Award Picks For The 2020 NBA Bubble

August 15th, 2020

by Alan Lu

The regular season is drawing to a close, and it’s time for us to debate on who the best player in the bubble has been, also known as, “the Bubble MVP.”  There have been three really solid candidates in Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, Phoenix Suns’ guard, Devin Booker, and Indiana Pacers’ forward T.J. Warren, and here we will weigh in the case for and against in selecting one of them to be the best player in the NBA bubble.

Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker were the two best players in the NBA Bubble this year, but only one of them will be crowned the Seeding Games Player of the Bubble.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Three Candidates for Bubble MVP:

  1. Portland Trail Blazers’ guard, Damian Lillard

The case for:

Damian Lillard literally dropped 61 points on the Dallas Mavericks.  61!!!  He made one outrageously impressive shot after another, and he’s only one of a few people in the world that can make 40-foot three-point shots, and do it so effortlessly.  Not only did he score 61 this Tuesday, he’s consistently racked up high point totals out here.  He also scored 42 points in a win over Brooklyn, 45 points in a win over Denver, and 51 in a win over Philly in addition to the majestic 61-point performance in his team’s win over Dallas.  All four of those individual performances topped Booker’s highest individual scoring performance in Orlando of 35, and Lillard scored more than 20 points in each of his games that he has played in the bubble.  He averaged 37.6 points per game in the bubble, and he also dropped 16 dimes against Boston.  We even saw the return of Logo Lillard! Also, he helped the Portland Trail Blazers get back to the playoffs this year, as they held on to get to the play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The case against:

Despite having an equally strong case as Booker, Lillard’s team, the Portland Trail Blazers have lost twice in the bubble, two close games against the LA Clippers and against Boston.  Portland still won 6 of the 8 games they played in though, and they get to be in the play-in game against Memphis.  Phoenix’s unbeaten streak in the bubble only serves to strengthen Booker’s case, and not one team, not even the Clippers, defeated the Phoenix Suns in the NBA restart.

2. Phoenix Suns’ guard, Devin Booker

The case for:

He’s the best player on a team that went an impressive 8-0 in the bubble.  Booker has helped the Suns rattle off superb wins over Dallas, the LA Clippers, Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and Dallas.  Oh, and they also defeated Washington just a day before the month of August came along.

Booker averaged 30.5 points per game in the 8 games that he’s played in the bubble, and he scored 20 or more points in all of those contests.  He also notched 20 points and 10 assists in his team’s win over Indiana, and he made a terrific game-winner over Paul George to help his team defeat the Clippers.  He’s helped the Suns defeat 7 playoff-bound teams.  The only downside is that his team had such an atrocious record before coming into the bubble that going undefeated still isn’t enough to help them get into the play-in game, nor reach the playoffs this season.

The case against:

Despite the Phoenix Suns going unbeaten in the bubble, they will not make the playoffs nor play in the play-in game due to falling a bit short in the standings.  Memphis held on to crush a Milwaukee team that was without Giannis, and Portland held on to defeat the Brooklyn Nets.  Also, he technically made less than a third of his three-point shots in the Orlando bubble.  Still though, Booker averaged more than 30 points a game in the bubble, his team went undefeated in Orlando in the NBA restart, and he did make a shade over half of his field goals there.

3. Indiana Pacers’ forward, T.J. Warren

The case for:

T.J. Warren had the first really big performance of the bubble, as he scored 53 points in his team’s win over Philadelphia on August 1st.  It was a statement game from Warren, and he showcased a newly improved outside shot in which he made 9 threes, and 20 field goals overall.  In addition, he added three more 30+ point games in addition to that one, and Warren is out to prove that he is a young superstar on the rise.

The case against:

The Pacers have two double-digit losses, and Warren shot poorly in both of those games.  Earlier in the season, Warren and Jimmy Butler had a tiff that resulted in the former’s ejection, and Butler was both the better player, and on the winning team in that game.  Warren had a chance to settle and even the score, but instead, he scored just a measly 12 points on 5 of 14 shooting against Miami, and Indiana lost by 22 on August 10th.  Furthermore, Indiana came in to the bubble as a mid-tier playoff team, and they will be going into the playoffs as….a mid-tier playoff team.

My take:

T.J. Warren is the obvious third choice, here, behind Lillard and Booker.  While he had the first great game in the bubble, it’s really a two-man Bubble MVP race between Damian Lillard and Devin Booker.  The case to pick either are both very strong.  Booker is the best player on a team that went 8-0 in the bubble, and he showed his clutch gene by making a game-winning three-point shot over Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers.  Damian Lillard meanwhile, had four 40+ point games in the bubble, and he dropped a whopping 61 points on Dallas that was by far the best individual performance in Orlando.  Adding to that, he helped Portland close out games to hold off Phoenix and other teams in the West, as his team will face Memphis in the play-in game.

Drum roll, please!

Damian Lillard was named the Seeding Games Player of the Bubble today, and he earned the honors with his tremendous play in Orlando.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

The pick for 2020 Bubble MVP:
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

2nd: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

3rd: T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers

This was a close one.  While Booker’s play in Orlando was tremendously impressive in itself, and the Suns almost were able to make the playoffs, Damian Lillard’s magnificent play here combined with helping Portland prevent Phoenix from facing Memphis in the play-in game is why Lillard should be the Bubble MVP.  He pretty much destroyed opposing defenses with his terrific ability to shoot and score the basketball, and Lillard helped Portland win meaningful games to get them to the play-in game, as the winner of that one will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

There was a strong likelihood of a play-in game happening from the onset of the NBA restart given that the teams that ranked 8 to 13 out in the West all had similar records, and Portland and Memphis was the matchup I had predicted would happen, especially since Zion Williamson took time off shortly before the bubble season, so that he would be rusty coming in.  Damian Lillard is one of the best players in the NBA game today, and he is the superstar that Portland needs, and his performance and leadership are key reasons why Portland was able to help lock down a spot in the play-in game.

Phoenix Suns’ head coach, Monty Williams (on the right) is with Devin Booker (on the left), and he did a terrific job of coaching his team in the bubble this year.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

My Pick for the Bubble Coach of the Year:

Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns (8-0 in the bubble)

When the Suns came into the bubble, they were pretty much an afterthought.  It seemed odd that they were invited at the time.  I know I was questioning why they were invited in the first place back then, and back then they were just a 0.400 team (26-39) coming in, and they had plenty of catching up to do if they were to have any chance of making it to the playoffs.

The Suns went on to surpass all expectations that were placed on them in the bubble, as they went above and beyond to contend for a playoff spot. Little did I know though, the Suns would end up being the unbeaten team in the NBA restart bubble, as they won all eight of their games, and racked up one impressive win after the next, with their best win being the one where Devin Booker makes the game-winning three over Paul George and the Clippers.  It’s a shame that the Suns barely missed the playoffs, as there is only one play-in game out in the West, but the Phoenix Suns played so well, it feels like they belong in the playoffs even if they barely missed it due the tie-breaker rules. It’s safe to say, while they barely missed out on the postseason, they managed to earn the respect of the entire NBA with what they accomplished in the bubble.

2ndTerry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is playing very well at the right time of the year, and they won a lot of close games down the stretch in order to earn the right to play in the play-in game against Memphis.  The Lillard-McCollum backcourt duo has been tremendous for the Blazers, and he’s gotten great production out of other complementary players such as Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr.  Portland is finally looking like the team they were poised to be, and much credit goes to Stotts in getting them a string of tough wins over Philadelphia, Dallas, and Brooklyn.

3rdNick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Nurse did a very good job of coaching in the NBA restart, and so far Toronto has won 6 of their first 7 games in the bubble.  He helped the Raptors rack up impressive wins over the LA Lakers, Miami, and Milwaukee.  With the Lakers and the Bucks experiencing some offensive woes at times in the bubble, suddenly Toronto has emerged into the picture as one of the prime contenders to win the title this year.

4thGregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

When LaMarcus Aldridge got hurt and announced that he would not play in the bubble, it seemed as if the Spurs’ playoff hopes were just about lost.  But the Spurs kept playing hard, and they were in the playoff race up until the Phoenix Suns’ won their eighth game of the bubble.  Popovich came up with very innovative tactics, as he played DeMar DeRozan at power forward, and they also played all of their young guards, as he played Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV at the same time.  The Spurs won 5 of their first 7 games in the bubble when they were still in playoff contention.   When they were eliminated, they decided to rest some of their best players against Utah.  The Spurs’ creative lineup construction and fight to the end is commendable, and Pop showed that great coaches always find ways to get the most out of their players.

5thJacque Vaughn, Brooklyn Nets

Most of the veterans on the Nets’ team sat out of the bubble due to injuries, so they relied on a lot of unheralded players to help them in Orlando.  It wasn’t thought that they would win many games out here, but they ended up winning 5 games in the NBA restart, and were a field goal away from ending Portland’s season. 

Vaughn got a lot out of his players, as they kept trucking along even when Jamal Crawford suffered a setback due to a hamstring injury in his first game back.  But the Nets’ young players came together as they made shots, played tough defense and cohesively, and they managed to rack up some impressive wins over Milwaukee and the LA Clippers in the process.

The case for and against other players on the All-Bubble Team:

I haven’t found a website that compiled all of the players Bubble stats into one nice, easy to read spreadsheet, but from the information I’ve gathered, here are the candidates for the other two spots. 

James Harden (Houston Rockets) vs. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) Both players played very well in the bubble, as they accumulated a lot of points, rebounds, and assists per game.  Doncic averaged a triple-double in his first six games, and that case seems pretty hard to beat.

On the other hand, Houston has had the better record in the bubble (4-4, compared to Dallas’ 3-5 record in the bubble), and when the two played against each other, Harden’s team won, as Houston ended up winning an offense-heavy shootout of a game over Dallas.  Doncic has a strong case, but Harden also played very well, and helped his team win more in Orlando, so I will pick James Harden for a spot on this team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Michael Porter Jr.

Michael Porter Jr. played very well for Denver in the NBA restart, and his 7 game averages of 22 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in the bubble definitely has to have Nuggets’ fans excited for both the playoffs and next season.  On the other hand, Denver has only won 3 of their 8 games in the bubble, so those numbers might not exactly scream All-Bubble first team.

Giannis on the other hand, has been one of the best players in the NBA game, and he’s continued to post strong numbers this season.  Giannis put forth tremendous statistical numbers, as usual.  Milwaukee has only won 3 of their 8 games, and Giannis ended up missing a game because he was suspended for head-butting Washington Wizards’ big man, Moritz Wagner.  On the other hand, he probably would’ve missed the Memphis game anyways due to load management.  It’s a close call, but I’ll have Giannis on the All-Bubble first team.

My 2020 NBA All-Bubble First Team:
C Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
F T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers
G James Harden, Houston Rockets
G Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
G Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Other Awards:

I don’t think the NBA plans to give the next one out, but I decided to make my choice as to who would get my vote for the other would-be bubble awards.

Denver Nuggets’ 6-10 rookie forward, Michael Porter Jr. was very impressive in the bubble, as he had numerous dominant performances in Orlando.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bubble Rookie of the Year:

Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

For those who’ve been waiting for Porter to break out, your faith in him has been rewarded.  In his second game of the NBA restart bubble season, Porter scored 37 points and hauled in 12 rebounds in a win over Oklahoma Ciy, and he has notched 4 20+ point, 10+ rebound games out here.  The vastly athletic, versatile forward has shown superb scoring and rebounding skills in Orlando, and he’s averaged roughly 24 points per game in the bubble.  Also with the rules in place that will allow Bol Bol to contend for the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year award, and with the Nuggets already being a solid team that will make the playoffs once again, the future is bright in Denver.

Portland Trail Blazers’ center, Jusuf Nurkic has played very well in the bubble, which is especially impressive considering that he had just returned from a leg injury.
Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)

The Bubble Comeback Player:

Jusuf Nurkić, Portland Trail Blazers

The runner-up would be Dallas Mavericks’ guard, Trey Burke, who dropped an impressive 31 points in an overtime loss to Houston. To me though, Jusuf Nurkic wins this one, hands down.  Nurkic came back from a leg injury to average a double-double for the Blazers in the bubble, and he helped them get to the play-in game to help face off against Memphis this year.

Portland Trail Blazers’ second-year guard, Gary Trent Jr. has played very well in the bubble in Orlando.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Sixth Man of the Bubble:

Gary Trent Jr., Portland Trail Blazers

My vote here would’ve been for Michael Porter Jr., except that he started the last couple of games for Denver, so I didn’t really count him as a pure sixth man or bench player.  Therefore, I had it down to Portland’s Gary Trent Jr. or San Antonio’s Rudy Gay.  The Blazers made the playoffs, and Trent roughly 17 points per game in the bubble, so my vote here would be for Gary Trent Jr.

2020 NBA Playoff Predictions:

Also, here would be my first round picks:

Los Angeles Lakers over the Portland Trail Blazers in 6 games
Oklahoma City Thunder over the Houston Rockets in 7 games
Denver Nuggets over the Utah Jazz in 7 games
Los Angeles Clippers over the Dallas Mavericks in 5 games
Milwaukee Bucks over the Orlando Magic in 4 games
Miami Heat over the Indiana Pacers in 6 games
Boston Celtics over the Philadelphia 76ers in 6 games
Toronto Raptors over the Brooklyn Nets in 5 games

Play-In Game Pick to Win:

Portland Trail Blazers over the Memphis Grizzlies

So that pretty much concludes whom I would pick to win various awards in the bubble.  It will be exciting to watch the NBA playoffs. Thank you for reading.


I had written this out yesterday, and had planned on posting it today, but the NBA already put on their bubble awards. Still, I thought it to be interesting to post my selections, so you guys will get an article to read here today.

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