It may just be the preseason, but the past fortnight has been the palate cleanser that every hoops fan has been craving since the summer started.
Competitive basketball is back, and so are the surprising developments that come with it. The Jimmy Butler/Tom Thibodeau/Minnesota Timberwolves debacle has dominated headlines and Twitter feeds for nearly a month, but there are plenty of on-court revelations that have kept the NBA community buzzing.
Whether it was rookies showing they are ready-made for success in the big leagues, sophomores bouncing back after a tough opening campaign, or veterans showing they can add new strings to their bow, the preseason is a time for irrational excitement.
So who and what caught our eye? Let’s take a more in-depth look.
Malik Monk Looking Good
Last year was a very shaky opening season for former Kentucky star Malik Monk.
It started with head coach Steve Clifford, who was canned at the close of the campaign, tethering the 6-foot-3 explosive guard to the bench. However, in the 13.6 minutes he did manage per game, Monk didn’t show the varied and intriguing skill set that the Charlotte Hornets saw in him when they selected him with the 11th pick of last year’s draft.
Monk averaged just 6.7 points, 1.4 assists and a single rebound per game, shooting the ball at a cringe-inducing 36 percent from the field. Fair to say it wasn’t a great impression. Nonetheless, we all know it’s silly to write off a 20-year-old after just one NBA go-around, and Monk showed definite signs of life in his second preseason.
New coach James Borrego has given him a solid 22 minutes per night, and Monk has answered in an unexpectedly solid way. He has averaged 10.5 points per game – albeit his overall shooting percentage is still pretty dismal – and an encouraging 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals to boot.
Aside from finally being given ample minutes to showcase himself, the most stimulating part of Monk’s exhibition season has been his ability to nail the 3-ball:
Monk looks much more assured and confident in his stroke this season, and his preseason shooting mark of 43.5 percent is a stark improvement over the 34.5 percent he hit in his rookie season. Obviously it will be tough to keep that red-hot clip going, but he looks well on his way to becoming a serviceable NBA player, at the very least.
Melo Embracing Houston’s Mantra
When Carmelo Anthony arrived in Houston this summer, the majority of the hoops world was ready for him to flop like he did last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 10-time All-Star was a horrendous fit alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George, mainly due to the isolation-heavy ways that have propelled him throughout his whole career.
While there is still a very real possibility that Melo doesn’t change his ways enough to fit in to Mike D’Antoni’s system – one that relies purely on 3-pointers, shots at the rim and free throws – this preseason has shown that the 34-year-old is truly trying to make it work. To the point where he is even apologizing for stepping inside the arc and shooting his patented long-two:
Six of Anthony’s 9.5 field goal attempts have come from behind the 3-point arc, which is the most triples he has ever jacked up in a preseason. To accompany those mantra-embracing numbers, Melo has nailed a scorching 50 percent of those long-range tries.
If the future Hall of Fame forward can finally embrace the modern NBA style, he may just be able to shake off the imperfect reputation he forged in Oklahoma City.
Hamidou Diallo’s Immediate Impact
When a player is selected with the 45th pick in the draft, it’s certainly not expected that they come in and wow everyone in their very first taste of NBA season. Apparently nobody told that to Hamidou Diallo.
After a roller coaster one-and-done season in Kentucky, the second round pick of the Thunder has impressed anyone who has had the pleasure of laying eyes on his preseason work. In his 27.9 minutes per game, Diallo has averaged 11 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals, shooting 43.2 percent from the field and a very respectable 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
Along with his smooth looking jumper, the 6-foot-5 wing uses his jaw-dropping athleticism to run the floor and get easy buckets. On the other end, that bounce and 6-foot-11 wingspan helps smother would-be scorers. The perfect recipe for the modern NBA wing:
With Andre Roberson’s knee injury set to cost him at least another two months of the 2018-19 season, Diallo has a decent chance to gain meaningful minutes in Billy Donovan’s rotation. If his four preseason outings are anything to go by, the 20-year-old will bring a bunch of energy in any time he sees.
The real stuff is set to start in just a few days, so it will be interesting to see if these three players can continue to add their compelling preseason story lines.