Could we see an NBA game played outdoors this summer?
“We haven’t really made a final decision on it on a date to reconvene, or where we’re going, or any of that kind of stuff yet,” Nurse said in a call with Toronto media. “We’ve made plans on both sides of the border, just for doing it as safe as possible. It’s kind of our first and foremost priority — then maybe as quickly as possible, too.”
For the Raptors, the issue of how to proceed largely stems from Canadian government regulations currently in place that call for a 14-day quarantine for people returning to Canada. Some Raptors players are in Toronto right now; some are in the U.S.
Getting those players from Canada — or other countries — into the U.S. is a process streamlined somewhat by an order signed last month by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf, one that provided the exemption for professional athletes from rules put in place during the pandemic that would have otherwise barred their entry into the U.S.
“We’ve still got a few options that we’re looking at,” Nurse said.
The NBA hasn’t released many details of the plan for how things will work at Disney yet, with many items still being worked out in talks with the National Basketball Players Association and other entities. What is known, however, is a tentative schedule where teams arrive in early July, play begins in late July and Game 7 of the NBA Finals could be as late as Oct. 12.
That means a team, if it makes the title series, could spend nearly 100 days at Disney before going home. And if the Raptors choose to have a training camp in the U.S. beforehand, that would obviously add a few more days to their away-from-home total.
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said Tuesday morning that the NBA has told the league’s general managers that the 2020-21 NBA schedule could be condensed in order to allow the league to remain as close as possible to its current schedule format.
“Because of this circumstance, I think the league wants to stay as close to its original schedule as possible,” Schlenk said on a conference call with reporters. Atlanta’s season was ended last week when the league approved a plan for 22 of the 30 teams to go to Orlando to resume play next month. “There’s a lot of different reasons for that — the college season, the draft and how all of that plays out. So that’s why they’ve laid out a timeline where it would be a very quick turnaround from the NBA Finals to the start of the season.
“If you’re going from the middle of October to starting the season [on] the 1st of December, if you are one of the teams in the Finals, that’s quick,” Schlenk said. “But they want to try to stay as close to the historical timing as possible. So I don’t think this is something you’ll see stick. They’ve talked to us on one of our GM calls that it might be a condensed schedule next year. More so than in the past. As you know, there’s been a big drive to avoid back-to-backs and certainly four in five nights, but we might find ourselves in a situation next year where it would be much more condensed.”
The NBA has set a tentative timeline of opening training camp on Nov. 10, and starting next season on Dec. 1 — both of which were unexpected, said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.
New play-in matchups:
East: 41-41 Bulls (18th in net rating) vs. 40-42 Raptors (19th in net rating) in the play-in round
84 percent chance the Bulls advance with both home-court advantage and the double-elimination advantage, according to a playoff prediction model
West: No play-in, because the eighth-seeded Thunder, at 50-32, were well clear of the ninth-seeded Rockets, at 42-40
Would the end of the regular season have been affected?
No. The Bulls clinched a playoff spot with a three-game winning streak to finish the season—including a crucial win in Toronto in both teams’ 80th games—and would have fought just as hard for the no. 8 advantage if a play-in system had been in place. No other team was close to the no. 9 spot.
What about the “actual” playoffs?
The top-seeded Cavaliers handled the no. 8 Bulls with ease in the East’s first round that postseason, winning in five games. Cleveland had home-court advantage and was a much better team than Chicago, so the Cavs had a 95 percent chance of winning that series. What if the Raptors had advanced instead? Cleveland’s odds would have been 95 percent in that hypothetical matchup, too.
Now, as Nurse gets set to lead his club through uncharted waters, that trademark flexibility will be more important than ever.
“You can try to dream up some ideas of what it’s going to be like down there or plans you might have – and we’ll do that, of course, talk about a lot of things – but I think once you get there you’re going to get more familiar with the landscape, it’s probably going to change or feel different than you expected it to, and then you’re going to have to start making adjustments,” said the 52-year-old head coach. “I see a lot of things that come into play normally probably coming into play even more.”
In this case, it might not come down to what Nurse has up his sleeve – a zone defence or a funky position-less unit. The bigger challenge will be managing day-to-day obstacles in an unprecedented situation. Teams are about to be tested in ways they have never been tested before.
If everything goes according to plan, the NBA season will resume in Orlando, Florida,on July 31. Players will have a few weeks to ramp up and get back into game shape after a long layoff – the campaign has been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to suspend play on March 11.
Teams will be confined to the Disney complex. Family members are only permitted after the first round of the playoffs is complete, according to reports. The two clubs that are fortunate enough to go the distance will have spent nearly three months in the NBA’s bubble and away from home.
There will be daily coronavirus testing, relatively empty arenas without fans, tighter schedules, and social distancing measures in place off the court. Professional athletes are creatures of habit and routine. Make no mistake, this is going to be a major adjustment for everybody involved.
The teams that are able to “go with the flow”, as Nurse likes to say, could be the ones that find a way to thrive in this very strange environment. A veteran group like the Raptors may have an advantage in that regard.
“Your attitude day-to-day is going to get challenged in a different way,” Nurse said. So, how are you going to be able to – for lack of a better word – keep people from just complaining? ‘Man, it’s too hot, the sun’s out’ or, ‘It’s too cold, the air-conditioning’, whatever. You’re going to have to try to keep an extra positive attitude for starters and you’re going to have to go with the flow a little bit, and understand going in that this is going to be different.”
In the midst of everything, the future seems destined to include NBA basketball as well, with the league recently confirming plans to reconvene the 2019-20 regular season with 22 teams within a so-called ‘Quarantine Bubble’ at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. There will be an eight-game conclusion to the regular season scheduled to begin July 31, followed by a traditional four-round playoff that will decide an NBA champion sometime in early October.
For the record, Nurse likes his team’s chances. The Raptors were 46-18 and in second place in the East – third overall — when play was halted on March 11 after Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The situation may be unprecedented, but Nurse believes if anything it should favour a mature, experienced team with proven chemistry like the defending 2019 champions.
“You’re going to have to try to keep an extra positive attitude for starters and you’re going to have to go with the flow a little bit and understand going in that this is going to be different,” said Nurse. “However, I’m going to probably harp on some of the same things I always harp on – we’re a good team at home, we’re a good team on the road, we don’t really care where we have to play. That means we ought to be good [on a neutral court].
“And I think this team loves to play, we love to compete, we love to try to figure things out, and at the end of the day, with everything else that’s going on, when you finally get [to Disney World] and the ball goes up, can you laser focus in and get the job at hand done?”
“Everybody’s kind of held their hands up and said we all need to do better, we all need to make this more of a focal point, we all need more of an important role,” Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday. “The last 10 days, two weeks have been pretty much constant discussion.”
Nurse was among the league’s head coaches who participated in a Zoom call on Saturday. A sub-committee including Lloyd Pierce, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, David Fizdale and Stan Van Gundy was then formed to determine some action plans.
“There is a historic opportunity to make some lasting change and I think we all have to take part in that,” Nurse said.
The coach said the team has had thoughtful discussions that have led to a deeper understanding and “maybe even a closeness amongst our staff and players.”
“It was several personal examples that maybe guys hadn’t shared with their teammates or with me, and I guess as it hits closer to home, these guys talk about being pulled over by police, and how they were treated — lots of stories that for whatever reason they didn’t talk about really before,” he said.
Josh Green, Arizona (freshman), 6-foot-5, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 19 years old
Vecenie board: 30, Vecenie mock: 25, Composite board: 17
Strengths: Excellent defender with good size and lateral quickness, aggressive in passing and driving lanes, shot the 3 at a decent rate, transition play
Concerns: Limited half-court game, especially if shooting stroke needs reworking, not an elite attacker or finisher
Raptors fit: Defensive versatility and aggressiveness suit system, 905 could bring offence up to speed
Green’s statistical profile this year is a bit similar to OG Anunoby’s in that he was pretty clearly a high-impact defender without elite on-off numbers. Because he played for a very good defensive team all-around, with some other players helping drive team-level defence with him, those metrics don’t make a robust case alone. Per Pivot Analysis, Arizona was “only” 1.3 points per 100 possessions better on defence with Green on the floor. Still, he helped drive a top 15 adjusted defence, per KenPom, often taking difficult assignments. Wing defence can be difficult to quantify in the easiest of samples, and the overall production is outweighing any on-off concern – Jacob Goldstein‘s model projects Green to have the 14th-highest peak wins added in the class.
Leandro Bolmaro, Barcelona (Spain), 6-foot-7, 19 years old
Vecenie board: 44, Vecenie mock: 32, Composite board: 26
Strengths: Creative scorer and wing passer, good size for the position, major playmaking potential
Concerns: Physicality, 3-point shot needs to develop, probably needs more time overseas
Raptors fit: Offensive package fits motion system if shot develops and physicality improves to be passable on defence, medium-term stash option could fit roster strategy
Not to group all international imports together but the logic with Bolmaro would be somewhat similar to what we discussed with respect to Aleksej Pokusevski: There’s interesting upside here if the Raptors decide patience – and the ability to keep a player off the books for a little bit – is appropriate. Bolmaro is just 19, and so he has some things he’ll need to work on to eventually make the transition, like adding to a 178-pound frame that could limit his physicality. He’ll also need to add a 3-point shot, as he’s a willing outside shooter who struggled in league play for Barcelona II the last two years (29.9 percent), and in a smaller window with the main Barcelona club in 13 games across the ACB and EuroLeague (3-for-11).
What Bolmaro does offer already is potentially elite playmaking from the wing. He averaged 3.6 assists with Barcelona II this year and tallied 24 in 146 minutes (six per 36 minutes) up a level. Unfortunately, some of that intrigue is clouded by a sky-high turnover rate. And this, despite most of his sample coming in the Spanish third division. Your appetite for those flashy passes from a wing with size may vary depending on your risk tolerance, but it’s a good starting point for an impactful offensive player. He uses those same tools to create shots for himself, too, though the efficiency needs to come along inside the arc and in getting to the free-throw line as well.