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Tag Archives: NBA

What did we Learn from the Suns’ 2018-19 season?

In general, we learned that rebuilding is hard and veteran players matter. Having players that have been in the NBA for some time and have played in the playoffs is crucial to creating a winning basketball team. When you have a void of that, it will be tough to win. Thus, the Suns had their second-worst win total of 19 wins (only worse was the Suns inaugural season in the 1960s).

The average age of the Suns’ roster (minus the two-way guys who barely played) and minus Jimmer (30) and Jamal Crawford (39) is 22.9 years old. This team was basically a veteran college team. This doesn’t take into account Trevor Ariza (33), Tyson Chandler and Ryan Anderson (30) who started the year with the Suns and played mostly badly.

When you consider further that Troy Daniels (27) didn’t play much for most of the year and that Tyler Johnson (26) and Kelly Oubre (23), who are considered veterans, for the Suns’ roster at least (due to their playoff experience) were picked up via trade later in the year, this team is young (and didn’t get too many contributions from their vets). Of course, ageless-wonder Jamal Crawford has his flashes, especially his 51-point game in the season finale.

The Suns were also bitten by the injury bug (as most teams are), but when most of your team is unproven, losing a proven NBA-caliber player for any extended stretch really impacts the ability to stay competitive.

Devin Booker missed 18 games with various ailments, most notable that nagging hamstring injury. With Booker being by far the Suns’ best player, missing him for 22 percent of the season really hampered their win total. TJ Warren played even less than Booker, entering in only 43 games (barely half of the 82 games of the season). Seeing as he is probably the second-best player (debatable now with Oubre in the fold) that really hurt their competitiveness. Toward the end of the season (even after having top three lottery odds locked up – aka no incentive to tank) the Suns were missing their six best players (Booker, Warren, Oubre, Johnson, Ayton, Holmes). That’s basically a G-league team that’s left; especially when the good players left are mostly rookies or sophomores who as a general rule are notoriously raw and “bad”.

Enough of the tragedy the Suns experienced, let’s discuss the positives and breakdown what we learned about and from each player.

Devin Booker

He took another leap. Devin Armani Booker showed he could end up being one of the most prolific scorers the league has ever seen. He is constantly breaking records for “youngest to do this” etc including youngest to have back to back 50-point games. He had consecutive games of 59, 51 and 48 points and if not for a petty (but understandable hard double-team in the waning seconds of the game) it would have been three-straight 50-point games. We knew he could be a prolific scorer, but what we learned this year was what we surmised – that he could be more efficient. He was. Booker averaged 26.6 points per game (24.9 in 2017-18) which was good for 7th in the NBA this year (a tie with Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard) and better than Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Donavan Mitchell and Russell Westbrook to name a few. But it was his efficiency that was impressive. His overall field goal percentage increased from 43.2 percent last year to 46.7 percent, sort of crossing the threshold to elite status. His effective field goal percentage also went up from 50.1 percent to 52.1 percent.

Booker also got his teammates more involved this year. Somewhat a product of “Point Book” (aka high volume/usage rate) when Booker isn’t really a point guard, but Booker’s assist percentage skyrocketed from 24.4 percent in 2017-18 to 34.1 percent; good for 11th in the league. His assists per game went from 4.7 to 6.8 (good for 14th in the league this year). This is all more impressive when you see the names Booker is next to when most of the names above him have significantly better teammates and are a good 5-7 years older in their primes while Booker is only 22 years old.

Detractors of Booker say his defense (along with the Suns’ lack of wins) negates his ability to win “real” recognition for his achievements this year or validating what we are seeing on the court. He definitely made a better effort in on-ball defense this year and you can see it when you watch the tape of this season. His off-ball help defense is still lacking – and it’s still to be seen whether more time in the league, getting stronger, or having better teammates/less offensive load on his shoulders will make a significant difference on that end.

He is the leader of the team and his max contract kicks in next season so, we’ll see what the Suns, James Jones and newcomer Jeff Bower can put around him this offseason to help jumpstart winning basketball in Phoenix once again.

DeAndre Ayton

Ayton was the number one pick and I think we can say with a high degree of confidence that Ayton isn’t a bust. He averaged 16.1 points per game on ridiculous efficiency (58.5% FG) and an effective field goal percentage of 58.5 percent which is good for 17th in the league (not among rookies — overall). Ayton was 12th in 2-point field goals in the league, 14th in rebounding (13th in offensive, 16th in defensive) just absolutely dominating everything around the rim. He has some of the best hands I’ve seen for a big man and has incredible touch around the basket.

He is already better as a rim protector than people thought he’d be at the end of his rookie campaign, though it started out pretty rough for the first few months on that end of the court for Ayton. He was tied for 35th in the league in blocks with 67.

He is a fluid athlete and the flashes we saw in this rookie year show how dominate he can be once he gets in the gym, works on his game and gets even stronger than he already is as a 7’1” 250-lb human. He has the right attitude to make it in this league as seen how he talked after the inevitable bad games and how he responded out on the court afterwards. The Suns got a good one despite Ayton decidedly coming in third in the rookie “standings” behind a duo of guard phenoms in Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) and Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks).

Kelly Oubre Jr.

Kelly Oubre Jr. was certainly the best addition of the season for the Suns. Oubre brought a youthful, but experienced voice to the Suns and an indisputable energy that this struggling Suns team needed desperately. He has the combination of speed, athleticism, shooting, determination along with the ability to “go get a bucket” that fits so well with Booker and Ayton. He doesn’t “need” the ball to be successful, but can have it in his hands, run the offense and be successful as the primary ball handler. He rebounds, plays hard and has the perfect combination of boundless energy and positive attitude combined with the calm and undeterred focus of a battle-tested veteran that was lacking on this Suns’ roster. It certainly seems like Oubre wants to stay in the Valley of the Sun going forward. He is a restricted free agent and the Suns have the ability to match anything one of the other teams may offer him. But with the news that Oubre trademarked the term #ValleyBoyz it seems like he would come back. That would be fantastic for the culture and demeanor of this Suns team.  We learned about Oubre how great he would be for the culture and how great a fit he would be long-term around Booker and Ayton.

Tyler Johnson

With the addition of Tyler Johnson to the Suns, we got a peek at what a veteran point guard-led offense would look like – it would be spectacular. With a threshold of 50 minutes played together, Tyler Johnson was a part of the two best lineups for the Suns on the season at +13 and +12 (so was Booker, Ayton, and Oubre). The interchangeable pieces to fill out those lineups were Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges. Go play with the lineup data on Basketball Reference. It’s pretty interesting.

Johnson isn’t a point guard or probably even part of the Suns’ future, while also being overpaid (there is a near 100 percent chance he opts-in to his $19+ million player option, as he should). However, he helps make the Suns go. He is unflappable, a steadying presence on offense and a gritty defender who knows where to be. As a 26-year-old who has been in the league for a while, he just isn’t going to make as many mistakes as younger players.

Mikal Bridges

The Dan Majerle hustle award winner really had a great rookie season. It seems evident that Bridges is – so far – the third piece as a part of the Suns future core alongside Booker and Ayton. He drained threes and played solid defense (even receiving a few votes in The Athletic’s anonymous NBA player poll as the “best defender” which is remarkable for a rookie). He also stole the ball – a lot. He had 129 steals in his rookie campaign (one less than LeBron James’ rookie year) and ends up 12th among rookies in steals since 2000-01. If you add in his three-point acumen, there are only four other players to match Bridges’ combination of 129 steals and 105 made threes in their rookie season all-time. The other rookies to do that were Stephen Curry, Mario Chalmers, Allen Iverson, and Kerry Kittles. That’s pretty amazing company for Bridges.

The most promising thing is how Bridges now projects for the rest of his career. Coming out in the draft a year ago the “best case” for Bridges was an elite “3-and-D” player. Well, he could achieve that by the end of his second year once he his able to work on his strength and not go through the struggles of being a rookie in the league. We saw some flashes of some other things Bridges could do on the court that could raise his career trajectory. He showed us some one and two-dribble pull-up jumpers as well as some great drives that utilized his length. We learned a lot about how long Bridges will stay in the league. He could have a long 15+ year career. Hopefully, in a Suns uniform for most, or all, of that time.

Josh Jackson

We learned a lot of interesting things about Josh Jackson. He can reign-in his shot selection and still be aggressive without being reckless. It’s looking as if his defense probably won’t be elite, but also probably won’t be miserable.

His three-point accuracy soared this year. Just taking the raw year-to-year numbers, his three-point accuracy improved from a horrendous 26 percent to a respectable 32 percent. If you saw the progression during the 2018-19 season, that number could jump to elite level next year and going forward. The hitch in his release is gone. Looking at the month-to-month splits and you can see the improvement.

He may not end up being a key part of the Suns’ future core, but it seems like he’ll stick in the league longer than it may have seemed as the percentage chance of him being a bust continues to go down.

T.J. Warren

Well, we learned two specific and opposing things about Warren in the 2018-19 season. Someone can be an absolute non-shooter and turn into a knockdown three-point shooter, seemingly overnight. The other is that despite improving in ways it seemed would never happen, Warren is probably not in the Suns’ long-term plans.

First, the positive. Warren re-worked his three-point shot and had career highs in three-point percentage of 42.8 percent (absolute elite level percentage-wise). The volume also went way up. Warren’s 77 made threes nearly caught his 79 threes combined his first four years in the league. With his free throw percentage also jumping from 75.7 percent to 81.5 percent, he also had a career-high effective field goal percentage (that takes into account the math involved in comparing threes, twos and free throws). Despite averaging fewer minutes per game, Warren’s assists, steals, and blocks improved a bit compared to last season.

Unfortunately, much of this great story is dampened by injury. In 2018-19, Warren played only 43 games, a low for his career (apart from the 40 games his rookie year). Warren just always seems to be banged up, and injuries seem to linger for him. It’s not a toughness issue either it seems, just very unfortunate. We’ll never really know how injured he was toward the end of the season as other injuries and jockeying for lottery position made it pointless to bring him back early (despite Warren being close to a three-point attempt bonus). However, as Warren was injured during the Suns’ great stretch of games where they did play well, Warren seems like the odd man out in the plethora of wings the Suns have (Bridges, Oubre, Jackson, most notably). He’ll always get buckets with his great touch around the basket and instinct for offensive rebounding and off-ball cutting, but it seems like this is the player he’s going to be for the rest of his career. The three-point improvement will mean the Suns can get more value in a trade, but it’s looking like he has played his last game for the Suns due to other Suns’ wings bringing more to the table.

Richaun Holmes

Holmes was a great find by the Suns’ front office “hiding” behind Joel Embiid in Philly. His energy is infectious, he always plays hard and, while a limited player on offense, he is the perfect backup center for NBA teams. He can still score, is athletic and big enough to play tough defense down in the paint and doesn’t give up or back down from a challenge.

If Holmes can work on his interior passing vision and skill while developing a jumpshot, he could be even more valuable. The Suns will probably look to lock up the unrestricted free agent who will get paid handsomely as he’ll, in all likelihood, double (or more) his career earnings thus far.

Jamal Crawford

We learned that “JCrossover” can still ball out sometimes, but on the court probably can’t contribute too much in terms of winning basketball at the age of 39. Certainly, any illusion of defense is gone. The good part is that most of Crawford’s value to this Suns’ team is off the court in terms of mentorship. Nearly every teammate kept discussing Crawford’s significant impact on them, not only as a player but as a person. With him dropping 51 points on the final game of the season, I could see the Suns’ re-upping Crawford on a vet minimum deal again after seeing the positive impact he had on the players.

Troy Daniels

We’ve really known it his whole career, but man can Daniels shoot the ball! Daniels even showed a little better defensive positioning and effort this year along with a little dribbling and driving improvement. Daniels will basically be in the NBA for as long as he wants with that impressive shooting stroke, but his contracts will be pretty close to the minimum unless those flashes we saw become more consistent. This one is a toss-up in terms of him being on the Suns or not in October. It will depend on trades and what the free agency landscape looks like for Daniels.

DeAnthony Melton and Elie Okobo

The rookie season was certainly a roller-coaster for Melton and his fellow rookie point guard Elie Okobo. Both went from times starting to having stretches of DNP-CDs (did not participate – coach’s decision). Melton is seemingly more athletic and longer and definitely better at defense, but Okobo seems a bit more polished, is a better passer and certainly a better shooter. Unfortunately, neither are near good enough to start in the NBA as of yet, as the mid-season addition of veteran Tyler Johnson (who isn’t even quite a point guard… and yet… results) showed. With just seeing them on the court and not knowing them personally or lockerroom interactions, I would keep Melton (just because it is easier to teach to his deficiencies than Okobo’s, making Melton’s future ceiling easier to hit). If they can hold on to both for their sophomore seasons, even better.

Ray Spaulding

Spaulding didn’t play much this year but certainly seems like an NBA player (and not someone who will wash out of the league). He’ll need to put on more weight (i.e. get stronger) to bang with the bigs down in the paint, but he has some great touch around the basket on offense and projects to be a prototypical mobile big so essential in the modern game.

Jimmer Fredette

In one sense (being in the NBA realm), you’ve gotta feel bad for Fredette. He has a great college career, some time in the league and then washes out to overseas leagues. He plays well over there and reinvents himself then makes it back over – then shoots ZERO percent on threes in his short time with the Suns. I don’t envision the Suns bringing him back for the second (non-guaranteed) year, but I hope he gets his chance either with the Suns or with one of the other 29 teams.

Igor Kokoskov

Igor Kokoskov had an interesting year. He had tons of experience as an NBA assistant coach, but being the boss is a whole different ballgame. It’s all on you, regardless of the factors that are out of your control. The Suns only won 19 games and that’s not great. However, Kokoskov is good at player development and that’s what we saw. Jackson, Warren, Booker, Ayton and others all improved in key areas. Kokoskov definitely had problems he’ll need to improve on as a coach, but the Suns should keep Igor around at least one more year for a couple of reasons. The Suns didn’t have the talent to let a coach really do his thing (the lack of point guard which Igor is especially good at utilizing was especially problematic). Igor did not really let the offense bog down as it has the past five-plus years despite the lack of NBA starter ball-handlers (minus Booker). Also, consistency is so important, and the culture seems to be shifting with James Jones, Igor, Crawford, Oubre, etc so it seems like it would be a mistake to let the head coach go at this juncture. Also, the Suns really worked to rehab their image around the league and did so seemingly by helping players get to desired destinations through dead money on their books. Tyson Chandler, Austin Rivers, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, which could come into play this offseason.

The future is bright if you look at the silver linings!

Smooth as Jazz

Written by Logan Karels

In the heart of Western Conference, there is a team that isn’t a powerhouse but sure seems like a dark horse team — the Utah Jazz. Classic jazz music is certainly smooth, and this team certainly fits that label. Utah wasn’t forced to make any drastic changes this offseason, as their two best players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, are on the upswing at 22 and 26-years-old respectively.

As a franchise that seemingly looked to be on a downturn and in a rebuild after losing franchise player Gordon Hayward in free agency, last season sure was a surprise. Having two core players as your franchise cornerstones, so young in age — who both haven’t reached their prime but are also productive — is the envy of every small market team in the league.

The Jazz had arguably the steal of the draft, picking their young star Mitchell at the 13th overall pick. Mitchell had a great rookie campaign averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.5 steals. This young man has been compared to Dwyane Wade in just his first year of playing NBA basketball. There is absolutely no doubt he is an elite athlete and a special talent. Standing at 6’3” and 210 pounds, he has a 6’10” wingspan making him a formidable guard in today’s game — even more so if he starts making improvements on defense. He is built similarly to Wade, who has just an inch and about 15 pounds on the young Jazz star, so it is easy to see why Mitchell drew the comparisons along with the similar intensity and playing style. Wade was an elite athlete and very explosive in his prime, and we have yet to see what the young Jazz star’s prime will bring.

Arguably the team’s MVP is defensive juggernaut Rudy Gobert. This young star already has quite an impressive resume — NBA blocks leader in 2017, two-time NBA All-Defensive first team, All-NBA second team, capped off with a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018. Gobert is the team’s most important player right now at 26, at least until Mitchell continues further down his development trajectory. It simply cannot be overstated enough how good it is for a franchise to have their two best players this young. Gobert is a defensive juggernaut and leads the way on the floor defensively. He stands tall and long at 7’1” with a historically long wingspan of 7’9”. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year acts as an anchor and essentially generates a no-fly zone around the rim. As one of the league’s premier shot-blockers, the rest of his team can channel players driving at the rim toward Gobert as he waits for them in the paint with his massive reach and defensive capability. The Jazz are one of the NBA’s top defensive teams and Gobert plays a massive role in that.

Utah had the luxury of consistency of a roster from year to year, and that continuity helps elevate a team to prominence. Great role players are always needed on any team that has championship aspirations. The Jazz do not come up short in that respect at all. Joe Ingles has emerged as another of the team’s best players and leading scorer. Ingles was one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA last season at 45 percent. Ricky Rubio runs the pick and roll with Gobert and also runs the offense, which opens Mitchell up to focus more on scoring. Basketball veterans Rubio and Ingles help the team’s young players greatly, both of whom played professional basketball overseas before their NBA careers even began. Veteran leadership is a must have on any aspiring championship NBA team. Speaking of veterans, earlier this season the Jazz acquired former player Kyle Korver. Korver has been one of the best three-point shooters in the game during his entire career. He is fifth all-time in the NBA in three-pointers made (just recently getting passed by former MVP and sharpshooting flamethrower Stephen Curry). Outside shooting is a great asset to have when you can pair it with a slasher/penetrator like Mitchell can be.

Gobert and Derrick Favors share similar playing styles, both being essentially traditional big men. Another key piece to Utah’s success is Jae Crowder, who, like Gobert, is an extremely talented defensive player, and he can also shoot the three. A notable acquisition for the team during the NBA draft was Grayson Allen, who was a talented player for Coach K at Duke, playing all four years behind the legendary coach. He plays extremely hard on defense and is yet another talented young player on the Jazz roster. The roster is jam-packed full of players who are both long and athletic. The quarter season acquisition of Kyle Korver was a great decision by Utah. Korver is one of the greatest three-point shooters ever, and his return to the Jazz, a former team of his, was a warm welcome indeed.

During last season, head coach Quin Snyder experimented with different lineups, plugging in different players here and there. He finally found a starting lineup that worked and had great rotational players as well. The Jazz haven’t looked back since. They finished the season strong and went into the playoffs and upset the Oklahoma City Thunder led by reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. Quin Snyder is without a doubt one of the NBA’s top coaches — he played for and was virtually groomed by the legendary Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski. After his playing days, he returned to Duke and finished his MBA and JD, while serving as one of Coach K’s assistants. Coaching behind such a renowned coach like Coach K is something that few aspiring NBA coaches can hope to experience. Having won the Coach of the Year award during his time in the D-League, it’s not hard to see why he was at least mentioned by some last year for the same honor in the NBA.

This season is not starting out too well for Utah, as the Western Conference has continued to get stronger, year after year. Good things are on the horizon for the Jazz however, if they continue to groom their stars. Led by head coach Quin Snyder, and star players Gobert and Mitchell, another strong season is in store for Utah if they can turn things around after their mediocre start. Things were looking to take a turn for the worse for Utah fans when Gordon Hayward left for Boston. Perhaps with all the young talent they currently possess, karma will turn around and they will be in the running for a big name free agent in the next couple years. They have certainly earned a spot on future free agent’s map of possible destinations.

Superteams: Good or Bad for the NBA?

Written by Logan Karels (@Karels23)

Superteams. A superteam is a term thrown around in the sports world quite often in this era of basketball.

So, what exactly defines a superteam? A superteam is when a professional sports team has multiple all-star (or all-star caliber) players on the same team. Historically, superteams have always existed in the NBA. Parity in sports is common terminology brought up regularly by fans around the water cooler. The dynastic Golden State Warriors are no exception in the NBA.

The truth is — the league has consistently remained the same. Every year, come postseason time, only a handful of teams have a shot at winning the NBA championship. The remaining teams in the league simply are not on that same level as the top teams.

Let’s take a look at what are considered some of the best teams (superteams) in the history of the NBA.

Obviously, the Chicago Bulls superteam is automatically in the discussion. Led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, one of the most fearsome duos the league has ever seen, this team was considered to be the best of all time. In the 90’s, The duo led the Bulls to six titles in eight years, including two three-peats (losing in the Eastern Conference Finals twice in between when Jordan went to go play baseball).

The current Golden State Warriors superteam has had a dominant stretch in the last several years including a record-breaking 73-9 regular season. What is most impressive is the three championships in four years (and if Draymond doesn’t get suspended during the 2016 Finals probably would be going for their fifth straight title this upcoming season). If they keep up their level of greatness they have a chance to dethrone the Jordan-Bulls dynasty off the all-time rankings.

The 2013-era HEAT led by LeBron and Wade were also very dominant during their time as teammates, winning an extraordinary 27 games consecutively during the regular season, along with Chris Bosh and their supporting cast. They won consecutive titles and lost in the finals on the years bookending their repeat championships.

It’s worth mentioning history’s past great superteams that newer NBA fans may not entirely know of. The “Showtime Lakers” with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. The original Celtics super team led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. An even older Celtics superteam yet were led by the legendary Bill Russell, with Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.

Parity in Professional Sports

Parity refers to the equality of the league, meaning that in a perfect world, the best 30+ players would be evenly distributed to teams in the league- making the league much more competitive and interesting. Historically, parity within the NBA has remained a constant. Each era had the respective teams who dominated the rest of the league. Each season, very similar to today’s league, only a select few teams have a real chance to win the NBA championship.

The NFL differs highly from the NBA in terms of parity. The Superbowl favorites often change every season. Staying consistent in the postseason, making the conference finals, and advancing to the title game proves extremely challenging. In basketball- you have 5 players who are the main impact on the game — whereas in football you have 11 different players on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. Counting special teams and substitutions throughout the game, there are many players that teams must rely on in high pressure game situations. For instance, in the NBA teams “shorten” their in-game rotations and substitution patterns. In the NFL, there are too many positions and it just isn’t realistic.

In the NBA, a player like LeBron or Michael Jordan, one individual player can have a massive impact on a game. On the football field, it is difficult for a specific player to have such an impact on the game outside of a quarterback with a few exceptions. One such exception is a player like Khalil Mack, the Bears’ defensive star that just came over from the Raiders. He alone has changed the Bears defense entirely to one of the top defenses in the league. Even so, they are far from considered one of the best teams in the league, and even in the NFC North. When you get a player with that kind of skill level who is leading an NBA team —  that team is almost guaranteed to be one of the best, if not the best teams in the league.

What makes a Superteam?

What exactly qualifies a team as a Superteam? For most people, it is multiple all-star caliber or superstar-caliber players on the same team. Looking at the current Golden State Warriors roster — Steph Curry and Kevin Durant — with three MVP awards between them can dominate the game anywhere at any given night, regardless of the team they are playing. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Demarcus Cousins are all-stars as well. Golden State also has arguably two of the best shooters of all time in Curry and Thompson. The league has never before seen a team that can bolster a lineup (eventually) of five all-stars.

Many try to make the argument that the blame solely lies on LeBron for the superteam phenomenon we have seen in recent years. This is probably a misconception, as there were superteams before “The Heatles” came along in 2010. The whole reason LeBron left his hometown team for Miami is so he could get more reliable help to beat the Boston Celtics’ big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, which could be considered a big 4 when adding Rajon Rondo’s impact on the game. It’s extremely difficult to find a championship roster without two or more future Hall of Famers on the leagues’ superteams of the past. The glaring reason for this is: it’s near impossible to win a title by yourself. Every great team has its star player, of course, but one thing they all have in common is other stars and great supporting casts.

Effects on the NBA

The topic has been the root of debate for NBA fans around the country and globally. Many say that superteams are ruining the league and that is not true in my opinion. If it was, the league would have been ruined ages ago due to all the superteams in the NBA since Dr. James Naismith invented this wonderous game.

In truth, superteams actually benefit the NBA. The Warriors have gained an insane amount of popularity and attention when they play. The NBA is thriving financially in part due to this, another reason why superteams- even like the Warriors — only spell good things for the NBA. The first rounds of the playoffs weren’t great overall, but the Finals itself has been breaking previous viewership records. Every player and team in the league wants nothing more than to beat Golden State, the best current team. This bolsters the competition and makes for highly entertaining games.

Superteams force the rest of the league to work harder to get better and improve their skills. When a team like the Warriors gets remarkably far ahead of the rest of the league in terms of skill, the pressure is on all those other teams to advance, whether that would be signing players through free agency, trading, or just working hard every day to improve. Other teams need to increase their risk profile and “swing for the fences” as it were to compete with Golden State. It will be very exciting to see which franchise can put together a roster good enough to compete with the Warriors- like the Rockets almost did last season.

The Los Angeles Clippers: An NBA experiment

This upcoming season’s Los Angeles Clippers’ roster is quite interesting to say the least. It’s a unique enigma.

“Lob City” is no more- with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all having moved on to different teams. Many have pointed out the fact they have no real star- which is very true. When was the last time a team had this significant a lack of talent variation? What does that even mean? It means that the organization has no superstars, but contains a deeper than average team. Most of the players are closer to the same talent and impact level than any team you can think of. This roster consists of many solid role players, but no real star player to lead. We’ll see what that means for the Clippers this season with the absolutely stacked Western Conference including the seismic shift of LeBron changing conferences and joining the legendary Los Angeles Lakers across the hall. 

Harkening back to 2004

The first team that comes to mind when you think of a “flat” roster is the 2004 Detroit Pistons- though they did win the championship that year. The premise is still similar: they did not have a star or superstar level type player either. One could make the argument for Chauncey Billups being their star/leader, but he wasn’t a superstar caliber player.

That starting five was a very solid lineup:

  • Chauncey Billups
  • Rip Hamilton
  • Tayshaun Prince
  • Rasheed Wallace
  • Ben Wallace

Detroit was a heavy underdog in the series against LA, but overcame the odds. The team is comparable to the Clippers roster. Some of the better-known players on the roster would include Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Danilo Gallinari to name a few. Despite losing their star player and defensive anchor in DeAndre Jordan, The Clippers can make a push toward the playoffs. No one is going to be expecting much from this squad- which makes for the perfect recipe for success-  and therefore there is no pressure on them to succeed. The Clippers roster is also quite deep and features a number of players who will be solid rotational guys and give a great boost off the bench.

Roster Expectations and Analysis

The Clippers’ lack of star power will certainly pose a problem later on in the postseason, but their significantly superior depth will help them win games during the doldrums of the regular season. The roster shockingly has a combined zero all-star appearances for such a veteran team.  However, they get on the board with a handful of defensive first and second team appearances thanks to Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley.

Luc Mbah a Moute, who is another great defender, can add a scoring boost off the bench and helps round out their forward rotation with “professional scorers” Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari. The defensive side of the ball will indeed be one of the teams’ strengths thanks in part to these three defensive standouts leading the way and setting an example for their teammates. Boban Marjanovic is a giant of a man, and will also help with defense by clogging the lane and disrupting opposing players’ drives to the baskets.

Lou Williams has earned the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award twice in his career- one being this past season- and the team will look to him to lead them in the scoring department after his strong campaign. Probably, Williams (and many other players in the rotation) are in the range of the 40th best players in the league or thereabouts (but no better), which is just going to make things all the more interesting.

Solar Insights Editor-in-Chief Eric Saar and ESPN’s Kevin Pelton discuss the Clipper roster

For full podcast (near end of audio): click here

This team is built for the regular season and rosters like this do not come around too often. Most of that is due to the shift in culture in the NBA lately. These days you NEED to have 2-3 All-Stars to even compete for the title it seems. The premise of the Clippers roster is good in theory, but having such a plethora of veteran NBA players can help raise the floor for a team like this. They have a high basketball IQ and will be calm in certain types of situations that may arise in high-pressure games.  Fewer mistakes will be made because of their experience. On the flip side, their lack of a true superstar will definitely lower their ceiling. Teams need a superstar to lead them throughout the season and in critical postseason games. These superstars take all the defensive attention and try to lead the team to victory.

Still, they need a star to lead them. It would be awesome to see some others teams try this out with a completely solid roster from top to bottom- but led by one star- and with all the rotational guys producing significantly in one aspect or another.  It all about players embracing their role and how much money there is to spread around.

This Clippers team is going to surprise some people with their play in the upcoming season. Even though the Western Conference is going to be tough — as usual — this Clippers roster has the potential to push through and possibly even earn themselves a postseason berth. One of the bright spots for the team will be their defensive prowess, especially on the perimeter. Led by Bradley, Beverley and Mbah a Moute, the three will work to set an example for their fellow teammates to get everyone more involved and ultimately improve on the defensive side of the ball. Lou Williams has the potential to lead on the other side of the ball, however. He is certainly a talented scorer and has displayed it at certain times throughout his career. Overall, this Clippers team is pretty well rounded and stuffed with solid players who will provide great production in their time on the court. One thing is for sure- Clippers fans should be excited to see how this roster emerges and performs against the tougher teams of the league.

Old Eras of 76ers Basketball to a Bright New Future

Written by Logan Karels (@Karels23)

The Philadelphia 76ers are a franchise with a storied past, filled with superstars era after era. These include Julius Erving (a.k.a. Dr. J), Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, and Moses Malone as just some of the players this franchise has had the privilege to bring in the fold since their inception. Some legendary names to be sure, there is no denying that. Only time will tell if their franchise cornerstones, Simmons and Embiid, can etch their names into 76er history and join the other greats of this storied franchise that has the third-most regular season wins in NBA history (behind the legendary Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers).

The Wilt Chamberlain Era

During the 1964-65 season, Philadelphia acquired the legendary Wilt Chamberlain from the Warriors, leading to a great era in Philly. A name that every Sixers fan will know and respect, to be sure. Chamberlain absolutely dominated the league on every team he played on. He is one of the most legendary and recognizable figures in basketball history. Of course, everyone knows about his iconic 100 point game, which to this day has still not been surpassed and probably never will be. His career for the Sixers was not very long, but it didn’t take away from anything he accomplished during his time in Philadelphia. That Sixers squad was very talented from top to bottom from their duo of star players — Chamberlain and Hal Greer — to their role players. Reportedly there was some tension between the two stars, Greer not wanting to give up being the undisputed leader and the authority that came with it. As the season progressed, however, they started to mesh well and put those differences behind them. With Philadelphia, Chamberlain won the NBA championship in 1967, and also won three straight Most Valuable Player awards from 1966-1968.

The Julius “Dr. J” Erving Era

The Julius Erving era was an exciting time for Sixer fans. Dr. J revolutionized the way basketball was played. He played a major role in popularizing modern basketball which had an emphasis on leaping and playing at a high level above the rim. He was such an iconic and polarizing player to watch. Most people will remember that legendary play against the Lakers in the 1980 finals, where he pulled off that ridiculous reverse layup and seemed to hang in the air forever. It was athletic and acrobatic plays like this which allowed him to shape the way basketball would forever be played — even to today.

Erving played a major role in helping legitimize the American Basketball Association (ABA), being the most well-known player of the league when they merged with the NBA. After he was traded to the Sixers, Erving quickly grew into the leader of his new team- leading them to a great 50-win season. While in the ABA, he was expected to do everything for his team- and while playing for the Sixers he focused his role mostly on scoring- but he also kept up with his unselfish play keeping his teammates involved.

The Charles Barkley Era

Charles Barkley arrived in Philadelphia during the 1984-85 season. Barkley brought happiness to the fans of Philadelphia mostly in part thanks to his humorous and occasionally controversial personality and actions. The Sixers made a return to the Eastern Conference Finals during Charles’ rookie season, ultimately losing to Boston. Little to the knowledge of the Philadelphia fans, the Sixers would never again advance to the Eastern Conference Finals again during Charles’ tenure. In June of 1986, Harold Katz perhaps made two of the most controversial and extremely criticized roster moves in the franchise’s history. Moses Malone was traded to Washington and the first overall pick in the year’s upcoming draft to Cleveland.

In the 1987-88 season, the Sixers finished the regular season with a losing record and led to the franchise failing to earn a playoff spot for the first time since the 1974-75 season. In 1988-89 the Philadelphia 76ers made their return to the playoffs after the one-year hiatus. The following season, Barkley finished second in MVP voting. The Sixers finished atop the division ending the season 53-29 overall. Following their victory over Cleveland, the Sixers met the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the second round. Philadelphia would be defeated by the Bulls in five games in back-to-back years. The 1991-92 season, the Sixers finished with another losing record, leading to only the second time they missed the playoffs during Barkley’s tenure. On June 17, 1992, Charles Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang. This deal was highly criticized by the league community, including the franchise’s fans.

The Allen Iverson Era

After many years of disappointment following the departure of Charles Barkley, there was a shining moment. The franchise won the draft lottery for the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. With that pick, the Philadelphia 76ers found the “Answer”, in Allen Iverson. Iverson is widely regarded as the best “pound for pound” player in NBA history due to his small stature and weighing less than a typical guard would. Paired with new ownership of the team and Iverson as their focal point on the team, things seemed to be heading in the right direction. Iverson was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in his debut season. Following Iverson’s rookie year, the coach was fired and they unveiled a new logo design and jersey; hopefully to signify a new era in 76er basketball.

Larry Brown was hired as the new head coach and he was known for a defense-first type of coach. He also was renowned for transforming average teams into winning teams with his mindset and coaching ability. Brown and Iverson often clashed, disagreeing on various views and opinions of the other.  Early on during the season, the Sixers traded Jerry Stackhouse to Detroit. Philadelphia received a couple defensive stars in Aaron Mckie and Theo Ratliff who had a major impact in the team’s resurgence. The Sixers began this resurgence in the 1998-99 season which was shortened due to the lockout. Philadelphia earned the sixth seed in the playoffs- this was the first time the franchise had returned to the playoffs since 1991.

The Sixers were steadily improving year after year- but Iverson and Coach Brown continued to have disagreements and clash with each other. Their relationship suffered much during this time and was starting to look like Iverson was going to be traded. Later on, it became apparent that Iverson was going to remain in Philadelphia and he and Brown started to work on their relationship and fix things between the two. In the 2000-01 season, the Sixers had a great regular season and secured the first seed in the East. After a hard fought playoff run, the Sixers, led by Iverson, emerged victorious in the Eastern Conference Finals and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1983. Philadelphia was bested by the Lakers four games to one. Philadelphia’s 2000-01 season featured the NBA MVP, Iverson, Coach of the Year in Brown, Defensive Player of the Year (Mutombo) and the Sixth Man of the Year (Aaron McKie).

In 2003, Coach Brown resigned from his position as head coach. The following season, the Sixers acquired Chris Webber from Sacramento with the hope that they had finally found another star to complement and support Iverson. The same year in the draft, they selected Andre Iguodala who would be another vital piece for the Sixer squad. A couple of seasons later, in December of 2006, Iverson came to the front office with an ultimatum: acquire players who will help support me, or trade me. Two weeks later, Iverson was traded to Denver, and thus ended the Iverson era in Philadelphia.

The Simmons/Embiid Era

Fast forward some years to now, and the Philadelphia 76ers are back as an Eastern Conference powerhouse. Led by their young core in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, this season’s Rookie of the Year, they had a strong 2017-18 season and things are only looking up from here as both players will continue to develop and get better. What does this mean for the league? It means that certain historical league rivalries have been reignited and that can only mean great things for the league in the years to come.

Comparing the team now to past eras, it feels different, to say the least. With the whole “Trust the Process” theme coming to fruition with their stellar drafting ability recently, Philadelphia has done just about everything they can do to ensure that they are back to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for years to come. It is great for the league now that the Sixers are back as a top team in the Conference. Legendary old rivalries have been reignited again, most notably the rivalry between Boston and Philly. The Sixers are back and are here to stay. Personally, I think it is great for the league to have these old rivalries coming back and it can help to bridge the gap between the Sixers fans of old, and their young fans.

2018 NBA Rookie of the Year Race

Written by Logan Karels (@Karels23)

Stats & Team Records

Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons — these are the two young players who were frontrunners for the honor of the Rookie of the Year (RotY) award. First, we will take a look at their regular season statistics.

Donovan Mitchell:  20.5 PPG |3.7 RPG | 3.7 APG | 1.5 SPG

Ben Simmons: 15.8 PPG|8.1 RPG |8.2 APG | 1.7 SPG 

Mitchell is obviously more of a scorer and shooter than Simmons is, but you have to look at what else Simmons does for the Sixers. As a point guard, he often brings up the ball and running parts of the offense, all while distributing and getting his teammates involved.

Simmons helped lead his team to a 52-30 record, taking the third seed in the Eastern Conference. On the other side, Mitchell led his team to a 48-34 record, taking the fifth seed in the West. It can be argued Mitchell had the more impressive season due to his team being in the tougher Western Conference. Not to discredit the Sixers spectacular turnaround from the previous year with an impressive 24-game improvement (from 28 games in 2016-17 to 52 last year). It would appear “Trusting the Process” has indeed worked out in their favor. It’s obvious they will continue their upward trajectory in the upcoming seasons with all the young talent on the roster. Before this year, Philadelphia would never have been thought of a landing spot for LeBron. However, after their turnaround season, things are looking up.

Player Comparisons

As great as Ben Simmons is; he has weaknesses — as all rookies do. Obviously, the most notable flaw would be his shooting ability. Mitchell certainly has the edge here despite Simmons’ raw higher field goal percentage. You have to take that with a grain of salt as most of Simmons’ shot attempts come from inside the paint while driving to the basket due to his weak shooting ability. Obviously, this translates to Simmons’ free throw shooting ability as well. It’s also below average: 56% compared to Mitchell’s 80.5% on the season. Mitchell is already drawing comparisons to Dwyane Wade which is an honor in itself, Wade being the future Hall-of-Famer he is. The only significant difference is that Mitchell is a stronger shooter than Wade was at that age. Of course, Mitchell has some serious work to do to live up to Wade’s reputation in the league.

Both of these rookies had outstanding seasons and many memorable moments it’s hard to pick the best ones. One could go on forever about how talented these two rookies really are. What Mitchell did to lead his team in his rookie season was an incredible thing to behold. The fact is that he was playing in the Western Conference as well. Simmons also helped to lead his team to the playoffs this year. Simmons was even drawing some comparisons as a “mini-LeBron” due to them being such a freight train in transition with nearly unparalleled court vision as playmakers.  That comparison is a quite a stretch since Simmons has only played 81 games while LeBron has played 1143 regular season games. We’ll revisit when Simmons has developed further and is in his prime. There may be some similarities in the future.

Some pundits thought there should have been a co-rookie of the year award just like Jason Kidd and Grant Hill in 1994-95.

Closing Thoughts

While Simmons won the Rookie of the Year award over Mitchell, Jayson Tatum deserves an honorable mention in the race for ROTY. Tatum really stepped up amidst a plethora of injuries that plagued the resilient Boston Celtic team led by Brad Stevens. With all this taken into account, I thought Mitchell should have won. What he has done to lead the team in the Western conference was tough and he deserves to be recognized for it. This doesn’t take away from Simmons’ season at all though. He still had a very impressive rookie campaign. It was great to watch all the leagues’ young rookies compete this year and will be even better watching them improve in the seasons to come. Given all the stats and accolades these two players accumulated during this past season, I believe that Mitchell should have won ROTY, but something was telling me that Simmons was going to be taking home the hardware instead.

Phoenix Suns 2018 Offseason Options

By Eric Saar (@Eric_Saar)

This is the most important offseason in Phoenix Suns franchise history.

While that is probably hyperbole, and there may have been other crucial off-seasons in Phoenix Suns history, the upcoming summer is pivotal to the health and direction of the franchise. The team is no doubt at a crossroads.

  • Blossoming superstar Devin Booker is due for his max rookie extension
  • The Suns just hired the first NBA head coach born outside of North America
  • General Manager Ryan McDonough has filled the “war chest” with assets that put them in the top-tier of teams in the league
  • The environment of the NBA is ripe for an absolute frenzy of crazy trades and free agency signings as tons of teams are anxious for a change

The Suns have their franchise centerpiece in Booker. As the 13th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Booker’s salary was depressed more than his counterparts that were drafted above him. He made 4 million and change in his impressive first two years in the league and it set to make north of 5 million in the last two years of his rookie contract, according to Basketball Insiders’ Suns’ salary page. But that’s nothing compared to what he’ll make once he nets his max rookie extension that he is due for before the 2018 season begins in October. That would be a massive five-year deal worth an estimated $157 million.

He deserves it as he averaged 24.9 points, 4.7 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game last year. The only other players in 2017-18 to hit those averages on the season were LeBron James, Giannis Atetokounmpo, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and DeMarcus Cousins – The only difference is that all the other players but Booker were All-Stars this year. That’s impressive company. With the way that Booker has played, a massive contract extension is basically certain. The rising star is the leader of the team, their number one scoring option, both in general and in the clutch. He is the best player on the roster for the foreseeable future.

But that is only the foundation. Every team needs a superstar and Booker is it. But you need more to create a championship team – and that’s the goal, right?

It seems like Jackson could be another piece of the Suns’ core. His versatility around Booker is crucial to a switching and aggressive defense, while his secondary playmaking skills help make him a two-way player on the rise. His shot release is certainly better than expected during his rookie year. It shows promise, though the numbers are underwhelming. He shot 26.3 percent from behind the arc and 44.6 percent inside it on the year. He fits what you need around Booker. The rookie had vastly different numbers – and impact – in the two halves of the season. But there were flashes of his potential that can really excite a fanbase. One could envision a scenario where Jackson is a Defensive Player of the Year award winner and in a role that mirrors that of former All-Star and Finals MVP, Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala (but a more playable and useful version closer to Iggy’s prime). That’s another piece.

But what else do you have?

The Frontcourt Players

Tyson Chandler is the elder statesman (and though he can have a good game) he’s not the future of the franchise at center and definitely more of a veteran presence. The feeling in Phoenix—and everywhere — is that Alex Len is gone over the summer, though with his streamlined game he would be a great addition to any team at the right price. Alan Williams came back from the leg injury and showed the beautiful floater and great rebounding we know and love about “Big Sauce”. However, even if Len is brought back none of these players are starter caliber centers in this league, so McDonough and his team have some work to do.

One conundrum on the table is the twin power forwards of Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Both players have been on a rollercoaster of development as throughout their rookie and sophomore seasons, we have seen incredible flashes as well as weird stretches, where they make mistakes and become “invisible” on the court, not making the impact necessary to keep consistent playing time. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on these players. Depending on who you talk to, the pair are either versatile big men who have the potential to be All-Stars or players who barely impact the game and won’t ever improve. It sure seems like at least one of the pair won’t be on the team in two years.

Then there is Jared Dudley. Dudley used to play small as a guard in his first stint with the Suns but has transformed his game into a lethal stretch-four veteran, a perfect player to insert into playoff roster. However, Dudley’s value is also found in his presence in the locker room and in the ears of one of the youngest rosters in the league. Dudley is always ready to contribute as an elite three-point shooter, communicating on defense — and even with his athletic disadvantage – always in the right place, making the right play.

The Backcourt Players

We’ve already mentioned Booker and Jackson, so the next logical place is TJ Warren. The small forward contributed to the Suns last year with his throwback style as his floaters in the paint, off-ball cuts and put backs continued to devastate opposing defenses who by necessity were determined to focus their schemes on Devin Booker. Unfortunately, Warren has two specific flaws in his game (maybe three if you add in his lack of passing, but since he is in there to score, it’s somewhat understandable). His lack of a consistent three-point shot and his defense are his liabilities. The shot release seems like it can’t be smoothed out (unlike Jackson’s which seems to already be on its way, and Jackson is younger with less time in the league). Warren’s on-ball defense leaves a lot to be desired as he tries, but seems to take bad angles, setting up wrong and getting blown by. His ability to score at will at the NBA level against all but the best lockdown defenders will keep him in the league for quite some time, but with these flaws it seems like his ceiling is capped unless he can improve past the time players typically improve. At some point in your NBA career you just are who you are.

Brandon Knight is the next best player on the backcourt depth chart. Both he and Warren are best fitted for the sixth-man role for different reasons. We haven’t seen Knight for quite some time as he was sidelined with an injury during the entire 2017-18 season and he may have improved during his absence. However, Phoenix can’t go into the season with him as their best point guard if they have designs on a playoff berth in 2019. At the moment, the backup shooting guard is Troy Daniels. He is a shooter who tries to do everything else, but just seems limited. He is valuable, but replaceable with someone who also brings veteran savvy, defense, or playmaking or a combo of those skills — though the player will almost certainly not be as knockdown a shooter as Daniels. The other potential guys on the fringe of the roster are Tyler Ulis, Davon Reed, Shaq Harrison and Isaiah Canaan. We’ll see who actually makes the roster out of training camp of these players. A lot of it will come down to what happens in the NBA draft and free agency.

The NBA Draft

The Phoenix Suns have the number one pick in the NBA draft for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, it isn’t in a draft such as the LeBron James or Anthony Davis drafts where there was a clear-cut player who that first team could select and know they got the right guy. This year there are two such players, making the decision-making process all that more crucial and stress-inducing.

There is a lot that could be said about these players vying for the honor of being selected as the best basketball prospect for an entire year and the comments below are in no-way exhaustive. There is almost no way for whoever Phoenix picks at number one to “bust” (this isn’t Anthony Bennett and the 2013 draft). Whoever they pick will be good to great and McDonough and his staff will build a roster around the core from there.

DeAndre Ayton

DeAndre Ayton played at the University of Arizona and showed his physical dominance and versatility. His shot release is already quick and smooth and there are still some aspects of his mechanics that could be improved to get him to the level of a good shooter – and not JUST for a big man. His footwork is pretty elite, and that is such an important part of being a leading center in the NBA. His body and athleticism are not just good, they can help set him apart even by NBA standards and he hadn’t even lifted a weight until a few months before his college career began in his one year at Arizona. He can defend on the perimeter and supposedly wasn’t used correctly at UofA so he could be a defensive presence at the NBA level. All of this is incredible as Ayton has yet to turn 20 years old, having already earned the Karl Malone award, among a plethora of other awards during his brief college career.

In terms of comparisons, he could be Dwight Howard with a jumpshot and better lateral quickness (though almost certainly not going to challenge Howard’s three-peat Defensive Player of the Year reign from 2009 to 2011) In his pre-draft media session with the Suns, Ayton said he models his game after Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon. Some have said he could be David Robinson.

If Ayton even gets close to any of these comps the pick is worth it (yes, even if any other top end picks finish their careers as better players). Ayton is potentially the perfect center for where the NBA is at.

Luka Doncic

Then there is Luka Doncic. The Slovenian superstar still has eight more months of being 19 years old and has these accolades under his belt:

  • Euroleague MVP (youngest in history)
  • Euroleague Final Four MVP
  • Spanish MVP
  • Euroleague Rising Star
  • Euroleague Champion (as best player)
  • Euroleague 1st team
  • Eurobasket 1st team

He is a sharpshooter, has played against men for years (as opposed to teenagers in college), has incredible passing ability and vision, and is 6’8” and therefore a good rebounder (which should translate as a wing which he will be in the NBA) and is elite at running the pick and roll (the main offensive set in the NBA). He has a passion and fire for the game that is hard to find.

According to Basketball Reference, Doncic averaged 6.6 assists per 36 minutes in Euroleague play (adjusted because Euroleague has shorter games, 36 minutes is about what starters play in the NBA per game). The amazing part is that overseas scorekeepers are supposedly significantly more stingy handing out assists than in the NBA, so with slightly more minutes per game, longer games to gain momentum and better players around him (maybe a lower usage rate), it’s reasonable for Doncic to average eight or nine assists per game in the NBA in a year or two. That would put him in the top three in assists among all NBA players per game in 2017-18 (Russell Westbrook led the league with 10.3 per game).

As I’ve said on the podcast, if you add him to Booker and Jackson, the Phoenix Suns won’t have a bad offensive possession for the next decade. His comparisons are difficult because he seems to be in a different stratosphere than any other international prospect. Some have said he’s the best international player since Dirk Nowitzki. Some say he’s like Steve Nash.

For more on Luka take a listen to my podcast with David Pick who knows and has covered Doncic for years.

To reiterate, either player would be a welcome talent influx to the Suns’ franchise that had been sorely lacking young, upcoming stars (that began to be mitigated when Booker was drafted). There is no right answer. Head coach Igor Kokoskov was brought in for player development, but has a history as the head coach of the Slovenian national team last summer, helping Doncic and his team win the championship. Suns’ owner Robert Sarver is a University of Arizona alum and has connections there, will he want a UofA guy at number one? Will McDonough and crew get the go-ahead to go off the board with Marvin Bagley, Mohamed Bamba, or Jaren Jackson Jr.? Doubtful.

With all of this, only time will tell.

Then the question is what to do with the rest of the picks in the draft?

Other than the first overall pick Phoenix owns:

  • #16 (via HEAT/Goran Dragic trade)
  • #31 (their own)
  • #59 (via Raptors/P.J. Tucker trade)

Because the Suns have one of the youngest rosters in the league already and will be adding the number one draft selection (a 19-year-old) to that, it stands to reason – if they can – they will try to either consolidate the picks to trade up for one young player or package some assets and these later picks for an established veteran in the league.

Free Agency

Let’s get this out of the way, there is probably a combined 3 percent chance that either LeBron James (because one of his best friends James Jones is Phoenix’s Vice President of Basketball Operations) or Kawhi Leonard join the Phoenix Suns this offseason. Also, don’t even think Chris Paul, Paul George or Kyrie Irving are coming to the valley of the sun. Just get it out of your head right now.

The Suns’ franchise needs to focus on manageable steps to bring them closer to contending for the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. That means a young core of promising players surrounded by a handful of veterans who can still contribute.

But who should they sign and/or trade? The direction of the next five years of Suns basketball rests on McDonough making those decisions in July.

If you go with Doncic through the draft, then the obvious next step that has been floated out there is grabbing Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets in restricted free agency (Here is the report that the Suns are “enamored” with him). Phoenix would need to throw a max contract (remember all “max” contracts are different and based on years played, etc) at the Swiss defensive stalwart, though Houston would probably match the offer sheet. The caveat is if LeBron James or another star joins Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston, then they wouldn’t feasibly have enough cap space to match, giving Suns a great up and coming defensive anchor.

If you go with Ayton, then you have your center for the next decade. At that point, you hope he can improve on defense and be a top-ten center in the NBA. Then you need a point guard – though Booker as the primary and Jackson as the secondary ball-handler isn’t terrible. What Phoenix doesn’t want to end up is with any of Brandon Knight, Elfrid Payton, Shaq Harrison, Isaiah Canaan or Tyler Ulis as the starting point guard – it just won’t cut it in the Suns’ stated mission to be aggressive in free agency and to stop “tanking”.

The expensive option is to really through all your chips in and grab a star point guard. It would really propel the team to the playoffs giving Booker, Jackson, Bender, and Ayton a chance to get experience while being successful. In a trade, Phoenix could go after Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers), John Wall (Washington Wizards), or Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors). A less expensive option is Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets). I’m not going to try and speculate what these trades would be as the trade market is all over the place for stars the last year or two. The issue is that all these are score-first guards – though they certainly can pass well – this would somewhat limit Booker’s effectiveness by taking the ball out of his hands for many possessions per game.

Probably the best option would be nabbing unrestricted free agent (UFA) Avery Bradley. It would keep the ball in Booker’s hands enough (along with Jackson and Bradley) and wouldn’t cost as much. The best aspect would be the defense he would bring. Bradley would be able to defend the best wing player on the opposing team and then Booker/Jackson/Bradley trio would be able to pretty much switch anything.

Some other players the Suns should take a look at as veterans include Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics’ RFA), Danny Green who has a player option (San Antonio Spurs’ PO), Ian Clark (New Orleans Pelicans’ UFA), and Fred Van Fleet (Toronto Raptors UFA).

Also, some bigs to go after (if they go Doncic) could be restricted free agent (RFA) Jabari Parker along with Derrick Favors (UFA). Just some ideas for McDonough and Suns’ management.

Another potential trade that fans seem to be split on is adding Kevin Love via trade (which would supposedly be possible if LeBron left Cleveland). The reason adding Love is advisable is that adding someone that can go for 20/10 a game, rebound well and is versatile would help the Suns improve before the Suns’ core hits their prime.

It’s also important to note that elite free agents don’t join mediocre teams. Those specific players survey the terrain of the league and see which players have young, improving players and a quality, balanced roster around them. Those players want to think they are the missing piece to a championship contender. You can only get there if you acquire the talent. Look at the Philadelphia 76ers. Previously, no one on the level of LeBron James would even be linked to the 76ers. But with blossoming stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in the fold and led by Brett Brown, they are in the conversation. Until the Suns start winning, top-flight free agents won’t be attracted to the valley of the sun – and you need those players to be a championship contender.

Whichever way the Suns go this offseason, they will have an intriguing young core on the rise, ready to try and make the next push to the playoffs.

It certainly is an important summer for the Phoenix Suns.

To Fight a Mascot: A Scientific Study

Ryan Stivers (@ryanMstives)

So you’ve found yourself in a worst-case scenario. In order to continue living life, Norse trickster God Loki has given you a challenge. He has devised the ultimate battle for you to face, you must fight fifty duck sized versions of any NBA mascot. But Loki has some rules for your challenge as to not make it easy, so who do you choose? Lucky for you, this article exists.

RULE NUMBER ONE – NO INANIMATE OBJECTS

This rule is to avoid choosing anything that couldn’t fight back. It knocks out a pretty good amount of choices right away. We Lose:

  • Nets
  • Mavericks
  • Nuggets
  • Pistons (Yeah the logo is a horse but it’s Detroit, Piston in great scope more than likely means the car part.)
  • Rockets
  • Pacers (Still no clue what a Pacer is)
  • Clippers
  • Lakers
  • HEAT
  • Knicks
  • Thunder
  • Magic
  • 76ers
  • Blazers
  • Spurs
  • Jazz

Teams left – Hawks, Celts, Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Warriors, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Pels, Kings, Raps, Wizards.

RULE NUMBER TWO – LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY

Loki has also dictated that your choice in this battle for life, your choice must be of reasonable danger, “is there a real threat you may lose?”

With this rule we now lose:

  • Celtics
  • Cavs
  • Warriors
  • Kings
  • Wizards

Basically, all of these get tossed out because more or less the fight would just be fifty tiny humans attacking you with either smoking pipes, little swords or (probably?) a bunch of two-year-old Harry Potters. Really the point of this was to eliminate mythical creatures and tiny baby fights.

Teams Left – Hawks, Hornets, Bulls, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Pels, Raps

RULE NUMBER THREE – Can’t choose ones that are already similar in size to a duck

This cuts out:

  • Hornets (stretch, but more than likely they exist and no one should want to see them.)
  • Pels
  • Hawks

Teams left – Bulls, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Raps

With these three rules in play and only five teams to choose from, let’s rank them.

NUMBER FIVE – Raptors

Size – 1.5 ft high – 6.5 ft long

Weight – 33-43lb

This would by far and away be the worst. Fifty duck sized extinct carnivores relentlessly attacking you sounds like a nightmare. The only plus side is that in the Lost World we all learned that raptors can be defeated by some smooth gymnastic skills, so if you can utilize a high low bar, you may move this into your top three. Outside of being the next Gabby Douglas, anyone may struggle to knock down fifty bloodthirsty creatures designed to be land-bound piranhas. Raptors rank the least-beatable and that’s that.

NUMBER FOUR – Grizzlies

Size – 3-3 ½ feet width, 6-7 feet tall

Weight – 300 – 800lb (yeah, that’s an actual estimate. That’s so much variation, it isn’t even funny. Literally, I can’t even find a joke here for it.)

As far as modern animals go, these are by far and away the most blood thirsty and ready for battle. If anyone took anything away from the motion picture Wild America it is that these animals are ready to fight at all times and that Devon Sawa was entirely underrated as a teenage heartthrob. We all owe apologies to Devon and bears the world round. (Side note, Despite Dwight Schrute’s argument for black bears, Grizzlies are the most terrifying so drop it.)

NUMBER THREE – Wolves

Size – 3 – 7 feet

Weight – 50 – 110lbs

I recently watched the film Wind River from Taylor Sheridan and despite the snub of him winning any award I took one thing away from the ability of wolves, they’re pack hunters. Even if you’re fighting fifty one third sized wolves, chances are they break off into cliques in some weird ass ‘Mean Girl’ fashion and are able to flank you at any attempt of you to survive. The only reason they rank behind Grizzlies is because they’re sort of dogs and if you can tap into your that, you may be able to domesticate them in some sort of Mowgli ala Jungle Book Fashion.

(Author’s note: The American Gray wolf was the reference for this, it was the largest in North America and what should be assumed to be the most blood thirsty. Like Chuck Bronson in Death Wish.)

NUMBER TWO – Bulls

Size – Not sure, every Google or Yahoo search gave answers for Pit Bulls, which doesn’t help here.

Weight – 1,100 – 1,500lbs

Most people don’t have much interaction with Bulls, by the by they aren’t something that any non-Spaniard deal with on a day-to-day. While we have steer, steer are quite docile. Anyone who has seen footage of Bulls overseas should know not to mess with Bulls but in the rank of this, they are the second-least terrifying. Outrunning Bulls in this situation would be a walk in the park, literally, you should be able to walk and be just fine. You have to assume of course they move at the pace of about a standard Canadian goose, while aggressive, waddling will be a factor because of the awkward shape. This is a winnable battle.

NUMBER ONE – Bucks

Size – 3 – 7ft

Weight – 100lbs

They’re deer. Literally, deer. That’s it. Louis C.K. once referred to these as “giant rats.” Do not waste time, do not over think this, this is the choice. All joking aside, this should have been the choice from the get. If you have to battle Loki in an NBA mascot fight, this is the answer.

The Point Forward in the Modern NBA

Ryan Stivers (@ryanMstives)

What is a point-forward? The term has cropped up in recent years among NBA discussions. Traditionally, the term describes a big-man (at least someone taller that “transcended” the label of “guard”) who ran the offense for the team getting his teammates involved as the primary ball-handler. Now, the concept of a big-man playing the point guard position is nothing new, Magic Johnson stood a full 6’9” and ran the offense for the famous showtime Lakers. Oscar Robertson was 6’5” and averaged a triple-double for a season; even Penny Hardaway stood a shocking 6’7”. But despite all of these guards being as big as they were, they were just that, true guards. None of them fell into the category of a “point forward.” So, height and size aside, what is it that makes a true Point Forward and not only that, what makes a great one? For the purposes of this article, it needs to be tossed out that anyone considered a true Oscar have all already been discussed.

As for a point of reference in this argument, each of the four selected typically plays the forward position but at one point or the other in their career run the offense through their use of ball-handling or offensive output. Each of the four was ranked using metrics such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER), assists per game (APG), turnovers per game (TOV), and points per game (PPG) throughout their career. Each category was then ranked one through four for each player and an average score was taken for the ranking of the category. Not the most mathematically nuanced, but combined with the eye-test, it can help us rank these players.
Let’s go:

#4

Ben Simmons
PER – 17.1
APG – 7.2
TOV – 4.0
PPG – 16.3

To start with and not to be unfair to him, Simmons has the smallest sample size of the four players. After having spent his “rookie” season on the bench for the Sixers, the 21-year-old is making a splash, running the offense in Philly. It doesn’t hurt a bit that he has Joel Embiid to help hold down the paint or guys like Robert Covington and JJ Redick to stretch the floor, but what is most intriguing and exciting to watch with Ben is his passing. Through a career total of 42 games, his average of 7.2 assists a game ranks him first among all current rookies with only Lonzo Ball even close at 7.1 (and he’s only played 36 games for the Los Angeles Lakers).

So what is Ben Simmons’ ceiling? Where is his weakness? If his time at LSU (and so far in the league) is any indication, then the only handicap in his game would be his jumpshot. While his field goal percentage at the rim is fine (43.6 percent), he seems to have no confidence in his jumper — for good reason. Between three and ten feet from the basket Simmons is shooting 32.3 percent, and it gets worse. From ten to 16 feet out (known as mid-range) he is shooting 19.8 percent — not good. His three-point shot is practically non-existent. Ben’s game is still young and working its way through The Process but that certainly hasn’t stopped him from showing flashes of greatness.

#3

Giannis Antetokounmpo
PER – 19.8
AST – 3.7
TOV – 2.4
PTS – 16.4/28.2 (2017-2018)

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, Giannis is a freak, in every sense of the phrase, word or what have you. Every game Giannis is like a baby deer learning how to walk and going from that walk to an outright sprint in four seconds. His eye-test is through the roof to where most people agree he could win an MVP before he turns 25. His points per game are included above only because of how high it is this season compared to his first four years; two of which he was listed as the starting SG/PG —
Giannis has done it all. This is a 6’11” terror who is listed on BasketballReference.com as playable at every head coach to design a perfect player and then develop him into a Hall-of-Famer (except for his shooting, which was bad, but is steadily improving). For his first three years, jumpshot. Through last season and this year he has increased his volume as well as his accuracy to an insane 54.6 field goal percentage (obviously a lot of those are layups/dunks using his incredible 7’ wingspan and massive hands). He is even attempting 1.6 threes a game (with not great accuracy, but it’s improving). Much like with Simmons, Giannis’ upward potential relies entirely on his ability to build up his jumpshot — and he has already made TWO All-Star games!

#2

Kevin Durant
PER – 25.2
AST – 3.9
TOV – 3.2
PTS – 27.1

This may be an unconventional pick for this discussion but it needs to be argued. Durant began his career with the (now long-gone, RIP) Seattle Sonics where he played the shooting guard. To refresh, Earl Watson, Luke Ridnour, and Delonte West were the three point guards for the Sonics that season and for some reason head coach P.J. Carlesimo believed playing the true seven-footer (he is, don’t even deny it) in an off-ball role would benefit this team. In hindsight, it didn’t really help the team, but it did help Durant.

Durant started out hot in his rookie season averaging 20.3 points per game on 43.0 percent from the field and a below-average 28.8 percent from deep. Once moving to OKC and playing with high-usage players like Westbrook and Harden, he wasn’t able to really show what he could do with the ball in his hands. Coincidentally, it wasn’t until he came to play in Golden State that his usage rate as the primary handler really became a thing. Playing alongside one of the greatest shooting point guards (do you need to ask?) in the history of basketball as well as an accurate shooting guard (Thompson) with probably the quickest release of all-time, occasionally, Durant was able to flourish in a more primary role while the others either rested or played off-ball. Durant would probably be mad he comes in second again, but still, coming in at number two on this list isn’t so bad.

#1

LeBron James
PER – 27.6
AST – 7.1
TOV – 3.4
PTS – 27.1

If positionless basketball is just now taking on, then somewhere around 2007-08 is when this OG of all positions invented it. There’s a reason he’s known as The King, The Chosen One and The Akron Hammer. His ‘07 season was the mountaintop of “drag every single one of you to defend the Eastern Conference no matter what I have to do” (seriously, look at the rest of that roster). During that season, LeBron averaged 30 points a game on an excellent 48.8 field goal percentage, while shooting 31.5 percent from behind the arc. His points were a career-high that season while his assists were 7.4 a game, tied for fourth-highest of his career. This was a season in which his roster consisted of Shannon Brown, Larry Hughes and Delonte West (dude has taken a beating this article – clearly he was not a great point guard).

LeBron began his fifteen-year career as a shooting guard and eventually evolved into the primary ball handler/offensive threat on every team he has played on. Currently, he is averaging 8.6 assists a game which is a near career-high through the better part of the last two decades. He is a freight train in transition, unstoppable in the post, with the incredible vision to break down your defense if you dare bring a double-team. The King has transcended what it means to be a big man running the offense and for that, he has to be the true winner in this contest.

The 2017-18 Knicks are the Epitome of New York

New York. The Big Apple. The city founded in 1624 by Dutch immigrants who initially named the city New Amsterdam before the English took it over forty years later.

The city of dreams and street corners filled with gyros, pizza, and falafel. A city that quite literally welcomed those with no option and no hope into their harbor, into their island with nothing more than a statue and a statement of, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The greatest city in the world was built upon the staple and belief that “immigrants built us, they made us who we are.”

It is only fitting now that after twenty years of fading in and out of the public spotlight that the Knicks are once again on the precipice of relevance. Even more fitting, it’s on the backs of a Frenchmen, a Turk and a Unicorn built in a Latvian laboratory.

When looking at the cultural importance of the city of New York, people should never forget that this city gave the world everything from the Beastie Boys to Velvet Underground to Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, the Notorious B.I.G. and everything in between. This was a city that Jay-Z once referred to as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” a place of refuge for those searching for something greater. The concept of “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” was born upon the winding maze that built that city.

There is a claim to New York being the Mecca of basketball, the home of some of the greatest basketball players of all time. Among the list of these players they tout – Kareem, Cousy, Tiny Archibald, Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury among a litany of others hailing from the city and state.

Beyond giving the NBA some all-time greats, this is a city that boasts the legendary Rucker Park – the pinnacle of all streetballers. This is a court so well known that players who were of the NBA caliber honed their skills here while hustling in games but never going to the League. Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond set a single-game record here with 82 points in a single game, he was so well-known, he had the Lakers knocking on his door to play for them but turned them down because he made more money playing street ball. Joe is just the tip of the iceberg though. This is a city that gave the world Earl “the Goat” Manigault and Pee Wee Kirkland, two players who by all accounts were better than many of their NBA contemporaries, but due to their various troubles, never quite got to where they could have made it.

Despite all of these legends and tales of greatness, nothing stands out for New York basketball quite like the Knicks teams of the early nineties. If basketball were to be defined in this small fraction of time (’91-’95) it would be defined with three things:

  1. Jordan
  2. Balls-to-the-wall defense.
  3. The three-point revolution.

Now, all three of these had a major impact on how the game was beginning to evolve, but none of them quite encapsulated the changes the NBA was undergoing as well as the Knicks during this era.

This New York team had Oakley and Ewing, one of the best down low, “Just try and drive” combinations to ever exist in basketball. Although, certainly aided by the lack of hand-checking rules instituted by the league after their time had passed. They had the underdog story in John Starks’ career of going from bagging groceries in college to starting guard for the Knicks. This is a city — a team — built upon being the greatest you could possibly become. A quest to fulfill your potential.

All of this is what makes this 2018 team so special. This is not a team that was designed to win. By all accounts, this team should be trying to lose (with as much grace as possible). Hornacek is in a place to take a very unlikely and almost rag-tag “Big Three” on a run in the Eastern Conference that no basketball fan was expecting.

The current Knicks roster gravitates around three men whom for all intents and purposes were believed to be expendable, the types of characters who were booed when drafted (Kristaps Porzingis number four overall in 2015), traded for better propositions, (Kanter, traded after two seasons with Utah to OKC) and Frank Ntilikina, the man who had three selections at the same position ahead of him in his draft.

These three misfits were banded together to try and revive a franchise that had gone dormant with the Melo Years. The Knicks have not been to a playoff series since 2013 and before that hadn’t made it out of the first round since 2000.

So what makes this group so special? What makes them so “New York?” Why are these three more special than those who preceded or those that shall succeed them? It isn’t the flashiness of their style of play, it isn’t the fact that they were heralded as the greatest of their generation in their drafts or even as those that would change a game. No, they all carried something beyond that, something greater than themselves.

Enes Kanter is a 25-year-old Turkish nationalist born in Switzerland. Despite his attempts at playing college basketball and denial by the NCAA for “too much” compensation by his national team, Kanter was still selected third overall in 2011 by the Utah Jazz. Kanter, hailing from Turkish parents, has been very outspoken against President Erdogan, and his rule over Turkey. Enes has caused so much controversy against the dictator that his own family has had to disown his political views. They also implored him to change his last name because of his antagonistic stance towards Erdogan. He caused so much controversy that in 2017, his passport was revoked by Turkey and he was stranded in Romania until the U.S. helped get him back to the states.

If speaking out against a government regime and how much you disagree with a political view isn’t American, then who knows what truly is anymore.

None of these three Knicks are without controversy, on his draft day, Kristaps was selected with the number four overall pick and was promptly booed by every member of the crowd. He was an entirely unknown being tossed into the teeth of the New York media alongside long-time hero Carmelo Anthony.

Even poor Frank was met with question marks, as most fans would have preferred the Knicks to have taken Malik Monk or Dennis Smith Jr.

So maybe that’s what makes these three so fantastic, it has to be the disrespect, this feeling of “well you’re not New York, you don’t get us.”

If Scorsese and Brando taught all of us anything, it is that New York will always be the hardest and most critical place in all of the U.S. of A. It is a city that was built upon the backs of those dreaming for a greater life than what they had been given; striving for the greatness they knew existed inside of them all along.

It is only fitting that now, some 20 years later, after the Knicks last major run that three immigrants from three entirely different situations would lead them toward the path of excitement and resurgence. Even if they don’t make the playoffs; even if this car careens off of the road and into the proverbial ditch, three foreign guys saving the Knicks and basketball in New York, well that is just the most New York thing we could imagine.

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