Four months of no basketball games naturally means that many of the NBA players in Orlando playing in scrimmage games right now are going to be rusty. Turnover numbers are higher than usual and there has been lots of poor shooting.
Some have been especially off their games so far after nearly one week of scrimmage play. USAbetting highlights a few players who need to pick things up to help their teams out.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
Before the scrimmages began in Orlando, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich declared in an interview that his team would focus more on developing young talent in Orlando rather than getting the veteran players big-time minutes and opportunities.
He wasn’t joking. In two Spurs scrimmages thus far, San Antonio has given lots of ball-handling reps to young perimeter prospects in Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray, and they have been mostly solid. As a result, DeRozan is getting much fewer touches and producing less. Through two contests, he is averaging 8 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers per contest on a poor 48.1 true-shooting percentage.
The problem with using DeRozan as a complementary piece is that he is an ineffective off-ball player on offense, because he doesn’t shoot three-pointers. He is also a below-average defender. All signs seem to be pointing to the Spurs either trading DeRozan this offseason or deciding not to re-sign him if he opts out of his current contract.
Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder
The NBA recently decided that all award winners will be decided based solely on play that happened before the season was suspended in March. Given that, the rightful winner of this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award is Schroder, who had a career year with 19 points and 4.1 assists per game on a personal-best 57.3 true-shooting percentage. He has been a massive component of a Thunder squad that is shockingly 16 games over .500.
However, Schroder has not found his rhythm in Orlando yet. He is averaging just 6 points, 3 assists and 2.5 turnovers in more than 20 minutes per contest, with a dismal true-shooting percentage of 33.6. Not including these scrimmages, he has had just six games scoring fewer than 10 points all season, and the Thunder are 2-4 in those games, compared to 37-20 in all other games he has played.
Schroder is actually scheduled to leave the Orlando bubble soon to be with his wife as she gives birth to their second child. It is unfortunate for the Thunder that he hasn’t found a rhythm yet and that he will be away from the team for a little while starting very soon. Family is obviously a higher priority than basketball and the miracle of birth is always reason to celebrate.
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
This NBA season has not been one of Gordon’s shining moments. While he had a career-high 50 points against the Utah Jazz in January, his field-goal percentage (37) and true-shooting percentage (51.1) are both career lows and he had knee surgery that kept him out for seven weeks in November and December.
Rockets’ fans were hoping for a rejuvenated Gordon when the season resumed after a hiatus of more than four months. He reported himself that he did a lot of sprint work and lost 12 pounds, which is key for a guy like Gordon who sometimes looks a little bit chunky for an NBA guard.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the fruits of EG’s work on the court yet. Through two games, the veteran guard scored a not-terrible 9.5 points per game, but he has taken a whopping 12 shots per contest to get those points. He is 2-of-14 from three-point range and has more turnovers (four) than assists (three).
With two ball-dominant stars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook attracting so much defensive attention, Gordon needs to do a better job taking advantage of the opportunities he gets.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
For the first few months of the 2019-20 season, Tatum was playing like a fringe All-Star. The 22-year-old forward had made slight offensive improvements from his first two seasons and was continuing to develop into a terrific defender.
In mid-January, though, he took his game to a superstar level, becoming an accurate high-volume three-point shooter and more adept at drawing fouls. In February plus the first game of March, he had at least 25 points in all but one of his 13 games. That sort of consistency is just insane and is reserved for only the very best players in the league.
Unfortunately, it appears Tatum may need some time to work back to where he was in February and March. His first two scrimmage games yielded just 9.5 points per contest on 7-of-23 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from three-point range and 3-of-6 from the free-throw line. He has totaled a modest four assists and four turnovers and his offensive instincts aren’t where they need to be.
If Tatum plays more like the Tatum of the early season rather than the Tatum of February and March, the Celtics will have trouble advancing far in the playoffs. As the only guy on the roster capable of playing like a true superstar, Boston needs its top young prospect to pick it up when the games start to count.
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Leonard has an argument as the best player in the NBA due to his ability to score the basketball at will and also lock up any perimeter player in the league on defense.
One of Leonard’s weaknesses, though, is his tendency to sometimes take too many contested jump shots, and rely on those jump shots rather than getting to the basket. He has been way off on his jumper in Orlando, making just 12-of-46 shots (26.1 percent) from the field and 6-of-27 shots (22.2 percent) from three-point range.
The 29-year-old superstar has had only two individual games in the entire 2019-20 season where he has shot worse than 30 percent both from the field and from three-point range. Now, he is on a three-game stretch where he is below both those marks.
It is probably way too soon to be concerned about a player who has proven as much as Leonard has. Still, it would be nice for him to show the Clippers at some point soon that he hasn’t lost his shooting touch.