With the very first pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns selected Deandre Ayton out of the University of Arizona. Since then, the Suns have risen from the NBA’s worst team (21-61 in 2017-18) to be on the cusp of their first-ever championship. The Suns were 51-21 this season and added playoff series wins over the l. a. Lakers, the Denver Nuggets, and therefore the l. a. Clippers to succeed in the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks survived a six-game series against the Atlanta Hawks despite a leg injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo. It remains to be seen what proportion Antetokounmpo, a two-time league MVP, are going to be available and the way effective he could be during the finals.
Antetokounmpo was averaging 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 5.2 assists within the playoffs before the injury. He missed the last two games against Atlanta. But while the Bucks are entering the finals with a decided limp, the Suns are charging at full speed, with Ayton being a top-of-the-list reason why. Ayton gives Phoenix an ominous “Big Three” with sensational guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul. The 22-year-old Ayton averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds against the Clippers. On the low post, he likely is going to be challenged by Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. When healthy, the versatile Antetokounmpo plays more sort of a small forward, as adept on the perimeter as he’s within the paint.
In his 13th season out of Stanford University, Lopez, 33, uses his 7-foot, 270-pound mass to clog the lane and make life difficult for the likes of Ayton. He is going to be the foremost imposing big man Ayton has faced within the playoffs. The Suns are both lucky and good in reaching the finals. In advancing through the playoffs, Phoenix benefited from injuries to the opposition. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis was limited, as was Denver’s Jamal Murray and therefore the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard. And now Antetokounmpo is “iffy.”
Another “big man” for the Suns is on the bench. he’s second-year Coach Monty Williams, 6-foot-8, a native of Fredericks- burg, Va., and a former standout at the University of Notre Dame and within the NBA. Williams is seeking to become the primary Black head coach to win the NBA title since Tyronn Lue with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The last before Lue was Boston’s Doc Rivers in 2008. The very first Black championship coach was Boston’s Russell in 1968. At the time, Russell was the Celtics’ “player-coach.”
The Suns haven’t won the NBA title. Milwaukee took top honors in 1971 with the “Big Three” of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robertson, and native Richmonder Bobby Dandridge. In his second season out of Norfolk State University, Dandridge averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in helping the Bucks to a 4-0 NBA Finals sweep of the Baltimore Bullets. Milwaukee returned to the finals in 1974, losing in seven games to Boston.