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NBA

Six players who can ride a hot streak into NBA bubble stardom

We're just a week away from the NBA's first seeding games but, even as many bubble-related questions are answered, the on-court product remains a mystery.

With unprecedented variables affecting every aspect of the league for the foreseeable future, it seems doubtful that we will see the game-to-game consistency early in the restart that elite teams pride themselves on. As a result, there's a good chance that shooting variance has a much greater impact on play than we normally see this far into the season.

As teams find their footing, hot hands have an opportunity to light up the bubble and previously overlooked players have a chance to achieve overnight March Madness-like mainstream fame if they catch fire at the right time.

Not everyone fits these criteria but here are some players with plausible paths to that kind of stardom.

Jordan Clarkson

Bojan Bogdanovic's absence suddenly leaves Utah's eighth-ranked offence in desperate need of a scoring punch. Enter Jordan Clarkson, now the second-leading scorer on a team that still considers itself a break away from contention.

Clarkson has earned his reputation as a gunner - sometimes a term of endearment, other times not so much. He's never been as efficient as you'd like from a primary scorer but, outside of a stint as a bit player on the 2017-18 Cavs, he's never been a featured part of a playoff-calibre offence either.

The Jazz now have little choice but to look to Clarkson as an offensive focal point. He has moments where he's undoubtedly capable of meeting that challenge, but Utah needs consistent production as their margin for error has almost vanished.

Shake Milton

Shake Milton's rise has been meteoric over the past 12 months and he has an opportunity to ascend even further during the restart. Brett Brown has tabbed the 23-year-old to be the 76ers' new starting point guard and, in doing so, promoted him to one of Philadelphia's most important players.

His season-long numbers may not reflect it but Milton is a genuinely explosive scorer. Since becoming the frequent starter on January 25th, he has averaged 13.0 points per game and shot 51.3 percent from three. Some nights he's a centrepiece and a role player on others - as is true with almost every Sixer - but he's proven capable of filling up the box score when given the chance.

MORE: What seeding games mean for Sixers

Milton scored over 20 points four times in Philadelphia's final 17 games, including a 39-point explosion against the Clippers where he went 7 of 9 from three. Only three Sixers have scored 39 points in a game since 1998: Joel Embiid, Allen Iverson and now Shake Milton.

The Sixers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league this season. They've lagged behind the top four in the East but Milton's shooting prowess could be the key to help bridge that gap and cement a spot as one of the league's biggest breakout stars.

Dennis Schroder

Dennis Schroder has been quietly fantastic in 2020. Since the turn of the decade, he's averaged 19.7 points on 53.9 eFG% and helped lead OKC to the league's fourth-best record of 22-9. He's settled perfectly into his role with the Thunder, dominating reserve backcourts and totalling more games of both 20+ and 25+ points off the bench than anyone in the league.

He and the Thunder have an excellent opportunity during the restart. OKC is extremely consistent but lacks top-end star power when compared with the league's elite teams. That said, the middle of the West is suddenly in disarray and the path to contention appears a lot less treacherous.

MORE: Is Schroder Sixth Man of the Year?

The Thunder may not be popular picks to threaten the LA teams but health and depth give them as good as shot as anyone in the West. If Schroder gets hot at the right time, that could be the boost OKC needs to surprise everyone and make some real noise in the playoffs.

Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield's odyssey in and out of favour in Sacramento has been confounding at times, but few seem better suited to jump back into stardom during the restart than him.

After improving in each of his first three seasons, Hield undoubtedly plateaued this year. It was by no means a bad season but the lack of an All-Star leap has overshadowed the fact that Hield is still on pace to be one of the best shooters the league has ever seen. Even with the stagnation, Hield has still made more threes through his first four seasons than any player in NBA history.

MORE: Odds for the West's No. 8 seed

Both he and the Kings are flying well under the radar entering the restart. New Orleans and Portland are certainly the more popular picks to force Memphis into a play-in game but Sacramento is tied with both in the standings. Hield's offensive load will likely be greater with the status of De'Aaron Fox (ankle) in the air and Marvin Bagley III (foot) out for the remainder of the season.

If Hield can get hot in the seeding games, he has a shot to remind the league just how great a scorer he is and possibly help propel the Kings back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Jamal Crawford

The last time we saw Jamal Crawford he was becoming the oldest player in NBA history to drop 50 in a game. Few have ever fit this criteria more than him.

The now 40-year-old Crawford has found himself in the perfect situation to make a loud return to the NBA. The Nets will be without - take a deep breath - Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Nic Claxton and Wilson Chandler for the restart.

MORE: Breaking down the Nets roster

Crawford has totalled 16,434 regular season field goal attempts in his soon-to-be 20-year career. The entire rest of the Nets bubble roster has combined for just 15,791 attempts. The door is wide open for him to make a splash.

The skeleton crew Nets will be without quite a bit during the restart, but it's a safe bet that Crawford will ensure they aren't lacking for shooting.

Norman Powell

Nick Nurse has moulded the Raptors into a model of consistency. They are as balanced on offence as any team in the league but, if there's a weakness to egalitarian basketball, it's that it can lack explosiveness at times. If Toronto does need a scoring punch from someone other than Pascal Siakam or Kyle Lowry, Norm Powell is the best answer.

Powell has earned the right to be seen as one of the preeminent scorers on this list. He nearly doubled his scoring this season from 8.6 to 16.4 points per game while simultaneously becoming more efficient from the floor. He was also really catching his stride before the hiatus, averaging 28.0 points in the final five games including back-to-back 30-point nights against the Warriors and Kings.

Powell may not have a top-tier scoring reputation around the league just yet but he's become a player fully capable of filling that role. It's now just a question of if and when the Raptors ask him to do so.

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