NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 1: Stars for Phoenix are hidden in plain view

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Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire are All-NBA caliber players, and in this series they will perform and be praised. They’re just too talented not to, and their combined 56 points — as well as their respective double-doubles — speaks to their tremendous impact on the Suns’ huge Game 1 victory over the Spurs.

On the other end of the rotation are the Suns reserves, who have rightfully been praised for their superior play over the course of this season. Their ability to relieve Nash and co. is a crucial reason why this Phoenix team is still alive in the playoffs, or playing in the postseason at all. Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson…these guys have been quality players for a team that desperately needed depth, and all the talk over how the bench will be the key to this series is not misguided. They matter that much.

Then, somewhere in between, are the other Suns. Oh, you know, the ones who probably won the game for Phoenix last night with their ability to get out in transition, defend, and hit big shots. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are overshadowed in the starting lineup by their more impressive counterparts, but each was absolutely stellar last night. Jason Richardson’s contributions seem easy to quantify, as he finished with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but even those numbers don’t properly capture what J-Rich was able to add to the mix.

Richardson is something of a Shawn Marion/Joe Johnson (Phoenix era) hybrid, in that his designated role in the offense is to leak out intro transition as quickly as possible. His ability to finish lies somewhere between the two, as he’s athletic enough to finish in the paint over and around defenders, but hardly as explosive as Marion was in his prime. He also shows off Johnson’s three-point range and leans more to his defensive style than he does Marion’s. Richardson is hardly a part-for-part Frankenstein’s monster-ish amalgam of the two former Suns, but the elements of each are there, and the playoff results have been fantastic.

Jason is a central reason why Phoenix was able to push the pace up to 98 possessions, which is about in line with the Suns’ season average. He runs the court so well and gets out into transition so early that many possessions are just a Steve Nash outlet away from completion. On most nights, you’d expect the Spurs’ transition defense to perform better than they did in Game 1. Then again, maybe that’s a testament to how quickly Phoenix was able to trigger the break, and Richardson’s consistently aggressive style in the open court offered an invaluable weapon.

Grant Hill, on the other hand, did most of his damage on defense. Hill guarded Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for a majority of the night, and while the Suns double-teamed Manu to get the ball out of his hands later in the game, Hill did a good job of denying the ball and playing solid one-on-one defense earlier in the game. Grant scored just seven points, but also grabbed six rebounds and notched four assists; it wasn’t exactly Hill’s most impressive statistical performance, but his ability to contain the Spurs’ deadlier threats on the perimeter was particularly notable.

When the Spurs struggled offensively in Game 1, ironically it was because they couldn’t get past the Suns’ defense. Phoenix limited San Antonio’s penetration as much as possible given the personnel on the floor, and the quick rotations of players like Hill and Richardson (and Amar’e Stoudemire, who was quite impressive defensively in the fourth quarter) denied the Spurs the usual advantages of playing against heavy double-teams.

When San Antonio went small in the fourth, they couldn’t manage to find a fifth player for the lineup that could actually contribute offensively. Roger Mason can’t shoot anymore for some reason, Keith Bogans has always been iffy at best on that end, and Richard Jefferson seems to make things so much more difficult than they have to be. The Suns scrambled to cover the Spurs’ four more threatening players while still managing to rotate onto the fifth, weaker offensive player, and their defense supplied just enough of an edge for Jason Richardson and Grant Hill to hit dual daggers in the final minutes.

Hill filled the gaps, and while the stat sheet may not reflect too kindly on his 32 minutes, he still played rather well. I don’t think Alvin Gentry would mind seeing Grant hit more than two of his seven shots, but this is a case where you take the defense (both on and off the ball), you take his passing and his help in establishing an offensive flow, and you take the win that he helped earn. 

NBA may play 2019 preseason game in India

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The NBA has been working to make inroads in India — it’s nation far more fixated on Cricket, field hockey, and soccer, but it has a lot of youth playing basketball at schools, and it has the second largest population of any country in the world (nearly 1.4 billion people).

The NBA sees another big potential overseas market, one the league wants to cultivate. They have done that with an NBA Academy and Basketball Without Borders has been multiple times, including this past June.

But if the NBA really wants to grow the game in India, they need to bring the product there. That could happen during the 2019 preseason, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Jr NBA World Championships, via the HindustanTimes.

“We are potentially looking to play a game in Mumbai, may be next year. It would be a pre-season game,” Silver told PTI on the sidelines of the Jr NBA World Championships.

“If we do a pre-season game, we can build time and our players and their families can spend time, learn about the country’s culture,” he said… We are very focused on the Indian market.”

The NBA has played preseason games all over the world, including this season in China (plus the league has regular-season games in London and Mexico City).

It’s easy to envision the league sending the Sacramento Kings — which is owned by Vivek Ranadive, who was born in Mumbai — and another team to India for an exhibition game. Don’t be surprised if that happens in the next couple of years.

Reports: Shabazz Muhammad to come to Bucks training camp, compete for final roster spot

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Shabazz Muhammad was buried on Tom Thibodeau’s bench last season in Minnesota and wanted out so he could get on the court — and he got his wish. Sort of. He was waived by the Timberwolves and a few days later signed with the Bucks. The problem was he only played 117 minutes the rest of the season in Milwaukee, mostly taking on the role of an unrepentant gunner in the chances he did get on the court.

It worked well enough that the Bucks are bringing Muhammad back for training camp, where he will try to grab the last roster spot.

The Bucks have 14 guaranteed contracts, plus the non-guaranteed deal of Tyler Zeller (and with Brook Lopez, John Henson, and Thon Maker on the roster it’s hard to imagine Zeller getting a lot of run). It is possible someone can beat Zeller out at a position of more need, such as on the wing (where Muhammad plays).

But is Muhammad the guy who can make this squad?

The Bucks hired Mike Budenholzer as coach this summer, and what does he want in players? Guys who can shoot the three, are unselfish, and can defend. Muhammad is a career 31 percent shooter from three who wants to attack off the dribble — last season 72 percent of his shot attempts came within 10 feet of the rim. He’s not a passer — a career 5.5 assist rate — and he’s not much of a defender.

That said, he’s got an invite to camp and is going to get his chance.

Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma trolling now in ad for Wish shopping app

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The Lakers asked Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma to back off on their social media trolling battle.

However, they made an exception for this new Wish.com app ad (Wish is the Lakers’ jersey ad sponsor).

Well played guys.

Miami bringing Briante Weber into camp with chance to make roster

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For three seasons, Briante Weber has bounced around the fringes of the NBA. The defensive-minded point guard has played in short stints (often 10-day contracts) for the Grizzlies, Heat, Warriors, Hornets, and last season he got in 13 games for the Rockets (plus five in Memphis). He’s spent most of his career in the G-League, working for his chance to get in the door.

Miami is bringing him into training camp, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is apparently camp invite.

There is roster space in Miami if Webber blows them away. Miami has 12 fully guaranteed roster spots and, with Webber, two partially-guaranteed deals (Malik Newman, who was undrafted out of Kansas, is the other).

The problem for Webber is Miami is deep at the point guard spot: Goran Dragic will start, and if Tyler Johnson is healthy (as expected) he will get a lot of minutes behind him, and then there is Newman. The Heat also have in the guard rotation Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, and possibly Dwyane Wade if he returns (all of those guys are more two guards).

That’s a lot of guys for Webber to beat out and find a spot. On the other hand, his defensive style is something different from what the Heat have on the roster.

Webber is a longshot, but he’s at least going to camp.