Four Locals Make ESPN NBA Top 50 Bubble Players

Jul 16, 2020, 3:29 PM
Damian Lillard - Portland Trail Blazers - Donovan Mitchell - Utah Jazz...
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) hug after the game as the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. Utah won 112-103 in overtime. Courtesy of Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Four players with local ties made the ESPN Bubble Rankings of the top 50 NBA players in Orlando. Utah Jazz Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Mike Conley made the list. Former Weber State guard and current member fo the Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard also earned the honor.

Six ESPN analysts compiled the list among the 22 teams returning to Orlando. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kawhi Leonard comprised the top three players in the NBA according to ESPN.

The Jazz will reopen the NBA season against the New Orleans Pelicans on July 30. The team traveled to Orlando on July 7 to being training camp in anticipation of the league’s return.

ESPN Bubble Top 50

48. Mike Conley

Jazz point guard Mike Conley comes in at number 48 on the list, barely squeaking in. Conley has had an up and down season with the Jazz, struggling to find consistency between injuries and playing time.

“The restart gives Conley a chance to redeem a lost season in Utah that began with him shooting 1-for-16 on opening night,” Kevin Pelton said of Conley. “We saw signs of the old Conley after the All-Star break, as he averaged 14.9 PPG and 5.0 assists while making 42% of his 3-point attempts.”

Conley truly seemed to find his groove with the team over the Jazz last seven games before the hiatus. Finally fully health, the veteran guard averaged 16.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds. More impressively, Conley shot .459 from the floor, and .458 from the three-point line during the stretch.

The Jazz guard has a chance to see a significant increase in production with Bojan Bogdanovic out of the lineup after undergoing wrist surgery.

22. Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell enters the list ranked 22. The guard made his first All-Star appearance this season but struggled just before the season was suspended.

“No single player faces a bigger offensive burden than Mitchell. Utah’s young star must not only lead the Jazz in scoring — that’s a given — but he must do so in the face of increased defensive attention without Bojan Bogdanovic, the team’s second-leading scorer,” Kirk Goldsberry said. “The duration of the Jazz’s stay in Orlando depends on how well Mitchell can play, especially on offense.”

The Jazz acquired Bogdanovic and Conley to help ease the offensive burden for Mitchell in the playoffs. Guard Jordan Clarkson will also have to provide some offensive punch to help Mitchell.

Despite the need for scoring, the Jazz guard said he was looking to work on his game in other areas during the season’s return.

“I think being able to find my teammates,” Mitchell said of working on his passing. “Especially with Bojan being out. We’re going to need guys to pick it up and kind of pick up the slack.”

18. Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert comes in at number 18 on the list and is the highest-rated Jazz player. The Jazz center continues to lead the league in Real Defensive Plus-Minus and will have to find a bigger offensive role for the Jazz in Bogdanovic’s absence.

“Gobert had the misfortune of being the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19, but dealing with the fallout could improve the Jazz’s chemistry, both on and off the court,” Jorge Sedano said. “He is averaging a career-high in rebounds, and his impact on defense is the engine for the Jazz. He leads the NBA in defensive RPM as he attempts to be the first player since Dwight Howard to make it three DPOY awards in a row.”

Gobert has never been one to let his doubters get the final word. After questions about Gobert’s future emerged during the NBA hiatus, the French big man will be sure to return to Orlando with a chip on his shoulder.

11. Damian Lillard

Former Weber State guard Damian Lillard is the highest-ranked local player to make the ESPN Bubble top 50 list. The guard carries the enormous task of keeping the Blazers in the ninth-seed, and within four games of the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies to force a plain game in mid-August.

“Lillard is the only player in the top 22 who’s not certain to advance to the playoffs, a testament to his individual brilliance this season,” Pelton said. “Lillard averaged a career-high 28.9 PPG while also posting the best true shooting percentage (61.9%) of his career, which makes the Blazers a scary playoff foe.”

The Blazers guard should get some additional help from teammates. Both Jusuf Nukic and Zach Collins are expected to return from injury in the Blazers lineup. If Portland can qualify for the playoffs, a fully healthy roster can cause headaches for LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers.

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