The NBA bubble presented a whole new challenge to the teams and its players. It was a daunting commitment. They were quarantined into one location, went under strict health protocols 24/7, and weren’t allowed to be with their families for the first five weeks. There was a lot that went on in between those rules to.
As expected, some players rose while others faded out, and though each had particular stages where their performances turned, the list for both sides continuously grew.
Let’s now list the top names on each side.
PLAYERS WHO TRENDED UP
Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson
The Miami Heat overachieved and it was made possible by a boatload of guys, but it’s pretty obvious which three really trended up among the group.
Jimmy Butler’s star shine brightest in his two heroic NBA finals performances. He had a triple-double in Game 3 and Game 5, and both resulted in an upset win for Miami. He averaged 26.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 2.2 steals per game in the finals.
Tyler Herro hit the rookie wall right before the season got suspended, so he made up for it once play restarted, particularly in the playoffs. After sensationally flashing his skills, he broke out in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, where he tallied 37 points and matched a rookie-high that stood for 40 years. He’s way ahead of schedule, folks. Watch out.
Duncan Robinson came out of nowhere to insert himself in the Heat’s regular rotation. How can they not? The 25-year-old is a deadly, deadly shooter. He swished 3.9 three-pointers per game in his first seven restart games, and continued with that pace in the 2020 playoffs.
As LeBron James said on his Instagram, Jayson Tatum is going to be a “problem.” The 22-year-old is fearless and focused on becoming a true superstar in the league, and he showed it in the bubble. He put up over 25 per game in that stretch (seeding games and playoffs), and should be able to pick up where he left off next season.
Devin Booker was being labelled as a great scorer with no real ability to lead his team to a victory, then the bubble came. Something just clicked and before we knew it, he has led the Phoenix Suns into a perfect 8-0 in the seeding games while averaging 30.5 PPG on 50.3% shooting.
It was unfortunate that the Suns still fell short of qualifying for the postseason, but it’s good that they gained some confidence.
What a steal by the Denver Nuggets. They only gave up a late first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jerami Grant – a long-armed, stingy defender that also has an improving outside shot. He’s a ‘3 and D’ guy that is also an extra boost on the defensive end.
Grant showed out in the playoffs by helping contain the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – he actually gave LeBron a good challenge in the West finals as well. There will be a ton of offers for him as he hits free agency.
He’s more than just a meme and a running gag. We all know that Alex Caruso is the real deal, and it was fun to see him prove it even further during the title run. The kid is a highlight reel waiting to happen, plays hard on both ends and, is a 100% unselfish. What’s not to like?
The Lakers will need to reward his efforts in due time, and fans better hope the front office does. He’s the kind of bench player that any NBA team would want to have on their roster.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ big, beefy, bruising big man suffered a gruesome injury late in the 2018-19 season, and sidelined him for almost all of the 2019-20 campaign. Fortunately, he came back in time to help push the Blazers into the playoffs.
In his eight seeding games, Nurk logged career-highs in points (17.6), assists (4.0), steals (1.4), blocks (2.0), and free-throw shooting. He almost tied his career-best in rebounds as well (10.4).
PLAYERS WHO TRENDED DOWN
Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell
The LA Clippers failed miserably in the bubble. They blew a 3-1 series lead in the West semis against the Denver Nuggets, and what made it worse was they squandered 16, 19, and 12-point leads in Games 5, 6, and 7, respectively.
Kawhi Leonard received a good amount of criticism, but it was nothing compared to what has come Paul George’s way. The All-Star is just a year removed from finishing third in the league MVP voting and earning an All-NBA first team, now he’s considered as one of the lowest-rated stars in the NBA.
George, who dubbed himself as ‘Playoff P,’ has become ‘Way-off P’ after having a handful of dreadful shooting nights in the playoffs. He shot a combined 10-for-47 in Games 2, 3, and 4 of the Dallas Mavericks series, which they luckily won, and then went 4-for-16 in the Game 7 loss to the Nuggets.
All season long, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were the consistent third and fourth options for the Clippers, and they were even finalists in the Sixth Man of the Year award, which Harrell won. But then, they suddenly vanished in the Nuggets series. Harrell was non-existent in Games 5 and 6 and scored a combined 11 points in that stretch (right when the series turned). Williams could only muster 10 points on an ugly 32.9% shooting from Games 2 through 7.
Pascal Siakam answered the call when he was asked to step up his scoring following Kawhi Leonard’s departure. He ended the regular season leading the team in scoring at 22.9 PPG.
Things changed in the playoffs, however, as he went from decent to terrible. He only had one good game in the East semis opposite the Celtics, and finished the seven-game series scoring just 14.9 PPG on 38.2% shooting. It’s easy to assume that they would’ve advanced if he was at least a tad better.
Unlike the other guys on the list, Russell Westbrook didn’t exactly have a string or a handful of poor performances. He only had two – Games 2 and 5 of the West semis vs. the Lakers.
The problem is that the Game 5 dud eliminated the Houston Rockets, which again hammered home the narrative that Russ is incapable of leading a team to victory. Facing elimination, he was an abysmal 4-for-15 from the floor and 2-for-6 from the free throw line for 10 points.
Westbrook also talked a ton of smack while down 29 with less than 10 minutes remaining, and before getting subbed out, he was also talking smack to Rajon Rondo’s brother, who was in the stands.
The New Orleans Pelicans were a huge disappointment in the bubble. They were expected to steal the eighth playoff spot in from the Memphis Grizzlies, but they couldn’t even go .500 in the seeding games (only went 2-6).
Among the Pels’ young, exciting bunch, though, no one underperformed more than Lonzo Ball, who consistently bricked shots. He averaged 5.3 boards and 7.0 assists through his first six games, but he only scored 5.7 on an appalling 26% shooting (13-for-50).