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Early Look: NBA Rookies Impressing in Preseason

John Raoux/Associated Press

It’s so nice to finally talk actual basketball! Yes, I know, it’s early in the preseason, but it’s always a fun endeavor looking at the top rookies try to fit in at the highest level of basketball competition in the world. Some achieve more success than others right off the bat, finding their niche or role within the team; while others can tend to struggle out of the gate. Early success or failure in the preseason should be taken with a grain of salt. These players will grow in both stature and skill in the coming years, and that should be a joy to watch as well. So let’s take a look at some first impressions of the new incoming talent in the NBA.

Let’s start with the Denver Nuggets new point guard of the future Emmanuel Mudiay, who showed promise with his physicality and NBA skillset while shooting it well from long distance. Mudiay put up 14 points and three assists starting the game against veteran All-Star Chris Paul. Mudiay showed promise running the pick and roll, taking Lance Stephenson in the post and finding fellow rookie Nikola Jokic rolling to the rim for the finish. Mudiay kept the Nuggets within striking distance, nailing threes off the dribble, which was promising to see (3-7 in the game).

But Mudiay really struggled defensively with Paul, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone at this stage. Mudiay needs to work on guarding the pick and roll, as he frequent failed in getting around the screen, which led to Paul living in the paint. Mudiay has great size at 6-5, but he was ineffective at the rim, lacking explosiveness. With additional lower body strength, look for Mudiay to improve his overall offensive repertoire down the line and become more efficient.

Charlotte and Orlando both had prominent lottery picks play about 10 minutes off the bench in Frank Kaminsky and Mario Hezonja, respectively, and both made an impact offensively. Hezonja showed a quick trigger in transition to pair with excellent athleticism, which are two things he can bring to the table. However, Skiles was quick to pull Hezonja after he played poorly on the defensive end, which is something Skiles has done in the past with rookies. Hezonja finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and 1-3 from distance.

Kaminsky played more efficiently in limited minutes against Orlando, finishing with seven points and four rebounds on 3-6 from the field and 1-2 from three. In his first game, against the Heat, Kaminsky struggled with his in-between game and finishing at the rim, shooting 0-6 from that distance but 3-5 from three. Kaminsky scored nine points and showed promise as a rebounder (11 rebounds) and facilitator (three assists) while the Hornets ran their offense. The Orlando performance was an encouraging second game for Kaminsky, who played almost 28 minutes but needs to work on getting to the free throw line and adding strength to finish at the rim.

For the Heat, lottery pick Justise Winslow looked as advertised playing alongside more talented players than during the summer league. Winslow shined in transition, using his strong 6-6 frame to absorb contact and finish at the rim. He even threw down a big-time dunk, showing off his athleticism. He also did a nice job playing the passing lanes defensively and being unselfish (three assists) without committing a turnover. This was a good start for Winslow, who can play a role off the bench this year before becoming a more prominent member of the Heat as they move forward.

Second overall pick and combo guard D’Angelo Russell had his ups and downs from the Lakers-Jazz game. Russell started at point guard alongside another combo guard in Jordan Clarkson, and the two switched off running point throughout the game. Russell struggled as a shooter and needs to add strength to help finish at the rim, but showed promise as a facilitator (three assists) and chipped in with one steal and only one turnover. It was smart for coach Byron Scott to play Clarkson and Russell together throughout the whole game (21:29), as the two will need to start gaining chemistry as the Lakers’ backcourt of the future.

Overall, it was a promising start to the 2015 rookie class, and plenty more rookies will start their NBA journey tonight and the days moving forward. Look out for Willie Cauley-Stein and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as they should be making their debuts tonight, and keep an eye on the rest of the rookie class as we move forward in the NBA season.

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