Even in a normal year, NBA preseason games can be misleading. But specific performances can show the progress of some developing players.
Small sample sizes can blur results and overreactions are not always wise, which is amplified even more by how strange this offseason has been. Similarly, anyone can get hot for one night, especially when playing in exhibition games. However, there are key moments that may be indicative of future successes.
Before the 2020-21 campaign tips off, we looked at some of the players around the league who seemed poised to have a potential breakout season based on what we saw during preseason action.
Talen Horton-Tucker (LA Lakers)
Stats: 20.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.2 spg, 54.7 FG%, 53.8 3P%
The Los Angeles Lakers may have found something very special in Talen Horton-Tucker, who was the belle of the ball during preseason action this year.
Entering his second professional season, Horton-Tucker just turned 20 years old last month. But he managed a 33-point, 10-rebound performance against the Clippers on December 13, shooting 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. When the preseason was all said and done, his massive 7-foot-1 wingspan helped him led all participants in total steals (9) while he trailed just Devin Booker in total scoring.
Based on his performance, albeit a relatively small sample size, Horton-Tucker may have just played his way into solidifying a role in the rotation for the returning champions.
Josh Richardson (Dallas)
Stats: 15.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 73.3 3P%, 62.5 FG%
As part of a deal during the 2020 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers dealt Josh Richardson to the Dallas Mavericks so that they could add a shooting specialist in Seth Curry.
While he is mostly celebrated as a defender, Richardson made a splash as a contributor on the offensive side of the floor during his first three preseason games with the Mavericks. Overall, the most encouraging aspect of his game is that he was 11-for-15 (73.3%) from beyond the arc. According to Synergy, Richardson was also 10-for-11 (90.9 percent) on his catch-and-shoot jumpers.
With the type of attention that his new teammate Luka Doncic draws from his defenders (and the playmaking ability that Doncic offers), Richardson’s new team will allow him to get a lot of wide-open jumpers off the catch. He could be in store for the best season of his career playing alongside Doncic.
Cedi Osman (Cleveland)
Stats: 21.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 68.4 FG%, 66.7 3P%
Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had an offensive rating (106.9) that ranked fifth-worst among all NBA teams. But they could take a step forward if Cedi Osman continues the hot start that he had earlier this month.
During the previous three preseason campaigns of his career, Osman had never scored more than 8.0 points per game. This year, in two appearances, he was able to average 21 points for Cleveland. The wing was a solid 3-for-6 (50.0%) when shooting from 3-point range against the Indiana Pacers and then 5-for-6 (83.3%) from beyond the arc against the New York Knicks.
That kind of productivity speaks well to expectations for Osman heading into the upcoming season, who is a player to watch as a potential breakout player.
Shake Milton (Philadelphia)
Stats: 17.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 45.5 3P%, 54.5 FG%
After averaging just 13.4 minutes per game as a rookie in 2018-19, Shake Milton eventually moved into the starting lineup for the Philadelphia 76ers in January 2020.
He made his impact known for Philly during his two preseason games this year. Despite coming off the bench, Milton led the team in scoring during both preseason appearances for Philly. The guard put up 19 points against the Boston Celtics and then 15 points against the Pacers.
Overall, the Sixers were able to outscore opponents by 31.2 points per 100 possessions when Milton was on the floor. He led big runs as a sixth man spark plug scorer in the second unit, utilized similarly to how his new head coach Doc Rivers used Lou Williams over the past several seasons.
Cole Anthony (Orlando)
Stats: 13.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 47.6 FG%, 47.1 3P%
During his first professional minutes in the NBA, Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony looked ready to contribute sooner rather than level.
The former University of North Carolina player led all rookies in total points (55) and tied LaMelo Ball for the most assists (15) during the preseason. He looked poised and ready for big moments, hitting a game-winner against the Charlotte Hornets.
There is still plenty of room for improvement as a finisher near the basket, where he struggled for the Magic. But his ability to create his own offense shooting off the dribble makes him an exciting player to watch as he is set to play his rookie campaign.
Harry Giles (Portland)
Stats: 10.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.8 bpg, 51.5 FG%
No longer on the Sacramento Kings for the first time in his career, Harry Giles has an opportunity for a fresh start with the Portland Trail Blazers.
While some critics are quick to call the former No. 1 overall recruit a “bust” because Giles has not made much of an impact during his professional career thus far, the big man is still just 22 years old. Giles, who played 21 minutes per game off the bench for Portland during the preseason, still led the Trail Blazers in rebounds, blocks and steals. Meanwhile, his per 36 numbers were incredibly impressive.
His best game came against his former team, recording 18 points and 14 rebounds with 3 steals and 2 blocks against vs. the Kings. It is unclear how many minutes he will get in the rotation during the regular season, but Giles flashed some solid numbers during the preseason.