NBA pre-season takeaways: The Raptors’ swingman dilemma

NBA insider Michael Grange on 'Good Show' to discuss Raptors showing a glimpse of their new style in preseason vs. Detroit, and weighs in on who should start at the 3, between C.J. Miles and Norm Powell.

There’s really not much point in parsing NBA pre-season games. Coaches are fiddling with lineups, many players are either sitting for random reasons or on minutes restrictions, and no one really cares much about the outcome.

But let’s do it anyway. The early goings of the current pre-season, especially for the Toronto Raptors, are producing talking points in bunches. Here are six:

1) C.J. Miles and Norman Powell are making it hard for Dwane Casey to pick a starting small forward.

So far the Raptors have played four pre-season games, and Miles and Powell have each started twice. While each has put up decent stats on the whole and deserves a legitimate shot at the role, they haven’t put forth their best showings as starters.

Ostensibly, the discussion is centring around the two players’ abilities to stretch the floor, which is key when the other four starters include DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas (more on him later).

Miles is unquestionably the more accomplished shooter, but he has shot just 3-for-13 in games he started. However, he lit it up Tuesday off the bench, going 5-for-9 from beyond the arc in a 19-point effort in 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Powell has seen his field-goal percentage dip to 25 per cent in his two games in the starting lineup, despite a 3-of-4 night from three-point range against Portland last Thursday.

The smart money is on the team looking to Miles’s long track record of three-point success, and him gelling with the other four starters over time. But ironically, this is one season where additional pre-season games might have been welcome as a venue for more starting-lineup experimentation.

2) Maybe both are being miscast as swingmen?

No, not for real. But last night both players made the NBA’s top 10 plays of the night acting like natural distributors. Here’s a Powell drive-and-dish:

And a Miles steal that led to a break opportunity and behind-the-back pass:

3) Lonzo Ball may not even be the best candidate for rookie of the year on his own team.

Thanks partly to his stellar play at UCLA and partly to his headline-stealing father, Ball, the Los Angeles Lakers point guard of the future, was by far the most discussed rookie in the NBA leading into the pre-season. But he’s been supplanted in recent days by a player on his own team: Kyle Kuzma.

Kuzma was drafted 25 spots after Ball with the pick the Lakers got from Brooklyn in the De’Angelo Russell trade. But the power forward is currently putting up 19.2 points in 27.7 minutes per game through five pre-season contests (seventh among all players in the league behind a cavalcade of stars), putting not only Ball but also 2016 No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram in his shadow.

With 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz struggling in the early goings in Philadelphia, Kuzma is adding a nice wrinkle to the ROY race — at least as much as pre-season hype helps come awards-voting time.

4) The Cleveland Cavaliers are all in with a new, potentially terrifying starting five.

On Tuesday the Cavaliers debuted a starting five that includes Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, LeBron James and Kevin Love. That means Love is playing centre and Tristan Thompson is coming off the bench.

While that lineup certainly looks to be lacking in rim protection, on offence it ideally shapes up like this: Crowder and Love space the floor, LeBron commands double teams no matter where he sets up, and Wade and Rose have free reign to make back cuts into the paint and are unlikely to see a whole lot of help D.

Tuesday night the lineup didn’t get off to a great start, largely due to Love and Wade shooting a combined 2-for-19 and the entire starting lineup finishing with negative plus-minus numbers. (Though Thompson finished with seven points and 11 boards off the bench.)

For his part, LeBron doesn’t seem worried:

5) There’s a new best name in the NBA.

It’s Sindarius Thornwell. Say it out loud. It is cut straight out of a romance novel, the NBA version of “cellar door.”

Mr. Thornwell, a second-round rookie who plays for the Clippers, has logged just 26 minutes in two games, but he’s averaging 27.8 points per 36. That’s 24th in the league among players with at least 20 minutes played so far, nothing to sneeze at.

Thornwell injured his shoulder Tuesday night and the prognosis has not yet been revealed, but here’s wishing him a speedy recovery no matter what it is. We need that name in games.

6) Valanciunas has yet to develop a reputation as a three-point threat.

The Raptors’ Lithuanian big man was rumoured to be working on a three-point shot last season, and took a career-high two attempts over the course of the season. He even hit one of them.

Casey confirmed the rumour this August, officially adding Valanciunas to the list of centres trying to adapt to the NBA’s new stretch-big game.

But the league has yet to take notice and the shot is still a work in progress, as evidenced by Andre Drummond‘s interest in closing out on this Tuesday night three-point attempt:

Meanwhile, Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira nailed his one attempt Tuesday, so the experimentation isn’t doing so poorly on the whole. Just something to keep an eye on as the games actually start to mean something.