Cover photo from fivethirtyeight.com
Basketball is Back
The NBA has secured its location, set the ground rules, and brought the teams on site. The Orlando NBA Bubble is in full swing. The only thing left to do is play ball. And maintain safety of course.
22 teams are set to take the bubble in some capacity of health or another. Some teams, like the Brooklyn Nets for example, have seen many of their players go down with injury and even more opt out of the NBA restart for a variety of reasons. Other teams are, for the most part, healthy and anxiously awaiting the July 30th restart.
With more and more players announcing their intention to miss the remainder of the season, some fans are asking the pressing question: who is left? We took a deeper look, and below is our projected Top 50 NBA Bubble Players.
These rankings are not entirely determined on head-to-head talent and skill levels, but rather time-specific questions like: Who will perform best in the bubble? Which teams will compete long enough for it to matter? What impact will missing players have on the remaining rosters?
NBA Bubble: Honorable Mentions
Oladipo would have easily cracked the Top 50 if we knew for sure that he was playing. As it stands, the only official announcement on the topic indicates that Oladipo will not play. The circulating rumors that Oladipo might suit up prompted us to include him on the list, but not high enough to take away from one of the other 50 set to play.
NBA Bubble: 50 – 46
50. Danilo Gallinari
The Thunder have been one of the bigger surprises this season in no small part thanks to Gallinari. His game has translated well into the back half of his career. He is a career 38% three point shooter, and two of his highest season averages have come in the last two seasons at 43% and 41% respectively. Gallo is a vital piece for OKC and a great fit alongside the guard trio of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Expect his leadership and sharpshooting to earn him some recognition in Orlando.
49. Robert Covington
Covington is part of one of the more interesting stories in the NBA this year: the undersized Rockets. After trading away Clint Capela, Covington essential became the Rocket’s big man standing at 6’7, alongside 6’5 PJ Tucker. The unique lineup proved to be successful on some occasions, but it was exploited on others. Covington averaged 12.8 points on 56% 3PT shooting during his 14 games in Houston. His role in Orlando will be no different as he looks to be the “perfect role player” alongside his superstar teammates.
48. Caris LeVert
The lone player from Brooklyn on this list, LeVert finds himself as one of his team’s only regular rotation pieces making the trip to Orlando. His stock is continually rising as a young scoring wing. While he may not hold as large of a role as he wants to once Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant return, LeVert should shine in Brooklyn’s remaining games this season as their number one scoring option.
Porzingis is a regular amongst the league leaders in blocked shots. This season has been no different as he returned from injury for the first time in over a year to play alongside European sensation, Luka Doncic. KP has average 2.1 blocks per game so far this year while adding just under 20 points per contest. The Unicorn is the perfect running mate for a playmaker like Doncic, and I expect the young duo to show out on the big stage sooner rather than later.
46. CJ McCollum
Top 50 is an impressive feat, but McCollum’s similar playstyle to All-Star teammate Damian Lillard continues to limit his numbers, potential, and ranking. I also don’t expect the Blazers to be in the bubble for very long once the postseason starts since they are likely to match up with one of the LA teams. Nevertheless, he earns his place on this list due to his 22.5 points per game on 38% shooting from distance. His assist totals continue to improve as he becomes more of a combo guard. With Whiteside and potentially Jusuf Nurkic available in the paint, expect even more scoring and assisting opportunities for McCollum in Orlando.
NBA Bubble 45 – 41
The big man from Memphis is one of the most underrated players in the NBA today. He averaged a career high 11.2 rebounds per game this season will contributing just under 15 points. Playing alongside a playmaker like Morant and a complimentary big like Jackson Jr, Valanciunas is in a prime position to excel. The young Grizzlies are firmly in the playoff race. Don’t be surprised if they make their presence felt this year, and for many years to come.
44. Tobias Harris
Harris is on pace to set a new career high in assists per game this season with 3.2 along with adding 19.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Harris is a major piece for the loaded 76ers, but his team is just that: loaded. With two other teammates still yet to be discussed and one more in the honorable mention section, only so much can be done by Harris himself. With rumors of Ben Simmons moving to power forward, Harris’s primary position, we can only wonder how much production Tobias might leave on the table in the bubble.
43. De’Aaron Fox
Fox had a breakout season in 2019, and continued to improve through 2020. Averaging 20.4 points and 6.8 assists per game puts him in elite company among point guards, not to mention his nearly 1.5 steals per game. The Kings’ dysfunction as a team limits his bubble ranking, but make no mistakes: Fox is a fantastic player and will soon be much higher on lists like these.
42. Deandre Ayton
The former No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was hit with a 25 game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy this season. However, he still managed to put up 19 points and 12 rebounds per game in his 30 games on the court this season. Young running mate, Devin Booker, is a great compliment for the rising big man, especially if he can carve out a role as point guard to give Ayton more opportunities. I don’t predict the Suns will last long in the NBA bubble, but I also don’t believe Ayton will be the reason they go home.
41. Dwight Howard
Now we move from a second year big man to a season veteran. Howard has found a resurgence in his second stint with the Lakers. Playing alongside an elite playmaker like LeBron James has allowed Howard to fill his role perfectly on the super-sized Lakers squad. Off the bench, Howard is only averaging 7.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but it is exactly what the Lakers have needed. Howard’s interior presence makes him a vital piece of the Lakers’ championship run.
NBA Bubble: 40 – 36
Another young big man lands on the list. Pairing with rookie sensation Ja Morant may be the best thing to happen to Jackson’s young career. He’s nearly a 40% 3P shooter, among the league leaders in blocks per game at 1.6, and a steadily improving scorer. OH! And he’s only 20 years old. The Grizzlies are loading up to be a perineal playoff threat for years to come. For now, Jackson is simply expected to be one of the better performs during his team’s time in the bubble.
39. Gordon Hayward
Hayward is back to being an elite play maker after suffering a devastating leg injury two seasons ago. He is averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, an incredibly well-rounded stat line for arguably the fourth option on his team. If these Celtics are ever going to make a championship push, it’ll have to be soon. Their pieces are nearly all in place, and Hayward is essential to their plan. He’s also not getting any younger.
38. Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside put up one of the best seasons of all NBA centers this season in relatively quiet fashion. He’s currently leading the league in blocks per game with 3.1, while also contributing 16.3 points and a career high 14.2 rebounds per game. The Blazers were in the midst of a playoff push when the season ended, in no small part thanks to Whiteside’s play.
37. Jaylen Brown
A key piece to the Celtics rebuild, Brown has developed into a fringe All Star. He’s averaging 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 steals this season while playing alongside other big names like Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. I expect the Celtics to make their presence felt in the NBA restart, and Brown will be a major factor in their success.
36. Lou Williams
Lou Will is putting up quite the fight in year 15 with the Clippers. The only three-time 6th Man of the Year winner has redefined the term “roll player.” Along with teammate Montrezl Harrell, Williams has led the league’s most productive bench in terrorizing second units all season. The Clippers are expected to hang around through at least the Conference Finals, so get ready for a lot of Lou buckets in Orlando.
NBA Bubble: 35 – 31
35. Eric Bledsoe
It was announced earlier this month that Bledsoe tested positive for COVID-19. While this has hindered his ability to travel and practice with the team, there have been no indications that the point guard’s season is over. If Bledsoe is able to return and participate, he will be the floor general for arguably the top contender in the east. Playing alongside a pair of All Stars in Milwaukee has rejuvenated Bledsoe’s career, as is evident by his 15.4 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game this season. Keep an eye on Bledsoe’s efficiency if the Bucks plan to hang around Orlando until the Finals.
34. Fred VanVleet
A key piece to the reigning champion’s formula, VanVleet is an underdog story for the ages. He has shown his poise and ability to perform under pressure in last year’s finals. I expect the Raptors to be a surprise team this postseason after losing the reigning Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. Whether VanVleet is playing the role of 6th man, spot up shooter, or facilitator, he’s more than capable of competing with the best of the best.
33. Jamal Murray
The Nuggets have been labeled a “regular season” team, meaning they find most of their success before the postseason starts. Nikola Jokic is widely regarded as a top 10 player in the league, so it’s time for someone to step up and help him. Enter Murray. The young point guard has proven his place among the upper half of point guards in the league, but he has yet to take the next step into All Star territory. Orlando might be just the opportunity Murray needs to further prove himself.
32. Montrezl Harrell
Less than a year removed from teammate Lou Williams winning 6MOY, Harrell has done well to make his own case for the award this season. He’s averaging career highs in points (18.6) and rebounds (7.1) per game while continuing his reign of terror off the bench. He’s also shooting a career high 66% from the FT line. Harrell is the perfect hustle guy to play alongside the Clippers’ All Star duo and bench-unit running mate, Lou Will.
31. Domantas Sabonis
The first time All Star is averaging 18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game this season. With Victor Oladipo missing much of the regular season, and potentially missing the NBA restart, Sabonis has had a much bigger weight to carry this season. And he has delivered. The Orlando bubble and postseason will be a fantastic opportunity for Sabonis to continue showcasing his elite talent.
NBA Bubble: 30 – 26
30. DeMar DeRozan
The Spurs are in jeopardy of losing their incredible streak of 22 consecutive postseason appearances. With LaMarcus Aldridge no longer available, DeRozan will have a large portion of the pressure on his shoulders. Of course, any Popovich led team will be just that, a team. I expect DeRozan to be the leader for this Spurs squad as they make one last push for the playoffs in Orlando.
SGA became an instant fan favorite during his rookie season with the Clippers as they took two games from the reigning champ, Golden State Warriors. Now, in his first season with the Thunder, he’s nearly doubled his scoring average and almost tripled his rebounds per game. Under the leadership of Chris Paul, another former Clipper, SGA has a bright future ahead. That future starts with a Dark Horse playoff push in Orlando.
28. Rudy Gobert
After being blamed for the NBA hiatus due to being the first reported case of COVID in the league, Gobert is set to take the court again in the bubble. His relationship with All Star teammate Donovan Mitchell is rumored to be rocky at best. How will the two mesh on the court? Only time will tell. Regardless, Gobert is a player that does not need the ball in his hands or plays drawn up for him to be effective. He will impact games with his presence in the paint regardless of chemistry issues.
27. Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday is in contention for the most underrated player in the NBA today. His production and leadership speak for themselves. Now it’s time to see if he can lead these young Pelicans to post season success. My prediction is that their imminent success will come in the near future rather than this season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start winning habits now. Holiday will look to continue his stellar season in Orlando after averaging 19.6 points, 6.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game during the team’s 55 regular season games.
26. Brandon Ingram
Another first time All Star looks to leave his mark where it matters most: in the postseason. A year removed from being dealt to New Orleans for star forward Anthony Davis, Ingram has proven himself capable of being the number one scoring option on a playoff caliber team. He averaged a career high in points (24.3), rebounds (6.3), and assists (4.3) this season. Will his success carry through the bubble and into the postseason? We think it will. Besides, who wouldn’t want to watch a Lakers vs. Pelicans first found matchup? LeBron vs. Zion. AD vs. the young stars traded for him. Lonzo vs. Caruso. The list goes on.
NBA Bubble: 25 – 21
25. Devin Booker
Devin Booker is an interesting player to analyze, because his talent and potential is undeniable. He belongs amongst the NBA’s elite in those categories. However, he has yet to lead his team to true success in his young career. It’s easy to forget that the first time All Star is still only 23 years old. 2020 marks Booker’s second consecutive season averaging at least 26 PPG and 6 APG. With rumor of Booker moving to a more permanent point guard role in the bubble, we expect big things from this young stud hungry for validation.
24. Zion Williamson
The rookie Phenom. What more needs to be said. In his 19 games so far he’s averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 58.9% shooting (46.2% 3P shooting). The Pelicans are poised to make a run at the eight seed. This would give the NBA a potentially all-time great 1-8 matchup between the future of the league and the current King.
23. Ja Morant
Likely the 2020 Rookie of the Year, Morant has the Grizzlies hanging onto the 8th seed for the time being. The awe-inspiring play maker has a knack for the incredible. He’s been on full display this season averaging 17.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game in his first campaign. His ability to score at multiple levels, jump over defenders, and find his teammates in stride give him exceptional potential. Expect the young floor general to hit the ground running in the NBA bubble.
22. Nikola Vucevic
The Magic are currently sitting in the 8th seed, and their only competition within striking distance will be without either of their stars: John Wall and Bradley Beal. Vucevic has been quietly playing at an All Star level for a few years. This season has been no different. Averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds per game, the big man has the Magic poised for a first round matchup against one of the powerhouse contenders out East.
21. Kemba Walker
Walker spent the first several years of his career putting up seemingly impressive stats on a team never truly in postseason contention. Now, he’s joined one of the beasts of the East in Boston. Expectedly, his numbers dipped slightly once he obtained All Star caliber teammates, but he still managed to average 21 points and just under 5 assists per game. His efficiency however, dipped lower than it has in five seasons. I expect the Celtics to be one of the last teams standing in Orlando, meaning Kemba will be among the elite playmakers left come September.
NBA Bubble: 20 – 16
20. Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell has been one of the main focuses among NBA stars throughout the COVID pandemic. His unease with teammate Rudy Gobert has caused warranted concerns about the two playing together in the near future. Nevertheless, the two claim they can at the very least win together. In his 3rd year in the league, Mitchell continues to show his ability to score at will with step back threes, dribble drives, and ferocious throw downs. The rising star’s leadership will be tested once again in Orlando.
19. Bam Adebayo
A candidate, and my personal pick, for Most Improved Player this season, Bam Adebayo turned heads in Miami. The Heat made waves this offseason when they landed multi-time All Star, Jimmy Butler. However, it was Adebayo’s versatility and interior presence that pushed them to a potential top four finish in the East. This season, Bam nearly doubled his scoring total, rising from 8.9 to 16.2 points per game. He actually did manage to double his assists numbers as he averaged 5.1 APG this season compared to only 2.2 last season. His rebounds, steals, and blocks all increased from last season as well.
18. Khris Middleton
Middleton resides as another candidate for most underrated player in the league. His FG% is less than 0.1% away from achieving a 50-40-90 season, one of the rarest feats in NBA history. He’s averaging a career high 21.1 points per game while playing alongside the reigning, and likely current, MVP. His rebounding (6.2) is at a career high, and his assists (4.1) are only 0.2 away from a career high. In his second consecutive All Star season, Middleton is more than proving his worth on the best team in the East.
17. Kyle Lowry
The reigning champ often gets less recognition than deserved due to his lack of postseason success before last season. After losing longtime friend DeMar DeRozan to a trade with San Antonio, Lowry finally got the opportunity he needed to prove himself. He’s always among the league leaders in assists, making him a tremendous floor general through the Raptors recent rebuild. He’s still playing alongside championship caliber pieces in Pascal Siakam, VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. Don’t sleep on the Raptors in the NBA bubble.
16. Ben Simmons
Simmons is another player often labeled poorly due to his team’s lack of success. Videos of his three point shot improving have emerged. Rumors of his move to power forward have surfaced. Simmons is in the perfect position to make a jump and lead the Sixers deep into the playoffs. Keep an eye out for his new and improved role in Orlando.
Also, be sure to check out the Overtime Heroics Forums page to join in on the discussion!
Follow me on Twitter at @Panamaniac03!
Check out our partners at Repp Sports! They offer the first-ever crowd-sourced, no carb, no sugar, energy drink called RAZE and much more! Use the link above or add the promo code OTH1 for 30% off at checkout!