The NBA season is almost underway again. Players had a lot of time to heal, recover, and watch film ahead of the resumption of the season and it feels like, for the first time in NBA history, anything can happen in the playoffs.
The Orlando bubble is going to be a battle to the death. Players will leave nothing to chance as they know the playoffs are just around the corner. A good stretch could take them the distance and win the NBA championship.
But even among all the great players that will take the hardwood in Orlando, there are a few that will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders when basketball is back. That's why today, we're going to name our top 10 players to watch in the NBA's Orlando bubble.
Disclaimer: this list doesn't necessarily rank the best players in the league but the players who have the most to prove after the hiatus. Honorable Mention: Joel Embiid, Paul George. Jimmy Butler.
10. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum was one of the hottest scorers in the league before the hiatus. He took a step forward as the Celtic's leader and recently claimed that they have a legit shot at winning the Championship.
The 21-year-old is clearly one of the most talented and promising two-way players in the league and the Boston Celtics have enough depth to go the distance in the Eastern Conference. He's been getting praise from legends like Scottie Pippen and it's time he proves that he's the real deal.
9. Luka Doncic
Nobody expected the Dallas Mavericks to be championship contenders right away but they have one of the most talented duos in the world on Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, so they could mess around and upset a couple of favorite teams along the way.
Doncic has plenty of playoffs experience from his time overseas and has a history of shining when it matters the most, so it'll be nice to see him perform under pressure and see whether he can knock down a contender or not.
8. Zion Williamson
The New Orleans Pelicans have the easiest schedule for the remainder of the regular season and are currently 4 games behind the 8th seed. Whether they'll be able to make the playoffs or not will almost entirely depend on how Zion Williamson delivers.
Williamson already proved that he's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent. He's got an NBA-ready body and dominated opposing players like high-schoolers during his first 19 games as a rookie. The reigning 1st overall pick is poised for stardom, especially if he leads his team to the playoffs right now. He's a human highlight film.
7. Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of the most talented big men we've ever seen but his shape let a lot to be desired for NBA standards. He's now lost over 20 pounds and looks in the best shape of his career so it'll be interesting to see how that translates to the hardwood.
Nobody has the Denver Nuggets on their plans but they have enough depth and talent to at least make the Western Conference Finals and a healthy, slim Nikola Jokic is terrible news for the rest of the league.
6. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is one of the top 5 greatest point guards in the history of the game. He's proved it once again by taking the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder to the 5th best record in the West and has made them a legit dark horse candidate for the bubble.
Paul has never made an appearance in the NBA Finals and that's the only stain on his remarkable resume. You know he'll play with a chip on his shoulder and as if every game was his last to have the chance to finally prove his doubters wrong.
5. James Harden
James Harden is the most unstoppable scorer in the league but he has a long history of underperforming and choking in the playoffs. Now, he'll likely have to deliver without Russell Westbrook (sick) by his side, so that'll put even more pressure on his shoulders.
Harden has had three straight MVP-caliber seasons but is finally time he steps up in the playoffs. If Westbrook is unable to suit up, he'll have to do it all again for the small-ball Houston Rockets and their high-octane offense. He's lost a lot of weight during quarantine and could post insane stat lines.
4. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard was recently announced as one of NBA 2K20's cover athletes so he'll have to back down the talk with top-tier performances in the hardwood. The Portland Trail Blazers are three games behind the 8th seed in the West and it'll be up to him to lead them to the playoffs again.
The Blazers will reportedly have Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back in the lineup and that'll give them a major boost but they'll only get as far as Lillard can get them. He's got unlimited range as a shooter and has proven to be the clutchest player in the league,.
3. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard made a strong case for being the best player in the world last season. He led the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever Finals appearance and Championship and is now trying to do the same for the Los Angeles Clippers and win his third ring with three different franchises.
There's no doubt that Leonard is the best two-way player in the league. He's finally back at full strength after two seasons of load management so the time for excuses is over. The Clippers are about to unleash the Klaw after four months of rest and that's terrifying.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo is reportedly leading the polls to win both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award this season. Still, there are serious concerns regarding his ability to dominate in the playoffs when defenses start collapsing the paint and double or triple-teaming him.
The Greek Freak can play and guard all five spots in the floor and he's clearly a great leader for his team but he'll need to start knocking down shots and/or creating for others if the Bucks want to translate their best record in the league to a trip to the NBA Finals.
1. LeBron James
We're about to see LeBron James as we have never seen him before. He's about to enter the playoffs after 4 months to fully heal his body, meaning he'll be at his peak physically despite being 35 years old. Honestly, the only thing that could slow him down this year was his age and now that he's well-rested, there's nothing anyone can do to stop him.
James is on a mission. He knows that winning a ring with the Lakers and leading three franchises to Championships will have a huge impact on his legacy. The King is one of the greatest playoff performances of all time and he's ready to unleash his wrath and demolish every single player who stands on his way.