The NBA has announced the Bubble Awards. The awards consist of an All-Seeding-Games first team (and second-team) as well as a Seeding Games MVP. There have been truly memorable performances inside the bubble in Orlando, but there were only five members selected to the first team and one truly deserving MVP. With the playoffs around the corner, let’s take a look at the awards.
All-Bubble First Team:
Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Lillard has been the center of attention for the playoff-chasing Blazers as well as the NBA media. He got caught up in a feud with Clippers point guard Patrick Beverly and star forward Paul George after he missed two crucial free throws late in a loss to the Clippers. Beverly’s mocking of Lillard’s “Dame Time” celebration proved to be the only motivation Dame needed.
In his games in the bubble, Lillard has averaged 37.6 points per game and 9.6 assists. He has done that while shooting an outrageous 43.6% from three on roughly 12 attempts per game. In the three games since the Clippers loss, he has combined for an astounding 154 points. After all of that, the Blazers still needed to win a play-in game against the Grizzlies to secure their spot in the playoffs. Lillard didn’t disappoint, putting up 31 points on a perfect 14-14 from the free-throw line. It is unfathomable to imagine where the Blazers would be without him, and he was a lock for the All-Seeding Team.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
When the Suns were added to the bubble, they were considered to have no shot at making a run for the 8th seed. Fast forward, and the Suns went 8-0 with an average margin of victory of about 13 points. While the team has gotten solid performances out center Deandre Ayton and rookie Cam Johnson, none of their success would have been possible without Booker.
Booker has ascended to another level during these play in games. He is averaging 30.5 points per game on over 50% shooting from the field. He has scored over 30 points in 5 out of the 8 games. Booker has also proven he can hit big shots for his team, demonstrated when he hit the game-winner over the Clippers. While the Suns just barely missed the playoff spot, Booker’s play did not go unrecognized as he earned a well-deserved spot on the All-Seeding team.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
The Rockets will be an interesting wild card going into the playoffs this year. After trading away Clint Capela to the Hawks, the Rockets fully embraced the small-ball strategy and an onslaught of threes. With Russell Westbrook expected to miss most of the first round, James Harden will need to step up in a big way. That shouldn’t be a problem, given his performances inside the bubble.
Many have become numb to Harden’s high scoring performances, but they should not go without praise. Harden has averaged 35.3 points per game on 36% from three on 10 attempts. His contributions to the Rockets team could be considered the most valuable in the NBA. In the two games the Rockets have lost so far, Harden was inactive for one and had his lowest point total out of all bubble games with 23 against the Blazers. Especially with Westbrook gone, Harden’s performances have been irreplaceable for the Rockets, and he has turned up in a big way for them.
T.J Warren, Indiana Pacers
One of the lesser-known names out of the four players so far, Warren was rightfully selected for the team. The Pacers were locked into the playoffs from the get-go, but that didn’t stop Warren from putting up some of the best numbers of his career while in the bubble.
In the seven games Warren played in the bubble, he averaged 31 points per game on 52% from three. Warren also had the most shocking performance of the bubble when he exploded for 53 points. Whether Warren’s hot streak is sustainable remains to be seen. He eventually regressed to the mean when Jimmy Butler held him to 12 points. If the Pacers plan to make a series of their first-round matchup with the Heat, they will need Warren to continue his stellar play. However, his spot on the All-Seeding team was undeniable after some of the best numbers of his career.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
With no traditional center worthy of making this seeding games team, the Slovenian phenom earned the last spot. The Mavericks acquired star big man Kristaps Porzingis in a trade with the Knicks last year but, without Doncic, this team would’ve been out of playoff contention. Doncic has shown up time and time again for Dallas throughout the season, and that trend didn’t stop when they entered the bubble.
Doncic nearly averaged a triple-double, with 30 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game through his seven active games. His three-point shot was a little concerning, as he shot 30% on seven attempts per game. However, he put up some legendary performances despite that. When Doncic finished with 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists in a 4 point win over Sacramento, he became the first Mavs player ever to have a 30-20-10 triple-double. He will need help from co-star Porzingis and other players in the supporting cast in a tough first-round matchup against the Clippers.
Bubble MVP: Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
While all of the aforementioned players are worthy of this award, it would have been a travesty to give it to anyone other than Lillard. Against all the odds with one of the hardest schedules in the entire bubble, Lillard willed his team into the playoffs, even playing an additional game against a formidable Memphis team. He did this while his best teammate, guard CJ McCollum, was dealing with a fractured back.
Lillard’s play even earned him the “MJ treatment,” with opposing teams picking him up and even doubling him the second he crossed half-court.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, there is no denying that Damian Lillard was the single most valuable player to his team out of all the teams in the NBA bubble.