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. 

2018 NBA draft pronunciation guide

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
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You’ve watched hours of Luka Doncic YouTube videos. You keep reading. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is climbing draft boards. You’re convinced Zhaire Smith is a sleeper.

And you want to tell everyone about it.

One problem: You’re not quite sure how to say any of these 2018 NBA prospects’ names.

Thankfully, the NBA published a pronunciation guide:

Jaylen Adams: JAY-lin Adams

Deng Adel: Deng uh-DELL

Rawle Alkins: Raleigh ALL-kins

Kostas Antetokounmpo: COAST-us Ah-day-toe-KOON-boe

DeAndre Ayton: dee-AN-dray AY-tin

Marvin Bagley III: Marvin Bag-lee the third

Mohamed Bamba: Mo-HAH-med BAHM-bah

Jaylen Barford: JAY-lin BAR-ferd

Keita Bates-Diop: .KAY-tah Bates DEE-opp

Trevon Bluiett: TRAY-vahn BLEW-it

Isaac Bonga: EE-zack BON-guh

Mikal Bridges: Mick-L Bridges

Jalen Brunson: JAY-lin Brunson

Khadeen Carrington: kuh-DEEN KAIR-ing-tun

Jevon Carter: Je-VOHN Carter

Wendell Carter Jr.: Wen-DELL Carter Jr.

Bonzie Colson: BAHN-zee Cole-son

Angel Delgado: Angel del-GAH-doe

Hamidou Diallo: ha-MUH-dew dee-AH-low

Donte DiVincenzo: Donte dee-vin-CHEN-zo

Luka Doncic: LOO-kuh DON-chitch

Trevon Duval: Trey-VON du-VAL

Matt Farrell: Matt FA-rull

Wenyen Gabriel: WHEN-yin GAY-bree-ull

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Shay GILL juss Alexander

Devonte’ Graham: De-VON-te Graham

Donte Grantham: DON-tay GRAN-thum

Isaac Haas: Isaac HAHSS

Devon Hall: DEH-vin Hall

Kevin Hervey: Kevin Her-Vee

Tryggvi Hlinason: TRIG-vee hLEE-nuh-son

DJ Hogg: DJ HOAG

Kevin Huerter: Kevin Hurter

Chandler Hutchison: Chandler HUTCH-ih-sin

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Jair-in Jackson Jr.

Alize Johnson: AL-uh-zay Johnson

Arnoldas Kulboka: are-NALL-duss COOL-buh-kuh

Rodions Kurucs: ROE-dee-ons COO-roox

Jock Landale: Jock Lan-dale

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.: Joe LOO-ahl ah-CHU-ill Jr.

Daryl Macon: DARE-ull MAY-cun

J.P. Macura: JP Muh-CYURE-uh

Kelan Martin: KEY-lun Martin

Yante Maten: Yahn-tay May-tin

MiKyle McIntosh: muh-KY-ull MAC-in-tosh

Jordan McLaughlin: Jordan Ma-GLOFF-lin

De'Anthony Melton: dee-AN-thony Melton

Chimezie Metu: chi-MEH-zee Meh-tu

Manan Musa: JOHN-on MOO-suh

Svi Mykhailiuk: Svee muh-KAI-luke

Malik Newman: muh-LEEK NEW-min

Elie Okobo: EL-ee oh-KO-bo

Josh Okogie: Josh oh-KO-ghee

Theo Pinson: THEE-o PIN-sin

Malik Pope: muh-LEEK Pope

Dusan Ristic: Doo-sahn Wrist-itch

Desi Rodriguez: DEH-zee Rodriguez

Issuf Sanon: ee-SOOF sah-NON

Landry Shamet: Landry SHAM-it

Anfernee Simons: AN-fur-knee SIGH-muns

Zhaire Smith: zhi-AIR Smith

Omari Spellman: o-MAR-ee Spellman

Jared Terrell: Jared turr-ELL

Khyri Thomas: KY-ree Thomas

Allonzo Trier: Alonzo Tree-ER

Moritz Wagner: Mo-RITZ VOG-ner

Yuta Watanabe: YOU-tuh wah-tuh-NAH-bay

Kenrich Williams: KEN-rich Williams

Trae Young: Trey Young

What to watch for in NBA Draft? Trades, trades, trades

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Every year we say it — there’s a lot of buzz about trades heading into the draft. Fans want to see it — teams moving up and down, players getting shipped out or brought in to facilitate those draft day moves.

The comes draft night and… meh. There are a few deals but not like was predicted.

But this year we really mean it — this year there is an incredible amount of buzz about trades.

Starting as high as with Atlanta at No. 3 and more likely Memphis at No. 4, there are going to be picks traded (we already saw one, with the Lakers taking on the 39th pick from the Sixers for a future second rounder). There also are going to be players moved — we already saw Dwight Howard get traded to Brooklyn in what was mostly a financial deal for both sides.

Why will there be trades this year, why is it not going to bomb out like all those other years?

Two reasons.

First, this year there is less of a consensus and a wider variance in how many top picks are ranked by teams. For example, Luka Doncic is a second and pushing for the top spot on some team’s big draft boards, others have him more like seventh. Michael Porter Jr. falls anywhere from No. 2 to “with that back there is no way we take him.” Trae Young could go third (unlikely but not impossible) or 13th. I could go on with Mohamed Bomba or Aaron Holiday or others, but you get the point.

What that means is if a team really likes Bamba or Doncic and he’s still on the board at No. 4, they will be willing to give up players/future picks to get him, and Memphis will be willing to slide back. (If one team is most likely to trade their pick, it’s the Grizzlies, according to sources around the league, but they want to dump the Chandler Parsons contract in the process.) Or take the case with the Hawks at three — they are rumored to really like Young, but they could slide back four or five (or more) slots and get him, plus get another asset from a team that wants to jump up to No. 3 to draft Bamba or Doncic or Jaren Jackson or whoever.

It continues like that all the way down through the lottery and into the first round. The Cavaliers are testing the waters to see what the No. 8 pick and Kevin Love could net them (someone who would help keep LeBron James in town?). The Clippers are thought of as likely to move one of their two picks at 12 and 13. There are a lot of teams who may see the guy they wanted off the board and decide they would slide down the draft, and other teams who see the guy they like still on the board and want to move up or into the first round. That’s what the player evaluation variance means. There’s going to be a lot more pick swaps than usual.

Second — and this is going to carry over into July and free agency — there are a lot of teams where management is looking at their roster, looking at the landscape of the NBA, and thinking “we are paying too much to just be average (or wherever they are at).” Those teams are going to look to move key players. For example, Washington had the fourth highest payroll in the NBA last season, barely got into the playoffs as the eighth seed and were bounced by a Celtics team about to get a lot better. They are rumored to be looking to make dramatic moves.

Toronto is looking to shake things up. Portland is reportedly testing the trade waters for C.J. McCollum. Charlotte is doing the same with Kemba Walker, who is a free agent in a couple of years (although the Howard trade could be about keeping Walker). Miami, Washington, and a host of other teams want to shake things up. There will be unexpected moves.

And that’s not included the more obvious ones: The Spurs being forced to move Kawhi Leonard (not on draft night, however, that will drag out), the Lakers trading most of their young players to get Leonard if they can, the Cavaliers moving Kevin Love (either with the No. 8 pick on Thursday or Love separately if LeBron leaves).

Bottom line: This year we mean it — there’s going to be a lot of trades on draft night. We’re serious. More than most years, there’s a lot of buzz about trades going on around league circles.

How it shakes out is going to be fascinating.

PBT Extra: One last mock draft of NBA lottery

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DeAndre Ayton will go No. 1 to the Phoenix Suns Thursday night. Marvin Bagley III probably goes second to Sacramento (but that’s not a lock).

After that, things get wide open in the 2018 NBA Draft. Teams value different players at very different levels this year, and there are going to be a number of trades.

Which makes putting together a mock draft for this year more random than a roulette wheel. Not that it stopped me. Here is my final mock draft for the 14 lottery picks. I present it without much confidence, but I’m throwing it out there anyway.

Report: Dewayne Dedmon opts in for $7.2 million with Hawks

AP Photo/Todd Kirkland
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The Hawks’ rebuild got going with big John Collins. Though they’re reportedly eying Luka Doncic with the No. 3 pick, they could easily draft another big – Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley or Wendell Carter.

And then there’s veteran center Dewayne Dedmon.

He no longer fits in Atlanta (never did, really). But he’s not bypassing a chance to earn $7.2 million.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

There just wasn’t going to be that much money for the 28-year-old Dedmon in a tight market this summer.

Dedmon is a good defender, and he developed his ball skills – as a 3-point shooter and passer – in Atlanta last season. The Hawks could look to trade him. Maybe, in a deal primarily about his expiring contract, he adds extra value to the other team due to his playing ability.

If Atlanta doesn’t move him, Dedmon will be a fine player on a likely tanking team. At least he’s not good enough to subvert the Hawks’ tank, especially with the new lottery format.