Shepard On NBA Bubble: Lillard The Best Player, But Suns The Best Story

After going 8-0 in Orlando, Devin Booker and the Suns showed that the future is bright in Phoenix

CBS Sports Radio Weekend
August 17, 2020 - 4:44 pm
Devin Booker Suns

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It’s likely that the 2020-2021 NBA season will start, at the earliest, in December, so we will not see the Phoenix Suns in a meaningful NBA game until at least a few months from now. The best player in the Orlando Bubble has been Damian Lillard, but the best STORY in the Bubble has been the Phoenix Suns. They were given the least chance of all 22 teams to make the NBA playoffs. Well, the Suns not only finished with the best record, but also went undefeated at 8-0. Last week in the Blazers’ final regular-season game, they beat the Nets by just one point. Had that been just a TWO-point swing, the Suns, not the Blazers, would have been in the play-in game and, given the Grizzlies’ injuries, likely the NBA postseason.

You know what made what the Suns did even more impressive these past couple of weeks? The average age of the Suns’ players is less than 25 years old, making them the youngest team in the NBA Bubble. That brings us to Devin Booker, who is clearly the face of the franchise and knocking on the door of superstar status.  He is just 23 years old and was one of the best players in the world over the past couple of weeks. He averaged 31 PPG. In six of the eight bubble games, he shot AT LEAST 50 percent from the floor. That is very impressive when you consider three things: He is constantly getting doubled, many of his points come off of long-range shots, and it takes time for any player to get acclimated to a new court/arena. He also averaged six APG as a shooting guard. All of these games mattered, and none of these performances and wins came against the bottom dwellers of the NBA.

The last seven games that the Suns played were all against teams that are at least 11 games above .500. All of these teams are obviously in the postseason. The Suns got better and better in this Bubble. They won their last three games by an average of 22 points. It is interesting that the Suns have more road/neutral-site wins this season than the Heat, 76ers, Nets, Magic and Blazers – all playoff teams. When you win just as many games as you lose away from home, it speaks volumes about your team. When a team’s game TRAVELS, that is always dangerous for opposing teams come playoff time. Something teams were lucky to avoid with the Suns THIS time around.

To go 8-0 in the Bubble is surreal. If you look at the second-best team in the West record-wise, the Clippers, they had every incentive to play hard for seeding purposes. They lost three times. There was a strong dialogue about how it would be such a waste of time for the Suns to be in the Bubble. Many felt Orlando should have just started with the postseason, but the league wanted to see Zion have a shot at making the playoffs. In fairness, he is already one of the biggest stars in the game and had the Pelicans playing better. Clearly, the Pelicans fell short of expectations in Orlando, and it just makes what the Suns did even more impressive. 

Here is how the Pelicans and Zion did in the Bubble. They went 1-4. Their lone win was against a Grizzlies team that went 2-7 in Orlando. Zion finished with these numbers in the Bubble….18 PPG, 5 RPG & 2 APG and a 1-4 record. Booker, meanwhile, finished with 31 PPG, 5 RPG, 6 APG and an 8-0 record. Zion is playing with two other All-Stars in Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram. Booker is the lone All-Star on the Suns. He will be making a lot more All-Star teams with the Suns, as he is locked in with them contract-wise for the next few years. The 8-0 Bubble Suns just put the rest of the NBA on notice. And, barring severe injury, they will be making a whole lot of noise in the playoffs NEXT season. We have the Bubble to thank for that!

CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.