After four months off, the first league-sanctioned action was played in the Orlando bubble. Some of the play was sloppy (as to be expected) but some teams looked like they hadn’t missed a beat, especially the playoff teams.
Should we take stock in these games? Probably not, but it’s a helpful exercise to see what lineups the coaches are implementing and how the players are looking. Here’s some of the key takeaways from the teams who played.
LA Clippers – JaMychal Green at center
In the first official scrimmage back from the NBA’s hiatus, the Clippers “hosted” the Orlando Magic, the de-facto home team. It wasn’t Kawhi Leonard or Paul George or even Lou Williams that led them in minutes, it was veteran forward JaMychal Green who played all 25 of his minutes as the man in the middle. With Montrezl Harrell away from the bubble dealing with a family matter and the absence of Ivica Zubac still not explained in full, Green may become their most important big man until they return.
The Clippers signed former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah at the end of June and he did technically start at center today, but when the lineups are set for the playoffs it’s unlikely he’ll crack the rotation (barring an injury or a player leaving the bubble.)
It’s even debatable that despite how JaMychal Green relates to this version of the Clippers right now, he may not get any playing time when the stalwarts of the center position return. But today he brought down eight rebounds, (six of them offensive) and dished out four assists, leading the Clippers in both statistical categories.
Regardless, the Clippers have an interesting rotation of big men at their disposal. Including the previously mentioned, Patrick Patterson also played 20 minutes today.
Orlando Magic – What’s going on with Mo Bamba?
Did the Orlando Magic really draft this guy after the hype of one song? Because that would be horrendous asset management.
After somewhat of a surprising playoff appearance in last year’s playoffs, they were a feel-good story (to me at least) with their draft picks finally producing, Nikola Vucevic rounding into an All-Star, and taking a flyer on former #1 pick Markelle Fultz. But just as fast as it was for them to be this young team on the rise, it’s been labelled as a mediocrity just as fast.
Vucevic and Terrence Ross are on large, long-term deals and are apparently declining rapidly (even though their stats are roughly about the same). If it’s a question of are those players (and Aaron Gordon) worth their contracts, that’s another debate for another time.
Unless Mo Bamba is dealing with an undisclosed injury, it’s egregious that he played just over six minutes. I’m not saying he’s good, I’m not even saying he’s average, but you don’t know what you’re getting with him in six minutes of action in a scrimmage, the game doesn’t even count.
Even though all the players hit the court today for the Magic, I’d like to see more Mo Bamba just to see what he can do on the court.
Denver Nuggets – More big lineups
The Denver Nuggets only had eight players available for today’s scrimmage against the Washington Wizards. Five of them were traditional big men, two of them are “unicorns”, and one of them made their NBA debut.
The Nuggets started Nikola Jokic, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Paul Millsap, and rookie Bol Bol, who captivated Twitter with his ability to block and shoot the three pointer. Him and Slim Jokic both had pretty solid games, despite the Joker’s eight turnovers.
Once their traditional guards come back, it’s unlikely this lineup will get utilized again, but we can only dream.
Washington Wizards – Who is Jerome Robinson and what does he mean to this team?
A long time ago earlier in the year 2020, the Washington Wizards were playing a hodge-podge of young guys around Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans to see what stuck. One young guy they acquired just before the trade deadline from the Clippers was Jerome Robinson, a former lottery pick selected between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr.
Now with both Beal and Bertans not in Orlando, that means other guys have to step up offensively and fill in those 34 shots that are now missing. There was a reason he was selected in the lottery, this would be the time to flash his potential and see what he can do.
New Orleans Pelicans – More of the four guard lineup
In today’s scrimmage against the Brooklyn Nets, the New Orleans Pelicans pivoted to a lineup that contains primarily four shooting guards; JJ Redick, Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and E’Twaun Moore. Against Brooklyn’s transition defence, this lineup was able to get easy 3 point attempts, and that was the beginning of the end for the Nets in this scrimmage.
Against healthier teams this lineup may not be the way to go but it would be interesting to try.
Brooklyn Nets – Caris LeVert is the entirety of Brooklyn’s offence
Out of all the teams pushing for a playoff spot, the Brooklyn Nets have been hit the most with injuries and players opting out from the restart.
They tried to move quickly, with signing Jamal Crawford, Tyler Johnson and Donta Hall, but the roster still isn’t balanced. With only one legitimate center and two point guards who have majority G-League experience this season, offence will be hard to come by.
Enter Caris LeVert, who had 18 shot attempts in 22 minutes. If Brooklyn wants any hope to win any games, they must find a way to stagger Caris’ minutes and find him more efficient shots. This would have been a great challenge for Kenny Atkinson, but we all know how that worked out.
Sacramento Kings – Should Buddy Hield come off the bench full-time?
Earlier in the season Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton benched Buddy Hield, not far after signing a four year, 86 million dollar contract.
In today’s game he played 24 minutes off the bench, and had a team high 19 points against a team who hangs their hat on being defensively orientated. Speaking of which, Hield leaves a lot to be desired defensively (although he tries hard) which was another reason he was moved to the bench.
Will this be a permanent solution, or will he move back into the starting lineup?
Miami Heat – Expect more lineup variations until Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn are available to play
Like the majority of the teams who played today, the Miami Heat unloaded the bench and everyone had a chance to play.
Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. came into the starting lineup replacing Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn. Dragic looked good in limited minutes, but in total only half of the point guard minutes were filled by point guards (Dragic and Gabe Vincent, who finished the game).
Instead they went with wing-heavy lineups that featured all of the guys they acquired from Memphis before the season shut down; Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill. Speaking of Iguodala, he also looked good in 20 minutes of action. Unfortunately the Kings came back into the game when this lineup was on the floor, but against other competition it might work.