Best Players in the NBA Bubble at the Midway Point

It’s been one week since the NBA Bubble kicked off in Orlando on July 30 and the league restart is officially in full swing. We’ve reached the midway point as 18 of the 22 teams invited have played at least half of their eight scheduled bubble games. The Toronto Raptors are reminding the league not to sleep on the reigning champs. And, the race for the Western Conference eight-seed is still loaded with six teams in contention. With one week of regular season play remaining, check out this list of the best players in the NBA Bubble at the midway point. 

Picking the Best Players in the NBA Bubble at the Midway Point

James Harden, Houston Rockets

If the season ended today, and the NBA decided to name an MVP for the bubble, James Harden would take home the honors. He’s been one of the best players in the NBA Bubble at the midway point. The Houston Rockets are 3-1 in the bubble, however not because of the elite offensive performances Harden gives on a nightly basis. Instead, Houston has shocked the NBA world with a focus on defensive intensity. 

With their small-ball lineup, the only way for Houston to survive is to find some sort of identity on defense. They’ve done so by clogging the passing lanes, increasing on-ball pressure, and racking up steals and blocks. Harden is at the forefront of this newly-found identity. 

In four games, the Rockets guard is averaging three steals and one block. This includes a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in which Harden grabbed six steals. On top of his defense, Harden has been his usual self: a scoring machine. He’s averaging 33.8 points, 10.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds per game in the bubble. 

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers have not been at full strength this entire season. That changed with the season hiatus and restart in the NBA Bubble. With this fully healthy lineup and Damian Lillard in All-Star form, Portland now sits just 0.5 games back of the Western Conference eighth seed. The Trail Blazers are 3-1 in the bubble and are now feared by the top half of the conference. 

In four games, Lillard is scoring 31.3 points and dishing 11.3 assists per game. His first week of exceptional bubble performances was capped with a 45 point, 12 assists, and 3 steal outburst against the Denver Nuggets last night. Portland secured their third bubble win, 125-115. 

T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers

Last June, the Phoenix Suns traded T.J. Warren and their 32nd pick to the Indiana Pacers for cash considerations. The extent of that trade. It’s safe to assume, nobody expected that a player traded for cash considerations last season would be the highlight on the NBA Bubble. But, at the midway point of the NBA Bubble, TJ Warren has been the most captivating story in the league. 

Warren’s hot streak cooled last night with a normally solid performance (16 points, 11 rebounds) against his former team. However, he still leads the NBA Bubble in scoring, averaging 33.8 points per night in four games. His shooting has been outrageous at 59 percent from the field, 54 percent from deep, and 86 percent at the charity stripe. 

The Pacers are 3-1 in the bubble with Warren making waves on both sides of the ball. He’s also averaged 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game. 

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns are 4-0 in the NBA Bubble and right in the middle of a six-team race for the Western Conference eighth seed. Phoenix will need to keep winning to scrape themselves into the playoffs. A reasonable feat if Devin Booker continues to shine. 

In four games, Booker is averaging 28.0 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. His highlight performance came in Phoenix’s third bubble game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Booker capped this 35 point performance with a turnaround buzzer-beater over both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Phoenix was victorious, 117-115. 

Honorable Mention: Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

Through four games, the Denver Nuggets have been somewhat disappointing at 2-2. While Denver still holds onto the third seed in the Western Conference, the team looks to find better form ahead of the playoffs. Despite the .500 record, Michael Porter Jr. has been another bright spot for the Nuggets and surprise to the entire league. 

In 2018, Porter Jr. was selected in the middle of the first round by Denver. He missed the entirety of last year due to injury and averaged 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his 2019-20 rookie campaign. Respectable for a rookie season coming off a significant injury. 

However, in four games, Porter Jr. has been a revelation in the bubble. He’s averaged 26.3 points and 10.0 rebounds in four games. These stats would be better had he not been gotten into foul trouble in Denver’s first bubble action. Porter Jr. only saw 24 minutes on the court that night. 

His highlight bubble performance came in game two against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Porter Jr. played 43 minutes that night, scored 37 points, and added 12 rebounds in the Nuggets 121-113 win. 

Honorable Mention: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors 

With convincing wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, the Toronto Raptors have reminded the NBA not to sleep on the defending champs. Toronto is 3-0 in the NBA Bubble. It’s difficult to select an MVP for a squad that plays such team-oriented basketball. However, Fred VanVleet has been a catalyst in the bubble. 

His best performance saw the Raptors take down the Heat, 107-103. VanVleet had 36 points, four assists, five rebounds, and one steal in the contest. In three bubble games, he’s averaged a near double-double, with 23.3 points and 8.3 assists. If VanVleet continues this play, nobody should sleep on the Raptors to repeat as champs. 

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