Rookie Domantas Sabonis appears to be the early leader for the Thunder’s starting power forward position over veteran Ersan Ilyasova, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman reports. Sabonis passed and shot the ball well in the Thunder’s preseason games in Spain last week, Horne continues. He’s also shown unusual maturity for his age, Horne adds. “In terms of defensively where he’s supposed to be, remembering plays, doing his job, being in the right spots, the right positions, (being) a competitive guy, he’s reliable,” coach Billy Donovan told Horne. “Really reliable.”
In other news around the Western Conference:
- Lakers swingman Nick Young appreciates the way new coach Luke Walton has delivered his message of getting Young to improve defensively, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News writes. Young often bristled at the way former coach Byron Scott criticized him publicly, Medina notes, but Walton has tried a more positive approach. “You have a coach that is telling you to shoot the ball and has confidence in you,” Young told Medina. “All he wants you to do is play defense and do whatever you want on offense. That gives yourself a lot of confidence.”
- Suns coach Earl Watson believes shooting guard Devin Booker is a star in the making, Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic relays. Booker lit up the Trail Blazers for 34 points in three quarters this preseason and Watson marvels at his scoring ability, Coro continues. “He scored every way possible, so you like everything that he did,” Watson told Coro. “You can tell 19 years of age and his maturity and patience in the half-court and the way he can score is very unique. I’m not sure there’s a lot of people his age or a lot of people in the NBA who can do that.”
- Jusuf Nurkic has been so impressive this preseason that he is practically forcing Nuggets coach Michael Malone to name him the opening-night starter at center, according to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. Nurkic has played with determination in the preseason, Dempsey notes, while averaging 18.0 points and 13.3 rebounds. If Nurkic continues to play this way, Malone’s biggest decision will be to choose between Nikola Jokic and Kenneth Faried as the starting power forward, Dempsey adds.