Oklahoma City 102, Phoenix Suns 90 As far as wins go, Saturday’s 97-81 shellacking of the Chicago Bulls might be as sweet as they come for the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13. The victory was the...

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Center of the Sun: A Week In Review 01/07 - 01/13

It was a long grueling week on the road for the Phoenix Suns (13-26) as they managed a few highs, met a milestone, and saw some new lows.

Game Recaps

@ Milwaukee Bucks - L (108-99)

@ Boston Celtics - L (87-79)

@ Brooklyn Nets - L (99-79)

@ Chicago Bulls - W (97-81)

Some good before the bad.

The team was in all of the games this week going into the fourth quarter of every game on the road down by less than eight points, staying within striking distance with good defense.

The question becomes pretty simple about the teams "improved" defense as of late. How much are they sacrificing on offense and how much improvement has there been overall on defense? In three of four games the opposing teams scored less than 100 points, in three out of four games they had more possessions than their opponents, and they slowed things down to a halt, purposely.

On the other side of that in all three losses the opposing team shot over 45% from the field and found a way to score in limited possessions with efficiency.

In terms of points allowed this was easily the best four game stretch on the road only giving up 93.75 points per game. Normally the defense yields 104.1 points per game on the road. Small tweaks have been made and fundamentally they are doing some things better, but the defense as a whole is not a great unit and remains in bottom five of the league overall.

Key Stats

88.5

On the season the team averages 95.5 points per game and 94.8 points per game on the road, but during this stretch of four games they hit a season low in producing points. The 31.6% shooting from three (19 made), 42.0% from the field, and 67 total turnovers really hurt any consistency from being formulated.

The defense is not fixed, but it is improved, primarily because the offense was a sacrificial lamb in the efforts.

The Highs

Anytime you can win your franchises 2,000th win, always, or at least in the case of the Suns, take six cracks at it until you can finally break through! Deflating loss after deflating loss the Suns fought though the adversity to become the fourth fastest team to 2,000 wins in NBA history. They are the 10th team to reach that mark, but are the "newest" team in that regard playing between 1 and 22 less total seasons than the other teams ahead of them.

A high amongst lows, but a landmark high nonetheless for the team.

The Lows

Unfortunately Jared Dudley went down with a strained right wrist, missed the last game on the trip, and is questionable for tonight's game at home against the Thunder. Without Dudley the team will likely start Shannon Brown again and utilize Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson more.

He has been the best all-around player on the team for a few weeks now and is instrumental in winning games against the good or the bad of the league. Getting Dudley on the court sooner verses later has to be a major priority if the team has any chance at a push in the standings.

Practice Report

All road games check back next week!

Grades

A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.

A- for Jared Dudley: He missed the last game on the road trip, but was the teams most consistent player in three losses, which means a lot of different things. Dudley did a good job mixing it up rebounding, distributing, and scoring while being a consistent defender on the perimeter.

D+ for Shannon Brown: The team needs a one-on-one scorer in spots that can come in and score in bunches. For the most part that has been Brown, but shooting 13-35 in four games hurt the team on the road.

C+ for Marcin Gortat: Getting back to what he does best was a good sign for the Suns as Gortat grabbed 46 rebounds and blocked 8 shots. Once he starts doing that with consistency he can become a top tier center in the league again.

Player of the Week:

Luis Scola - 15.5 PPG 7.75 RPG 2.25 APG 49.0 FG%

When the team claimed the former Houston Rockets forward off of Amnesty Waivers my initial thought was, "great, they got their go-to scorer for this year and he is worth at least 10 wins to the team." That was not to mean he is a great player that will lift the team to an amazing season, but that adding Scola means 35-40 wins rather than 25-30 wins. He has not been used in that capacity with consistency this season, but there is little doubt that when the ball funnels through the crafty forward the team is at their best.

This week in particular he was the catalyst in their only win, the most consistent guy on the court, and proved my theory correct.

In the long run Scola is not in the teams plans past next season, but he has easily been the teams best offensive weapon thus far. That does not say much as the team is second to last in the league and sitting on 13 wins in 39 contests, but beggars cannot be choosers and Scola is the teams best offensive option. Period.

His craftiness on the block gets the other team in foul trouble, frustrates opposing front-courts taking them out of the game mentally, and is the balancer in a slower paced game. If the team wants to slow it down to limit the defenses ability to lose games, then giving it to the slowest player on the court is the best option.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, January 14th vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-8)

Thursday, January 17th vs. Milwaukee Bucks (19-17)

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The Phoenix Suns finally snapped their losing streak with an impressive win on the road against the Chicago Bulls last night. Still, despite ending on a high note, this wasn't a very good week for the Suns who went 1-4 overall, and at times appeared to be on the brink of a total collapse.

However, there were still certain players who were giving their all and trying to keep the team competitive even when things were looking bleak.

Here's a look at this week's player rankings the way I saw them:

1. Marcin Gortat

Weekly Average: 11 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 35 minutes of play

Gortat is quietly playing consistent and efficiently even while the Suns continue to struggle. Although Dudley is getting most of the attention it seems for being the Suns most consistent player as of late, Gortat is impacting the game in a variety of ways and averaged a double-double for the week which is good enough to get the top spot.

2. Jared Dudley

Weekly Average: 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 35 minutes of play

Dudley had another really good week, and really could be considered as a tie for first place with all that he does for the team. Even when he struggles to score (like going 6-17 against Boston) he finds a way to make an impact (like his 10 rebounds in the same game).

3. Luis Scola

Weekly Average: 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assist in 29 minutes of play

Scola is becoming one of the main faces of this team now. I'm not really sure if that's a good thing or not, but there's no denying that he is one of the most consistent and efficient offensive players on the team, and also does a pretty good job at rebounding for a guy who can't jump. Another very good week for Luis.

4. Goran Dragic

Weekly Average: 12 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal in 31 minutes of play

Dragic seems to be struggling a little more than his stats let on, and I think it has a lot to do with his frustration with his teammates and in losing so many games. I do believe Dragic would register more assists with better shooters and scorers around him, but he's not shooting the ball very well either...and that's all on him.

5. P.J. Tucker

Weekly Average: 7 points, 4 rebounds in 25 minutes of play

Tucker is now a starter on the Suns...whodathunkit? It just goes to show how important consistent hustle and effort are, and how rare of qualities they are in your average NBA player. Tucker's stats certainly don't reflect his importance to the team, and they never will, but the guy battles out there every night and seems to be trying to improve offensively as well.

6. Markieff Morris

Weekly Average: 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist in 18 minutes of play

Morris is quietly becoming our best bench player these days and seems to be doing a much better job of scoring inside rather than taking long jumpers. More importantly, Markieff is defending well, getting his hands on the ball, and blocking shots. I don't think he gets as much credit as he should, but he's been playing pretty darn well lately even though the team has been struggling.

7. Sebastian Telfair

Weekly Average: 6 points, 2 assists, and 1 rebound in 16 minutes of play

Telfair is struggling with his shot lately (going 7-19 on the week), and the second unit has also struggled with him running the point this week. Let's hope he gets back to being that spark off the bench that helped the Suns so much earlier in the season.

8. Shannon Brown

Weekly Average: 9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 22 minutes of play

Brown has been very inefficient offensively (16-44 overall for the week) and his three point shooting continued to be awful (1-5), but thankfully he stopped attempting so many of them this week. However, what really hurts the team is his lack of defense, and his tendency to try to bring the ball up-court rather than letting Dragic run the offense...which more often than not results in a bad possession. Brown can do a lot of things to help this team if he can just learn to play within himself.

9. Michael Beasley

Weekly Average: 7 points, 3 rebounds in 10 minutes of play

If not for last night's aberration against the Bulls (and yes, it will remain an aberration until he can string together more than one of these games every couple of months), Beasley certainly would have been at the bottom of the list once again. One game does not change things, but let's give Beasley credit for at least having one good game this week and helping the Suns to beat a very tough opponent on the road that nobody thought they had a chance against.

10. Jermaine O'Neal

Weekly Average: 4 points, 3 rebounds in 12 minutes of play

O'Neal has really been struggling as of late and I'm not sure what the cause is. He was staggeringly inefficient in the low post for the week going only 8-24 overall...yuck! And while offense certainly isn't his main focus, he has to be able to convert at a higher percentage when shooting between 0-10 feet from the rim. More importantly, his defense and rebounding has also regressed. Let's hope this was just a bad week and not a sign of things to come.

So there you have it...Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below!

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I have written on this topic several times (as far back as here in August 2010 and here in July 2010, when the Suns let their last franchise draft pick leave). At the time, losing a ton of games to win the lottery was a far-fetched and unlikely notion.

Fast forward to spring of 2013. The Phoenix Suns are now looking at the cream of the crop in the draft while suffering through the cost of acquiring a top pick: lots and lots of losing.

This is unfamiliar territory. The Suns are used to winning, and have publicly stated they would rather be competitive year-in-year-out than attend the Draft Lottery proceedings. To wit, the Phoenix Suns have the fourth-highest winning percentage in NBA history and have the 10th-most wins in NBA history. The Suns have qualified for the playoffs in a whopping 29 of those 45 seasons.

But of all the top-10 teams in NBA history, the Suns stand out with their inability to finish the job. They have won their division just 6 times, made 2 NBA Finals and have no championships on their resume.

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No Top-5 Selections Since 1978

The Phoenix Suns have never had the top overall selection in the NBA draft. They have drafted #2 overall twice in their history, taking Neal Walk (after losing a coin flip for Hall of Famer Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Armen Gilliam (taken just after Hall of Famer David Robinson).

Other high selections: Corky Calhoun (4th, 1972), John Shumate (4th, 1974), Alvan Adams (4th, 1975), Walter Davis (5th, 1978).

That's it. No top-5 picks since 1987.

Shawn Marion was a #9 pick, as was Amare Stoudemire. There was Tim Perry at #7. William Bedford at #6.

Superstars matter, and they come through the draft

The last 22 seasons have seen the following players lead their teams to more than one championship: Michael Jordan (6 rings, #3 overall), Hakeem Olajuwon (2 rings, #1 overall), Shaquille O'Neal (4 rings, #1 overall), Tim Duncan (4 rings, #1 overall), Kobe Bryant (5 rings, #13 overall) and Dwyane Wade (2 rings, #5 overall).

Of those only Shaq was acquired via free agency. The rest were drafted and kept.

Note the Shaquille O'Neal won his 4 rings only by teaming up with Kobe (3) and Dwyane (1). He did not do it alone. Jordan had Scottie Pippen (#5 in his own draft). Duncan started with David Robinson (#1 in his own draft). Wade had Shaq and LeBron James (#1 in his own draft). Kobe had Shaq for 3 of his 5 rings.

These 6 guys account for 19 of the last 22 championships in the NBA.

Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan and Wade were drafted by their team's own draft pick. Kobe was acquired via a draft-day trade with Charlotte. Shaquille O'Neal was signed as a free agent from Orlando.

Outliers

One-time winning teams include the 2004 Detroit Pistons (no franchise star), the 2007 Boston Celtics (3 stars, but no one franchise player) and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks (franchise player Dirk Nowitzki).

That's it. Three. Three championships won without a multi-ring franchise player at the helm in the last 22 years (since 1991).

Pretty obvious that you need at least that one guy, and that one guy must be acquired via your draft pick.

Lottery picks via trade can help

OKC acquired the #11 overall pick in the 2010 draft because they were willing to absorb a $5 million contract into their available cap space from a team desperate to shed payroll (New Orleans). In the past, they also acquired 2 unprotected first-rounders from the Suns to absorb Thomas' 8 mill. Those *could* have been high picks, but lucky for the Suns they weren't.

Utah Jazz acquired the #9 overall pick in the 2011 draft in a trade from years prior (involving the Suns, no less).

In 2010, Washington traded their #5 overall pick to Minnesota for a couple of warm bodies in their ill-fated attempt to bring in veterans for a playoff push. Minny drafted Ricky Rubio, their future franchise point guard.

Three years ago, the Celtics traded their #5 overall pick to Seattle for Ray Allen and a bad contract or two.

Remember, Kobe was drafted #13 overall via a draft-day trade and the Suns acquired PG Kevin Johnson (#7 overall) from Cleveland for Larry Nance back in 1987. So these high picks *could* turn out to be franchise-changing players.

Teams need luck

Utah had that unprotected 2010 pick for years from New York. It could have been a low pick (which the Knicks were banking on), but there was a chance the Jazz could have won the lottery with it too. Though John Wall, the clear #1 in 2010, wouldn't necessarily have fit alongside Deron Williams, that would have allowed them to move on from Williams even faster.

Lottery balls and coin flips have never gone the Suns way. The Suns, for their part, *almost* got Lew Alcindor in 1969. And they *almost* got David Robinson in 1987.

More recently, the Suns *almost* got a #6 draft pick (would have been used to take Joakim Noah) in the summer of 2007. They had Atlanta's top-3-protected pick. Unfortunately, Atlanta kept it by lucking into the #3 pick (taking Al Horford). The Suns had won 62 games that year and *almost* got the guy they needed in Joakim Noah that *could* have propelled them to a ring or two.

This year, it's possible that the Suns acquired 1 or even 2 lottery picks from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Nash trade. Those picks are potentially gold to a team needing lots of young talent.

Summation

If the Phoenix Suns want to win a championship some day, they need luck and high draft picks to do it.

The Suns are no longer on that playoff bubble of mediocrity. It's time to strike with young talent via the draft. Sure, there's no sure-fire franchise player in this upcoming draft, but the Suns need the best talent period. And any Top-5 pick is better than anyone on this current roster, and a LOT cheaper than anyone acquired via trade or free agency.

Absolutely unbelievable. Those are the only words that come to mind in the wake of Phoenix’s 97-81 victory over the Chicago Bulls. This victory removes several of the monkeys who had taken up...

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