The Phoenix Suns (15-20) are trying to start the second half with a season-saving winning streak while enjoying 9 of the first 11 game at home. Last night, they closed out the tired Timberwolves and tonight they face the 21-12 Clippers coming off a win of their own last night over Sacramento.
The Clippers are carried, as you might guess, by their two All-Stars - Chris Paul (19.6 pts, 8.5 assists) and Blake Griffin (21.4 pts, 11.4 rebs) and boast the second-best new nickname in the NBA: Lob City. Expect Griffin and C DeAndre Jordan to have some highlight finishes tonight of the likes not seen in Suns-land since 2010.
Can the Suns beat the suddenly-mighty Clippers? The odds are against a Suns win for sure. The Clippers have a better road record (9-7) than the Suns' home record (8-9). The Clippers' offense is much more efficient than the Suns' offense, while their defenses are fairly even. Jordan will get some blocks (2.6 per game this season) and the Clips will rebound the ball (4th in the NBA in rebound rate vs. the Suns' 24th), but the Suns should be able to score.
Can they stop the Griffin from dominating? Or Chris Paul? Or will their efforts to stop those two just allow newcomer Kenyon Martin and/or SF Caron Butler or backup PG Mo Williams to have a difference-making game?
But then again Chris Paul has to slow down Steve Nash, and DeAndre Jordan - while getting his requisite couple of blocks and dunks - has to stop the lethal Marcin Gortat on the pick-and-roll.
This should be a tight game. The difference will be the Suns' energy and Chris Paul's end-game shot-making. If the Suns come out flat, it won't be a pretty game. If the Suns hustle and scrap, then the game will come down to the last shot and the Suns have to stop Chris Paul from breaking their hearts.
Hit the jump for more nuggets on the Clips and Suns.
Some data on the Clippers, thanks to MySynergySports.com...
The Clippers' offense is weighted heavily toward isolation (14.7% of their plays), pick-and-roll ball handler finishes (14%), spot-ups (23.3%) and transition (11.8%). Knowing Chris Paul's game tells me that the Clips use a lot of pick-and-roll to set up their offense, but mostly finishing with a shot by Paul himself or a kick-out to a wing when the defense collapses on the roll. The Blake Griffin posterization effect. This method, while heavy on low-percentage jump shots, is very effective for the Clips to the tune of the 4th-most efficient NBA offense.
Somehow, the Clippers are bad at getting roll man to score efficiently. I'll have to watch what the problem is, because you'd think Griffin would be deadly in that fashion. The roll man only gets the ball 6.2% of the time in the Clipper offense, and scores at a low rate (only 15th in the NBA in points-per-play). Again, I guess that's because other teams are overplaying the roll man, leaving Paul and the Clipper shooters wide open.
The Suns' defense, by comparison, is not good against isolation plays (18th in the NBA in points allowed per attempt) or spot-ups (19.5% of shots against the Suns, 19th in the NBA in points allowed per attempt), but they are pretty good against the pick-and-roll ball handler. My guess here is that the Suns have decided to overplay the ball handler, which works okay for a moment but leaves a spot-up shooter wide open on the rotations.
The Suns' offense is weighted toward the pick-and-roll ball handler (14.2%), spot-ups (21.3%), post-ups (10.9%) and, somehow, transition (11.7%). The roll man scores at a high rate (2nd in the NBA in points-per-play), but only gets the ball 7.7% of the time in the Suns offense. Notice the similarity between the Suns' offense and the Clippers' offense.
The Clippers' defense is relatively ineffective across the board. The only type of play they defend well is the post-up (5th in the NBA). But they are real bad defending the roll man, isolation drives and spot-ups and they are just okay (like the Suns) at defending the ball handler.
While the Clippers are flashier and star-studded, these two teams' numbers are strikingly similar across the board. The big difference between the two teams, besides highlight-reel plays, is the game-ending finishing ability of Chris Paul and the crazy threat of Blake Griffin making defenses over-rotate to keep themselves off SportsCenter. So basically, the 2012 Clippers are closer to the 2005 Suns - though not nearly as good - than the 2012 Suns are.
The allure of copious cap space has mollified anxious Suns fans during the last two less than stellar seasons by offering them the opportunity to indulge in quixotic musings involving the likes of D12 and DWill in purple and orange. But in order to woolgather, one requires wool. So exactly how much wool, err cap space, are the Suns going to have?
For a while now, I have seen people bandying around different impressions of exactly where the Suns payroll number will be this summer. Some have been general, some have been more discrete. I decided to conduct my own research to try to solve the arcanum of the Suns cap space. There are, I’m sure, luminaries on this forum that are well versed in the nuances and minutiae of the salary cap, however, I’m sure that there are others who still see it as somewhat nebulous and esoteric (like me) and could use a pellucid expatiation to provide clarity to exactly where things stand.
The intended purpose of this analysis is to provide information that can be a useful reference tool. Therefore, in a slight departure from my usual predilection, I will aim to keep the remainder of this post as limpid and laconic as possible (I’m sure that drew at least one cheer). I also apologize in advance if anything I report is erroneous. Please feel free to fact check my work.
Frolic forward my friends.
First some vocabulary - I know I generally write in pretty transparent terms, but some of these words are not clearly defined in everyone’s mind.
Salary cap – This is the limit a team can spend on contracts for players, but of most importance for this discussion, free agents. With the soft cap system, there is a buffer between the cap and luxury tax. The Suns can take advantage of this to create more cap space by using their exceptions. The 2011-12 salary cap is 58,044,000. The salary floor (80% of the cap) is $46,435,200. The luxury tax is $70,307,000. The 2012-13 limits will not be set until July, but I have seen reports ranging from $60-61 million. I will use $60,000,000 for the purpose of this analysis.
Renounced Players – A team renouncing a player surrenders their ability to use the Larry Bird, Early Bird, or Non-Bird exceptions to re-sign that player. Renounced players do not count towards a team’s salary cap. A renounced player can still be re-signed, but the team must have money to do so under the cap, or use a minimum salary exception.
Cap Holds – These basically make a team’s free agents still count against its cap number. That way a team can’t circumvent the rules and sign other free agents, then go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents.
Draft Pick Cap Holds - A team’s unsigned draft pick counts against its cap number. This number will range depending on where they pick. For 2011-12, it ranges from $4,286,900 for the #1 pick, to $1,963,600 for the #9 pick, to $1,519,400 for the 14th pick. This would be the cap hold number, but according to Sham Sports, rookies generally receive 120% of this number.
Minimum Salary Exception – A team can sign players over the cap using their minimum salary exception. Since the cap will be set below the luxury tax level, this assumes the Suns will be willing to spend above the cap as long as they are below the tax threshold.
Amnesty – This clause allows a team to waive a player and clear his contract off their books so it doesn’t count against their cap number. This can be done during the offseason, not during the season. The player must still be paid.
Tables via ShamSports (Warrick/Morris 13/14 and Morris 14/15 – team option, Gortat/Dudley final year – player early termination option, Childress/Frye final year – player option, Lopez/Morris final year – qualifying offer):
Total salary if all options are exercised, including cap holds.
$31,582,000. That’s the starting point. That doesn’t include Lopez’s salary. It assumes he has been renounced. It would also assume the Suns renounce all of their cap holds (bye Brooks). The Suns would have 7 players under contract – Gortat, Childress, Frye, Dudley, Warrick, Morris, and Telfair.
Telfair – Only $550,000 of the second year of his contract is guaranteed. The Suns can waive him within 7 days of the season ending if they elect to, which would give them back $1,017,500 in cap space.
Amnesty Candidates – Warrick ($4,000,000) and Childress ($6,500,000) seem like the only possible candidates. With the way things are unfolding, the Suns just might save their amnesty another year to create cap space for the summer of 2013-14 in what appears to be a better group of free agents. This also brings into question whether Sarver would be willing/able to absorb this kind of loss.
Rookie Contract – Let’s assume the Suns pick 9th and sign their draft pick to a deal starting at $2,356,320. As mentioned this could vary widely. If the Suns win the lottery, they could be on the hook for a little over $5 million. Reducing the cap space like that would be a shame.
There are still other considerations. The Suns could spend all their cap money in free agency (unlikely) and fill out the roster with minimum salary exceptions. What is more likely is that at least one of the players whose contract is expiring will be re-signed (i.e. Steve Nash). Depending on how they approach this, that would in effect make the cap space smaller e.g. Nash signs a one year $10,000,000 deal, the cap space is more like $16,000,000.
The Suns still have options here. Why couldn’t they give that deal to Nash, front load a contract to a free agent this offseason (maybe even including waiving Telfair to maximize the first year of the deal), fill the roster out with minimum one year deals, and save the amnesty provision for next summer? Maybe they have one of their pieces already doing that, and are still in a position to have $25-$30 million under the cap to go after two big free agents and re-sign Gortat next summer (since he has an early termination clause that I’m sure he’ll invoke)?
Hopefully that helps clear up the cap space issue (it did for me). Essentially, the number is variable and dependent on what the Suns choose to do. Depending on what they do, and how you choose to look at it, the number could be anywhere from close to $34,000,000 all the way down to less than $16,000,000. Quite the disparity, it’s no wonder I was a little bit perplexed.
One last thing (and thank you all for your patience), here is a list of other teams with cap space this summer from Passport Hoops. I did not compile this myself, so I cannot attest to its veracity with a high degree of certainty. It appears that the free agent class this summer is not only fairly threadbare, but is also a victim of the supply and demand principle – low supply of players PLUS a large number of competing teams with a high demand.
All of these teams have the ability to compete with the Suns for what is left of the free agent class. There has also been speculation that some of these teams (e.g. Dallas, Boston) may be interested in clearing more cap space to become even more of a factor in free agency.
The Suns may be more apt to dip their toes in the free agent pool this summer than dive in, but let’s forecast they land a starter this offseason (e.g. Batum) and still have the capacity to sign two more starters in the 2013-14 offseason while retaining Gortat. They may not rebuild overnight, but I can see a path that leads the Suns back to prominence after just one more down season. Then again maybe they will rebuild overnight, here’s hoping….
Hey guys, some times we like to share ideas and trade questions with bloggers who follow other teams. It's fun. It's a nice way to get some cool information from the people who know there teams best. This one only happened because one of the greatest bloggers ever, Steve from Clips Nation, reached out and started the process which went something like this:
He asked me questions. I answered. I asked him questions. He answered.
So, here's my answers to his questions about the Suns which he shared with Clippers fans at Clips Nation. You can read those here if you are so inclined.
More importantly, you can read Steve's answers to my questions after the jump. So jump...then read. That's how we do things around here.
Can you describe the feeling of sticking with the Clippers through all the bad years only to have things change so fast this year?
Honestly? I'm more or less holding my breath. Everyone who knows that I'm a Clipper fan says "You must be happy" and I smile and nod and say that I'm happy. But the season's only half over. I'm enjoying the wins -- wins are always more fun than losses -- but I'm not going into a touchdown dance here. The west is deep, and who knows what's going to happen, and people sometimes get injured -- I mean, let's face it, I've been a Clippers fan for over 20 years, I've pretty much seen it all.
As recently as 2006, the Clippers were clearly better than the Lakers and more importantly the Clippers had the brighter future. Then Brand tore his Achilles, someone in Memphis decided that Kwame Brown was a good trade for Pau Gasol, and well, things went back to how they always were. So right now, I'm cautiously optimistic and very nervous. Ask me how I feel when the playoffs start.
Having said that, it's great fun having players like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to root for. There's no downside there.
With Billups out, is the two guard the biggest hole on the roster and will it prevent the Clips from going all the way?
Yes and yes. Except that two guard is probably not the only thing that's going to keep the Clippers from going all the way. Have you seen Miami and Oklahoma City? Those are reasons 1 and 1(a) that the Clippers aren't going all the way. Two guard issues is a bit further down the list.
Randy Foye is actually an adequate replacement for Billups in the lineup. There's a drop off to Foye to be sure, but it's not as steep as you might think. And while the Clippers will miss Billups' on court leadership, they still have Chris Paul, so it's not as if the team is rudderless out there. Billups will rejoin the team soon and should continue to be a locker room presence down the stretch and into the playoffs so that's good.
Having said that, the Clippers are clearly trying to upgrade on the wing. They've been mentioned as a possible destination for Ray Allen (though I'm not sure the Celtics are going to accept a package of Eric Bledsoe and expiring contracts, which is pretty much all LA has to offer).
They may not be able to land a big name before the trade deadline, but that's the spot (really, a wing that can play both the two and some three would be ideal) where they'll be focusing their attention.
WTH were the Clippers doing when they "fired" Clipper Darrell?
Well, if you really want to know my feelings on the subject, I wrote about a thousand words on it Thursday. The Clippers clearly didn't handle the situation well, but is it really surprising that a team would ask an individual to stop misusing their name and logo and stop misrepresenting his relationship with the team?
Seems like the Clippers asked Darrell to clear some of his appearances and other activities with them, some feelings got hurt, and suddenly #FreeClipperDarrell was trending on twitter.
It's really a non-story in the end -- but it does give everyone a chance to talk about what a scumbag Donald Sterling is, which is always fun.
By the way, what's happening with Robert Sarver's wife's handbag?
It wasn't pretty but it got the job done. Here's some of my quick thoughts recorded forever on the YouTube along with postgame video from Steve Nash and Grant Hill.
Apologies for the way the video looks. Chalk that up to user error. With all this equipment and stuff I'm like one of those monkeys trying to play a drum and dance at the same time and doing neither well.
Postgame quotes from Gentry, Nash, Hill and Rubio after the jump for those who want to read instead of watch.
"He was great. Grant is so tough and gives you so much energy and passion and leadership, let alone his formidable skill on both ends of the court. He was great and we needed every bit of him tonight," Nash said about Hill.
"It was rebounding and it was trying to play without fouling. I think that you have to adapt. When officials are calling it close, you can't be as physical. We have to do a better job in the first half of reading how the officials are calling the game. Once we did adjust and adapt we came out and had good energy," Hill said.
"We had depth off the bench. I thought Shannon (Brown) was great, I thought Robin (Lopez) was big. That's how we have to play. Play hard, play together, use our depth and fight for 48 minutes," Hill said.
"I thought we played well, we did a really good job. I was probably most proud of the way we handled the rebound. They still ended up with 16 (offensive) rebounds and a couple of them just took bad bounces and we couldn't get our hands on (them)," Gentry said
"The starters played well. Grant (Hill) was really exceptional. The bench played well. Shannon Brown did a good job for us. Sebastian (Telfair) did a good job. Markieff did a good job defensively and staying in front of guys," Gentry said.
"He's one of the best players ever and you always try to be close to them. He knows how to play, he's smart and like I said, he's one of the best ever. He knows how to control the game and he passes very well, which option he has to find for the team and he just runs it and does it," Rubio said about Nash.
"It was great to play against him and see first hand what type of player he is. He definitely lives up to billing. Very, very good player, clever, and plays with a great energy," Nash said about Rubio.
And for you UA Wildcat / Derrick Williams fans, we caught up with him before the game too:
The Phoenix Suns had a great shooting night, all five starters scored in double figures including a season-high 20 from Grant Hill, and Steve Nash dished 17 assists to go with his 13 points as the Suns started the second half of their season with an impressive 104-95 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, their ninth in a row over Minnesota.
Kevin Love returned from missing last night's game due to illness to lead the Wolves with 23 points and 10 rebounds and Nikola Pekovic went for 14 and 9 as the Wolves dropped their second in a row on the final game of their back to back to back west coast swing.
As much as a mid-season game can be a "must win", this was for the Suns. They had a few players rise to the challenge, most notably Hill and Shannon Brown, and dominated the Wolves in the second half, outscoring the Wolves by 14.
Read on for more of the happy details!
Shannon Brown got minutes tonight rather than Michael Redd as the Suns tried to better match up with the young, athletic Wolves, and Brown played well, scoring 12 points on 6-11 shooting. Early foul trouble for Channing Frye and Markieff Morris allowed Hakim Warrick to see some action as well. He threw down a ferocious slam late in the first half but did little else in his 8 minutes of action.
Poor 3-point shooting from the Wolves might have been the result of playing their third night in a row as they hit only 1-13, helping the Suns cause tremendously. The Wolves also seemed to run out of gas a bit in the second half which, coupled with some tenacious defense from the Suns, led to them scoring only 44 second half points.
The Suns, meanwhile, connected on 53% of their FGs and 38% of their 3s in an efficient offensive performance that was marred only by 16 TOs. Nash spread the ball around in a masterful effort as he and five of his teammates each took at least 10 shots but none more than his 13.
Nikola Pekovic is a huge, powerful player at 6'11 and 290, and he has some good footwork for a big man. The Wolves have found another solid piece for their emerging team. But that didn't stop Grant Hill from stuffing Pekovic for a jump ball late in the 4th.
Eddie Johnson really dislikes Martell Webster's hair, spending a good chunk of the first half mocking it. EJ was on top of his game tonight and when he said to Tom Leander, "this is why I don't like you", he didn't sound like was kidding.
Robin Lopez scored 0 points on 1 FGA but made a nice contribution with 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and solid overall play in his 13 minutes of action.
Ricky Rubio had only 2 assists, scoring 13 points on 3-7 from the field as Nash showed that the comparisons between Rubio and him are entirely premature.
Kevin Love needed 25 FGAs to get his 23 points, and committed 4 TOs. He showed his usual hustle and grit but he looked like his illness was lingering as he was an inefficient player tonight.
Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams, two former #2 overall draft picks who are capable of offensive outbursts, combined for only 9 points on 3-15 shooting.