Three San Antonio Spurs are amongst the competitors who’ve improved their game inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World.
Unprecedented times give way for a new way of looking at the game and for San Antonio Spurs fans, there’s been a rejuvenated interest in the team. With their ultra small-ball lineup competing in the Orlando bubble, the young core’s eventual takeover is no longer a fictional concept. That gave way for a captivating contrast with the core of veterans. They’ve achieved somewhat of a renaissance through these seeding games with less pressure and more help.
However, this isn’t specific to the Spurs — it’s a league-wide phenomenon. Players who were just strutting along during the regular season have come alive inside the bubble, leaving it all on the court and setting a new standard of themselves. Many of them are established players and even All-Stars, but many of them aren’t.
Though there’s no All-Bubble team awarded by the league and these eight seeding games won’t count toward regular-season awards. Whether that’s for better or worse is to be seen, but the players who are stepping up during this pivotal time deserve some recognition.
With that in mind, we’re naming the NBA’s Bubble All-Stars!
The criteria are simple: The players that qualify for the NBA Bubble All-Star team: A. Have to be active inside the Orlando Bubble and B. Cannot have been an All-Star already this year.
It’d be too easy to say “Hey, look at these guys that you already know are good!” That takes away from the acknowledgment for the lesser-known players that are leaving it all on the court. Spoiler Alert: Three Spurs players made the list for their exceptional efforts in these early seeding games.
Next: Recognizing the seven bench players
The NBA Bubble All-Star Reserves include two San Antonio Spurs veterans.
Just like the real NBA All-Star roster, this group includes five backups (one at each position) and two reserves. Those last two spots were very difficult to pick with a variety of players deserving some recognition. The most difficult cuts include Portland’s Gary Trent Jr., Miami’s Duncan Robinson and Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Starting at point guard is Mike Conley Jr., who hit the ground running since entering the bubble. For years, we’ve seen Conley be an amazing floor general, off-court leader and a gritty, technical defender. However, he struggled throughout his first season with the Utah Jazz. After an extended vacation, Conley must’ve tapped into some of Orlando’s Disney magic because he’s up to 19.8 points and 5.8 assists from his season average of 14.4 points and 4.5 assists.
At shooting guard, former No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown is showing why he was a draft commodity coming out of Cal. In addition to being a smart and versatile defensive presence, Brown uses his athleticism to get good looks near the paint while flashing shot creation that would make his teammate, Jayson Tatum, proud. Not to mention he’s hitting a ridiculous 43.8 percent of eight 3-point attempts per game so far in Orlando.
The small forward is someone that the San Antonio Spurs became very accustomed to in their loss to the Denver Nuggets — Michael Porter Jr.
Injury concerns have always been the primary roadblock in Porter’s career but now that he’s healthy and playing next to a star in Jokic, this kid is wreaking havoc. He still has a long way to go before being a consistent go-to guy in this league, but his back-to-back 30+ point games including a 15-rebound outing versus the Spurs showed the basketball world that MPJ is here to make a statement.
A revelation at the power forward spot, Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan is transforming his role. Deferring to his younger teammates and taking over when he needs to, DeRozan is playing like the best version of himself as a shot creator, facilitator and deadly slasher. He led all players in the bubble in fourth-quarter scoring through the first four games, which came up huge in the Spurs’ two wins against Memphis and Sacramento.
The sophomore from Arizona, DeAndre Ayton has been a big part of the Phoenix Suns’ success inside the Orlando bubble. With a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double against Indiana, Ayton asserted his dominance and flashed an improved shooting stroke as well. His first season proved to be a bit underwhelming compared to some of his contemporaries, but Ayton is flashing what many hoped he would once established and comfortable in the NBA.
Those two reserve spots belong to Kyle Kuzma, who is actually playing defense and nailing 3-pointers for the Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs veteran Rudy Gay. He’s not getting much attention for it outside of San Antonio, but Gay quietly put up 19.8 points, 5.8 boards and a block per game through his first four outings. His jumper is back and his confidence is sky-high, so if the Spurs want any chance at making the postseason, it’s going to be due in large part to his performance.
Next: NBA Bubble All-Stars - Point Guard
NBA Bubble All-Stars starting Point Guard: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Underrated and influential to the Toronto Raptors lineup, point guard Fred VanVleet during an unlikely season for the defending champs. It’s not often that a team wins a ring and immediately needs to fill the void of its Finals MVP, but VanVleet has been a catalyst in keeping on track. Thus far in Orlando, Toronto is 3-0 due in large part to FVV’s amazing play.
VanVleet has been on fire since the NBA Finals and never let off the gas pedal. Through three games in the NBA restart, he’s averaging 23.3 points, 8.3 assists and a steal while shooting well beyond the 50/40/90 threshold that NBA historians hold in such high regard. Taking eight 3-pointers per game through three games is no feat in and of itself, but draining 50 percent of them is unheard of.
In addition to being one of the craftiest defenders and playmakers out there, VanVleet set his career-high in scoring with 36 points in a resounding victory over a fiery Miami Heat team. He takes care of the basketball, limiting turnovers despite high usage and executing coach Nick Nurse’s strategy to perfection. Players like Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam are going to get all of the attention for their input for the defending champions, but VanVleet has been invaluable to his team.
When the Raptors blew the Lakers out in their first game back, VanVleet was a +26 in a game that the Raptors won by 15. That impact is amplified when you realize that he played 40 minutes in the contest! A dime-dropped and exquisite modern point guard, VanVleet is going to get some serious cash as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Next: NBA Bubble All-Stars - Shooting Guard
NBA Bubble All-Stars starting Shooting Guard: Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
How is it even possible for Derrick White to be as good as he has been for the San Antonio Spurs? Somehow, Derrick has led the Spurs on both ends of the floor as the quintessential two-way athlete that embodies the organization’s values. During the last five games in the bubble, White is averaging 21.8 points per game on 47.1 percent from the field and 45.2 percent on 8.2 3-pointers per contest.
White is the type of player who does everything that his team needs of him, which is why he’s drawn more charges inside the Orlando bubble than anyone else. A defensive pest and one of the best shot-blocking guards in the NBA, White has stuck to his defensive assignments like glue despite an enhanced workload on the other side of the court.
Derrick White is averaging 22–5–5 on 47-45-81 shooting splits through five games in the bubble.
He also ranks eighth in FTA, third in 3PM, and first in charges drawn since the NBA restart began.
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) August 7, 2020
As he continues this streak, White has become a statistical anomaly with a 9.3 Net Rating and 66.4 true shooting percentage through his five games since the season resumed. There isn’t a single qualifying player who meets that criteria on the season besides George Hill, whose usage is 8.9 percent lower than Derrick’s. National media is taking notice and fans are enamored with what White’s been able to do as a go-to scoring option and starter on the season.
Last year, White flashed the kind of player he could be and through most of the season, it was hard for him to hit that ceiling. Now that he’s back in the starting lineup and has the green light from everyone around him to put in work, White is taking the scene by storm. I don’t see any scenario in which the Spurs don’t give him a contract extension this offseason to be their starting guard through the next three years at the very least.
Next: NBA Bubble All-Stars - Small Forward
NBA Bubble All-Stars starting Small Forward: Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
If you only look at the raw numbers without diving deeper on Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, you probably wouldn’t be very impressed. His nine points per game come on mediocre shooting splits in a sky-high 35 minutes per game. However, Bridges does a lot more than the box score will indicate as one of the most influential defensive players in the league right now.
The Phoenix Suns aren’t one of the only remaining undefeated teams in Orlando because of Booker and Ayton alone — Bridges’ defense has been influential. He’s guarded the best player on the other team in every game they’ve played. He ended T.J. Warren‘s insane shooting streak by holding him to 35 percent from the floor, ripped the ball from Kawhi to set Booker up for the game-winner against LA and forced Luka to go scoreless from 3-point range against Dallas.
A list of things you love to see:
➖ @mikal_bridges on defense
➖ @mikal_bridges guarding Kawhi
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) August 4, 2020
Phoenix’s defensive rating is 107.9 with Bridges on the floor and 111.5 with him off it this season. In the bubble, opponents shoot 44 percent from the floor and 26 percent from 3-point land with Mikal on the floor. That skyrockets to 47.4 percent overall and 35.3 percent from deep when he sits. He leads the Suns in deflections and contested 39 shots so far, which is second only to the rim defender, Ayton.
Very few players have the defensive skill-set and ferocity that Bridges does on that end of the floor. Maybe he’s not scoring as well as people would hope, but he’s also not taking all that many shots. Under former Spurs staffer Monty Williams, a superstar coach and a wonderful person, Bridges is going to find his footing for a long career in this league.
The Spurs have taught us to value elite defense and Bridges is a superstar in that regard.
Next: NBA Bubble All-Stars - Power Forward
NBA Bubble All-Stars starting Power Forward: T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers
Of everything we expected from this restart, a scoring outburst from T.J. Warren was not very high up on the list of things that came to mind. Alas, Warren has arrived after making his way out of a situation that didn’t value his skills in Phoenix. The number of “cash considerations” jokes made on Warren’s behalf has been bewildering for a national fanbase that had no idea Warren had been killing all season long.
Perhaps its the neutral ground advantage or the lack of shots consumed by the Pacers’ two leading players, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, but Warren is balling out of his mind. Bubble TJ is averaging 33.8 points, seven boards, two steals and 1.8 blocks on 58.7 percent from the field and 53.8 percent on seven triples per contest.
The scoring is going to get all of the attention here, as it should, but Warren has been a spectacle on defense as well. He’s entering these games engaged and excited to play for something meaningful with a team that truly gels on both ends of the floor. Playing off of a wonderful playmaker like Malcolm Brogdon opens up the floor and Myles Turner’s floor spacing threat makes way for Warren to take jumpers from anywhere on the floor.
Traditionally known for his mid-range shooting, just like a few guys on the San Antonio Spurs, Warren has been fearless as a 3-point threat. Between his unruly range and tireless effort, this is the best stretch of basketball we’ve ever seen by T.J. Warren and if it continues into the playoffs, the Pacers might just be able to make their way into the second round.
Only 38 percent of his minutes this season have been at the power forward, but given the team’s injury troubles, he’s been forced to play down. As we’ve seen with DeRozan, putting a lengthy guy with the skill set of a shooting guard at the power forward spot creates some serious mismatches and Warren isn’t afraid to take some gutsy shots in the restart.
Next: NBA Bubble All-Stars - Center
NBA Bubble All-Stars starting Center: Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
Making the Western Conference Finals in the wake of center Jusuf Nurkic‘s injury signified to the league that Portland is not a team to be taken lightly. Of course, the scoring threat posed by Dame Dolla creates an automatic mismatch in every game, but one guy can’t do it all by himself and now, the Blazers are in the same position as the San Antonio Spurs: Fighting for their playoff spot.
Fortunately for Portland, a hot start has done well for a group that should’ve already had a playoff spot if not for its plethora of injuries. No team benefitted from the rest of that gap between March and August more than the Blazers, who returned Nurkic at peak form.
Through four games in the bubble, Nurkic is at 22 points, 11 rebounds, 4.3 assists, three blocks and 1.5 steals in 32.3 minutes per contest. He’s everywhere at once, dominating the boards and generating extra opportunities for his team against the most stout of competition.
More from Air Alamo
- San Antonio Spurs: Preparing for another DeMar DeRozan All-Star snub
- Rockets suffer another devasting injury before facing San Antonio Spurs
- San Antonio Spurs: 4 Players who led thrilling comeback over Wolves
- San Antonio Spurs: Devin Vassell’s drastic drop in minutes is inexcusable
- San Antonio Spurs News: Mills tapped to lead medal-favorite Australia
Against an up-tempo Houston team without a natural center, he dominated the rebounding battle. Versus a Celtics squad without a strong interior defender, he dropped 30 points on 60 percent shooting. Most recently, he served as a second fiddle for Dame, who hit 11 threes against a division rival in the Denver Nuggets.
The point here is that Nurkic is an ultimate team player who identifies his best possible role in a given matchup and executes. His passing from the high post and low block have been exquisite while his interior presence remains one of the most powerful in the sport.
Coming off of a devastating injury as he did, Nurkic isn’t wasting any time getting back to form. He was expected to make his return just as the season shut down, which gave his body more time to rest and get back to normal after an extended period away from NBA competition.
Now, Nurkic is back with a vengeance. If the San Antonio Spurs can target him in a trade this offseason, they’d be much better off because of it.