The games may not count, but by no means is the NBA preseason meaningless. Rotations are figured out, skills are developed and confidence is gained as teams work through a handful of exhibition contests.
Like Summer League, anything that happens during the preseason has to be taken with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t mean that lasting impressions can’t be made. Some things you see during the preseason can and will carry over into the regular season, as we’ve seen year after year.
The five players listed below certainly hope that’s the case, since their outstanding performances earned them a spot on the 2021 NBA All-Preseason team, as selected by … well … by me. I tried to shy away from established All-Stars, so you won’t find players like Stephen Curry and Julius Randle on here, despite their excellent preseason performances.
Instead I picked players who most likely opened some eyes and maybe earned themselves more playing time in the process. And if they don’t end up having the regular season that they envision, at least they’ll always have the preseason.
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2021-22 NBA All-Preseason Team
If you heard it once this offseason, you heard it a million times: For the re-vamped Heat to truly become championship contenders, Tyler Herro is going to need to take a step forward. Technically it’s not really a step forward — more like a step backward to the bubble, when he averaged 16.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 46/38/90 shooting splits in the first three rounds of the playoffs to help get the Heat to the NBA Finals.
If the preseason is any indication, Herro looks more than capable of reproducing, or even exceeding, those numbers this season, which would put him squarely in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation. Herro added the infamous “15 pounds of lean muscle” this offseason, and he looked like he got anywhere he wanted to on the court while averaging 22.4 points on 51/45/90 shooting splits in five preseason games. Herro looked like the definition of a three-level scorer entering a critical year with the Heat.
“This is a league that’s becoming a league of skill and he’s developing into one of the most skilled players in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Herro. “You can see he gets where he needs to get. He can get to different levels on the floor. So, it’s a very good start for him.”
Entering camp, there was presumably a competition for the Warriors’ starting shooting guard spot with Klay Thompson still unavailable, but Poole put an end to that pretty quickly. Carrying over from a strong end to last season, Poole looked confident and comfortable while putting up 21.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and three assists per game on 51/36/87 shooting splits. Poole has been phenomenal around the basket with lightning-quick bursts of speed and creative, contortive finishes like this one around LeBron James.
“They wanted me to be aggressive. Coach [Steve Kerr] wants me to go out there and if I’m open, shoot it. He kind of let me know that last year,” Poole said. “It’s just taking the momentum I had last year and expanding my range a little bit.”
It seems as if Poole has taken that part about his range to heart as well. He made five shots from 30 or more feet all last season, according to NBA.com, and he made three from 30-plus this preseason alone, including Stephwn Curry-esque transition 3-point bombs like this one.
There may not be as many open guard/wing minutes in Philly as we thought now that Ben Simmons has reported to camp, but Joe certainly made his case for regular playing time with a torrid preseason. The second-year guard out of Arkansas averaged 16.8 points and created his own club with unthinkable 60/59/90 shooting splits in just over 24 minutes per game. And it’s not like we’re talking about a guy who’s shy on the trigger — Joe shot almost 60 percent on nearly seven 3-point attempts per game.
We get it — it’s the preseason — but Joe’s 1.675 points per possession were by far the highest in the league for players with at least 40 possessions. He also went 10 for 15 in catch-and-shoot situations, suggesting that he could be a good fit as a spot-up shooter with Simmons and/or Joel Embiid on the floor. When you’re hitting nothing but net on L.A. Fitness-style pull-up 3s with no rebounders in sight, your confidence is at an all-time high.
Joe has opened eyes this preseason on both ends, and could get some early chances to do it in the regular season, particularly if Simmons isn’t ready to play.
“He can shoot the ball, but what I still like is that he’s finding places to shoot the ball, he’s moving well without the ball, he’s putting the ball on the floor, and he defends,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. ” … If he gets those same shots in the regular season, he’ll shoot 60 percent in the regular season. He can just shoot the ball.”
The departure of PJ Tucker has opened up some frontcourt minutes, and Nwora could get a chance at filling them after an excellent preseason in which he averaged 17.8 points and five rebounds on 41 percent 3-point shooting in less than 24 minutes per game. He wasn’t just a spot-up shooter either — the 6-8 forward was in the 93rd percentile for the preseason as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, often pulling up for off-the-dribble 3-pointers to punish sagging defenders.
Nwora will have to prove he can hold his own defensively before Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer trusts him with significant minutes, but he could add offensive shot-creation and spot-up ability that would serve Milwaukee’s bench unit well.
I wanted to go with a lesser-known player, maybe a center, for this final spot, but Anunoby’s preseason cannot be ignored. He averaged 19.3 points in 25 minutes per game, putting up 52/54/92 shooting splits. I’m certainly not the only one predicting a breakout season from Anunoby, and his performance this preseason got all of us even more excited, thanks to advanced shot creation like this.
It sounds like Anunoby is going to get some more opportunity to spread his wings offensively with Kyle Lowry out of the picture.
“[Anunoby] is getting a lot of chances to play a lot of one-on-one, some more post-ups, etc.,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said during the preseason, via the Toronto Star. “I’m not so sure that’s the great rhythm of our offense that we’re going to see all the time, but it is part of developing him now and using this time to do that. There is maybe a little bit of a longer … runway.”
Jared Butler, Utah Jazz (18 points, 4.3 assists)Trey Murphy III, New Orleans Pelicans (17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 53 percent 3-pointers)Lu Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder (14.7 points, 56/63/80 shooting splits)Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder (13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists)Max Strus, Miami Heat (13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 48 percent 3-pointers)Otto Porter Jr., Golden State Warriors (13 points, 5.0 rebounds, 55 percent 3-pointers)Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando Magic (12.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 64/44/77 shooting splits)Precious Achiuwa, Toronto Raptors (12.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 steals)Mo Bamba, Orlando Magic (11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 42 percent 3-pointers)