The topics du jours are bad defense, bad losses and a (not bad) player who may be on his way to a career year. It's hard not to lead with the bad stuff, though, after the Suns just got blowed up by the worst team in the NBA.

Indefensible

After Dave King analyzed the reversal in fortunes in regards to the Suns defensive and offensive efficiency yesterday morning, things became even more pronounced later that evening.  The Suns surrendered 112 points to Utah, a season high for the Jazz, coupled with a season worst DRtg of 129.1.  It marked the first time this season the Suns have allowed an opponent to shoot over 50% (.513).  Utah is 25th in the league in FG% at .426. It was a grossly atypical performance by a team that has only broken 100 points three times (twice against Phoenix) in 18 games.

It is becoming a disturbing trend on defense for the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns DRtg for the season is 105.4 (points per 100 possessions), but over the last four games they have posted numbers of 115.3, 118.1, 117.4 and 129.1.  The Suns have also been scoring more points per possession recently with ORtg numbers of 99.1, 133.6, 130.2 and 119.9.  This has happened while the pace has slowed down to 89 possessions per game, down from the season average of 94.  The Suns pace is actually slightly below the league average.

So the game has slowed down and the Suns have become worse defensively.

Allowing better shooting is part of that.  The Suns have allowed seven of their last eight opponents to shoot above 45%, which is both the league average and what the Suns have held their opponents to on the season.  Some of it is only forcing an average of 12.4 turnovers over the last seven games.  That was after pressuring their opponents into 17.1 over the first 10.

The defense has just lacked it's vivacity and tenacity... and if they continue to trend towards becoming a lackluster defensive team it seems unlikely they can muster enough offensive punch to offset that.

The Western Conference is stacked and deep... and likes to score in bunches.  12 of the 14 teams in the league that average more than 100 points per game are in the West.  That's basically the whole damn conference.  The Suns just got done getting torched by two (Sacramento and Utah) of the three teams that don't.

Speaking of getting torched by crap teams...

Lamentable Losses

When the Suns sprinted to a 5-2 start they had played everyone competitively and both of their losses were to two of the league's elite (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).  The Suns have been more tepid in their last 10 games, going 4-6, and have suffered some losses that are either bellwethers or inexcusable lapses.

The most recent of these puppet shows was a 112-104 loss to the Jazz at US Airways Center last night that gave Utah its first road win of the season. While I was reveling in the midst of an obstreperous crowd in Tempe cheering on the Sun Devils Kris Habbas texted me that the crowd at USAC was half asleep. Quite fitting since the Suns were playing  like they were in a coma.

The Suns have actually been humbled four times this season at the hands of the Sacramento Kings (twice), Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets.  Those three teams are a combined 4-2 against Phoenix and 8-35 against everyone else.

Those losses are compounded by the fact that the Suns have already exhausted five (out of eight) of their games against (apparently) the only two really bad teams in the Western Conference. Sacramento is 4-10 (14) and Utah is 3-15 (15), but the Pelicans (13) are actually the only other team in the conference under .500 at 7-8.  A 4-1 mark against those two measly squads could have the Suns sitting at 11-6.  Two teams who have only seven wins combined with nearly half of them (three) against the Suns...

In total, the Suns have played seven games against the bottom three teams in the West. That's seven of their 17 games.  They are 4-3 in those games.  Once again, not the best example of exploiting their early schedule.  The overall difficulty of the Suns' schedule has been buoyed by five games against the top three teams in the West and a game against the Heat in the East (one of only two good teams in the East).  The Suns are 2-4 in those games.

That leaves four games remaining against Charlotte (8-9), Orlando (6-10), Brooklyn (5-12) and Denver (9-6).  The Suns went 3-1 against this group with a quality win against Denver, albeit a Nuggets team that went to 1-4 with that loss and is 8-2 since.

All of this has culminated in a fairly imbalanced schedule.  The Suns have played 12 games against the top three and bottom three in the West, but only one against the middle eight.  A dramatic shift will occur this month as the Suns play nine of their thirteen games against those teams in the middle of the pack, all of whom have winning records.

By mid to late December we may finally have a good idea of how good the Suns actually are, although they are easily better than the catastrophic congeries that some foresaw. What we do know is that the Suns have failed to show a behavior that many good teams possess - winning the games they are supposed to win.  Instead the Suns have shown a proclivity to be hoodwinked into playing down to the level of their competition... Something that portends rather ominously in the West, where it appears possible that multiple teams with winning records will miss the playoffs.

ICMF

Frye is 20-40 from three point range over his last six games.  It is the first time in his career that he has made at least 20 three pointers in a six game stretch while shooting at least 50% from three point range.  Apparently the cold stuff is still coursing through his veins.

He is averaging 17.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game over this period.  In fact, Frye is matching or exceeding nearly all of his career numbers.  Only his rebounding is a little bit down.  His shooting efficiency is just a shade below his magical career season in 2009-10. In fact, lets look at where he rates out in a couple of areas compared to his career highs...

Turnovers per 36 - 1.2 (2)

Blocks per 36 - 1.2 (2)

Steals per 36 - 1.3 (1)

2P FG% - .534 (1)

3P FG% - .397 (2)

eFG% - .566 (2)

TS% - .582 (2)

Considering that Frye stumbled out of the block, he may very well be on his way to a career year.  This should be somewhat expected considering he is near the peak of athletic performance in terms of age (30), but is impressive considering the obstacles he has overcome.

Despite all this success on the court, though, Channing did lose a bet recently that should lead to some great twitter fodder and BSotS cover art.  But more on that later...

There's not much mystery to the Phoenix Suns' player of the week this time. Here's a look at how well Goran Dragic has played over the last five games. Will it continue?

The Player of the Week

Goran Dragic aka "Dragon Ball G"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 22.2 FG%: .521 3pt% .389 Assists: 10.0 Rebounds: 3.8

Goran Dragic had an absolutely phenomenal week. So much so, that nobody else really stood a chance of being named the player of the week this time around. Other players had very good games at times as well, but nobody played with the kind of consistency that Dragic showed over the past five games...not even close.

Dragic's stat line was tremendous this week. Looking at his scoring alone, 23,14, 31,19, and 24 points, respectively, would likely be reason enough to crown him. However, he also scored at a very efficient clip, shooting over 50% from the filed overall, and was also very effective at getting to the rim and also drawing the foul...shooting 32 free throws in all over the past week.

Still, this doesn't yet begin to describe the true impact he made on the team. In addition to his scoring, he averaged 10 assists per game over the past week...Doing a phenomenal job of orchestrating the Suns offense as a whole. In addition, he was consistently chasing down loose balls, hustling back on defense, and playing every possession with maximum energy.

This may have been Dragic's most impressive stretch of games that I've ever seen him play. He's had plenty of great games before, but he strung together an entire week's worth this time, and was impressive in each one of them.

In the absence of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic stepped up his game in a big way, and completely took over the role as the Alpha Dog of the team. Dragic not only took over as the sole facilitator, but also the aggressor and the closer. In fact, the return of Bledsoe while seemingly a bonus in Utah, may have been one of the reasons for the Suns undoing last night in Phoenix...as it may take a couple of games for the Suns to re-establish their continuity together.

Before Eric Bledsoe went down with his shin injury, there was little doubt that there was a new sheriff in town, and that the Dragon would assume the role of second fiddle in Phoenix. After all, Bledsoe is still the leading scorer on the team in points per game (19.6), as well as steals (1.73), and is the best rebounding guard as well (4.5). On the other hand, Dragic has a higher assist average (7.6), and a slightly lower turnover rate (2.57).

But things could certainly change. this is still a very young season and the team is still trying to figure things out, including their respective roles.

It will be interesting to see if the dynamic changes once again with Bledsoe back in the line-up. Will he quickly reassert himself as the Suns' leading man, or will Dragic continue his way of playing without relinquishing his role. Time will tell, but Bledsoe will have to step up big time in order to best the performance that the Dragon has put on over the past week.

Poll
Will Goran Dragic continue to be the driving force of the Suns even with Eric Bledsoe back in the line-up?

  257 votes | Results

PHOENIX – If this were in any of two New York City boroughs, this would’ve been panic time. The Phoenix Suns’ 112-104 home loss reeked of poor effort and a nonchalant approach to facing...

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PHOENIX — Phoenix didn’t fair well in its first three back-to-back games this season. And in a growing trend, the Suns fell 112-104 on Saturday night in U.S. Airways Center in their...

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Basketball, played on the same court, but with football rules becomes a dangerous little game I like to call Hard Court Rugby. This is what happened...

Some games, it is clear that the ball is slick, and teams struggle to handle the ball. Lots of turnovers and sloppy basketball is the result. Then there are games where the ball is constantly on the ground and the teams pile up for a Rugby Scrum like a scene from The Three Stooges.

A lot of that happened this game with a punctuation on Alec Burks shoulder tackle of rookie Archie Goodwin.

Right before the half Burks caught the ball and tried a desperation heave at the buzzer from half court, like you know, in every other NBA game. Only this time he had the clever idea to shoulder tackle Goodwin then half heartily fling the ball at the rim. Tyrone Corbin earned a Technical Foul and Burks earned a stooge award for the night.

Rugby Match.

There is a fine line between confident while exceeding expectations and big timing the dregs of the league, like the Utah Jazz (3-15), which is precisely what the Phoenix Suns (9-8) did tonight. Sometimes it is tougher to get up for the lesser teams, but when you are the overachiever of the year there is no room for that.

In a home-and-home series with the Jazz the Suns took the first one, then the Jazz made a statement in the return match.

For the most part the game was dead even. When you look at the box-score it tells a very similar story. Each team was about identical in most categories from rebounding (39-35, Utah), to made field goals (39-37, Utah), to three's (12-9, Phoenix), and to total turnovers (8-12, Phoenix) which made the Jazz dominance in the second half perplexing to those that feed off box-score dumpster diving.

Dig a little deeper and the two numbers that matter the most ended up being second chance points, 25-13 Utah, and because of that; the final score 112-104, Utah.

It became a rugby match in the paint with Derrick Favors (14 points 8 rebounds), Enes Kanter (8 points 4 rebounds), and Jeremy Evans (12 points 4 rebounds) all making this game ugly inside.

The Suns were fueled by Goran Dragic monster first half (14 points 8 assists), but sputtered to the finish line as he finished with 24 points (11-13 free-throws) and 9 assists total. The team looked disjointed in the second half with a lack of effort, love of the three, and defensive miscues.

Dragic was the lone bright spot as the rest of the team managed only 8 total assists as a team and 12 free-throw attempts.

For the Jazz they got a career night from their rookie Trey Burke as he stepped up with 17 second half points (3-5 threes) on his way to a personal best 20 points.

The Jazz scored their season high in points (previous high 111 against New Orleans) and were 00.1% off their season high in field goal percentage, same game. This loss drops the Suns to 9-8 and was another wake-up call for them in terms of getting up for every opponent. They did not have the same energy that has become a staple of theirs this season tonight. Have to have that when you do not have elite level talent.

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