2020 NBA Playoffs

8 players who increased their stock in NBA restart

From youngsters to veterans, these players raised their profile in Orlando

For some, the seeding games in the Orlando season restart served as a warm-up for the playoffs. The performances of veteran superstars whose teams had playoff berths already locked up don’t deserve the scrutiny they are sure to receive.

For others, however, those eight games served as an opportunity to make a statement and in some cases introduce (or re-introduce) themselves to the rest of the world. These aren’t the superstars who are sure to find their names on one of the Kia NBA All-Seeding Games Teams, though.

(And for the record: Go ahead and split the Kia Player of the Seeding Games award between the Suns’ Devin Booker and the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard).

These eight players are ones who might normally get overlooked. But after their respective efforts in Orlando, they’ve become impossible to ignore.

(Players listed in no particular order)

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Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

Season restart stats: 22.0 ppg | 8.6 rpg | 1.6 apg | 1.0 spg

Nuggets fans have been waiting to see the Porter Jr. who emerged as a force during the seeding games. He took full advantage of the absence of starters Gary Harris and Will Barton to shove his way into the starting lineup and led the Nuggets in scoring and rebounds while shooting well, too (55.1% overall, 42.2% on 3-pointers and 93.1% on free throws). Even with his suspect defensive work, he’s made it impossible for coach Michael Malone to keep him out of the starting five.

T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers

Season restart stats: 31.0 ppg | 6.3 rpg | 2.0 apg | 1.3 spg | 1.2 bpg

Warren doesn’t care that you didn’t know his name or face before now. After he dropped the first 50-point game in the bubble, his game went viral. He’s done work on every level, shooting 57.8% overall and 52.4% on 3-pointers. The best part is what comes next: the renewal of his budding rivalry with Heat star Jimmy Butler in the first round of the playoffs.

Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets

Season restart stats: 25.0 ppg | 5.0 rpg | 6.7 apg | 1.5 spg

Injuries have overshadowed LeVert’s steady rise as one of the most underrated scorers in the league. He had the perfect platform in the bubble with the Nets’ biggest stars missing. He put his full arsenal on display in a showdown against Damian Lillard’s Trail Blazers on Aug. 13. Lillard said it best after LeVert’s potential game-winner bounced off the back of the rim in that game: “Caris LeVert is cold.”

Gary Trent Jr., Portland Trail Blazers

Season restart stats: 16.9 ppg | 1.5 rpg | 1.4 apg | 1.1 spg

NBA Summer League is often where we see young players transition from the roster’s fringes to a legitimate rotation player. Trent Jr. used the seeding games to do exactly that. Opinions about his game and potential changed during the past two weeks, when he shot 51.6% overall and 50.7% on 3-pointers, too, during the restart. He came up huge in the Blazers’ seeding games, including the finale in which he hit a key 3-pointer late and exhausted himself trying to defend LeVert down the stretch.

Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns

Season restart stats: 12.8 ppg | 4.1 rpg | 1.8 apg | 1.1 spg

Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio were the headliners during the Suns’ unbeaten run through the seeding games. But Bridges used the time to show off his game, too. Suns coach Monty Williams put him on Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard during crunch time in games against those playoff-bound powers, which says all you need to know about his defensive prowess. Check the tape on Booker’s game-winner against the Clippers and you’ll see Bridges making the play that made it possible.

Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks

Season restart stats: 30.5 ppg | 9.5 rpg | 2.2 apg | 1.5 bpg

The man Kevin Durant dubbed “The Unicorn” was a force for the Mavericks in the seeding games, leading them in scoring (slightly ahead of Luka Doncic) while also shooting 38.1% on 3-pointers. There’s no questioning the talent of Porzingis, who has the ability to join Doncic on the All-Star team for years to come. What we’re going to find out in the playoffs against the Clippers is if he’s ready to bump and grind against the likes of Montrezl Harrell. If the answer is yes, oh boy …

Bol Bol, Denver Nuggets

Season restart stats: 5.3 ppg | 2.5 rpg

We’re stepping out on faith after seeing Bol in limited glimpses, he averaged 11.9 minutes on a loaded frontcourt rotation that also has Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant to work with alongside Jokic and Paul Millsap. But none of them bring the dimensions and skill in the package Bol does. He’s got two-guard tools in his bag and will only get more lethal as his confidence grows. The future frontline of Jokic, Porter Jr. and Bol is an absolute freakshow in the making.

Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season restart stats: 9.1 ppg | 3.9 rpg | 1.1 spg

The undrafted rookie started the season on one of the Thunder’s two-way contracts, earned a starting job by January (the Thunder went 16-5 with him in the starting lineup before the March hiatus) and signed a four-year deal before the action began in the bubble. He’s the sort of junkyard defensive dog the Thunder will need alongside Chris Paul against James Harden and Russell Westbrook in the first round of the playoffs.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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