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Canadian Roundup: Week 1 of the NBA Bubble

14 mins read
Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Whether it’s the Orlando weather or bubble life, week #1 of the NBA restart was full of competitive basketball. So how have the Canadians in the bubble played so far?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The Thunder had a good week with 2 wins coming against formidable opponents in the Jazz and the Lakers, and a narrow loss in OT to the Nuggets. Shai also had a strong week and just continues his meteoric rise this season.

Against the Nuggets, I was really encouraged with Shai’s overall play. He started out the game tentative and settling for too many jumpers. However, Shai really turned it up in the 4th quarter scoring 14 of his 24 points and was aggressive attacking the rim. Shai is at his best weaving into the paint with his herky-jerky dribble and long strides.

The jump shot is still shaky at times, though he is getting much more comfortable using it as a weapon. Off the dribble Shai still struggles with getting enough separation, which is one of his main issues. His struggles creating space are evident as P.J. Dozier, a tall and lanky point guard is able to stay with Shai on the drive and force a tough shot.

The few times Shai is able to create separation, his release is slow and it gives defenders the opportunity to recover and contest. On this play he hits Niang with a mean step-back and creates a ton of space. Niang is able to recover though and heavily contest the shot though because of Shai’s slow release.

That being said it was encouraging to see Shai hit a step back mid range jump shot against the Lakers that looked very similar to the first clip. There still isn’t enough separation for my liking but with Shai’s length he can shoot over defenders at times, which he does here to the taller Kuzma.

Jamal Murray 

Jamal Murray has sat out all 4 seeding games for the Denver Nuggets with a hamstring injury. Murray also played in just one scrimmage game as the Nuggets have yet to field their best team thus far in the bubble . All reports of the injury say it’s a minor issue and Murray should be ready to go near the end of the seeding games and definitely into the playoffs. Murray is a notorious slow starter and he’s missing a good opportunity to get back into rhythm and game shape. For Nuggets fans, there has to be growing concern with the health and chemistry of their team as the playoffs loom (though the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. must be exciting).

As an aside, here’s a detailed breakdown of Murray’s development and his potential from Mike De La Rosa, a Thinking Basketball video coordinator.

Kelly Olynyk

Olynyk has been a huge lift for the Heat’s offense and has even started two games (the last time he was in the starting lineup was February 26th). In the bubble Olynyk has his 11 threes in just 4 games and is averaging 16.3 points per game on 45.1/39.2/93.3 shooting splits. He even became the first Heat since Dwayne Wade (and only Heat other than Wade) to score 20+ points in the 4th quarter after he erupted for 20 against the Nuggets.

Though Olynyk has been hot from three, he still mixes it up and keeps the defense on its toes. On this pick and pop sequence, Olynyk recognizes the mismatch with Vanvleet guarding him and immediately gives the ball up to post him up. Vanvleet and Ibaka switch at just the wrong time and Olynyk gets a nice turnaround floater to go down. It’s not a game-changing play but Olynyk is such a well rounded offensive player and it’s good to see him find his rhythm again.

 

Though it’s a small sample size Olynyk’s offensive surge has really helped the Heat stay afloat as they deal with injuries to Butler and Dragic.

Dillon Brooks 

The Jekyll and Hyde season continues for Dillon Brooks. Over the past four games, Brooks has really struggled. In four bubble games, Brooks is shooting 38% from the field on 16.5 FGA per game, 21% from three on an absurd 7 attempts a game and has committed a total of 21 fouls (5.25 per game) including a costly one against DeRozan to give the Spurs the win.

 

Aside from the 2nd quarter against the Jazz where he scored 13 straight points for Memphis (15 points overall in the quarter), Brooks’s cold shooting and his frustrating shot selection has hurt the Grizzlies. He was a big reason why Memphis found themselves in 8th this season, but the long layover has really hurt his shooting. With Memphis 0-4 and the toughest part of their schedule left, they may slip so far and not even get into the play-in tournament.

Brandon Clarke 

With the unfortunate injury to Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke has been thrust into the starting lineup, for a Grizzlies team desperately trying to hold on to the 8th seed in the west. Despite playing more minutes, Clarke’s efficiency is still off the charts. He’s averaging 11.3 points per game on 59.4/0/77.8 shooting splits so far in the bubble and playing in crunch time lineups for Taylor Jenkins.

Clarke had a terrific game against the Portland Trailblazers scoring 21 points and grabbing 7 rebounds to go along with 2 blocks and 1 steal. He was so active on the defensive end and the glass. Clarke was also apart of the closing lineup for the Grizzlies (in place of Jonas Valanciunas) and had this amazing basket in the clutch to tie the game.

The clip above showcases Clarke’s eye-popping vertical and soft touch around the rim, two parts of his game that have made him such an efficient player this season. Even if Memphis doesn’t get into the playoffs this year, Clarke’s rookie season can only be looked at as a smashing success.

Luguentz Dort 

Lu Dort has entered the conversation for best undrafted rookie this season and his strong play has continued into the bubble. He’s been tasked with defending stars like Donovan Mitchell and LeBron James this week and he’s done an incredible job.

Though defense is Dort’s calling card, his offensive game is going to determine how good of an NBA player he can become. He’s reached double figures in the past 2 games although it hasn’t been on the best efficiency. Teams are daring him to shoot the ball and for good reason. He’s shooting just 2-15 from three in the bubble so far. OKC has to find ways to involve Dort as a cutter in the offense because teams will be giving him the Andre Roberson treatment.

When it comes to finishing at the rim, Dort has trouble at times. He doesn’t have the softest touch and he is just too out of control on a lot of drives. On this play, he explodes after getting the deflection and honestly looks a bit like Westbrook in the open court.  Dort closes the gap against the defender in a hurry which is something you want to see. However, he’s just going too fast and blows the easy layup.

In the Lakers game though, Dort had a couple of nice finishes that were under control and really impressed me. The off-legged scoop shot looked reminiscent of a Shai’s soft touch and was a pleasant surprise to see.

Dort had another nice finish at the rim, this time over Caruso. Dort’s handle has gotten tighter since college and combined with his strength Dort is tough to keep out of the paint. If he can finish and drive under control like this consistently, Dort should have no problem carving out a long career in the league.

Cory Joseph

The veteran guard continues to be a key role player for the Sacramento Kings and even started a game in the bubble. Unlike in his earlier years, Joseph has taken more of a facilitating role this season, averaging just 4.5 shot attempts per game and 5.5 assists per game in Orlando. His shooting has also come around this season and he shot 6/12 from deep this week.

With the other guards on the team being so young and turnover-prone, Luke Walton has turned to Joseph to take care of the ball. Cory Joseph has made it to the NBA playoffs every year of his career (8 years) and with the Kings just 1-3 in Orlando, it’s looking unlikely Joseph can extend his playoff streak.

Khem Birch

Khem Birch is the ultimate role player. He won’t lead the team in scoring but he just contributes to winning basketball in so many ways. Whether it’s defensive rotations, protecting the rim, screen assists or lob finishes, Birch is one of those role players that finds ways to help the Magic win.

Though Birch makes an impact in the minutes he plays, he’s still rough around the edges. More often than not he just tries to truck through players and overwhelm defenders with his physicality. On this play, Birch’s offensive limitations are on full display as he just plows through Sampson. If he can learn to pick his spots with his power, Birch’s offensive game would be much more effective.

Nickeil-Alexander Walker

Got some garbage time minutes when the Pelicans got destroyed by the Clippers. Though he played spot minutes against the Grizzlies and Kings, he’s still not a part of the rotation this season.

Chris Boucher 

Chris Boucher has seen his minutes decline and his role in the rotation disappear as the Raptors have finally gotten healthy. I could still see Boucher play spot minutes in a playoff series, but aside from that he’s unlikely to be a major part of the Raptors’s title defense. As a restricted free agent this season, Boucher could be looking for a new team where he has a more established role.

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