Devin Booker might not have won the award for Bubble MVP, but we’re going to change the rules so he still can.
Earlier in the week, the league announced that they would be honoring the top performers down in the Orlando Bubble with an MVP award to go along with two All-Bubble teams. Portland Trail Blazers superstar guard Damian Lillard was the easy choice for overall MVP (the decision was unanimous) thanks to consecutive scoring outputs of 51 points, 61, and 41 in his team’s final three seeding games that led them to the play-in round. Booker ended up coming in second despite leading his Phoenix Suns to a perfect 8-0 Bubble record; he also made the All-Bubble First-Team.
Since we are KENTUCKY Sports Radio, it’s only appropriate that we come up with our own All-Bubble team, but with my usual BBNBA twist. So without further ado, the picks are in.
MVP: Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
- Per game Bubble averages: 30.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists (33.8 minutes per game) – shooting splits: 50.3/31.3/94.0 – team record: 8-0
Once we were roughly six games into the NBA’s restart, I was ready to declare Devin Booker as the overall Bubble MVP and I didn’t believe it to be particularly close. T.J. Warren was a massive surprise to everyone–Indiana Pacers fans included–but what Booker and the Suns were doing was unprecedented. They had a next-to-nothing shot at making the playoffs and an even lower chance at running the table. Had it not been for Damian Lillard and his unforgettable performances down the stretch, Booker likely wins MVP and the Suns probably make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
But Dame Time is always on schedule and he found a way to will Portland into the playoffs. In fact, Dame cemented himself as a future Hall of Famer, a Portland icon, and one the game’s biggest superstars–all in about two weeks time (these were already facts beforehand, but it’s undeniable now).
However, Lillard’s impossible-to-replicate scoring bombardment shouldn’t take anything away from what Booker did. He was tied as the fourth-leading scorer among Bubble players, dropped exactly 35 points on four different occasions (the final 35-point game broke the record for most 30-point outings in franchise history), hit a game-winning shot over a perceived title favorite in the Los Angeles Clippers and its top two defenders, went undefeated, and established a future for Suns basketball that fans haven’t felt since Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire were pick-and-rolling opponents to death. Booker received 19 of the 22 votes for second-place on the MVP ballot, making him the easy choice for our BBNBA MVP.
First-Team BBNBA All-Bubble (no positional requirements)
Devin Booker *read above*
De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings)
- Per game Bubble averages: 26.2 points, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals (34.7 MPG) – shooting splits: 50.4/21.9/72.2 – team record: 3-5
De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings went into the Bubble with hopes of doing something similar to what the Suns did; both teams were in poor position to make a run but had a rare opportunity to amend everything bad that occurred back before the season was suspended. While Phoenix made a name for themselves, Sacramento left Orlando without a general manager.
The Kings stumbled right out of the gate, dropping its first three games and all but closing the door on any hope of forcing a play-in round. The offense was actually one of the more efficient among Bubble teams, but the defense was abysmal from start to finish. The Kings’ defensive rating of 116.1 was fourth-worst in the Bubble.
But enough sad talk; Fox still played out of his mind, especially when it came to attacking the basket. The former Wildcat didn’t perform well from beyond the arc (shooting under 22 percent from deep on a 7-32 clip) but he was relentless getting to the rim.
Even though he was battling a sprained ankle prior to the start of the seeding games, Fox didn’t seem to lose a step. His 26.2 points per game were ninth-best in the Bubble and he converted an insane 65.2 percent of his shots inside the paint, according to NBA.com, on 3.8 such attempts per game. Just for comparison sakes, of the six players who attempted more shots in the same area, not a single one made more than 56 percent. Luka Doncic and Ja Morant shot under 40 percent while Booker hovered at 45 percent.
Bubble Fox was much more aggressive than he was back in March and it paid off on the floor. The three-point shooting is a bit concerning, but he’s regularly punishing opposing teams at the rim. If the Kings can ever get its shit together, Fox is in for another breakout season sooner rather than later.
Keldon Johnson (San Antonio Spurs)
- Per game Bubble averages: 14.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals (26.1 MPG) – shooting splits: 63.8/64.7/82.4 – team record: 5-3
San Antonio Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson is easily the BBNBA surprise player of the Bubble. He wasn’t a piece that many expected to earn minutes heading into Orlando, but injuries to the players ahead of him forced him into the lineup. Luckily, he was more than prepared. Johnson actually started to come around as a role player right before the season was suspended, averaging over 16 minutes per game across the final four outings. He used the extended break to make sure he had a spot in the rotation once play resumed.
Johnson was a key piece to the Spurs’ 5-3 Bubble record and an important reason why they had a shot at forcing a play-in round during the final days of seeding games. After playing in just nine games pre-Bubble, the 6-foot-5 guard became as valuable as any starter once he stepped in Orlando, dropping three different 20-point scoring games and recording his first career double-double. He was consistent from deep (11-17 on threes in the Bubble), finished with accuracy near the basket, and used his motor to make plays on both ends of the floor. Johnson won’t be spending any more time in the G League for San Antonio. He deserved to make this list.
Tyler Herro (Miami Heat)
- Per game Bubble averages: 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists (28.5 MPG) – shooting splits: 50.5/37.8/100.0 – team record: 4-4
Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro was in a unique position down in the Bubble. Still a rookie, he isn’t quite ready to lead an offense by himself but he’s good enough to take over against lesser talent. With Miami’s playoff spot locked up and some scattered injuries throughout the team, Herro was a swiss army knife for head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Herro started two of the eight games he played–one of them at point guard–and oftentimes found himself as the team’s leading minutes holder in the final few contests. He complemented the starters in the first-half then would look to take over in the second. The former Wildcat recorded three 20-point scoring games, including a career-high 30 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His most impressive showing was a near-triple double stat line consisting of 25 points, 10 assists (first career double-double), and eight rebounds.
He genuinely did look like a mini version of Devin Booker, which is a pretty reputable comparison right now.
Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
- Per game Bubble averages: 21.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks (34.6 MPG) – shooting splits: 42.2/29.2/85.3 – team record: 3-5
These weren’t your typical performances out of Anthony Davis. Honestly, we probably saw about 60 percent of what Davis is capable of during the eight seeding games. The Los Angeles Lakers, as a whole, appeared somewhat disinterested in the pre-playoff bouts, posting an upsetting 3-5 record with bad losses to teams like the Kings. But I wouldn’t be too worried about Davis or the Lakers (or LeBron James). Despite playing with half-interest, the one-time Wildcat still put up some crazy numbers, although his shooting was off more often than not (a 6-foot-10 big who can score from literally anywhere should NEVER shoot under 45 percent from the field).
Davis was incredibly up-and-down, scoring 14 points in one game, only to drop 42 in the next game and then a pitiful nine in the one following that. The Lakers had to tell him to go out and make plays; that won’t (and shouldn’t) happen once the playoffs begin. The only reason he made the cut for this list over players such as Bam Adebayo or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is that those individuals were just as disinterested at times, if not more so than Davis. But this isn’t necessarily the player’s fault, considering the Lakers locked up the numbers one overall seed early on with nothing to play and that most playoff teams rested its starters in the second half of games.
Don’t be shocked if we’re talking about Davis taking home Finals MVP a couple of months from now.