Here is your formal weekly recap for the Phoenix Suns with a look at all the games, the news and notes, key stats, NBA Draft updates, Quote of the Week, and more. Let's get it...
How will the pre-season translate to the regular season for the Phoenix Suns here in the 2014-2015 season? It is easy to dismiss the preparatory season as having little to no merit on the actual season, but there are always little (and sometimes big) things to takeaway from any competitive basketball played.
Well, last year the team went 4-2 in the pre-season and then 48-34 in the regular season.
In 2012-2013 they went 4-3 in the pre-season and then 25-57 in the regular season.
In 2011-2012 they went 0-2 (lockout season) and then 33-33 in the regular season.
So the wins and losses are not an indicator of success, but there are always components that can be pulled from the overall team play and the individual play of the roster.
Eric Bledsoe: 24.6 MPG 15.0 PPG 3.9 APG 3.0 RPG 1.4 SPG 56.5% FG (46.7% 3PT)
Goran Dragic: 23.6 MPG 12.4 PPG 2.7 APG 1.4 RPG 1.3 SPG 52.8% FG (27.8% 3PT)
Markieff Morris: 23.3 MPG 11.9 PPG 5.0 RPG 1.7 APG 46.4% FG (28.6% 3PT)
Miles Plumlee: 19.0 MPG 6.0 PPG 4.7 RPG 0.6 BPG 42.2 FG%
Isaiah Thomas: 22.9 MPG 14.1 PPG 4.1 APG 2.3 RPG 1.4 SPG 46.6% FG (37.5% 3PT)
When you look at the numbers on more of a PER36 basis (add a third to the numbers above), which is what all three will likely play, then these numbers are all very encouraging. No one will dominate the ball enough to be a Top 10 assist per game candidate, but will have three point guards creating offense for both themselves and for teammates, putting lots of pressure on the defense. The three guards in one way or another played well as individuals and showed flashes as a unit when called upon, especially all three together at once.
On the other side of things Plumlee did not live up to the "most improved" Suns player that he was anointed from all the internal rumblings within the team. His GM, coach, and teammates raved about his improvements. None of which were on display.
The depth on the perimeter, especially at the lead guard spot, was the bright spot of the pre-season. Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas might be the most dynamic trio in the league when all is said in done. They could be the most productive trio in combined points, assists, steals, and rebounds in the entire NBA this season.
Defense: 96.9 PPG 43.7% FG (27.3% 3PT) 11 SPG (20.0 turnovers forced) 42.1 RPG
Again, pre-season basketball so the Suns got to play a Spur-less San Antonio team, a fuel-less Rockets squad, and a South American team with limited NBA athletic talent. The numbers are a little inflated from that. Watching the team play defense and swarm around moving laterally left to right they look like an overall better defensive squad from compared to last season. The turnovers are a direct result of the quickness, deflections, and ball pressure the perimeter unit is able to put on the opponent.
A number like 20 turnovers forced per game is not realistically sustainable since the league leader last season was at 17.0 per game, but the Suns could be in the hunt for the league lead in that.
The Markieff-Plumlee front-court defensive pairing is not the "Steel Curtain" of the NBA although they seem to have more lateral movement and cover more ground defensively. With Bledsoe at the head of the defense this quicker, more athletic version of the Suns should prove to be a Top 15 defense this season.
Offense: 23.4 FB Points, 43.1 PIP, 22.0 PTS Off Turnovers, 104.9 PPG, 45.6% FG, 33.5% 3PT
Last year the offense was the story and with an improved defense the offense has less pressure on it, but, as I've pointed out this pre-season before, the two sides ignite each other.
The Suns are going to score. The pace, style, shots they get up, and talent will make this a team that consistently scores more than the average team, but can they be as efficient or more efficient than last season? Overall the team was in the Top 10 in effective field goal percentage, pace, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating last season. They were also the worst in percentage of field goals made off of assists.
With more play-makers, less offensive burden on individuals on the perimeter, and quality shooting all-around the assisted field goals should go up giving this team a more efficient offense. Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas, and Markieff can go one-on-one with the best of their position every night, but that is not a formula to win 50+ games in this Wild, Wild, Western Conference landscape.
Let's dive deeper into this week:
The pre-season is the pre-season, but some things are just about effort and basketball. Over the course of the pre-season Isaiah Thomas led the entire league in free-throws made (36) and had the second highest percentage (90%) of any player that attempted 30 or more free-throws total. In his last three games Thomas went 23/26 from the line (8.6 attempts per game) off the bench. Add that to his shooting (9/24 from three) and Thomas is one tough cover off the bench scoring in nearly every possible way.
"People still look at us and say we're not going to make it that far. They're still saying we're not one of the top teams in the West. They're still saying we're not a contender so we love it. Same thing as last year. No chip. We just go in and do what we do and leave. We don't talk about it. We go out and play. " -- P.J. Tucker
Well said, Tuck, let's get the season started already!
Welcome to the NBA, rooks. The rotation is getting set so the two rookies, well three with Zoran Dragic, saw a week of basketball from the best seats in the house without having a chance to participate. That is going to happen frequently during the season despite Warren showing the ability to be a productive player on both ends of the floor. The team is just two deep at the point and on the wing right now. Bakersfield might have a few All-Stars or the Suns will have some quality of depth for practices and lopsided affairs.
Follow along all season as I look at individual prospects as well as standings/odds for each pick.
This week in Suns History: October 29th, 1996: Charles Barkley was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time...
This week in Suns History: October 30th, 1996: The Phoenix Mercury are named as one of the eight inaugural teams in the WNBA...
This week in Suns History: November 2nd, 1990: In Tokyo, Japan the Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz in the first regular season game played by any professional sport outside of the United States of America...
Wednesday, October 29th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
Friday, October 31st vs. San Antonio Spurs (0-0)
Saturday, November 1st @ Utah Jazz (0-0)
Regular season is back this week. Starting off at home should do the Suns some good. The Lakers will come in on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, and with a depleted roster. For the Suns, you could not ask for a better way to get the season started with a potentially tired rival on the road that is ripe for the picking.
Following that the Suns welcome in the defending NBA Champions who will have an unnecessary chip on their shoulders created by Robert Sarver. Calling the champs out for resting veterans in a pre-season game is just throwing some gas on a fire that is already burning with enough ferocity. The Spurs and Suns had a tough, one-sided, rivalry for the better part of the 2000's before Goran Dragic buried them in the playoffs a few years ago. This will be a nice early season test of team chemistry and the style the Suns are branding coming into this season.
The week closes out with the Jazz on the road. They are a tough team to peg. A young new coach with an exciting style and a plethora of young athletes translates to something. Where the Jazz become an enigma is whether they will be another version of the 2013-2014 Suns or 2013-2014 Cleveland Cavaliers? I'm leaning more towards the latter.
A 2-1 week to start the year would be a solid one for the Suns. It would replicate last season, but it would make quite the statement to knock off the Lakers, Spurs, and start 3-0 in this brutal Western Conference.
Welcome to the Madhouse! Bright Side of the Sun is an amazing and diverse community and it deserves a place where the tyranny of topicality does not rule. And that's what The Madhouse is. It's Bright Side of the Sun's place to talk about whatever you want, whenever you want: favorite TV shows, news from around the league or how the hell did Ouija and its 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes beat out the 86% rated John Wick at the box office?
One of the big keys to the Phoenix Suns season will be to win the battle of the three-point plays.
When you didn't make the playoffs last year, you need to improve in a lot of areas. The Suns were good in some ways, but lacking in others.
We can debate the makeup of the roster all day long, and even the schemes the Suns employ. We can even suggest trades that would fill in every hole known to man and somehow make the Suns an 82-0 team without giving up any necessary players. You know who you are. You're already itching to jump down to the comments section to suggest a blockbuster.
But this article focuses on the current Suns roster, and identifies one way the Suns can improve without making any trades.
Some things we know for sure about the Phoenix Suns this season:
Breaking down the pluses and minuses of the front court is a long, drawn-out conversation. Today, I am going to focus on three-point plays, some of which are generated in the paint as shooting fouls on made baskets.
Last season, the Suns finished in the Top 15 on defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) for the first time since the 2006-07 season. They did so not with a premiere shot blocking anchor in the middle, but with a three-point line defense that ranked #2 overall in the league.
The Suns allowed a lot of scores at the rim, but more than made up for it by winning the battle of the three-pointer.
When you are smaller than most of your opponents, you cannot expect to win by playing traditional defense. You're going to get beat up under the basket.
But games aren't won or lost under the basket any more. When the object is to score more points than your opponent, the key is to stop the shots that create the most points.
There are only two ways to score more than two points on a possession: making a three-point basket from behind the arc, and enticing a shooting-foul on a made basket.
The Suns were the second-best team in league at defending the three-point line (34.1%) while being 8th best overall in making them (37.2%). Overall, the Suns took 5.2 more threes than their opponent and outscored them by 9.1 points per game from behind the arc.
For the Suns to continue to have success this season, they will have to reprise that advantage. On the perimeter, the Suns bring back all of their regulars from last season, with only swapping undersized Ish Smith for undersized Isaiah Thomas.
And to that end, the Suns in the preseasons have defended just as well as last year (2nd in three-point defense) but have not shot the ball as well. You can throw preseason stats out the window, for sure, but still it's good to see consistency in scheme there.
Despite losing Channing Frye to the Orlando Magic, the Suns return all four of their top three-point shooters from last season (Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris made 38.1 - 40.7%) and six of their top seven overall. They also added Anthony Tolliver who made 41% of his threes last season in Charlotte, which would have been tops on the Suns, and Isaiah Thomas who made 40% of his threes in Sacramento last year before hurting his shooting wrist in February.
The Suns were only 8th in three-point percentage last year, so it's not a stretch to assume similar or better results this season.
I cannot find a perfect stat for this, so bear with me. I wanted to find out where the Suns ranked last year on the other kind of three-point play - shooting fouls. Ideally, I wanted to know how many three-point plays the Suns converted versus surrendered last year via the shooting foul. Unfortunately, I could not find such a stat on a team level. Synergy used to have it but they have shut down public access as of October 1. But I got close.
Back in the mid-2000s, one of Mike D'Antoni's tenets for his Suns team was to commit the fewest fouls possible. In fact, the Suns regularly were in the bottom three of the league in fouls committed. His premise was sound: why allow the other team to turn a two-pointer into a three-pointer?
Where Phoenix struggled was committing way too many fouls. The Suns committed the 23rd-most fouls last season and were 23rd in opponent free throw attempts per offensive play.
These errors should be correctable. As Miles Plumlee gains experience, he will learn when and how to commit fouls and when to just allow the points. He will also get better at early positioning on defense, so he doesn't put himself into recovery mode that so often results in fouls. Unfortunately, Plumlee hasn't shown any progress in this area in preseason.
Also working against the Suns this season is the role Alex Len will play. The 7'1" Len is only 21 and has barely played in the past 18 months, so he is very likely to have a high foul rate this season.
The Morris twins, as well, have high foul rates despite having a lot more NBA experience. As they enter their fourth seasons, each should be expected to reduce their foul rates this year.
If the Suns can somehow finish in the middle of the pack on shooting fouls committed, they can stop shooting themselves in the foot so much this season.
Back in the mid-2000s, the Suns would prefer to convert their own three-point plays than watch the other team do it. In those days, PF Amare Stoudemire was a master at drawing shooting fouls on the pick-and-roll.
These Suns of 2014-15 have no one like STAT. Yet these Suns do have three point guards who thrive at drawing shooting fouls on drives to the rim from the perimeter. Overall, the Suns were a respectable 13th overall last season in free throws attempted per offensive play. Considering the Suns disadvantage in size, it's a testament to Dragic and Bledsoe's, as well as Markieff Morris', fearlessness driving into the teeth of the defense.
This year, the Suns have added Isaiah Thomas who is good in his own right at driving to the rim and drawing fouls along the way.
All three of the Hydra were among the league's Top 13 players with the most drives per game, Top 14 in team PPG on drives and Top 16 on personal PPG on drives, per NBA.com/stats. These guys create points in bunches.
Three out of four ain't bad. The Suns are:
The Suns will likely continue to focus on both kinds of three-point plays this season and it will be one of their keys to the season. Between the long-range bomber offense and the Slash Brothers, or Slash Triplets, or Hydra, they will continue to score in bunches.
Where the Suns need to improve is on the defensive end. They need to maintain their effectiveness in defending the long bombs while also reducing their foul rate at the rim.
Teams are going to score at the rim. They just will. The Suns are not the biggest team in the NBA nor the stingiest defense.
They just need to stop making matters worse by committing shooting fouls. The Suns are an aggressive defense. Fouls will happen. Layups will be given up.
Just don't make it a three-point play.
Will the Suns' reliance on their guards to provide the bulk of the scoring be an issue this season?
If the Phoenix Suns showed anything during the preseason, it's that they have the deepest, and likely the most dangerous guard rotation in the NBA.
In fact, their best three players, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas, all play the same position. But the great thing about the Suns' system is that they run an offense in which both guards share the duties of bringing the ball up the court and facilitating the offense.
Phoenix also experimented with the three-guard line-up which also proved successful. In fact, having Dragic-Bledsoe-Thomas on the court together against the Utah Jazz spurred a 9-4 run to help them overcome an 89-88 deficit, and close out a victory late in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the three point guards, the Suns have also mixed in a heavy helping of Gerald Green off the bench. And once again, Green is proving to be an offensive spark plug...bolstering both his teammates and the fans with high-flying dunks and three-point shooting.
All in all, the Suns finished the preseason with a record of 5-2. Who were their top scorers? Yep, you guessed it. Bledsoe was 1st (15 ppg); Thomas was 2nd (14.1 ppg); Dragic was 3rd (12.4 ppg); and Green was 4th (12.3 ppg).
However, as great as that is for the Suns guards, it does raise some questions as to the balance of the offense. It certainly isn't normal that the four highest scorers on the team are all guards. In fact, I looked at the stats around the league just to make sure, and found that no other team had all guards in their top four.
In fact, only the Pacers had four guards among their top five scorers as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th highest during the preseason. Even then, this would almost certainly be different if Paul George were playing.
So what does this all mean? Well, no one really knows...yet.
One thing that stands out though, when looking at the numbers, is that the Suns are obviously getting excellent production from their back-court. But their front-court? Not so much.
In order to try to make this as realistic as possible, I looked at the top 10 players according to the minutes they played, which happens to be the same 10-man rotation most likely to play in the regular season as well.
Of those ten players, the total points scored per game, on average, was 92.6. Of that total, the guards accounted for 53.9 points per game, and the forwards and centers accounted for 38.7.
This means that the guards scored 58.2% of the points per game, and everyone else scored only 41.8%.
But is this really a cause for concern? After all, if your best players are all guards, you would naturally want them to do most of the scoring.
Looking closer at the numbers, the top 10 players took an average of 69.3 shots per game. Of those shot attempts, the guards took 53% of the shots, and the forwards and centers took 47%. This is a much more balanced distribution than the scoring numbers would suggest. So what is going on?
Well, if you haven't already figured it out, the difference is in the efficiency.
It's not that the Suns aren't trying to spread the ball around on offense, it's that their guards are substantially outperforming the other positions when it comes to making their shots.
The guards averaged 49.8% shooting from the field throughout the preseason. The forwards and centers averaged only 39.8% (when you take out Alex Len's only two shots that he attempted and made in one game).
This is especially concerning when you consider that the forwards and centers are normally shooting the ball much closer to the basket on average, and they should actually have a higher field goal percentage because of it.
Take the Golden State Warriors, for instance, who also have one of the best back-court duo's in the league, and are probably the most similar team to the Suns overall.
The guards on the Warriors accounted for 52% of the scoring, compared to 48% for the forwards and centers. That alone is a substantial difference from the Suns.
In addition to that, the guards averaged 50.6% from the field, and their forwards and centers averaged 58.7%.
This shows that the Warriors were very balanced offensively this preseason, and although their guards scored more points, their forwards and centers were more efficient inside and made the most of their opportunities when they got their touches.
The Suns are embarking on a brand new experiment this season that could rival the Seven-Seconds-or-Less, Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash system, that brought the fast-paced, high-scoring style of offense to the league.
But will it be as successful? Could it be even more so?
That remains to be seen. I certainly don't think the Suns mind the guards taking the majority of the shots or scoring the bulk of the points offensively.
After all, the main priority of the Suns' big men will be to defend the rim and rebound. But at the same time, the Suns have to be able to convert high-percentage shots at and around the basket without relying so heavily on the guards to carry the load.
The data shows that they are trying to get the other players involved in the offense, but that they just haven't been nearly efficient enough when given the opportunity.
Of course, that could certainly change. Markieff Morris had a slow start to the preseason, but played much better in the finale against the Jazz. Last year, Keef was the fourth-leading scorer, and averaged 13.7 points per game, while shooting 48.6 % from the field.
If the Suns can get that type of production from him, plus solid defense and rebounding from the center position, I see no reason why they can't make this work.
Not only that, but things could even out now that the exhibition games have ended--with the rotations becoming more static, and the focus more on execution than experimentation.
Still, this will definitely be something to keep an eye on as the regular season gets underway.