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Eastern Conference: Six Preseason Studs

A look at six Eastern Conference players who have been shining in the 2015-16 NBA preseason.

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The NBA preseason is our first chance to get a look at what players worked on over the summer and how their training translates onto the court. Some players ease into the preseason, using it as a chance to get into game speed and prepare for the long haul of the 82-game regular season. Others, though, come out with vengeance and seem like they have something to prove. Today, we take a look at six Eastern Conference players who have been shining in preseason.

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Most people around the league know how talented Lowry is, so his great play during the preseason should not be a surprise to anyone. But the numbers have been terrific, averaging 24.3 points, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals through four games. In one game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lowry scored 40 points (shooting 13-18 from the field and hitting 6-9 threes) in just 28 minutes on the court. This 40-point outing from Lowry broke the Raptors’ preseason scoring record, breaking the mark previously held by former Toronto great Vince Carter.

Lowry’s ability to do so much on the court is what makes him so lethal. You basically have to pick your poison when guarding Lowry. You can’t give him space, since he’ll knock down the jumper (as evidenced by his 57.7 percent shooting from the field and 57.1 percent shooting from long range in preseason). But you also can’t defend the shot, as he’ll use his deceiving quickness to go right around you for an easy finish.

Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

Lopez has picked up right where he left off last season, when he averaged 17.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. So far through five preseason outings, the big man is averaging 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. Although Lopez is shooting 43.9 percent from the field, which is relatively low for a big man, he has been very productive and looks good. As the season progresses, he can improve his shooting percentage with some easier shot attempts. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lopez’s preseason play has been his major contributions on the defensive side, since he’s averaging nearly three blocks per game.

Lopez has led the Nets in scoring in three of their first five preseason games. He has always been a proficient scorer, as he can back the defender down right into the paint – scoring with his array of post moves – or using his height to shoot right over the defender. Lopez will have every opportunity to put up nice numbers and succeed in Brooklyn this year.

Derrick Williams, New York Knicks

Williams, who reached a two-year deal worth $10 million with New York this summer, has been a pleasant surprise for the Knicks thus far in the preseason. Last season, Williams averaged 8.3 points and just 2.7 rebounds with the Sacramento Kings, but through five preseason games he is now averaging 16.6 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 58.8 percent from the field with the Knicks. Many people had written Williams off after his underwhelming stints with the Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, but keep in mind that he is still just 24 years old. Perhaps he just needed a change of scenery to get going. Williams clearly worked hard on his game over the summer and it is showing in the preseason.

Williams’ biggest strength is that he attacks the rim with force, making defenders think twice about challenging him. It is worth noting that this is a small sample size and Williams is averaging 2.4 turnovers per game for the Knicks, so he has had some trouble handling the ball in certain situations. Still, the early signs have been very positive and if he can continue to play at this level, his contract could look like a steal for the Knicks going forward.

Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

Noel had a decent first year playing with Philadelphia, as he averaged 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds as a rookie. However, Noel made some noticeable strides during the offseason and 76ers fans should be encouraged by his recent play in the preseason. Noel seems to be doing it all on the court right now – with averages of 13.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block in four preseason games so far. Noel and the 76ers are coming off of a loss against the Brooklyn Nets, but it should be noted Noel was the leader in points, assists and rebounds for Philadelphia in that game.

Noel is still just 21 years old and it’s clear his best basketball is ahead of him. The one-two punch of Noel and first-round pick Jahlil Okafor has also looked great since the two big men complement each other perfectly. During the season, don’t be surprised if Noel continues to play at a high level and raises his preseason block average a bit (he blocked 1.9 shots last year).

Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks

Monroe, who signed with the Bucks over the offseason, has wasted no time producing in Milwaukee. With averages of 14 points (on 54.1 percent shooting from the field), 7.8 rebounds and two steals through four preseason games with the Bucks, Monroe has shown his efficiency and versatility. Monroe recently had a double-double in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, with 19 points and 13 rebounds. With games like that, people are reminded of how talented Monroe is and how big of an addition he was for the organization.

Monroe is a force, specifically in the paint, and he will only make this young Milwaukee team even better. Last year, they didn’t have a low-post option like Monroe for easy buckets. The big man will need to work on his free throw shooting, as he is shooting 69.6 percent from the line in the preseason, but all signs point to him being a very good fit for Milwaukee.

Paul George, Indiana Pacers

If there was any doubt about how Paul George would play after missing most of last season due to his leg injury, it’s safe to say he cleared the air with his recent 32-point preseason performance against the Detroit Pistons. George was able to get to 32 points in just 23 minutes on the court, shooting 10-17 from the field and 5-9 from behind the arc. George has been averaging 18.6 points, five rebounds and a steal per game through five preseason contests for the Pacers. George is accustomed to putting up numbers like this – as he averaged 21.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in the 2013-14 season the last time he was healthy.

With George, staying healthy is obviously the biggest priority but he must be consistent as well. George followed up his 32-point outing with just 13 points on a dismal 4-14 shooting from the field against the Orlando Magic. If George can become more consistent with his shot and his decision making, then the rest of the league needs to watch out. Before his injury, George was a top player in the league and is definitely looking to get back there.

Which player has impressed you the most? Leave your thoughts in a comment.

Jonathan Concool is an NBA writer based out of San Francisco, CA entering his third season with Basketball Insiders.

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