The Suns participation in this year's NBA Rank edition ended at spot #63 with the appointment of new acquisition Eric Bledsoe. The Suns actually weren't even the first team to bow out of the convivial collaboration, though. Shockingly, they were fourth. But more on that later. Let me begin this examination with a history lesson.
*The NBA Rank system is a predictive tool (a very shaky one). All rankings are based on expected player performance for the upcoming season.
This chart depicts the rankings of last season's opening day roster. I know many of us are trying to efface the memories of last year's ineptitude, but this is unfortunately necessary to illustrate my ultimate point.
Allow me to introduce a mechanic I will employ to assign a player's position in terms of roster depth. If all of the players in the league were subject to a fantasy draft by virtue of their NBA rank score, given 30 teams, the top 30 players would be the best on a team, 31-60 would be the #2 starter... 151-180 would be the sixth man, etc. By this metric, the Suns (according to the geniuses involved with the NBA Rank compilation) nearly had five starter quality players last season and sported eight players worthy of top eight rotation spots. With the obvious exception of top end talent, one could construe that the Suns may have had at least a marginally competitive roster...
But that would have been specious logic. And the vast majority gave no credence to this type of perspective as the prevailing opinion was that the Suns would be one of, if not the, worst team/s in the Western Conference. Despite the clamor from the Brightside that some of these people were ignorant haters (We couldn't be that bad, right?), they ended up being right (for a change).
And these doom merchants predicted our chthonic descent without suggesting that Michael Beasley would be the very worst player in the entire league that was given a significant number of minutes! I sanguinely slotted the Suns higher than the basement, but ultimately
gave myself an escape route noted that the play of Beasley and Markieff Morris would be the most important factors in the Suns' success results. Dammit.
Interestingly, every single Suns player who returned from last season received a lower ranking than the previous year. I disagree with a couple of their decisions (which I will elaborate on below) that seem to be misinformed snubs, but I think they kind of got it right even though they may have took a circuitous route. And while the Suns muddled their way to 25 wins last season, the new rankings reveal that the Suns would have been even worse if they kept the band together....
Also, how in the hell can they justify the claim that there are 122 players worse than Beasley?
Now we move on to the upcoming 2013-14 season. This is where things get even more
insulting interesting. The Suns median and mean drop from 191 and 196 to 306 and 311, respectively. The team goes from eight players in top eight roster spots to three. Three. The Suns only have three players on this team worthy of meaningful minutes. While the Suns traded for their predicted best player, they also acquired four of the bottom 105 players in the league. And while four players are expected to improve this season, double that (eight) are expected to erode.
Arbitrarily using the mean value to augur wins this season (311/196 = 1.58, 25/1.58 = 15.82) the Suns should be on the orange and purple brick road to 16 wins. Keeping the band together would have made the team worse, but this accomplishes the feat in even more spectacularly catastrophic terms.
Now I get to disagree...
Goran Dragic should be ranked higher than #107. Point guard is the deepest position in the league and Goran should probably be 15-20 at that spot (maybe higher). By that logic, the #83 ranking from last season should be pretty apt. I really don't see him regressing and I'm assuming those that do (I believe incorrectly) think that Bledsoe will stymie his production.
A healthy Channing Frye is not the 292nd best player (10th man) in the league. Considering his progress to this point I think he will easily be a top 200 player. This slotting
embarrassingly reveals that the national crowd isn't familiar with the situation. Frye apologists man your stations.
P.J. Tucker (#354) is better than a 12th man who should never see the light of day except in circumstances where there is a +/- 20 point disparity on the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter... His energy and tenacity are valuable enough to overcome his offensive limitations and at least make him an 8th or 9th man that can contribute to a team. But... the proposition of him starting for the Suns this season is telling of the team's woeful nature.
The encouraging play of Miles Plumlee reveals that he may be able to have a positive impact in limited minutes. He does not appear to be a guy who would be damn near the worst player on any roster in the league. Seriously, he's ranked 36 spots below Beasley...
However, I agree that many of these players are just not that good and won't be surprised if Gortat (the Polish Pillow) underplays his ranking (again). The Suns are likely to duplicate their performance of being a bottom five team. That being said, I still take a little bit of exception to this ESPN/True Hoop compilation (mostly because they truly are ignorant haters).
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the Suns still had a top end talent (Bledsoe - #63) higher than three other teams. The nadir of the league is the Orlando Magic (Nikola Vucevic #97), followed by the Philadelphia 76ers (Thaddeus Young #89) and Utah Jazz (Derrick Favors #68).
Below are the 62 players ranked above Eric Bledsoe
Orlando Magic - worst (Nikola Vucevic #97)
Philadelphia 76ers - second worst (Thaddeus Young #89)
Phoenix Suns - fourth worst (Eric Bledsoe #63)
Utah Jazz - third worst (Derrick Favors #68)
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The honeymoon of a Michael Beasley experience lasts a few months, with more and more doubts sprinkling into our brains as time goes by until the obvious is slapping us in the face - often unexpectedly. (come to think of it, is ANY slap in the face an expected thing?).
Last year, Beasley had a good preseason game or two, just enough to give Suns fans hope that maybe he would be a good rotation player that season.
Michael Beasley did his best impersonation of Denzel Washington in "Man On Fire" last night as he hit shot after shot on his way to 29 points in 33 minutes, including some baskets that didn't look like they had a chance. However, as the old basketball adage states, it's only a bad shot if you miss...right?
Not only that, but Beasley was aggressive and effective on the boards pulling down 10 rebounds to surpass Gortat and Scola, who each had eight a piece, as the leading rebounder.
There was talk all summer and preseason, and even into the season itself, that Beasley was ready to turn the corner and take ownership of himself and his playing legacy.
That proved quite wrong, when Beasley was waived in September of this year before his second season (of a three-year contract) with the Suns.
Before that, the good folks over at the Wolves blog, canishoopus.com, had their own honeymoon period when Beasley arrived as a third-year former #2 pick still just 21 years old.
After one game, who does Beasley have to pass in order to become the best wing in T-wolves history?
Yet, Beasley flamed out there as well. After putting up nearly 20 ppg for a terrible team in 2010-11, he was relegated to bench duty the next season before being released after his four year rookie contract expired. This for the 21st and 22nd years of life for a former #2 overall pick.
And even before that, Beasley was traded away by the HEAT (for 2 second-round picks) just when they wanted to get good again. In the end, the HEAT replaced the 21 year old Beasley's $4 million contract with a midlevel contract for Mike Miller. The HEAT just couldn't find room for Beasley among the new stars they'd signed.
Now, the HEAT have Beasley again - this time on a make-good contract - and the winds of hope and promise are blowing again.
Beasley is dedicating himself to the cause. He wants to succeed. He's hungry.
Beasley, who is signed to a nonguaranteed contract after being bought out by the Phoenix Suns this offseason, entered the game with 4:48 left in the third quarter and converted a three-point play less than two minutes later. He then scored on a breakaway for five consecutive points.
"I'm trying to find my way, but still be myself," Beasley said. "It was fun. It was my first time back, and it felt good to get in there and get up and down."
Ahh, the tease of Beas. You'd think Miami would know about this.
Beasley is apparently so dedicated to improvement, he's inflicting wounds on himself when he messes up.
Upset with himself over a mistake, Beasley started punching himself in the head while running back on defense. He punched himself so hard that he needed treatment after the game from the Heat's trainer. Steel compresses (like the ones cut doctors use in boxing) were applied to Beasley's brow in the locker room.
Of course, a day later Beasley has a different take on the wound, despite what team officials hinted to a reporter the night before.
But Beasley, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team officials said the wound above Beasley's right eye was the result of an inadvertent blow he took from Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko as he attempted to block a shot in the third quarter, not from a self-inflicted punch.
"I watched the video, and it does look like I knocked the mess out of myself," Beasley said before Friday's preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats at the Sprint Center. "I had everybody in the world calling me and asking, 'Why you so crazy?'"
And, it starts. It begins as a trickle of "whaaa?" moments, progressing to "wut?" moments and eventually on to "WTF!" and "GTFO!" moments.
The only question is how quickly Miami fans and employees get to the GTFO stage.
At least Miami's not paying him any guaranteed money this time, unlike his last three stints in the NBA.
Today at practice head coach Jeff Hornacek talked about Frye's return to the court. It has been a long journey for Frye coming back from a heart condition that sidelined him for an entire season. According to Coach Hornacek the early projections for his return were different that October 8th, "In the beginning we were thinking maybe late November he would be ready, I don't see why he wouldn't be ready at the start of the season."
He came on and scored 14 points sinking 3/4 shots from deep and looked like the old Frye.
The team was factoring Frye into the gameplan for the past few weeks, "once they said he can play I think we all started thinking about it. It is great for us that it has come quicker versus later," stated coach Hornacek.
With Frye they have a veteran that can lead, but "is not very vocal" like like the most of the leaders on this team which is something coach Hornacek thinks is a good thing.
"We don't have very many really vocal guys on the team," coach Hornacek elaborated on the teams leadership. "It is kind of nice because we don't have someone afraid of 'what is our main guy saying,' sometimes it works the other way around where it is not just one guy."
The starters are still up in the air as the "open competition is still in full swing. "We don't know how we are going to do it yet," coach Hornacek stated. "Hopefully things fall out these five exhibition games and we can get into a little bit of a rotation. I would guess with our group, maybe all year long, we will tinker with things to give guys shots."
Of course it would be great if everything turned out the easy way, right coach, "It would be nice if we went out there, had a line-up that works every night, a bench that works every night, and we don't have to make any changes."
Establishing and Identity
This season the Suns are going to have to establish an identity that revolves around good character, progression, and building towards a future. That is well and good for management, but when the ball gets tossed in the air to start games the team needs an identity on the court.
"I will say the biggest thing for us right now is that nobody is putting us as a contender, obviously," Marcin Gortat said about helping the team establish an identity." That is the most important thing. We are a young group, we have to learn and grow as a group, and I would say our identity is to just play hard and run. Run the shit out of that break as much as we can and trust me we are going to wear teams out. I can run, Miles (Plumlee) can run, Channing (Frye) can run to the three-point line, and we seriously have the chance to be one of the best running teams in this league if we continue to do what we are doing right now."
How is the Rookie Doing? Alex Len:
After Game One (7 points 6 rebounds) the rookie was happy with his play and after Game Two (0 points 2 rebounds) it was more of a learning experience. He is still getting his legs underneath him after not being able to use them most of the spring and summer this year. There is a little bounce, but not the same as when Len was performing at a high level in college with Maryland.
What does his veteran mentor think he needs to work on the most? "Strength," Gortat said emphatically after practice.
Gortat has been a major supporter of Len since last earlier in the year when he drafted him to the Suns for ESPN. When Gortat came into the league he had played professionally in Germany and was "way stronger physically" than Len is at this stage in their careers, but when Gortat got into practice with Dwight Howard he remembered getting beat up every day and having to live in the weight room just to compete with the All-Star physically.
"I slept in the weight room some nights," Gortat explained. From veteran to rookie, get a pillow and blanket and make yourself at home with the weights.
Coach Hornacek's Corner:
Coaching moments with this team:
"There is always something. We have to get them to watch a lot of tape and sit down with coaches to go over plays so they can see. When they are in the heat of the action sometimes they don't realize that they missed their rotation. You show them on tape and they start to notice. I think what is great is we have some veteran guys on this team, especially guys that know how to play with Eric (Bledsoe) and Goran (Dragic), especially Archie (Goodwin) that can learn from those guys."
More Coach Hornacek on consistency at home and on the road:
"Just effort. Typically with a team that just won 25 games, they don't win a lot of road games. Most of their wins come at home. It is a struggle on the road and you have to play good basketball. I think the guys played the same way in Portland as they did at home (against Maccabi Haifa) and that is great to see. I have been on teams and seen teams that are totally different at home as they are on the road. We want to be consistent at both places.
The 2014 NBA Draft First Look
This will be a regular section on the Practice Reports or the Center of the Sun (returning the first week of the season) to keep everyone the same page for the pending NBA Draft.
As of today the Suns own their own pick (projected Top 10), the Minnesota Timberwolves pick (Top 13 Protection), and the Indiana Pacers pick (projected 23-27) in the first round. The 2014 NBA Draft is one of the most highly regarded drafts in years because of the potential stars at the top, but also the depth of talent across the board.
Each week there will be some player breakdowns and previews here or on the COTS post that runs weekly on Monday.
If you cannot get excited about Bledsoe, Len, Goodwin, Dragic, and Co. running the floor this season get prepared for who they might add to the team next year at NBA Draft Insider.
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New head coach Jeff Hornacek has been saying since the day he was hired that he wants the Phoenix Suns to play at a fast tempo. While the Suns finished last season ranked 11th in pace among 30 teams, Hornacek wants to run even faster than that. He famously told Bright Side's own Jim Coughenour that he wants the Suns to exceed 103 points per game this season.
To do so, the Suns will need to get stops on defense. Without an intimidating post presence to alter shots and grab rebounds for outlet passes on regular basis, the Suns will have to rely on their perimeter players to generate steals in the back court.
"We have some guys on this team - Eric [Bledsoe], Goran [Dragic], Shannon [Brown] - who can play those passing lanes," he said. "Obviously we can't let our guys fall asleep, but we want to still have active hands. That's going to allow us to get some easy buckets."
New point guard Eric Bledsoe fits that mold perfectly. Bledsoe was third in the league in steal percentage at 3.7%, behind only Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul. While any single statistic is flawed, on an apples-to-apples basis it's clear that Eric Bledsoe knows how to take the ball from the opponent.
"[Former Utah Jazz teammate John] Stockton got a lot of steals, but Eric gets them in a different way: with strength," said coach Hornacek of Bledsoe. "He takes the ball out of guys hands. He's very quick so when they try to run a handoff around him he's always got his hand on the ball. Those are steals that really put pressure on a team."
While Bledsoe is great at getting steals with his bulldog on-ball defense, he's also quite clever off the ball as well. Bledsoe is great at baiting the opponent, just like an elite cornerback in football. On the wing, while keeping his eyes on the ballhandler, he can hang off his man just enough to make the ballhandler think his man is open enough to entice the pass, only to step in, slap it away and start a fast break.
His new running mate, Goran Dragic, led the Suns in steals rate last season, followed closely by the Morris brothers and Shannon Brown. Dragic was 28th in the league at 2.5% steals rate last season, despite the team playing passive defense to defend more against dribble penetration than pressuring ball handlers.
With Dragic and Bledsoe leading the charge, the Suns might be close to the league lead in steals this season. They already have 23 steals in 2 preseason games (11.5 per game) after grabbing 8 steals per game last season (15th in the league overall).
"It could be like shooting, like assists," Hornacek said. "Things get contagious. Maybe steals-wise, between him and Goran, that'll do it."
But coach Hornacek warns against too much thief mentality.
"But we have to be a little careful," he warned. "We want them to be aggressive but not get out of position going for the steals. They (Maccabi) still scored 89 point on us."
Whether the Suns take possession by taking it out of bounds, rebounding or stealing, Hornacek wants them to run, run, run.
"The nearest guy to the basket, go ahead and take it out (after makes)," he said. "It's funny when you have two guys who can push the ball, the other guys start running. If you don't they're going to be back on the defensive side all the time. The fast break, it could be P.J. [Tucker], it could be Marcus [Morris], it could be Shannon. If they can get out on one or two dribbles, take it up the middle, make the defense react, then the next guy can go. We feel we have a lot of guys who can handle it and we allow it."
Figuring out which guy will bring the ball up the court will be a challenge all season. Especially, knowing which of Dragic or Bledsoe should get the outlet. Both are point guards, both want to bring the ball up the court and set up the offense. And both will have a natural instinct to put their hands up to ask for it on a rebound or inbound.
"Whoever is closest to the ball, he's gonna get the ball," Dragic said. "The other one has to run. We were just talking in the locker room before the game, Marcin was asking if the point guard wants the ball, who should I pass to? The closest one. That's the deal."
"I think they will figure out what works well," Hornacek said. "I saw a couple times Eric got the outlet pass and Goran took off and got the layup. Good players do that. Good basketball players know how to play with other guys, in terms of what works best. One time it might be Goran, one time it might be Eric."
However it works out, we can only hope the Suns play fast all through the season. In one quarter of basketball - in either of the two preseason games so far - there's already been more fast breaks and dunks than I can remember in any game last season.
Last season's crew was a below-the-rim group - Scola, Gortat, Morris, Dudley, Johnson, etc. - while this group has a lot more athletes who want to run and dunk. A fast pace can only help that cause.
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