By Nick Faggio
The prolific scoring inside the NBA bubble has headlined much of the league’s restart. What has not been headlined as much? The under-the-radar players quietly raising their stock. Many lesser-known players around the league have increased their value inside the bubble—let’s explore some of those guys.
Gary Trent Jr., G, Portland Trail Blazers
During Gary Trent Jr.’s rookie campaign last season, he averaged just 2.7 points and was regarded as a developmental piece for the Blazers. Even before the bubble, Trent Jr. was an afterthought of standout Trailblazers. A second round pick drafted by the Kings, Trent Jr. was not even Portland’s selection!
Now the Duke alum has put the whole league on notice, and emerged as one of the most surprising bubble players. In the Blazers’ first five bubble games,, Trent Jr. scored 17, 21, 16, 27, and 22 points. Trent Jr. has become one of the key pieces in Portland’s playoff run, and he has done it with his knockdown three-point shooting. Although Trent Jr.’s last two games he has shot 2-12 from downtown, prior to those he was shooting 62% from the 3-point line. Trent Jr. has become the Blazers’ fourth-leading scorer, and. has given the Blazers the bench production required for a potential playoff run. Many Blazers fans were excited about Anfernee Simons’ potential, but Trent Jr. has stolen the show.
The second-year player has displayed some newfound swagger to match his play. Cameras caught him exchanging words and jawing at Paul George during Portland’s 122-117 loss to the Clippers, in which Trent Jr. scored 22 points on 6-10 from beyond the arc.
Gary Trent Jr. has been playing great, and could be one of the reasons Portland makes the playoffs. His steady shooting and stellar defensive presence on the wing could help lead the Blazers to a first-round upset of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Troy Brown Jr., G/F, Washington Wizards
While the Wizards have been nothing close to competitive in the bubble, the emergence of Troy Brown Jr. has been Washington’s most captivating storyline. Over eight bubble games, Troy Brown Jr. averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists across multiple breakout performances, much improved from his pre-bubble stats of 9.7/5.3/2.3. The Oregon product also recorded seven steals over his last three games. Washington’s 1-7 record pushes the “good player on a bad team” narrative, but when Ish Smith is your starting point guard, there are only so many ways to win.
Troy Brown Jr. has earned himself increased touches, especially for a Washington team without entrenched starting forwards. The 15th pick in the 2018 draft has flown under the radar for potential bubble breakout players, but he increased his value exponentially in his sophomore season.
Chris Chiozza, G, Brooklyn Nets
When Brooklyn’s top six players were left off the bubble roster, many questioned whether or not the Nets could win a single game. To everyone’s surprise, Brooklyn went 6-2 in bubble play and secured the seventh seed in the East. Brooklyn’s surprising success was thanks to many Nets players stepping up when called upon, including Chris Chiozza.
Chris Chiozza is a second-year player, a former Florida Gator, and was relatively unknown prior to the bubble. In five bubble games in which he played 18 minutes or more, Chiozza averaged 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 5 assists, a much improved tally from Chiozza’s 0.9/ 0.6/ 0.6 rookie season numbers.
Chiozza helped lead a horrendous Nets team to a 6-2 record, including a gritty 119-116 win over Milwaukee in which Chiozza dropped a double-double en route to the upset. Chiozza is just 5-foot-11, but he uses great speed and craftiness to get his shot off over taller defenders. The former Florida Gator has made a name for himself in the bubble. Chiozza’s Isaiah Thomas-esque playstyle has reminded NBA defenses that heart over height is still a formula for success in the league.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F, Brooklyn Nets
Similar to Chiozza’s case, as Brooklyn’s roster dwindled, Luwawu-Cabarrot enjoyed an uptick in minutes. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or TLC for short, has shone even brighter than Chris Chiozza. In six bubble games in which he played 20 minutes or more, TLC averaged 18.8 PPG on 47.5% shooting from the three-point line in regular season bubble play. Whether the myth of shooting being easier in the bubble is true or not, TLC’s three-point percentage is extremely impressive. In game one of the opening round of the playoffs, TLC dropped 26 points on 9-13 from the field. Against a team with the defensive prowess of Toronto, that is quite the playoff debut.
The Nets already thought highly of TLC when they signed him to a two-year deal this past offseason. Now, TLC will definitely see an increase in his minutes and touches. An extra floor spacing wing for KD and Kyrie to attack next year makes next year’s Nets that much scarier.
Chris Boucher, F/C, Toronto Raptors
Chris Boucher doesn’t get a ton of minutes, but when he plays, he puts up numbers. The rim-running forward/center has put the league on notice when Nick Nurse plays him. In bubble games where Boucher plays more than 10 minutes, he averages 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Boucher is shooting 55% from beyond the arc, and that shooting ability serves as an extra floor-spacer for other Raptors to attack.
The Raptors are a team built on chemistry and hustle, and a versatile defender like Boucher fits perfectly with Toronto’s style of play. Nick Nurse is known to be crafty, and I would not be surprised to see Boucher getting more minutes whilst Toronto tries to take home their second consecutive championship. Perhaps Toronto will use Boucher as a secret weapon deep into the playoffs.