The NBA’s Orlando bubble experiment is in full swing. All 22 teams participating in the league’s restart are now staying at their hotels in Disney World and are proceeding with practices and workouts.
Not every player on those 22 teams made the trip to Orlando, however. Many players are recovering from injuries or have elected not to participate for their own personal reasons.
So which of those players’ teammates will be under the most pressure to step up? USAbetting discusses five players who are the most natural fits to have bigger roles when the season restarts on July 30.
F Keldon Johnson, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ frontcourt situation is in shambles right now. San Antonio started the season with some depth issues at the power forward and center slots, but now the team’s starters at those positions (LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles) are both out for health reasons. Aldridge is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and Lyles is dealing with appendicitis.
The team will turn to solid backup center Jakob Poeltl to play significant minutes, but he has never played more than 18.6 minutes per game in a season. Veteran forward Rudy Gay will also play quite a bit, but head coach Gregg Popovich has announced that developing players for the future will be the Spurs’ focus when they restart the campaign.
Johnson, a 20-year-old rookie, should expect to have his minutes increase significantly. He played mostly in the G-League this season, but he was starting to earn a consistent rotation role before the season was suspended.
Johnson stands just 6’5” but he’s very scrappy and has a solid 220-pound frame. He has played mostly at small forward this year, but I expect to see him play the power forward spot much more in Orlando.
F Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz
The weird circumstances surrounding the NBA’s restart open the door to more unexpected results. I expect some contenders to flounder unexpectedly and some dark-horse teams to surprise by playing better than people expect.
Are the Jazz a potential dark horse to win the Finals? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of their potential rides on Joe Ingles. Ingles was an effective full-time starter for the Jazz in 2017-18 and 2018-19 but he has been a spot starter this season with the additions of point guard Mike Conley and forward Bojan Bogdanovic. He is still a solid player who offers on-ball playmaking, capable three-point shooting and decent defense, but his impact has been slightly less than his previous years.
When the season restarts, Bogdanovic will not play with a wrist injury. He was Utah’s second-leading scorer (20.2) and clearly the team’s most effective three-point shooter.
Ingles’ minutes and usage both declined slightly this season, but his statistics were considerably better when he was a starter. He will need to score a lot more than the 9.9 points per game he averaged this year if Utah is going to advance far in the postseason.
G/F Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
The list of Nets players not participating in the NBA’s restart is long. Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and Nicolas Claxton will all be out for Brooklyn.
While nobody is expecting the Nets to be a strong team in the Orlando bubble, LeVert now has a decent amount at stake. Irving and Dinwiddie both averaged more than 20 points per game this season, and Prince and Jordan chipped in about 21 more points per contest between them. LeVert is the highest per-game scorer remaining, at 17.7 points per tilt.
LeVert has been an inconsistent player in his four seasons. He has generally improved throughout his career but he has also been very injury-prone and his offensive efficiency and defensive effort have wavered quite a bit.
The challenge for the former Michigan standout in the bubble will be to step up as a competitive on-court leader for Brooklyn in spite of the unfortunate circumstances with the team. In terms of skill set, he is the team’s top shot creator but he’ll need to show consistency with his three-point jump shot and his defense. Those are two key areas he will need to contribute in when the Nets’ healthy roster returns next season.
G Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been the best team in the Western Conference this year, but one relative weakness is the quality of their role playing guards next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Caruso and Quinn Cook is not a great guard rotation by any stretch of the imagination.
Bradley and Rondo are also both out for the league’s restart in Orlando, which puts more pressure on Caruso. The 6’5” guard is an above-average defender and a smart offensive player who doesn’t really stand out in one particular area.
Los Angeles will likely bump Caruso’s minutes up from 17.8 per game into the mid-20s. The team will ask him to help replace much of the shooting and defense of Bradley and the playmaking of Rondo. He is not quite as good at those skills as the guys he is replacing, but if he can somewhat capably replace those skills, the Lakers will be in good shape to retain their status as a prime championship contender.
F/C Moe Wagner, Washington Wizards
Like the Spurs and Nets, the Wizards are another team that has no expectations to dominate the competition in the Orlando bubble. Not only does Washington have the worst record among all Orlando teams, it will be without its top two scorers: Bradley Beal (30.5 points per game) and Davis Bertans (15.4 points per game). Beal and Bertans have combined for nearly half of the Wizards’ total made three-pointers this season, and those three-pointers were a big reason Washington was competitive in most of their games despite a terrible defense.
Who can replace the shooting of Beal and Bertans? Enter big man Moe Wagner, a 7-footer with a pure shooting stroke who mysteriously stopped shooting them after returning from his ankle injury in early February. He was 22-of-56 (39.3 percent) from behind the arc in his first 21 games, but he was just 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) in his final 17 games before the season’s suspension.
Wagner’s rebounding numbers also dropped off considerably when he returned from his injury. To prove that he is worth keeping around in Washington, he will need to get back to his early-season rebounding and shooting capabilities in the Wizards’ final eight games.