How the Spanish ACB restart will work, plus top prospects to watch


The Spanish ACB, which has a strong claim as the second-best basketball league in the world behind the NBA, is resuming play Wednesday with a 12-team, 13-day tournament in Valencia called the Fase Final (Final Phase) to crown its league champion.

Spain has been one of the hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic. The ACB has been on hiatus since March 8, though teams have been practicing since early May in anticipation of resuming competition.

NBA league officials, teams and players will be watching how things unfold in Valencia to get a feel for how their own season resumption in Orlando could look. There are some clear parallels between the NBA and ACB combined with a few key differences highlighting the challenges ahead. Here's what you need to know about the logistics and format in Spain, as well as the main players and draft prospects to watch.


The 12 teams with the best records in the ACB were split into two groups. Each group of six teams will play five games in a span of nine days to determine four semifinalists. The semifinals will be played on June 28, followed by the final on June 30. Teams will play no more than seven games over the course of 13 days. A full schedule and streaming options can be found here and here.

All teams were asked to arrive in Valencia six days prior to their first game, giving time to isolate inside a bubble and conduct COVID-19 testing. Due to safety concerns, no exhibition games were scheduled.

Health and logistics protocols

Seven teams bused to Valencia, while the remaining four chartered flights for travel groups of 30 people each, including 16 players. The host team, Valencia, is local.

Teams received polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which collect cells from the nose or back of the throat, upon arrival and then again three days later. Those involved will continue to be tested every three to five days, according to a league official.

The 12 teams were divided into three hotels within close proximity of one another, while a fourth hotel will be used for league staff and referees. Teams were each assigned their own hotel floor and encouraged not to engage with anyone until testing negative for COVID-19 twice. One hotel floor will be left empty and utilized for isolating players who tested positive, displayed symptoms or came in close contact with someone known to have the virus. Unlike in the German BBL, no contact tracing will be conducted by movement trackers.

Some more protocol details:

  • Unless authorized, people inside the bubble are not allowed to leave the hotel, arena or practice facility at any point during their three-week stay in Valencia.

  • No contact with visitors or family is allowed, and food delivery or takeout is prohibited.

  • According to a manual distributed to teams and reviewed by ESPN, players and staff are excluded from the "hiring of external services."

  • On occasion, teams will be able to dine at a restaurant outside of the bubble that has been selected by the league, which has been set up to follow enhanced COVID-19 protocols, according to the manual.

  • Players will be asked not to shower at the practice facility or arena, only at their team hotel.

  • Temperature tests will be taken upon exit from the team hotel for practices or games.

  • Face masks are required whenever moving around in the team hotel, bus and arena, including in locker rooms during practice and games. KN95 and FFP2 masks were provided to players and are required to be in their possession at all times, including at the team hotel, in case they encounter staff who are not part of the league bubble.

  • Outdoor areas have been set up at hotels and assigned to teams on a rotating schedule. They will also have access to the Valencia Oceanographic Park, the biggest aquarium in Europe, which is currently closed to the public.

  • For the purpose of avoiding having to go to a local hospital or pharmacy for injuries or treatment, the league built a medical center where players can conduct MRIs, receive physiotherapy and undergo recovery. The league says that this facility matches an Olympic standard.

  • There are 23 credentialed journalists for the event, one person per main national and local media outlet. Since they are not officially part of the league bubble, they will have no access to players, and news conferences will be held remotely.

  • Team benches have been expanded to cover the entire sideline from the scorer's table to the baseline to enhance social distancing.

For comparison, the NBA's health and safety handbook is covered here.

At least one ACB player has spoken out publicly about the lack of preparation times teams have before jumping into competition. Barcelona's Adam Hanga said in an interview with the team website that players are more afraid of injury than contracting the virus, citing the physical demands for older players with previous injuries after so much time off.

Hanga also expressed a level of disappointment with the league waiting to ask players for feedback until after it had already announced the tournament, as well as having the regular-season standings discounted in this new format.

Who will play?

While no NBA scouts are permitted to attend the games in person, per league officials, the tournament will feature at least five players projected to be drafted in either 2020 or 2021. There are more prospects participating who are candidates for future drafts as well.

Usman Garuba, a rotation player with Real Madrid, is the most promising NBA prospect involved. Not NBA draft eligible until 2021, Garuba is a projected top-10 pick who has more than held his own this season, despite only having turned 18 in March.

Projected 2020 first-round pick Leandro Bolmaro has spent much of the season in the Spanish third division with Barcelona II, but he received a call back to the senior team to replace import guard Malcolm Delaney, who elected not to return from the U.S. The 6-7 Argentinean will be monitored closely by NBA teams if he's able to carve out minutes in Barcelona's deep rotation, something that may prove challenging with the return from injury of guards Kevin Pangos and Thomas Heurtel.

Several other players currently on ACB Final Phase rosters are hoping to hear their names called in the first round of the 2021 NBA draft, including Spanish guard Carlos Alocen (Zaragoza), Senegalese big man Khalifa Diop (Gran Canaria) and Croatian wing Mario Nakic (Real Madrid). Alocen is the starting point guard of third-place Zaragoza and will play a featured role in Valencia. He had a strong case to be drafted in 2020 but elected not to enter his name due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Juan Nunez, a 16-year-old point guard and a potential first-round pick down the line, was a surprise addition to Real Madrid's roster after playing the entire season with the club's youth teams. If he plays, he will become the youngest player in Real Madrid history to make his professional debut, edging out Luka Doncic. Nunez won MVP of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Munich despite playing up a year on the competition.

The tournament also will feature many of the best players in the world outside the NBA who have already been through the draft and are now free agents. Some of them, including Nikola Mirotic and Alex Abrines, left the NBA voluntarily.

NBA teams looking to bolster their rosters on the free-agent market for 2020-21 likely will be watching players such as Facundo Campazzo, Walter Tavares, Jordan Mickey, Anthony Randolph, Jordan Loyd, Brandon Davies, Cory Higgins, Luca Vildoza, Axel Bouteille, Shavon Shields and Gabriel Deck.

Many of these players would have potentially been candidates for NBA teams to add for the remainder of this season in Orlando had they been allowed to join, as they represent some of the best talent not on NBA rosters. However, the NBA elected to bar teams from signing such players.