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NBA Restart 2020 - Setup Shots

Bubble Trouble? What the Wolves Are Missing Out On in Orlando

How big of a disadvantage is it for Minnesota to not be playing (competitively) right now?

Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

While twenty-two of the NBA’s top teams continue playing themselves into game shape for the upcoming 2020 playoffs, the remainder of the league’s not-so-good teams (commonly referred to as the “Delete Eight”) continue to do... well basically nothing. The New York Knicks recently hired our old friend Tom Thibodeau to ruin their franchise coach their franchise, the Detroit Pistons purchased a G-League franchise, and the Chicago Bulls continue to employ Jim Boylen for some reason, even after they hired Arturas Karnisovas to completely revamp the front office and coaching staff.

As for the Minnesota Timberwolves, they have been an offseason juggernaut when it comes to not doing anything, with the team essentially going dark since they officially announced the end of their season back in May. Outside of a handful of workout photos posted on social media and the surprising news of Glen Taylor possibly selling both of his basketball franchises, the “news cycle” surrounding the Wolves has been non-existent (which, in their defense, makes some sense).

Does taking an extended hiatus like this really matter? Well, it probably depends on who you ask. We know that the front office is still hard at work setting up virtual interviews with potential draft prospects, scouting current players in the bubble, etc. We also know, thanks to the Wolves social media team, that players like Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, and Naz Reid are frequent visitors of the training facility this summer as they attempt to develop their games prior to next season.

But 1-on-1 (or even 1-on-none) workouts can only help so much, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks discusses below:

If you’ve been watching the NBA’s restart down in Orlando, you can probably attest to what Marks is saying. Outside of the lowly Sacramento Kings (who may very well end up quarantining Luke Walton for the remainder of their stay in the bubble), most of fringe playoff teams stationed at Walt Disney World appear to not only enjoy the resumption of play, but are actively embracing it from a developmental standpoint.

For example, the Phoenix Suns are a combined 4-1 since resuming play in the bubble (scrimmages + seeding games). While their chances of making the playoffs remain slim, the team has used these last couple weeks to showcase both Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, both of whom are becoming strong foundational pieces for James Jones and the Suns.

Or what about the San Antonio Spurs? After a few rusty scrimmages against the Bucks and Nets, Pop’s guys have gone 3-1, displaying strong leaps from both Derrick White and Dejounte Murray (who have averaged a combined 38 points a game in their first two meaningful seeding games).

And don’t forget about the Washington Wizards, who did everything in their power this past Sunday to try and mess up the Wolves’ chances at securing the Brooklyn Nets first round pick in the upcoming 2020 Draft. Despite fielding a roster littered with guys who resemble “create a players” from NBA2K, the Wizards have used the NBA’s restart as a valuable tool to continue developing their young core, including guys like Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, and Troy Brown, Jr. (who is a REAL nice player).

My overall point here is that, despite none of these teams having much of a chance at making noise this summer, all three franchises are successfully using this opportunity to essentially make an investment in their players for future years to come. While I fully understand why the “Delete Eight” weren’t invited to the bubble (you could even argue the teams I just listed above should have been excluded as well), it’ll be fascinating to see how an extended absence from real, live competition affects franchises like the Wolves, Bulls, Cavs, and Hawks going forward.

The current NBA protocols for the “Delete Eight” prohibit more than a handful of people being on the court at the same time, which means these teams are relying heavily on individual development rather than team development. While that type of stuff is fine in a traditional offseason (when all thirty teams have players doing their own thing anyway), it could be a significant competitive disadvantage for the “bad teams” while the rest of the league continues to use this summer to develop chemistry, introduce new sets, etc.

(And that’s before you mention the rejuvenated fan interaction/engagement for many franchises brought on by the restart, which is a whole different can of worms for a team like Minnesota with the worst attendance in the league — but I’ll save that for another day).

Just take Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell for example. The two cornerstones of the franchise (and the team’s payroll) have played all of one game together, and while the future with these two does appear somewhat promising, no one will really know what they have until we get a MUCH larger sample size. How good can the Towns/Russell pick-and-roll be? Can the ancillary pieces around this “Big Two” defend well enough to keep the team on an upward trajectory? Are the young guys (Culver, Okogie, Reid) part of the future or just placeholders for the present?

Again, I am fully aware of why certain teams weren’t invited to Orlando, and I’m also not sure that a second bubble (as was rumored a few weeks ago) is a good idea. With the continued threat of COVID-19 spreading across the country, the health and safety of players (and staff in general) is of the utmost importance for the league — as it should be. But having certain teams continue to push forward while other franchises are essentially stuck in neutral is something that’ll be very interesting to monitor as we approach the upcoming 2020-2021 season.