A few weeks ago the NBA announced that they’ve created a “bubble city” in Orlando to use for the resumption of play. 22 teams got the invite to battle it out for a shot at the playoffs, and the chance at a Larry O’Brien trophy. The bubble city is in the works, with teams expected to report in the coming weeks.
With the surge of Covid-19 cases in Florida, there is no proof that the operation will work. Combine the health concern, and current state of activism, players have already opted out of playing out the season.
However, those concerns have not discouraged the NBA from going through with their plans of finishing the season. But the Orlando plan isn’t the only thing on the NBA’s plate.
The league has begun discussions with the National Basketball Players Association for a secondary bubble with the eight teams that were eliminated from postseason consideration.
For what reason? Well the league wants to ensure the 8 NBA teams not invited to Orlando can stay in shape. Without the second bubble, those 8 teams would go 10 months without playing games or having team practices.
The thought process is one coming from a good heart, but is it truly necessary?
Let’s break down how the 2nd bubble city would work, the pros and cons, and the hurdles to overcome.
Hurdles to Address
The biggest hurdle will be whether the Florida bubble works. If the NBA is unable to get the 22-team bubble inside Walt Disney World Resort off the ground, attempting to do one involving teams with little to play for doesn’t make sense.
Beyond the ability of Orlando working out, the Chicago bubble would be even harder to control.
In Orlando, the 22 teams are staying at Disney resorts. Think of it as a huge College campus. The players have courts, weight rooms, hotel rooms, and restaurant cooked food all on the grounds. It isn’t an exact bubble because there are variables that can not be accounted for, but the players are limited in where they can go.
Chicago does not have the luxury of enclosed Disney grounds. The NBA and those 8 teams can not create a bubble in one of America’s largest cities. It’s not feasible.
Then there is the problem of the coronavirus itself. The virus is not going away anytime soon, in fact it has been surging in about a dozen states. NBA players who are expected to be in there Orlando bubble have tested positive. Nikola Jokic may not be able to join the Nuggets in Orlando on the day players are expected to report. If one player gets Covid in the bubble, the entire operation could fold immediately.
The last hurdle to get past would be getting the players to agree to enter a bubble, without their families, for essentially an extended training camp. I get that it is important to keep these guys in the basketball fold, but at what cost? The 22 teams reporting in Orlando are doing so with the chance of winning a title. Gathering bad teams in Chicago with no upside seems like a huge hurdle to overcome.
Pro’s and Cons
The main talking point in the “pro” group is player development. I get it, you don’t want your young talent to regress because they’re not playing. But consider this.
While we have never had a scenario of teams not playing for 10 months, there is a close comparison we can use. Consider the case of draft picks who sit out their entire first season due to injuries. There is not a huge sample size but Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Greg Oden have all sat out their rookie seasons due to injury. All three of the players out performed their projected stats.
So the historical evidence tends to suggest that playing NBA basketball games is not as important to player development as people might think.
If a bubble is the only way players can safely get 5-on-5 experience now, that might be worth the expense, effort and any additional risk. But that isn’t the case. Having NBA teams remain in their own markets, holding their own practices and scrimmages will be more than enough to develop talent and stay fresh. You also don’t have to worry about keeping 8 teams safe in a single city, dividing hours to use facilities to keep social distance.
It just seems safer and more reasonable to have these teams workout by themselves than forcing a unnecessary bubble, isolating them form their families.
How Would Things Work?
For starters, impending free agents would be excluded from having to enter the bubble city. We have already seen Wizards Forward Davis Bertans opt-out of the Orlando bubble where the games have actual meaning, to ensure his safety heading into his free agency. The risk is too steep for players waiting on a big pay day in a few months.
Second, only players who have zero to three years of service should be eligible to participate. If the main goal is to develop young talent, then what need is there to have veterans uprooted from their family?
If the bubble is used strictly for the players drafted from the previous 3 drafts, then it significantly cuts down the roster to be held in Chicago.
Roughly 60 players would get the invite, including the likes of Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young; New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett; Cleveland Cavaliers SG Collin Sexton; Cleveland PG Darius Garland; Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Josh Okogie; Chicago Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr.; Chicago SG Coby White; Charlotte Hornets PG Devonte’ Graham; Charlotte power forward PJ Washington; and Charlotte SF Miles Bridges.
While still not something I would vote in favor of, I can see the reason behind it. Most of these guys don’t have wives and kids, so its more likely they would agree to attend than the veterans with whole families to leave behind.
Veterans like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have no reason being forced into a bubble.
If It Happens, Lookout For These Players
SG RJ Barrett, Knicks
While top-two picks Zion Williamson and Ja Morant took the NBA by storm this season, Barrett the No. 3 pick, battled inefficiency, in part due to a lackluster New York roster devoid of shooting. But just before the season was cut short, Barrett was playing his best basketball.
Over his last 10 games, Barrett averaged 17.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals.
He could use this bubble to work on his game, in particular his efficiency.
SG Coby White, Bulls
Coby White broke out over his last 10 games, averaging close to 25 points in 33 minutes with 60% true shooting. We haven’t seen enough of White to know exactly what he can be in the league, but we know this: when his jumper is falling he can be a dynamic scorer.
In this bubble he can use the time to work on his playmaking and decision making.
PG Darius Garland, Cavaliers
The fifth overall pick is the exact type of player who could benefit most, as he played only five games at Vanderbilt due to injury and had his ups and downs as a Cleveland rookie.
In this bubble Garland can use the extended training and games to work on his craft and get some games under his belt. He and Colin Sexton need to show they can jell together or one of them will be out the door in a years time.
SF Jarrett Culver, Timberwolves
Jarrett Culver’s defense has been his claim to fame thus far in the NBA. But his offense has trailed far behind.
With D’Angelo Russell and KAT not attending, he could use there time to focus on the offensive side of the ball.
SG Cam Reddish, Hawks
All the talk around the Hawks has been about Trae Young. But Cam Reddish quietly has all there tools necessary to be a good wing in this league.
Reddish ended the season on a high note (shooting 40% from 3 over his last 12 games), and he looks the part of a promising 3-and-D contributor at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan.
In this bubble he can get more work in to improve on his shooting. It will be needed playing alongside Young.
PF PJ Washington, Hornets
PJ Washington was one of the rookies who stood out this season. Starting 57 of 58 games and knocking down 37% of his 3s, Washington proved his game translates to the NBA level.
He could use this time to continue to develop more ball handling skills to improve his shotmaking ability.