The Bubble in Orlando is a glorified summer league for the Wizards. Sure, there’s a remote chance the team could claw into the play-in games and an even remoter chance they could win both those games and make the postseason, but realistically Washington will get eight games.
It’s an opportunity for the team’s young players to show what they’ve been working on during the four-plus months they’ve been sidelined. Word from the team’s bubble training camp has been positive — Rui Hachimura reportedly added muscle and some arch to his jumper, Troy Brown is reportedly quicker and stronger, Thomas Bryant reportedly has abs. And so on.
Some of it might even be true.
The key of course will be whether these positive reports translate to anything meaningful on the court. Here’s one area for each of the Wizards youth where I’d like to see improvement in The Bubble:
- Troy Brown Jr. — Three-point shooting. Brown has the potential to become a quality NBA player. He’s a good ball-handler and passer, and I think he’ll be at his best during his career as a third guard who plays PG and SG. Because he’s not an explosive athlete, the key to unlock the rest of his game is shooting. In the Before Times, Brown shot 34.5% on 4.5 three-point attempts per 100 team possessions. In The Bubble, I want the volume up to at least league average (6.7 per 100 team possessions) and his percentage at 40% or better.
- Isaac Bonga — Volume. Before the season, there were big question marks around what Bonga would be. With good size, fluid athleticism and decent ball skills, I’ve heard smart people argue he could be anything from PG to C. This season, he’s found a potentially valuable role as a defensive forward — a switchable defender who can plausibly play at SF or PF. The big thing undercutting his value as a stretch-four or a 3&D wing: he doesn’t shoot enough. At just 2.6 three-point attempts per 100 team possessions, Bonga isn’t a threat that needs to be accounted for. His shooting motion is slow and ponderous, which means closeouts can get to him — and he hasn’t shown the ability to attack off the dribble. That’s something for another Bubble, perhaps. In The Bubble, I want to see him boost his three-point attempts to 7+ per 100 team possessions.
- Thomas Bryant — For a few days, it was iffy whether Bryant could participate at all because of a positive COVID-19 test. He’s cleared to participate, however and has joined the team in Orlando. Bryant is a genuine offensive weapon — he’s developing into a good screen setter, and he shoots well from everywhere. The hole in his game: defense. While he hasn’t been as bad as some have claimed, there’s much he can do to improve. In The Bubble, I want to see evidence of increased defensive awareness — improved defensive efg and defensive rating when he’s on the floor.
- Rui Hachimura — The top Wizards draft pick in 2019, Hachimura was solid in the Before Times. Flawed, to be sure, but that’s normal for a rookie. Like any rookie, he can improve almost every aspect of his game. The one thing I want to see him do in The Bubble: stress defenses by attacking off the dribble. He needs to get his shoulder past defenders and attack in ways that lead to high percentage shot attempts for himself or teammates, or create contact and get him more free throw attempts. I’d like to see those above 7.0 per 100 team possessions — up from 4.3 per 100 in the Before Times.
- Garrison Mathews — He still hasn’t arrived in Orlando due to unspecified personal reasons and he may miss The Bubble completely. In the Before Times, Mathews shot well, though on low usage (14.5%). The concern: there wasn’t much else to his game — not rebounding, playmaking or defense. If he’s going to stick and become an NBA contributor, he’ll need to do more than knock down threes and create four-point plays. What I want to see from him in The Bubble (if he plays): defense. If he can make himself into even a standard bad NBA defender, he’ll provide real value to an NBA team and have a long career.
- Moritz Wagner — Wagner sorta had two Before Times. At the beginning of the season, he was hyper-efficient on offense and super annoying to opponents on both ends of the floor. Then he missed two months with a bad ankle sprain, and when he got back into games he was just annoying — to both teams. What I want to see from Wagner in The Bubble: stop flopping so much and focus on doing things that actually make a significant difference on defense — challenge shots and lower opponent shooting percentages. That should lower his foul rate from an astronomical 8.7 per 100 team possessions and let the team enjoy more of his positive contributions.
- Jerome Robinson — In the Before Times, Robinson showed the makings of an acceptable NBA-level defender. Not great, but at least someone who could hold his own. His offense...not so much. At least he takes a high number of threes (about 46% of his FGA come from long range). For a guy who’s been bad at everything on offense, it’s possible to pick an area for meaningful improvement almost at random. I’m going with a near-total inability to get to the rim (13.2% of his career FGA have been at-rim; just 10.0% with the Wizards). What I’d like to see from Robinson in The Bubble: a doubling of his at-rim attempts, which should help boost his two-point field goal percentage from an anemic 39.5%. Head coach Scott Brooks keeps talking about wanting Robinson to play with more confidence. Robinson needs to use that steady diet of minutes to shoot (and make) threes, and to attack close outs off the dribble. If he can do that with any level of competence, he may still have an NBA future.
- Admiral Schofield — Washington’s 2019 second round pick hasn’t played much or well in his rookie campaign. He was even below average in G League play — a 68 PPA where 100 is average. In the G League! What he did in the Before Times doesn’t offer much to build upon — he didn’t shoot, rebound, make plays or defend well. The theory of Schofield is that he could be a 3&D wing or maybe a small-ball four. He’s been too stiff and perhaps muscle-bound to do either well. He’d be well-served to focus his workouts on speed, quickness and flexibility and to lose some of the muscle mass while retaining strength. That’s a lot to ask for four months. Since both his possible roles (and potentially playing as a P.J. Tucker-style small-ball five) require long-range shooting, I want to see him shoot the three in The Bubble at least as well as he did in the G League (37.0%).
This lists leaves off Ish Smith, Shabazz Napier, Anzejs Pasecniks, Gary Payton II and Jerian Grant because they’re either too old or not good enough to be considered part of the team’s young core.
What do you want to see from these guys in The Bubble?