Offense is up. Shooting percentage is up. The reasons why are strange and varied. Foul calls were way up at the beginning of the bubble, probably on account of refs being able to hear slapping flesh and curse words on the court more clearly, but even after everyone has adjusted to that particular weird new reality, shooting remains remarkably high. Mike Prada over at 538 does some fairly convincing speculation about why.
I am loath to say any one thing is more or less convincing as a reason for BubbleNanza 2020. I am simply not a basketball scientist in that matter. But one thing that has fascinated me about this offensive explosion is the major difference in the economy of the court everyone is playing on. What happens when you give the whole space over to basketball? What if an empty arena is dramatically easier to perform in?
Here is Tim Hardaway Jr. getting fouled by Kawhi Leonard during Wednesday’s Mavs/Clippers game. This was the play that got me thinking about this. He catches the ball and takes two dribbles at the rim, extends his arm for a dunk from, let’s say, a little further away than you would probably expect from Tim Hardaway Jr., and gets hit by Leonard in the air. Hardaway proceeds to spread his legs out to land, falls, tucks himself into a psychic barrel, rolls through the end of the court, and uses his momentum to stand up, all in one weird motion.
This play almost certainly would not have happened in a normal arena on a normal night in a normal game. Instead of an expanse of nothingness, Hardaway would be rolling into a bunch of photojournalists chilling on the baseline. Bodies everywhere, splayed out, madness and blood, Mark Jones yelling “The Horror” in his Mark Jones-ass voice, tears and broken lenses and death everywhere, et cetera.
What else is happening at the edges of the court in a world where photographers are sitting at home, instead of on the baseline? Are there weird new angles and approaches available to an enterprising driver? In Prada’s article, and in, well, the realm of common sense, there is some speculation about the role that the lack of a crowd plays in the maintenance of a clean line of sight for shooters. No little dogs obscuring the picture behind the glass, no weirdos wiggling their asses to keep you from making a free throw, no… people to provide a distraction from the act of lining up your shot and just fuckin’ TAKING it.
What if the people make the product worse, the players worse? The cameras and the hullabaloo and whatnot? What if this is how sports are SUPPOSED to be played? Is the roar of the crowd necessary? Isn’t this antiseptic environment, the world held at arm’s length, a better judge of greatness than the chaos of an arena and a world swamping players 24/7? There’s so much talk from certain corners of sports media about the power of the crowd. Is this proof that it’s all a bunch of nonsense? Did Boston Garden’s cheers for Larry Bird just distract him from TRUE greatness? Are players talking about the power of the crowd into a mic after a game just playing a role, paying tribute to the hogs who keep the operation greased?
Andas long as I’m pontificating? That RailCam on the sideline that would normally be holding half drunk billionaires looking to take potshots at Kyle Lowry? That’s a pretty dope angle! Dynamic! The game in motion! Has the camera hunted Luka Doncic for sport? Sure! Nothing’s perfect! But in a world where teams don’t have to submit to the whims of the mega-wealthy, you are getting a BETTER LOOK at the game you love!
There’s been a lot of talk about the shifting function of work during the pandemic. More people working from home, more businesses realizing, through the gift of necessity, that telecommuting actually works pretty well. How do we know this isn’t that moment for professional sports? What if bubble ball is the future?
(S/o to Dave DuFour for harvesting this clip on my behalf. Buy a shirt with his face on it.)