In the NBA bubble, we have seen plenty of unproven guys shine for their respective teams. Three players in particular have taken a massive jump in their game, and will have a great opportunity to propel their teams deep into the playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, and one of the biggest reasons why is due to the improvement of forward T.J Warren. In six bubble games, the former Suns player is currently averaging 31 points per game.
Warren has shown a major increase on the offensive end of the floor, as he was only averaging 19.8 points per game on the season. This massive jump in scoring has helped the team to a 6-2 record in Orlando, including big victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.
When the Pacers matched up with the Lakers on August 8th, the former North Carolina State product showed up when the team needed him most. Warren scored 39 points while shooting 15-22 from the field, including a dagger three over Anthony Davis to ice the game for Indiana.
As things currently stand, the Pacers will face the fourth seeded Miami Heat. This series will bring a lot of interesting battles, including previous altercations between Warren and Heat guard/forward Jimmy Butler. This will add to the hype of their first round matchup, producing an even better seven game series.
The Pacers are currently without All-Star Domantas Sabonis, who has been dealing with plantar fasciitis since the beginning of the bubble.
Recent reports have come out that Warren has been dealing with the same issue, but he has been playing through it for a majority of the season. If Sabonis is not able to come back or even play to his best ability, the Pacers will rely heavily on Warren to take over in the playoffs.
The Pacers have other solid players including Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Victor Oladipo, but it seems like Warren is the biggest x-factor for how deep the team goes in the playoffs.
Gary Trent Jr.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been derailed by injuries all season, but one player who has stepped up in the bubble is Gary Trent Jr. After a tough rookie season in which he only appeared in 15 games, the 6-foot-5-inch guard has had more than a few big scoring nights in Orlando, averaging nearly 17 points per game in that stretch.
At times, head coach Terry Stotts has utilized a three guard lineup where Trent has played major minutes alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. When the Blazers have gone to that smaller lineup, both Lillard and McCollum have been able to create a lot of space off the dribble, leading to great looks for Trent on the perimeter.
The 21-year-old guard has been efficient even with an increased volume of shots, proving he can be a valuable piece for the Trail Blazers going into the playoffs. Trent is shooting above 51% from the three point line on 67 attempts, making him a major threat on the offensive end.
Now that Portland has advanced through the play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies, they will be facing the Lakers led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. One important thing to note going into that scenario is Avery Bradley will not play after opting out prior to the return.
Without their best perimeter defender, the Blazers guards will have a fantastic opportunity to stretch the Lakers defensively. If Portland is going to push the series to six or seven games, Trent will need to knock down open shots to take the load off the rest of their key players.
Michael Porter Jr.
One of the most talented players who has made huge strides in the bubble is Micheal Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. The 22-year-old slipped to the fourteenth pick in the 2018 draft due to injury concerns, but now we are seeing why he was so highly touted out of high school.
After missing the entirety of the 2018-2019 season with back issues, the Nuggets forward has shown he can be a major piece in the team’s future. He is averaging 9.3 points per game on nearly 51% shooting from the field, but those numbers have skyrocketed in Orlando.
Porter is currently averaging 22 points per game in the NBA restart, showing he has the ability to put the Nuggets over the top in the loaded Western Conference. This significant increase in offensive production is one of the reasons why the forward can help his team make a deep run in the postseason.
Another reason why he is such an important piece for the Nuggets is because the forward offers something none of their other wing players have. Torrey Craig and Will Barton are very solid players, but Porter has the ability score at will from any part of the floor. At 6’10, he also has the ability to shoot over defenders, making him a legitimate offensive threat.
The Nuggets will be facing the six seeded Utah Jazz in the first round, which will likely result in a matchup between Porter and Joe Ingles. Without Bojan Bogdanovic being available due to a season ending wrist injury, the Nuggets former first round pick will have a great opportunity to shine in the postseason.