Players who stepped up in the NBA’s seeding games

Some people make great careers of short bursts of brilliance. Jeremy Lin earned enough contracts after Linsanity to win a championship, and Sundiata Gaines was picked up by multiple teams after hitting one big shot in his NBA call up from the G League. In the same way, there have been some breakout stars during the NBA’s Orlando bubble seeding games – but Double Clutch have looked at those who will make a lasting impact.

Michael Porter Jr

By Ger Deegan

In the first few days of bubble action and particularly during the scrimmage games a lot of people were getting quite excited about the emergence of Bol Bol for the Denver Nuggets after his mind-blowingly good first start. He was making threes and blocking shots like his life depended on it against the Washington Wizards in their opening game, and it looked as though his unusual style and length could perhaps make him a future star for Mike Malone’s team. That was, until we saw the introduction of Michael Porter Jr.

Over the course of the eight seeding games, it was Porter Jr who showed himself to be the biggest breakout talent inside the NBA bubble. Despite being pulled out of Denver’s opening night loss to the Miami Heat for lapses in his defensive game, Porter Jr bounced back in a big way, averaging 22 points per game as well as shooting a career high 37 points versus Oklahoma City Thunder.

Shooting ability has always been there and his development as a three point hunter has been clear. He shot a whopping 46.3% from three-point range over the course of the seven games he played, making 19-41 attempts.

Porter should now be a clear starter for the Nuggets and with potentially the best passer in Nikola Jokić alongside him, he will have more than enough chances to add to his scoring as they take on Utah in the first round of the playoffs.

Mikal Bridges

By Sean Guest

Although Devin Booker was the focal point of the Phoenix Suns’ 8-0 bubble blast, Mikal Bridges was the team’s X-factor. By inserting his defensive smarts into the starting line-up, the Suns were able to contain the likes of Luka Dončić and Kawhi Leonard on one end of the floor while Booker went to work on the other.

Despite very often taking the toughest assignment, Bridges recorded the third-best defensive net rating (107.4) and the third-best defensive win share (0.023) of all Suns players who averaged more than 20 minutes per game in the bubble. His ability to lock down the opposing team’s biggest offensive threat also contributed to the Suns recording the fourth-best team defensive rating (107.4) over the course of the seeding games, which was a significant improvement on their 17th effort (110.8) over the entire regular season. Bridges also showed glimpses of his offensive potential, recording his second-highest points total of the season against the 76ers while also averaging a better offensive rating in the bubble (118.3) than he did prior to entering it (111.0).

Thanks to his performance in Orlando, Bridges should be a lock for starters’ minutes next season and may also have a shot at making his first career All-Defensive Team appearance.

Gary Trent Jr

By Thomas Lamming

Pre-bubble, the former Duke Blue Devil was best known for his tenacious defensive intensity and ability to shoot the three-ball.

Eight seeding games later and the second-year guard has been one of the breakout players. Red hot three-point shooting and physical defense has seen Trent develop into a vital cog in the Portland Trail Blazers rotation.

Progressing from 20 minutes per game to almost 34 minutes during the eight seeding games, Trent Jr shocked the NBA universe with his unconscious three-point shooting off the bench. Attempting 8.4 threes per game (10th in the NBA) and making a staggering 4.3 behind only Dame Lillard at 5.5.

Knocking down the three at an outstanding 50.7%, the shooting guard has hit the second-most treys in the bubble (34). He averaged 16.9 points in Orlando, which is an increase of more than 9 points since the March 11 suspension of the season (7.7).

A possible sixth man of the bubble candidate, the 21-year-old has recorded six games with four or more three-point makes and three 20-point outings. As a result, leading the NBA in total bench scoring during the seeding games with an impressive 135 points.

The Gary Trent Jr coming-out party has truly begun and he’s sure letting his opponents know about it; just ask Paul George.

Derrick White

By Huw Hopkins

San Antonio Spurs fans have long wanted Derrick White to be given free reins over the offense, and while that hasn’t exactly happened in Orlando, his bubble experience has shown that more is better for the third year guard.

Before the league got shut down in March, White was managed 11 points in 24 minutes, but with more time available in the rotation due to losing LaMarcus Aldridge to season ending shoulder surgery, this has increased to 29 minutes per game. But those extra five minutes have been used efficiently.

No longer is he additional capacity at the guard spot in an offense that clogged up the middle. Instead, he has been a second option behind DeMar DeRozan in a four-guard line-up, which relied on defensive and rebounding specialist bigs, rather than a LaMarcus Aldridge, who needs plenty of touches and high usage to be useful.

They didn’t quite make the playoffs for the first time in 23 years, but nobody expected it to come down to the final game of the season to knock them out when play stopped in March. 

White turned it on and became the best player in the Spurs at times. Here’s hoping he’s a more focal part of the offense next year.