T-5. Indiana Pacers (39-26): Malcolm Brogdon needs more than just the midrange
In terms of an unusual offensive output, Malcolm Brogdon is probably one of the most intriguing players there is to stat-obsessives like me. Undeniably, he brings a fantastic mid-range game to the court for the Pacers, hitting nearly 49% of his attempts this year. He’s clearly a very, very good shooter, which could be somewhat connected with his 90% free throw hit rate. Plays like this don’t happen by chance:
Unfortunately, his inability to score consistently anywhere other than the midrange and free throw line offers a real upper limit on what he’s been able to provide. Brogdon is a very good player, but he’s made just over 49% of his attempts at the rim this season. Two things here: 1. You don’t need me to tell you that having the same hit rate on layups and mid-range attempts is not a good thing. 2. This ranks 32nd among 37 guards getting 30+ minutes per game this season.
If Brogdon can find a way to score more efficiently at the rim, it will draw more attention his way and give him more opportunities to find the open man, which is one of his strengths. (He’s posted a 2.98:1 assist/turnover ratio this year, which isn’t perfect but is pretty solid, especially given him playing most of the season without Victor Oladipo. We could reasonably expect this to rise somewhat in the bubble, even given the increased level of competition.) Brogdon also needs to find his three-point stroke, though. He’s made a career-low 31.3% of his attempts this year, a shocking drop after three seasons consistently in between the 38.5%-42.6% range. Brogdon’s had fewer wide-open threes this year than he has the past three seasons, but he’s also done a terrible job of hitting wide-open shots, as NBA’s stats department pegs him at 28.8% on threes where no defender is within six feet:
If he can shore one or the other up, the Pacers’ ceiling elevates a crucial bit, possibly enough to get them into the Eastern Conference Finals if they can avoid the Bucks until then.
T-5. Philadelphia 76ers (39-26): What lineup will finally make this offense not look horrid?
Last week, Zach Lowe posted a fantastic look at lineups he’s intrigued by in the bubble. It’s a great article that everyone should read, but perhaps the most fascinating stat of all is right up front: the 76ers’ super-hyped lineup of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Al Horford is a net negative this season. They’re getting outscored when all three are on the court together, and it’s been a spacing disaster, leading to plenty of horrifying shots like this:
The lineup has posted a 98.8 Offensive Rating, which is the seventh-worst offensive rating by any 300+ minute three-man lineup in the NBA out of 602 total. It’s on the 76ers and Brett Brown to find a lineup that works for them. Lowe’s solution is to have Shake Milton play the stretch run of games, which is a fairly intriguing idea, alongside Simmons/Richardson/Harris/Embiid. This is the best lineup I think I could personally generate, and while there is literally zero sample size to speak of, the foursome of Simmons/Richardson/Harris/Embiid are +6.2 per 100 possessions this year and at least moderately competent on offense. Plus, Milton is a fun player that hits a lot of threes:
Worth trying, no?
7. Brooklyn Nets (30-34): Uh…who’s gonna score points for this team?
I’m not sure any roster has been so thoroughly decimated by injuries and COVID-19 as Brooklyn’s has. We already knew Kevin Durant wouldn’t be able to play, but Kyrie Irving won’t either, and a massive amount of role players – Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler – are all staying home, too. That leaves even a no-KD Nets with roughly 100 minutes of on-court action to fill out of 240 total, with three of five starters missing. FiveThirtyEight rates the Patchwork Nets as barely being better than the Wizards, and I have to believe them.
The best player left is probably Caris LeVert, who will be taking a massive amount of shots like these:
LeVert is the only active member of the roster to average more than 11 field goal attempts per game, and Joe Harris is the only other guy in double-digits. (Sorry, Joe Harris fans, but he’s just not good enough to get much focus here.) Estimated Plus-Minus rates out just two members of Brooklyn roster as net positives on offense: Jarrett Allen and Harris. (LeVert is pretty close at -0.3; I’m giving him a break because he was injured and because he takes a lot of shots.) FiveThirtyEight projects the Patchwork Nets to score at about a 103.2 points/100 possessions clip, which would make them easily the worst offense in the NBA. I…can’t say I’m excited to see them play.
8. Orlando Magic (30-35): In the absence of something better, here’s Markelle Fultz
Getting this out of the way first: there are no good reasons to watch the Orlando Magic offense. Only five offenses in the league are worse in terms of efficiency, and none of them will be in the playoffs. (However, by the time the eight-game run concludes, Brooklyn may well overtake them.) The only plus offensive players on the entire roster are Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, and, sorry, you’re not exactly demanding to see either do their thing. It’s a very boring roster. Had Jonathan Isaac been cleared for play by the time of publication, I would’ve talked about his defense. So…let’s discuss Markelle Fultz.
Fultz’s comeback from his numerous shoulder issues is great stuff, though I think calling him the Comeback Player of the Year or similar may be a stretch. Admittedly, it’s been fun to watch, and when he makes plays like this, you remember why the hype was there to begin with:
He’s been an above-average player this year, but we should probably hold back on raving too much; he’s still just shooting 25.4% from three on the season and 72.3% from the line. Still, he’s been pretty solid both at the rim (60% finisher) and in the mid-range (42%). Quietly, he’s been a good defender this season for the Magic as well:
There simply isn’t much of interest on this Magic roster that you don’t already know about. Might as well follow the Fultz story, no?
9. Washington Wizards (24-40): Let’s talk about a guy with 56 field goal attempts this season
Look: there is no reason to watch any Wizards game when the restart happens. I’m not entirely sure why they’re here, especially now that we know both Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans won’t be in Orlando. The team’s new leading scorer is either rookie Rui Hachimura (13.4 PPG) or Ish Smith (627 total points), neither of whom are getting you excited reading about it. So why not talk about a two-way player that’s appeared in 18 games and may or may not get any action at all in the bubble?
Garrison Mathews led Lipscomb to its first NCAA Tournament bid in 2018-19 and followed it up with an NIT title game appearance in 2019-20. He’s long been a phenomenal shooter, and in his scattered action this season, he’s been quite the value: a 41.3% three-point shooter on 46 attempts! To be sure, this is small sample size theater, but he’s likely just a very good shooter. Mathews made 39.3% of his 524 three-point attempts his final two years at Lipscomb, scored 20+ points per game over his last three seasons, and got better as a shooter every year. In some fashion, you could look at him as a deep discount Duncan Robinson.
Like I mentioned, you have no real reason to watch the Wizards play. However, you do have someone to look forward to watching now.