Whereas the NBA’s opening night is chock full of contentious matchups, the opening day of preseason is puzzling, to say the least. In the first game between two legitimate NBA teams since June 8 (no, summer league doesn’t count), the Boston Celtics will faced the, wait for it, Charlotte Hornets.
Unlike the contentious, narrative-filled games to be played on October 16, some preseason matchups feel all too empty. The lack of compelling games can be explained in the same way that your favorite fighting anime can drag out brawls into the double-digit episode marks. It’s all about the buildup to the main event.
For many fans this will be the first time they see one of their favorite players get guarded by an NBA-level athlete at relatively full speed since the April. Big names like Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum will almost certainly take the floor, though playing noticeably fewer minutes than usual.
And while these games are more likely to be dominated by 12th, 13th and subsequent bench players as a showcase of what’s to come, the NBA’s preseason matchups will still invite a manic dose of speculation around what’s to come. So, here’s a look at three predictions sure to find their way to NBA Twitter after the Hornets and Celtics play tonight.
No. 1: James Borrego is hailed as a defensive Messiah
Charlotte’s newly acquired head coach James Borrego is the latest basketball savant to leave his post with the San Antonio Spurs and take his talents to a disorganized Eastern Conference team. The status quo in North Carolina is good, not great, but not terrible. Last year the Hornets placed 13th and 16th in offensive and defensive rating respectively, beating out playoff a pair of playoff teams in the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers on defense.
While not insufferable on defense, Charlotte lost Dwight Howard to the Washington Wizards this summer, forcing the team to remap exactly how it will approach keeping the paint packed. Borrego’s presence will immediately cause a buzz among Hornets faithful, as his Spurs pedigree suggests he’s a figurehead capable of reworking the team into playoff shape.
With Cody Zeller and Juan Hernangomez as the teams likely center pieces, expect Borrego to try out the pair in uncomfortable but hopefully enlightening positions. The two could effectively split time as Tiago Splitter copycats, drawing influence from Borrego’s time with San Antonio. Both are similarly lean centers, willing to trail plays and contest buckets, even if that occasionally means getting rejected themselves on the other end of the floor.
If the Hornets hold Boston to anywhere under 100 points tonight, expect reports for Charlotte to sound the lost colony of Atlantis washed up on the North Carolinian shore.
No. 2: Frank Kaminsky finally figured himself out
When Frank Kaminsky was drafted in 2015 he held the distinct honor of being the only player measured not to have a wingspan at least equal to his height without shoes. In NBA terms, that’s equivalent to asking a plateosaurus (approximately seven feet tall) to contest the rim; he can do it, but there will be a few laughs at his expense along the way.
Instead of locking down the paint, Kaminsky’s game has shown he is a worthy 3-point threat akin to Ryan Anderson, having improved on his stroke with each passing year. At his worst that becomes his best comparison, eventually drifting away into NBA oblivion when his defensive inefficiencies outpace his scoring prowess.
Kaminsky can still prove he’s worth exploring however, particularly if he emerges as a better offensive contributor when his shots aren’t falling. The Hornets were sixth in the league in screen assists per game in 2017-18 and lost four of those with Dwight Howard’s departure. Kaminsky has the chance to further open his game by buckling down and planting his feet, thereby opening the court for Walker, the Hornet’s wings, an even himself in pick and pop scenarios.
If Kaminsky keeps pace with the Celtics throwing every one of its defenders at him in Boston’s switch-happy scheme, he’ll start to look approach the ceiling expected of a ninth overall selection.
No. 3: Boston’s going to win the east
The Celtics have the unique privilege to play before the Toronto Raptors in preseason. While Kawhi Leonard has only begun to warm up to his Toronto address, the Celtics are burdened with continuing its momentum from the 2018 NBA playoffs.
Though Hayward and Kyrie Irving are not confirmed to play, Boston is already streets ahead of where Toronto hopes to be. The team’s chemistry is among the league’s best, with young pieces like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, already on superstar trajectory, willing to take a step back for the good of the team.
By all accounts, the Celtics should run the Hornets out of the gym and keep running until the team arrives at Irving and Tatum’s stomping grounds at Duke University. And if the loss is as bad as it could be for Charlotte, keep your ears peeled for an emergency edition of a particular Ringer NBA podcast. You know it’s coming.