The NBA restart is now officially one week old, with most every team having played four games and halfway through their seeding round schedule. After night one, we somewhat jokingly took stock of the All-Bubble teams, but with a week of action under our belts, it’s actually a good time to take a step back and highlight the individual players that have been thriving in Orlando.
Putting together these squads is actually really difficult given the incredible caliber of play we’ve seen out of the Disney campus. On top of that, there are some truly eye-popping numbers being produced, and balancing some of those numbers with team performance makes for some very tricky decisions. As noted last time, it’s my list so my rules, and as such I go with two guard spots and three frontcourt spots, instead of having one place reserved for true centers.
There were, certainly, some tough choices to be made and some players off to tremendous starts — like De’Aaron Fox, Paul George, Jaylen Brown, and more — just fall shy of making the cut. The depth of the league has been on full display in Orlando and there have been some pleasant surprise performances, stars that have asserted their dominance, and just generally great basketball being played. Without further ado, the Week 1 NBA All-Bubble squads.
First Team All-Bubble
G: Devin Booker (28 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.8 rpg; 47.4/40/90.3 shooting)
The Suns are 4-0 and are in the hunt for the Western Conference playoffs in large part due to the play of Devin Booker. He’s looked spectacular in the bubble, scoring with great efficiency, being a facilitator when needed, and hitting clutch buckets. His numbers aren’t as gaudy as some, but given Phoenix’s play, I can’t justify leaving him off the first team right now.
G: Damian Lillard (31.3 ppg, 11.3 apg, 5 rpg; 45.1/43.8/85.7 shooting)
Honestly a toss up between Lillard and Harden right now for this spot, but I give the slight edge to Dame because of the stakes for Portland (similar to what Booker’s doing for Phoenix) and because he has the head-to-head win between the two. This is a Blazers team that needs every bit of Lillard’s scoring to get to the playoffs and he’s delivered, most recently with an 11-three outing to topple the Nuggets and pull within a half-game of Memphis for the 8-seed.
F: T.J. Warren (33.8 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.8 apg; 58.7/53.6/85.7 shooting)
With Sabonis out and Victor Oladipo still trying to work his way back into All-Star form, the Pacers have followed the lead of T.J. Warren, the bubble’s leading score in a tie with Harden, to a 3-1 start. His 53 points in the opener was eye-popping, but he’s been the driving force for the Indiana offense in all four games. What will be interesting is how he performs going forward after the Suns showed Thursday how teams will attack him now to try and force others on Indiana to beat them, as his old squad held him to 16 points.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.3 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 5.8 apg; 68.6/33.3/60.6 shooting)
After losing to the Nets and falling behind by 23 in the first half of Thursday’s tilt with a Butler-less Heat team, there were a lot of people wondering what was wrong with the Bucks. The answer, as we learned in the second half, was maybe as simple as a team needing to flip the switch as they dominated Miami. Giannis got to the rim at will, as he was 12-for-12 at the rim (and 13-for-13 from two-point range overall in the game) and the Bucks defense suddenly tightened up after looking rough for the first 3.5 games of the bubble. Maybe that first half finally woke up a sleeping giant, but Giannis has been performing at his usual MVP caliber throughout.
F: Joel Embiid (32.7 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 4 apg; 58.3/11.1/81.8 shooting)
The Sixers are officially the Joel Embiid show now that Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with a knee injury, and to this point he’s carried that load impressively through three games, pushing Philly to back-to-back wins. He’s leading the bubble in rebounding and you can add 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game to that stat line as he does a little of everything to keep the Sixers hopes of vaulting out of the 6-seed alive.
Second Team All-Bubble
G: James Harden (33.8 ppg, 9 apg, 7.5 rpg; 52.9/35.9/88.7 shooting)
Look, he’s a first teamer and the moment the Suns lose if he’s still doing this it’s he and Dame at the top, but for now he finds himself here simply because of the spectacular play of Booker and Lillard. Harden is doing exactly what he’s done for years now in Houston, and on Thursday he was unleashed further against the Lakers as Houston sat Russell Westbrook. He had 39 and 12 to lead the way, and his three steals per game is tops in the bubble, too, as he is thoroughly enjoying himself in the Rockets small-ball havoc defense.
G: Fred VanVleet (23.3 ppg, 8.3 apg, 4.7 rpg; 52.5/50/94.1 shooting)
Is 50/50/90 good? Yes, yes it is. FVV is going to get paid very handsomely soon and he’s proving he only further proving he can be an offensive leader for one of the league’s best teams. He leads the Raptors in scoring and assists, taking on a leading role as teams try to send attention to Siakam and Lowry, with his most impressive effort coming against the Heat on Monday. Fun fact, Toronto’s defensive rating in the bubble is 96.1 and the average in the bubble is over 112. They’re absurd on that end and VanVleet is a part of their terrifying defensive attack too.
F: Luka Doncic (32.8 ppg, 11 rpg, 9.8 apg; 47.8/29/75.6 shooting)
I’m not even going to pretend to know how to appropriately judge scoring for Mavs players given their games are effectively All-Star games every night, but, I mean, what Doncic is doing is an absolute joke. That man is currently Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the hill while the Mavs attempt to win games solely on the offensive end because they have apparently taken an oath from even considering partaking in a defense. So far that’s not resulted in wins (1-3 to open the bubble) but it’s sure been entertaining.
F: Michael Porter Jr. (26.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 1.5 apg; 57.8/50/94.1 shooting)
The rookie forward for the Nuggets has nearly put together three straight 30 point outings, with 27 against Portland on Thursday, and he has given life to a Denver team that has yet to play its starting backcourt together in the bubble. As Jamal Murray continues to sit, Porter has taken on a major scoring load and is doing so with tremendous efficiency. This was always the ceiling for MPJ as an elite scorer, should his health and shot selection both come around, and if this continues once the Nuggets get to full strength they will pose some serious problems in the playoffs. Now, we just need to get the young man to log off a bit more. Good at basketball, bad at science.
F: Jusuf Nurkic (22 ppg, 11 rpg, 4.3 apg; 48.5/16.7/95.8 shooting)
It is genuinely great to see Nurk back on the floor and not just looking healthy but looking dominant. The Blazers have desperately needed his presence inside, and with him back in there Portland is firing on all cylinders. Nurkic isn’t a great defender in space, but he’s a serious presence at the rim, averaging 3.0 blocks per game in the bubble, and he adds such a different dynamic to this Blazers team that, along with the play of Lillard and C.J. McCollum, is why Portland is suddenly right in the mix for the 8-seed.
Third Team All-Bubble
G: Chris Paul (20.7 ppg, 7 apg, 5.7 rpg; 57.5/40/92.3 shooting)
The Point God is up to his old tricks in the bubble, as he has the Thunder clipping along at a great pace with two wins in three games as they continue to be one of the league’s most pleasant surprises this season. Everyone on OKC is chipping in on both ends, like a slightly lesser version of the Raptors two-way, egalitarian play, but Paul is the one leading the way and giving this team its edge and identity.
G: Kyle Lowry (18.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 7 apg; 36.4/44.4/85.2 shooting)
Speaking of giving a team its edge and identity, it’s Kyle Lowry! He’s not finishing as well as he’d like in the bubble, but he is doing everything else for this Raptors team. He’s the leader of the bubble’s best team, is somehow seventh in rebounding in the bubble with the next shortest guy in the top-10 being Doncic, and sets the tone at the point of attack for the NBA’s best defense. His numbers aren’t as wild as some, but his impact is as big as anyone in the bubble.
F: Kawhi Leonard (27.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.3 apg; 43.4/50/86.1 shooting)
Kawhi and Paul George have almost identical numbers, with Kawhi just edging his teammate in every category. As such, he lands here, but you can basically combine them for this spot. The two stars for the Clippers have had to really carry the load as their bench unit tries to find its rhythm without some key pieces and with guys like Lou Williams just getting back on the floor. The results have been mixed for the team, but Leonard and George’s play has to produce some optimism going into the playoffs provided they get the usual production from the rest of the supporting cast.
F: Kristaps Porzingis (30.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.5 apg; 45.8/29.6/88.1 shooting)
Again, the Mavs historic offense and their horrific defense have kind of broken my brain. These are absurd numbers, even accounting for a 4-game sample, but the team is 1-3 and Porzingis (like Doncic) have plenty to do with Dallas’ defensive woes. Still, they’re the only reason they are in games, although both have had serious struggles late in games hitting shots as evidenced by their three-point percentage. I wouldn’t argue with anyone that wants to vote someone else in in this spot like PG, AD, Ayton, or someone else, but 30 and 10 are some wild numbers.
F: Nikola Jokic (20.5 ppg, 10 apg, 7 rpg; 48.4/23.5/85.7 shooting)
It really is kind of wild that the Nuggets are 2-2 given their backcourt rotation thus far, and point Jokic is a big reason for their success. His 10 assists per game leads the team, as he’s served as the table-setter for the Denver offense in an even greater way than usual. He’s not hitting threes yet, but everything else has been vintage Joker.