How Has The NBA Bubble Affected The Stats?

Photo: Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA Bubble has worked, and inarguably has exceeded expectations. Apart from not having to deal with any nasty coronavirus outbreaks, like those seen in MLB, the league’s games have been unbelievably awesome. Up and down the court, the level of action seen (we’ll leave the LA Lakers out of this for the moment) has been great, and offenses have been consistently turning up the heat. Some of the games may have left sports gambling fans a little miffed, but that’s what makes playing the odds more exciting – if it were easy, everyone would do it. The NBA has put on a great show in the bubble and the postseason, and fans are getting a thrill.  

Before the NBA Bubble action started, players and fans didn’t know what to expect. The general consensus was that the games would be, in a word, weird. If weird means full of deep, unexpected runs and incredible scoring opportunities, then the prediction was correct. During the seeding games, the 22 teams that made it to Orlando for the modified season put up an average of 113.17 points per 100 possessions. Prior to the suspension of basketball in March, that average was 111.95, so it’s definitely something to take into account when looking at the NBA odds, and in particular the under/over market.

Half-court possession offensive efficiency increased from 95 to 98.7, as well. One analyst, Reggie Miller of TNT, said as the NBA reboot was starting, “Most of these players don’t have their legs yet. Remember, four-and-a-half-month layoff!  And now you’re shocking, you’re jolting the body.” Players have found their legs, and found them quickly.  

The truth is that basketball players, and all athletes, aren’t on the court just for the sake of the fans – they’re there for the love of the game. Since the NBA Bubble was setting the stage for the postseason and the NBA Finals, there was a lot riding on the players’’performance, and no one has been disappointed with what’s been seen.  

Some Not So Impressive Stats

While offenses are playing better, there’s also one stat that has improved that isn’t impressing fans. Since the reboot, fouls committed (or fouls called, depending on how you want to look at it) have increased from what was recorded prior to the March shutdown. More whistles have been blown for shooting and freedom of movement fouls than before, and illegal screens are getting called more often, as well.  

This could be due to the fact that refs can concentrate more on the game (although some would argue that certain calls – like the second T on Mav’s star Kristaps Porzingis earlier this week – are bogus), or perhaps they’re simply being more cautious because of COVID-19. Regardless of the reason, there are more fouls, which means more free throws. The average free-throw rate is at 22.8 made during the seeding games, compared to 20 before the season suspension.  

There are a lot of changes that have been applied to keep NBA basketball alive, and analyzing the stats might very well lead to permanent changes in the league. Perhaps, at some point, the blacking out the backboard will become a common rule, and benches will be pushed further away from the sidelines. In the meantime, though, fans can continue to enjoy some awesome basketball in the playoffs as they try to figure out who might actually be able to take the championship. The smart money is no longer on the Lakers.