By now, the NBA’s official bubble awards have been announced, with Damian Lillard named the league’s Player of the Seeding Games after putting the Portland Trail Blazers on his back and carrying them into the playoffs.
But which players deserve notice for making the most of their opportunity in Orlando? Headlined by T.J. Warren of the Indiana Pacers, we’ve compiled a list of guys who took advantage of the unique circumstances and stepped up their games to become stars – well, at least during an eight-game stretch in the bubble.
Here’s what we’re calling the All-Opportunity teams after a thrilling two-week stretch that included a 61-point performance, two 50-point efforts, three 20-rebound games and a 36-19-14 triple-double. It was an experience we’ll likely never witness again during the regular season:
ALL-OPPORTUNITY FIRST TEAM
T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers
Warren hasn’t earned an award of any kind over his six seasons in the league. That’s not to say he’s a nobody – he was averaging a solid 18.7 points on 52.9% shooting before the season was suspended in March. But with teammate Domantas Sabonis sidelined, Warren played like a star at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex. He averaged 31.0 points on 57.8% shooting and he hit 22 of 42 (52.4%) from 3-point range before going down with plantar fasciitis. He set the tone with career highs of 53 points and nine 3s in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the opener.
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Fox has shown improvement each season since being taken fifth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft and he was averaging 20.4 points and 6.8 assists before play was halted in March. But the speedy point guard seemed to take his game to another level in the bubble and he became both a premier scorer and playmaker for the Kings. He opened with a 39-point effort against the San Antonio Spurs and ended up averaging 26.2 points on 50.4% percent shooting and 7.3 assists in six games before left shoulder soreness kept him out of the last two games. He could be on his way to becoming one of the league’s most exciting floor generals next season.
Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
With teammates Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince and Nic Claxton all sidelined due to injury or positive COVID-19 tests, LeVert not only picked up where he left off, he elevated his game in the bubble. After averaging 24.1 points and shooting 43 for 104 (41.3%) from 3-point range over his last 16 games before the coronavirus halted play on March 11, the fourth-year guard became Brooklyn’s go-to player in Orlando, averaging team highs in points (25.0) and assists (6.7) and finishing third on the Nets in rebounds (4.8).
Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
Brooks, who put up 15.7 points per game on 40.2% shooting before play was stopped, took his game to another level when teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. sustained a torn meniscus on Aug. 3. He averaged 23.0 points on 47.9% shooting and hit 10 of 30 from 3-point range over the last five games without Jackson. He was also solid in the Grizzlies’ play-in game loss to the Blazers, finishing with 20 points and making four of his five 3-point attempts.
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have taken a patient approach with Porter after he missed his entire rookie season with back issues. That patience now appears to be paying off. Porter was named to the NBA All-Seeding Games Second Team and probably would have won rookie of the bubble as well if the league went that route. After averaging 7.5 points on 49.5% shooting and 4.1 rebounds in 48 games before the hiatus, Porter looked healthy and confident while putting up 22.0 points on 55.1% shooting and pulling down 8.6 boards over his seven in the bubble.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Herro showed promise while scoring 12.9 per game on 41.4% shooting before play was suspended in March. He’s fulfilling that promise in Orlando, averaging 17.3 points on 50.5% shooting with 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists in eight games.
Gary Trent Jr., Portland Trail Blazers
Trent really took a major step forward after averaging 7.7 points and making 38.8% shooting from 3-point range over his first 53 games. The third-year guard put up 16.9 points, hit 34 of 67 (50.7%) from 3 and played a key role in Portland’s run to the postseason.
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
With LaMarcus Aldridge unavailable following shoulder surgery, White helped carry the Spurs’ load offensively. He averaged just 10.4 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in his first 61 games, but emerged with 18.9 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards over his seven bubble contests.
Thomas Bryant, Washington Wizards
Bryant became more of a focus for the Wizards after Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans announced their intentions to sit out the restart. He made the most of it, averaging 18.6 points while hitting 15 of 37 (40.5%) 3-point attempts and 8.9 rebounds after posting 12.1 points and 6.8 boards earlier in the season.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
Nurkic has been one of the best stories of the bubble. He’s taken advantage of his opportunity in Orlando, but not quite like the others on these teams. The 7-foot center has instead proven he’s all the way back from the gruesome leg injury he suffered in March 2019. He’s averaged 18.1 points and 11.4 rebounds over his nine games, including a 22-point, 21-board effort in the Blazers’ play-in game win over the Grizzlies.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to The Analyst to receive five stories each Friday from Stats Perform. It’s free.