The 5 Biggest Disappointments from NBA's Orlando Bubble
The NBA should be celebrated for carefully executing its safety protocols in the Orlando, Florida, area while presenting an on-court product to the standard we've all come to love and expect.
Breakout stories T.J. Warren, Michael Porter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and the Phoenix Suns have delighted fans and media alike over the past two weeks.
But balance dictates that for every pleasant surprise there must be matching disappointment. The rise of unlikely stars has been equaled by the fall of fan favorites.
Here is our list of players who and teams that have fallen short of expectations.
The Philadelphia 76ers have been far from a failure. They survived the plucky San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic in addition to the Washington Wizards.
They've even had to deal with the absence of two-time All-Star Ben Simmons. Simmons was the crux of the defense. No one in the NBA faced such difficult matchups on a nightly basis, according to BBall Index. He guarded All-Star and All-NBA players on 39.9 percent of possessions, which ranked first in the NBA.
Joel Embiid is sidelined with an ankle injury as well.
Still, the 76ers have failed to take a step forward since coming up just short of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019. Despite adding Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle and Al Horford, they slid to sixth in the conference. In bubble play, they had plenty of opportunity to gain ground and push their way past the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. While home-court advantage now lacks the importance it normally carries, playing your best basketball heading into a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics should carry a premium.
But Philadelphia seems content to enter the postseason without momentum or urgency, electing to sit its starting lineup against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
It's certainly possible the 76ers are just waiting to flip the proverbial switch in their Round 1 matchup. However, it looks inevitable that they're headed for a first-round dismissal and yet another disappointing season.
The Sacramento Kings were a dark-horse contender for the eighth seed in the Western Conference before the season was suspended, winning seven of their last 10 games entering the hiatus.
De'Aaron Fox has certainly impressed. As one of just seven players to average 21.0 points and 6.8 assists, he has emerged as one of the most devastating playmakers in the NBA during his third season. In the bubble, he's been even better, one of just four to average 26.2 points and 7.3 assists over his six games.
Not everyone has enjoyed the same level of success as the Kings have dropped all but one of their six games, only beating the New Orleans Pelicans.
Buddy Hield, in particular, has underwhelmed just one season after signing a four-year deal worth up to $106 million. At that price, the Kings should expect more than his stats in the bubble: 12.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on 35.9 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent from three.
There's no telling what effect testing positive for the coronavirus has had on Hield. But if the Kings are to take the next step in the Western Conference, they'll need more from him in 2020-21.
One of the NBA's most strenuous schedules promised to make life difficult for the Memphis Grizzlies and their hopes to defend the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Losing sophomore phenom Jaren Jackson Jr. to a meniscus tear was a debilitating loss. He had emerged as one of the bubble's brightest stars, averaging 25.3 points while hitting 3.3 three-point attempts per contest before his injury removed him from play.
Still, Grizzlies fans must have expected more than the 1-6 record to which they've been subjected.
With a 3.5-game lead over their competitors entering the restart, the Grizzlies seemed nearly assured of at least holding an advantage in the play-in tournament. Instead, they may find themselves on the outside looking in as the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns continue to thrash their way through the seeding games.
Ja Morant has carried his weight, though with far less impressive efficiency than in the regular season. The Rookie of the Year finalist from Murray State is still putting up 20.0 points, 9.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game, but he's doing so on 40.8 percent shooting from the field and a 25.0 percent performance from three. Before the hiatus, he was slashing 49.1/36.7/77.0.
The Grizzlies are still holding down ninth place and remain in the driver's seat for a spot in the play-in tournament. But if NBA fans wish for a compelling first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, they'd be better off with Phoenix or Portland as their representative.
Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross
The path was initially laid out for the Orlando Magic to skate past the Brooklyn Nets and earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
While a first-round matchup with the Toronto Raptors should hardly be seen as a fitting reward for a positive bubble experience, it should have been an expected achievement for a unit that came in relatively healthy. On the other hand, the Nets came to the Sunshine State down Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Claxton and Wilson Chandler.
Despite Brooklyn's obvious shortcoming, the Magic have gained no ground during bubble play and will end just where they started.
Injuries have played a part. Power forward Jonathan Isaac impressed before his torn ACL removed him from the remainder of the 2020 season. Aaron Gordon has missed time, as has Michael Carter-Williams. A brutal schedule was another culprit with losses coming at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Raptors and Boston Celtics.
That slate of challengers doesn't excuse the performances given by Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross.
The Magic desperately needed a scoring jolt from their two swingmen. Fournier was enjoying the best season of his career in terms of both scoring volume and efficiency. Instead, he has provided just 14.4 points per game while dropping to 43.3 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three.
Ross had already regressed a bit after a career season in 2018-19. Still, his performance in the bubble cannot be seen as anything other than disheartening given the Magic's reliance on him. In 31 wins this year, Ross has shot 40.7 percent from three with a 7.3 plus/minus. In six bubble games, he has shot 36.2 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from three with a minus-0.8 plus/minus.
Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson
The New Orleans Pelicans' inclusion in Disney's bubble shouldn't have come as a surprise. They were clicking before the league's suspension with the NBA's ninth-best net rating over their last 36 games.
What was a surprise was their underwhelming performance despite facing the league's easiest schedule in the bubble.
The Pelicans gave up a franchise-record 25 three-pointers to the Los Angeles Clippers on Aug. 1. After bouncing back against the Memphis Grizzlies, they then gave up another franchise record to the Sacramento Kings: 49 points allowed in the first quarter.
Chief among the underperformers were Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson.
Lonzo finally met the hype between Dec. 18 and March 11, going for 13.7 points, 7.9 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 40.7 percent from three across those 36 appearances. In the bubble, he has averaged just 5.7 points, 7.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 26.0 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from three.
Zion's main flaw in the bubble has been his availability—or lack thereof.
Prior to the hiatus, he hadn't played fewer than 20 minutes in a game after his debut against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 22. In the bubble, he has played just under 104 total minutes over his first five appearances. During that limited time, he has filled up the stat sheet while offering little to no resistance on the defensive end.
The net rating of two-man lineups featuring Lonzo and Zion was 15th in the NBA among those sharing the floor for at least 400 minutes before the season suspension (15.2). In the bubble, it's fallen to a horrid minus-19.6.
Preston Ellis covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @PrestonEllis.