As the days wind down on the clock, I find myself imaging the ever lingering green light at the end of the dock: NBA games that mean something. My friends, this is not The Great Gatsby, that light is within reach! The NBA Bubble seeding games kick off Thursday evening at 6:30 pm EST with the Jazz vs. the Pelicans.
Questions have arisen at an exponential rate since the COVID-19 shutdown of the NBA. With the bubble finally upon us, answers to our queries will start to be unearthed. The Premium Hoops Collective weigh in on three questions about our bubble thoughts, hopes, and hoop-dreams. Let’s get to the questions.
If you can boil it down to one reason, why are you most excited about the NBA returning?
Nate Georgy: There are many reasons why I am excited for the return of the NBA. However, If I had to boil it down to only one reason. I would say it is as simple as, I just want to watch basketball again. I want to watch high level competitive basketball involving my favorite athletes in the world.
There are obviously a ton of other things to be excited for. Such as, the hopeful battle of LA, the conclusion to the Bucks remarkable season, Houston small ball, Philadelphia’s potential, the rise of Jayson Tatum, and plenty of other story lines. However, all those reasons are trumped by the sheer enjoy ability of just watching basketball again. Winding down after a long day and just throwing on some hoops, and overthinking and overreacting to everything you see on the court.
Cody Houdek: Because this is the first season in a few years where it’s not entirely clear who is going to win the championship. Last year notwithstanding (though it was more of a fluke because of injuries), it’s been a foregone conclusion that either the Warriors or LeBron will win the championship, and while LeBron is still in the mix right now, nobody should be confident in the Lakers even being in the Finals.
For my money, I’d say that there are five legit contenders in two separate tiers: the first tier being the Bucks, Clippers, and Lakers, and the second tier being the Rockets and Celtics (Nuggets are on the outside looking in). Each team possesses a fascinating narrative arch that allows for the Finals to be interesting even to a more casual fan. Giannis and Harden could win their first championship. The Clippers could make their first ever Finals appearance. The Celtics could add to their storied franchise. LeBron could add a line to his GOAT resume.
I’d say that this is the most interesting race to the Finals since the 2009 season.
Scott Levine: Tell you what, I’ll boil it down to two reasons. Reason one is that I like watching the NBA a great deal. The second reason is that I have a weird fascination with how the pandemic affects events. Back in June my dad and I drove to an impromptu high school graduation ceremony for his students. It took place in the parking lot of Schaller Honda of New Britain. Their billboard played a slideshow of the names and faces of the graduates, who sat in their cars honking their horns. It was something that would never happen if not for the virus.
I know it’s brought up ad nauseum that we are living through a chapter of a history book right now, but we are. I am fortunate to have my health, and thus can focus on the oddities in the wake of COVID-19. Two thirds of the NBA playing basketball in Disney World for three months without leaving is certainly odd.
Joe Hulbert: I’m an avid NBA film analyst and in honesty, I was finding it difficult to perform my craft without any new film to break down and analyse. The last few months have turned the world upside down for many, and it will be nice to see normality creep back into my daily routine. On the whole I am praying for the United States from Europe and hoping that the rate of infection is able to be lowered by the US to ensure the players aren’t living in fear on a daily basis.
Evan Zaucha: The biggest reason why I’m excited about the NBA returning is simple: we’ll get to see the end to the 2019-2020 season and a champion will be crowned. The top of the league is incredibly interesting this year, where the Bucks, the Lakers, and the Clippers all stood a great chance at making the finals. Following them, the Nuggets, Raptors, and Celtics are itching to stake their respective claims to the throne. Even among teams with more of an “outside chance”, the Rockets and Sixers present interesting philosophical experiments in terms of rotation strategy and lineup composition. There are so many intriguing story lines that we’ve yet to see the conclusion to, and I’m extremely excited for the real games to begin!
Mark Schindler: The biggest thing for me is routine. No matter the content of my day and how it starts, it ends the same; asleep on the couch with my dog Moose nuzzled up against me, and the league pass background music the never-ending soundtrack of my apartment. I wake up with a crick in my neck, fortunate if my freshly filled notebook is on the table. Maybe some of the lights are off. I can’t actually remember the last time I made it all the way through the final tip-off of the night without dozing off.
It’s so frustratingly hectic sometimes; as soon as I feel caught up, there’s another article to write up and podcast to prep for.
I miss that nightly routine. The nightly or weekly progression of a player is so compelling to me. I want people to notice that. I want people to see the tweaks T.J. Warren made on defense this season. I want people to know why OG Anunoby’s new post-game is important (The synergy stats don’t support it, but I swear on my life it’s on it’s way). I love finding these things and presenting them. Not for myself, but because these guys are doing tremendous things. Helping other people realize progression and the nature of a player’s game is what I find so satisfying.
With the Bubble starting up, I’m just glad to have some normalcy. I’m excited to cover the league in a way that does everyone justice and just try to do something unique and fair.
We all pride ourselves on a love of player analysis at Premium Hoops; what’s one skill or aspect of any player in the league that you most enjoy watching or want to bring to light?
Nate Georgy: What a difficult question. There are probably 100 skills/aspects around the league that I would like to discuss in depth. But I’m going to pick the one that I strangely love watching, as well as choosing to be a homer here, and select Grant Williams defensive IQ/ability.
Grant, to my estimation, is one of the smartest defenders in the league today, even as a rookie. His size and strength help a ton in some instances. But his knowledge of the game, and his ability to read and react to what is happening in front of him, make him special. He understands angles and knows how to position himself to make up for his lack of height on the interior. He also utilizes his THICCC frame to stonewall drivers, and to set elite screens on offense. Grant is showing that you can have as minimal basketball “skill” as possible and still make it in the NBA, based on smarts alone.
Cody Houdek: I’m going to cheat a little bit and talk about Milwaukee’s drop pick-and-roll coverage. As Scott discussed in his recent article about stretch bigs, drop coverages are in vogue right now, and no team executes it quite as successfully or stubbornly as the Bucks. Consequently, the Bucks allow the least amount of shots at the rim, and they hold opponents to the lowest field goal percentage at the rim in the league.
However, the issue with predictability is that it’s…predictable. In their March 6th game against the Lakers, the Bucks struggled to contain LeBron’s “Laker Snaker” pick-and-roll attack where his screener (usually Javale McGee) would literally box out the drop-man after setting the screen. I’m still not sure how legal this is, but if the Lakers can replicate flipping the Bucks’ main strength into a weakness, then the Lakers have a solid shot at beating the Bucks if they meet in the Finals.
Scott Levine: While watching Jazz games from this season for last week’s podcast, I became attuned to Royce O’Neale’s passing ability. He helped keep so many plays alive with quick ball movement, a reason why Utah ranked ninth in offensive rating pre-suspension. Fast forward to the bubble and the Jazz are not expected to do much. Bogdanovic’s injury likely ruined their hopes of an unexpected playoff run. Bojan was the straw that stirred the drink, running through off-ball screens, warping the defense for his teammates. O’Neale will not provide this element in Bogdanovic’s stead, but can impact the offense in his own way.
O’Neale’s mastery of angles and rotations on the defensive end carries over to offense. He excels at attacking closeouts and punishing slow rotations. His 1.19 assist to usage ratio ranks in 97th percentile among wings per Cleaning The Glass. Royce will shoot if he is open, but his main role on offense is to serve as connective tissue between the initiator and play finisher. I hope more will notice the passing chops O’Neale flashed all season now that he will have a few more touches.
Joe Hulbert: I’m an offensively minded film/player analyst, and I like to delve into deep analysis of teams offensive sets. In honesty, the Dallas Mavericks have given a clinic in how to design an offense to involve every player. This isn’t much of a hot take given the Mavericks have the best offense in NBA history. But Dallas isn’t just good because of the personnel, Rick Carlisle’s creativity and attention to detail means that there are few wasted possessions in Dallas. Most Head Coaches are able to design sets with ‘plan A’ in mind. The next tier of offensive coaches that includes the likes of Rick Carlisle, Steve Clifford and Alvin Gentry are able to incorporate ‘wrinkles’ and ‘deception’ into their offense, which allow the offense to still remain in motion even if Action A is taken away. Take the play below as an example.
Dallas often sends a shooter across two stagger screens in what is known as Iverson action. Curry is tracked by a defender and Larry Nance just takes a step to that side to make sure he’s in a helping position. But Dallas initiates a Pick-and-Roll involving a ghost screen and fast roll from Dwight Powell. Having secondary actions designed outside of your core plays is an easy way to keep teams guessing and off-balance. But look how routine this looked for Dallas. They protected a staple ball screen with a pick-and-roll and punished the one step that Larry Nance took to his right. Rick Carlisle is a genius.
Evan Zaucha: It’s Mikal Bridges season, baby! Mikal was a favorite of mine from his draft year and I love him to this day. His length is smothering, especially on the defensive end, and his feel for the game belies his years. Bridges started off a little slowly in his rookie year, mostly due to your average rookie acclimation period and a shooting hitch he developed since his Villanova days. The Suns coaching staff have worked with him on reconstructing portions of his shot, and the results are beginning to come in. The second half of this year, he’s taken a big step forward in his development and had really hit his stride just before the break in the season. Mikal’s improved shooting has forced defenders to close out hard, and he’s adept at putting the ball on the deck and making things happen:
Safe to say, Mikal has carried over his momentum and looks inspired to begin the bubble festivities. From his stalwart defensive performance guarding Jayson Tatum to his utter obliteration of the Toronto Raptors in the first half (where he scored a scintillating 20 points), Mikal Bridges has been unstoppable and I’m incredibly curious to see if his growth continues on the trajectory that I think it will.
Mark Schindler: SO I’m not talking about T.J. Warren or Anunoby; I’m going on a tangent which is incredibly on brand for me. We’re going to talk about Troy Brown. This is his second year in the NBA already, but he’s still one of the youngest in the league; his upside is tantalizing.
Brown’s shot improved on higher volume, he dramatically improved at the free throw line (68% to 75%). According to B-Ball Index, he shot 40.5% on catch and shoot three’s; while he struggles off the dribble or movement, his ability to shoot off the catch alongside Bradley Beal and John Wall (He’s Back!) next year will be huge.
Although he was on one of the worst defensive teams of all time, I truly believe in Brown as a defender. He and Isaac Bonga, who I almost wrote this about, are the two best defensive options on this team; their combined age is a player younger than Vince Carter. I think we were almost too critical of this Wizards team. If Bradley Beal wasn’t having his insane offensive season, we’d look more at the development of the smattering of youth on this roster.
I don’t think Brown will ever end up as a star, and that’s not an indictment (I always talk on the pod about this; not everyone is meant to be a star). He could become one of the better role-players in the league and will undoubtedly spend most of his time as a starter!
SO what’s the skill Mark? Funny you should ask. Troy Brown is one of my favorite secondary play makers in the NBA. I think we could see him as a more of an initiator someday, but right now he’s excellent as the glue of Washington’s sets. He routinely finds that second pass off of the first action’s read that allowed for Washington to have an incredibly dynamic offense. His outlet and passes out into transition are also incredible,
Troy can make quality pocket passes, skip passes, and read the defense well out of pick and roll, he just needs more opportunities (17% Usg Rt per basketball reference).
Brown averaged just under 25 minutes per game this season, but his minutes were erratic; 27 in one game, 18 the next. When playing 25+ minutes, Troy slashed roughly 12/6/2.5 while shooting 51/42/82 and the Wiz went 12-12. I’m not going to say who those 12 wins were against! His usage percentage was actually lower in these 24 games than his regular season average. My point; with Bradley Beal out, Troy Brown Jr. has 8 games to flash his skills and gain some experience with the highest priority in Washington’s offense he’s had. There may be some rough spots, but I’m really excited to see Troy get some run in a quasi-playoff environment, because he should be a significant part of the next Wizards team that makes the post-season.
(Shortly after finishing this, I listened to Zach Lowe’s Where The Hell Were We? with Kevin Pelton and he went in depth on Troy, I promise I did not steal this idea from there. Great minds think alike?)
What meal would you risk the integrity of the Bubble for? (Lemon Pepper Wings are Overrated)
Nate Georgy: I could not see myself putting the integrity of the bubble at risk for some grub. However, in an extreme circumstance, the meal that I would consider doing it for is a nice plate of shrimp scampi with a couple slices of garlic bread on the side. Maybe throw some dessert in there for good measure. A warm brownie with a scoop of cookies and cream ice cream on top.
Cody Houdek: Look, I’m captain rule-follower, so I’m going to preface this by saying that I wouldn’t risk the integrity of the bubble for any meal. However, if I hypothetically HAD to risk it all for some food, it would probably be Swagat’s buffet of Indian cuisine in Madison, Wisconsin. Maybe I’m biased by now going five long, quarantined months without an Indian buffet, but man, this is one of the things I miss most after moving from Madison.
Scott Levine: I would not leave the bubble for a meal per se, but to acquire multiple 80 pack boxes of Welch’s fruit snacks. In Matisse Thybulle’s first episode of Welcome To The Bubble, he shows which snacks were waiting for him in his hotel room. Missing were Welch’s fruit snacks. Now, these boxes are available for order online, but I couldn’t find any for cheaper than twelve dollars. They would go on sale for ten dollars at the Big Y near my college and I am hopeful I could find a similar deal at an Orlando supermarket.
Once I brought back as many boxes of fruit snacks as I could fit into the trunk of my Lyft, I would certainly be told to isolate for ten days. This would be a bummer but at least I would now have fruit snacks. Ideally, I would have enough packs left to give them out to teammates. I always tossed a pack of fruit snacks to a roommate whenever I grabbed one for myself. It’s would be nice to remind my teammates that they’re my pals and can have my fruit snacks.
Joe Hulbert: When I order from the Indian restaurant my order my go-to is Chicken Vindaloo, Garlic Rice, Saag Aloo and a Chilli Naan bread. If this is offered to me at any point while in the bubble, I’ll take any fines, prison sentences. The lot.
Evan Zaucha: Of all the foods I hold dear (and there are a good number), the only one that could make me take that kind of risk is a deep dish pizza with extra pepperoni from Lou Malnati’s in Chicago, Illinois. Since I moved to Wisconsin a few years ago, I’ve tried the occasional local “deep dish” offerings, experiencing mild enjoyment at best. The yearning for a slice of the good stuff, generated by my protracted absence from my beloved home state, is the only siren song that could lull me away from the safety of the bubble.
Mark Schindler: Peanut Butter. Literally peanut butter. If I ran out of peanut butter in the bubble…. there is not a security force in the world that could prevent me from reaching a jar of George Washington Carver’s delectable creation. Peanut Butter is like Marcus Smart; it’s versatile. You can put it on or in anything and I do just that. Oatmeal. Toast. Brownies. Protein shakes. Stir-fry. On a freaking spoon by it’s lonesome. As long as you don’t pull any ants on a log BS, peanut butter is GOATed. STretch 6? Gimme the stretch spread.