NBA preseason opening night: Kuzma’s future, Blazers X-factor, Knicks Barrett Plans

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The shortest offseason in NBA history has come to an end. 60 days after the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions of the bubble, the 2020-21 NBA preseason tipped-off on Friday with five games. Overanalyzing after the first few moments of preseason action is not advised, but there is always something to take away from live reps. Here are some thoughts:

Kyle Kuzma’s Future

As elite members of the 2017 NBA draft class continue to get big-money extensions, Kyle Kuzma will likely enter the 2020-21 season without securing that first big bag. This means that the upcoming season will more or less set Kuzma’s market value.

A spot like that is difficult for the 25-year-old that was the lone key holdover from an Anthony Davis trade that cost the Lakers their young-upside players and assets. On one hand, Kuzma got to play a vital part in a championship season while absorbing knowledge from one of the greatest basketball minds of all time. On the other, he is the only one of the bigger names from his draft class that doesn’t have the offensive green light. De’Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, and Bam Adebayo all have bigger roles in their respective offenses because they don’t play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

This year the Lakers added even more offense to the bench by bringing in Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder. It will be interesting to see how Kuzma faces the challenge of continuing to play his role and be a meaningful contributor to a championship while still raising his individual stock. This is a man who still believes himself capable of being a third star for the franchise. He had 18 points and 5 assists on the night and looked comfortable directing his teammates on offense. He can be a most improved player of the year candidate if things click.

Bench Melo Is the Hero Portland Deserves

After everything that 2020 has been you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the Portland Trail Blazers were in the conference finals only two years ago. An injury-riddled campaign this season left them fighting into the playoffs via-play in-game following the usual absurd Damian Lillard performances in the bubble. A lot of that conference finals Blazers blueprint is still in the building with one significant addition. Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony was one of the bright spots of the bubble where he averaged 16.4 points per game and shot 42% from three. He came in red-hot and hit a few big shots along the way. Getting him back for another year at the veteran minimum was a big win for Portland, especially if he is fully committed to his bench role. He openly admitted that acceptance was tough, but showed last night how fruitful that arrangement could turn out to be.

The future hall of famer dropped 21 points in 23 minutes on 8-of-13 shooting in the usual footwork clinic that we will be taking part in for now the 18th season. The 36-year-old Anthony will be too advanced for the second-units of most teams and should provide constant wind even while resting starters. Watching Anthony rise from nearly blackballed to a legitimate sixth man of the year candidate just by being in the right situation has been tremendous.

A smart Knicks Offseason, but what about RJ Barrett?

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Mike Stobe – Getty Images

Usually attempting to get to the bottom of what the Knicks are doing is pointless, but I liked their offseason and I will give it a shot.

Their offseason was uncharacteristically shrewd and patient, a big plus for a franchise with new faces at head coach and president that is looking to at least approach a reputation of competence. The Knicks traded the 27th and 38th picks for the 23rd and then flipped that pick for the 25th and 33rd picks, moving themselves up in the draft for nothing. They got Austin Rivers on a friendly contract and didn’t blow all of their cap room with Chris Paul or a similar acquisition. Their roster is more flexible and movable in potential transactions that could reap the Knicks more assets during the season.

The problem is the on-court product. RJ Barrett had a disappointing rookie year with a bad year from all over the court (40.2% fg)  including the foul-line (61.4%). New York knew that he was primarily an athletic slashing-finisher coming in but have done little to build a team that would accentuate his strengths. After sharing the court with a ton of non-shooters last season no offseason addition has meaningfully spaced the floor. If Barrett fails to develop as a shooter he may turn from a potential franchise star to an intriguing trading piece while New York searches for their identity.

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