With no NBA Summer League due to the shortened offseason and COVID-19 protocols, one of the best parts of this preseason is getting our first look at rookies who were drafted less than a month ago. You’d expect the learning curve to be a bit steeper with 19- and 20-year-olds being thrown directly into NBA competition, but we saw some strong performances from players making their debuts on Saturday, the second night of the NBA preseason.
The most highly anticipated rookie debut came from Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, who lived up to the hype as one of the most entertaining players in the 2020 draft. Another first-year player, Cavaliers wing Isaac Okoro, won his first game with a late bucket. In addition to the youngins, veterans like Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic also made their 2020-21 preseason debuts. Below are Saturday’s scores, along with a few thoughts about the night’s action.
NBA preseason scores for Saturday, Dec. 12Hello, LaMelo
I would venture to say that there has never been a more entertaining scoreless NBA preseason debut than the one LaMelo Ball turned in on Saturday night. The No. 3 overall pick in November’s draft, who some evaluators believed was the best player in the class, missed all five of his field goal attempts, but gathered 10 rebounds and dished out four assists for Charlotte in an energetically delightful 16 minutes.
Ball threw some electric passes, highlighted by a full-speed, no-look behind-the-back dish to Miles Bridges for an and-one in the third quarter.
Ball pushed with tremendous pace and, like his brother Lonzo, always had his head up looking for long outlet opportunities. He was also incredibly aggressive on defensive rebounds, throwing his body into bigger players to snatch away boards and then immediately get the Hornets out in transition. The shot, one of the biggest question marks about Ball heading into the draft, didn’t look great, as he missed all three of his 3-point attempts, and he got bumped around on drives a few times, leading to four turnovers.
Overall, however, his debut was everything we could have asked for. Are there going to be some growing pains along the course of his rookie season? Absolutely. But it was easy to see why many consider LaMelo Ball to be a potentially franchise-changing talent.
New look, same Steph
Stephen Curry had a new hairstyle and headband during his first NBA game in nine months, but his smooth handles and silky shooting stroke haven’t changed a bit. He was understandably rusty, scoring 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting, including 2-for-7 from behind the arc, but he showed the trademark flair that we’ve come to expect from him over the years.
Curry played just five games last season due to a broken left hand, and he’ll need to take on an huge offensive load this season with Klay Thompson out for the year following Achilles tendon surgery. This is the first step in what Warriors fans hope is a spectacular comeback season.
A little blood can’t stop Giannis
The whole basketball world may be focused on his yet-to-be-signed extension in Milwaukee, but let’s not forget that Giannis Antetokounmpo is also pretty decent at basketball. He reminded us in his preseason debut on Saturday, even after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face early in the game which required him to head to the locker room to stop the bleeding.
The Greek Freak clearly wasn’t fazed, as he put up 25 points (23 in the first half) and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes.
The reigning back-to-back MVP didn’t show any signs of fatigue coming off of a short offseason, and he appears ready to put up yet another monster year.
Coming off an incredible Rookie of the Year campaign, Ja Morant leads a Grizzlies squad that suddenly has pretty high expectations after nearly making the playoffs last season. Morant looked dynamic in his preseason debut on Saturday, putting up 20 points (18 in the first half) and 11 assists on 8-for-12 shooting in just 24 minutes. He also showed off his insane athleticism with this two-handed baseline flush.
Big night for Okoro
LaMelo Ball wasn’t the only rookie to have a successful preseason debut. No. 5 overall pick Isaac Okoro scored 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-4 3-pointers, and picked up three steals in the Cavs’ win over the Pacers on Saturday. He also did something not many rookies can say they did in their first pro game — he made the game-winning shot. Okoro picked up a huge defensive stop against TJ McConnell with just a few seconds left in the game, then sprinted ahead of the pack to make the game-winning layup, plus the foul, with 0.3 seconds remaining.
The Cavs probably won’t win a lot of games this season, but it will be fun to watch Okoro develop if the rest of his season is anything like his debut.