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Preseason Notes: Position Battles, Rookies, and Wisdom Teeth

Brandon Jennings missed Thursday night's preseason game because of wisdom tooth discomfort.

Now that that is out of the way, welcome to Thursday night's (early Friday morning's) RotoWire blog. Four games occurred tonight, and I'll be breaking down my biggest takeaways for you.

Tonight's games included the revamped Pistons, Bucks, and Kings, some lengthy appearances from the Timberwolves' rookies, and a confusing outing from the Rockets. Also included: Danny Granger sees big minutes, and Pau Gasol is the best point guard on the Lakers.

Let's start with Miami versus Detroit…

From the fantasy perspective, the Miami Heat are boring. They have three guys in the top 50, and for standard size leagues, those are often the only owned players. Nothing Thursday implied that this will be the year that changes. Norris Cole had six assists and two steals, but it took him 33 minutes to get there, he was an inefficient shooter, and Mario Chalmers did not play. One of those two point guards (probably Chalmers) will be a popular pickup for a month or two, but will spend most of the season appealing mainly to managers in deeper leagues. Which is pretty similar to what happened last season and the season before.

The Miami player with perhaps the best chance to alter that dynamic this year could be Michael Beasley. Beasley did not play in the preseason opener against the Hawks, and logged only 9 minutes on Thursday, but he used them effectively. He scored nine points (3-5 FG, 3-5 FT), and added two rebounds, an assist, and a block. Beasley's career so far has been disappointing, but he had the talent to warrant the number two overall pick a few years back, and he is still only 24 years old.

If you are in a deeper league, however, then you are probably interested in hearing more about the Heat's supporting cast. In that case, I should tell you that Ray Allen shot poorly (1-6 FG, 1-2 3Pt) but recorded four assists, two steals, and no rebounds. Knowing Ray, the shooting is probably an anomaly, and the four assists and two steals are promising. The lack of rebounding is only problematic if it becomes a trend. I should also mention James Jones, who sunk four 3-pointers while bringing in one rebound, two assists, and two steals.

Now for Detroit. There was a mix-up before the game, and somehow coach Maurice Cheeks got it in his head that he was not allowed to sub out point guard Will Bynum. Bynum played 46 minutes and 27 seconds. In a preseason game. When I read that stat line, I became angry with ESPN for making what was obviously an avoidable mistake. I had to check the box scores on two other sites before I believed it, and even then I added up all of the Pistons minutes to make sure it totaled 240. Bynum scored efficiently (11-16 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 5-8 FT), but only totaled six assists in all that court time.

Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot poorly (2-8 FG, 1-5 3Pt), but still managed a solid final stat line with nine points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block, and a turnover. KCP might see less time once the Pistons are operating with their full roster, but I am grabbing the rookie late in 12 team leagues.

Andre Drummond played great, bringing in 11 rebounds, an assist, a block, and 21 points. He even made five of seven free throws. If he can keep his free throw percentage above .600 this preseason (he averaged .371 last season, he is at .667 so far) his draft value will skyrocket.

Arguably the most interesting news from this matchup is that Brandon Jennings missed the game with wisdom tooth discomfort. Apparently Jennings is not the first professional athlete to miss a game this fall due to wisdom teeth complications. Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario missed a game in September because of an infected wisdom tooth.

Luigi Datome also did not play due to a lingering foot problem. Last year's Italian league (Lega Basket Serie A) MVP is garnering a lot of hype in some circles, and I am anxious to see him against NBA competition.

Houston versus Indiana

Terrance Jones and Donatas Montiejunas are apparently battling for the Rockets starting power forward spot. I say apparently because I don't understand why they don't start Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, but maybe that's why I'm more of a numbers analyst than a coach. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly appear to be competing for the starting point guard spot. In their first game, the Rockets started Lin and Montiejunas, and so tonight was Beverley and Jones' turn to start. 

Two games down, and it is hard to say who is leading these races. Jones shot considerably worse than Montiejunas Thursday, but outrebounded the latter by a count of seven to three. In the first game Jones was the better shooter, but Montiejunas was the better passer. Lin and Beverly both had two great games so far. While I don't have a favorite in the point guard battle, as I said last week, I'm pulling for Jones for power forward for the completely self-interested reason that his name is easier to spell.

A final comment on the Rockets: Dwight Howard played 24 minutes, but only posted nine points (4-11 FG, 1-4 FT), three rebounds, two assists, a block, and four turnovers. I know it's early in the preseason, but that is a bad game for a man of Dwight's ability. Some managers are expecting Dwight to return to 2009 form now that he is paired with James Harden on a contending team. Those hopes are misplaced. Big men don't return to peak form in their tenth season in the league. He should be better than the last two years, but don't get too excited.

There is not a ton of news from Indiana in this game, besides the 28 minutes from Danny Granger. Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert were all good, but not excellent. Lance Stephenson started, but only played 12 minutes – I would not read heavily into that low total, since Granger needs the court time more after missing almost all of last year. George Hill's performance was noteworthy, scoring 10 points (3-7 FG, 4-4 FT) with five rebounds, five assists, one steal, and two turnovers.

Granger's 28 minutes – more than any Pacer except Paul George – warrants analysis. Through two games, Granger leads the Pacers in minutes played. Coach Frank Vogel is clearly giving Granger as many minutes as possible to help him readjust to the NBA game. This seems like a good sign, as it indicates that Vogel wants Granger to play a significant role this season. But so far it seems as though Granger needs the extra practice – he has shot 2-10 from the field in both games, and is a combined 1-6 from three-point range. The real test will be if the minutes keep coming after Granger starts connecting on his shots.

Final note: Luis Scola scored 10 points with six rebounds and two assists in only 18 minutes. He played 21 minutes in the first game, albeit with slightly less impressive results. As long as Scola plays more than 18 minutes per night, he will warrant consideration in shallower leagues than you might expect.

Milwaukee versus Minnesota

The people in charge of scheduling decided that these teams wouldn't have to travel far enough for this game, so they held the game South Dakota, out of fairness to the other 28 franchises. Also, looking at this Bucks roster is a little depressing. This team is being overrated this year – they have bottom seven potential. Larry Sanders, OJ Mayo, and Ersan Ilyasova will be universally owned, but I'm having difficulty predicting who the fourth most owned player on this team will be. I want it to be John Henson, but Thursday night's game says it might be rookie Giannis Antetokuonmpo.

Antetokuonmpo is listed as a 6 foot 9 inch 205 pound shooting guard, making him simultaneously too tall and too light for the position. In this game he grabbed seven rebounds, four blocks, and a steal. In his last game he posted four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks. He is not shooting well and he is a turnover machine, suffering 12 turnovers in only two games. Keep an eye on this guy, especially in 8 category leagues.

John Henson played very well tonight, with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals, but Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, and Ekpe Udoh were all out. Henson probably needs to be the Buck's number three big man, after only Sanders and Ilyasova, to warrant consideration outside of very deep leagues. 

As for Minnesota, both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio only played 11 minutes on Thursday. This was the Timberwolves' third game in four nights, so it is easy to understand coach Rick Adelman's caution. With Love out of the way, I expected a big night from Nikola Pekovic, but it was rookie Gorgui Dieng who made the most of the extra court time. Dieng brought down nine rebounds and four blocks in his 25 minutes. Shabazz Muhammad, another first round pick last summer, was effective with his 21 minutes. He scored 11 points (3-6 FG, 5-6 FT) while grabbing four rebounds.

Kevin Martin missed Thursday's game with a sore Achilles. Given the Timberwolves busy week, this could be meaningless. That said, if Martin is someone you are thinking about drafting, stay tuned to make sure that this resolves itself quickly.

LA Lakers versus Sacramento

Why did Pau Gasol lead the Laker's in assists tonight? Steve Nash left the game after nine minutes with a sore ankle, but what is Steve Blake's excuse? In 29 minutes the point guard missed all 10 of his shots and only landed three assists. Meanwhile, 7 foot tall center Gasol tallied five assists in just 22 minutes, in addition to making most of the shots he took.

What do these performances mean? First, this should be a sign that Pau is being seriously undervalued this year. He was disappointing early last season, and missed a lot of games, but he was incredible in April. Second, it is a reminder that after Nash, this team is very weak at point guard.

After Gasol, only Chris Kaman and Nick Young played well. Kaman had 12 points (5-11 FG, 2-2 FT), six rebounds, and two assists. Nick Young had 17 points (6-13 FG, 2-5 3Pt, 3-4 FT), five rebounds, two assists, and a steal.

Sacramento was disappointing, but not in the way you'd expect: Carl Landry, Greivis Vasquez, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Marcus Thorton all sat out Thursday night. All four players will have significant roles in the King's rotation come the regular season.

Those who did play fell into one of three categories: rookies, players fighting for their place on the depth chart or on the roster, and DeMarcus Cousins. To keep this brief (or am I too late for that already?), I will provide one sentence per player.

Ray McCallum continues to exceed expectations, posting an efficient 10 points and four assists.
Ben McLemore provided a quality stat line representative of a shooting guard.

Point Guards:
Isaiah Thomas was an assist away from a double-double.
Jimmer Freddette was acceptable but uninspiring.

Small Forwards:
Travis Outlaw led the Kings in scoring after making four 3-pointers.
John Salmons produced a fine box score, but was probably better in real life.

Power Forwards:
Chuck Hayes made the only shot he took while grabbing 10 rebounds in only 16 minutes.
Jason Thompson provided a solid, balanced, and unspectacular line.
Patrick Patterson was clearly the worst of the three.

DeMarcus Cousins:
DeMarcus Cousins had a great game.

That's all for now. See you next week.