The Suns came into the season stuck in the middle - not really a playoff lock, but not a lottery lock either. Their youth and inexperience have so far left them in that purgatory in the season's first 11 games.
While the Phoenix Suns came in as the most accomplished young playoff contender, they are still just that: young. Not only are the Suns the second youngest team in the Western Conference playoff picture, they have the least NBA experience overall.
*Yrs of experience and Age are derived from the players who have played the majority of games this year (or were out some games due to injury) AND are averaging 15+ minutes per game.
As you can see, the only two teams that rival the Suns' youth and have gotten off to a good start are the New Orleans Pelicans (5-4) and the Sacramento Kings (6-4). But both of those teams have more years of NBA experience in their top 9 rotation players than the Suns.
Utah is younger and has less experience, but they are just 4-7 to start the season and few think they are real playoff contenders this year.
The Suns kind of grew up last year, but that was partially by being "stupid" (P.J. Tucker's words) enough to win games they weren't supposed to win.
This year, the Suns come into every game being expected to win, and that takes a toll on players who are young and inexperienced. Only three rotation players are over 26, and only two of those have more than three years of NBA experience (Goran Dragic and Gerald Green). At the same time, the Suns are trying to work in a 21 year old center (Alex Len) who is really playing his first true NBA season and attempting to find enough time for all the rotation-caliber players in the stable. One of those rotation-caliber players is 21-year old T.J. Warren, who put up 36 PPG in the D-League last weekend on 60+% shooting.
These guys will have to grow together and get better throughout the season so that when the best teams start tightening the screws in March and April the Suns can be right there with them.
Youth be served.
P.J. missed the bus.
In case you missed it, P.J. Tucker was absent from the roster for Monday's game against the Celtics. He missed the team's bus following Sunday's loss to the Clippers. And it is something he will never, ever, ever do again.
The three headed monster that is the Phoenix backcourt is still trying to figure out how to play together. Playing time is not the issue. Losing control of the ball is.
And Eric Bledsoe has had to make sacrifices in the new system.
Phoenix's Monday night win over Boston by the numbers.
Isaiah Thomas knows how to navigate, and is doing a fantastic job getting to the free throw line since the start of the season.
Some more info on Bakersfield, California, a.k.a. Phoenix Suns West. Also a handy NBDL map. Now you know where the Mad Ants play.
T.J. wants P.J. to miss more team buses.
A good read on a Western Conference foe. "How a once-proud franchise became one of the NBA's biggest disappointments."
Matt Farley, The Sports Band of Phoenix, Arizona, and "Shaq's Been Traded To The Phoenix Suns." It's not great sports music, but there's a lot of it.
Evidently Charles Barkley and DeMarcus Cousins don't get along. Will they reconcile? "Every time we see each other, there will never be words." Guess not.
ELECTRICITY. Isaiah Thomas is thriving in his new role.
The Phoenix Suns, after dropping two in a row, pull out a nail biter against the Boston Celtics. Final score: 118-114
The Suns were hot to start the game. Goran Dragic looked engaged and aggressive, scoring five points and nabbing four assists. Markieff Morris shot 4 for 5 in the quarter, and had two assists himself. After only making 11 of his last 34 shots, it was refreshing to see Keef scoring efficiently.
All of the starters except Plumlee, who picked up two quick fouls, scored in the first quarter. Gerald Green came in, hit a 3, and received a fast break alley-oop from Isaiah Thomas. Alex Len looked solid with four points, but played great defense as well.
However, despite going on a 7-0 run and then a 9-0 run, the Suns went cold at the end of the quarter and let the Celtics back into the game. Behind Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, and Jared Sullinger, Boston went on a 13-4 run to end the quarter.
After an entertaining first quarter, the Suns shot 52% from the field, hit 40% of their threes, scored 9 fast break points, but still lets the Celtics back in.
Suns 33, Celtics 31
The Suns rediscovered their shooting touch in the beginning of the second quarter, but still couldn't hold down the Celtics on defense. The teams traded baskets for a while, until the Suns started to pull away a little bit towards the end of the quarter.
Dragic and the Morris twins picked up where they left off in the first quarter, scoring the team's first 21 points (!!) of the quarter. Marcus Morris had some aggressive moves to the basket, and Keef's jumper looked silky smooth again (7-8 from the field in the half). He also had a beauty of a dish to Dragic, when he drove to the basket and threw the pass over his shoulder to set up the Dragon with a corner 3.
But we will remember this second quarter because of the big fella, Alex Len. He looked solid throughout the half (10 points on 5-5 shooting), but completely stole the show with a steal and subsequent fast break slam. Alex Len, the 7'2 guy, played the passing lanes, ran the break, slammed it down in Kelly Olynyk's face, and let out a primordial scream. As FSN commentator Steven Albert put it, it was the best moment of Len's young career.
Still, the Suns weren't able to gain too much distance from the Celtics. The Suns had trouble containing Sullinger and Tyler Zeller downlow, and the Celtics had 32 points in the paint.
Suns had their highest scoring first half behind 50% shooting, and hit 5 of their 11 3s.
Suns 60, Celtics 54
Phoenix opened up the quarter with an 11-3 run behind the Morrii and Bledsoe to go up 71-57 early in the quarter. Keef continued to dominate with 8 more points in the quarter.
But the Suns let the Celtics right back in after that. Boston ripped off a quick 6-0 run, and eventually cut the Suns lead to 1. Jeff Green torched the Suns with 10 points in the quarter, and Phoenix just didn't have an answer for him with P.J. Tucker sitting on the bench in street clothes.
Thomas struggled to get any calls on his drives, and looked frustrated.
The teams traded baskets for a while; there was not a whole lot of defense with both teams shooting around 50%. The Suns built up the lead a few times, but the Celtics would not go away. The Suns clung to a one point lead.
Suns 89, Celtics 88
The final quarter got off to a raucous start and it did not relent until the final buzzer. The teams went back and forth from the entire way. Neither Boston nor Phoenix could come up with stops.
After a few TJ Warren buckets, Avery Bradley tied the game at 93 with a 3. Keef and Jeff Green exchanged buckets to tie the game at 97. From here, the teams exchanged leads for a while with Jeff Green getting to the basket with ease all quarter.
With about three minutes left to go in the game and the score tied at 107, Dragic hit a corner three to go up 110-107.
But the Celtics answered. After a Zeller layup and Sullinger jumper, the Celtics took a one point lead before Bledsoe answered with a layup high off the glass. A Celtics turnover gave the Suns a chance to pull away, but Bledsoe coughed up a turnover that gave Jeff Green a fast break slam. Worse yet, Marcus Morris fouled him on the play. Boston led 114-112 with 57.3 seconds left.
Coach Hornacek drew up a quick score off of a Dragic drive out of the timeout. With the score tied at 114, Bledsoe came up with a huge steal and fast break score to put the Suns up with 29.5 seconds to go.
After a Gerald Green missed 3, Len came up with the rebound, and iced his free throws after being fouled. He ended up fouling Rajon Rondo on a 3 point attempt during the ensuing possession, but Rondo missed all three freethrows, and the Suns came out with the win.
Final Score: Suns 118, Celtics 114
Markieff Morris led all scorers with 30. He also matched a career high in assists with 5.
Two different Suns had career highs in the game: Markieff Morriss (30 points) and Alex Len (19 points, after scoring a career high 17 last Saturday).
Goran Dragic (22 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds), Eric Bledsoe (15 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds), and Rajon Rondo (14 points, 9 assists, 10 rebounds) all flirted with triple doubles.