By: Izayah Thorb
After the NBA was forced to go on a lengthy hiatus due to a global pandemic, the league returned July 31st with the NBA Bubble.
League commissioner Adam Silver worked closely with the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) to devise a plan to return basketball operations to an environment conducive to the safety of its players.
Fast forward to today August 16, 2020, the NBA has not only resumed, but this innovative bubble format has flourished.
From high profile players getting plenty of rest, to virtual fans, this was a huge success for the NBA. What’s most important, however, not a single positive case of COVID-19 in the bubble.
NBA Bubble MVP
The NBA bubble was home to a number of breakout stars, some not coming as a surprise, others just leaving you craving more.
First and foremost, NBA Bubble MVP Damian Lillard has formally unlocked an entire new level of his game.
Truth be told, if last year’s game-winner over Paul George was any indication of what was to come, no one should even be remotely surprised at what Lillard has done in this bubble. The Blazers finished with a record of 6-2 with Lillard at the helm.
Lillard finished the bubble with an average of 37.6 points, 9.6 assists while shooting 43.6% from beyond the arc.
What’s most impressive, is that Lillard seemingly flipped his switch after the Blazers suffered a loss to the Clippers where Lillard missed clutch free throws. Following the game, a twitter ‘beef’ with Paul George and Patrick Beverly ensued.
The next 4 games Lillard went ballistic, recording his 5th 50 point game this season (51 points against the 76ers), his 3rd 60 point game of this career (61 points), followed by a 42 point game and a 31 point-10 assist game. All of these games resulted in wins.
Most Surprising Team
For most people, if you would have told them before the NBA resumed to action, that the Phoenix Suns would be the only team to go undefeated while trotting out a roster not at full strength, most people would laugh in your face.
Yet, that is precisely what happened. The Suns entered the bubble lead by Devin Booker and head coach Monty Williams and shocked the league going 8-0.
In this sample size, Devin Booker, who averaged 30.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 6 assists, showed that he can not only put up huge numbers on a nightly basis, but also lead his team to victory while doing it.
While the Suns missed the playoffs, if this sample was any indication of the future, it appears to be bright for the young All-Star and the rest of the Suns organization.
Most Disappointing Team
One question, three words. Where was Zion? One could make the argument that the NBA bubble was setup perfectly for the Pelicans to make a competitive run to qualify for the 8th seed. Yet, they finished with a 2-6 record.
Zion Williamson only appeared in 5 of the 8 Pelicans’ games and was on a minute’s restriction for said games. After 4 months away from basketball, the Pelicans refrained from unleashing the young phenom.
Still, with Most Improved Player candidate in Brandon Ingram, 3rd year point guard Lonzo Ball, veteran guard in Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans falling this short is head scratching to say the least.
Due to this lackluster record in the bubble, the Pelicans fired head coach Alvin Gentry after his 5th season with the team.
All Seeding Teams
- Damian Lillard
- Devin Booker
- Luka Doncic
- James Harden
- TJ Warren
- Giannis Antetekounmpo
- Kawhi Leonard
- Kristaps Porzingis
- Caris Levert
- Michael Porter Jr.
Several surprise names on these teams, notably TJ Warren on the first team and Michael Porter Jr. on the second team.
The Suns garnered a surge of attention, not only going undefeated in the bubble, but for trading TJ Warren to the Pacers for a 2nd round pick and cash considerations.
Entering the bubble, Warren was wildly regarded as a role player. However, at only age 26, Warren rose to another level, averaging 31 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2 assists and 52.4% from three-point range while turning in a 51-point game against the 76ers.
Albeit a small sample size, those are MVP numbers, not cash consideration numbers.
On the other hand, Michael Porter Jr. who finally saw his first NBA action this season averaged 22 points, 8.6 rebounds while shooting 42.2% from behind the arc.
Porter Jr. accumulated these stats while sharing the floor with All-Star Center Nikola Jokic and starting guard Jamal Murray and led all rookies in scoring in the bubble.
Next stop, the NBA playoffs.