NBA Continuity Rankings: Which teams hold the edge in the bubble?


In the NBA, where rosters can change dramatically from season to season, how much of an edge is it to have continuity heading into the league’s 2020 restart?

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, whose team checks in near the top of our list, has high hopes.

“Continuity [will] help with trying to create a home-court advantage,” Malone said earlier this month of playing at a neutral-site in Orlando, Florida. “We have guys that have been together for a while, know how to play with each other. You see, in the bubble, a lot of teams don’t have their players and they are bringing in different players.

“And it takes a while to get used to playing with people, it takes a while to learn an offensive and defensive system. We feel we have an advantage.”

Who else has the advantage inside the NBA’s Walt Disney World Resort campus? Could familiarity overcome pure star power inside the bubble? Let’s dive into the rankings:

Note: To measure roster continuity for the restart — each team’s “continuity rating” — ESPN NBA Insider Kevin Pelton looked at the percentage of minutes played across the past two seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20) by players who will be on active rosters at Disney’s ESPN World Wide of Sports Complex. In terms of 2019-20 minutes, those range from one team that has every player who saw action during the regular season, to an injury-hit team that lost players who combined for nearly half their minutes. The range is even broader in terms of remaining 2018-19 minutes, from a low of 14% to a high of 86% still active and available.

MORE: NBA Power Rankings, plus best and worst cases for 22 teams

1. Orlando Magic: 90.8% continuity rating

Longest-tenured player: Nikola Vucevic (8th season with team)
Head coach: Steve Clifford (2nd season with team; 7th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Al-Farouq Aminu

This ranking is good news for the “host” team inside the bubble. This Magic group knows one another well, and they understand the kind of style coach Steve Clifford wants to play. They figure to get a huge lift from young big man Jonathan Isaac, who returned to action Monday after being out since Jan. 1 because of a left knee injury. It’s going to be interesting to see how Clifford manages Isaac’s minutes as he works his way back into playing shape. The same goes for Markelle Fultz, who missed over a week of bubble training camp while being excused to tend to a personal matter. Isaac and Fultz are two of the cornerstones for a Magic group that believes it can surprise some people in the bubble. They aren’t going to have chemistry problems, but their bigger issue remains the same: Who will emerge down the stretch to carry them late in games? — Nick Friedell

Longest-tenured players: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton (7th season with team)
Head coach: Mike Budenholzer (2nd season with team; 7th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The Bucks’ on-court chemistry doesn’t feel forced. Guys know one another’s tendencies, are all business and truly want to win. Even in the Orlando bubble, players are golfing together while benefitting from the Disney expertise of Brook and Robin Lopez. And after initially testing positive for COVID-19, Bledsoe and Connaughton have joined the squad in Florida. According to ESPN’s BPI, the Bucks have a 53% chance to win the title, by far the highest percentage of any team. While Giannis is a driving force behind this as the odds-on favorite to win MVP, the Bucks’ defense might be the most important part of the team’s success. Bledsoe made the All-Defensive First Team in 2019, while Brook Lopez patrolled the paint with a team-high 2.4 blocks per game, which tied for second in the league. The time off shouldn’t affect the NBA-best Bucks in any way as long as players can stay healthy. — Eric Woodyard

Longest-tenured player: Gary Harris (6th season with team)
Head coach: Michael Malone (5th season with team; 7th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The Nuggets won’t have the Denver altitude, but head coach Michael Malone is hoping their continuity and last postseason’s experience of two seven-game series will make up for any loss in home-court advantage. While they were initially without almost half of their team due to late arrivals to the bubble, the Nuggets’ edge over many other teams is their familiarity, something that showed in their 13-3 start this season. Jokic and Murray are as prolific a pick-and-roll combo as there is, and the star duo has experienced two Game 7s with the core of Harris, Millsap, Barton, Morris, Craig and Plumlee surrounding them. Grant, the biggest new addition, fits in nicely. Bol created early bubble buzz, but it is Porter, who watched from the bench last year, who could make them more potent. — Ohm Youngmisuk

Longest-tenured player: Kyle Lowry (8th season with team)
Head coach: Nick Nurse (2nd season)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

It was obviously a big blow for the Raptors to lose Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green from last year’s championship-winning roster. But the fact that Toronto was still on pace for 59 wins before the season was suspended was proof that the remaining players were more than capable of holding their own against anyone. The Raptors had an added benefit of being the first team to go down to Florida, as border issues caused them to hold training camp at Florida Gulf Coast University instead of back in Toronto. They arrived at the Disney World campus believing they have a chance to defend their title — motivations that could help prove to be a difference in what clearly are unusual circumstances. — Tim Bontemps

Longest-tenured player: Patty Mills (9th season with team)
Head coach: Gregg Popovich (24th season)

Notables expected to miss restart: LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles

For nearly two decades, the Spurs were set with Popovich and the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The past two seasons, however, there have been two new faces of the franchises to replace that trio — DeRozan and Aldridge. But Aldridge won’t be with the team for the restart after having shoulder surgery in April, while forward Lyles will miss the restart after having an appendectomy. To get through in Orlando, the Spurs will have to rely on two things: their young guards (Walker, Murray, White and Forbes) continuing to grow and their experience. San Antonio is one of just four teams in Orlando with at least four players with 10 years of NBA experience (DeRozan, Mills, Belinelli and Gay). — Andrew Lopez

Longest-tenured player: Marcus Smart (6th season with team)
Head coach: Brad Stevens (7th season)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The Celtics were expected to take a step back when they lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency last summer. But they replaced Irving with Walker, who almost single-handedly helped turn around Boston’s previous chemistry issues, and Theis has been far better than anyone could have expected in replacing Horford. That, coupled with massive steps forward taken by Brown and Tatum, as well as a return to prior form by Hayward, has Boston feeling good about its chances heading into the bubble. One potential cause for concern, however, is Walker’s ongoing knee issues. For the Celtics to get where they want to go, they’ll need Walker to be at 100% when the playoffs arrive. — Bontemps

Longest-tenured player: Buddy Hield (4th season with team)
Head coach: Luke Walton (1st season with team, 4th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Marvin Bagley III

Sacramento might check in high on this list, but continuity might not mean as much if the players kept in the program aren’t available to play. That’s the situation the Kings found themselves in early in the NBA bubble. Four players — Hield, Barnes, Parker and Len — tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the start of training camp. A fifth player, Bagley, suffered a season-ending foot injury before scrimmages even began. A sixth player, Holmes, inadvertently violated the perimeter of the NBA campus and was forced to go back into quarantine for 10 days as a result. And a seventh player, Sacramento’s star, Fox, suffered a sprained ankle in practice that cost him a week of prep for the seeding games while he recovered. — Dave McMenamin

Longest-tenured players: Steven Adams and Andre Roberson (7th season with team)
Head coach: Billy Donovan (5th season)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The Thunder essentially were all new this season, transitioning from the Russell Westbrook era to a repositioning and eventual rebuild. With Chris Paul’s leadership and connectivity, they were one of the closest, most chemistry-driven teams in the league, even with a bunch of new faces. They play a balanced style, never tilting the scales heavily to one player to carry the burden. It’s a stark contrast to the old familiar Thunder, but it’s led them to become one of the most cohesive teams in the league. — Royce Young

9. Phoenix Suns: 67.7% continuity rating

Longest-tenured player: Devin Booker (5th season with team)
Head coach: Monty Williams (1st with team, 6th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The Suns are trying to cobble together a young core that can grow, develop and evolve together. The team did get a lift over the past week, as Rubio and Baynes — both of whom tested positive for the coronavirus — have arrived in Orlando. The Suns have some players who have been around for a minute, but Phoenix doesn’t really strike many as a stable group. Adding Rubio last summer to assume a generalship role did pay clear dividends early in the season and connected the roster far better. That’s what having a pure point guard on the roster can do for a young team.” — Young

Longest-tenured players: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso (3rd season with team)
Head coach: Frank Vogel (1st with team, 9th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Avery Bradley

In the course of the past two years, L.A.’s identity transformed from the Baby Lakers to the Big Two. There was a time when Lakers fans believed a young core including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Josh Hart would be the future of the team. Instead, they have James and Davis making the present seem pretty promising. The restart has come with challenges for the Lakers, of course — Avery Bradley opted out of Orlando, and Rajon Rondo broke his thumb on the second day of practice. But as long as James and Davis are healthy, they have a chance to make a run. — McMenamin

Longest-tenured player: James Harden (8th season with team)
Head coach: Mike D’Antoni (4th with team, 16th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Thabo Sefolosha

The Rockets have made two major trades since last season’s run ended in the conference semifinals, swapping Chris Paul and picks for Westbrook to give Harden his chosen costar and going all in on small ball by giving up center Clint Capela in the four-team deal that brought versatile forward Covington to Houston. Gordon, who received a big contract extension last summer, underwent midseason knee surgery and now has to deal with an ankle injury suffered during Houston’s final scrimmage. Sefolosha was a fringe rotation player at best, so his decision to opt out shouldn’t make much of an impact. — Tim MacMahon

12. Utah Jazz: 64.4% continuity rating

Longest-tenured player: Rudy Gobert (7th season with team)
Head coach: Quin Snyder (6th season)

Notables expected to miss restart: Bojan Bogdanovic

What a long, strange hiatus it was for the Jazz. They are optimistic that the chemistry concerns with franchise cornerstones Gobert and Mitchell can be managed, in part due to the competitive fire they have in common. The loss of Bogdanovic to season-ending wrist surgery will probably be a much bigger immediate problem, as efficient 20-points-per-game scorers tend to be tough to replace. Maybe Conley, who has struggled more than the Jazz anticipated to adapt after spending the previous 12 seasons in Memphis, can carry more of the scoring burden, as he did for years with the Grizzlies. — MacMahon

Longest-tenured player: Jrue Holiday (7th season with team)
Head coach: Alvin Gentry (5th season with team; 17th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The Pelicans of 2018-19 look nothing like this year’s version. Only two players in their top nine in minutes played from this season ranked in the top nine from a season ago: Holiday and Moore. The team added Zion Williamson, Hayes and Alexander-Walker in the draft and Ingram, Hart and Ball in the Anthony Davis trade. Add in Redick and Favors, and the team looks completely new. Not having Williamson until Jan. 22 helped the team build chemistry without him, and Williamson also missed July 16-24 in the bubble due to a family emergency. But the Pelicans are still ready now that he’s back in Orlando. “Zion being here and then not being here, having dealt with that during the season, maybe we’re just a little bit used to that right now,” Redick said on Monday. “Obviously we’re looking forward to getting the big fella back and keeping this thing rolling.” — Lopez

14. Indiana Pacers: 63.0% continuity rating

Longest-tenured player: Myles Turner (5th season with team)
Head coach: Nate McMillan (4th season with team; 16th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Jeremy Lamb

The question hanging over this team is what is going to happen with Oladipo. After initially saying he was not going to play in the restart, he has played in the scrimmage games and could participate once seeding games begin. Now, though, the Pacers are dealing with the potential loss of Domantas Sabonis, who left the bubble last week to get treatment on his left foot. The uncertainty around the Pacers now makes it seem as if they are destined to make a first-round exit for the fifth straight season. Either way, McMillan has done a masterful job of reshaping this squad into a mid-tier playoff team yet again after departures by Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young in free agency — not to mention Brogdon arriving as a free agent, Oladipo missing most of the season and Lamb being lost for the year with a torn ACL back in February. — Bontemps

Longest-tenured player: Joel Embiid (6th season with team)
Head coach: Brett Brown (7th season)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

Like seemingly every summer in the City of Brotherly Love, the 76ers overhauled their roster, this time with Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick being replaced by Richardson and Horford. While the team’s chemistry wasn’t really an issue off the court, the on-court fit between Horford and Joel Embiid has been weighing on the Sixers all season long. Now, it appears Horford is going to be coming off the bench during the restart, with Milton starting at point guard and Simmons moving to power forward. Philadelphia’s numbers when either Embiid or Horford are on the court alone are terrific, and they beat virtually every good team in the league at home (and lost to them all on the road). If Philadelphia can finally put it all together, this team could make the Finals run it was expected to before the season began. It also won’t be a surprise if they lose in the conference quarterfinals. — Bontemps

16. LA Clippers: 60.9% continuity rating

Longest-tenured players: Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams (3rd season with team)
Head coach: Doc Rivers (7th season with team; 21st overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

Up until winning seven of eight games before the season was halted, the Clippers were rarely whole and lacked cohesiveness due to injuries, little practice time and the February additions of Morris and Jackson. With both Leonard and George not participating in camp and dealing with injuries during the season, the group that helped last year’s team make the playoffs had trouble at times meshing with the new pieces. The Clippers are healthy now but again had to deal with disruptions: five of their top 10 players missed a chunk of practice and scrimmage time due to late bubble arrivals or emergency departures and the mandatory quarantines that come after. Leonard and George, though, were not among those players and have gained valuable scrimmage time playing together and with new addition Noah.-– Youngmisuk

Longest-tenured player: J.J. Barea (6th straight, 11th overall season with team)
Head coach: Rick Carlisle (12th season with team; 18th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Jalen Brunson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dwight Powell, Courtney Lee

The top priority all season has been developing chemistry between Doncic and Porzingis in the star duo’s first season playing together. After a slow start, they’ve clicked pretty well when injuries haven’t interrupted their progress. The Porzingis trade, made in the middle of the 2018-19 season, also netted Hardaway, who has proven this season to be a quality third option. Dallas’ depth has taken a hit because of injuries that will sideline Powell (Achilles), Brunson (shoulder) and Lee (calf) for the remainder of the season. –– MacMahon

18. Miami Heat: 59.7% continuity rating

Longest-tenured player: Udonis Haslem (17th season with team)
Head coach: Erik Spoelstra (12th season)

Notables expected to miss restart: None

The numbers say the Heat rank 17th, but that’s not the way they feel as far as continuity goes. They trust in their system and believe their culture gives them an advantage in the bubble. They are also confident that rookie Herro is fully healthy and ready to make some noise in the postseason. Veteran Leonard is also healthy and has playoff experience. It’s going to be interesting to see how new acquisitions Iguodala, Crowder and Hill, brought in just before the season stopped, continue to fit into Spoelstra’s schemes. All-Star Adebayo and young guard Nunn, both of whom were delayed in getting to the bubble after testing positive for COVID-19, are back and ready to make an impact. — Friedell

Longest-tenured player: Damian Lillard (8th season with team)
Head coach: Terry Stotts (8th season with team; 12th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Trevor Ariza, Rodney Hood, Caleb Swanigan

The team that made a surprise run to the Western Conference finals last season returned intact basically only at the top, with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Staple rotation players Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless moved on via free agency and trade, and the Blazers re-worked the rotation. But with injuries, they had to re-work a little more. Lillard and McCollum are backcourt stalwarts for Portland, but as players return from injury, like Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, and new roles are understood, like Carmelo Anthony sliding down to his old position, the Blazers are basically all new. — Young

Longest-tenured player: Dillon Brooks (3rd season with team)
Head coach: Taylor Jenkins (1st season)

Notables expected to miss restart: Justise Winslow

Rebuilding teams typically don’t have a lot of continuity, so it’s no surprise that a franchise that has a rookie starting at point guard (Morant) and another rookie thriving as a sixth man (Clarke) ranks relatively low in these ratings. The Grizzlies also made a major change before the trade deadline, packaging a pair of contributing vets (Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill) and absent Andre Iguodala for Winslow and a couple of unfavorable contracts. The Grizzlies’ highly anticipated lineup addition of Winslow will wait until next season because he suffered a hip injury in an instrasquad scrimmage. — MacMahon

21. Brooklyn Nets: 41.6% continuity rating

Longest-tenured players: Caris LeVert and Joe Harris (4th season with team)
Head coach: Jacque Vaughn (Interim)

Notables expected to miss restart: Michael Beasley, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Claxton, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant

The Nets’ roster is undergoing the kind of turnover normally reserved for summer league. Durant (Achilles), Irving (shoulder), Dinwiddie (COVID-19) and Jordan (COVID-19) are all out. Jamal Crawford and Tyler Johnson are in. Michael Beasley was supposed to be in, but now he’s out. Nobody knows how this team will handle all the roster turnover, but the host of absences gives LeVert and Harris a huge platform to shine. They should get all the shots they can handle as the Nets hope to hang on to a playoff spot. — Friedell

Longest-tenured player: John Wall (10th season with team)
Head coach: Scott Brooks (4th season with team; 11th overall)

Notables expected to miss restart: Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Wall

Injuries are always a concern when it comes to the Wizards. All season long, they’ve been playing without All-Star guard Wall. Things will be no different in Orlando. For starters, leading scorer Beal won’t play because of a right rotator cuff injury. Already 24-40 before the restart, competing without their best player in Beal, the NBA’s second-leading scorer, will be no easy task. Without Beal and Bertans, who is sitting out the restart, Washington doesn’t have a true offensive threat, so a lack of chemistry isn’t its only concern. Someone will have to step up and prove they can compete. — Woodyard

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