5. T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers
No player has raised their profile more at the bubble than T.J. Warren, which says more about us than him. Before the league shut down, Warren was averaging 18.7 points a game, but since the restart, he has been on absolute fire, averaging 31 points on 57.8 percent shooting.
Warren doesn’t rank higher because he provides little outside of scoring, and his inability to get to the free-throw line at three attempts per game means his scoring is reliant on unsustainably great shooting. Warren was tremendous in Orlando, and Indiana has to feel good about their chances this postseason even after the loss of Domantas Sabonis to a foot injury.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Let’s keep this short, sweet, and simple. Here are Luka Doncic’s per-game averages and their ranks at the bubble: 30.0 points (6th), 10.1 rebounds (8th), and 9.7 assists (2nd). Reminder, he would have ranked much higher if not for a 13-minute, 18-point cameo in Dallas’s final game. Not bad for a 21-year-old.
3. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
The Suns went 8-0 in the bubble, and Devin Booker is largely to thank. His 30.5 points a game dragged the Suns from “why are they even here?” to “they have a legit chance at making the play-in game.” Unfortunately for Phoenix, the hole they dug themselves into before the restart was just too deep to come out of despite a perfect record in Orlando.
Booker has always put up big numbers, but now that the Suns are winning, people are finally taking notice of his game-wrecking offensive prowess. He can score from all three levels and is even setting up his teammates with six assists per game.
The narrative of Booker as the leader of the surprising Suns will garner him extra support, but his stats just don’t quite stack up with the next two.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden has been posting ridiculous numbers for so long that the media has grown numb to his exploits. Usually, a player averaging 34.1 points and 8.9 assists per game would be dominating the airwaves, but that has basically been Harden for the last four seasons.
What should be noticed is how fantastic Harden has been on the defensive end. He’s second in steals per game at 2.7, and his rebounding has been pivotal for a team that plays without a true center.
The Rockets’ +4.7 with Harden on the court shows his worth to a team that struggles to score without their offensive dynamo. Harden’s performances speak for themselves, but since the Rockets had already clinched a playoff spot, he’ll lose votes to the next man.
1. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
How could it be anyone else? Damian Lillard averaged 37.6 points per game as the Trail Blazers went 6-2 to make the play-in game for the West’s final playoff spot. In that game on Saturday, Lillard led the way once again to the tune of 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting to help the Blazers snag the eighth seed.
Damian has combined machine-gun volume with sniper-rifle accuracy as he has terminated opposing defenses. The Trail Blazers needed all the wins they could get in Orlando and asked Lillard to do the heavy lifting. His 9.6 assists per game after the seeding games are third-best in the bubble, and he leads everyone since the restart in shots and 3-point attempts per game.
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Lillard’s 61-point eruption to down the Mavericks will likely be the signature performance of the restart and is a big reason he deservedly was awarded the Bubble’s MVP award. The media loves a story, and Lillard was Shakespeare in the bubble.