Deandre Ayton

Harden, Giannis, George Named MVP Finalists

Defending champion James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George are the finalists for this season’s Most Valuable Player award, the league announced in a press release.

The voting is expected to be close between Harden, who averaged 36.1 PPG and 7.5 APG during the regular season, and Antetokounmpo, who carried the Bucks to the best record in the league while averaging 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 5.9 APG. George averaged 28.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 4.1 APG.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors’ 2019 NBA Award Picks: Most Valuable Player]

The league also released the finalists for its other awards. The winners will be revealed during a TNT broadcast on Monday, June 24.

Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are the finalists for the Rookie of the Year award, while Lou Williams heads the field for the Sixth Man award. His Clippers teammate, Montrezl Harrell, and Domantas Sabonis are the other finalists.

Antetokounmpo and George are also finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year award along with Rudy GobertDe’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell and Pascal Siakam will vie for the Most Improved Player honor, while Mike Budenholzer, Michael Malone and Doc Rivers received the most votes for the Coach of the Year award.

Suns Notes: Kokoskov, Ayton, Coaching Search

The Suns‘ decision to dismiss head coach Igor Kokoskov was more about the club’s direction and circumstances rather than its win-loss record, says John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter links). When Kokoskov was hired, there was an expectation that the Suns would look to contend for a playoff spot right away, but after regressing and getting younger in 2018/19, the club wants to start over with someone new.

As Gambadoro explains (via Twitter), the Suns figure to target a coach who is more of a player-development specialist than a tactician. Deandre Ayton‘s development, in particular, will be a primary focus for the club’s next coach, with Gambadoro suggesting (via Twitter) that the young center wasn’t always used in the right way during his rookie season.

While Monty Williams and David Vanterpool have been identified as the first two names on the Suns’ list of potential targets, the team is expected to talk to many candidates, according to Gambadoro, who notes that there’s no set timeline for a new hire.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Touching on another reason that Kokoskov was let go, Gambadoro tweets that Suns players liked the head coach, but felt as though assistant Joe Prunty was more in charge of the bench than Kokoskov was.
  • The Suns are about to employ their seventh head coach since the start of the 2012/13 season, and Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic argues that team owner Robert Sarver is to blame for the seemingly endless coaching turnover in Phoenix. All of the Suns’ dysfunction can be traced back to Sarver, according to Somers, who writes that the owner mistakenly believes he knows how to identify talent on the court and in the front office.
  • The Suns named James Jones as their permanent general manager and hired Jeff Bower as their senior VP of basketball operations the day after the regular season ended. Since then, Jones and Bower have yet to speak publicly. That has to change after the firing of Kokoskov, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who contends that the club owes it to its fans to explain the decision and discuss the franchise’s direction.

Pacific Notes: Green, Ayton, Gilgeous-Alexander

A hot topic during the NBA season so far has been the inconsistent play and effort from the Warriors. Whether it is a result of injuries or struggles from key star players, the Warriors just haven’t played to the best of their abilities during the first half of the regular season. As Monte Poole writes for NBC Sports California, Draymond Green is ultimately the key to the Warriors turning things around and hitting their stride.

Poole writes that Green can look like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate one night, only to produce a pedestrian effort the next game. Green’s offensive struggles are no secret, especially with his inability to hit long-range shots cramping the Warriors’ floor spacing. But Poole believes that Green being fully engaged defensively on a more consistent basis will provide the team with that extra energy to compete at their highest level.

With DeMarcus Cousins set to return in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how he fits on the floor and what he provides for a Warriors team clearly searching for their competitive edge.

There’s more from the Pacific division:

  • At a recent practice, Suns rookie big man Deandre Ayton discussed the fact that he feels the pressure of expectations, mainly as a result of his competitiveness and desire to win.
  • After getting off to a very strong start, Clippers‘ rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has struggled in recent weeks as he has hit the “rookie wall.” However, as Andrew Greif points out for The Los Angeles Times, Doc Rivers continues to be impressed with the young guard’s work ethic and understands that he will need more time to get over the hump this season.
  • As the Suns have played better in recent weeks, head coach Igor Kokoskov has enjoyed having the ability to tailor and adjust his rotation on a game-to-game basis depending on the energy from his players and that night’s matchup. Katherine Fitzgerald of The Arizona Republic details how the team’s young players and bench depth have improved in recent weeks.

Pacific Notes: Oubre, Shumpert, Lakers

After getting off to a very rough start, the Suns have started to turn things around, winning five of their past nine games. The recent success is mainly a result of strong play from their two franchise cornerstones Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype writes that Kelly Oubre‘s positive impact shouldn’t be overlooked.

As Kennedy points out, Oubre is averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 threes and 1.0 blocks per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from three-point range since joining the Suns several weeks ago. Ayton and Booker have loved the energy and “swag” that Oubre has brought to the team and perhaps more importantly, Oubre fits with the team’s timeline as they continue on a rebuilding path.

The Suns are still evaluating what they have in some of their young players, but it’s safe to say that the team continues to show more promise as Booker and Ayton lead the way on a nightly basis.

There’s more from the Pacific division:

  • An afterthought when acquired back in February, Iman Shumpert has taken up a leadership role with the Kings this season as his play has improved. Jason Jones of The Athletic details the valuable presence that Shumpert has had for this young Kings team.
  • As a result of recent struggles in the face of LeBron James‘ injury, is it better for the Lakers to stay patient or make a win-now move? Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report tackles this challenging question.
  • Speaking of those struggles, Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register details the Lakers‘ inability to close out games with James not playing. A recent buzzer-beating loss to the Kings and fourth quarter unraveling against the Clippers highlighted the room for growth for the Lakers’ young core.

Pacific Notes: Kings, Durant, Zubac

The Kings haven’t necessarily solidified a spot in the deep Western Conference playoff picture but there’s still reason to celebrate given their 18-15 record at this point in the season. Jason Jones of The Athletic examines how the team has drastically improved in 2018/19.

The Kings have benefited from the monstrous strides De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield have taken this season. That backcourt, Jones writes, is emerging as one of the most fun to watch in the NBA.

Of course contributions from other young veterans like Willie Cauley-Stein and Bogdan Bogdanovic have helped the Kings at least appear to turn a corner early on.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division today:

  • Potential free agent Kevin Durant hasn’t exactly tipped his hand as to what he plans to do this summer but he did tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that he wants to make sure he can get “as much money as [he] can on his next deal.” The Warriors are the only team eligible to offer him a five-year max contract, worth around $221MM. That’s one year and nearly $60MM more than any other team.
  • Although he can’t vote for his own player, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov told Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic and the rest of the media that he thinks more people should consider Deandre Ayton when discussing potential Rookie of the Year winners. In his last five games, Ayton has averaged 22.8 points and 15.6 rebounds per game.
  • While it’s not always easy to find three pure centers minutes in a regulation basketball match, that’s one problem Lakers coach Luke Walton will be happy to welcome after two solid spot starts from third-stringer Ivica Zubac this week. The third-year center dropped 16 and 11 on the Pelicans on last Friday and followed that up with 19 points and four blocks against the Grizzlies on Saturday. “Luke’s always been saying to me that he trusts me,” the 21-year-old big man told Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. “If there’s a chance to put me on the floor, he’s gonna put me there and he’s gonna always trust me like every other player on the team. I’ve been doing the same stuff every day”.

Suns Notes: Warren, Jackson, Ayton, Booker

The Suns are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak and have dropped 11 of their last 12, as their offense struggles immensely without top scorers Devin Booker and T.J. Warren in the lineup. Phoenix has cracked the 100-point mark just once in its last six games and has posted nine-point first quarters twice during that stretch.

However, while Booker’s return still isn’t imminent, the team will get some added firepower this week, with Warren poised to return to the lineup on Monday, as Bob Young of The Athletic details.

“We’re missing him and Book, our two leading scorers,” Jamal Crawford said. “When you have those guys, it kind of settles everybody else down. (Warren) is somebody who helps give the team that swagger, for sure. Offense has been pretty hard to come by, but I think we’ll figure it out.”

Here’s more out of Phoenix:

  • Since entering the NBA in 2017, former fourth overall pick Josh Jackson has played for three different head coaches and two general managers. Speaking to Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer, Jackson said that he thinks the instability in Phoenix has had an effect on his play. “It would definitely be a lot better if we were more stable,” Jackson said recently. “I don’t think any other player in my class has gone through as much change within their team as I have. Since the moment I came into the league, it’s just been all about changes and adjustments, new coach after my second game of the season, like, c’mon now, really? That doesn’t happen.”
  • Addressing a heated postgame exchange with Devin Booker that took place after last Thursday’s loss to Portland, rookie center Deandre Ayton downplayed the incident, saying that he and Booker are “just two guys that want to win,” writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.
  • Earlier today, we relayed a couple other Suns-related news items, passing along word of the Suns’ contract talks with Eric Moreland and writing that at least eight teams have inquired on Trevor Ariza.

Suns Notes: Chandler, Canaan, Crawford, Ayton

At 36, Tyson Chandler may seem out of place on the rebuilding Suns, but he remains focused on providing the best possible example for his young teammates, writes Gina Mizell of The Athletic. Chandler, who is beginning his 18th NBA season, admits the process of getting ready is much different now than when he entered the league in 2001.

“When I was a rookie, I just had a bunch of nervous energy. You’re young and you can move all over the place,” he said. “Now everything is precise. Everything has a time. Even energy output, you just kind of measure everything you do now in this league. I used to get so pumped up. Now it’s all mental where I analyze what’s going on.”

Even so, Chandler isn’t ready to give up the NBA lifestyle. He hopes to reach at least 20 years in the league, although with an expiring contract that may happen somewhere other than Phoenix. He will help mentor No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton for now and may be a popular target at the trade deadline among teams that need frontcourt depth.

There’s more today out of Phoenix:

  • After experimenting with several options at point guard during the preseason, Isaiah Canaan will be the starter in tonight’s season opener, Mizell tweets. Coach Igor Kokoskov indicated that Devin Booker may finish out games at the position in an effort to get the best offensive lineup on the court.
  • Jamal Crawford finalized his contract with the Suns just in time for tonight’s game and is eager to get started with his new team. In a video posted by The Arizona Republic, the 38-year-old expressed confidence that Phoenix is moving in the right direction. “I feel re-energized, to be honest with you,” Crawford said. “I just like what the organization’s doing. I like the moves they’re making. I love the young players, I love the vets they brought in, so I’m excited.” Crawford said Kokoskov just asked him to be the same type of player he has been throughout his career.
  • Booker believes the addition of Ayton provides the chance to build a winner, relays Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Although Booker has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best young players, the Suns haven’t been competitive since he arrived. “It’s a start of his legacy,” Booker said of Ayton. “His new career. My job is to make it special for him and not make it like my first three years. So turn it around. Let him be known as a winner. Let our whole organization turn around to a winning franchise.”

NBA GMs Weigh In On 2018/19 Season

NBA.com has completed its annual survey of NBA general managers, with John Schuhmann of NBA.com asking each of the league’s 30 GMs to answer an array of questions about the league’s top teams, players, and coaches. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors are once again viewed by the NBA’s general managers as the overwhelming favorites to be the last team standing, with 26 of 30 GMs (87%) picking Golden State to win the NBA championship for the fourth time in five years.

While there are many responses in the GM survey worth checking out, we’ll focus on rounding up some of the more noteworthy ones related to rosters and player movement. Let’s dive in…

  • LeBron James (30%) and Kevin Durant (27%) are viewed as the frontrunners for the 2018/19 MVP award, but two younger players led the voting for the player GMs would most want to build a franchise around starting today. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (30%) and Pelicans big man Anthony Davis (23%) led the way in that category. Interestingly, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t receive a single vote this year after leading the way with 29% of the vote in 2017.
  • The Lakers‘ signing of James helped them earn 70% of the vote for the team that made the best overall moves this offseason. The Raptors, buoyed by their acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, finished second at 20%.
  • A ton of different signings and trade acquisitions received votes for the most underrated addition of the summer, with the Pacers‘ signing of Tyreke Evans barely leading the way with four votes. The Spurs‘ trade for DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls‘ signing of Jabari Parker, the Pelicans‘ addition of Julius Randle, and the Thunder‘s acquisition of Dennis Schroder received three votes apiece.
  • DeMarcus Cousins‘ decision to join the Warriors (35%) was considered the most surprising move of the offseason, followed by the Spurs/Raptors blockbuster trade (29%) and Paul George remaining with the Thunder (19%).
  • While Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the strong frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, GMs expect Suns center Deandre Ayton and Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. to be the best players five years from now. Meanwhile, the Clippers‘ selection of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 was viewed by the most GMs as the steal of the draft.
  • The Sixers (47%) and Celtics (33%) dominated voting for the teams with the most promising young cores.

Pacific Notes: Booker, Labissiere, Kuzma

The Suns have had a tough go of it over the course of the past three seasons. Now that they finally boast an intriguing young core, however, things may have hit a minor snag. Greg Moore of the Arizona Republic wonders if Devin Booker‘s hand injury could spoil Phoenix’s season.

While there’s no guarantee that Booker even misses regular season time recovering from hand surgery, it’s a distinct possibility. In any event, the up-and-coming Suns star will miss training camp and preseason, that could mean it won’t be until part-way through the 2018-19 campaign that he starts building chemistry with vaunted No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton.

As Gina Mizell of The Athletic writes in a similar piece speculating about the impact Booker’s absence will have, she notes that the Suns could even begin the season without a clear-cut point guard on the roster.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • There’s no shortage of intriguing big men on the Kings roster but one oft-forgotten frontcourt project is Skal Labissiere. Kyle Ramos of the team’s official site writes that this offseason has been 22-year-old’s best since entering the NBA in 2016.
  • A much-improved physique will put Lakers sophomore Kyle Kuzma in position to break out in 2018-19, Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype writes. The forward was a surprise success as a rookie last year and will look to make further progress after gaining strength in his shoulder and back.
  • There are plenty of things to like about what the Lakers did this offseason and projections for how they’ll fare in 2018-19 vary wildly. One question, James Blancarte of Basketball Insiders wonders, is whether or not the franchise will be able to resist the urge to shake up the roster with a trade if things don’t begin as expected in Los Angeles.

Fellow Rookies Pick Ayton, Sexton As RoY Favorites

For the 10th time in 12 years, John Schuhmann of NBA.com got the opportunity to ask the NBA’s incoming crop of rookies a series of questions related to their fellow draftees.

Historically, the NBA rookies haven’t been particularly clairvoyant when it comes to their predictions — they haven’t accurately identified a Rookie of the Year winner since Kevin Durant in 2007/08. Still, it’s an interesting exercise, and one that occasionally results in a dead-on prediction, like when last year’s rookie class named Donovan Mitchell the steal of the 2017 draft.

Here are a few of the most interesting responses from this year’s rookies about the 2018/19 class:

  • Deandre Ayton (Suns) and Collin Sexton (Cavaliers) are viewed as the co-favorites for the Rookie of the Year award this season, with each player earning 18% of the vote. No other rookie had more than a 9% share of the vote.
  • Opinions were a little more divided on which player would have the best long-term NBA career, with Wendell Carter Jr. (Bulls) narrowly earning that title by receiving 13% of the vote. Interestingly, reigning EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic (Mavericks) wasn’t picked by a single player for this question.
  • No. 48 overall pick Keita Bates-Diop (Timberwolves) was named the steal of the 2018 NBA draft by his fellow rookies, edging out 14th overall pick Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets) and 18th overall pick Lonnie Walker (Spurs).
  • Trae Young (Hawks) is widely considered the best shooter and play-maker in this year’s class. Jevon Carter (Grizzlies) earned the most votes for best rookie defender, while Zhaire Smith (Sixers) is viewed as the most athletic rookie.
  • Be sure to check out Schuhmann’s full piece for the rest of the rookie survey results.