NBA bubble rankings: Predicting the 50 best players in Orlando

Who will be the best players in the 2019-20 NBA restart? After a four-month layoff, basketball will return on July 30 inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.

With training camp ramping up and scrimmages starting soon, our panel of six NBA experts — Tim Bontemps, Kirk Goldsberry, Tim MacMahon, Kevin Pelton, Jorge Sedano and Andre Snellings — each came up with their own top-50 player rankings based on predicted on-court impact in both the seeding round and the playoffs. These are the composite results, based on players’ scores across the six ballots.

Who claims the No. 1 spot between Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo? And where do rising stars Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant finish? Here’s the 2020 NBA restart edition of ESPN’s NBArank.

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Schroder has played himself into contention for Sixth Man of the Year. His ability to create offense for the second unit while slotting in as a scorer next to Chris Paul on a dynamic first unit makes the Thunder a dangerous opponent for any team in the postseason. — Snellings

Gasol showed up for the league’s restart noticeably slimmer. Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Gasol hoped the change would improve his on-court conditioning and his ability to help out offensively. The big man has taken a significant step back in his offensive workload after leaving Memphis, but Toronto would love to see that change in Orlando. — Bontemps

  • Utah Jazz | G

  • Preseason rank: 24

  • 2019-20 RPM: -0.8

The restart gives Conley a chance to redeem a lost season in Utah that began with him shooting 1-for-16 on opening night. 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. — Pelton

Ingram is a clear candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. His scoring has jumped from 18.3 to 24.3 PPG, in large part due to his improved 3-point shot — he’s taking 4.5 more attempts per game and shooting a career-high 38.7% from beyond the arc.

The biggest question ahead of the season was how he’d mesh with Williamson. So far, so good. In 341 minutes, they have a net rating of plus-12.4. New Orleans needs both players to thrive in order to put itself in the playoffs. — Sedano

A knee injury sidelined Jackson for the final nine games ahead of the hiatus. He’s healthy now and hopes to continue to build chemistry with fellow franchise cornerstone Ja Morant. The Grizzlies were 15-6 after Jan. 1 when that duo played together. — MacMahon

Lopez’s basic stats (11.0 points, 4.5 rebounds per game) don’t exactly pop, but he’s a phenomenal fit with the Bucks as a big man who spaces the floor offensively and shuts down the paint on defense. With Lopez shooting 29.6% from 3 this season, will opposing defenses dare the Milwaukee center to beat them with his jumper? — MacMahon

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A midseason trade to Houston showcased Covington’s valuable defense. At 6-foot-7, he has served as the Rockets’ rim protector since the trade, averaging 2.5 blocks per game while supplying the shooting necessary to make Houston’s offense work with 2.9 3s per game — making Covington the NBA’s shortest “Unicorn.” — Pelton

  • Milwaukee Bucks | G

  • Preseason rank: 67

  • 2019-20 RPM: +2.71

Like the rest of the Bucks, Bledsoe gets excellent looks due to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ability to collapse opposing defenses. Bledsoe, however, is the best creator of offense in their backcourt, and Milwaukee will need him to play well as a floor general in order to compete for the title. — Snellings

The Sixers have credited Harris as a rallying force while the season was suspended. Now, Philadelphia will need him to be an offensive fulcrum. On a team that is starved for spacing and shooting, the Sixers will lean on Harris to provide both — particularly after signing a five-year, $180 million contract last summer. — Bontemps

Fox was 8 years old the last time Sacramento made the playoffs. He’s 22 now, and the best young player on a team that has an outside chance of qualifying for the postseason. He still struggles as a jump shooter, yet Fox leads the team in both scoring and assists. He is at his best attacking the bucket and creating catch-and-shoot looks for teammates like Nemanja Bjelica, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes on the edges. — Goldsberry

Gallinari has quietly produced his second straight high-impact season to help lead his team to the playoffs. He benefits from great looks created by Chris Paul, and his ability to stretch the floor with volume 3-pointers at strong percentages opens up the action for his teammates to thrive. — Snellings

Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have created a one-two punch that catapulted the Pacers into a top-five team in the East. In his first season with Indiana, Brogdon is averaging a career highs in points, rebounds and assists (16.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 7.1 APG). After contracting COVID-19, the Pacers guard has said he’s ready to rejoin the team. The time off should help heal a myriad of injuries he suffered during the season, costing him 17 games total. — Sedano

A versatile defender who can guard bigger opponents and rack up steals, Smart ranks in the NBA’s top 30 in the defensive rating of ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM). He also has added enough scoring to keep defenses honest, hitting a career-high 2.4 3-pointers per game this season. — Pelton

Vucevic is a double-double machine who provides the Magic with 19.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He always has thrived in the midrange, but as those shots have fallen out of favor, he’s struggling to extend his touch beyond the arc. He has the potential to be one of the best 3-point-shooting bigs in the league. To this point, though, that potential remains unmet. He’s making fewer than a third of his six 3-point attempts per game, which limits both his individual value and his team’s overall offensive efficiency. — Goldsberry

  • Boston Celtics | F

  • Preseason rank: 65

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.97

Hayward spent last season knocking off the rust accumulated from the leg and ankle injury that sidelined him the season before, but he has quietly been very good for Boston this season. He is averaging 17.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists with a 56.3% effective field goal percentage. If the Celtics are going to make it out of the East, Hayward needs to continue to play at that level. — Bontemps

Gilgeous-Alexander was a solid role player last postseason as a rookie with the Clippers. This season, he’ll probably need to perform like a star for the Thunder to make a run. As a sophomore, he has led a balanced OKC offensive attack with 19.3 PPG, thriving as Chris Paul’s young sidekick. — MacMahon

The Clippers enter Orlando with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both fully healthy together for the first time this season, which could lower Williams’ usage. Nevertheless, Williams is the most gifted offense creator on his team and will still need to fill that role down the stretch of playoff games. — Snellings

At 23, Murray is probably the second-best player on one of the best teams in the West. With the conference full of talented guards, the real question is whether Murray can hang with James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell and the other top backcourt players as the Nuggets seek a deep playoff run. We’ll soon find out. — Goldsberry

  • Memphis Grizzlies | G

  • Preseason rank: 93

  • 2019-20 RPM: +0.12

Morant is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, leading the Grizzlies in points (17.6 PPG) and assists (6.9 APG). Morant, who already exhibits extreme athleticism, reportedly added 12 pounds of muscle during the hiatus. As the primary ball handler, this should allow him to better absorb contact heading to the rim. — Sedano

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At age 23, Booker took a big step toward stardom, becoming a more efficient scorer while also showing more defensive effort en route to his first All-Star appearance as an injury replacement. The big question is how much of Booker we’ll see given that the Suns are No. 13 in the West. — Pelton

  • Toronto Raptors | G

  • Preseason rank: 88

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.93

The 2019 postseason was a tale of two VanVleets. He shot 3-for-23 overall — and 1-for-14 from 3-point range — against the 76ers in the second round before going 14-for-17 from 3 in the final three games against the Bucks in the conference finals and hitting just under 40% of his triples in the NBA Finals. With free agency approaching, VanVleet will be hoping for more of the latter this time around. — Bontemps

  • LA Clippers | F

  • Preseason rank: 72

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.96

Harrell was one of the league’s most impactful reserves when he got his buckets primarily as a pick-and-roll finisher and off of energy plays. He added an effective face-up game to his arsenal this season, making him the Sixth Man of the Year front-runner. — MacMahon

  • Indiana Pacers | F

  • Preseason rank: 63

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.84

Sabonis should continue to thrive as the primary half of the Pacers’ front line. He is averaging career-best numbers across the board and the Pacers rely heavily on his interior scoring, rebounding and passing. Plus, his 5.0 assists per game ranks second among NBA centers. — Snellings

When Portland played its biggest game of the year last season, McCollum was the best player on the court — scoring 37 points, putting on a midrange clinic and propelling the Blazers past the Nuggets in a huge Game 7 road win. He needs to bring that same heat to Orlando if Portland has any chance of sneaking into the playoffs. Both he and Damian Lillard have made careers out of proving people wrong. Can they do it again in the bubble? — Goldsberry

  • New Orleans Pelicans | G

  • Preseason rank: 31

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.15

One of the most tenacious guard defenders in the NBA, Holiday demolished Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the first round of the playoffs two years ago. New Orleans will need a similar level of play from Holiday this time around to make it through the play-in tournament and into the playoffs. — Bontemps

  • Boston Celtics | G

  • Preseason rank: 51

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.52

Brown responded well to a larger role this season, averaging career bests in scoring (20.4 PPG), rebounds (6.4) and field goal percentage (49.0%). Plus, he’s one of six players in NBA history to have multiple 30-point playoff games at age 21 or younger, something the Celtics will count on this postseason. — MacMahon

Predictably, Porzingis improved over the course of his first season back after a torn ACL cost him the entire 2018-19 campaign. Moving to center full-time after Dwight Powell‘s injury also helped Porzingis, who averaged 23.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game after the All-Star break. — Pelton

  • New Orleans Pelicans | F

  • Preseason rank: 42

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.7

Rarely does a prospect take the league by storm the way Williamson has in such a short amount of time. In 19 games, he averaged 23.6 PPG on 59% shooting from the field. The only other rookie to average 20 PPG on 55% shooting is Shaquille O’Neal in the 1992-93 season. Williamson has reportedly added muscle and trimmed some body fat during quarantine, and with one of the easiest remaining schedules, Zion and the Pelicans have their sights on a playoff spot. — Sedano

  • Utah Jazz | G

  • Preseason rank: 20

  • 2019-20 RPM: -0.33

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. The duration of the Jazz’s stay in Orlando depends on how well Mitchell can play, especially on offense. — Goldsberry

  • Miami Heat | F

  • Preseason rank: 81

  • 2019-20 RPM: +2.45

Adebayo came into his own this season after Hassan Whiteside‘s departure in the offseason, establishing himself as one of the best two-way bigs in the NBA and earning his first All-Star spot. He and Jimmy Butler will attempt to help Miami advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. — Bontemps

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  • Boston Celtics | G

  • Preseason rank: 17

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.21

Walker has taken on a lower usage rate this season, which has allowed teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to move into leadership roles. In order to advance in the playoffs, however, the Celtics will need Walker’s ability to create good looks for himself and his teammates in pressure situations. — Snellings

  • Toronto Raptors | G

  • Preseason rank: 39

  • 2019-20 RPM: +4.96

Following the departure of Kawhi Leonard, Lowry has shouldered a heavier offensive load for the Raptors this season, increasing his scoring average by 5.5 PPG without any loss of efficiency. Lowry’s 2019 playoff run answered any questions about his ability to maintain his play in the postseason. — Pelton

  • Utah Jazz | C

  • Preseason rank: 14

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.69

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. 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. — Sedano

  • Milwaukee Bucks | F

  • Preseason rank: 36

  • 2019-20 RPM: +4.13

Middleton has been worth every dollar in the first season of his max deal. He’s averaging 21.1 PPG with .499/.418/.908 shooting splits. The list of players to average 20-plus points while joining the 50/40/90 club: Larry Bird, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki. — MacMahon

  • Philadelphia 76ers | G

  • Preseason rank: 15

  • 2019-20 RPM: +1.54

Even though the Sixers aren’t exactly loaded with great shooters, Simmons remains the top 3-point assist man in the NBA. He comes into Orlando leading all NBA passers with 231 3-point assists, per Second Spectrum tracking. His incredible shot creation has to continue in the playoffs if Philly has any chance of coming out of the East. — Goldsberry

Paul has had a resurgence in Oklahoma City, back to being the CP3 we all were accustomed to seeing before his two seasons in Houston. Paul is shooting an extraordinary 48.9% from the field, his highest percentage in a decade. He has brought a business-like intensity to OKC that permeates both ends of the floor. His play and the success of the Thunder has been one of the biggest surprises in the league this season. — Sedano

  • Toronto Raptors | F

  • Preseason rank: 22

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.25

The reigning Most Improved Player took another massive leap this season in Kawhi Leonard’s absence, proving he can be a go-to guy on a contending team. Siakam’s efficiency is an essential ingredient in the Raptors’ success — he shoots 48.7% from the floor in Toronto’s wins, but only 37.5% in losses. — MacMahon

  • Boston Celtics | F

  • Preseason rank: 35

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.63

Tatum was playing some of his best basketball when the season was suspended, averaging 29.2 PPG with a true shooting percentage of 60.8% in February and March. Still, one big question remains: Can Tatum put up prolific numbers against the Bucks’ dominant defense? Milwaukee held him to an average of 12.0 points on 36.4% shooting while eliminating Boston in last season’s playoffs. — MacMahon

  • Houston Rockets | G

  • Preseason rank: 12

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.99

Assuming Westbrook is healthy and ready to go after recovering from COVID-19, he carries a huge chunk of the Rockets’ postseason hopes. In the increased spacing of his new role, Westbrook has averaged 32.5 PPG on 52.8 FG%, 8.3 RPG and 7.0 APG since Jan. 8. — Snellings

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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. 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. — Pelton

  • Miami Heat | F

  • Preseason rank: 21

  • 2019-20 RPM: +2.77

As talented as Butler is, he has been labeled a challenging teammate in previous stops. That hasn’t been the case in Miami. So far, it has been a marriage made in basketball heaven. Butler has led the team with 20.2 PPG and career highs in assists (6.1 per game) and rebounds (6.6 per game). He has instilled his patented confidence and swagger into his teammates, and by finding teammates for open looks has allowed Erik Spoelstra’s offense to thrive. — Sedano

  • Denver Nuggets | C

  • Preseason rank: 7

  • 2019-20 RPM: 5.7

Jokic has measured in the top six in RPM in four straight seasons but never finished better than his current No. 4. If he has faced criticism, it’s been about his fitness. Pictures surfaced this summer that indicate he’s slimmer than ever, and he has now cleared quarantine and joined his team in Orlando following a positive coronavirus test. If that translates to peak conditioning, he has a chance to make as big of an impact as any player in the postseason. — Snellings

  • LA Clippers | F

  • Preseason rank: 10

  • 2019-20 RPM: +2.11

The combination of George and Leonard on the wings for the Clippers gives them the best one-two wing punch in the league since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The world has seen what Leonard can do on the big stage. Now, George will be under pressure to prove he can do the same. — Bontemps

  • Dallas Mavericks | G

  • Preseason rank: 16

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.72

Doncic has put up historic numbers this season while dealing with nagging ankle, wrist and thumb injuries. He’s finally healthy and preparing for his NBA playoff debut, but Doncic has plenty of high-pressure postseason experience from his time with Real Madrid and the Slovenian national team. — MacMahon

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  • Philadelphia 76ers | C

  • Preseason rank: 8

  • 2019-20 RPM: +3.31

Embiid has the potential to be one of the most dominating forces in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. Will he realize that potential? That’s the million-dollar question in Philly, and one of the biggest unknowns in Orlando. If Embiid is thriving on both ends of the court, so are the Sixers — if he’s not, Philly is done. — Goldsberry

Davis has been a perfect complement to LeBron James. The pairing has a net rating of plus-10.3, the best for any duo in the NBA with a minimum of 1,300 minutes played together. He was dealing with nagging injuries in his right shoulder, knee, ankle and tailbone, but he’s healthy now and arguably will be the biggest factor in the Lakers’ chances at winning a 17th championship. — Sedano

  • Houston Rockets | G

  • Preseason rank: 4

  • 2019-20 RPM: +6.99

Harden is the only player in the NBA to measure in the top three in RPM in each of the past three seasons. He carries a massive usage load each season, so the long break should allow him to hit the postseason fresh and in peak shape. Expect high-level production. — Snellings

  • LA Clippers | F

  • Preseason rank: 2

  • 2019-20 RPM: +5.47

Last year, Leonard led the Raptors to the franchise’s first championship, staking his claim as the best player in the sport. This year, he will try to do the same thing for the Clippers — albeit under very different circumstances. If he pulls this off, he’ll be the first player to win Finals MVP for three different teams. — Bontemps

  • Milwaukee Bucks | F

  • Preseason rank: 1

  • 2019-20 RPM: +10.31

At 25 years old, Antetokounmpo is the NBA’s most dominant paint scorer since Shaq in his prime, but even O’Neal didn’t win it all until he was 28. Still, the pressure is on Giannis to reach the Finals right now. Is that fair? Maybe not, but if the Bucks falter again this season, Antetokounmpo might have to change teams to get over the hump. — Goldsberry

  • Los Angeles Lakers | SF

  • Preseason rank:2

  • 2019-20 RPM:+9.8

After slipping to No. 3 in last summer’s NBArank, the first time he’d ranked anywhere but No. 1 since these debuted in the summer of 2011, LeBron has reclaimed the top spot with an MVP-caliber regular season. Even at 35, a rested and motivated LeBron remains the NBA’s most feared opponent. — Pelton

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