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August 11, 2020
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Potential surprise players for all 22 teams

All 22 NBA teams have arrived at the bubble in Orlando, Florida, 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.

So which players could surprise during their time in the bubble and become household names? We turned to our NBA insiders for the answers.

Notes: The order of teams is based on ESPN’s most recent NBA Power Rankings. Title odds are provided by Caesars Sportsbook.

MORE: Current NBA standings | 2020 schedule | 22-team preview

Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 53-12 (.815)
Title odds: +275

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. Now, in the midst of a dynamic second season during which DiVincenzo averaged 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds, the league’s coronavirus pandemic suspension temporarily halted his progress. But DiVincenzo stayed focused on getting better every single day, even during the suspension, with a veteran group constantly pushing and checking in on him. Look for DiVincenzo to step up when it counts, as the Bucks’ supporting cast will be huge in their pursuit of a title. — Eric Woodyard


LA Clippers
Record: 44-20 (.688)
Title odds: +325

PG Reggie Jackson

While Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet might fit the profile of a young and unproven surprise candidate, coach Doc Rivers doesn’t give either consistent or crunch-time minutes. With that in mind, Jackson could be the Clipper on a deep team with savvy veterans to get more meaningful minutes and exceed expectations in his role. In nine games, Jackson was beginning to gain Rivers’ trust, averaging 9.4 points and 45.2% shooting from 3-point range in 19.4 minutes per game. Some in the organization have been impressed with the point guard and say that Jackson has used the hiatus to get stronger after missing time earlier this season with a back injury. — Ohm Youngmisuk


Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 49-14 (.778)
Title odds: +180

PF Kyle Kuzma

Beyond Jared Dudley‘s role keeping the Lakers’ group chat lively and providing the occasional help on the court with spacing and heady play, the veteran forward has taken to mentoring the 24-year-old Kuzma. “He’s the one I thought I could help the most,” Dudley said. “He’s the one I thought had the most potential to take us over the top.”

The lone holdover from the Baby Lakers who filled the roster between Kobe Bryant’s retirement and LeBron James‘ arrival, Kuzma saw his scoring (18.7 points per game to 12.5) and workload (33.1 minutes to 24.6) decrease but his team’s wins go up. Way up. His scoring will be an X factor when opposing defenses lock in on James and Anthony Davis in the postseason. And his scoring was a difference-maker in the regular season, as L.A. went 10-1 when Kuzma put up at least 18 points. — Dave McMenamin


play

3:15

Maria Taylor breaks down how the NBA will conduct the eight-game sprint to close out the regular season and determine final playoff positioning.

Toronto Raptors
Record: 46-18 (.719)
Title odds: +1700

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 to Anunoby, who made big strides after a lost 2018-19 season. With Toronto’s path to a return trip to the NBA Finals likely requiring the Raptors to beat first the Boston Celtics and then the Milwaukee Bucks, Anunoby could be the one tasked with guarding Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo. How well he handles those responsibilities could be the difference between Toronto advancing and going home. — Tim Bontemps


Houston Rockets
Record: 40-24 (.625)
Title odds: +1200

SG Eric Gordon

The Rockets really need Gordon to break out of his season-long funk, which has been primarily due to knee soreness that required midseason surgery and the conditioning issues associated with coming back. 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. — Tim MacMahon


Boston Celtics
Record: 43-21 (.672)
Title odds: +1500

PF Grant Williams

It isn’t often that a rookie can be labeled a cerebral player, and yet the description fits Williams perfectly. An undersized power forward, Williams quickly earned the trust of Celtics coach Brad Stevens by showing a knack for knowing where to be and when to be there when he got chances to play. And, after famously opening his career by missing his first 25 3-point attempts, Williams shot 21-for-60 (35%) from deep after that. Williams should be an important reserve for the Celtics as they try to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade. — Bontemps


Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 39-26 (.600)
Title odds: +2500

SG Shake Milton

Coach Brett Brown hasn’t made clear whether he’s going to go back to the original starting lineup featuring Al Horford next to Joel Embiid or if he will instead choose to go small. If he does the latter, Milton could be a candidate to take Philly’s fifth starting spot. 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 — and showed enough two-way ability to make an impact during the restart for the Sixers. — Bontemps


play

1:14

Stephen A. Smith asserts that LeBron James’ leadership and playoff experience will lead the Lakers to an NBA championship in Orlando, Florida.

Denver Nuggets
Record: 43-22 (.662)
Title odds: +1800

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 during postseason play, where matchups and adjustments reign, Grant’s value could rise. He can guard four positions and adds the ability to switch everything defensively. His shooting is much improved and he’s always up for a game-changing block or dunk. — Royce Young


Miami Heat
Record: 41-24 (.631)
Title odds: +4000

SG Tyler Herro

The rookie shooting guard has already proved he can hit big shots; now he’ll get the chance to do so in the biggest games. Herro missed over a month earlier in the season because of an ankle injury, but should be able to get even more opportunities to help Jimmy Butler and the Heat space out the floor when the bubble games begin. Herro won’t be afraid of the moment. — Nick Friedell


Dallas Mavericks
Record: 40-27 (.597)
Title odds: +3500

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 percentages aren’t realistic on a consistent basis, but Curry is an elite spot-up shooter well suited to play off of Luka Doncic. Coach Rick Carlisle seems to have settled on starting Curry at shooting guard in smaller lineups. — MacMahon


Utah Jazz
Record: 41-23 (.641)
Title odds: +6000

SF Georges Niang

Niang should see significantly more playing time due to Bojan Bogdanovic being sidelined by a wrist surgery. It’s a huge ask for Niang, who is two years removed from spending almost all of the season in the G League, to fill the void of Bogdanovic, who averaged 20.2 points per game. Niang, however, has quietly put up impressive numbers in his limited role this season, averaging 5.8 points in 13.3 minutes per game while shooting 41.6% from 3-point range. — MacMahon


Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 40-24 (.625)
Title odds: +6000

SG Luguentz Dort

Dort became an instant fan favorite in OKC because of his knack for momentum-changing plays, hustle, tenacity and, most of all, his relatively improved shooting (35.7% from 3 as a starter) at a position long devoid of it. He was on a two-way deal for the entire season, but got a full-time NBA contract on June 24. It’s expected that he’ll maintain his starting position and build on the success he had as an impact player (OKC was 16-5 with him as a starter). By the end of the season, NBA fans are going to be a lot more familiar with Dort. — Young


Indiana Pacers
Record: 39-26 (.600)
Title odds: +12500

PG Aaron Holiday

With Victor Oladipo sitting out the restart, there is a massive opening in Indiana’s backcourt next to Malcolm Brogdon. Enter Holiday, who has shot 39% from 3-point range this season and has an ability to attack off the dribble that will make him a nice complement to Brogdon. We’ve seen T.J. McConnell struggle in the playoffs in the past, which should give Holiday the opportunity to seize this chance. — Bontemps


Orlando Magic
Record: 30-35 (.462)
Title odds: +50000

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, but it’s Augustin who 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 — he just has to remain consistent with his offensive performance. He’ll have plenty of motivation to do so, given he’s a free agent at the end of the season. — Friedell


New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 28-36 (.438)
Title odds: +5000

PG Lonzo Ball

It might be difficult for someone with 8.2 million Instagram followers to be a surprise, but Ball was playing some of the best basketball of his career before the stoppage. Once Zion Williamson returned, Ball was averaging 13.2 points, 8.4 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 45.7% from the field and 43.2% from deep. His last five games: 20.8 points, 7.8 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 53.5% shooting on 51.2% from deep. Ball also is extension-eligible once the offseason gets here, so he’s playing his best at the right time. — Andrew Lopez


play

1:55

Brian Windhorst and Paul Pierce analyze the Nets’ options going into the bubble without DeAndre Jordan and possibly Spencer Dinwiddie.

Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 29-37 (.439)
Title odds: +7500

SF Gary Trent Jr.

The latest in a line of Blazers second-round steals that includes Will Barton, Pat Connaughton, Allen Crabbe and Jake Layman, Trent will help fill in for Trevor Ariza, who is not participating in the restart. While I’d bet on Carmelo Anthony to start at small forward for Portland, Trent figures to finish games as the team’s top wing defender and a knockdown 3-point shooter (39% this season). Trent will take tougher defensive assignments from starting guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and feast on the open looks they create. — Kevin Pelton


Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 32-33 (.492)
Title odds: +50000

SG De’Anthony Melton

Melton, 22, is often left out of discussions about the Grizzlies’ talented young group, but acquiring the former second-round pick in a summer trade with the Suns (who were desperate to dump Josh Jackson) has been a coup for Memphis. 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 Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a play-in scenario. — MacMahon


Sacramento Kings
Record: 28-36 (.438)
Title odds: +200000

SG 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. If he can lead the Kings to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Bogdanovic will have even more suitors after the season when he becomes a restricted free agent. Coach Luke Walton will have to lean on Bogdanovic to help carry this untested group alongside De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. — Friedell


Brooklyn Nets
Record: 30-34 (.469)
Title odds: +15000

PG Chris Chiozza

When we most recently saw the Nets, Chiozza played a key role in their upset road win over the Lakers on March 10, scoring 11 points and handing out five assists in 17 minutes — one of three double-figure scoring outings in the past four games for Chiozza, who is on a two-way contract. The only true point guard left on Brooklyn’s restart roster — Jamal Crawford, Tyler Johnson and Caris LeVert might also see action there — Chiozza has a chance to remain a sparkplug as the Nets battle for a playoff spot. — Pelton


play

1:48

Kendrick Perkins breaks down his top three ballers from the Eastern Conference who will be worth paying attention to once the NBA season returns.

San Antonio Spurs
Record: 27-36 (.429)
Title odds: +100000

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. Lyles averaged just 20.2 minutes per game this season, saw his playing time increase in February and March, when he averaged 28.7, and saw his averages jump to 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. Lyles is also one of 12 qualified players this season 6-foot-9 or taller to make at least one 3-pointer a game and shoot over 38.5% from deep. — Lopez


Phoenix Suns
Record: 26-39 (.400)
Title odds: +50000

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. — Young


Washington Wizards
Record: 24-40 (.375)
Title odds: +100000

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. — Pelton

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