NBA Restart: A Player to Watch From Each Of The 22 Teams

All 22 NBA teams have arrived at the bubble in Disney, which means teams are practicing and gearing up for the season to resume on July 30. The seeding-game schedule is set and playoff seeds are still up for grabs. While some teams’ rotations are set, others will look for players to carry an additional load due to teammates not going into the bubble.

With the unique scenario, and key players not playing, the door opens for surprise performances by players. Here is a list of potential breakout performers for each of the 22 teams in the bubble.

Milwaukee Bucks: SG Donte DiVincenzo

As a rookie, the two-time NCAA champion and former NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player missed the majority of the season with a heel injury, appearing in just 27 games. But in his sophomore campaign, DiVincenzo has shown he belongs in the league.

He averaged 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds prior to the season getting paused, and continued to show signs of improving. Being one of the younger guys in the Bucks rotation, look for DiVincenzo to thrive in the conditions of the bubble. He is a key component to a deep roster of supporting players. If the Bucks are going to make that championship run, DiVincenzo will likely be a key player.

Los Angeles Lakers: PF Kyle Kuzma

The lone holdover from the Baby Lakers who filled the roster between Kobe Bryant’s retirement and LeBron James’ arrival, Kyle Kuzma finds himself as the longest tenured Laker at the age of 24. Last season the forward had a career year, averaging 18.6 points per game in 33 minutes of action. But this season Kuzma has seen a steep decline in production and playing time due to his rehab.

With that said, Kuzma is at full strength now and minute restrictions no longer exist. His scoring was a difference-maker in the regular season, as L.A. went 10-1 when Kuzma put up at least 18 points. If the Lakers are going to win the title, Kuzma will have to be that consistent third scorer as opposing defenses lock in on James and Anthony Davis.

Los Angeles Clippers: C Montrezl Harrell

For the Clippers the options were endless. I could have gone with Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac or Landry Shamet, but Montrezl Harrell feels like the most important of the bunch. The Clippers lone weakness is size and rim protection.

The Western Conference has some dominant big-men, Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis just to name a few. We don’t know how the matchups will fall, but one would assume the Clippers path to a title would pass through at least one of those two bigs. Harrell’s production on both ends will be vital to the Clippers success in those series.

Toronto Raptors: SF OG Anunoby

With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green gone from last season’s championship squad, the onus of taking on the opposition’s top perimeter threat will fall on OG Anunoby.

With Toronto’s path to a return trip to the NBA Finals likely requiring the Raptors to first beat the Boston Celtics and then the Milwaukee Bucks, Anunoby could be the one tasked with guarding Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Sure Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry are the two headed monster for the Raptors, Anunoby will be the key to the Raptors success.

Houston Rockets: SG Eric Gordon

The Rockets really need Gordon to return to his former self. This season Gordon has struggled with nagging knee injuries and discomfort, making it hard for him to find a rhythm.

He’s supposed to give Houston a potent third scoring threat behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook, but Gordon has shot only 37% from the floor in 34 games, by far the worst of his career. For the Rockets to make a deep run, Gordon must return to his form of last season’s playoffs, when he averaged 17.8 points with a 60.4 true shooting percentage.

Boston Celtics: SF Gordon Hayward

When the Boston Celtics signed Gordon Hayward to a max contract a few years ago, they envisioned him as a core building piece. Fast forward to present day and he is at best the 4th option for the team. Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are all averaging over 20 points per game this season, the only trio to do so. Their depth and talent are a reason they are amongst the top title contenders.

To be definitively better than the Bucks, Lakers and Clippers, Gordon Hayward needs to be that guy to explode a couple of games in a series. Being the fourth option, but once being a first option, Hayward should have favorable matchups to expose in a long series.

Philadelphia 76ers: PG Shake Milton

Head Coach Brett Brown announced that Ben Simmons will be playing the PF position when he NBA restarts. This opens the PG spot to breakout sensation Shake Milton. He played well when Ben Simmons was out of the lineup before the season shut down — including scoring a career-high 39 points against the Clippers at Staples Center.

His ability to space the poor for Embiid and Simmons will be vital to the 76ers success.

Denver Nuggets: PF Jerami Grant

Grant was a quiet breakout role player for the Thunder last season, playing primarily as a stretch 4. With the Nuggets he’s seen his role reduced behind veteran Paul Millsap, but he could see an enhanced role this postseason.

He can guard four positions and adds the ability to switch everything defensively. His defensive impact could be immense if he sees minutes next to Jokic in the backcourt, who is far from a good defender.

Miami Heat: SG/SF Tyler Herro

Tyler Herro and Kyle Kuzma have been the top two candidates for winning quarantine. If you know you know. But on the court, Herro could be the difference between the Heat being a viable threat or just a feel good story.

Herro’s ability to space the floor playing alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo could create a formidable trio in a weaker Eastern Conference.

Utah Jazz: SG Jordan Clarkson

The Utah Jazz have had some playoff success since Donovan Mitchell came onto the scene. Beyond getting their locker room back on the same page, the Jazz have long looked for another scorer to pair with Mitchell.

Jordan Clarkson might be the answer. He is immediate offense off the bench, capable of going on runs when Mitchell is out for a breather. Clarkson might even get minutes alongside Mitchell depending on Mike Conley’s level of play. If the Jazz plan on escaping round 1 then they need offense. Look for Clarkson to fill that role.

Dallas Mavericks: PG/SG Seth Curry

Is 29 too old for a player to surprise? Not if Curry picks up where he left off before spraining his ankle a few games before the season was suspended. He averaged 19.4 points while shooting 62% from the floor and 58% from 3-point range in his last 11 games.

Those efficiency numbers are not sustainable, but if he can shoot the ball above average and score in the 12-15 range over a series then the Mavericks could upset a team in round 1. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis just need a third scoring option to get the job done.

OKC Thunder: PG/SG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

You might be asking why SGA is considered as a surprising player to watch since he is the 2nd player on the Thunder. But the truth is most casual fans have no clue about how good SGA is. With the entire sports world watching, SGA will have the chance to boost his fanbase overnight.

If the Thunder want to upset a team in round 1, SGA will have to be elite.

Indiana Pacers: SF T.J Warren

Somewhere along the way T.J Warren became known as the guy Jimmy Butler wants to fight. But let’s not forget how good of a season Warren is having. He is averaging 18.7 points on 53% shooting from the field.

With Victor Oladipo likely sitting out the restart, Warren becomes extremely important to the Pacers offense. You could argue he is the second most important offensive player behind Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers success and Warren’s success will be linked.

Orlando Magic: PG D.J Augustin

Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba have the chance to give the Magic a big boost while elevating their own young careers in the process. However D.J Augustin has a chance to remind the rest of the league just how talented he is.

The veteran has proved he can score in bunches and might be leaned upon even more if Fultz struggles. Augustin believes the Magic have a chance to surprise some people in the bubble. For that to be true, the veteran pg will have to be aggressive and efficient.

New Orleans Pelicans: PG Lonzo Ball

The obvious answer to any question surrounding the Pelicans is Zion Williamson and to a lesser extent Brandon Ingram. But the forgotten piece to that young core is Lonzo Ball. It’s hard to imagine Ball being forgotten with all the noise his dad makes, but people really forgot how vital he is to the offense.

Ingram is an elite isolation scorer. Williamson is a dominant force but doesn’t create shots for himself or others. Look further down the roster and a playmaker is nowhere in sight outside of Ball and veteran guard Jrue Holiday. Ball will have to run the show offensively and split time with Holiday guarding the opposing players best guard.

As a reminder of how good Ball was when we last saw him, in his last five games he averaged: 20.8 points, 7.8 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 53.5% shooting on 51.2% from deep.

Portland Trail Blazers: SF/PF Carmelo Anthony

It feels absurd to have a future Hall of Famer on this list of surprise players, but that shows you how much Melo has been disrespected in recent years. Melo slimmed down significantly during quarantine and looks great.

The Blazers are always looking for that 3rd option beyond Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and Melo is more than capable of filling that role. Don’t be surprised if Melo averages 20 ppg during the time the Blazers are in the bubble.

Memphis Grizzlies: SG De’Anthony Melton

Melton, 22, is often left out of discussions about the Grizzlies’ talented young group, but can be an important player for the Grizzlies in the restart.

Melton has the best net rating (plus-2.4 points per 100 possessions) among Grizzlies rotation players. As a guard who is a tenacious defender, Melton might prove to be particularly valuable if the Grizzlies have to face Portland’s Lillard and McCollum in a play-in scenario.

Sacramento Kings: SG Bogdan Bogdanovic

Nobody can ever figure out the Kings mindset on any aspect of the game. Their game plan and mindset shifts with a snap of the finger.

But the safe bet on a potential breakout player here would be Bogdan Bogdanovic. The league knows Bogdanovic can score, but the bubble allows an opportunity for the 27-year-old to take his game to a different level. He is hitting the open market this offseason and his stock can rise if he leads the Kings to the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Brooklyn Nets: SG Jamal Crawford

All season long Jamal Crawford had been staying in game shape, hoping the phone would ring with an offer to play again. With the Nets roster being decimated with COVID and injuries, Crawford got the call.

Nothing Crawford does should surprise us, he’s been a walking bucket for two decades. But the pure enjoyment I will get from seeing the veteran get buckets with the total green light will be unmatched. I want to see a 40 point outburst from the 40 year old.

San Antonio Spurs: C Trey Lyles 

Lyles has started 53 games this season for the Spurs, often starting alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, who will miss the rest of the season after shoulder surgery in April.

In Aldridge’s absence, Lyles will slide into the starting lineup full time. As the season progressed, his playing time also increased. He got his numbers up to a respectable 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in the increased playing time. The Spurs will likely miss the playoffs for the first time in forever, but Lyles could use this time to show he is a part of the future.

Phoenix Suns: PG/SG Ty Jerome

The Suns are going to be in a position to give opportunities to some young players as they use the bubble to try to find some momentum for next season.

Jerome has the ability to handle and shoot the ball, and there’s a chance the rookie could take advantage of the bubble to establish himself as a quality rotation piece for Phoenix.

Washington Wizards: PG Shabazz Napier

Traded four times between July and the trade deadline, Napier finally landed in an ideal spot to showcase his skills. He’d started the last eight games for the Wizards before play stopped, averaging 12.9 points and putting up 48 in the last two games combined.

With Bradley Beal sitting out, Washington will need someone — anyone — capable of creating his own offense, and given his background as a go-to scorer at UConn, Napier looks like the best bet on a weakened roster.

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