Phoenix- Chemistry is a very fickle thing in professional sports. It can tend to be a year-to-year thing. One year it can be fantastic, but thenĀ go down the tube for no specific reason the very next...

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Well, that was a disastrous evening of basketball.

In October, I went to Vegas. Check out the details here. Next week, I'll go back to Vegas to cash out my bet tickets. Here's what I'll be cashing out:

Team Type % $ Odds Payout (W) Result Payout ROI
SUNS > 43 14%  $1,050 1.91 $2,004.55 L $0 -100%
CHI < 55 10%  $750 1.91 $1,431.82 W $1,431.82 +91%
PHI > 15.5 5%  $375 1.91 $716.25 W $716.25 +91%
WAS < 48 5%  $375 1.91 $716.25 W $716.25 +91%
MIN > 27.5 10%  $750 1.91 $1,432.50 L $0 -100%
SAC > 30 10%  $750 1.91 $1,432.50 L $0 -100%
BRK < 42 7%  $525 1.91 $1,002.75 W $1,002.75 +91%
CHA < 44 5%  $375 1.91 $716.25 W $716.25 +91%
DAL < 49.5 5%  $375 1.91 $716.25 L $0 -100%
MIA < 44 5%  $375 1.91 $716.25 W $716.25 +91%
SAS > 57 5%  $375 1.91 $716.25 L $0 -100%
TOR DIV 3%  $225 1.70 $382.50 W $382.50 +70%
SAS DIV 5%  $375 1.60 $600.00 L $0 -100%
CLE DIV 4%  $300 1.50 $450.00 W $450 +50%
SUNS DIV 3%  $225 13.00 $2,925.00 L $0 -100%
MIN DIV 1%  $75 101.00 $7,575.00 L $0 -100%
POR DIV 1%  $75 3.80 $285.00 W $285 +280%
ATL DIV 2%  $150 6.00 $900.00 W $900 +500%
Totals   100%  $7,500   $24,719.11   $7,317.07 -2%

In the end, what killed the return is that 34% of the portfolio was tied up in bets that weren't close at all (MN, PHO, and SAC). Other bets were either very close (DAL, both SAS bets) or for neglible percentages of the portfolio.

SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT

A couple of years ago, Dre said that he likes betting unders a hell of a lot more than overs, and I've come to the conclusion that he's absolutely right, and that over bets are usually bad bets. And not just because, over the last two years, we are 8-0-3 on unders, and 2-1-6 on overs. Vegas does not set the line where it thinks the over/under is neutral, Vegas sets the line where it can get 50% of the money on both sides. And my instinct is that lots of betters like to bet on the overs, so the over line is higher than it should be.

Furthermore, betting on an over is more susceptible to injury and/or playing time variance. An injury can easily derail an over bet, whereas an under bet, since it is by definition a bet on a team's lack of talent, is not very susceptible to injury-related variance. Sure, it is possible that a team's starter will get injured, and the team will have a surprise star-level replacement on its bench, but this is not likely.

Next year, it will be tempting, for example, to bet the over on Utah if the line is at something like 41. I'm fairly confident that Utah will be a playoff-caliber team with a full year of Rudy Gobert. But that's the crux. Gobert is so important that a mild ankle sprain could cost 5 wins, to say nothing of more serious injuries. And then, of course, you run the risk that the team is at 37 wins in March, out of the playoff pictrue, and decides that it's better for the franchise if Gobert sits out the rest of the season with back spasms.

The exception is when the over is so low that it becomes a statistical outlier to hit the under. It is very, very hard to lose 66 games, no matter how bad your team is. And indeed, here we might be seeing the opposite effect: everybody knew Philadelphia was terrible, so everyone wanted to bet the under, so Vegas moved the line lower than the optimal number.

None of this applies to division bets; here, the payouts often justify the risk for teams that are very underrated. I'll be very curious to see the division winner odds for Utah next year.

Thanks for playing along!

And enjoy the playoffs. I like the Spurs a LOT less now that that they play on the road against the healthy Clippers instead of at home against a banged-up Dallas. What a huge reversal of fortune that last game was.

Who's your pick?

As the players cleaned out their lockers, the Phoenix Suns front office and coach pointed out a lot of areas the Suns need to improve next season.

"I feel like we need a little more size, a little more rebounding. We need better shooting on the wing. More leadership," said GM Ryan McDonough.

That's a lot. And not just one guy, either. Don't expect the same roster back next season. The Suns will be aggressive, as McDonough tries to prove he can build a team.

One of the areas of necessary improvement is shooting, which head coach Jeff Hornacek expounded upon.

"We have two guys who can really penetrate, really good on pick and rolls," Hornacek said of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. "We need some shooting. If you have shooters to go with those main guys who can really penetrate, its tough. How do you guard it?

"Just look at the Clippers from last night. They've got shooters all over the place. They've got a guy who can go to the rim and catch lobs, a point guard who can break down pick and rolls and they basically get whatever they want. We just need to try to add some of those pieces."

The Suns had many of those pieces last year and the first half of this year. Last year, the primary outcome of the usual pick-and-roll was either pick-and-drive or pick-and-pop, with occasional lob to the roller. This year, the team shifted more to pick-and-drive than pick-and-pop, and still excelled.

What's been a constant is the penetrating point guard talent. Last year, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic ran the pick-and-drive and pick-and-pop quite well. This year, Bledsoe and Dragic were joined by Isaiah Thomas, who helped mask the loss of shooting/spacing talent by being an uber-efficient scorer in his own right.

But the team's outside shooting has declined precipitously. What started with the loss of Channing Frye this season was exacerbated by the loss of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline - the Suns lost their three-point shooting edge.

Let's look at the numbers.

2013-14 Season (Bledsoe, Dragic, Frye)

  • 8th best offense per 100 possessions
  • 4th in three-point attempts
  • 8th in three-point %
  • 7th in effective field goal % (weighted for threes)
  • 7th in true shooting % (weighted for threes and FTs)

2014-15 First half (Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas)

  • 7th best offense per 100 possessions
  • 5th in three-point attempts
  • 9th in three-point %
  • 5th in effective field goal % (weighted for threes)
  • 6th in true shooting % (weighted for threes and FTs)

2014-15 Second half (Bledsoe, with a dash of Knight)

  • 28th best offense per 100 possessions
  • 18th in three-point attempts
  • 30th (LAST) in three-point %
  • 26th in effective field goal % (weighted for threes)
  • 27th in true shooting % (weighted for threes and FTs)

It was only when the team's best scorers were traded and/or injured (Brandon Knight) that the offense went completely off the rails since late February.

Should we chalk that ugliness up to Brandon Knight's injury alone? Or is the problem bigger than that?

Knight will provide quality three-point shooting in the lineup, but they are still missing the wing shooters to make the offense hum.

Where will that shooting come from?

At guard, the Suns in-house options are Archie Goodwin (who will never be a great shooter) and Gerald Green (who is a yo-yo). Can those two fill in the Suns gaps next year?

Making matter worse, from the floor-spacing perspective, is that the Suns small forwards P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and T.J. Warren made only 30% of their three-point attempts in the second half, and even when they are hot they don't shoot well enough on threes to command tight defense.

The Suns need reinforcements. They need an upgrade somewhere along the lineup and on the bench that is a consistent three-point threat on a big minutes.

The improvement will have to be via trade or free agency, and could spell the end of a Suns tenure for one or more of Tucker, Mook, Goodwin and Green.

What money do the Suns have?

At most, it's nearly $22 million.

suns-salaries-15-16

But the Suns won't be flush with $22 million in cash this summer unless they renounce rights to free agents Knight and Wright (and Green and Thornton of course).

suns-cap-holds

Just to keep the huge cap holds on the Brand*n's this summer while they test the free agent waters would leave the Suns less than $4 million under the projected $65 million cap. Keep the hold on Knight only, and that available space rises to more than $13 million. Dropping all of them brings the number to $22 million, but they then you're treading uphill.

Available shooting guards this summer include Jimmy Butler (Bulls - restricted), Khris Middleton (Bucks - restricted), Danny Green (Spurs), Wesley Matthews (Blazers), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Lou Williams (Raptors). The Suns might this route if they lose Knight, or if they trade Bledsoe. Otherwise, ignore this list.

The top small forwards are talented, but mostly restricted free agents: Butler again, Kawhi Leonard (Spurs - restricted), Draymond Green (Warriors - restricted), Tobias Harris (Magic - restricted).

There are a lot of veteran shooters too, like Chase Budinger and Mike Dunleavy, but that would be Plan B. Don't be surprised if the Suns go down the offer-sheet path first, then fill in veteran shooting second.

To make a big restricted free agent offer without giving up Knight's rights, the Suns would have to renounce Thornton, Green and Wright. The only downside of letting Wright's right go is that the Suns would not be able to offer bigger raises or a 5th year in that case, but Wright likely would not command those extra perks anyway.

Stay tuned, Suns fans.

The Suns are about to start a game of chess with these moving parts.

After a 39-43 season that ended on the outside of the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, the Suns are surely headed for an offseason of roster changes.

      
 
 

After a 39-43 season that ended on the outside of the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, the Suns are surely headed for an offseason of roster changes.

      
 
 

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