A second NBA bubble? The NBA has yet to officially restart the 2020 season in Florida, but the league has already begun discussions with the National Basketball Players Association for a secondary bubble with the eight teams that were eliminated from postseason consideration, according to a report by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. There is still uncertainty as the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the country, and many of the challenges the NBA has confronted in developing the campus at Walt Disney World Resort likely will arise again with any attempted second site.
Our NBA experts explore some of these questions for the tentative Chicago bubble and what that would mean for players, teams and the offseason.
What hurdles have to be addressed?
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 that, it will be challenging for the league to construct the same level of safety layers in a city the size of Chicago. At a place like Disney World, the league has been able to construct a “campus” that is almost entirely self-contained. That would not be feasible in one of America’s largest cities.
Then there is the problem of the coronavirus itself. A significant percentage of players has tested positive over the past couple of weeks (greater than 7% since June 23, and that doesn’t count players who tested positive before that). If a significant chunk of the players from these teams test positive before entering a Chicago bubble, it would imperil the reason the teams want to do this in the first place: to get young players time on the court together.
Plus, as MacMullan reported, Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey took an informal poll among the coaches who are not involved in the restart, and he says the majority prefer holding their own minicamps.
“We’d rather do that than go to the bubble,” Casey said, “because unlike those teams in Orlando, we wouldn’t be playing for the same reason.
“The reason we want these minicamps is to get our team together, to have that camaraderie, to improve and enjoy some competition. We feel we can do that safely in our own environment. We can’t let these guys sit around from March 11 to December without something. It’s going to hurt their careers. It’s too long of a layoff.”
Rather than investing the time and financial resources in setting up a second bubble, the league could work with these eight franchises to develop protocols for the in-market training camps facing all teams before the start of the 2020-21 season. — Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks
What lessons from Florida will expedite the construction of a Chicago bubble?
The NBA and the players’ union spent months crafting a massive health and safety protocol for the Florida bubble, so both sides have an agreed-upon set of rules to follow for another bubble. And between the two months from when the Disney World bubble would begin and a potential second location launches, they will learn a lot more about how to manage things. The league also will have gone through the process of getting the teams from outside the Florida bubble to inside it — the most vulnerable period for the virus to potentially spread.
Still, it might make more sense for the NBA to look overseas for additional lessons about how this potential bubble scenario could work. The plan at Disney World had to account for teams staying in residence for up to four months. A Chicago plan would be more similar to what the Spanish and German basketball leagues both recently pulled off, with a couple of weeks spent at a single site. — Bontemps and Marks
What advantages are there to bringing eight teams together in a second bubble?
There’s no exact precedent for the situation we’re experiencing right now, but I think the historical evidence we do have tends to suggest that playing NBA basketball games is not as important to player development as people might think.
Consider the case of draft picks who sit out their entire first season due to injuries. This is a small sample, but this group — including No. 1 overall picks Joel Embiid, Greg Oden and Ben Simmons — tended to outplay their college projections as rookies, after adjusting for aging. We’ve also seen NBA teams without G League affiliates develop young talent well without getting those players frequent game experience, a trend John Hollinger of The Athletic explored last year.
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 if the goal is simply to play against other teams rather than having teams individually scrimmage in their own markets, I don’t think the benefit is worth it. — Kevin Pelton
How would this thing look?
For starters, free agents such as Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Malik Beasley should be excluded from any type of bubble setting. We have already seen Washington Wizards power forward Davis Bertans opt out of playing in Florida, where the games have actual meaning. There is too much risk involved for a player who is set to become a free agent in mid-October.
Second, only players who have zero to three years of service should be eligible to participate — essentially players who were draft eligible in the past three seasons. You could even make an exception that any extension-eligible first-round pick — such as Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins and Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen — can opt out if he chooses to do so.
The pool of 60 eligible players would consist of 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.
Teams should be permitted to carry up to a maximum of 15 players on the roster. The players available to invite would come from the G League, those undrafted prior to 2020 and players who played internationally and have clearance from FIBA. The same service criteria of zero to three years would apply.
Comparable to how teams conduct free-agent minicamps after the season, any player who is not under contract should receive a $134 per-day stipend. — Marks and Pelton
Who would be the main rookies to watch?
A top priority for these eight teams would be to make sure their young players don’t fall behind in development given the long layoff.
The following 10 rookies would be eagerly observed if a Chicago bubble is activated:
SG RJ Barrett, Knicks
However, Barrett quietly finished the season on a high note, averaging 17.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals over his last 10 games, while shooting 50% from 2 and 37% from 3. Chicago would be an excellent opportunity for the Duke star to regain that momentum.
SG Coby White, Bulls
The former North Carolina standout broke out over his last 10 games, averaging close to 25 points in 33 minutes with 60% true shooting. Of course, White has always been a dynamic scorer when his jumper is falling, so we’ll have a closer eye on whether the game is slowing down for him and how he fares when tasked with greater playmaking responsibility.
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.
We’ll be watching how Garland jells with Cavs guard Collin Sexton in the backcourt. I’m a firm believer that Garland’s pull-up shooting and off-the-dribble playmaking will ultimately work well in the modern NBA as he continues to gain more experience.
SF Jarrett Culver, Timberwolves
The Texas Tech standout had some excellent moments on the defensive end through his first 63 NBA games. But he still has to prove himself offensively after shooting 47.1% from 2, 29.9% from 3 and 46.2% from the free throw line — giving him the lowest true shooting percentage of any rotation rookie.
Culver really shined with heavy usage at the collegiate level, and I’d be interested to see what he looks like in more of a starring role.
PF Sekou Doumbouya, Pistons
Doumbouya is the player I’m most intrigued to watch given his stellar highs and forgettable lows during his 754 NBA minutes. Though loaded with talent, he is a player who benefits from a regular routine. Despite his peaks and valleys, at 6-foot-8 with shooting upside and defensive versatility, he fits a profile that’s tough to find.
SG Cam Reddish, Hawks
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. Provided he has more freedom in Chicago, we’ll be watching to see if he does indeed have untapped shot-creation ability.
SF De’Andre Hunter, Hawks
The Virginia forward had one of the highest floors in the 2019 NBA draft given his maturity, résumé and combination of defense and shooting at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. Chicago could give us a window into whether Hunter has more offensive upside to grow into.
SF Kevin Porter Jr., Cavaliers
Porter had some wow moments as a rookie with his ability to generate offense in style for himself and his teammates. Chicago would serve as an excellent chance to see how Porter fits in with the rest of the young Cavs in an expanded role.
PF PJ Washington, Hornets
The Kentucky product was steady all season, starting 57 of 58 games and knocking down 37% of his 3s. We’ll be watching to see if Washington has added more to his off-the-dribble game — and to see what fellow Charlotte rookies PF Jalen McDaniels, SF Cody Martin and SG Caleb Martin look like.
PF Eric Paschall, Warriors
A second-round steal for the Warriors and a perfect fit for their small-ball style, Paschall was one of the NBA’s most productive rookies. I’m most interested to see if the energetic, modern big can rediscover the shooting stroke he worked so hard to improve over the course of his three-year Villanova career. — Mike Schmitz