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2020-2021 NBA season: Players to watch after breakout performances in the bubble

(AP Photo / Mark J. Terrill)

While fans prepare for the start of the 2020-2021 regular season, they might be confused thinking about the fact that the 2020 NBA Finals concluded just two months prior.

As odd as it may seem, COVID-19 spearheaded one of the most unique situations the basketball world has ever seen, creating the shortest offseason in NBA history.

As a result, many franchises will be just a few months removed from long stints in the league’s “bubble” down in Orlando, which served as a runway of sorts for young stars that were ready to take off.

Whether their team stayed down in Florida for months as a result of a long playoff run or just a few weeks as a result of an early exit, fans can count on many “All-Bubble” award-winning players to keep up their respective trajectories for a unique 2020-2021 season.

>>RELATED: Reimagining the NBA’s bubble for a regular season in 2021

Even in those short few months since the 2019-2020 season officially ended, it’s easy to forget about some of the star-making moments that occurred in Orlando this past summer.

No, we’re not talking about clear stars like Miami Heat guard Jimmy Butler, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, or Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who were established cornerstones for their respective squads ahead of the bubble’s creation.

Rather, we’re discussing the players who used the time in Orlando to catapult their careers, inching closer and closer to superstardom in the process.

So, to help you prepare for the first full regular season of the COVID-19 era, it’s time to look at some players to watch out for after breakout performances in the bubble.

  • Jamal Murray

If you watched any basketball in the summer of 2020, you heard about Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray.

He almost single-handedly brought the Nuggets back from a 3-1 series deficit against Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, dropping 50 points on numerous occasions in the process.

He and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic willed the team to another comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the very next round, taking out Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers en route to the Western Conference Finals.

>>RELATED: Is the Clippers’ collapse the worst in NBA playoff history?

He proved that the potential that fans had talked about when it came to the Nuggets was actually a reality, and seemingly turned Denver into a contender overnight.

In 19 postseason games during the team’s 2019-2020 run, the 22-year-old averaged 26.5 points per game, with 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game, as well.

He dropped 50 points twice, 40-plus four times, and 30-plus six times in that span, and things only came to a halt when they played the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals.

If you’re looking for the definition of a breakout player, and the definition of a player to watch out for during the 2020-2021 season, look no further than Jamal Murray.

  • Tyler Herro

When the Miami Heat needed a hero on their miraculous run to the 2020 NBA Finals, the franchise turned to a player who couldn’t even legally drink at the time.

At 20 years and 256 days, Heat guard Tyler Herro made history by becoming the youngest player to ever start an NBA Finals game, and it doesn’t look like that will be the last achievement that he will add to his resume during his NBA career.

>>RELATED: How the NBA is adjusting the 2020-2021 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic

In 21 postseason games, the Kentucky product averaged 16 points per game, and was money from three-point range when the team needed it. He put up 37 points in a crucial Game 4 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, shooting 67 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.

He was consistent throughout his tenure in Orlando, and gave Heat fans plenty to look forward to as they look towards the future of the franchise.

He won’t even turn 21 until the 2020-2021 regular season nears the end of its first month, but if current trends hold, it appears that the sky is the limit for the young Herro and the Heat.

  • Bam Adebayo

Speaking of young stars down in Miami, Heat forward Bam Adebayo emerged as a Pascal Siakam-esque star as his squad kept pushing forward in the playoffs.

The 14th overall pick from the 2017 NBA Draft did it all for the Heat in the bubble, averaging a double-double through his 19 games in the 2019-2020 postseason.

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He couldn’t be stopped on either end of the floor, averaging 17.8 points per game with 10.3 rebounds on top of it. While he didn’t put up any spectacular numbers as it related to blocks, but he pulled off one of the greatest rejections in playoff history when it mattered.

Adebayo stuffed Celtics forward Jayson Tatum at the rim in the final seconds of Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, giving the Heat a major victory in what would turn into a six-game series win en route to the NBA Finals.

He showed off his resilience by playing through an injury in the NBA Finals, he showed off his talent on numerous occasions in Orlando, and proved that he’s a force to be reckoned with as the new-era Heat prepare for the 2020-2021 season.

  • T.J. Warren

The Indiana Pacers didn’t have the longest tenure in the NBA’s bubble in 2020, nor did they have a young star break out like the teams previously mentioned on this list.

But, the team had a player who arguably could have been named “Bubble MVP” once the dust cleared: now-27-year-old forward T.J. Warren.

Warren turned into one of the crazier stories of the league’s time down in Orlando, averaging around 35 points through his first five games while shooting 61 percent from the field. As the icing on the cake, he had a career-high 53-point performance, which went down as one of the highlights’ of the NBA’s bubble experience.

>>RELATED: NBA Free Agency 2020: Tracking the biggest moves from the league’s shortest offseason

He’s dealing with an injury heading into the 2020-2021 NBA season, but if he can get back to full health quickly, watch out for T.J. Warren in the new year.

  • Michael Porter Jr.

He’s not the first Nuggets player to appear on the list, and he’s not the first 14th-overall pick to earn some of the spotlight. But, Michael Porter Jr. has a real case as one of the true breakout stars from his time in the bubble.

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He put up 22 points per game when he was on the floor for seven of the team’s eight seeding games, and dropped an impressive 37 points and 12 rebounds on a 12-for-16 night in one of those seven games.

Porter Jr. didn’t stop there in his pursuit of a more prominent role in the Nuggets lineup, averaging 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in 19 postseason appearances.

It all added up to All-Bubble Second Team honors after the seeding games were all said and done, and a Western Conference Finals appearance for the 22-year-old in his first active season in the league.

Porter Jr. is one of the more interesting storylines to follow heading into the 2020-2021 season, but if the bubble is any indication, he’ll be a big factor in the team’s attempt to return to the Western Conference Finals.

  • Caris LeVert

Heading into the Brooklyn Nets’ 2020-2021 campaign, all eyes are on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the duo prepares for its first on-court action together since they each signed with the team in 2019.

But, there’s another player that fans should keep their eyes on after a solid performance in the bubble: 26-year-old swingman Caris LeVert.

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LeVert averaged 25 points a game during the Nets’ short tenure in Orlando, and was named to the league’s All-Bubble Second Team in the process. In the team’s four playoff games on the wrong end of a sweep against the Toronto Raptors, he put up 20.3 points per game, coming just .5 assists short of a double-double average.

He helped to push the Nets into the playoffs amid Irving’s absence, and served as a statistical leader despite a lack of overall postseason experience.

While he may not be able to get the same types of touches with Durant and Irving back on the floor, it will be intriguing to see how the Michigan alum handles the newfound spotlight in his fifth year in the league.

Like this story? Who are your players to watch heading into the 2020-2021 season? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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