Kendrick Perkins, Scott Brooks unfazed by Suns’ intentional foul strategy

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The Suns’ season has been virtually (if not yet mathematically) finished since at least last Friday’s home loss to the Hornets. But despite the losing of four straight and the fact that the team’s playoff chances have all but officially disappeared, Phoenix had largely battled in each game until the final buzzer was sounded.

That all changed Wednesday night, however, as the Suns faced a 20-point deficit late in the fourth quarter before eventually falling by a final of 116-98 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The fight in Phoenix was palpable for most of the team’s games this season, but things unraveled substantially for the Suns in this one.

Forget the fact that the team went out in a blaze of technical fouls and late-game ejections; whether the referees contributed to that or not, it at least shows that the team still cares about fighting for its reaming games, however few there may be. But the strategy to intentionally foul the Thunder’s worst free-throw shooter, when trailing by 15 points with under five minutes remaining? Well, that just seemed pathetic.

That’s exactly what the Suns decided to do, however, with 4:55 left in the game and the Thunder leading 97-82. Jared Dudley reluctantly wrapped up Kendrick Perkins far, far away from the ball to commit an intentional foul, and send Perkins — a career 59.9 percent foul shooter, and just a 36.8 percent shooter with the Thunder — to the line.

It was embarrassing to watch the Suns resort to these tactics, especially with the odds being stacked so highly against them making a comeback, even if Perkins missed plenty of free throws. Jared Dudley, who was the first of three players to wrap up Perkins away from the ball per his coach’s orders, wasn’t exactly excited by the strategy, but seemed willing to try it because nothing else was working.

“I just do what the coaches say,” Dudley said. “Obviously that’s something that he wanted to do (or) to try and at that time, what do you want to try? We tried zone, we tried man. I think frustration might have set in a little bit. (Perkins) made a couple and I think the game was probably over by then, so you just try to do something new and just see. Typically, I don’t think players like to do it, but hey — if it works sometimes, then you try it.”

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks was fine with the strategy, but near the end of his comments made it clear that it wasn’t his preferred way of doing business.

“I’m comfortable with any of our guys shooting free throws,” Brooks said. “We work on it every day. Guys have a lot of confidence, and I have confidence in them. It’s good for us, we’re going to step up and make those shots. They’re free, and it puts a lot of pressure on them because now they have to score.

“You can’t give up free shots; a foul is not a good defense in my book. But that’s not my decision to make, and I like the fact that Perk went up there and knocked them in.”

Perkins hit five of his six free throw attempts when the Suns went to this strategy, and told Pro Basketball Talk afterward that if he were in the Suns’ situation, he probably would have done the same thing.

“(Shoot), I would too if I was them,” Perkins said. “Yeah, the way I’ve been struggling from the line, it’s the best chance for them to get back in the game. But I’ve got to take it upon myself, step up and hit the free throws, and just go from there. I probably would have done the same thing.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.