The NBA preseason is largely thought of to be meaningless. Sometimes it can be, and the results certainly do have to be taken with a Wembanyama-sized grain of salt. But preseason can also be an early indicator of surprising trends.
Last season, you would have been way ahead of the Kings and Thunder’s surprising rise if you had studied the biggest outliers in the preseason. You would also have anticipated the Hornets’ 16-game plummet in wins, as well as the Lakers’ pre-trade deadline struggles.
Given that many fans completely ignore preseason, here are some of the things you may have missed via awards format.
MORE: The Sporting News ranks the top 30 players in the NBA
NBA preseason MVP: Jonathan Kuminga, Warriors
The Warriors have been waiting for a big year from Kuminga, who wasn’t able to stick in the team’s playoff rotation last season. This looks like it might be the year.
With Steve Kerr limiting minutes for most of his veterans, Kuminga has led the preseason in total points scored through Thursday’s games. He’s averaged 24.0 points per game on a stellar 53.4 percent from the field.
Kuminga has looked great defensively, with much-improved technique on his footwork and closeouts. He’s been very effective when attacking the rim. He’s been a force on the glass. And he’s buried 45.5 percent of his 3s, forcing defenses to stay honest on him.
Kuminga obviously isn’t going to have the same role as one of the team’s primary scorers when the season rolls around. But if he can develop into a solid bench piece, then he will upgrade one of their biggest weaknesses from last season. He looks like he’s finally ready to show some more consistency with his sky-high potential.
NBA preseason All-NBA Team
Kuminga already has one of the forward spots locked down. Here are the other four selections.
Forward: Kristaps Porzingis, Celtics
Of all the big-name players that switched teams over the offseason, none has looked as good as Porzingis. While playing only 23 minutes per game, he’s poured in 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on an excellent 54.1 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3.
Porzingis isn’t going to continue to hit half of his 3s during the regular season, but he is getting amazing looks alongside the best teammates that he’s ever had. He’s developed instant chemistry with both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and he fits in perfectly with the get-them-up 3-point strategy that Joe Mazzulla wants his team to employ.
Porzingis has also slotted in nicely defensively, giving the team great rim protection and causing a ton of deflections. He’s been able to play higher up the floor than expected, showing some decent mobility. The Celtics’ defense should remain as one of the best in the league despite the loss of Robert Williams III in the offseason.
Forward: Victor Wembanyama, Spurs
If you’ve been at all on social media, then you’ve probably seen the highlights that erupt after every single Wembanyama game. He’s doing things in the preseason that have never been done before from a player of his size.
7 feet 4 inch Wemby goes through the defenders legs ????
Forget the highlights for a second, though. Wembanyama will have plenty of viral moments. What’s more impressive is how consistently good he’s been on the more routine stuff. He’s taken very few forced shots — he’s shooting 55.3 percent from the field and leading the Spurs with 19.3 points per game. He also has been far and away the best defensive player on the floor in every game that he’s played in.
I thought that it would take Wembanyama some time to adjust to the league. I’m looking extremely wrong. If he can keep up his play from the preseason, then he will be an All-Star as a rookie.
Guard: Julian Strawther, Nuggets
Strawther has been the best rookie not named Wembanyama, averaging 17.8 points for the Nuggets via an impressive array of shotmaking from all ranges.
Strawther has fit in well in the Nuggets’ system, linking up with Nikola Jokic on some great cuts to the basket. He’s also been able to spread the floor, launching an impressive eight 3-point attempts per game and hitting on 45.2 percent of those looks. His sweet floater from college is immediately translating to the pro game, giving him a weapon when teams close out hard on him.
Strawther was an older player selected with the idea of contributing right away. That looks to be a shrewd pick for the Nuggets early on.
Guard: Jordan Poole, Wizards
The Wizards are going to be bad. They might be fun bad, though, with Poole leading the way. He’s dropped 23.3 points per game in 23.1 minutes per game on his new team, including 41 in a win against the Knicks on Wednesday.
Poole has about as much a chance at passing up a shot as James Harden does of showing up to a 10 a.m. practice. He’s dribbling it up the floor and pulling up immediately from the logo, breaking out his full bag of hesi dribbles and crossovers, and enraging Deni Avdija with his shot selection.
Poole is a lock to lead the Wizards in points per game and viral moments this season.
Biggest preseason overachievers: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors aren’t expected to do much this year. Caesars Sportsbook has their over/under for wins set at 36.5.
Even with the loss of Fred VanVleet, that seems too low for a team that won 41 games last year. They’ve played well in the preseason too, going 3-0 while beating the Kings, Cairns Taipans and Bulls.
The Raptors have played stifling defense in all three of those games. They should return to a top-10 defense this season with the addition of Jakob Poeltl for a full season. Dennis Schroder has been a pest at the point of attack, and Scottie Barnes looks rejuvenated as a switchable defender.
This team may still struggle to shoot — they’ve hit only 33.5 percent of their 3s and are bottom 10 in attempts per game. That was one of their big weaknesses last season as well. But their offense has been a pleasant surprise overall, ranking 11th in the league.
The biggest overachiever in preseason has also hit the over on their win total in recent years. Look for the Raptors to continue that streak.
Biggest preseason underachievers: New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans finally have Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram healthy. It’s everyone else on the team that has gotten hurt now.
Trey Murphy III was invaluable in holding together their starting lineup. He will miss the beginning of the season with a meniscus tear. They’ve also lost Naji Marshall, Larry Nance Jr. and Jose Alvarado to minor injuries.
Those injuries have limited the Pelicans’ ability to create functional lineups on the floor. They’ve struggled in the preseason as a result, getting blown out in two of their three losses.
More troubling than the blowouts is how they are losing games. CJ McCollum has shot below 40 percent and looks like he’s on the decline. They’ve been turning the ball over like crazy, amassing almost 50 over a two-game span. Williamson, McCollum and Ingram have shown very little chemistry on the floor together.
The Pelicans have a very talented team, but the West is going to be a bloodbath this year. Nobody has the luxury of a slow start if they want to make the playoffs.