Whether it's from the oven, microwave or off the bench everyone loves their pizza piping hot. As the leader of the Suns second unit (the Delivery Guys) can a green light help Isaiah Thomas become the most prolific per minute scorer off the bench in the NBA?

Ridiculously premature story alert.

The Suns season is off to a pretty good start.

The number one reason for that is the stellar play of Isaiah Thomas. A pair of 23 point games has featured the talents of the team's biggest free agent signing. The four year, $27 million dollar contract seemed like a great deal at the time. Through two games it appears to be highway robbery.

Thomas (+10) was joined by reserves Alex Len (+12) and Gerald Green (+15) to provide a huge lift in the Suns 94-89 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Halloween night. The reserves didn't need costumes to be downright scary.

In what appears to be a deliciously devastating development, coach Hornacek has experimented with deploying the trident attack in the team's first two games with stunning success. While Isaiah substituted in for Eric Bledsoe in the first and third periods of the Suns victory over the Spurs, the 1-2-3 punch of Goran Dragic, Bledsoe and IT played together in the second period and, most importantly, for the final 4:35 of the fourth quarter when the Suns outscored the Spurs 10-2 to close out the game.

Through two games The mismatches the Suns create for their opponents preponderate the mismatches the Suns face with their three point guard lineup. This may be a trend that continues if the Suns can count on second year center Alex Len to play goalie, a role he excelled in against the Spurs.

While Isaiah has taken the majority of ball handling duties while he has been on the court, imposing his will upon the game and maximizing his impact, he has also appeared comfortable playing off the ball. The fungibility of the Suns point guards has been seamless.

But I digress.

While what I mentioned above creates many story lines, I want to focus on the abundant scoring of Isaiah Thomas. Especially the ridiculous rate at which he has been pouring in buckets. Isaiah has scored 46 points in 49 minutes through two games.

PPM 2013-14

This shouldn't really come as a surprise.

As a starter in 2013-14 Isaiah finished 21st in the league in PPM with 21.1 per 36. That would have been good for first on the Suns, slightly ahead of the Dragon. It was also fourth best in the league among point guards behind Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.

Not too bad.

But can Isaiah actually climb up the ranks this season?

Moving to a reserve role won't necessarily stymie his chances. After all, ahead of Thomas on the list is super sub Jamal Crawford. Last season Crawford became the fourth player to win the Sixth Man of the Year twice. A main reason for this was his penchant for abusing defenses, averaging a splendiferous 22.0 point per 36 minutes.

Crawford did start in in over a third of his games for the Clippers games last season (24 of 69) so he wasn't strictly a sixth man in the truest sense. The first time he won the award, however, he came off the bench in all 79 of his appearances.

Many of the best sixth men only occupy that position to maximize the team's effectiveness, not because they lack the talent to be a starter. Manu Ginobili, who was actually still 35th in the league in PPM (19.5 per 36) last season, is a prime example of a player who sacrificed his ego for the success of the team.

It has worked out pretty well for him.

It could work out pretty well for the Suns and Thomas. Having the luxury of Thomas as a "backup" lets the Suns substitute in one of the better point guards in the NBA. Not just reserves, better period. Isaiah benefits by getting minutes against inferior players he can exploit. Since Thomas can hold his own with the best starters in the league, reserve point guards like Ronnie Price (Lakers) and Cory Joseph (Spurs) are massively overmatched.

It makes sense that Thomas might just fill it up this season.

Not only that, but with P.J. Tucker returning after the Suns game against the Utah Jazz the Suns may have a top nine that can match any rotation in the league. The Suns bench might be absolutely outstanding.

6th Man PPM

Scoring seems to be one of the most coveted assets for premiere bench players. Taking out Miller and Odom, the other eight players on the list combined PPM average was right around where Thomas was last season.

Thomas also looks to become the fifth Sun to earn the Sixth Man of the Year award, joining Eddie Johnson, Danny Manning, Rodney Rogers and Leandro Barbosa. The Hydra (although Ghidora and Cerberus actually have three heads...) unit may help his case, since the three point guard lineup could allow Isaiah to average ~30 minutes a game as a reserve.

In 1988-89 Eddie Johnson averaged 26.5 points per 36 minutes for a Suns team that averaged 118.6 points per game. While that number seems unattainable, and downright filthy, it might be possible for Thomas to have an even greater impact on the team's offense because of his ability as a facilitator for his teammates.

One of whom, Gerald Green, was actually 28th in the league in PPM last season (20.0 per 36). Green's numbers will likely diminish this season due to the paradigm shift provoked by Isaiah's arrival. The reserve unit is now indubitably Isaiah's vessel to captain.

His own personal pizza parlor.

For some reason there wasn't a ravenous demand for Thomas last summer. For some reason he was undervalued despite passing the eyeball and paper tests. For some reason 20 and six just wasn't that attractive.

Now he might be on his way to being the best scorer off the bench in the NBA. Maybe even the best player off the bench in the NBA period. The (very) limited sample size looks promising, but there's a lot of basketball left to play this season.

One thing is sure, though. If Isaiah just wanted to feel wanted when he signed with the Suns he sure the hell is doing the right things to make sure that happens.

Watch the rotations by the Phoenix Suns big men on this crucial late game pick and roll by the San Antonio Spurs.

The Suns held the Spurs to 41 percent shooting in their win over the defending NBA champs on Halloween night. You can make excuses for San Antonio (missing Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills) but forget that and give credit to the improved Phoenix defense.


The first thing to look at is Alex Len nimbly coming off the screen and cutting off a potential Tony Parker drive. I've noticed early in the season so far that the Suns like to have Len sag back on his pick and roll coverage to keep him closer to the rim similar to the way the Pacers use Roy Hibbert.

Of course, Len's move leaves Tim Duncan open for the pass but Markieff Morris reads the play and perfectly rotates over so he is in Duncan's face immediately.

At this point, and this might be the best part, Boris Diaw dives to the rim for a pass from Duncan (typical beautiful Spurs play) but Len has rotated back into the paint to cover that. We've seen many Suns bigs burned by similar plays due to a lack of attentiveness.

Now watch again focusing on Dragic and Bledsoe on the weak side as they communicate perfectly and switch to prevent and open wing shooter.

This leaves Duncan to look for the open shooter that's not there and Morris overplays the pass and convinces Tim to spin around and take an elbow jumper. A younger Tim Duncan makes that shot 90% of the time but in this case he's exactly the shot the Suns would like to give up.

They've defended an easy Duncan roll to the rim. They've defended a slick high-low pass to Diaw at the rim. They've defended Duncan kicking out for an open three. All that's left is for Tim to try (and miss) that tough mid-range shot. Even if Duncan had made the bucket it would have been the lowest percentage option and exactly what modern NBA teams would most like opponents to take.

That, my friends, is excellent team defense with major props to both Morris and Len.

Oh, and Len snagged the rebound.

PHOENIX — The San Antonio Spurs’ control of a Halloween night game against the orange-clad Phoenix Suns worked as well as a plastic knockoff slinky. Gregg Popovich’s team stretched...

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The Suns will look to carry an extreme amount of momentum into Utah after a remarkable win against the Spurs last night. The Jazz have started off the season 0-2, losing their home opener to the Rockets 104-93 and then got destroyed in Dallas by the Mavs 120-102 on Thursday.

Back-to-back factors

It's a good break in the schedule for the Suns as the Jazz are expected to be one of the worst teams in the West and have a very short and young bench. With that in mind, I expect Jeff Hornacek to go a little deeper into his rotation and shore up the minutes a bit more.

Eric Bledsoe played 39 minutes last night and Goran Dragic got to 34, but the Jazz are similarly a guard heavy team that likes to play Trey Burke, Alec Burks, and Gordon Hayward 32-37 minutes a game. Keep an eye on how Hornacek staggers his guards on a back-to-back and expect to see a lot more of Gerald Green, who only played 19 minutes last night.

One area to watch: the center position

There will be two centers trying to prove themselves in big ways tonight. Miles Plumlee sat on the bench last night and saw the full Alex Len experience, as last year's #5 overall pick controlled the boards and used his length to alter just about everything in the key defensively. It was the best game of his career against Tim freaking Duncan, so is this a sign of things to come? Plumlee has to be happy for his teammate, but he still wants his starting spot and he will have a small margin of error now with Len applying pressure for the spot.

On the other side, the Jazz made headlines yesterday by signing shooting guard Alec Burks to a $42 million extension over four years. This means the Jazz are committed to Burke, Burks, Hayward, and Derrick Favors for a lot of money over the next couple of years. This makes former #3 overall pick Enes Kanter at center the odd man out. Kanter will enter restricted free agency this year with something to prove and has added a three-point shot to his arsenal for his contract year. Look for him to come out with a little extra edge tonight.

As for the backups, Len will look to ride the momentum of the game of his life against the even longer Rudy Gobert. I like what I've seen from Gobert so far and I am very excited for this matchup off of the bench.

Projected starting lineups

Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee

Utah Jazz: Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter

Two key statistics

Isaiah Thomas has 46 points in 50 minutes this season. Look for him to have another great night against a rookie bench backcourt of Dante Exum and Rodney Hood.

The Mavericks scored 26 field goals at the basket on Thursday against the Jazz. That is a lot. Watching the tape this was a combination of the perimeter defense getting repeatedly blown by and the help defense not rotating quickly enough. Look for Hydra to terrorize the Utah defense.


The Suns will be absolutely buzzing after their huge win at home, but will they bring that momentum into Utah or come out flat? I think there's a very good chance for the latter and the Suns could start out slow again. However, the Suns are too good and too deep of a team to fall to the Jazz and I don't see them having two poor shooting performances in a row.

Suns 111, Jazz 96

Finally healthy, Suns young center Alex Len had the best game of his career on Friday night in a win over the San Antonio Spurs. But we've only seen the beginning of Len's career.

After a year of ankle problems and then a twice-broken finger that contributed to nary a completely healthy basketball game, Phoenix Suns 21-year old 7'1" center Alex Len delivered a game-changing performance on Friday night to remind people why he was chosen #5 overall in the 2013 Draft.

"I'm ready to help the team," Len said. "Once I contested a few shots [on Wednesday] I got more confidence and got my groove back. Being in shape definitely helps. This year I'm feeling good, I'm there on time."

Len played 31 minutes on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs, nine more than he had ever played in the NBA. In 42 games last year, his high was 21:59. In that game, a win against Milwaukee, Len scored 7 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.

Starting center Miles Plumlee got into foul trouble again, racking up 4 fouls in just 15 minutes of play. But the Suns did not miss a beat with Len on the floor as his replacement. Len's 11 rebounds were a career high as were his 10 points, all scored in the first half. Spurs center Tim Duncan put up 16 points - none in the fourth quarter - and pulled down 9 rebounds.

"Some great plays by the young kid, Alex Len," Duncan said after the game. "Good rebounds by him."

Len altered many more shots than he blocked (one), often forcing the Spurs to shoot floaters or dump off the ball to another player.

"He's long," coach Hornacek said after the game. "He makes guys adjust shots and they had to shoot over them. Boris (Diaw) got it over him a few times, but that's a pretty tough shot. It's the same thing they have with (Tim) Duncan. He's really long and we didn't make a lot of inside shots either. What, we were 27-for-46? You know when you miss 19 shots in the paint, there's a reason. A lot of it's Duncan and a lot of the reason they miss at the end is because of Alex."

Len had a very rough start to his career. First, he played the last half of his sophomore season at Maryland with a stress fracture in his ankle that required surgery and kept him out of pre-draft workouts. Still, he went #5 overall after many of the leading scouting websites had him potentially going #1 overall.

Len wasn't himself last season.

"Last year was probably the toughest year of my career," he said. "I wanted to get out there, but I couldn't, so I just had to work hard and I did the little things like stay in the weight room and work on other stuff."

Len was regularly lauded by the coaching staff as one of the hardest workers on the team. Fans just didn't get to see the real Alex Len in a game until Wednesday night, which was bettered on Friday.

He is just scratching the surface of his potential. Not only does he have the rim protecting instincts to make multiple contests on the same possession, he's got the feet to switch out on the perimeter in a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.

On the game's final play, Len switched out on Danny Green beyond the three point line to contest a potential game-tying shot. Len played Green so tight the Diaw never inbounded the ball and the Spurs were called for a turnover (5-second rule).

"It felt great," Len said after the win over the Spurs. "Just getting back out there, getting comfortable, and I got to give credit to my teammates. I mean they did a great job today and it was a great win for us. They're the world champions you know what I mean? It's definitely a huge win for us."

I'll leave you with a couple of GIFs of Len's best offensive plays of the night, courtesy of WichitaSunSteeler.

There's your Suns center of the future.



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