1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks - The reigning Kia MVP was in the midst of a brilliant encore campaign when the season went on hiatus back on March 11. If Giannis wasn’t at the top of your MVP ballot, he was no lower than second. Leading the Bucks to the best record in the league with one dominant performance after another was proof that The Greek Freak" is still in the ascension phase of his development. He’s still got plenty of room to grow his game. The bubble is yet another platform for Giannis to run wild on the competition. (ALL PHOTOS COURTESY NBA)
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers - Championship or bust. At this stage of the game that’s the only way to define what awaits the league’s most high-profile and influential player in the Orlando bubble. When you perform at a Kia MVP level in your 17th season and are chasing the legacy LeBron is by trying to lead his third different team to a title, the ramifications of this unprecedented scenario are epic. The league’s assist leader is grinding as hard as ever, so you should expect nothing short of his best when the action kicks off in Orlando.
3. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers - Kawhi is one more Finals MVP run from overtaking Giannis and LeBron for the title of best player in the game. Some would argue he already has. Whatever precautions the Clippers took with his maintenance program before the season hiatus should not be an issue in the bubble. With Leonard and George operating at the highest level on both ends, the Clippers' talent and depth could pave the way for a showdown with the Lakers that the basketball world has been clamoring for since last summer's free agency.
4. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers - Davis is one of only two players in the league this season that could make a legitimate claim to own the titles of both Kia MVP and Kia Defensive Player of the Year (Giannis Antetokounmpo is the other). The Lakers’ championship hopes rest on the shoulders of its two biggest stars. Davis and LeBron James know exactly what’s at stake in the bubble. The reason so many pundits believe the Lakers are the favorites is because no other team boasts a duo as dominant or dynamic. Davis has yet to engineer a true breakout postseason performance, so this could be the time.
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets - Harden is the catalyst for the highest scoring duo in the league and you better believe he and Westbrook will hit the bubble on a mission to upend the plans of the Los Angeles teams as they eyeball a berth to the Western Conference finals. Harden did some serious work on his body during the shutdown, with pictures of his tightened-up physique sending shock waves on social media. Harden’s history of wearing down in the postseason shouldn’t be an issue this time around.
6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers - The shutdown couldn’t have come at a better time for Embiid, who was coming back from a five-game absence with a shoulder injury when the coronavirus disrupted everything. The time off to get both healthy and in better shape allowed Embiid to show up in Orlando refreshed and focused on living up to his hype as the best big man in the game. If he plays to his potential, Embiid won’t have a physical match on the Walt Disney World grounds. But it’s always “if” where Embiid is concerned.
7. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets - Jokic’s positive COVID-19 test complicates what had the makings of a stunning hiatus body makeover for the All-Star big man. Jokic is reportedly dealing with some travel-related issues trying to make his way to Orlando from his native Serbia. But make no mistake, Jokic in tip-top shape as the centerpiece of the Nuggets’ attack gives coach Mike Malone’s crew a fighting chance to play deep into the playoffs. If Jokic’s conditioning matches his elite skill-set, the other teams in the bubble better beware.
8. Paul George, LA Clippers - A healthy George is the key ingredient for the championship dreams Clippers fans have been holding onto since last summer. A 1-2 superstar punch of Kawhi Leonard and George is as good as it gets on both ends, with each of them being capable of the best offensive and defensive player on the floor at any given moment. Whatever issues the Clippers dealt with when they came together this time a year are in the past. The chemistry is tight, roles are defined and Doc Rivers knows exactly what he’ll get from his biggest stars.
9. Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder - With all of his responsibilities as head of the National Basketball Players Association, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Paul has been the catalyst for one of the league’s biggest surprise teams this season. The Thunder roll into the restart with a huge opportunity to move up in the standings if they can play well in the seeding games. Given the setting, having the league’s leader in clutch points (144), the man with the best fourth quarter +/- rating (+169) could be crucial to the Thunder’s chances of making an extended playoff run.
10. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks - The season hiatus interrupted what was a transcendent, Kia MVP-caliber season for Doncic. The league’s leader in triple-doubles (14), Doncic also ranks in the top six in scoring and top four in assists. Perhaps even more impressive, Doncic is the best rebounding guard in the league. The bubble provides yet another opportunity for him to show that he belongs in the conversation for best overall players in the game in just his second NBA season.