The NBA returns with “regular season” games tonight for the first time in over 4 months. You are forgiven for checking out from the league during that time. But with sports options having been limited since COVID-19 hit the United States there’s a good chance many of you might be tuning in to the NBA for the first time this year. Especially the Playoffs or bust crowd.
I’m going to go through each of the Huskies who are still eligible to be playing and give a quick recap of their seasons and what to expect from them over the next several months. Players are listed in order of the likelihood their team advances deep into the playoffs.
Matisse Thybulle- 4.7 pts, 1.5 reb, 1.2 ast, 1.4 stl, 0.7 blk. 50% 2pt, 35.2% 3pt, 61% FT.
First of all, if you haven’t been checking out Matisse’s “Welcome to the Bubble” videos then stop what you’re doing right now and spend the next hour watching them. Thybulle has gotten national attention for his vlog posts despite not being able to play. Hopefully he excels at the same level on the court.
It’s been somewhat of an up and down season for Thybulle as it has been for the Sixers in general. He has started 13 games as a rookie for a team that started the season as a title contender which is impressive. Obviously the national defensive player of the year was expected to be much more NBA-ready on that side of the ball. That has certainly been the case. Thybulle picked up right where he left off at Washington and is 2nd in the NBA in steals per minute. However, he also at times gambles more than he should leading to inconsistent minutes.
The offense is about what was expected. He’s been close to a league average shooter from 3-pt range at 35.2% and that’s about the minimum Thybulle needs to hit to continue to make his defense worth it for his lack of offensive production. Although his free throw percentage at 61% is disappointing after making 78.2% of them during his time at Washington.
Over Philly’s last 12 games Thybulle played between 11 and 20 minutes coming off the bench and that’s probably about what we’ll see for the end of the regular season. It’s always tough for rookies to make an impact late into the playoffs so if Philly advances a round or two Thybulle’s playing time might shrink. Or maybe he shuts down an opposing wing and becomes essential. We’ll see.
Justin Holiday- 8.4 pts, 3.2 reb, 1.3 ast, 1.2 stl. 47.4% 2pt, 42.4% 3pt, 78.0% FT.
Holiday signed with Indiana this past offseason which has allowed him to play with his younger brother Aaron. He’s come off the bench mostly with just 2 starts but is playing almost 25 minutes per game. He’s not asked to do very much on the offensive end but has been extremely efficient with his shooting splits when he does get the ball. Meanwhile, he continues to be an excellent defender and will guard the other teams best guard/wing when on the court.
The Pacers are currently the #5 seed despite the loss of Victor Oladipo for much of the season which has been a bit of a surprise. Unfortunately for the Pacers their best player all season, Domantas Sabonis, suffered a foot injury while in the bubble and will miss significant time. They’ll be significant underdogs against whoever they face in the first round of the playoffs and probably are destined for a one and done season while hoping they can finally stay healthy next year.
Terrence Ross- 14.8 pts, 3.2 reb, 1.2 ast, 1.1 stl. 47.7% 2pt, 35.7% 3pt, 84.5% FT.
Ross started the majority of his games while with the Raptors but he’s been the 6th man scorer in a bottle for the Magic as they’ve become fringe competitive the past 2 seasons. It’s been an effective approach for him though as his points per 36 minutes are the highest of his entire career while playing about 25 minutes per game. It’s not crazy at all to think that Ross could get hot and make the Magic competitive in a playoff game but given they’re set up to go against the #1 seed Milwaukee Bucks the smart money is on the Magic getting swept.
Markelle Fultz- 12.1 pts, 3.3 reb, 5.2 ast, 1.3 stl. 52.0% 2pt, 25.4% 3pt, 72.3% FT.
Most people know about the Markelle Fultz saga in Philadelphia and the Magic decided to buy low and acquire him for next to nothing. Fultz has rewarded that trust by staying healthy and becoming their starting point guard. For much of the season he has looked like the prospect everyone remembers at Washington. Except he still hasn’t been able to regain his 3-point shot, making barely over 1 of every 4 attempts.
On a per 36 minutes basis Fultz is averaging 15 points, 6.6 assists, and 4 rebounds which would make him an above average point guard in the league. If he could somehow get up to even shooting 33% from deep it would raise his scoring average substantially and open up the rest of his game. We’ll see if he has been able to further work on his shot during the quarantine.
San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray- 10.7 pts, 5.8 reb, 4.1 ast, 1.7 stl. 49.4% 2pt, 37.8% 3pt, 79.8% FT.
Murray looked to be one of the bright young stars in the NBA after being named to the all-defensive team in his 2nd season. But he tore his ACL just before the start of the 2018-19 season and missed the whole year. The Spurs gambled that Murray would continue his upward trajectory despite the injury and gave him a contract extension before the season.
The Spurs as a whole have had their worst season since they tanked to get Tim Duncan several decades ago. At 27-36 they’re basically eliminated from playoff contention already so it will be a short stint in the bubble for them. Murray started nearly every game but essentially split time at the point guard spot with veteran Patty Mills. Dejounte still has his defensive chops though and was right behind Thybulle at 3rd in the NBA in steals per minute.
Murray also put in the work during his time out injured as his shooting percentages skyrocketed this year. His 3-pt and FT percentages each raised about 10 percentage points over his second season in the NBA and he took nearly 4x as many 3-pointers per game. That bodes well for his long-term outlook. It’s unlikely though that Murray has a breakout session in the bubble given the Spurs’ playing time patterns unless Mills for some reason misses a chunk of the games.
Huskies Not in the Bubble
Jaylen Nowell- Minnesota Wolves
Nowell hasn’t been able to make much of an impact in his rookie season after being selected in the 2nd round. He played only a combined 151 minutes all season and struggled to find his shooting touch, making just 11.5% of his 3-pt attempts. However, he did put up a nifty 19 to 3 assist to turnover mark.
The Wolves acquired DeAngelo Russell at the trade deadline to give them an extra combo guard who will slot into the starting lineup so it may be tough for Nowell to break through next year.
Marquese Chriss- Golden State Warriors
Chriss appeared on the verge of being bounced out of the NBA entirely before he latched on with a Warriors team that was one of the worst in the league due to their injured all-stars. He ended up starting about 1/3rd of their games and finished with 9.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game (all career highs). He may not be a starter next season but it’s likely the Warriors will keep him around when they should once again bounce back to being among the league’s best. It would be fun to see Chriss as a meaningful rotation player on a winning team.
Isaiah Thomas- Free Agent
Thomas signed a 1-year deal with the Washington Wizards in the offseason for close to the minimum to try to restore his value after a lost season in Denver returning from injury. The Wizards were essentially tanking the season and had the worst PG situation in the NBA so Thomas was able to step in and receive immediate playing time. He actually was shooting a career high from 3-pt range midway through the season but his free throw rate and ability to finish at the rim had completely tanked from his time as a star in Boston. The Wizards threw him into a trade to the Clippers but LA decided he wasn’t needed on their roster and waived him immediately after. It seemed reasonable to think a team in need of a veteran PG option in the bubble would pick Thomas up but alas, it didn’t happen. A mere 3 years from being named 2nd team all-NBA it looks like IT’s career sadly may be over.