The first stage of the bubble is complete. The eight-game end to the regular season has concluded and with Portlands victory over Memphis on Saturday the 16 playoff teams have been decided. Although the majority of the bubble participants are moving on to the postseason, six teams have been sent packing. Some of these teams had inspiring bubble performances that made their futures seem all the brighter while others struggled to live up to expectations. Here are the future outlooks for the bubble teams who missed the playoffs.
Bubble Record: 2-6
Although the Grizzlies struggled in Orlando it was mainly to no fault of their own. Jaren Jackson Jr, one of the teams bright young costars, went down with a torn meniscus in just their third game back and another promising player in Justice Winslow didn’t play a single minute due to a hip injury. Despite this, Memphis did just enough with a win in their last game versus Milwaukee to secure a spot in the play-in game. They fought admirably versus Portland and a white-hot Damian Lillard but came up just short in a four-point loss. While they didn’t make the playoffs, the Grizzlies should be excited about their future. They have a bevy of young talent led by second overall pick Ja Morant and are certainly a team on the upswing.
Bubble Record: 3-5
Out of the six teams in Orlando who missed the playoffs, the Sacramento Kings might have the murkiest and most uncertain future. While they’ve been in rebuild mode for more than a decade, they have not been able to field a very young or exciting squad. Beyond De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, the Kings only have one other player under 25 (Harry Giles) getting meaningful minutes. This lack of youth and continued poor performance cost general manager Vlade Divac his job and it will be up to his successor to finally turn things around in Sacramento. But as things stand, the King’s future is up in the air.
New Orleans Pelicans
Bubble Records: 2-6
The hot pick to get the Western Conferences final playoff spot, the Pelicans performance in Orlando can only really be classified as a disappointment. After a resurgent second half of the season led by rookie phenom Zion Williamson, the continued improvement of first-time all-star Brandon Ingram, and a great run of form from Lonzo Ball, New Orleans looked more like the team that was second to bottom of the western conference on Christmas over the past eight games. This was due to several factors, most notably Zion Williamson’s perplexing lack of minutes and a massive regression from Lonzo. Even though the Pelicans disappointed in Orlando, Ja their future is still incredibly bright and the team is moving in the right direction towards contention.
Bubble Record: 8-0
The Phoenix Suns were an absolute joy to watch in Orlando plain and simple. After struggling for so many years following the departure of Steve Nash, they have finally turned the corner back towards relevance led by an exciting young core of dynamic players. After making his all-star debut this season, Devin Booker put on a show in the bubble, averaging over 30 points per game and making this incredible game-winner over Paul George. Former first overall pick Deandre Ayton continued his consistent quality play while young guns Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges took big steps in their development. The Suns will be a lot happier leaving the bubble than they were going into it and will have a lot of eyes on them at the start of next season.
San Antonio Spurs
Bubble Record: 5-3
Although they came agonizingly close, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Despite a strong performance in Orlando, including quality wins versus Houston and Utah, the Spurs’ overall performance this season leaves a lot of questions about their future. Their two best players, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, both are on the wrong side of 30 and it seems like a rebuild is on the horizon. Luckily San Antonio already has a few promising young players, especially at the guard position. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray project to be the Spurs starting backcourt for the foreseeable future and 2019 first-round pick Keldon Johnson played great in Orlando. WIth DeRozan’s contract expiring, San Antonio might decide that now is the time to let the young guys play and get to work on rebuilding.
Bubble Record: 1-7
With their two best players in Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans missing, the Wizards had zero expectations heading into Orlando. This is a case where the team performed as advertised. None of their losses were particularly close, the closest being an eight-point loss to Brooklyn, and there was a clear talent mismatch between them and their bubble counterparts. That does not mean they had no promising signs. Young big man Thomas Bryant played exceptionally. He averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game, including putting up 26 points in the team’s sole win versus Boston. With their starting backcourt of Beal and John Wall back next season, Washington will hope to turn things around from performances like this.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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