August 22, 2020, 5:16 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to Part 2 of our mini special where we wrap up all the action from the conclusion of a totally irregular “regular” season in Orlando. The NBA Playoffs are already underway and I’m glad to see the Rockets continuing to surprise everyone around the league with their small-ball lineup that is proving to be lethal. Like I said before, keep an eye on potential upsets in the NBA playoffs with the empty gyms and the lack of a true home court advantage.
In Part 2 of this mini feature we are going to take a look at the rest of the international guys that participated n the bubble, hope you enjoy it!
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans move on from a disappointing season where they failed to make the playoffs and had a pretty terrible bubble performance. Nicolo Melli was not an exception as his shot simply didn’t fall in Orlando, shooting 28.9 percent from the field and an abysmal 15.4 from behind the 3-point line, averaging just 5.0 points and 0.5 triples in almost 20 minutes per night. Changes to the roster are most likely also coming after the dismissal of head coach Alvin Gentry but Melli was a positive, even after ending the season on a bad note. The Pelicans will try to surround Zion Williamson with even more shooters and even if Melli doesn’t find himself in New Orleans next season he will be on the radar for other NBA teams as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The health of Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams was the main priority for the Thunder coming into the bubble and both guys were able to cruise through the eight games and show up ready for the playoffs. Adams did miss a few games but it was mostly maintenance for him and he did look healthy running up and down the court.
Both guys could find themselves in different surroundings next year as Gallo is an unrestricted free agent and Adams carries a heavy contract that expires in 2021.
Nikola Vucevic has elevated his game in the last couple years, becoming the cornerstone for a young Magic team that is trying to slowly develop into a contender. Vuc showed up to the bubble in excellent and was the only constant for the Magic, who didn’t impress in the seeding games but were able to upset the Bucks in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs. The Montenegrin center has become a real threat from the 3-point line while he is able to adapt to defenses that collapse on him, finding the open man. His 2.5 assists and 2.0 triples per game during the bubble tournament were extremely helpful for a Magic team that was mostly playing without Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon.
Evan Fournier also missed some time in the bubble and had trouble looking for his shot with opponent defenses zeroing in on him but the Magic still trust him to run their offense and to come out of elbow screens in order to generate scoring.
The Sixers had really high hopes for this season after some aggressive offseason moves last year but the truth of the matter is that the team never developed the necessary habits to become a real contender. There is a lot of blame to go around and a lot of injury excuses but I have to emphasize Joel Embiid’s complete lack of effort on the defensive end. It’s been evident in plenty of games and especially when Ben Simmons went down with his injury. Embiid’s body language is also not right, a sign of his displeasure with his coaching staff some will say, and it’s pretty obvious that changes will becoming to Philadelphia this offseason. Look at this sequence where Embiid fails to convert against James Harden and then lets his frustration get the best of him; this is simply unacceptable, especially when the team expects you to lead the rest of the group by example.
Turkish swingman Furkan Korkmaz showed some flashes in a career year and he should generate interest in free agency in the event that the Sixers don’t exercise his option for 2021. He shot 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line while making 2.0 triples per game, skills that are in demand in today’s style of basketball.
The Suns surprised everyone in the bubble, going undefeated and barely missing the playoffs in what was definitely not a fluke as the organization did make some key moves in the last offseason. I had the chance to write about the Suns back in November in an article where I expressed my optimism about the franchise and I was happy to see them take the leap even after it took more that I anticipated.
The addition of veterans like Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric and Aron Baynes proved to be invaluable as the season progressed, but the big difference has been the play of Deandre Ayton who, under coach Monty Williams, started to develop some much-needed awareness on the defensive side of the ball where he looked clueless in his rookie year. Look at him move his feet nicely as the Pacers attack him on this pick-and-pop, denying the mid-range and allowing Malcolm Brogdon to come to him for the easy block.
Meanwhile, after a couple years of desperately looking for backup point guard help, the Suns seem to have found their man in Cam Payne, while Ellie Okobo’s days might be numbered in Arizona.
Portland Trail Blazers
Jusuf Nurkic has been one of the nicest stories of the bubble and I’m glad to see the big man back after a gruesome injury that kept him away for more than a year. Nurk has looked fantastic and in shape and as long as he remains healthy, he should be a top-50 fantasy player going into next season. Mario Hezonja, meanwhile, continues to drive his coaches crazy with the weirdest combination of hustle plays and dumb decisions as Terry Stotts simply has to play him due to the lack of depth on Portland’s roster.
The Croatian has a great body and is trying hard on defense but he often lacks concentration and makes ill-advised decisions. Look at him grabbing the rebound and attacking on the fast break with a clumsy finish while Gary Trent Jr. is lurking on the perimeter for the open three.
The Kings took a step back this year and the departure of Vlade Divac looked inevitable, while the biggest story of the season for me will be the decision the franchise has to make about Bogdan Bogdanovic’s future. He is a restricted free agent and the Kings can match any offer he receives but questions about this combination of roster and the coexistence of Buddy Hield and BB8 remain. Stay tuned and follow Hoop Ball Kings for all the latest news and rumors.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs came into the bubble with a focus on the future and they kept their word by playing their youngsters heavy minutes and showing the world that their talent evaluation remains one of the tops in the league. Jakob Poeltl was expected to have a bigger role, especially due to the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, but opponents kept him in check and he played just 25 minutes per game, forcing Pop to take him out due to his inability to make his free throws. He is a free agent and it will be interesting to see whether someone tries to lure him away from San Antonio.
Luka Samanic only appeared in a couple games but his sweet stroke and size gave us a glimpse about his potential in the league. The kid has worked on his body and is gradually adjusting to the the speed of the game while he remains a knock-down shooter who just needs to learn the Spurs system in order to get more minutes on the floor.
Nick Nurse, your Coach of the Year, continues to do an amazing job in Toronto as the Raptors look poised to make another deep run. Pascal Siakam struggled a bit with his shot in Orlando and didn’t quite look like himself but the four-month hiatus and the intense practices were to blame, while OG Anunoby is slowly developing into the team’s best defender. Look at him playing on-ball defense on Grayson Allen – when he realizes that his opponent is too quick for him, he lets Allen drive to the basket but is able to anticipate his pass to the corner, grabbing the steal.
The duo of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka at the center position brings a combination of veteran leadership and all-around skills and the Raptors will be fine as long as their big men can play regular minutes. Chris Boucher has taken his opportunities but he is far from being a defensive force and Nurse understands that he probably can’t play him in playoff situations.
Everyone seemed to count the Jazz out when the news about Bojan Bogdanovic having season-ending surgery broke, while rumors were in the air about the turmoil between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert after the latter contracted COVID-19. None of this proved to be true though, and the Jazz have shown tremendous resilience under the guidance of head coach Quin Snyder while Gobert remains the best defensive big in the league.
The Wizards were simply invited to the bubble in order to make the logistics of a “regular season” work and the coaching staff didn’t waste the opportunity to focus on the development of their young core. Rui Hachimura didn’t shoot well and struggled against teams that focused on him more due to the absence of Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. The Japanese-American forward will have plenty of chances to score next year when All-Star guard John Wall is back for a team that will push the tempo and will try to generate many fast break opportunities like this one:
Isaac Bonga, meanwhile, remains an intriguing prospect due to his length and speed and it seems that the experiment of him running the point is over and the Wizards will use him as a defensive off-ball guard/swingman who could gel well playing next to offensive threats like Beal, Wall and Bertans. Hope you enjoyed this week’s article and make sure you stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com, ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of August 22nd.