It’s been 138 days since the NBA was shut down on March 11 following the unforgettable scene in Oklahoma City which saw Rudy Gobert test positive for COVID-19 as a harsh reality for the pandemic began to set in.
That horrifying number will (hopefully) be no more on Thursday when the Pelicans and Jazz tip-off serving as the official restart of the NBA regular season inside the Orlando bubble, which just might bring a tear to my eye.
Instead of doing an official playoff preview just yet (I’ll save that for August), I wanted to highlight 10 under-the-radar players who just might win their team a playoff game and could be someone you may have forgotten about during the layoff.
If you’re looking for star players like ‘Bron or Kawhi on this list, you’d be better suited just turning on FS1 and listening to Colin Cowherd talk about how Russell Westbrook and James Harden aren’t a top 10 NBA duo.
1. Gary Trent Jr. – Portland Trailblazers
Gary Trent Jr. became one of my favorite hidden gems coming off the bench this season. Ever since his 30-point explosion back in mid-January against the Thunder, the former Blue Devil has been an integral part of the Blazers’ rotation. That trend should only continue for the playoff-hopeful squad, as Trent Jr. put up 12 ppg and shot 41% from behind the arc during the month of February. He’s also a rock-solid defender on the wing.
P.S. My only issue with GT was seeing him on the virtual blackjack machines in the Bahamas. As a millionaire, it’s time to move to the legit high roller tables, my guy!
2. Ben McLemore – Houston Rockets
When your career needs to be revived, every offensive-minded player should give Mike D’Antoni a call. MDA gave a lifeline to another career that was on its last breaths with Ben McLemore this season, who evolved into a sniper for the three-point happy Rockets this season. Averaging just under 10 ppg on 40% from three, McLemore’s brought his magic to Disney, as he lit up the Grizzlies during Sunday night’s scrimmage for 26 points on 6-7 from downtown.
3. Bol Bol – Denver Nuggets
Bol Bol is one of the early winners from the NBA restart. After not playing a game this season in Denver, Bol exploded onto the NBA Twitter scene with highlight-worthy plays on both ends of the floor, which flooded IG timelines in the first couple of scrimmages while starting in the BACKCOURT!! with Nikola Jokic. Seeing that untapped potential on display could vault Bol into a secret weapon type of role for Mike Malone’s deep Denver Nuggets.
4. Seth Curry – Dallas Mavericks
For quite possibly the first time in his entire life, the stage will now entirely be set for Seth to shine without overshadowing from older brother Steph anywhere in sight. With Luka and Porzingis occupying the defense’s focus, three-point assassins like Seth Curry become indispensable. Seth was 2nd in the entire NBA while shooting 45% from downtown and the Mavs are going to need him to be lights out in Orlando to spread the floor.
5. J.R. Smith – Los Angeles Lakers
J.R. Spliff is back!!! After going unsigned the entire 2019 season, the Lakers finally decided to listen to me and roll the dice on Earl and reunite him with LeBron inside the bubble. For that reason alone, we need a documentary on the Lakers’ Orlando playoff run. With Avery Bradley opting out and Rondo injured, L.A. will be heavily relying on the likes of J.R., Alex Caruso, KCP, and Dion Waiters to supplement A.D. and Lebron with outside shooting late in games. Smith’s microwave scoring ability came to life on Monday with 14 points in the first half of their scrimmage against the Wizards.
6. Matisse Thybulle – Philadelphia 76ers
One of the most unique young players in the NBA. Matisse not only shines on the court as a lockdown defender, but he’s also become a YouTube sensation off the floor with his Welcome to the Bubble VLOG series, which he shoots and edits himself. The rookie’s versatility on the defensive end and streaky shooting will be needed to help power the Sixers, as coach Brett Brown has his hands full regarding how to best deploy his talented arsenal of weapons.
7. Duncan Robinson – Miami Heat
From Division III standout, to Michigan 6th man, and now a top 100 NBA player, according to Bleacher Report‘s latest rankings. Stories like Duncan’s are to be celebrated, as he landed in the perfect spot to flourish under the tutelage of Eric Spoelstra, Pat Riley, and co. in breezy South Beach. Another 45% shooter from three makes the list, and a bright future is definitely ahead for the Michigan man. Admittedly, I didn’t think there was a chance DR would be an NBA player during his time as a Wolverine.
8. Luguentz Dort – Oklahoma City Thunder
Lu Dort is a name you might not be familiar with if you haven’t caught many Thunder games this year, as I had no clue who he was coming into the season and only found out about him through my brother after watching him pop off the screen one night. Dort has a knack for making good things happen on the floor, as OKC went 16-5 once Billy Donovan inserted him into the starting lineup and management rewarded the Canada native with a four-year extension for his efforts.
9. Jonathan Isaac – Orlando Magic
With the potential to be transcendingly special on the defensive end, Jonathan Isaac’s breakout campaign was forced to take a detour following a devastating knee sprain on New Year’s Day. After the shutdown’s extended layoff, the Florida State product has been cleared for action to participate in the bubble scrimmages, which should bring a smile to Magic fans’ faces if there’s any still out there. During his return to the hardwood Monday night, JI managed 13 points and grabbed 7 boards in just 7 MINUTES on the floor.
10. Norman Powell – Toronto Raptors
Another underrated cog in COTY candidate Nick Nurse’s army that somehow has Toronto back in the mix for an Eastern Conference run even without Kawhi Leonard. Powell would have a case for 6th Man of the Year but ended up starting 21 games. When returning from an injury in late February, Powell posted five straight box scores with at least 22 points to give the starting five unit a jolt before the shutdown.