Previewing the Bubble, Part 1: The Yacht Club Teams
July 24th, 2020
by Alan Lu
The NBA is coming back, and 22 teams will be playing in Orlando, Florida, starting on July 30th. They have separated these teams into three groups that will be staying in three different hotels, the Gran Destino, the Grand Floridian, and the Yacht Club. Right now, all of the teams that are slated to miss the playoffs are staying at the Yacht Club, while all the teams with the best records are staying at the Gran Destino.
Basically, all of the teams that are staying at the Yacht Club will be playing in eight regular season seeding games. The play-in tournaments and the playoffs will then begin in mid-August, and that is where things will really kick off.
However, not all of the players that are eligible to play on July 30th will do so, and some will elect to turn down the invite. Obviously, the major concern is the coronavirus situation that has impacted the world, and the health risks involved of playing could be too much to bear. A couple of players have already turned down the offer to keep playing this season, but for those who will be there, they have the opportunity to help their team get to the playoffs, and to fight for the chance to win the NBA championship this year.
For the purposes of this article, this is to project which teams will likely finish with the most wins at the end of the regular season, which seed they may end up with after facing teams in Orlando, and who is the most likely to win the title. Also, the statistics cited are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
Last season, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to surprise people around the world by sneaking in to the Western Conference Finals, as they had picked up a big series win over Denver in the 2nd round, and they would eventually fall short as they lost to the Golden State Warriors in 2019. This season, they have underachieved noticeably, as they have won just 29 of 66 games, and are at 9th place in the Western Conference right now.
The Blazers possess one of the best backcourt tandems in the NBA in Damian Lillard, and C.J. McCollum. Lillard is a gifted scorer that averages roughly 29 points a game, and his strong offensive skills pave the way for his team to be competitive in every game. C.J. McCollum is also a very good shooter and scorer, and together the dynamic duo combine to average over 50 points a game.
They also managed to sign future Hall of Famer, Carmelo Anthony early this season, and he has experienced a resurgence in his play, as he has provided with solid shooting, scoring, and rebounding skills this season. Big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have recovered from their respective injuries during the hiatus. They also have center Hassan Whiteside to protect the paint. Trevor Ariza will be sitting out, but the Blazers also have a solid group of shooters that round out their rotation.
As a team, the Blazers excel as shooters and scorers on offense. They are 4th in three-point percentage, and are 8th in points scored per game. They also do a good job of limiting turnovers. On the downside, they do not collect many assists, as they are currently last in the league in assists per game.
On the defensive end, they block many shots and will grab rebounds in volume, but they also allow opponents to grab many boards as well. They also play pretty good field goal percentage defense. Despite that, the Blazers allow their opponents to make a lot of threes and they allow their opponents to score quite a bit, as they are 26th in points allowed per game.
In head-to-head matchups, the Blazers have generally struggled against the current teams projected to make the playoffs in the West, but amongst those games, they’ve fared well against Houston, and have split wins and losses against Oklahoma City, but have not beaten the Clippers, the Nuggets, or the Grizzlies this season.
Amongst the teams they will face in their bubble, the Blazers have had the most success against the Wizards, as they have won both times against them, have fared well against the Spurs, and have split games against the Kings and Suns, but have really struggled against the New Orleans Pelicans.
I think this format will benefit the Blazers significantly, and as one of most talented teams amongst those staying at the Yacht Club, this will improve their odds to reach the playoffs considerably. On the downside, they will still need to Grizzlies to struggle mightily in this format, and Portland has some ground to make up. They also were given a fairly tough schedule, as they will play against Philly, Boston, Houston, and the Lakers in Orlando. I think it’ll be close, but it’ll be tough for Portland to overtake Memphis in the standings when the season ends.
End of Season Projection:
9th in the West, and a Play-In Game vs. Memphis, with the winner playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1st Round
The New Orleans Pelicans were treading in mediocrity, as they were struggling to vie for the playoffs, when suddenly they were breathed with a new life when Zion Williamson came back midseason from a knee injury. Led by All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans have won 11 of their last 20 games, and are currently 28-36, as they are 10th in the Western Conference right now.
The Pelicans are led by a solid group of core players, as they have two very good forwards in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, and they also have a solid point guard in Jrue Holiday. Those three combine to score over 65 points a game when they all play together, and the Pelicans are a strong offensive team that can really score the basketball. On top of it, they also have sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who is an excellent marksman, especially from beyond the arc, and they also have a gifted playmaker in Lonzo Ball. They also have shooters and rim protectors to round out the rotation.
The Pelicans are a good offensive team, as they are 4th in points scored per game, 5th in three-point percentage, and are also 3rd in assists per game. They shoot and move the ball well, but they also struggle to take care of the basketball, as they are also 29th in turnovers committed per game.
They are also a good rebounding team, as they grab many rebounds, and they will tend to out-rebound their opponents. However, the Pelicans have struggled considerably on defense. They are 27th in points allowed per game, 19th in field-goal percentage allowed, and rate as below average in getting steals. On the plus side, they do a pretty good job of blocking shots.
In head-to-head matchups, the Pelicans have really struggled against the top 8 Western Conference teams that are currently projected to make the playoffs. In particular, they are winless against the Lakers, Oklahoma City, and Dallas this year, and they are a combined 0-12 against them. The Pelicans have fared well against Denver and Memphis, but have struggled considerably against the other Western Conference teams that have better records than them.
But amongst the bubble teams in their hotel, New Orleans could potentially be a sleeping giant. They have fared very well against those teams, and are a combined 6-2 against them. The Pelicans are currently unbeaten against Portland and Sacramento, and have split games against Phoenix. They played San Antonio once this year, which was Zion’s NBA regular season debut, but they lost a close one to them. They have not yet played Washington yet this season.
Since Zion has come back midseason to the NBA, the Pelicans have been 10-9 with him playing in games, and he sat out only once since, on a back-to-back where his team ended up defeating Indiana on the road.
New Orleans may actually be the sleeping giant here, and they have fared very well against the teams that are staying at their hotel. They did lose to San Antonio in Zion’s debut, but Zion has played 18 more games since, and the Pelicans have been getting more reps to develop the chemistry and more of a flow between him and the other players on their team. If all goes well for them, Brandon Ingram, Zion, and Lonzo Ball could end up playing very well in this format, and the Pelicans could be poised to make a run for the eighth seed, as they could make a play to even overtake Memphis at season’s end.
End of Season Projection:
10th in the West, barely misses out on the playoffs
19. Sacramento Kings
Last year, the Sacramento Kings were virtually within the doorstep of the playoffs, as they won 39 games under former head coach Dave Joerger, and they had surpassed expectations. This season, they grabbed a new head coach in Luke Walton, who was the lead assistant under Steve Kerr in Golden State and also coached LeBron in Los Angeles for the Lakers, but the Kings have not quite fared as well this year, as they are 28-36 right now. Still, they were good enough to score an invite to be one of the 22 teams to keep playing in the regular season.
The Kings are led by a solid backcourt tandem of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Fox is a speedy, young point guard that has had a solid season this year, as he is a very good scorer and facilitator with the ball in his hands. Buddy Hield is a solid shooter and scorer that can put up points in a hurry, and the two of them combine to average roughly 40 points a game.
Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes and Bogdan Bogdanovic are solid complementary players that can space the floor, and Richaun Holmes is a big man that can score, rebound, and block some shots. Plus, they also have other shooters and interior defenders that round out the rotation. On the downside, Marvin Bagley is currently out of the bubble due to a foot injury, which could be a significant blow to Sacramento’s already slim playoff chances.
As a team, the Sacramento Kings rate as a below average offensive team, but may rank as above average in shooting. They rank 11th in three-point percentage, but are 17th in field-goal percentage. However, they rate as below average in points scored, assists, and rebounds per game.
Defensively, they also seem to rate as below average amongst all NBA teams as well. They are 17th in points allowed per game, but are 20th in field-goal percentage allowed, and they have also struggled to get blocks this season. They also rate 16th in steals this season.
In head-to-head matchups against Western Conference teams that are currently projected to make the playoffs, the Kings have generally struggled against them. They have fared well against the Grizzlies and Clippers, and have split games against the Rockets, but they have not beaten the Lakers, and have struggled against the Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, and the Mavericks.
Against bubble teams in their hotel, the Kings have fared decently amongst them. They have fared well against Washington, as they have won both times against them, and have split games against Portland, San Antonio, and Phoenix, but they also have not beaten the New Orleans Pelicans yet this year.
Overall, I think that the Kings will be competitive in every game against the other teams in their hotel, and I think they will still in the playoff hunt, but will fall short of making the playoffs. The only team they truly have beaten consistently amongst teams in their hotel is Washington, but the competition amongst Phoenix and other similar teams will likely take them out of the running to make the playoffs towards the end of the regular season.
End of Season Projection:
11th in the West, eliminated from the playoffs
20. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns finished 19-63 last year under first year NBA head coach, Igor Kokoskov, as they won only 19 games despite receiving All-Star caliber performances from Devin Booker, and a solid rookie season from DeAndre Ayton. The Suns’ management was not pleased with their season even though they have been in a rebuild, so they went out, got a new head coach, Monty Williams, and also made moves to improve their team. This season, they have surprised people, as they are 26-39, and are within shouting range to vie for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
This year, the Suns are led by scoring wing man, Devin Booker, who possesses strong shooting and scoring skills, and he also is a solid facilitator that can ably run the point. DeAndre Ayton is the team’s starting center, and he’s excelled as an inside scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker for them. Plus, Ricky Rubio is a stellar facilitator that can also space the floor, and Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, and Dario Saric are skilled big men that can stretch the defenses and space the floor. Plus, the Suns also have talented young perimeter players to round out the rotation.
The Phoenix Suns rank as an above average team on offense. They are first in assists per game, 14th in points scored per game, and are 11th in field-goal percentage. However, they are below league average in three-point percentage and turnovers committed per game. While they can put up a lot of points and excel at passing the basketball, they struggle more to make threes and can be quite turnover prone.
The Suns also generally rank as below league average on the defensive end. They are 22nd in total rebounds per game, and opponents generally grab more boards than them. They are also 21st in points allowed per game, 22nd in field-goal percentage allowed, and 28th in blocks. They are 14th in steals collected, though.
In head-to-head matchups, they have generally struggled both against Western Conference teams that are currently slated to make the playoffs, and the bubble teams in their hotel that they will face off against. Amongst the latter teams, they have split games against Sacramento and New Orleans, but are winless against Washington.
Honestly, it’s a little surprising that Phoenix was invited, considering that they are exactly a .400 team this year in the NBA, and they are a whopping 6 games back of Memphis in their bid for the 8th seed in the West. Technically though, they are still mathematically in it. But as they are 6 games back of Memphis, and face a group of talented teams that will provide fierce competition.
On top of that, the Suns will be facing an incredibly tough schedule in Orlando, as they will face Dallas twice, the LA Clippers, Philadelphia, Indiana, Miami, and Oklahoma City. With all this in mind, it seems unlikely that the Suns will be able to overtake multiple teams in the standings or get to the playoffs this year.
End of season Prediction:
12th in the West, eliminated from the playoffs
Last year, the San Antonio Spurs were able to win 48 games and make it to the playoffs under legendary head coach Gregg Popovich, and they took the Denver Nuggets to 7 games before losing in the first round. This season though, the Spurs have struggled to stay afloat, as they are 27-36, and are 12th in the Western Conference right now. Also, it is duly noted that centers LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl will be out for the season.
4-time All-Star, DeMar DeRozan is a very athletic, skilled scoring wing player that will be the focal point of his team’s offense. He excels at scoring off the dribble and in transition, and he has a very good mid-range game that allows him to score quite often. He will also be surrounded by a group of promising guards that can score, facilitate, and defend, and veteran forward, Rudy Gay can provide some scoring punch and defensive skills off the bench.
As a team, the Spurs rate fairly well on offense. They are 10th in points scored per game, 7th in three-point percentage, 13th in assists per game, and are tops in the league in least turnovers committed per game. They are a strong offensive team that shoots and passes the ball well, and they do a great job of taking care of the basketball.
However, they are 18th in rebounds collected, and they tend to allow more rebounds than they get. The Spurs have struggled defensively this year. They are 24th in points allowed per game, 21st in field-goal percentage defense, and they rarely get steals in games. On the plus side, they are ranked 8th in blocks per game.
In head-to-head matchups, the Spurs have generally struggled against the top 8 Western Conference teams that are slated to make the playoffs. They’ve fared well against Utah, and have split games against Houston, but they have not beaten the Lakers or Denver this year.
Against bubble teams in their hotel, they have fared decently against them so far this season. The Spurs have fared well against Phoenix and New Orleans, have split games against Sacramento and Washington, and but have won just 1 of 3 games against Portland.
With LaMarcus Aldridge elected to undergo surgery as he will sit out the rest of the season, it’s hard to think that San Antonio will be able to get to the playoffs, even despite having a legendary coach. They won’t be able to muster up the interior play that Aldridge and Poeltl provided for them, and DeRozan will likely shoulder too much of the scoring load on offense. The Spurs will be very competitive, but I think they will run out of steam, and will fall short of making it to the playoffs in 2020.
End of Season Projection:
13th in the West, eliminated from the playoffs
When John Wall blew out his Achilles last season, Washington’s fanbase took a collective sigh, as they knew that their playoff hopes were dashed last year. He has not played this season, and he will continue to be rehabbing, so the Wizards will be without him. Somehow, despite being just 24-40 this season, the Wizards are in contention for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, as they have a fighting chance to make the playoffs, and were one of the 22 teams invited to Orlando.
The Wizards are led by superstar scoring guard, Bradley Beal. He’s a do-it-all player that possesses strong shooting and scoring skills, and he also can run the point if need be. Beal has scored a couple of 50+ point games this season, and he will shoulder a heavy load in their bid to try to make it to the postseason. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a shoulder injury, so he won’t be in the Orlando bubble.
Shooter extraordinaire Davis Bertans won’t be making the trip, as he’ll sit out, but others will. Rui Hachimura is an athletic, skilled combo forward that can put the ball in the hoop, and they’ve received strong bounce back years from veterans Isaiah Thomas (before he got traded) and Jordan McRae. They also have a slew of young players that can chip in, as they will fill out their rotation.
The Wizards are a good offensive team, as they excel at making threes and at scoring the basketball. They also rank as above average in passing and taking care of the basketball.
However, they really struggle defensively. They have trouble preventing opponents from scoring or making shots, and they really struggle to rebound or block shots. On the plus side, they do a good job of forcing turnovers to get steals.
In head-to-head matchups, they generally have struggled against the Eastern Conference teams that are slated to make it to the playoffs. They have fared well against Brooklyn, have split games against Boston and Philadelphia, but are winless against Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, and Orlando.
Against teams that are in their own hotel, they have not fared much better. Washington defeated Phoenix in their lone matchup against them this year, have split games against San Antonio, but are winless against Portland and Sacramento.
I’m not entirely sure why Washington was even invited to go to Orlando, other than the facts that they are actually in 9th place in the Eastern Conference and are mathematically still in contention, but they are a full 5 ½ games back of the 8th seed out in the East, and they have a sub-.400 record currently. By the argument of still being mathematically in playoff contention, then Charlotte would’ve had almost as good of an argument as Washington to be invited to Orlando, but the Hornets were not as they are 1½ games back of the Wizards.
It’s hard to picture Washington doing well in this format, as they have lost many games this year, and they will not have Bradley Beal in Orlando. While it’s still mathematically possible for them to go on a run to make the playoffs, they will most likely get eliminated and fall short of getting to the postseason.
End of Season Projection:
9th in the East, eliminated from the playoffs
Anyways, there is my analysis of the teams that are currently staying in The Yacht Club. I will be previewing teams that are staying in The Grand Floridian and in The Gran Destino over the next few days, so that should be exciting. Even more exciting, is that we will finally be able to watch NBA regular season basketball once again! Thank you for reading.