Will the Suns be able to win their second in a row against the Nets at home tonight?

What: Phoenix Suns Vs. Brooklyn Nets

Where: U.S. Airways Center - Phoenix, AZ

When: 7:00 p.m. (AZ)

Watch: FSAZ (locally) / NBA League Pass

The Phoenix Suns are coming off of a hard-fought victory against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, to improve to 4-3 on the season, and most importantly, avoid falling below .500 for the first time during the Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek era. The Suns were down for most of the game, but somehow found the right mix of energy, hustle, defense, and scoring at just the right time, as Phoenix was able to rally behind Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green in the fourth quarter to get a big win at home.

As for the Brooklyn Nets, they are also coming off of a win at home against the Orlando Magic on Sunday. Bojan Bogdanovic (surprisingly, no relation to Suns' draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic) led the Nets in scoring with 22 points. In addition, Mason Plumlee had his best overall game of the season thus far with his first double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Probable Starting Lineups

Team Suns Nets
PG Eric Bledsoe Deron Williams
SG Goran Dragic Bojan Bogdanovic
SF Marcus Morris Joe Johnson
PF Markieff Morris Kevin Garnett
C Miles Plumlee Brook Lopez

What To Watch For

Post Problems: It's no secret that the biggest weakness for the Phoenix Suns' thus far has been their ability to score, and especially, defend in the post. Just look at their two worst losses thus far...the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies. Both of those teams have strong, skilled bigs. And guess what? Brooklyn happens to have a couple very skilled big men as well in Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, and Mason Plumlee. Although Brooklyn scores the majority of their points through Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, their big men can create problems with their scoring and rebounding. This will definitely be something the Suns need to account for.

Chemistry and Physics: The Suns have struggled thus far to find the right formula that will give them the best rotations to maximize their efficiency, and ensure their best players stay involved and productive. This has been especially concerning with the three very talented point guards; Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas. It isn't physically possible for all three to simultaneously play and control the ball on offense, but all three are crucial components to the team, and play starter's minutes. Dragic has looked more involved these last two games, and Bledsoe has shown flashes of dominance. Thomas has been the most consistent overall, save for the game against Sacramento right after his grandfather passed, but he is playing off of the bench. The Suns need to get all three involved tonight, to help get a win against a dangerous Nets team.

Solar Energy: So far this season, the Suns have looked very different at times than the "stupid" Suns fans were used to seeing last year. They haven't seemed as aggressive on offense, or hustled as hard on defense to bother their opponents and cause chaos like they were known for last season. In fact, this past game against the Warriors, in the fourth quarter, was the first time I really saw them play with the same intensity that Phoenix played with on a regular basis last year. It all comes down to energy and hustle, especially on the defensive side of the court. The Suns need to go back to playing with a chip on their shoulder, and give their best effort on each play. Their biggest advantage is their depth, so there is no reason to worry about getting overly tired or playing too many minutes. The Suns need to bring the energy tonight in order to get a win against a much older, slower Nets team.

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In a recent interview, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek answered reporters' questions as to how he will go about optioning players down to the Jam.

With the D-League season just around the corner (opening day is this Friday), questions have begun to filter in about how the Phoenix Suns will be using their solo affiliation with the Jam.

The Suns, as you all know, have a lot of young players at the tail end of the rotation, who are unlikely to see much if any playing time on any given night. However, Hornacek does not seem to see this as a particularly serious problem.

When asked if he plans on having guys spend time in Bakersfield, he was somewhat dismissive.

"We want our guys to be around us as much as possible," he said. " So they continue to learn and do our thing."

He went on to discuss how being around the main team and learning from the coaching staff generally is better for the young players than spending long stints in the D-League.

"I think it is being here [where young players belong]. But, there is a point where not playing affects a guys confidence."

At that point, he said, the coaching staff would be open to sending guys to Bakersfield in order to keep their psychological edge. Even in these cases, however, Hornacek does not see these as being long stints with the Jam.

"It is not where we would send them to Bakersfield for prolonged periods. We'll use that as 'Hey, go down there for a couple games, get some minutes and playing time, and we'll get you back here."

In general, Hornack sees the team using the Jam for short stints for the young players. Only "if a guy is playing and doing well down there maybe we leave him for a couple more games."

Hornacek admitted that the rotation minutes for the young guys like Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis were going to be hard to come by, and said he would be sitting down with GM Ryan McDonough in the near future to have a more in-depth strategic discussion about how to use the Jam.

Jam Win Only Pre-Season Game

In related news, the Jam won their one and only pre-season game yesterday, defeating the LA D-Fenders 105-102.

The team was led by strong performances from veteran Mac Koshwal (21 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals) and rookie Xavier Munford (27 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists), who was brought to the team in a draft day trade.

Elijah Millsap, who was acquired just before the draft, loaded up the box score, but was pretty inefficient. He scored 16 points on 6-18 shooting. He added 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals before fouling out.

Jamil Wilson (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Adrian Thomas (10 points on 50% shooting form beyond the arc) also had strong showings.

The D-Fenders were led by the strong play of 4 players: guards Roscoe Smith (19 points, 7 rebounds), Vander Blue (25 points), Naadir Tharpe (9 points, 9 assists); and forward Manny Harris (21 points, 9 rebounds).

The difference in the game was largely the performance of the starters - the D-Fenders' starters combined for only 67 points and 15 turnovers. The Jam starters, in contrast, put up 81 points and only 13 turnovers, while creating 9 turnovers through steals.

The Jam open the season this Friday, November 14th, the Texas Legends. The game will be streamed live on Youtube.

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The eye test tells us that the Suns offense is stagnant and sticky this season, even though the main players are basically the same. But what do the numbers tell us?

As expected, the Phoenix Suns offense is centered around the point guards. Each point guard on the team is unique, but they do share a couple of common traits: driving to the rim with abandon, and taking pull up shots off the dribble.

The first seven games of the season have been frustrating for Suns fans. The ball sticks to the point guards. There's not enough passing. Not enough scoring assists. Not enough wide open three pointers. Not enough drives to the rim. If you read comment threads, based on the eye test you'd think the Suns are really struggling on offense this season.

Let's take a statistical look at how the Suns are really doing offensively, after seven games in the new season.

Drives - better

NBA.com/stats tracks drives as any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks. This year's Suns are driving more and converting more of them than a year ago.

As a team, the Suns are third in the league or better in shooting % on drives (54.2%, 2nd in league), player points per game on drives (18.9, 3rd) and team PPG on drives (32.7, 3rd). Remember, this doesn't even include fast break points, where the Suns are second in the league at 15 points per game.

Isaiah Thomas (50% on drives, 4.4 points per game for himself, another 3.5 on assists to others) has added to the Suns arsenal of Goran Dragic (63.2%, 4.4, 4.0) and Eric Bledsoe (48.1%, 5.1, 4.8) as the Slash Brothers have become, well, still the Slash Brothers just with 3 of them instead of 2.

This year's Slash Brothers are even better than last year's bros on drives. Last year, the Suns shot 48.6% on drives (still 3rd in league) with 15.7 players points per game on drives (15.7, 7th) and team PPG on drives (27.3, 6th).

Pull Up Jumpers - slightly worse

NBA.com/stats tracks pull ups as any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting. The pull up shot is more of a staple of this year's team than last year's.

As a team, the Suns are no worse than fourth in the league in points per game (20.0, 4th in league), makes (9.3, 3rd) and attempts (23.7, 1st), but they are just not making them as well as other teams, or even as well as they did last year. The Suns are just 13th in FG% on pull ups (38.7%) and 19th in FG% on three-point pull ups (25%). A year ago, the Suns took fewer pull up shots (7.7 makes per game on 20 attempts), making the same % overall but converting a much higher percentage of threes (36.8%).

Adding Isaiah Thomas, who loves to shoot and makes a good percentage of them when he does, accounts for the increase in pull up rate.

Passing - same

This year's team doesn't pass a whole heck of a lot. But neither did last year's team.

This year's Suns make 282 passes per game converting to 18.9 assists per game, both good for just 22nd in the league. But last year's team was just as bad (280 passes for 19.1 assists), ranking even lower on the comparative scale (29th).

So that's a non-starter.

Catch and Shoot - same

You would think that this year's Suns are struggling to convert catch-and-shoot opportunities, described by NBA.com/stats as a shot taken within two seconds of catching the ball without taking a dribble. If they are better on drives and not much worse on pull-up jumpers, then the Suns must be struggling on catch-and-shoot opportunities, right?

That's actually not the case. This year's team is nearly identical on catch-and-shoot opportunities so far this season versus last year. Their catch-and-shoot points per game (26.1) are only down .5 points from last year (26.6) and the shooting % is nearly identical (38.4% vs. 39.3%).

Pace - same

After Sunday night, the Suns are right back up there in pace. The Suns are now 6th in pace (possessions per game) vs. 8th a year ago. We've all said it looks like they are walking the ball up too much, but in reality they walked it up a lot last year too.

So what gives? How are this year's Suns so much worse on offense?

Why is the offense so bad?

It's not. The Suns are slightly worse on offense in terms of points per game, but not much worse at all.

Their points per 100 possessions (which takes pace out of the picture) is down 4.3 points, from 109.5 to 105.2. Their two-point field goal percentage is nearly identical to last season, so it's basically down to threes. The Suns are making about one less three pointer per game (down from 9.3 to 8.7) because they are shooting it a lot worse so far (from 37.2% last year to 33.7% this year).

Goran Dragic (25%) and Gerald Green (33%) are the main culprits. And if you factor in that this season is only 7 games old vs. last season's 82 games, you start to realize that three-point shooting percentages go up and down.

Once the Suns start making a reasonable number of their three point attempts, the offense this season could be a bit better than last year's because of the higher frequency and efficiency on drives to the rim.

Then how do you explain my eye test?

I can't. Maybe we expected to see a much more fluid offense this year than last year. Maybe we didn't see the warts last year as clearly as we are seeing them this year. Last year's team was only 8th in points per 100 possessions and was just as focused as this year's on pull ups, drives and kick-outs.

Once the threes start falling like they're going to (36.5% the last three games vs. 33% for all seven combined), and the sample size gets bigger, the Suns will be right back up there on offense. This team is tracking to be just about as good - maybe a little better, maybe a little worse - than last year while they continue to grow and gain experience.

Over the course of the season, we can hope to see growth from the centers (Miles Plumlee and Alex Len are basically in their second and first playing years), from the Morrii and from the back court. This is a very young team in terms of NBA experience. There are no superstars on this team, but there are a lot of above-average NBA players who collectively can combine to win 50+ games this year on will power alone.

This year's team is nearly identical to last year's team. It's just that this year we expected so much more.

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