10. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
In some ways, it was cruel that the NBA invited as many teams to the bubble as they did. The Kings had little to no chance at the playoffs and spent their time in Orlando helping other teams’ causes, but it hasn’t been because of their budding superstar De’Aaron Fox.
Fox averaged 26.2 points and 7.3 assists on 50.4 percent shooting. The Kings didn’t quite make a run for the playoffs, but the progress Fox has shown has made an otherwise fruitless trip to Florida well worth it.
9. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have been slowly disintegrating this season, but Joel Embiid has been rounding into form at just the right time. In only 25.3 minutes per game, Embiid has averaged 20.1 points and 10.4 rebounds as the 76ers have outscored the opposition by 4.7 points with Embiid on the court.
Embiid’s offensive impact is only half of the equation, and his defense has been stellar as always. Embiid tweaked his ankle while in Orlando but should be ready to go as the Sixers look to make noise in the Eastern Conference without Ben Simmons.
8. Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Outside of a questionable theory about COVID-19’s origins, Michael Porter Jr. has been nothing but smiles for the Denver Nuggets. After coming off the bench for the Nuggets for most of the season, the highly regarded Porter Jr. was cast into the starting lineup and instantly impressed.
After a quiet first game, he exploded for 37 and 30 points in Nuggets wins. He averaged 22 points a game on 55.1 percent shooting and provided Denver with a brand new X-factor heading into the postseason. Has Porter Jr been better than Jokic? Maybe not, but sportswriters love shiny new things, and Porter Jr.’s unexpected rise is too good to pass up.
7. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
The Clippers remain the favorites to make it out of the West because of Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers are +13.3 when Leonard is on the court, which is the best +/- in the entire bubble. He is possibly the best wing defender in the league and averaged 28.8 points per game in the bubble.
Leonard’s scoring has been as efficient as his use by the Clippers. The load management necessary to keep him healthy and at peak performance will always rob him when it comes to awards, but that’s a small price to pay when you’re singularly focused on championships.
6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have not been as dominant in the bubble as they were outside of it, but that has hardly been because of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He averaged 27.8 points and 12.2 rebounds in only 25.8 minutes a game while shooting 62.6 percent from the field.
If Giannis were averaging more minutes, he’d have a real claim to the bubble’s best player, but since he’s the presumptive league MVP, I’m sure he’s okay not winning this award. The Bucks are more concerned with getting ready for the playoffs, and Giannis looks ready to rumble.