The NBA Bubble MVP

Nick Kamen
Aug 10, 2020 · 6 min read

There’s a new MVP in town, and it’s not who you might think.

No, I’m not talking about LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or even Kawhi Leonard. In fact, none of these guys even make the power ranking.
What I am going to be doing is ranking the Top 5 MVP Candidates since the NBA restart in Orlando. These are going to be the best players through the first couple weeks of NBA Bubble action.

Obviously, this is not going to show who’s the best player in the league. This is just showing who has been the best of the best since the NBA restart. Strange times call for even stranger performances.

These candidates will be ranked based on their performance and team record, just like they would for the regular-season MVP award.

Note from the Managing Editor @ SportsRaid:

I have just one word for you: Dame. If this were written today, no doubt we’d rank Damian Lilliard’s 51 points followed by 61 point performance at #1. Only Lilliard and Wilt the Stilt have every put up 60+ three times in a season.

Number 1: TJ Warren

Bubble Stats: 34.8 pts, 6.6 trb, 2.4 ast, 1.6 stl, 1.4 blk, 60.5% FG, 55.6% 3PT

Team Record: (4–1)

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TJ Warren taunting Jimmy Butler in a win against the Miami Heat.

Yes, you read that right. TJ Warren has been the absolute best player in the NBA since the restart, and that is not an overreaction.

TJ shocked the world in his first game back with a career-high of 53 points on 9/12 three-point shooting in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers. This was an absolutely incredible performance, but most rational people saw this as nothing more than a fluke. “He will cool down in the next few games,” I thought to myself after his second 30+ point game. Instead, what happened was that TJ Warren would go on an absolute tear, including two additional 30+ point performances.

He had his most significant moment in a recent game against “The King” himself, LeBron James, and the LA Lakers, where he scored 39 points in a massive win for Indiana. Hitting several clutch shots down the stretch and clearly being the best player on the court was plenty of reason for me to buy into the TJ Warren hype. I don’t know whether he has any plans to cool down. But if he doesn’t, I will be genuinely scared for whichever team has to play the Pacers in the First Round (sorry Heat fans).

He is the clear NBA Bubble MVP, so far.

Number 2: Damian Lillard

Bubble Stats: 33.0 pts, 4.3 trb, 9.5 ast, 1.3 stl, 0.2 blk, 47.4% FG, 38.6% 3PT

Team Record: (4–2)

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Damian Lillard driving past Matisse Thybulle for a clutch basket in the 4th quarter.

Portland has been one of the many teams in the West that is fighting for playoff contention. Damian Lillard has been able to show just how hungry he is to make that happen. He has been playing exceptionally well to give the Blazers a fighting chance at that precious 8th seed position.

On his scoring rampage, he has had a 45 point game against the Denver Nuggets and, most recently, a 51 point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. Both of these performances resulted in wins against very solid playoff teams. Against the Nuggets, Lillard was able to tally 12 assist and 11 three-pointers made for a truly dominant performance. Portland was also able to take home a big win against the Memphis Grizzlies, who are also fighting for that 8th seed position. This was a huge game for Lillard, who scored 29 points and 9 assists in that win.

Overall, Lillard has been playing exceptionally well and stepping up his performance when it matters. I will be genuinely surprised if the Portland Trailblazers end up missing the playoffs this year.

Number 3: James Harden

Bubble Stats: 33.4 pts, 7.6 trb, 8.6 ast, 3.0 stl, 1.0 blk, 51.6% FG, 33.3% 3PT

Team Record: (4–1)

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James Harden dribbling up the court.

So far, small ball seems to be working for the Houston Rockets. Playing a 5-out offense has given James Harden and Russell Westbrook lots of space to operate, which has resulted in a whole lot of winning. Harden has been playing very efficient basketball to go along with his high volume scoring. 33 points per game on 51.6% shooting is very elite basketball. Plain and simple.

In his first game back, Harden went off for 49 points on 70% shooting from the field in a win against their Texas rivals, the Dallas Mavericks, not to mention his casual 9 rebounds and 8 assists with only ONE TURNOVER! Harden was also able to dominate against a struggling Lakers team with his 39 points 12 assists performance in a 16 point blowout win.

One thing I feel like I need to mention is the defense…

I’m not kidding. Harden has actually been playing really good on defense in the bubble. His defensive rating has been at 103.0 since the restart, which is on par with the typical Defensive Player Of The Year nominee. Compared to his season average of 109.0, this is a significant improvement.

The Rockets are my wildcard team to win the title if they can consistently play this good.

Number 4: Devin Booker

Bubble Stats: 29.4 pts, 3.6 trb, 6.4 ast, 0.6 stl, 0.0 blk, 50% FG, 31.3% 3PT

Team Record: (5–0)

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Devin Booker after knocking down the game winner vs. L.A. Clippers.

“The Suns still haven’t lost a game yet” “Who?” “The Suns.” “They made it to the bubble??”

Above is what I think an exchange with a casual NBA fan would look like.

Yes, the Suns are here. And yes, they mean business. I would have never thought in my wildest dreams that the Suns would be contending for a playoff spot this year. However, here they are, led by nonother than Devin Booker.

Booker has been carrying this Suns team against some very elite competition. This includes wins over Dallas, Miami, Indiana (a.k.a. the TJ Warren show), and the LA Clippers. Booker gave the work to the Clippers with 35 points and 8 assists on 6/9 from the three-point line. His performance was topped off with a game-winning buzzer-beater over Paul George and Kawhi Leonard from about 20 feet out. It is clear that Booker is on a mission for that 8th seed position, and it will be fascinating to see how the West shakes out in the remaining 3/4 games.

Number 5: Luka Dončić

Bubble Stats: 33.4 pts, 11.6 trb, 11.6 ast, 0.4 stl, 0.6 blk, 48.3% FG, 30% 3PT

Team Record: (2–3)

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Luka Dončić celebrating with his teammates after a nice play.

I didn’t think Luka could play any better than he already was before the league shut down. He proved me wrong by putting up some MONSTER performances night in and night out here in Orlando.

I could list out every single performance thus far as a notable performance. He had 28,13,10 against the Rockets. He had 40,8,11 against the Suns. He had 34,20,12 against the Kings. He had 29,3,6 against the Clippers (an off-game). And lastly, he had 36,14,19 against the Bucks.

That performance against the soon-to-be regular-season MVP and the best team in the league was by far his most incredible. He showed his abilities as a leader, playmaker, and clutch performer.

The man by the name of Luka Dončić is going to be a serious problem in the league for years to come.

Some notable guys that were left out, but still deserve recognition so far:

Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, & Derrick White


Original reporting and curated sports data journalism.

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Nick Kamen

Written by

USF Civil Engineering Student. Sports Journalist.


Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

Nick Kamen

Written by

USF Civil Engineering Student. Sports Journalist.


Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

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