Cover photo from fivethirtyeight.com
Top 50 NBA Bubble Players: 50 – 16
For more information on how these rankings were determined and who just missed the cut, click the link above to our article discussing players 50-16 in the NBA bubble.
NBA Bubble: 15 – 11
15. Chris Paul
The Thunder were expected to be in the midst of a rebuild after they traded away both of their superstars in the same offseason. Instead, they managed to get a rising star in SGA, a season veteran in Danilo Gallinari, and a plethora of draft picks. Not to mention their new leader, Chris Paul. The group of former Clippers has lead OKC to a playoff spot in year one. CP3 has been the epitome of clutch this season, leading the league in clutch scoring based on the league’s definition of “clutch time.” If you thought the former All Star was done when things didn’t work out in Houston, you thought wrong. In season one with OKC, Paul was selected to his first All Star team in four years. The first since he and Blake Griffin were both still Clippers. Can Paul lead this young squad to a legitimate playoff run?
14. Jimmy Butler
Butler seems to have finally found a suitable home in Miami. He’s become the leader of a young and rising Heat squad that includes young talent like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson. None of these players were expected to be stars. However, Adebayo just became an All Star and Herro and Nunn are both in consideration for the All-Rookie teams. Butler is the glue that makes this team go. His 20.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.1 assists make up one of the best-rounded stat lines in the league. This helped him become an All Star again for the first time since 2018. Butler is his team’s leader, and they’re ready to show the league they mean business.
13. Paul George
George took an incredible step last season, finishing Top 3 in the MVP voting. Unfortunately, before the 2020 season began with PG in LA, he had dual shoulder surgery. This cast a cloud of uncertainty over the 2020 season and led many to believe he wouldn’t be his usual self. Those people were right…and wrong. George did regress from his near MVP season last year, but his stats became almost identical to 2018, his first season in OKC. He’s still averaging 21 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 39.9% from distance. George is still a more-than-capable second option playing next to the reigning Finals MVP. With so much time to rest and recuperate, expect George to return to peak form as the Clippers make their most realistic title push in franchise history.
For the first time in his career, Westbrook didn’t rep OKC across his chest this season. Joining former teammate, James Harden, in Houston, Westbrook picked up right where he left off. Of course, he had the occasional game stained with missed jumpers and inconsistency. But that didn’t stop Westbrook from finding his groove. He’s not averaging his fourth consecutive triple double, but he is averaging his highest point total (27.5) in the last three seasons. He’s also still averaging 8.0 RPG and 7.0 APG while shooting 47.4% from the field. After the Rockets traded away Clint Capela, Westbrook has taken on an almost pseudo center role on the offensive side of the ball, playing in the short corner and at the free throw line when Harden is running the offense. Houston’s lineups may be unusual, but there’s no question about the level of effort Westbrook will give in the NBA bubble.
11. Jayson Tatum
He’s only 21. Yet another first time All Star on this list, Tatum has continued to develop his offensive arsenal in year three. The 6’8 forward can do it all on that side of the ball. Dribble drives. Pull up jumpers. Step backs. Spot up threes. It doesn’t matter what the defense throws at him, the rising star seems to have all the answers of a wily vet. Averaging 23.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG puts him in elite company by itself. Now remember that Tatum is playing with three other All Star caliber players, all of which are in our Top 50, and still leading his team to be a legitimate contender out East. The Celtics are expected to make the NBA bubble their home for a long while, and it’s hard to imagine them finding success without it stemming from Tatum.
NBA Bubble: 10 – 6
10. Pascal Siakam
Siakam is the best player on the reigning champs. Obviously, Kawhi Leonard took home Finals MVP honors, but Siakam is the best remaining player on a squad hungry to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. His rapid rise to stardom seemingly happened overnight. His last three seasons’ PPG averages are 7.3, 16.9, and now 23.6. The man just keeps getting better. He’s shooting a career high percentage from the FT line (80%) and grabbing a career high in RPG (7.5). Kyle Lowry may be the Raptor’s floor general, but the title of best player right now shouldn’t be in question. Siakam can do it all, and he’ll look to showcase his leadership in Orlando after his first All Star caliber season.
9. Joel Embiid
If NBA players were ranked by trash talk and social media presence, Embiid would likely be higher than he is. Regardless, he still managed to land in the Top 10 of our NBA Bubble rankings. Embiid took a small step backwards from a stats standpoint, averaging 4.1 fewer points, 1.8 fewer rebounds, and 0.6 fewer assists per game in 2020 than in 2019. Still, the 25 year old center earned his third consecutive All Star. Now rumors are circulating of Ben Simmons switching to a more permanent power forward role. Will this affect Embiid positively? We think so. With more shooters and guards surrounding the star duo, Embiid should have more room to operate than ever before.
8. Nikola Jokic
Point Jokic has arrived in the NBA bubble. Jokic is regarded as one of the best passing big men of all time. Modern day centers have developed the ability to shoot from distance, stretching the floor more than ever. Jokic is included in this group. However, his uncanny eye for passing lanes from the center position is unique amongst modern bigs. He averages 6.9 APG to go along with 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. It’s not outlandish to think say that Jokic is a major part in the next evolution of the game. Guys like Scottie Pippen and LeBron James normalized and perfected the 6’8+ point forward. The next step? The NBA is about to meet point centers, and Jokic is leading the way.
7. Luka Doncic
Doncic is already regarded as one of the best players in the league in only his second season. The first time All Star is putting up a ridiculously well-rounded stat line with 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game. That’s nearly a 30-10-10 statline in year two. Most expect the young star to be among the best foreign players of all time. For now, he reigns as one the best All Stars in the league, leading his Mavericks into Orlando. Doncic has more potential than perhaps anyone else in the league, but he has not climbed to the top of our NBA bubble rankings just yet.
Lillard was recently announced as the NBA 2K21 cover athlete. While this doesn’t mean much for on court performance, it does provide well-deserved recognition for the 5-time All Star. This season, Lillard is averaging a career high in points (28.9), assists (7.8), and 3P% (39.4). He’s also leading the league in minutes per game at 36.9 as he tries to will his Blazers back into the playoff race. Portland currently sits as the 9th seed, just 3.5 games behind the 8th seed out West. With the postseason quite literally within reach, expect Lillard to do everything in his power to push his team over the top.
NBA Bubble: 5 – 1
We’ve arrived at the true Superstars of the league. Anthony Davis is arguably the most talented big man I the NBA today. He’s averaging 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game in this his first season with the Lakers. Playing alongside LeBron has done nothing but maximize both players’ abilities. James is set to average a career high in assists, and Davis is leading the team in almost every other major stat category. James is leading the charge, but Davis is the true workhorse fueling the Laker’s success. If they expect to be around until the Finals, it’s time for AD to live up to his potential.
4. James Harden
The Beard’s arrival to the NBA bubble was delayed, but he eventually made it. Harden is a threat to score anytime he has the ball in his hands. His offensive talent is among the elite in the history of the league. Few have done what Harden has proven himself capable of. He’s on pace to average 34.4 PPG and 7.4 APG. This season will be his third consecutive to both lead the league in scoring and average 30+ points per game. Harden’s arsenal of scoring is unmatched in today’s game. He can shoot lights out from distance. Execute dribble moves with the best of them. Finish at the rim around, or through, bigger defenders. His offense is not always the smoothest to watch, but his talent is undeniable. Will he finally prove his ability to lead his team to meaningful wins in Orlando?
The reigning MVP. Likely the current season’s MVP. Giannis is making his case for best player in the NBA. He’s averaging a career high 29.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, along with 5.8 assists and 1.0 blocks and steals. His numbers are mind boggling, and his team sits with the best record in the league. The only argument against Giannis is his three point shooting. However, Giannis is taking a career high 4.8 three pointers per game and hitting them at a 31% clip. This is not elite by any means, but it is serviceable and continually improving. The only thing keeping Giannis from being higher than 3rd on this list is his lack of previous post-season success. He will be a monster in the bubble, but he still has a few things to prove once the playoffs start.
Leonard is fresh off winning Finals MVP in 2019, his second time winning the award before his 30th birthday. The Klaw is one of the most unstoppable scorers in the NBA today, averaging a career high 26.9 PPG on his new team in LA. He’s also contributing 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. The quiet assassin has proven himself in the biggest of moments. He hit the only Game 7, buzzer beating, game winner in NBA history last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. Leonard then proceeded to lead the Raptors to their first championship in franchise history. Now he looks to recreate his success in LA as he attempts to lead the Clippers to their first Finals appearance. With Paul George and an incredible supporting cast in tow, we’re excited to watch Leonard go to work in the NBA bubble.
1. LeBron James
James is set to make his first playoff appearance with the Lakers after missing some of last season due to injury. He’s acquired his All Star teammate in Anthony Davis, and assembled his supporting cast of experienced veterans. Now that he does not have to be the primary scorer on his team, James is on pace for two firsts in his 17th season: He’s about to lead the league in assists and average double digit assists for the first time in his illustrious career. In the process of doing so, he’s still managed to average 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. In the midst of this regular season success, James has his Lakers sitting atop the West with the 2nd best record in the league. LeBron knows how to win with what he’s got, and for that he sits atop our NBA bubble rankings.
The King reigns supreme.
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