One week in to the weird and wonderful NBA Bubble

Notes and stats from the early games in Orlando

We have real, meaningful, wonderful basketball again!

The NBA returned not a moment too soon, as my drafts folder started to look dire.

Between the superstar ascendance of TJ Warren, the Lakers clinching the top Western seed, and the replacement players of the Brooklyn Nets shocking the Milwaukee Bucks, the NB-ubble already provided some much-needed fun and entertainment. After a few days of games and highlights, I wanted to celebrate a couple observations and oddities.

Without fans, the referees roam wildly

We’ve been spoiled with a ton of quality basketball in Orlando, but one unexpected consequence to the bubble structure appears to be…bubbling…up.

Without a crowd to distract or drown out noise, the referees seem more attuned to the little bumps and technicalities of the NBA rulebook. I struggled through the grind of this Monday’s Denver vs Oklahoma City slugfest. In it, the refs called 61 fouls, with Chris Paul and Steven Adams both fouling out.

Every possession seemed to end with a whistle and free throws. Even the high-flying Houston vs Dallas overtime thriller, with 302 combined points scored, produced a season-high 67 fouls.

While we’re still early into the bubble, the numbers support this theory. I pulled every game in the 2019-20 season from Basketball Reference and tracked the fouls called in each.

Bubble games produce nearly ten more foul calls on average than the regular season games, marring an otherwise fantastic NBA relaunch with endless trips to the free throw line.

We need these virtual fans to step up their heckling, immediately.

Bodgan Bogdanović, meet Howie Dallmar

Sacramento’s Bodgan Bogdanović struggled mightily in his last game against the Dallas Mavericks, failing to record a made field goal until late into overtime. Prior to that bucket, Bogdanović missed fourteen consecutive shots, including seven three pointers.

His only basket prevented Bogdanović from joining an infamous list of unsuccessful chuckers. At least fifteen missed field goals without any scores happened 11 times in NBA history, with Tim Hardaway holding the all-time record with 17 misses and no makes in 1991.

Hardaway might hold the record now, but prior to that, Howie Dallmar produced two different games with fifteen field goals attempted without a single bucket. You remember Howie, right? The pride of the Philadelphia Warriors from 1946 to 1949, playing in the Basketball Association of America?

Do you even watch film?

Dallmar’s unfortunate night was memorialized in this audio clip from the Golden State Warriors.

The host pulls a quote from then-teammate Ralph Kaplowitz, who defended his guy and took some shots at the modern game.

He always worked very hard, getting the ball, working the ball. We didn't play like they play today, with the one on one. We more or less moved the ball til somebody was able to get a shot.

Kaplowitz’s Warriors perhaps should have moved the ball a bit more in that case. In Dallmar’s first 0-15 night, three other Warriors failed to score—with one player taking eleven shots and making none—while teammate Joe Fulks made seven of his FORTY field goal attempts to lead the squad.

Writing for The Athletic in 2020, Jason Jones explained why the Kings stumbled yesterday.

The Kings, whose only player who is adept at creating his own shot is Fox, fell into a trap of multiple players taking forays into one-on-one basketball.

There was too much standing and not enough sharing of the ball.

Nearly 73 years later, Bodgan Bogdanović’s team tried to embody Kaplowitz’s ideals but ended up producing more of his outcomes. Both teams lost, both shot poorly, and one bucket saved Bogdanović from becoming an odd footnote in a 2075 Kings podcast remembering the bubble.

Luka Dončić, meet Wilt Chamberlain

In that same Kings game, Dallas’ Luka Dončić dropped 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists. Only ten other players in NBA history hit the 30 point, 20 rebound, 10 assist mark, per Basketball Reference, with Luka becoming the youngest to ever do it. He joins Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Nikola Jokić as the only players under 25 with those marks—elite company at the least.

Per usual, you can’t create a visual of top-notch statistical output without the ridiculous outlier of Wilt Chamberlain’s career.

Among this group, David Lee is the only eligible player who did not make the Hall of Fame (although, unlikely that DeMarcus Cousins will get there given his unfortunate injury luck). Lee carved out a successful career as a rare homegrown New York Knicks All-Star and world champion with the Warriors, but he’s still a bit of an odd man out in this grouping.

Dallas needed every bit of this Luka-magic after dropping their first two games in the bubble. Prior to last night, Luka actually started his time in Orlando with an ice-cold 8.3% three point field goal rate, including a 1 for 9 opener.

He responded to this adversity by setting a new standard of excellence for a twenty-one year-old and leading his team to their first victory in the bubble. Dallas appears destined to play the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, but as you’ll see here, young stars seem to thrive against them.

Can Phoenix do the damn thing?

Devin Booker hit this absurd game-winner over two of the league’s top defenders to clinch a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers and a 3-0 start for the Phoenix Suns.

Yes, the Phoenix Suns!

Cast off as an after-thought and seat-filler before the season relaunched—ESPN still has them ranked 19th—Phoenix instead rattled off wins against the Mavericks, Clippers, and Wizards. Tom Ziller shouted out their progress in Monday’s newsletter, and his praise aged nicely after last night’s upset over LA.

Here’s how the standings look today.

The Suns sit a game and a half behind the Trail Blazers and three games behind the Grizzlies with five games to go. Memphis, already struggling in the bubble with three straight losses, just learned their big man Jaren Jackson Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Here’s how the rest of the schedule plays out.

Grizzlies: Jazz, Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, BucksTrail Blazers: Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers, Mavericks, NetsSpurs: Nuggets, Jazz, Pelicans, Rockets, JazzPelicans: Kings, Wizards, Spurs, Kings, MagicSuns: Pacers, Heat, Thunder, 76ers, MavericksKings: Pelicans, Nets, Rockets, Pelicans, Lakers

The Spurs and Pelicans play each other once, which ensures at least one of them will pick up a win. Phoenix does not play any of their playoff challengers for the rest of the season, but if any of the teams above them falter, the ninth seed suddenly becomes a more contentious race.

If Phoenix goes 4-1 or 5-0 in these remaining games, they’ll have a shot at escaping the logjam and forcing a play-in game. For a team dismissed as cannon fodder before the bubble, the mere fact they’re in this conversation proves the Orlando trip a success.

Wednesday night plans

Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux, the wonderful hosts of Dunc’On Podcast, have taken over announcer duties for multiple games in the NBA bubble. They offer a highly-analytical and enjoyable perspective while still getting properly hyped for the big moments.

They covered the Spurs/Sixers game last, and they’ll be on tomorrow to cover the Jazz against the Grizzlies. Tune in on League Pass and enjoy!

Thanks for reading! I hope you’re enjoying the return of the NBA as much as I am.