NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs: Surprise, surprise, pace still matters

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The Suns aren’t quite the Suns, as they traded in their rocket boots for some decent, reliable New Balance kicks (Matt Bonner approved, coincidentally). That simply means that they run rather than fly, and while their pace isn’t the torrid, unmatchable sprint it used to be, Phoenix still likes to push the pace (97.6 possessions per game, 4th in the league).

The Spurs do not. San Antonio is 20th in the league in pace (94.1 possessions), and while some Spurs (Tony Parker, George Hill, and Manu Ginobili, for example) certainly aren’t allergic to the open court, there’s no question that Pop’s gang would prefer to keep this series a half-court affair. It won’t be, because the Suns will deliberately look to push the tempo whenever possible to keep the Spurs on the ropes.

That could spell trouble for San Antonio. Tom Haberstroh (of HoopData fame), writing for ESPN.com, found while the Spurs didn’t struggle overall against fast-paced teams in the regular season, they did struggle against fast-paced playoff teams. Haberstroh explains why (Insider):

As it has for the past decade, the Spurs’ defense begins and ends with 12-time All-Defensive Team member Tim Duncan.
But he’s an older big man, so Duncan’s defensive impact is lightest in
track meets, games in which guards dictate the pace. He’s forced to lag
behind, which makes him ineffective. Almost all of his defensive
contributions occur in the half-court set, where he controls the paint,
thereby providing a fulcrum for his teammates to stifle the perimeter.
But in the transition game, the Spurs’ biggest defensive weapon is
effectively neutralized as he plods across the half-court line.

Check Haberstroh’s piece in its entirety for the data on exactly how much of an advantage this is for Phoenix, as well as additional explanatory analysis.

San Antonio’s transition defense has always been a strength, but even the most stifling transition D wouldn’t be as potent as the Spurs’ half-court set-up. Duncan isn’t as quick as he used to be, but he’s still a high quality help defender and terrific on the ball as well. He’s not best-defending-big-man-in-the-league good anymore, thanks both to his own slight decline and Dwight Howard’s meteoric rise, but to say he’s a defensive asset would be a terrible understatement.

The Suns may not be looking to push the pace to blistering levels, but the speed of the game (or more specifically, the speed of the Suns’ offense) is going to play a pivotal role in the Spurs’ ability to defend in this series. No duh. What’s surprising is just how much trouble Duncan and the Spurs have had in defending quality uptempo teams. Phoenix certainly qualifies.

Report: Arron Afflalo signs one year deal with Orlando Magic

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Take one more NBA veteran off the free agent board.

According to report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Arron Afflalo has signed a one-year deal with the Orlando Magic. Afflalo’s deal with the Magic is $2.1 million according to Wojnarowski, which is the veteran’s minimum for a player with his experience.

Afflalo, 31, previously played for the Magic from 2012 to 2014 before being traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Via Twitter:

Afflalo played for the Sacramento Kings last season averaging 8.4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game.

Report: Suns’ Brandon Knight tears ACL in left knee, could miss season

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Phoenix Suns point guard Brandon Knight could be out for the 2017–18 NBA season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

That’s according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, who released the news on Tuesday afternoon.

Knight, 25, has roughly three years and $45 million left on the contract he signed in 2015.

Via Twitter:

Knight has been speculated as a potential trade chip for some time, but with him out it is unclear whether Phoenix will want to make a move with the players currently on their roster.

Knight averaged 11 points, 2.4 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game for the Suns last season in 54 contests.

Adam Silver: ‘I feel bad for what’s-ever is going on in Cleveland’

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Kyrie Irving‘s trade request has injected excitement into an NBA offseason that was slipping into a slow period, give or take a Carmelo Anthony trade.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver on The Rich Eisen Show:

I love the interest. I’m not ecstatic about the drama.

I feel bad for what’s-ever is going on in Cleveland, and I have no first-hand information. But I assume where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Brian Windhorst has sort of been cataloguing LeBron’s career for a long time, and he usually has very accurate insights from that team.

It’s upsetting to hear that, when you see superstar players who have co-existed, who had so much success together – obviously three Finals in a row, one championship – to hear that, for whatever reason, there’s a sense that they can’t continue to co-exist. Yeah, that’s drama, but it’s not necessarily the kind of drama that the league wants.

Silver knows he probably can’t break up the Warriors, so he wanted teams to step up and compete with Golden State. The Cavaliers had been the league’s best hope the last few years, and LeBron James ensures they remain a title contender. But this disarray hurts their chances.

If you’re wearing a tin-foil hat, remember what happened last time Silver felt bad for Cleveland

Trail Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to Nets for Andrew Nicholson

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The Nets signed Allen Crabbe to a four-year offer sheet worth nearly $75 million last summer. The Trail Blazers matched, preventing Brooklyn from acquiring him for a year.

Now, a little more than a year later, the Nets are finally getting him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Crabbe is still owed $56,332,500 – a sizable amount for a one-dimensional 3-point shooter. The Trail Blazers obviously regret matching his deal considering they’re already dumping him for another bad contract and didn’t win a single playoff game in the interim.

But Portland is undoing that mistake in a big way.

The Trail Blazers are in line to save $54,330,160 this season with this trade – $37,842,090 in luxury tax and $16,488,070 in player salary. They’ll still have to pay Andrew Nicholson $2,844,430 each of the next seven years – no small thing – but they’re at least reducing their burden for each of the next three years, when major luxury-tax issues still loom. They can deal with 2024 later.

Competing for the playoffs, Portland will miss Crabbe off the bench. But there are reasons he was expandable.

He doesn’t create enough offense for himself or others, and his defense is passable at best (and not versatile). Crabbe’s 3-point percentage (44%) is impressive, but it’s in part due to his high selectivity. He launches 3s at a middling rate for a guard, and 77% of his long-distance attempts were classified as open or wide open by NBA.com.

Simply, Crabbe must do more to get open and/or hoist more shots that reduce his efficiency but boost’s his team’s. He could also lock in a little more defensively.

Still, Crabbe is a helpful player already. He’s also just 25, so he can improve. The Nets obviously like him.

And he apparently likes Brooklyn, waiving his $5,674,875 trade bonus to facilitate a deal. As controversy swirls over Kyrie Irving requesting a trade from one of the NBA’s best teams, it’s interesting Crabbe would leave money on the table to go from a playoff team to a cellar-dweller. The Nets offer a bigger city, probably more playing time and definitely a front office that values him. So, it’s a reasonable choice, but also one that raises eyebrows.