The Whiteboard: Picks for NBA’s All-Seeding Games Team and Bubble MVP

Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images /

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Backed by popular demand, the NBA announced there will be an All-Seeding Games Team and an NBA Player of the Seeding Games award this year. In other words, we’re getting an All-Bubble First and Second Team, along with a Bubble MVP.

Is it kind of goofy and borderline absurd to hand out awards based on a sample size of eight games? Yes. But this has been a highly successful bubble experiment, one the league should be proud of for not only keeping everyone coronavirus-free so far, but also for the high quality of basketball. After four months without sports, these contests have been a breath of fresh air with mostly competitive battles that have real stakes.

To that end, we’re fully leaning into it by selecting the 10 players (and one MVP) who deserve recognition for their play in the bubble. For these awards, the NBA has decided there will be no positional designations. While there are still three days of seeding games left, which could open the door for some slight tweaks (and maybe even change our MVP selection), for now, these seem like the best choices. Without further ado, here are picks for the All-Bubble Teams.

Honorable Mentions: Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, Caris LeVert, Gary Trent Jr.

Second Team

Giannis Antetokounmpo — Our biggest cut from the First Team, if only for three reasons: 1) His Milwaukee Bucks are only 3-3 in the bubble, 2) That headbutt on Moritz Wagner didn’t sit well with us and will probably result in a suspension that limits him to only six seeding games, and 3) If there’s any justice in the world, he’s about to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. He doesn’t need an All-Bubble First Team selection to validate his season.

Kristaps Porzingis — This is the fully weaponized Kristaps Porzingis the Dallas Mavericks have been waiting for … on the offensive end, at least. His pick-and-roll coverage is a big reason Damian Lillard dropped 61 on Tuesday night, but 30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game on 38.1 percent shooting from distance (on 7.0 attempts per game) is nothing to sneeze at for the 7-footer. The Mavs’ 2-4 record with Porzingis available is the biggest thing holding him back from First Team honors compared to our five more deserving candidates.

Michael Porter Jr. — The only rookie to make the list, and it’s not Zion Williamson or Ja Morant! MPJ has been nothing short of tremendous for a shorthanded Denver Nuggets squad, putting up 23.8 points and 9.2 boards per game in six seeding games. His 46.3 percent shooting from deep on 6.8 attempts per game, as well as his incredible 72.2 true shooting percentage show plenty of hope the Nuggets have another future star on their hands. Just don’t ask him for public health information.

DeMar DeRozan — Someone on the 5-2 San Antonio Spurs deserved to make the Second Team, and although Derrick White would probably win a nonexistent Most Improved Bubble Player award, DeMar DeRozan has been the straw stirring Gregg Popovich’s drink in Orlando. Averaging 21.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds a night on 58.1 percent shooting, DDR remains a welcome, underrated throwback to the last era of NBA basketball where the mid-range reigned supreme.

Jayson Tatum — Tatum got off to an ice-cold start in the bubble, but his numbers — 22.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on .469/.449/.853 shooting splits — have leveled out since then. The Boston Celtics (5-3) look like a potential threat in the Eastern Conference, and although Jaylen Brown was in the conversation for this spot, Tatum has the advantage with one seeding game remaining.

First Team

Devin Booker — The Phoenix Suns are on a tear, and their 23-year-old franchise star has been nothing short of sensational. Booker has waited years for this stage, and he’s delivering on all fronts for the only 7-0 team in Orlando, averaging 31.0 points, 6.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game on 63 percent true shooting.

After years of hearing about how he was wasting away in Phoenix, how he wasn’t a winner, how he wasn’t a true franchise star, Booker is living by Kobe Bryant’s words inscribed on his shoes every game: “Be legendary.” He’s been a top-five scorer, a determined defender, had the best moment of the seeding games with his game-winner against the LA Clippers and most importantly, is leading these young Suns to their coming-of-age moment. If it weren’t for Dame dropping 51 and 61 in back-to-back games, Devin Booker would be the clear choice for Bubble MVP.

T.J. Warren — Before Mikal Bridges and Jimmy Butler put the clamps on him in his only two bad games in the bubble, Warren was the favorite for Bubble MVP. Even after those two rough outings, Tony Buckets is still putting up 31.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on staggering .578/.524/.889 shooting splits.

He’s been everything the Indiana Pacers (4-2) could’ve asked for without Domantas Sabonis on the court, he’s taking a whopping 7.0 3-pointers per game, and until Lillard, he had the highest scoring outing in the bubble with 53 points on 9-of-12 shooting from deep. He’s slowed down a bit, but no one should forget he was the story of the NBA during that first week in Orlando.

Luka Doncic — No big deal, Luka Doncic is just casually averaging a triple-double in the bubble during his second year in the NBA. That’s all.

The Dallas Mavericks haven’t won nearly enough to put him in the Bubble MVP mix, but 32.0 points, 11.3 assists and 11.0 rebounds per game is more than enough to guarantee him a spot on our First Team. Doncic has been nothing short of brilliant, even if the Mavs’ offense wilts in the clutch and their defense can’t stop anybody.

James Harden — Harden has only played five of his team’s six games thus far, but until Tuesday, he was leading the NBA in scoring with 33.4 points per game on 70.6 percent true shooting. Oh, and that’s to go with 8.6 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game as well.

The Houston Rockets suddenly look dangerous, and a well-rested Harden in a hooper’s dream environment is the biggest reason why. His playing style remains controversial, but the Beard is a master of his craft and one of the greatest, smartest scorers the league has ever seen. As an MVP finalist yet again, and the type of player people will sadly only appreciate once his career is over, we’re not going to make the mistake of leaving Harden off our First Team.

Bubble MVP: Damian Lillard — Until Tuesday night, this award would’ve gone to Devin Booker. And who knows? If the Suns go a perfect 8-0 behind another big game from Book while the Portland Trail Blazers drop a must-win contest against the Brooklyn Nets, it could very well swing back in Booker’s favor.

But we can’t ignore detonations of 51 points and 61 points in back-to-back games. We can’t forget that Dame is dragging this Rip City squad to the play-in scenario all by himself. And we can’t overlook how Lillard is averaging a bubble-leading 37.0 points, 9.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, shooting 41.4 percent from deep on a whopping 12.4 attempts per game and carrying Portland to a 5-2 record.

Those eye-popping numbers are prone to volatile changes because of the small sample sizes at work, so one poor outing could have it all come crashing back down. But with only three days of seeding games left, and only one game remaining for both Lillard and Booker, Dame has the slight edge for Bubble MVP.

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