Jrue Holiday has been hounding Chris Paul, and it has turned the tide of the NBA Finals. After taking a commanding 2-0 series lead, the Phoenix Suns have come up short in the last two contests in Milwaukee. The sloppy play by Paul in the last three games has played a major role in the outcome. The Bucks have all of the momentum heading into Game 5, where the winner will be just one win away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The individual accolades are quite impressive. Paul is an 11-time All-Star that has led the league in assists four times and led the league in steals six times. He was the Rookie of the Year after being selected 4th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft and has been named to an All-Defensive team nine times. His injury history is almost more well-known than his shortcomings in the postseason.
When it comes to game management in the final minutes of a close game, there really aren’t many better options than the savvy 36-year old. He is calm under pressure, calculated in his approach, and one of the smartest players to ever step onto the floor. That is why his recent struggles have been such a surprise.
Though his tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers was defined by his inability to win close games, oftentimes it was his teammates that were not able to execute in the clutch. His supporting cast in Phoenix is younger, better defensively, and he has never had a better offensive weapon alongside him in the backcourt than what he has now with Devin Booker.
Distributing has never been a concern for Paul. His ability to pass his teammates open and find them at precisely the right time has been one of his greatest attributes during his career. What is alarming is the number of turnovers he has had in this series. Credit must be given to Holiday for his tenacious defense, but the decision-making and inability to control the ball in the open court have been particularly odd.
Paul had five turnovers in Game 4 and has turned it over 15 times over the course of the last three games. Just as Holiday and Khris Middleton have had bounce-back games for Milwaukee, the Suns desperately need Paul to have one on Saturday night.
After a dismal Game 3 where he scored just 10 points, Booker had a monster performance in Game 4 but his 42 points were still not enough. Had Paul done a better job of taking care of the ball and being the facilitator that he normally is, the Suns could have easily won that game and took control of the series. Paul admitted as much after the game, taking responsibility for the loss.
The Suns know what they have to clean up.
So does Chris Paul. He spoke on his performance after game 4. pic.twitter.com/JnWrflBwFe
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) July 15, 2021
Going back home should provide the perfect atmosphere for Paul to shine. He dazzled with 32 points and 9 assists in Game 1 at home, then followed that up with 23 points and 8 assists in Game 2. In the two road games Paul is still averaging 14.5 points and 8 assists on 48 percent shooting but it is the turnovers that have proved to be costly. His three-point shooting has also been much better at home, hitting 7 of his 12 attempts while going just 1 of 6 from deep in Milwaukee.
Paul never averaged more than two turnovers in any series during these playoffs. He is averaging 4.3 heading into Saturday’s pivotal Game 5. Phoenix needs to have their sure-handed floor general at full strength in order to have their offense firing on all cylinders.
Paul’s handle looked messed up from the opening tip, and he could be seen clutching at his left hand throughout the game. Whether or not this is a new injury or a lingering issue, it is concerning. As good as Cameron Payne has been this year, Phoenix simply can’t afford to not have Paul out on the floor.
The Bucks easily won the turnover battle in Game 4 as Phoenix coughed it up 17 times compared to just five for Milwaukee. The Suns have to limit the transition points and force the Bucks to run their half-court offense. They stand a greater chance to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo in a half-court set than trying to stop him in transition. Milwaukee ranked 4th in the league in terms of fast-break points this season.
Perimeter players who handle the ball for most of the game will usually rack up a handful of turnovers but this pattern for Paul is extremely uncharacteristic. Even his efficiency has declined since the series began. His decision-making has been rather unusual as well, almost as though he is trying too hard to force passes that aren’t there.
Look for Paul to not only limit his turnovers going forward but also to be more of a scorer to ease the load on Booker. Phoenix is a much tougher team to defend when they have a well-balanced scoring attack. Paul scored 37 points to close out the Denver Nuggets, 41 points to close out the Clippers, and his 32 points in Game 1 of the Finals are clear indications that he can feast on his midrange game.
One thing that has changed from Game 1 is that Milwaukee is no longer letting Phoenix’s guards dictate the matchups they want. The matchups Paul was getting against Brook Lopez early in the series are no longer there. Without him being able to operate in space, the open passes that have been there in the past are absent now. Those passes are coming later and are somewhat rushed, leading to more steals for the Bucks. When coming off a screen, Paul is also being boxed by two lengthy defenders, giving the rest of their defense time to move and recover.
Bucks do a good job here of containing Chris Paul. Still feels like he's in data collecting mode waiting to strike bu the Bucks finding ways to make him work and take away some of that space. pic.twitter.com/WAC0MLnrz9
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) July 15, 2021
Paul’s shoulder injury in the first round was worrisome but he eventually got through it. He revealed after the Clippers series that he was playing with torn ligaments in his right hand. He likely will not blame any injuries while the series is still going on, but clearly, something is making him uncomfortable on the court, aside from Holiday’s defense.
It has taken 16 years for Paul to finally get to the big stage. Going out like this is not something that would sit well with him, but he knows what he has to do going forward. It is now a best-of-three series, and all of the pressure of the bright lights will be felt by everyone on the floor. Factoring in his experience and savvy skillset in tight moments, the odds are in his favor.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 16, 2021
This is the 30th time in the history of the NBA Finals that the series has been tied 2-2. The winner of Game 5 has gone on to win 72% of the time (21-8) and the good news for Phoenix is that they will be playing at home. The Suns were 27-9 at home during the regular season and the Bucks were 20-16 on the road.
There are several factors that will decide the outcome of this series, but Paul’s ability to take care of the ball is crucial. If he can regain control of the ball, the Suns should be able to regain control of the series on Saturday night, putting them one victory away from their first-ever championship. It will also cement the legacy of the future Hall of Fame point guard.
Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.
Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.
The Grizzlies and Pelicans have agreed on a trade to send Jonas Valanciunas, 2021 Nos. 17 and 51 picks to New Orleans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, 2021 picks Nos. 10 and 40 and a protected 2022 first-round pick via the Lakers, per @wojespn pic.twitter.com/q7ZoqzpJjt
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 26, 2021
Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.
From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.
Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.
NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.
“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.
In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.
Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.
NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.
Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.
However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.
Raptors, Wolves, Cavs, Pacers and Kings have all showed interest in acquiring Ben Simmons, per B/R's @JakeLFischer
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 25, 2021
Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.
On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.
Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.
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