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Broom & Rubinstein Converse: The NBA Restart, Eastern Conference Edition

Broom & Rubinstein analyze what’s going to happen in The Bubble for the Wizards and the rest of the Eastern Conference

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NBA Restart 2020 - Setup Shots Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to another piece in the series Broom & Rubinstein Converse.

This time, Kevin and Yanir have a two-part chat about the NBA’s upcoming restart and what it means for the league. Today, the Eastern Conference.

In an upcoming part II of this conversation they’ll focus on the Western Conference.

For previous conversations in this series check out: July 2019 — part I, part II, April 2020 and May 2020.

Yanir Rubinstein: Are you excited the league is re-starting? Wait, let me rephrase. Do you really, truly, actually, genuinely, wholeheartedly believe the league will restart as scheduled on July 30?

Kevin Broom: Florida seems to be do everything in its power to make it impossible, but I think it’s more probable than not they at least start playing games. Whether they’re able to finish...

YR: Man, you really can be a politician sometimes. Can I rephrase my question yet again?

KB: No.

YR: What do you think the chances are the Orlando re-start will last as planned all the way to the Finals and we will see a champion crowned?

KB: I’d say more probable than not, but getting a champion is far from guaranteed. Wild guess, maybe a 70% chance we get a championship series. How do you see The Bubble?

YR: For me, the restart is really an ingenious 2-in-1 package: for about half of the teams it’s sort of a glorified summer league, and for the remaining half it’s the real deal: a fight for a ring. I’m impressed with the whole idea, if it actually carries through, that is.

KB: I hear some doubts though. I’m actually a little disappointed with the format. I would have liked to see something creative — World Cup style group play, or maybe a play-in tournament for the last six spots in The Bubble. Basically, something that could be novel and interesting or that involved all 30 teams — and gave all of them a shot at the 16-team playoffs.

YR: In a league so imbued with tradition, legacy, heritage, however you want to phrase it, I’m actually quite impressed with even the slightest departure from the standard format. The league made a delicate compromise between a lot of factors. As we reported earlier in a worldwide breaking scoop here on it might have been the Wizards’ Tommy Sheppard who clinched the deal of getting the needed 23 teams to sign off on the format.

I mean the legacy chasing teams (did someone say Celtics, Lakers, 76ers, Warriors? Oh, wait, scratch the last one, they’re already gone fishin’) did not want any sort of asterisk attached to a possible ring this year, so I can see how they insisted on the best-of-seven format staying (even in the Conference quarter-finals! Quite a mistake in my opinion, but we can get back to that). The fledgling teams (Wizards, Portland, New Orleans, Phoenix) wanted some realistic chance to make the playoffs in a shortened season, so the play-in tourney idea saw the light of day.

Honestly, I am not quite happy with the format but in different ways than you seem to be.

KB: I’m fine keeping the actual playoffs format the same — 16 teams, seven-game series. I wanted something interesting with the “seeding games.”

YR: Bringing in all 30 teams would have been a big logistical challenge with all the testing and distancing it would involve. I mean just weeks ago the discussion was that there wouldn’t be enough test kits. On top of that more players, coaches and team personnel increases the risk that the virus spreads. My intricate calculations show that with 30 teams instead of 22 teams, the risk of infection would go up considerably, not `linearly’ by 30/22 but probably `squared’, i.e., by a factor of (30/22)^2. That’s significant.

KB: Who am I to argue with intricate calculations that result in “considerable?”

YR: LoL. Hey, I’m adjusting to the times we live in...

KB: Seriously, smaller is probably safer. And I think the increase in risk is even bigger because each team represents a significant increase in the number of people, which increases interactions with Disney staff. Which might actually be a good argument to just start with 16. But we’re not going there today.

I still wish they’d done something creative and fun with the restart.

YR: For sure. Look, I think the first round should have been reduced to a best of three series, the conference semi-finals to a best of five. This alone would have reduced the whole duration of The Bubble by about two weeks. Reducing the amount of time players have to stay in that bubble would reduce the chances of infection and ultimately of a scenario where the re-start has to be suspended. I’m very concerned The Bubble doesn’t actually go through to the Finals.

KB: I am totally hearing you on this one. They’re trying to balance risk against revenue. They’re trying to take care of their TV and media partners. It’s a delicate line to walk. Let’s discuss some basketball?

YR: Hell yeah. So today we’re focusing on the Eastern Conference. Let’s start with the bottom feeders, umm, let’s make that singular, THE bottom feeder.

KB: Right. So we’re talking Wizards and their chances of forcing a play-in for eighth.

YR: Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, and John Wall are out, as well as possibly Thomas Bryant, who tested positive for COVID-19, and Garrison Mathews, who’s not in Orlando for unspecified personal reasons. In essence, the Wizards are sending a G-League team. Which is totally fine, and in the spirit of my comment above about this being a sort of a Summer League.

KB: They have quality veteran leadership with Ish Smith, Shabazz Napier and Ian Mahinmi. Add in great coaching...

YR: LoL. Now I’m really laughing. Seriously, is there any hope for the Wiz?

KB: Probably not. But...

YR: This sounds promising.

KB: Here’s the Wizards this season with and without Beal and Bertans:

  • Beal & Bertans on: +1.51 per 100 possessions
  • Beal on, Bertans off: -11.64
  • Bertans on, Beal off: -5.15
  • both off: +0.99

Take Bryant off the floor too (so, no Beal, Bertans and Bryant) and the Wizards have been +1.01 per 100 possessions. The sample sizes for the “without” lineups aren’t huge, but they’re big enough to be interesting.

YR: Maybe we should actually look at data on the Capital Go-Go against the Long Island Nets if we want to more accurately gauge the fight at the bottom of the East.

KB: That might work because the Nets are missing so many guys it’s almost impossible to do lineup analysis. That said, lineups with all three of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris — all of whom they’ll have — were good this season.

So while I think the Wizards have a slim chance to force a play-in, I don’t think they will. My guess is they’ll win a couple but won’t gain more than a game on the Nets. Overall, I expect the distribution of wins to be pretty flat — teams will be playing their way into shape and emphasizing staying healthy. Stars won’t play as much, etc. I expect the group to have basically 3-5 wins per team.

All right, let’s move on to...

YR: There is one thing you are forgetting though, my dear idealistic Kevin.

KB: Je vous écoute, monsieur. {EDITOR’S NOTE: Kevin does not speak French and may or may not have googled this.}

YR: Tanking.

KB: I don’t see a team tanking their way out of a playoffs pay day.

YR: Even if it means facing Giannis and his shooters after a couple weeks to warm up?

KB: Two things on this. First, making the playoffs means additional revenue for each of the teams involved. And second, the players they actually have on the floor will compete. I don’t think a team would intentionally tank their way out of the playoffs for a remote chance of getting a high draft pick in a weak draft.

So who’s your pick for most likely to emerge from the East?

YR: Let’s do it the other way...who can we eliminate? My first pick, until minutes ago, besides the Wizards, of course, was: the Pacers. Dipo (Victor Oladipo) isn’t playing so that’s that. But news just came out that Dipo might play after all. So I’m not sure anymore. It's fascinating to me that legitimately we can talk about six other teams making it out of the East.

KB: I’d have gone with Brooklyn or Orlando before the Pacers, but they’re a legit pick. Decent team, but just not enough.

I think we can agree the Nets and Magic won’t be coming out of the East. Brooklyn is missing too many guys. Orlando just isn’t good enough.

YR: Agreed, though Orlando can cause trouble. I still remember how last year they stunned the Raptors on Game 1 of the post-season.

KB: Ok. Now for some disagreement. I don’t think there are six teams that can make it out of the East. I see three legit contenders — Milwaukee, Toronto and Boston — and one dark horse — Philly.

Who do you have reaching the conference Finals?

YR: Easy. Toronto and Milwaukee/Miami.

KB: OK, and who comes out of the East?

YR: Personally, I would choose Toronto. I think The Bubble will test team cohesiveness and health above all. The Toronto Raptors have kept most of their core from last year’s championship run, including coaching staff and management.

KB: Despite Ted Leonsis and his search firm aggressively recruiting Masai Ujiri by never contacting him?

YR: Seems an odd way to go after one of the game’s top executives. Anyway, the Raptors have a serious chip on their shoulder this year to show it wasn’t all about Kawhi. Aside from Miami, they are one of the teams most in shape and with a training discipline second to none. Finally, they have resolved their leadership/stardom issues and seem to have a locker room united in purpose.

And, it’s hard for me to imagine a single Raptor whose injury would derail the team’s plans but I can’t quite say that for other contenders in the East. I mean the 76ers are top heavy, and the Celtics without Walker or Tatum would not contend, and the same applies to Giannis and the Bucks.

KB: I like the Raptors a lot. They’re gritty and deep and they’ll try anything because Nick Nurse is a basketball mad scientist. Check out his appearance on the Woj Pod — his story is nuts. And, as you say, they’re on a mission to prove they can win without Kawhi. That said, I think the Bucks are the most likely to come out of the East.

Looking at strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin, they’re having one of the 10 best seasons in league history. Giannis is historically great, and they’ve surrounded him with quality role players who mesh well with what he does best.

And, Khris Middleton is having an All-NBA level season.

This is a terrific team that should win the title this season.

To me, the biggest concerns are shooting, other than Middleton, and whether Mike Budenholzer will stick to “this is how we play” coaching or adjust when things aren’t working.

My second pick out of the East is Toronto.

YR: The Bucks are great but here is their big weakness. If Giannis has to miss any stretch of games due to injury (or infection) they don’t really have a plan B. I mean I know you’ll say that the Bucks are deep etc., but not in Giannis’ position. In the seven games he missed this season they were just 4-3 (48-9 with Giannis).

Plus, and this is a big plus, I think Toronto has a plan to stop him. If you’ve watched some games from the FIBA World Championship last September, Giannis was very stoppable. True, those were FIBA rules. But also true that the Raptors have a coaching staff that’s open-minded to Euro-hoops and FIBA ball.

Sergio Scariolo won gold with Spain and he’s an assistant coach (here’s an in-depth story on Scariolo’s success in the NBA and outside it)! Nurse coached abroad more than he did domestically. He was coaching Canada in the championship, by the way. They both saw how, for instance, Czech Republic eliminated Greece and utterly frustrated Giannis (including fouling him out!).

KB: There’s a big difference between the supporting casts of the Greek national team and the Bucks. The much bigger risk for Milwaukee is injury to Giannis. That’s true of any star-led team, and I don’t see any reason to think they’re unusually exposed with him.

YR: But, by the same token, there is also a big difference between the Czech Republic NT and the Raptors... The only NBA player on the Czech team was Tomas Satoransky. The Greek supporting cast was actually way better than the Czech, on paper.

Who’s your third team?

KB: Boston. The Celtics top five is terrific — Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker are All-NBA level performers. Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown are both having good seasons. Marcus Smart is a defensive wrecking ball — one of the league’s top defenders.

Their size and lack of depth leaves them vulnerable, but they were figuring things out and getting by with Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter in the middle.

They used their top five together for just 15 minutes total this season. My guess is we’ll see it in the postseason. It has “lineup of death” potential, in my opinion.

Who’s next for you?

YR: Without thinking twice — Miami. As I said, I think it’s all about physical conditioning and staying healthy virus-wise. The Heat are the most fit team in the NBA. Second to none.

Miami went 8-1 in overtime games this season.

Players there train and stay fit or else they get disciplined. John Wall showing up to training camp out of shape? Not in Miami. Pat Riley empowers Erik Spoelstra to maintain a high level of training and discipline like no other coach really does. That’s why Jimmy Butler went there.

So if I really had to guess, assuming the Heat don’t meet the Raptors in the second round, the Eastern Finals will be Miami-Toronto.

KB: I’d have Philly ahead of Miami because they’re so big and weird. They’re apparently trying Ben Simmons as a point forward now — with Shake Milton starting at guard — which should make for some scary defensive lineups.

YR: I heard that too. As they say, Trust the Process...

KB: Miami is capable of suffocating opponents with their defense. Unfortunately, they’re also capable of suffocating themselves with their offense.

YR: True. Mind you that in the two match-ups between Miami and Milwaukee this season the Heat prevailed. Bam was sort of a Giannis stopper in these games, keeping the Greek Freak to 20% from deep. Can’t wait to see them match up again August 6 in The Bubble.

KB: I agree with your point on Miami. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are superb. Duncan Robinson can shoot! And I like the trade they made to get Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala, they...

YR: Iguodala is in the Bubble?? How’d I miss that? Look, that might put the Heat over the Raptors actually in my eyes. Sorry to cut you off, go on...

KB: No worries. I wanted to add that the Heat drop off fast, though. Overall, I think the Sixers have more potential for championship-level basketball than the Heat.

What’d we miss?

YR: Well, that the Heat are 3-1 against the 76ers this season? Though one of these games was very close (117-116 in OT in late December).

Looks like we covered the Eastern front. Oh, what are we betting?

KB: A glass of red wine?

YR: How about two?

KB: You got it.

YR: Glad we got it on record.