Welcome to the NBA Bubble Awards, presented by The Intermission Sports’ very own, Andrew “Drew” Yang. We’ll be presenting awards to teams and players that have impressed us with their performance in the bubble, as well as those whose performances didn’t quite do it for us (yes, we give participation trophies too). Without further ado, let’s take a look at the winners (and losers) of the 2020 NBA Bubble.
Most Valuable Team: The Toronto Raptors
The team from the north still stands as one of the league’s best at this current moment. Some might say that the Raptors are the best team in the league right now. If you ask me, I’d say (with great confidence) that the Raptors are the best team in the league (and not because I’m a die-hard Raptors fan). Toronto’s victory against the Lakers on opening night proved that they were worthy of the contender title. That same game also proved that the Raptors had some of the most elite defensive rotations in the league, seeing that their defense forced the Lakers to shoot just over 35% from the field.
Along with their top-notch defense, the Raptors have equally stacked offensive talents as well. With five players (Anunoby, Ibaka, Lowry, Siakam and VanVleet) averaging double figures in points, it’s no wonder that the Raptors have been pushing through the league's competition with ease. And not to mention that their deep lineup rotations give them that extra boost when they need it, whether it’s big time blocks by Chris Boucher, or some outside shooting courtesy of Matt Thomas.
Finishing with a record of 7-1, it’s safe to say that the Raptors have managed to maintain their status as one of the league's best, despite losing their star player Kawhi Leonard, who left the team in the summer of 2019.
Runners-up: Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, Brooklyn Nets
Most Disappointing Team: The Memphis Grizzlies
As the 8th seed in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies looked good coming into the Bubble. With Ja Morant leading the ROTY race, and a talented supporting cast of Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, the Grizzlies looked ready for what was to come. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at all.
Although the Western Conference Play-Ins were inevitable, considering that playoff contention Damian Lillard is nothing to joke about, and went absolutely berzerk during the Bubble. There’s really not much to say about this Grizzlies team. A team that failed to uphold their spot as the 8th seed, and crumbled under pressure, making them a perfect candidate for this award (no hate though). Nonetheless, the effort by the Grizzlies is definitely appreciated. You’ll get em next year.
Runners-up: Washington Wizards, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers
Most Surprising Team: The Phoenix Suns
If I were to ask you who you thought would go on to go undefeated in the NBA Bubble, you would probably have the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors as your favourites. But what if I told you that the team with the best record would come in the form of a team that barely had a chance at even making the playoffs? That’s right, the Phoenix Suns have done the unthinkable and have put up an astonishing 8-0 record in the bubble. You heard it right, the Phoenix Suns went undefeated and now hold the best record in the 2020 NBA Bubble.
The highlight of the Suns’ undefeated run in the bubble without a doubt, has to be Devin Booker’s game winner over the 2-seeded LA Clippers. Along with 35 points, Booker added 8 assists and 6 rebounds to his statline, and not to mention that he shot 6-9 from beyond the arc. In the first 4 bubble games, Booker put up 30.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 6.5 apg, playing a huge factor in the Sun’s success in the Bubble, and certifying him as an elite guard in today’s league.
Booker’s numbers weren't the only thing that boosted this Suns team to their 8-0 record. Additional talents like Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne and breakout performances by Cameron Johnson, have all played major factors in the Suns’ fantastic all around game that has been able to push them over elite teams like the Clippers and the Mavericks. Although they were eliminated from playoff contention, this Suns team showed great amounts of promise, effort, and talent. This could be a glimpse at what’s to come for the next season. I’m keeping an eye on you Phoenix.
Runners-up: Brooklyn Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs
Underdog Award: The Oklahoma City Thunder
After losing superstar guards Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Thunder fans were left clueless and hopeless to say the least. A once prominent team in the Western Conference had suddenly been doubted by many due to the departure of Westbrook and George. But what Thunder fans and the rest of the league didn’t know was that this Thunder team wouldn’t go down without a fight.
The Thunder acquired veteran guard Chris Paul and a blooming star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which would form the dynamic duo we know today. Pair that up with a fantastic centre in Steven Adams, and offensive talents like Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schröder, you would have a Western Conference team that would come to surprise many fans around the league.
After finishing as the 6 seed in last year’s playoffs, the Thunder proved all the haters wrong by placing 4th in the 2019-2020 season, a feat many thought would never happen. I can see this team doing some damage in the playoffs. Even though they’ll be facing off against the 5 seed Houston Rockets, whose small ball tactics have been proven to be effective (with a lot of doubt before the bubble), I believe that the Thunder have what it takes to give the Rockets a fight.
Runners-up: Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, San Antonio Spurs
Playoff Noise Maker: The Dallas Mavericks
This award is given to the team that I think will impress a lot of people in the playoffs, and will make a run that some might not expect. I’m giving this award to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Dallas Mavericks easily have one of the deepest rotations in the NBA. On the starting lineup you have offensive threats like Seth Curry, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. With the addition of very solid role players in Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Delon Wright, and Boban Marjanović (who’s literally a human cheat code when it comes to interior defence), you have yourself a team that can make some noise in the playoffs.
We’ve already seen what the Mavericks accomplished this season, like clinching a playoff spot after a three year playoff drought. Although the Mavs finished the Bubble with a record of 3-5, which might seem a little disappointing on paper, this team has managed to wreak havoc on the league before the hiatus, all thanks to Luka Doncic’s beastly performances, which he continued to do during the Bubble. It’ll only be a matter of time before we see what the Mavs can do against the second seeded Clippers. An upset? Possibly.
Runners-up: Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets
Playoff Flopper: The Portland Trail Blazers
It’s a common occurrence that when Portland makes the playoffs, their departure is a much expected one, as well as a very disappointing one as well. From being swept by the Pelicans and the Warriors in back to back playoff appearances in 2017 and 2018, to being another victim of the sweep in the 2019 Western Conference Finals, courtesy of the Warriors, Portland’s reputation in the playoffs is not the best, and this year, it’s definitely been shown that this Blazers team is set up for yet another unfortunate exit, and perhaps another sweep.
By winning the Western Conference play-ins over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers would take the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and will go on to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. But it’s pretty obvious how this is going to play out. Given how well the Lakers have been playing in the regular season, and how the Blazers barely got away with a win against a young Grizzlies team, it’s not a far stretch to say that the Blazers have a good chance of making an early exit in this year’s playoffs.
Runners-up: Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers
Most Valuable Player: Devin Booker
Devin Booker has proved that he is an elite offensive threat in today’s league, as well as a top-tier shooting guard. With the Suns finishing with an 8-0 record in the Bubble.
Through the 8 Bubble games, Booker put up a statline of 30.5 ppg, 6 apg, 4.8 rpg, while shooting over 50% from the field. MVP like numbers to say the least. Aside from his impressive statline, what sets Booker apart from the rest of the Bubble MVP candidates was his ability to push his team to a potential playoff run. Before the start of the Bubble, the Suns had one of the lowest chances to make the playoffs, but Suns fans got a glimpse of hope after the Suns’ incredible 8-0 run, which was unfortunately cut short by a victory from the Portland Trailblazers over the Brooklyn Nets, eliminating Booker and the Suns from playoff contention.
The race for the Bubble MVP was extremely close for me, and was extremely hard to decide (believe me). But nothing does it for me like the story of an underdog team that managed to defy all the odds, powered by such a fantastic player like Booker and a young and developing supporting cast.
Runners-up: T.J. Warren, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic
Most Surprising Player: Michael Porter Jr
After shocking the league’s fans by being drafted at the 14th pick, fans were skeptical about Michael Porter Jr. and his performance in the league. Coming off of a college season cut short by back surgery, doubts were high for the rookie forward out of the University of Missouri. But Porter Jr. would find a way to silence the haters and the doubters by putting up a Bubble performance we’ll never forget.
Putting up a statline of 22 ppg, 1.4 apg, 7.1 rpg, and a block and a steal per game, while shooting a near 45% from the field, MPJ has (and will be) been a critical piece to Denver’s playoff push, and a potential push for the Western Conference Finals. Porter Jr. had averaged just over seven points a game before the hiatus, a prime example of the Bubble breakthrough trend.
Runners-up: Gary Trent Jr., Derrick White, T.J. Warren