The NBA’s scrimmage slate gave fans a long-awaited taste of basketball before the league’s regular-season seeding games begin on July 30. It was fun to see teams back on the court, but the relaxed atmosphere and level of play led to some standout performances that may end up just being a tease.
It was beneficial for NBA teams to compete before the season resumed, but the three-game sample size led to some players making statements that may not carry over into the seeding and playoff games. With a trophy on the line, rotations are going to be shortened while fringe players who thrived in the scrimmages will see heightened defenses and may be forced to watch the action from the sidelines.
Beyond the standout stars, the exhibition games left more to be desired from select players and teams. The scrimmages also provided teams a time to experiment, leading some to be circled as sleepers to make a run in the playoffs.
Some players made strong impressions, but which are less likely to carry over their play into the seeding games and playoffs?
Taking everything with a grain of salt, here are five overreactions from the NBA’s scrimmage games.
The Denver Nuggets’ scrimmage games allowed 7' 2" Bol Bol to see his first playing time outside the G League and his appearances did not disappoint. The No. 44 pick, who is the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, quickly drew attention for his unexpected agility, impressive range and out-of-nowhere shot-blocking.
In his first scrimmage, Bol put up 16 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks against the Wizards and followed that up with a 15 and 10-point showings. Bol’s performances were further highlighted alongside Nikola Jokic, as the two big men showed chemistry and had fun with their connections on the court.
While Bol impressed in the scrimmages, it is not clear whether he will break into Denver’s rotation for the regular and postseason. Coach Michael Malone may try to give Bol some minutes through the seeding games to keep up his conditioning, but the Bol takeover of 2020 may have already seen its end.
The Return of J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters
It has been a while since J.R. Smith has been on an NBA court, and he gave a flash of his repertoire during the Lakers’ scrimmages. Particularly, while the team’s top stars sat out of Monday’s matchup against the Wizards, Smith drained 6-of-7 three-pointers while totaling a team-high 20 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes.
With his shooting returning to form, the Lakers may find Smith to be an X-factor in the bubble. Also, the team has seen positive contributions from Dion Waiters, who was signed just before the season’s COVID-19 suspension. Waiters has come up in the clutch for the Lakers, recording 18 points and six assists alongside Smith on Monday.
It is yet to be seen how Smith and Waiters will be incorporated into the lineup once seeding games start, but it is clear that they add a different dynamic and are ready to contribute. Both players provide offensive options for the Lakers, which may be necessary if Davis misses extended time with his eye injury. No matter if they live up to their scrimmage performances, the entertainment value of Smith and Waiters making a return to the playoffs will be worth watching.
Repaired Utah Jazz Chemistry
Have Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell made up after having their relationship impacted by COVID-19? Their play on the court seems like that may be the case.
During Utah’s scrimmages, many of Mitchell’s assists have resulted in a Gobert bucket. Gobert has looked in top shape, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds in the contest.
“We both are doing a great job on our end to make it easier for each other,” Mitchell said about their chemistry.
With their relationship mended, Mitchell and Gobert have the opportunity to both lead the Jazz and challenge the Nuggets for the No. 3 seed in the West, who currently standing 1.5 games in front of Utah. There is still a threat of the two players distancing themselves again, though, and if that happens, the Jazz may see a shortened stint in Orlando and be further impacted in the longterm.
Sixers’ Ceiling Reliant on Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons’ move to power forward has been an adjustment to watch among NBA teams in the bubble. The 24-year-old has helped provide the Sixers with new life, showing his versatility and maximizing his potential to distribute the ball while working in the frontcourt and being more aggressive in scoring.
After dealing with a back injury earlier this season, Simmons has shown his return to form while simultaneously moving from the point guard slot to allow Shake Milton to remain in the starting lineup. Notably, Simmons has been working on his three-point shot, attempting two in one game after shooting a total of six this season.
The Sixers struggled to find balance before the season’s halt in March, but perhaps Simmons’ newfound role can help give Philly the boost it needs for the playoffs. If the power forward spot is not a longterm fit, though, then it will likely be difficult for the Sixers to make a surprise run in the playoffs.
Andre Roberson Coming Up Clutch in Return
After rupturing his patella tendon in 2018, Andre Roberson made his return to the NBA court with the Thunder in Orlando. A long road back from a difficult rehab led players to give him a standing ovation when he played his first minutes.
Roberson has largely been regarded as a top-notch defender, but his return has also seen him remain prepared on offense. In a scrimmage against the Sixers, Roberson was the team hero when he hit back-to-back threes in the final minute to lead to victory. It was an ending his teammates loved.
While it has been encouraging to see Roberson on a court again, it is unclear whether he would be ready to ramp up to playoff condition and have a place in the rotation. It is inspiring to see how Roberson stuck with his rehab to return to the NBA 2.5 years after his injury, but Roberson may need more time to adjust that the Thunder cannot currently afford. Nonetheless, his scrimmage performance helped to give his teammates something to celebrate, and he may prove to be an X-factor if given the opportunity.