looks filthy in the preseason, which should carry over to the games that actually matter:

Millsap was a perfect fit in Atlanta’s system, and now he’s experiencing a seamless transition into Malone’s faster offense. Not to mention, his defensive skills forcing turnovers, reading passing lanes, and blocking shots should help ignite the fastbreak more than last season, when they were 12th in transition opportunities.

This was one of the most entertaining preseason games in a long time. It was the tale of two teams that should captivate a lot of viewers with their youth and lightning quick style. However, one of them still has to iron out rookie wrinkles, while the other is ready to make a push for homecourt in the West.

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Ricky Rubio, Jazz

By Dan Clayton

The Ricky Rubio era is only 48 preseason minutes old in Salt Lake City, but so far, the Jazz look sincere about the desire to play faster.

Pace talk is generally a free space in training camp bingo, so it’s hard to know how much of that will translate to actual game play, let alone be sustained over time. But Rubio has a track record of getting his teams to look up court in a hurry, and in Utah’s 108-84 exhibition win over the Sydney Kings, guys were running with him.

The Jazz’s first dozen points came within 10 seconds after taking possession of the ball, a rarity for the slowest team in last year’s NBA. The 13th and 14th points — while technically scored with :13 on the shot clock — came via an alley-oop from the hashmark on an out-of-bounds play that never touched the floor after a timeout. Utah’s guards were hounding passing lanes and forcing mistakes by the visiting Australians that often turned into quick points.

Ultimately, the game finished as about a 90-possession affair, not that different from a typical game for the ’16-17 Jazz. But the Jazz were focused on striking early, especially when the newly transplanted Rubio was on the floor.

When Utah wasn’t able to get out in transition, their offense resembled the familiar Quin Snyder style of multiple actions stacked on top of one another to generate confusion, bad switches and defensive mistakes. Rudy Gobert took advantage of many of those with one lob dunk after another on the way to 15 points and Rodney Hood, who led the Jazz with 18, scored mostly on spot-up three-pointers.

A few other quick observations from Utah’s preseason debut:

  • Derrick Favors opened the game with a dunk over a defender after sealing the paint on some clever side-to-side action. For Favors to christen the Jazz’s preseason was meaningful, since a huge topic this offseason has centered around his health and ability to play like the Favors of old. Overall, his night was encouraging, with more agility than the Jazz saw out of him all last season and a couple of athletic moves.
  • Dante Exum showed his aggression and confidence carried over from a nice three-game Summer League performance. He had a very balanced game, attacking at times and creating other times, and was a defensive pest throughout.
  • Rookie Donovan Mitchell also introduced himself to the NBA with a couple of sweet moves. Overall, his timing and defense around about where one might expect a rookie’s timing and defense to be, but he scored 11 in under 17 minutes.
  • Of the Jazz’s veteran free agent acquisition, Thabo Sefolosha had the best night by far. He looked instantly comfortable, scoring 10 and having a solid defensive impact. Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh seem to still be finding their way.
  • It was curious that bench scorer Alec Burks doesn’t seem to be in the front 10 of the rotation currently, but he did manage to squeeze off six points on five shots once he got in for garbage time.


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Gordon Hayward, Celtics

By James Holas

Fresh off the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s odd to say last night was a new chapter in Boston Celtics lore, but only four players remain from the team that bowed out in five games to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For Celtics fans, this was more than just a new season kicking off, it was an introduction to their shiny new squad.

Since shipping out Boston legends Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013, the Celtics front office has been shrewd and thrifty, acquiring cost effective contracts, keeping their powder dry, positioning themselves to cash in their vault of assets.

This summer, Danny Ainge finally went full throttle, transitioning the franchise from the sensible low budget overachiever it’s been since the Big Three broke up. The sleek, multifaceted and high-priced roster the Celtics rolled out last night to face the Charlotte Hornets was a far cry from just three years ago, when Kris Humphries and Jordan Crawford were running the show.

The scene was almost surreal as three newcomers–Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and the beefy Aron Bayne–were on the floor with Al Horford and Jaylen Brown for tip off. From the jump, the energy was palpable, leading to bricked jumpers and forced passes from the home team in the opening minutes. But the game settled in, and the enormous potential of the new-look Celtics was on display as Boston raced out to a 22-14 lead.

Al Horford’s foundational game (7 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks in just 16 minutes of court time) was the spark. He found cutters and shooters from the high post, sprung ball handlers with bone crunching picks, stuffed Dwight Howard at the rim and leftHoward flailing in the lane at the other as he stepped out and drained triples. Horford isn’t paid to toss up shots, he’s getting max money to be Boston’s on-court concierge, the basketball lubricant that makes the Celtics offensive and defensive machinery run smoothly.

Baynes (10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) was Ren to Horford’s Stimpy, mixing it up inside, bringing physicality to a team that finished 27th in defensive rebound last season. The 2016 Hornets were one of the very best defensive rebounding teams in the league and added glass eating big man Dwight Howard; Boston won the battle of the boards, 52 to 45.

As electric as the first unit was, the second unit exposed how much work Boston has to do.  Jayson Tatum (4-11, 0-3 from three) looked every bit like the rookie he is, overwhelmed early by his introduction to Celtic Nation. He settled down a bit in the second half and finished with 8 points, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. Guerschon Yabusele (0-3 from the field, 6 boards, 2 turnovers) also was engulfed by the moment; the Dancing Bear looked frazzled by the frenetic atmosphere.

There were bright spots, of course. Abdel Nader, last year’s D-League rookie of the year, was relentless, repeatedly getting to the rim enroute to 10 points in just 11 minutes. Reclamation project Shane Larkin entered the game in the second half and immediately scored two quick buckets, using his speed to get anywhere he wanted on the court. German big man Daniel Theis changed the game with his energy, leading the team in both points (12) and rebounds (7).

December is still two months away, but for fans of the green and white, last night’s 94-82 Celtics win was an early Christmas for Celtics faithful. This iteration of the Celtics has been four long years in the making, and while no one is sure about what the Celtics are, the gift will be watching them grow over the next seven months.

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