Re-Start Fever: A Breakdown of Every NBA Bubble Team

With the return of the NBA season merely hours away, the biggest question on everyone's mind is likely: "okay, so who's going to win it all?" Well, I thought that I'd offer you my thoughts about each and every team currently inside the NBA "Bubble." I'll include a grade for each team, as well as how strong I believe their playoff and title chances are. Let's dive in!


Washington Wizards

I really like the Wizards…or at least when Bradley Beal is playing. Unfortunately for Washington, its top two leading scorers have decided to sit out the NBA's Orlando re-start. While this may provide an opportunity for some younger players (Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Moritz Wagner, etc.) to ball out and improve their game, it also means that the team's playoff chances are slim to none. As much as I like some of the Wizards' young core, it just doesn't have what's necessary to make a playoff push in the East this season. The real question in Washington is whether or not the team should try to compete for the playoffs once John Wall returns next season, or if the reset button should be hit. Hopefully the Wizards can use this time to evaluate what pieces they'd like to keep for next season, and which players are better off being used as potential trade bait in exchange for future assets.


Team Grade: D-

Playoff Chances: 10%

Title Chances: 0%


Phoenix Suns

If I'm being completely honest, I didn't even know the Suns were included in the Orlando re-start until about a week after the plan was announced. Devin Booker was an All-Star this season and I think Deandre Ayton certainly has All-Star potential, but neither of them have ever played in a playoff-style environment. A supporting cast of Mikal Bridges, Aron Baynes (following his COVID-19 recovery) and Ricky Rubio makes for a solid roster, but once again, I really question if that group can compete with the star power that most other teams in the bubble possess. That, along with the fact that the Suns are currently 6 games out of the final playoff spot out West, leads me to believe that there is little hope for Phoenix in Orlando.


Team Grade: D+

Playoff Chances: <5%

Title Chances: 0%


San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs' dynasty is truly on its last legs. Gregg Popovich is possibly the greatest coach of all time, but it's time for him to begin considering a rebuild. The pieces are all there with Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and even Keldon Johnson, but the Spurs just aren't ready to win right now. San Antonio is 4 games out of the West's 8 seed, with 3 other teams they'd have to leapfrog before they could even have a chance at taking down the Grizzlies. What makes matters even worse is that their star big man, LaMarcus Aldridge, didn't travel to Orlando with the team and will be sitting out the remainder of the Spurs' season. Outside of DeMar DeRozan, Aldridge is the closest thing the team has to an All-Star caliber player and, at the old age of 34, I'm not sure if he would have made that much of a difference towards its playoff chances anyway. I'm sorry Spurs fans, but the time has come. Your reign is over.


Team Grade: D

Playoff Chances: <5%

Title Chances: 0%


Sacramento Kings

This year has been nothing short of a disappointment for the Kings. Sacramento was the 9 seed in the West last season, just missing out on the team's first playoff action in over a decade. With young budding stars De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, the talent was there for the Kings to make a real run this year. Unfortunately, off-season signings didn't pan out the way the team had hoped. In theory, guys like Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon were good fits to provide veteran leadership and depth on a potential playoff team; in reality, they didn't play the role that Sacramento had envisioned. The result? Yet another down year. Luckily, however, the Kings managed to go on a run following the All-Star break when their core began to regain its health. In the ten games before the NBA season was suspended, the team recorded a 7-3 record. Unfortunately, I don't think that small bit of momentum, nor their young stars, are enough to propel the Kings into playoff contention in Orlando.


Team Grade: C-

Playoff Chances: <10%

Title Chances: 0%


New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are in an interesting situation because, for the majority of the season, the team was missing first overall pick Zion Williamson. As soon as Zion made his return, however, New Orleans started playing much better basketball; it also became easy to tell just how bright a future Williamson has in the league. Now that he's back, the Pelicans have a core of Zion, an All-Star in Brandon Ingram and a guy who's won in the playoffs before in Jrue Holiday -- so, is it so crazy to think they could make a run at the West's 8 seed? They currently sit 3.5 games out, with only the Blazers and Grizzlies sitting between them and the postseason. While I personally favor Portland's odds in this case due to their star power, I do think the Pelicans have fantastic upside in Orlando. What will likely hold the team back is its inexperience.


Team Grade: C+

Playoff Chances: ~20%

Title Chances: 0%


Portland Trail Blazers

As noted above, I think the Blazers have the best chance at stealing the 8 seed in the West from the Grizzlies and honestly, I'm a firm believer that they'll take advantage of the opportunity. Damian Lillard is an MVP-caliber talent who simply got unlucky this year due to injuries plaguing his team. The loss of Jusuf Nurkić for the entire season was one that the team greatly struggled to cope with. While adding Hassan Whiteside may have helped to some degree, Nurkić is just a better, multi-talented player. Whiteside can give you blocks and rebounds, but Nurkić can give you both of those things and much, much more. With Nurkić and young big man Zach Collins back for the Orlando re-start, I'm tempted to say the Blazers could possibly compete for a playoff upset this year. The biggest necessity in winning a playoff series, in my opinion, is having a superstar on the roster. Damian Lillard absolutely fits that bill. If Terry Stotts can figure out his rotations with Nurkić and Whiteside, then I think the Blazers will look like a much better team than their record would currently indicate.


Team Grade: B

Playoff Chances: ~50%

Title Chances: 2%


Orlando Magic

In my eyes, the Magic have been an interesting team as of late. I remember watching them upset the Raptors in Game 1 the Eastern Conference Playoffs last year and thinking "hmmm...this team might actually have the potential to be pretty solid." We even began to see a lot more of former number one pick Markelle Fultz this year, who looks to be finally getting his career on the right track. I believed that the Magic could end up fighting for a 4-6 seed in the East this season…oh, how wrong I was. In reality, they were never destined to be quite that good and things only got worse when Jonathan Isaac became injured. In my opinion, Isaac is the best young player on that team and by far its best defender. The Magic are the perfect basketball team that's just missing a true star. All the necessary role players are there, all the shooters, all the youth, but there's just no leader to guide them all. If you put any of the top 30, or even top 50 NBA players on that Magic roster, I honestly think it could contend for a championship. Unfortunately, that's not the reality we’re living in. Instead, the Magic will probably end up as the 7 or 8 seed in the East ultimately and get bounced in the first round yet again, regardless of whether Jonathan Isaac can play.


Team Grade: C

Playoff Chances: ~80%

Title Chances: 0%


Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are going to be on par with the Wizards as one of the worst Eastern Conference teams when the NBA starts up again. They were solid in the regular season and I thought Spencer Dinwiddie had a case to be an All-Star this year, but there are just too many missing pieces for the team right now. DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler have both opted out; Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant aren't walking through that door and Nic Claxton, along with even Dinwiddie himself, didn't travel to the bubble, either. The Nets' best player in this re-start will be Caris LeVert and, unless they're playing the Celtics at TD Garden, that's just not going to cut it. I think the only story line that will be significant regarding the Nets is if Jarrett Allen can solidify himself as the team's starter over DeAndre Jordan next season. I know Jordan is very close friends with KD and Kyrie but, at this point in their careers, Allen is the better player. If he can prove himself during the team's time in Orlando, I think he has a much better shot of securing the starting role next season. As for this year, the Nets' season might as well be over.


Team Grade: D

Playoff Chances: ~50%

Title Chances: 0%


Memphis Grizzlies

I think a core of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke is one of the most promising in the entire league and their development this season has been incredible. I think that a lot of people projected the Grizzlies to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, but here they are competing for a playoff spot. Now, the only question is whether they can keep that spot through the 8 seeding games. If it were left up to me to guess, I would say that the Trail Blazers will steal it from them, purely due to the fact that Damian Lillard is a top 10 player in the NBA. However, you just never know with a young team like Memphis. They have all the talent in the world and, in my opinion, the potential to make multiple NBA Finals appearances in the future. However, with Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke being rookies and Jaren Jackson Jr. having no playoff experience, I question their ability to win right now.


Team Grade: C+

Playoff Chances: ~50%

Title Chances: 0%


Dallas Mavericks

There's no question that Luka Dončić is one of the best players in the NBA right now, but it's uncertain whether he and the Mavs can sustain their elite offense in the postseason. Dallas had the best offense in the NBA as of mid-March when the league paused its season. In fact, this 2019-2020 Dallas team has the highest recorded offensive rating in NBA history -- so clearly the offense hasn't just been great this year as a whole, it's actually been historically amazing. A lot of that greatness revolves around the play of the young phenom Dončić and his partner in crime Kristaps Porziņģis. Throw in a supporting cast of Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson and others and apparently you have one of the most efficient offenses ever. The only issue is that once the pace of play slows down, as it commonly does in the playoffs, we really don't know how Dallas' offense will be impacted. Add that to the fact that their defense has been less than stellar and the Mavs' outlook moving forward is very much in question. Although they are one of the few teams that has yet to actually clinch the playoffs, there's no doubt in my mind that they'll get there. I would say that the Mavs have one of the best chances to pull off a "lower seed upset" due to Luka, but I don't think he'll be able to ride that wave to a Finals appearance this year.


Team Grade: B

Playoff Chances: 99%

Title Chances: 3%


Philadelphia 76ers

I'll try to put my Boston bias aside for a moment and actually provide a fair assessment of the Sixers this year…they weren't that good. It's a very similar scenario to what last season's Celtics went through in many ways. For the past several years, there haven't been any real expectations for Philadelphia to contend. However, once "the process" officially ended and the team paid Tobias Harris and brought in Al Horford and Josh Richardson, the world began to believe in Philly. I'm a firm believer that those expectations were a huge reason why the Sixers under-performed this season. Don't get me wrong, I think that Philly has all the talent in the world; it's just about fitting all the pieces together in a way that works. I think the focus should've been adding a bunch of shooters around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but instead they added a guy like Al Horford who didn't fit a need or, arguably, their system altogether. Nevertheless, the Sixers are still definitely in contention this year and I think will be every year as long as they have Embiid and Simmons. The star power is there, the chemistry just needs to build. The other thing I would watch out for with Philly is how well they're able to play at a neutral site. The Sixers were the best home team in the NBA this year (29-2), but were also incredibly bad on the road (10-24). So, the question is: will they be great because they don't have to play in a hostile road environment? Or, will they be bad because they don't have the home crowd support that they usually feed on? I would lean towards the latter.


Team Grade: A-

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 5%


Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are in a weird spot as a franchise, in my opinion. When fully healthy, they have two All-Star caliber players in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, along with one borderline All-Star in Malcolm Brogdon. However, they just don't have a superstar to lead them on a deep playoff run. Because of this, I don't see the Pacers competing for a championship any time soon, at least not the way their current roster is composed. I think that Sabonis and Turner are young and talented enough to either make the leap to superstar or contribute to a title team in the future, but not right now, or with the pieces currently around them. The Pacers have shown that they can win games without Victor Oladipo this year, so potentially not having him on the court for the re-start doesn't necessarily affect my opinion on the team going into Orlando. However, even if Oladipo is back in to some extent, Sabonis' status is now questionable after sustaining a foot injury within the last week. Things just might not be lining up for the Pacers this year. I think that they're a team similar to the Memphis Grizzlies back when Mike Conley and Marc Gasol ran the show. They'll make the playoffs consistently and maybe even get out of the first round here and there, but they just don't have what it takes to get over that hump. Not right now, at least.


Team Grade: B-

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 1%


Houston Rockets

Do I personally believe in the way the Rockets have chosen to structure their team? No. Do I think it could work out for them? Possibly. Not having a true center is a very risky endeavor, one that could come back to bite them where it hurts in the playoffs. What are they going to do when they inevitably go up against players like Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokić in the West? Now, despite this lack of size, the Rockets do have two of the best players in the league in James Harden and Russell Westbrook, as well as pretty solid role players surrounding them. What it all comes down to, at least in my eyes, is how well P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington can defend bigs. If Houston can manage to play solid team defense and hold elite big men to no more than 20 points or so, then I think they have a shot at pulling off some upsets in the playoffs. I'm also intrigued to see how well Harden can perform in the playoffs this time around. The Rockets might very well be the Bubble's biggest mystery.


Team Grade: A-

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 5%


Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder surprised everyone this season by actually emerging as a clear playoff team. Most people, including myself, thought all their veteran players, including Chris Paul, would wind up being traded by the deadline. Instead, Oklahoma City chose to stick it out and ended up playing playoff level basketball up until the March pause. Does this mean I think they can win it all? No chance. However, it does mean that I think they're capable of winning more playoff games than many anticipate. Right now, the Thunder are projected to match up with the Jazz in round one and, if things fluctuate at all, could wind up facing the Rockets or Mavericks. To be honest, I think the Thunder have a chance to compete with any of those squads. They may not have the stars that the Rockets and Mavs do, or the depth that the Jazz are blessed with, but they do have a gritty All-Star in Chris Paul and a core of guys ready to go to war every night. Chris Paul always plays like he has something to prove and, honestly, that might be because he usually does. Paul has yet to win a ring in his career and, while he may not get there with this Thunder team, I definitely believe that he'll die trying.


Team Grade: B

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 2%


Miami Heat

I'm a huge fan of Jimmy Butler -- not just the way he plays, but also Jimmy Butler the person. I think that his work ethic, mentality and overall way of carrying himself is awesome. There have been so many bad things said about the guy in the media, but truly all he cares about is winning basketball games. He finally had the opportunity to be the leader of his own team this year with the Heat and boy, did he run with it. Prior to this season, if you looked at Miami's roster, you'd have thought it was an All-Star just a bunch of role players. And, while Bam Adebayo became an All-Star caliber player himself this year, that assumption is still pretty much right. However, all of the Heat role players fill those roles so well that they've wound up winning lots of basketball games. Guys like Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn all turned out to be much better than anticipated and, as a result, Miami became one of the East's biggest surprises. This is the perfect example of a team that may not have that second or third superstar, but since they have the right mindset and go about things the right way, they win games. I'm a firm believer that you need superstars to win a title, so I don't see a 2020 banner being hung for Miami as a result of this re-start. However, this Miami team could definitely make some noise in the playoffs if the chips fall their way.


Team Grade: B+

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 2%


Utah Jazz

The Jazz are a good basketball team; if that sounds like the most bland statement ever, that's because it was intended to be. It's a bland statement for, in my opinion, a pretty bland basketball team. It's not that the Jazz don't have stars, they do. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell (who may or may not be talking to one another) were All-Stars this season. They even have a strong supporting cast that includes Bojan Bogdanović, Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, which isn't bad at all. The only problem is that they just don't have the star power or depth to truly compete for a Championship right now. They're one of those teams, similar to the Pacers, who I see just making consistent playoff appearances but never quite getting over the hump. If Donovan Mitchell can take that next step into superstardom, then I would consider them a true title threat, but I doubt that suddenly happens in Orlando. The biggest story line has to be how well Mitchell and Gobert will play together after the incident that shut down the NBA. I know they came out and said everything was cool, but you never know until you see it. I see another first round exit for the Jazz or, at best, a trip to the second round.


Team Grade: B

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 1%


Denver Nuggets

Right now, eyes around the NBA are fixated on the new and improved (?) Nikola Jokić; will the huge weight loss he experienced during quarantine impact his game for the better or for the worse? Lots of people have already jumped to the conclusion that he'll be this immensely better player, but in reality, a big part of his post game has been using his size to his advantage. Personally, I think Jokić will still be Jokić and continue to improve his overall game, just like he has been over the past few years. And, aside from him, the Nuggets have a super talented young core that seems ready to start winning playoff series. Both of their playoff series last year went 7 games and I think many Denver fans believed that the team should've made it out of that Blazers series. To be honest, they very well could have; it was a closely contested series, but Dame and C.J. ultimately had the upper hand in the end. If Jokić and Jamal Murray can play well together, I think they have a chance to make a run at the Western Conference Finals. Sure, getting past one of the L.A. teams will prove to be a giant task, but if there's any team in the West that could do it, I think it's this Nuggets squad.


Team Grade: A-

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 5%


Boston Celtics

While it may be impossible to put all my Boston bias aside, I'll certainly do my best. The Celtics have been one of the best teams in the league this year while simultaneously having one of its youngest rosters. On top of that, they've endured a great many injuries, so many that the team's projected starting lineup has only played 118 minutes on the floor together this season. Despite all that, the team has still managed to compile the 5th best record in the NBA. The way that I see it, there's only one hurdle standing between the Celtics and a potential Championship as soon as this season -- is Jayson Tatum ready to be the superstar and best player on a Championship team? Obviously, as a Celtics fan, my answer is yes. Hell, even as a general NBA fan, after watching him post All-Star break, I think I'd say yes. Other things to watch are the bench unit's ability to score, the way Brad Stevens handles the center rotation and whether Kemba Walker can shine in the big moments. I hope all of this turns out well, but in the end, the Celtics' fortunes ultimately do rest on Jayson Tatum's shoulders.


Team Grade: A

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 9%


Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are quite literally built to win a championship. They have two honest to God superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, one of, if not the best benches in the NBA and an elite coach in Doc Rivers. The only problem is that there are a few other teams that are built quite similarly. Kawhi Leonard showed everyone last year that he is still an absolute superstar in this league and that the end of his time in San Antonio had no impact on his ability to play basketball at the highest level. He also proved that he can lead a team to a ring, but will he be able to do the same this year? I'd argue that the team around him looks better this year in L.A. than it did last season in Toronto; however, the competition is much steeper. Having a bench with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell is a huge advantage, one that you'll need if you're going up against LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo. I obviously believe the Clippers have a great shot to win it all and, if Kawhi does so, that he'll elevate himself into the discussion of being a top 20 player of all-time.


Team Grade: A+

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 18%


Toronto Raptors

The departure of Kawhi Leonard a year ago shortly after leading Toronto to a title had many NBA fans doubting the Raptors coming into this season. Personally, I always knew they were going to be good, I just didn't know they were going to be this good. Pascal Siakam's continued development has pushed the Raptors into title contention once again and a string of young guys developing into legitimate role players has helped along the way, too. Players like Terrence Davis and Chris Boucher, who were basically no names coming into the season, have turned into vital pieces for this Toronto team. To be honest, they could be the deepest team in the NBA in terms of overall talent. Also, I must say: the fact that Kyle Lowry gets so much hate just baffles me. The guy has made the last 6 All-Star games, puts up close to 20 points and 8 assists per game and played a huge role in the Raptors' first ever championship last season. What else do you want from him? Overall, I think the Celtics and Raptors are on a very similar level and, while I'd say the Celtics do have a slight edge (sorry if my Boston bias is showing), I wouldn't be surprised if either team made a legitimate run at the title.


Team Grade: A

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 7%


Los Angeles Lakers

For some reason, people forget just how good LeBron James is in the playoffs. The last time we saw him in the postseason, he carried one of the worst teams I've seen make the Finals all the way there, almost winning Game 1 in the process. Unfortunately, the same guy who cost him that game wound up recently joining him on the team he's currently leading. All jokes aside, LeBron is playing with arguably his most talented teammate ever now in Anthony Davis and the two of them have been scary good this season. However, the question isn't just "will LeBron and AD play well?" -- we know they will. The real question is will the rest of the Lakers roster come to play? With Avery Bradley not traveling to Orlando for personal reasons and Rajon Rondo recently suffering an injury (out 6-8 weeks), the Lakers' depth is getting worse and worse. I do think their bench is still better than what James was working with in Cleveland, but it's still tough to see two of your best guards just sort of evaporate into thin air like that. J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters will definitely help, but it's still a significant change for the Lakers, which can mean everything this late in the season. But do I really think it'll affect their title chances that much? No. The Lakers are still a huge favorite to win it all.


Team Grade: A+

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 18%


Milwaukee Bucks

The craziest thing about the Bucks is how long they're going to be good for. They're obviously legitimate title contenders this year and, as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the team, they'll continue to be moving forward. If Giannis continues on his current career trajectory, I could see him going down as a top 5 NBA player of all-time. He's one of the most dominant players we've seen since Shaq -- and what's even more mind boggling is that he's still improving. His three point shot is seemingly getting more and more consistent and he's not afraid to shoot from out there at any time. If Giannis can become even a league average three point shooter, all hope is lost for the rest of the league. Not to mention the fact that the team behind him is pretty amazing, too. Khris Middleton is having a spectacular season and was rewarded with another All-Star selection. Then there are guys like Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe and Donte DiVincenzo, who are all elite defenders. In fact, the Bucks were so far and away the best defensive team in the NBA this year that five of their players ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating: Antetokounmpo (1), B. Lopez (2), DiVincenzo (3), Bledsoe (7) and Middleton (8). Similar to how the Mavs recorded the best offensive rating ever this season, this year's Bucks squad is ranked second ever in defensive rating for a single season, behind only the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls (who went, oh yeah, 72-10). Giannis has all the talent, all the means and all the teammates to win it all this year. All that's left is to go out there and do it.


Team Grade: A+

Playoff Chances: 100%

Title Chances: 22%


Well, there you have it! A full breakdown of every team competing in the bubble for NBA's re-start. Is there any team that you think will make more noise in Orlando than I gave them credit for? One that I overrated? Who do you think leaves Disney World as NBA Champions? Sound off in the comments below. Bottom line: we've got basketball back!


- Jack

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