Special thanks to Dustin Watson (watdogg10) for letting me use his original image as my cover art.
tasked approached with the proposition of developing an idea for a weekly article (yes, this will be repeated in regular intervals) I instantly knew where I'd like to shift my focus. While some like to report the facts with a degree of journalistic credibility I have a proclivity for scathing editorials about random topics of my choosing. Ranting and raving can have a positive connotation too, however, andI won't hesitate to issue enthusiastic encomiums when they are deserved. Given liberty to use creative license and explore my tendentious, and sometimes sententious, nature here is my inaugural offering.
The Banned Banner
I had my daughter take this picture after the game. Cool sign, huh? Why do I only have a picture of it in the lobby? Let's review some history.
This whole fiasco was both upsetting and puzzling. I made a 4' x 12' welcome back banner for Channing Frye's triumphant return, hoping to display it when he was announced during the introductions. I spent about $30 and invested ~6 hours on this venture. Plus, I enlisted the aid of my wife and kids to help paint. I went to the arena for the season opener Wednesday night with banner in tow. My friend, daughter and her friend joined me (for what actually turned out to be a quality performance by the Suns).
Then something unforeseen occurred.
When passing through the security checkpoint to enter the arena I was told that I would not be allowed to bring my banner in for the game. At first the security guard seemed unsure, vacillating over whether he would permit it. He took it and inspected it, looking down the hollow center. Then he came to a verdict. It violated the team's size policy. I found this somewhat interesting since it was rolled up like a set of blueprints, so they would have no idea of its actual size. I even offered to unroll it and display it for them, but they weren't interested. I told them that it was a welcome back banner for Channing Frye, but they weren't interested. They brought over a supervisor and he wasn't interested either.
They did offer me the option to surrender the sign to their care during the game rather than just confiscate it (after all, what diabolical plan might I have constructed involving this purple and orange production) or make me throw it away or return it to my vehicle. What noble fiduciaries. To their credit at least it was still there after the game.
One may be inclined to speculate that I cherry picked this picture to prove my point by taking it right before a horde of people arrived, but that is not the case. All of these seats remained empty throughout the game, with the exception of two in the row in front of me. Those people didn't arrive until halftime, though, so I'm disposed to think that they just meandered down from the upper level during the intermission. In fact, all of those free t-shirts were still sitting unclaimed until late in the game when some fat kid shuffled around swiping them all up. Hilariously enough, he returned them to his mother in the next section over, who proceeded to stuff them in her purse. It was a big purse, because she stuffed like 20 damn shirts in there.
Speaking of shirts, and divagating from my current topic, I really prefer when they hand them out where they check your tickets (and the Suns have done this before). That way they can actually have different sizes (at least until they run out). I am not an extra large.
I sure as hell wouldn't have been blocking someone's view and I could have actually done the Suns a favor by laying the banner over some empty seats to provide an illusion of increased attendance.
To be honest, it had never even occurred to me that they wouldn't let me bring the banner in. My family said the thought never crossed their minds. My friend who attended the game with me was stoked. Maybe I'm just oblivious to normal policies for these types of events... So of course I looked them up afterwards on the policies and rules page on usairwayscenter.com. Here is what it read:
Banners and signs are allowed at the US Airways Center, however, they must be constructed of flame-retardant material and may not be displayed during play due to sight restrictions. Signs must be made of a soft material that can be folded (e.g. poster board or cloth). Banners or signs may not be commercial in nature or obscene, or cause any disturbance to other fans. Banners and signs must be hand held and may not obstruct the view of other guests or US Airways Center advertising signage or be temporarily or permanently affixed to the building structure. The US Airways Center reserves the right to remove ANY banner or sign without exception.
Let's go down the checklist.
1. Must be constructed of flame-retardant material - Hmm.. I looked this up and found a list of flame retardant materials. The list included such things as rock wool, asbestos cement, brick, concrete, twaron, nomex and kevlar. My banner was not constructed of any of these things, it was a semi-glossy type of heavy duty paper, so I conducted an experiment. I tried to light the material my banner was made of on fire (without forming a coalition prior to doing so). After repeated attempts it just wouldn't catch. No violation.
2. May not be displayed during play due to sight restrictions - I was trying to tell security (while they were busy ignoring me) that I only planned to display the sign once during the player introductions. Also, I was planning on putting it across the top of one of the entrance tunnels with my friend and I on each side holding it. No sight restriction anyway. Plus, I could have held it up right in my section without obstructing anyone's view. There was nobody there. No violation.
3. Banners may not be commercial in nature or obscene, or cause any disturbance to other fans - Like I mentioned, they didn't even look at my sign after I offered to unroll it. I don't see how my banner would have been construed as offensive in any imaginable way. No violation.
4. Banners and signs must be hand held and may not obstruct the view of other guests or US Airways Center advertising signage or be temporarily or permanently affixed to the building structure - No violation.
So everything's copacetic, right? Wrong.
5. The US Airways Center reserves the right to remove ANY banner or sign without exception - The good old right refusal clause. Stymied again!
So even though there is no formal size restriction, they made the judgment call that my banner was too big (without even knowing how big it was) and would obstruct the view of the handful of fans nearby in my section even though I tried to explain why there wouldn't be an issue.
What was really fun was trying to explain this to my daughter, who had helped make the banner and was looking forward to it being displayed. She turns 13 in February and I have made it a point to take her to games with me because I'm trying to
brainwash encourage her to follow the team so we can hopefully share that bond as she grows up. She was upset and asked me (paraphrasing), "Don't they know you write about the team and just want to support Frye?" Hopefully this doesn't become one of her more memorable games for the wrong reason...
So congratulations. Security managed to avoid the imminent threat I posed to detract from everyone's enjoyment of the game while possibly even compromising the safety of other fans. Yeah. In retrospect, maybe I did go a little overboard, but what harm would have been done by letting me show Frye some love in the intros. They could have always confiscated the sign at any time during the game and/or kicked my ass right out of the arena.
Suns Security = Fun Police.
This was a lot of fun. At first I was a little anxious when, at 5:37, I was still the only one sitting at a trio of tables I reserved. The meetup was at 5:30. By this time I'd already ordered maniac flavored Gorilla wings (which are delicious) so I couldn't even discreetly sneak out the Washington exit. I've never been stood up on a date before (and I've only went on one blind date ever - that's when I met my wife), but I imagined this might be similar to what it would feel like. Well, without the real or imagined expectation of you know what at the end of the night. Awkward. But then the less than punctual attendees started to straggle in. Enough people showed that I didn't have to feel like a humiliated loner. That's a plus.
Everyone was very affable and most managed to put up with me not just at Majerle's, but all the way through the final buzzer of the game as a group of us sat together. The events immediately before that buzzer might have also contributed to the festive atmosphere. It was my pleasure to meet everyone. One contributor in particular seemed to have a very similar sense of humor consisting of a combination of sardonicism and facetiousness.
I wouldn't mind doing this again in the future. It would be nice if we could elicit even more participation.
Bledsoe is Boiling
How hot is Eric? Dude is straight 100 degrees Celsius.
I decided to look this up in a historical context. Here are a list of the accomplishments of some more notable acquisitions (via trade and free agency) in Suns history through three games.
Eric Bledsoe - 22.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals
Charles Barkley - 27.7 points, 16.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.0 steal
Steve Nash - 12.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals
Tom Chambers - 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.0 steal
Stephon Marbury - 19.7 points, 1.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists and 1.3 steals
Jason Kidd - 8.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists and and 2.7 steals
Anfernee Hardaway - 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals
Connie Hawkins - 21.0 points, statistics incomplete
Maurice Lucas - 20.0 points, statistics incomplete (he did have 11 rebounds each in two of the games)
Basically, EB compares favorably to some of the best acquisitions in franchise history. Obviously guys like Larry Nance, Alvin Adams and Amare Stoudemire aren't on here since they were draftees. Likewise, KJ was acquired at such a young age that his first three games were very forgettable (although his fourth was pretty good).
Now, despite these pyrotechnics, there have still been areas of Blade's game to be critical of. He appears lost at times on defense. He walks the ball up and engages in fits of over-dribbling, which sometimes result in pull back jumpers from 18-22 feet. He shoots too many three point shots (and long twos) in general and too many contested ones more specifically, especially for a guy who is still a poor shooter at this point in his career. He has struggled with ball control and displayed questionable judgment at times.
What's great about this is that many of these should be correctable. In addition to the panoply of impressive skills Bledsoe has displayed there is actually room for improvement. Maybe not improvement in terms of the raw numbers above since his are pretty staggering through three games (small sample size), but improvement in terms of less bad plays. How much better would his start have been if he was down to just 3.0 turnovers per game?
Closing out that second game for the Suns with 14 straight points and that filthy game winner had to be near the top of achievements for new arrivals to the team as well.
The book on Bledsoe still remains to be written, but so far the first chapter is captivating.
Future Going Gorilla posts will go up on Sundays. I chose that day because
of the dictates of my schedule I feel that I can crush the NFL in terms of your allegiance. Hopefully you'll be going bananas in anticipation.
When things go the unexpected route in professional wrestling it is designated as a "swerve" in which they made you look right, and all the while were moon-walking to the left. That feels appropriate to what the Phoenix Suns (2-1) have done to start the season.
Most projections, rightfully so, had the Suns as a bottom five team with no real shot at winning anything other than a lottery.
The reality of the team is likely somewhere between their undefeated start and the projection to finish near the bottom. Anyway you slice it the team has kicked their critics through the proverbial Barber Shop Window, shed the perception of them, and have proven to be show-stoppers in terms of excitement. Who would have known?
Twenty-Third Topic: What does a 2-1 start feel like?
1. Breaking the Ice: The team has been saying all along that they are not trying to lose games on purpose. It seems that their first two opponents are not playing along with the theory that the Suns are supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NBA; thoughts?
Jim Coughenour: We are still in the inchoate stages of this season. Maybe some teams tend to somnambulate through the preseason and underestimate these upstart squads who have everything to prove after being insulted and discounted leading up to the season. These less talented squads come in with voracious appetites. They are hungrier than some of the teams that are ultimately better than them. Maybe. We've all heard of the dead coach bounce. Maybe this is the dead season bounce. Like I referenced in my Pelicans game preview, the Bobcats were 7-5 last season before ending up 21-61. Maybe.
Jacob Padilla: I've been pleasantly surprised by the way the team has played early on. They have taken several strides forward from last season, and Jeff Hornacek has done a terrific job so far. This team is better than I thought. However, it's still a shallow team and I'm not convinced Miles Plumlee is a double-double machine. If this team is without either Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic, they are going to have a difficult time trying to win.
Dave King: GMs set up a team to win, tank or ride the fence. Players and coaches, on the other hand, try to win. All the time. It's way too early to take these indications as indicative of how the rest of the season plays out, but you can see what a difference attitude, spirit and trust makes with the performance of a team. Last year's team was more talented than 25-57 but the front office eroded the team's spirit. This year's team is arguably less talented than last year, but may do better this season because they believe in the same cause.
Kris Habbas: If Miles Plumlee played to his reputation (13 points 22 rebounds 3 blocks in 14 games, 55 total minutes) rather than the super-version of that (31 points 33 rebounds 7 blocks in 3 games, 99 total minutes) then maybe this would be a different conversation. Eric Bledsoe and the rest of the team have statistically and stylistically played to my expectation. That is the big difference.
Sreekar Jasthi: Did Jim just use the word "somnambulate?" I'm just going to use this opportunity to help our poor readers out - somnambulate: to walk or perform another act while asleep or in a sleep-like condition.
Sean Sullivan: It's still early, and I wouldn't get your hopes up too high that this Suns team will continue their winning ways. That said, I believed all along that this team would be better than people were giving them credit for. I still think they'll be "bad", in the sense that they will lose more games than they win and end up with a lottery pick, but I don't see them losing on purpose or being completely non-competitive either.
2. Is this Eric Bledsoe's team?
JP: Not exclusively, no. Both he and Goran Dragic have stepped up at different times and had big games and clutch moments for the team. They are the captain and they are the best players, This team will only go as far as DeagonBlade takes them.
DK: I think it's a lot more Bledsoe's team than most of us thought. Dragic may still be the better player, but Bledsoe is the better long-term talent. I don't see Bledsoe getting traded or let go with the way he's playing. He plays both ends of the court very well and while he has some holes he's got a lot of skills that few players in the NBA can match.
KH: Short answer yes, long answer, ask me after the trade deadline. This is his team as long as he is on it and so far this season he has done a great job of transforming into an alpha. Bledsoe can be an alpha for max money on a different team or for market value here, so again, ask me this after the trade deadline.
SJ: I still want to say that it's only half-Bledsoe's team. Yes, he's done a great job through three games of establishing his grip on this team but I still think Dragic will deserve a lot of the control. There is a reason Hornacek appointed both of them as co-captains. Everything starts and ends with DragonBlade.
SS: I think they (coaching staff and front office) wants it to be, but I don't see it yet. When I heard they made both Dragic and Bledsoe co-captains, to me that seemed a bit forced. Now I haven't been out to practices so maybe I'm wrong, maybe Bledsoe is a leader on the court when the cameras aren't on him. But from what I've seen, this is still Dragic's team. He is the heart and sole of the Suns, and the face of the franchise, at least for now. Although he's taken games over in the fourth, and already hit a huge game-winning shot, Bledsoe still feels like a hired gun at the moment, while Dragic seems to be fully invested in this franchise. That may change over time, but that's the way I see it now.
JC: As of right now Eric Bledsoe seems to have claimed that role. I tend to think he's playing a little bit over his heels right now (small sample size disclaimer), but one could also point out that he could easily improve by working on things such as incessant over-dribbling and poor (at times) shot selection. I'm still not sure who the real EB is... To be difficult, though, I think this is really Hornacek's team. I think he has more staying power than any of the veterans on the team right now. They are all more of assets, while I think there's some stability in terms of him as the head coach.
3. Who has been the most impressive player for you so far? There are a few candidates to say the least...
DK: I'll say Plumlee. As Ford puts it, Plumlee has only had FIVE double-doubles in 5+ years since high school, yet two of those were in the last seven calendar days. Maybe it's just been a product of minutes - he's also never played this many minutes. I can't remember the last time someone consistently became a much better player in the NBA than in college, but it's quite possible we have that in Plumlee. He score from the post with either hand and actively deter shots while rebounding the ball on the other. But best of all, to me, his body angle is always leaning toward the basket. He has a good nose for where to be.
KH: Going to step outside the box here and talk about Gerald Green. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen practice and play in a non-game setting. So far this season Green has been a steady offensive player off the bench, not doing much the first two games, but exploding off the bench in Oklahoma City. There will be games this season where he earns a DNP-Coach's Decision and others where he gravitates towards a big shooting (and scoring) night.
SJ: I have to go with Bledsoe here. I might have considered Plumlee but he really crashed back down to earth against the Thunder (for what it's worth, I still think he'll be a nice surprise this season). Bledsoe has had his share of problems with efficiency (shooting percentages and turnovers) but he really has taken control of this team and at least so far has been the primary catalyst for the team's success. That game-winner was fantastic, but Bledsoe also single-handedly kept the Suns in the game against OKC after Dragic got hurt.
SS: Plumlee, just based on the difference he's made. Without Plumlee, the Suns are a different team, as was evident from his offensive absence against OKC. When Plumlee is playing to the best of his abilities, he's a game changer. We know what we have with Dragic, we had a good idea what Bledsoe would bring, but I think Plumlee is our x-factor. I've been thoroughly impressed with everything he's done in his short time on the Suns.
JC: MCW. Carter-Williams has been phenomenal. Four games into his NBA career he's averaging 21 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals per game. Oh, wait... you probably were implicitly requesting a nominee from the Suns. I'll go with Bledsoe. That game winner was filthy. I think I heard something about it being his first ever...? I'm assuming that's just at this level...
JP: Eric Bledsoe has put up huge numbers. Gerald Green hasn't been awful. Miles Plumlee looks like a competent NBA player who can actually make a positive contribution. That is all surprising to some extent. but I'll go with the "What have you done for me lately?" answer with Channing Frye. Fyre was terrific in the last game against the Thunder, hitting threes, scoring in the post and even hitting a jumper off the dribble. Frye has started every game and has played a significant amount of minutes. Not bad for a guy who sat out all of last year.
4. With that, who has been the least impressive for you? Again, there are a few candidates...
KH: Going back to the Center of the Sun where just about everyone predicted that Markieff Morris would be a major disappointment, I am going to go with Markieff Morris. One game he was suspended, the next two he scored a total of 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds as a power forward. With the play of Channing Frye early on this season it seems like another Lance Blanks lottery pick is on the way out of the rotation, or the team in general.
SJ: Yeah....the Morri. Everyone else will discuss plenty about their shortcomings thus far so I'll save myself the trouble.
SS: Hate to jump on the bandwagon, but the Morri it is. I may have said Gerald Green before his game against the Thunder, but the Morri have been consistently unimpressive. Even in game one in which Marcus hit some shots for Phoenix, he still took far too many bad ones and hurt the team.
JC: Marcus and Markieff have played like dogs. Good thing the Suns just picked up their options. Hopefully they can both turn it around (types Jim while not holding his breath), because right now they're both being outplayed by Dionte Christmas.
JP: The Morri. My goodness have they been bad.
DK: I'm going to say Archie Goodwin. Not because I expected a lot - he's a 19 year old rookie who shouldn't be able to take over the NBA by any stretch. He is playing like a #29 pick in the Draft. Yet, after summer league I guess I expected more than this. I expected Archie to already be impressing us in the few minutes he plays. It's a long season, so I will be patient.
5. What does this start say about the talent evaluator Ryan McDonough is and the coach that Jeff Hornacek is becoming?
SJ: Tough to draw conclusions just yet but I'm still huge fans for McDonough and Hornacek. I love the moves the former has made (regardless of the results on the court this season) and I admire the latter's demeanor, intelligence and affinity for fast-paced basketball.
SS: Their a perfect match. I really like them both, and they have each exceeded my expectations thus far. The only thing I'm not totally convinced on yet is the drafting ability of McDonough. We'll have to see how Len and Goodwin shake out first. I'm not expecting much from them this season, and I view them both as long-term investments, as I'm sure McDonough did when he drafted them. But we'll still need to see how much they can progress, and we won't know that for at least another season.
JC: Nothing. Too small of a sample size. I think the totality of the off-season moves lead me to believe that Ryan is going to be a great GM, but it's probably going to be a long time before his talent evaluation skills can be fairly assessed. E.g. what are Len and Goodwin doing in 3-5 years, how is the 2014 pick working out 3-5 years from then, etc. Same thing with Hornacek. Sure he's like 158-1 including all the summer league, pre-season and regular season games... plus half court shooting contests in practices, but this team is going to face some adversity and growing pains. Let's see how he comes out on the other side.
JP: I'm already sculpting their statues to place outside U.S. Airways Center. Seriously though, Ryan McDonough has made some big-time moves that have improved the Suns now and in the future,. I've loved the way Hornacek has gotten this team to play. They are playing hard and together on both ends of the court; something we didn't see much of last year. Plus, P.J. Tucker's shot is looking darn good, an I'm sure Hornacek had a lot to do with that.
DK: This start says that the Suns hired the right guys. McDonough is a serious candidate for Executive of the Year, while Hornacek coaches like he's Jerry Sloan merged with Cotton Fitzsimmons. These guys know what they're doing and everyone believes in them. The Suns will be better, faster because of these guys and we can only sit here and enjoy it. Unless, of course, we start arguing over whether they deserve max contracts. Then the weaknesses will be exposed quick.
KH: Demeanor is the main takeaway so far. Both the General Manager and Head Coach are poised, well spoken, and have done a great job of managing this young roster. They have made every step in stride and have yet to misstep so far, when they do, it will be a moment that will be shocking to all. But, because of the way they have been with the fans, the media, and overall they have the cache in a handful of months that Lance Blanks was unable to create in three years.
BONUS: In any way are you disappointed that the team is two wins better than most people thought they would be?
SS: Not at all. The Suns have enough draft picks next year that they can get a great haul no matter where they end up in the standings. Give me a fun to watch, competitive team any day over a boring team that's only out to lose games and get a high draft pick. Now if they can be competitive, fun to watch, and still manage a high draft pick....that would be the best of both worlds.
JC: I picked them to win 16 games and they're only one win better than I thought they would be. I think Portland is somewhere between 9-12 in the West and Utah is 14th. They should split a pair of home games against teams that bad. What bodes ominously for my win total is some of the individual performances and signs of potential in players on the roster. I still think that they can win some more this month since the only teams they play are Portland, Utah and Sacramento (or at least it's going to feel that way by the end of the month), but eventually the losses are going to pile up. Injuries and trades, which I factored into my prediction of doom, are also still a possibility. Not disappointed at all. The wins and losses are what they are. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that the team played as well as they did. Good for them and the cheering fans.
JP: Not at all. These guys have been a ton of fun to watch and root for so far. I've enjoyed watching them do their thing. That being said, this team can still lose plenty of games. The Suns were going to win more than two games this year no matter what.
DK: Absolutely not. This is fun. If the Suns win 35-45 games, I might feel a tinge of dissatisfaction that they "missed" their chance at a franchise player on a really cheap contract for many years. But that's a long way off.
KH: Oh no, there are 82 games in a season and eventually the Suns will come down to earth as the scouting reports and information on them becomes more readily available for opponents. The worst team in the NBA rarely "earns" the top pick in the draft so if the Suns finish between 4-6 instead of between 1-2 they have a good chance of nabbing one of the top prospects in the upcoming draft. Silver linings.
SJ: Nope. I was VERY glad to see the Suns start out the season strong and really play with a lot of heart and hustle. There are still 79 games left and anything can happen so I'll just strap in for the ride and hope the roller-coaster of a season leads to anywhere but a 35-win season and a late lottery pick.
Bright Siders, what do you think?
When: Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)
Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA
Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ Radio: 620 KTAR
This will be the Suns first meeting ever against the newly branded Pelicans. Interestingly (or not), in mythology the Pelican is associated with death and the afterlife, whereas the Phoenix is associated with death and rebirth. Our logo is better than yours (and more ferocious no matter how many basketballs you shove in that bird's mouth).
Photo credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
And let us wax poetically about the greatness that was Hugo the Hornet.
The last meeting between the Suns and the artists formerly known as the Hornets was April 7, 2013, with New Orleans fighting off a late Suns rally to win 95-92. After finding themselves down 81-65 thanks to a layup by the inimitable Lou Amundson (Bet you didn't think I'd find a random way to fit him in this preview.) the Suns used a 15-4 rally to cut the lead to five with just over four minutes to play, but the Hornets were able to hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the deal.
Anthony Davis led all scorers with 20 points while Ryan Anderson posted a double double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Not to be outdone, Luis Scola went for 17/10 himself in a losing effort. Markieff Morris had a rare (like unicorn rare) solid performance in posting 18 points to lead the Suns. Michael Beasley scored three points on 1-11 shooting.
Due to the reshaping of each team's roster that contest should have negligible impact on tonight's game.
New Orleans Pelicans (1-2)
Injuries: Ryan Anderson (fractured toe) out
The Pelicans recorded their first victory of the season as they darted out to a 33-15 advantage in the first quarter on their way to a 105-84 blowout of the fearsome Charlotte Bobcats. The closest the game got in the second half was 13 points, as efficient shooting and a franchise record 18 blocks quelled and possibility of a comeback. This victory followed an 0-2 start that saw New Orleans get thrashed by the Orlando Magic (110-90) and surrender a late lead in a loss to the Indiana Pacers (95-90).
At the ripe age of 20 wunderkind Anthony Davis appears to be on the verge of ascending to the select pantheon perched atop the NBA masses. In his last game he narrowly missed compiling the 16th five-by-five performance (at least five points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) since 1986-87 with a box score stuffer line of 25/8/4/6/6. Davis is averaging 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 4.0 blocks per game in the early going this season.
Newly acquired point guard Jrue Holiday acts as an appurtenance to his apparent all-NBA teammate and is helping the cause with 18.3 points and 6.0 assists. Eric "expect the max" Gordon is contributing 14.7 points a game. Who here is starting to think the Suns may have ended up with the right former Clipper guard? Jason Smith (yes, the Jason Smith) has recorded three starts in the absence of stretch sharpshooter Ryan Anderson.
Phoenix Suns (2-1)
Injuries: Goran Dragic (left ankle sprain) out, Alex Len (sore ankle) questionable
After two wins and 48 minutes of hard fought basketball against OKC to start the season Phoenix has turned down the volume on the pundits' (and opinionated people like me who are not experts) forecasts of futility.
Miles Plumlee (10.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game) and P.J. Tucker have been unexpected and expected, respectively, contributors to a team that has just flat out looked like it has been working harder than its opponents so far. This energy has culminated in impressive defensive performances and numbers (more on this later). The Suns are much more athletic than last year's team and have been getting their hands in passing lanes and touching lots of loose balls.
Unfortunately, loose balls were an issue in the Suns loss to OKC, as they racked up 27 team turnovers. Particularly frustrating was the uncanny knack of Tucker and Gerald Green to step out of bounds when catching passes by the sideline outside the three point arc. The last such instance, by Green, was the final nail in the Suns' coffin. Bledsoe posted 26 points and a career high 14 assists in the defeat, but also coughed up eight turnovers of his own. The Suns will have to address ball security from the bench as Dragic is reported to be out until a hopeful return when the Suns are back at home this Friday against the Denver Nuggets.
Eric Bledsoe has radiated from the Sun like a corona in his first three games. Opponents looking at him have been left seeing spots (yes, I'm talking to you Gordon Hayward). He has easily been the team's best player so far this season while posting averages of 22.0 points, 8.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.
What To Watch For:
Running and Gunning(?): The Suns are leading the league in fast break points with 26.3 per game. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are tied for second with 19.3. In contradistinction, however, Phoenix is only 19th in pace. This has lead to a paltry 95.7 points per game for the Suns thus far, just a smidgen under their coach's bold prediction. Are the Suns' opponents attempting to muck up the process and turn the game into a quagmire or do the Suns just run inordinately slow half court offensive sets protracted by exhibitions of over-dribbling? It appears to be a feast or famine situation. I'll try to keep an eye on whether the Suns are actually taking any shots between 8-18 on the shot clock...
(Too) Free for Three: The Suns, by virtue of the barrage in OKC, are now fifth in the NBA in three point attempts per game (26), but only 22nd in % (.308). In all fairness, the Suns did shoot 14-37 (.378) in the last contest to ascend from the putrescence of the first two (10-41 for .244). Will the Suns tether in this total? 37 three point shots is a lot of three points shots... How many is a lot (besides the obvious answer of 37 which I already stated was a lot)? Well, the Suns have only attempted more than 37 three point shots eleven times since the 1985-86 season. They've only heaved up 40 or more four times in franchise history. Does this team really like the group of smoking hot sharpshooters you want rewriting that part of the history book?
Parsimony: The Suns have been playing some stingy D. The Suns are fourth in points allowed per game (92.7), third in FG% allowed (.399) and first in 3P% allowed (.246 - OKC was 2-18). The Pelicans come in shooting just .409 from the field (25th), but are an impressive 50% from three point range, albeit in limited attempts (12 per game). Can the Suns continue to bring tenacious defense and stifle an opponent in the bottom half of the league in scoring?
Anthony Davis vs. Eric Bledsoe: Both of these guys are on a blistering pace to start the season. Which can put more of his fingerprints on this game, though? It would definitely seem if one succeeds while the other flounders that could be decisive in the game's outcome.
The Final Word(s):
The Suns are going to need to bring their A game and bust their tail off to win this one. They are playing against a better team on the road without their starting point guard (or is he the two guard... maybe a 1.5?). The Suns will have to count on a Christmas Ish combo to counter Jrue Holiday and not let this get out of hand. With the Spurs coming up next a loss here would bring the Suns perilously close to a donut on the roadie.
Consider these two tidbits. One that has made recent circles:
And one that I will provide:
The 2012-13 Charlotte Bobcats started the season 7-5. They followed that with an 18 game losing streak en route to a 21-61 season. That equates to a 14-56 finish after the smoldering (in Bobcat terms) start.
So who are the Suns? Are they the feckless 16 win team as I (less than prophetically at this point) predicted, taking the under on lines of 19 - 19.5 in Las Vegas. Or are they double that total, or even better? Maybe somewhere in between... This test against a Pelicans team that will likely be in contention for a playoff seed will be the first in a series that should help bring clarity to this question.