The NBA is back. Kind of.
The league is facing their version of a new normal. In their words, it’s a whole new game for everyone. What wonders will the Disney Bubble bring to the teams, players, fans and even the league itself?
The NBA is the most competitive leagues in the world. As Charles Barkley used to say in Inside the NBA, winning an NBA game is one of the hardest things to do in the world of sports. That is why it’s a given that players, especially the great ones, are supposed to have big games consistently. This expectation is further magnified during the Playoffs. After all, that is where they measure their greatness.
While much has been said about this season being an asterisk season (it’s not), this standard will surely stay the same. If anything, given the current situation and the long break after the NBA season was cut short, fans will definitely be paying closer attention to the games happening in the Disney Bubble.
That being said, the return of the NBA is the perfect opportunity for players to produce big time performances. But which players need it the most? Who are the guys that need to have big games once the NBA tips off inside the bubble?
The that need to have big games in the bubble because are the ones that need defining performances to shut up the doubters or to prove their greatness especially now that the bubble will be the center of attention in the whole of sports. Of course there are also the players that are entering the tail end of their contract and need to amp-up their game to show that they are worth bigger paychecks.
Up first are the honorable mentions of the players that need huge games when the NBA restarts.
Russell Westbrook, PG: Westbrook is considered by many as one of the top players in the league. But his brand of basketball is not for everybody and he has never made it past the first round ever since Kevin Durant left him. He’s due for a big playoff run.
DeMar DeRozan, SG: He has a player option in his contract at the end of the season. While he remains an elite player, DeRozan’s status among NBA fans is that he is still the guy that was traded for Kawhi Leonard.
Brandon Ingram, SF: Ingram will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. An even stronger showing in the bubble should get him that max deal.
Montrezl Harrell, PF: The energetic Harrell will be one of the few coveted unrestricted free agents this season. While he has played well for the Clippers all season long, a big outing in the bubble wouldn’t hurt his case for a worthy paycheck. It’s important to note that Harrell left the Florida to attend to a family emergency. There’s still no update on his return.
Rudy Gobert, C: It’s safe to say that he is public enemy number one of NBA fans ever since the season got suspended. That alone is enough reason for him to play superb in the bubble just to change the microphone touching narrative he currently holds.
Here is your All-NBA First Team of players that need to have big games in the bubble.
PG: Mike Conley
Season Stats: 13.8 PPG, 4.3 APG, 0.8 SPG
For a brief moment in 2016, Conley became the highest paid player in the NBA. At the time, it seemed ludicrous to think about it. After all, Conley never made a single All-Star game in his career. But did he deserve a five-year contract worth $153 million? Absolutely.
In the prime of his career, Conley was one of the absolute best two-way point guards in the league. Aside from being a great defender, he was a great pick and roll player and his patented off-hand teardrop was one of the more underrated unstoppable shots there was. So when the Utah Jazz acquired him at the beginning of the season, it seemed like it was a match made in heaven.
But Conley has been underwhelming throughout the season after another round battling injuries. Doubts are now starting to set whether or not the 32-year old veteran could still provide value to a Playoff team. His points per game and steals per game average is the lowest since the 2011-2012 season and his rookie year, respectively.
With a fresh start in the bubble after several months break, Conley should seize this opportunity to get back his mojo and bring to the Jazz what they wanted from him in the first place: Playoffs stability and leadership. While he has still around 34 million dollars left on his contract should he decide to opt-in (which he probably would), a throwback performance inside the bubble could give him better flexibility when he tries to negotiate for his next contract.
SG: Paul George
Season Stats: 21.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG
Here’s a recap George’s last three years in four bullets:
- Got booted out in the first round by Joe Ingles in 2018.
- Partied with Russell Westbrook and announced he’s here to stay in OKC after the Lakers met with LeBron James first instead of him.
- Was on the wrong end of one of the greatest series clinching Playoff buzzer beaters in history, which apparently was a “bad shot”. Another first round exit.
- Traded to the Clippers.
Honestly, it has been somewhat a comical roller coaster ride for George. He’s was still an absolute monster last season as he finished third in the MVP race. But after a Damian Lillard’s stone cold three-pointer basically ended his OKC tenure, George has been on the receiving end of memes and trolls on the internet. His incredible MVP caliber season has long been forgotten.
That is why a defining performance in the NBA bubble that would erase all the foolish mockery is a must for PG13. Everyone needs to be reminded that he is an MVP candidate for a reason. After all, the Clippers basically gave up all their future first round draft picks in the next few years to acquire him. And a player of caliber of George is definitely worth that price. So settling for anything less than a championship, especially now that he is paired with the Finals MVP on a deep Clips team, will be considered a huge failure and another negative bullet for George.
SF: Gordon Hayward
’19-’20 Season Stats: 17.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.1 APG
You know that player who is not your most favorite but somehow, you always secretly wanted to model your game into? Like, if you’re playing pickup games or dreaming yourself playing in the pros, you fantasize of playing just like that NBA star? Weirdly, that’s Hayward for me.
Sure, he’s not my basketball hero but he’s just that good. He has a great touch from the outside, he can play the pick and roll to perfection and he has a great change of pace that is so underappreciated in his game. He can also defend well and do the little things in the court.
Rightfully so, the Boston Celtics went all in on him during the 2017 offseason. But after suffering a gruesome ankle injury in his first game, he was never really the same. While he still remains a productive player this season, the perception of Hayward as an underrated All-Star caliber player came crashing down. He’s now viewed as a trade asset for the Celtics especially with his hefty contract and the ongoing rise of Jayson Tatum who plays the same position as him.
Like Conley, Hayward has around $34.5 million left in his contract once he decides to opt-in. But if decides to opt out and become a free agent, he could get a max deal worth as much as $40.25 million due to the salary cap spike heading into 2020-2021 season. To do so, a big performance in the bubble is a must for Hayward. If somehow he can return to his All-Star form once the game resumes in Orlando, not only would it give him a better leverage should he seek a fresh long contract in the offseason, but it would also remind everyone just how great a player he is.
PF: Anthony Davis
Season Stats: 26.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG
If we’re talking about pure basketball talent and skill set, Davis is without a doubt a top five player in the world. But greatness requires results, particularly results that contribute to winning championships. And Davis, in his seven years in the league, has only made the Playoffs twice in his career, winning one series.
So when he forced his way into Los Angeles to team up with LeBron James, the expectations for him to deliver sky rocketed. After all, he is now playing on one of the most decorated sports franchise ever with one of the most decorated athletes ever.
AD has been living up to the expectations so far. He has been a defensive monster this season. And his game has truly elevated alongside LeBron. They are now first in the West and are one of the heavy favorites to win it all in Orlando. However, in order for the Lakers to win the title, Davis needs to be at his ultimate best. And come bubble time, it must be him, not LeBron, that should anchor the Lakers’ quest to the championship.
It should also be noted that Davis is expected to opt out of his current contract and enter the free agency. While he is definitely worth a super max deal, dominating the bubble will only further justify it.
C: Joel Embiid
Season Stats: 23.4 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG
The Philadelphia 76ers has been one step away from being a title contender for two seasons now. They have two cornerstone players in Embiid and Ben Simmons but somehow, they just don’t produce the right results. Both players need shooters around them. Simmons doesn’t really bother to shoot the ball while Embiid, even though he is a decent three point shooter, is much better operating inside the paint.
There have also been rumors on whether or not one of them should be traded at the end of the season if things don’t go too well for the Sixers with many suggesting building around Simmons, rather than Embiid. While this is not necessarily a bad option for them, the thing is Embiid and Simmons should be able to work together. After all, having two young generational talents in the same team is a privilege that only a few teams have.
Simmons is reportedly being moved to the power forward position and that would actually be beneficial to the team, everything will still boil down to the play of Embiid. With all due respect to Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, or Rudy Goberts, but when healthy, Embiid is the undisputed best center in the league today. And when the games restart inside the bubble, he should play like one.
This will be the perfect opportunity for Embiid to prove that despite all the naysayers, he is capable enough of leading a team into title contention. A dominant showing on both ends of the floor for The Process would not only quiet down the trade talks but also legitimize him as one of the best players in the world.