The NBA preseason isn’t good for making sweeping judgments about players or teams, but it is interesting to see who is playing well and who isn’t after an offseason away to work on their games.
This preseason, five players have especially stood out with their play so far. Whether or not their level of play transfers to the regular season, their performances have certainly improved their standing in my eyes.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick of June’s draft, is looking like one of those rare players with the talent and confidence to step on the floor from their first game and immediately play like a star.
Even though it’s just the preseason, Williamson has looked like more than just a star so far. He has looked like a superstar. The 19-year-old forward has averaged 23.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in just 27.2 minutes per contest, shooting a ridiculous 71.4 percent on his field-goal attempts.
Concerns about Williamson’s abilities to adjust to bigger, stronger and more athletic players are quieting down now. No matter which league Zion plays in, he is a physical freak with excellent basketball skills and instincts.
Taurean Prince, Brooklyn Nets
In each of his three NBA seasons, Prince has improved both his volume and accuracy from three-point range. The former Baylor standout is going to keep that streak going this season, if preseason is any indication.
Prince has drained 14 of 19 three-point attempts in just 69 total minutes through three preseason contests. He has been consistent, too, with at least four makes in every game.
Assuming the Nets find a way to retain their floor-spacing forward next season, he is going to be a great spot-up option alongside the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Now, Prince needs to work on a habit of playing good defense on a more consistent basis.
P.J. Washington, Charlotte Hornets
Many people questioned the Hornets’ decision to draft Washington with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2019 draft. To be honest, I was one of those people. I projected Washington as a capable role player with a low ceiling, which isn’t a great fit for a Charlotte team lacking in star power.
Washington is showing in preseason that, while he won’t ever be a superstar, he could be more than just “capable” as a role player. The 6’8” forward is a jack-of-all-trades contributor who is averaging 13 points, 4.7 rebounds 1.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1 block in just 23.9 minutes per game through three preseason contests.
The 21-year-old rookie can’t lead an offense, but he will help it by moving the ball and shooting efficiently. If the Hornets can draft, sign and trade their way into a more talented roster in the next few years, Washington’s contributions are really going to stand out.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have talent on their roster, but Gilgeous-Alexander is probably the only guy on the team who is clearly a building block. For OKC fans, it’s great news that the 21-year-old combo guard is shining so brightly in the preseason.
In his first two contests, Gilgeous-Alexander has looked very confident on offense, scoring 21 points in 24.7 minutes per game with a 68.4 true-shooting percentage. It is a small sample size, but the message is clear — SGA is not just going to sit back and let veterans like Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder do all the work on offense.
Remember, SGA’s better end of the floor is still defense. At 6’6” with very good length, he has All-Defensive Team potential in the next few years.
Dragan Bender, Milwaukee Bucks
To put it bluntly, Bender has been a bad NBA player in each of his first three seasons. The former No. 4 overall draft pick couldn’t find his groove on either end of the floor with the Phoenix Suns.
With the way Bender has looked in preseason for the Bucks, is there a possibility that the Suns were the problem, not him? Phoenix certainly doesn’t have a great track record of developing young players in the past several years.
The 7’1” finesse big man has averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in 18.1 minutes per game in four preseason contests. He has come off the Bucks’ bench to post four straight double-figure scoring games.
In the NBA, confidence and optimization are huge factors in a player’s development. The Bucks are putting their trust in Bender and giving him an offensive workload he didn’t have in Phoenix and Bender seems to be responding very well.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets. These are only Jared’s news articles, most of his articles for USA Betting are sports game previews and they can be found here.