Back again for more punishment, we grade the SF position!

Last year, to much fanfare, our own Jacob Padilla broke down his letter grades and rankings of players at each of the positions in the NBA. This year, I'm going to do the same thing, but with two twists.

The first rankings, of the Center position, can be found here, while the rankings of Power Forwards can be found here.

First, I am going to introduce a slight empirical element to this grading system. Instead of going entirely by the gut, I will base at least part of my grades on a composite ranking scale that takes into account a players ranking on four aggregate statistics from the 2013-14 season that all have slightly different emphases: Win Shares per 48 (from basketball-reference.com), ESPN's Real Plus/Minus, PER, and PoP48 (from BoxScoreGeeks.com). This hopefully adds a little objectivity to the analysis. (Note: because there are players who didn't play last year, the rankings cannot be entirely based upon this.)

Second, I am taking a cue from the great Bill Simmons, who invites commentary from the infamous Cousin Sal in his NBA rankings columns, and inviting commentary from my friend and Suns junkie Gottlieb. Whereas I rely on statistics to inform my grades, Julian Gottlieb will provide gut check evaluations.

The grading system will remain roughly the same as last season:

KEY

S: Best in the Game (LeBron James)

A+: Second Best in the Game (Kevin Durant)

A: Top 5 Player

A-: Top 5 at the Position

B+: All-Star Caliber

B: Above Average Starters/Fringe All-Star Caliber

B-: Above Average Starters

C+: Average Starters

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

C-: Good Bench Player

D+: Average Bench Player

D: Fringe Rotation Player

D-: Fringe NBA Player

F: Soon to be Puerto Rican League All-Star!

NOTE: Order within the grades is arbitrary.

Please keep the comments civilized - this is a family friendly community and differences of opinion are to be expected.

I am evaluating the Small Forward Position today (link takes you to the publicly viewable Google Sheets page for all position raw rankings).

S: Best Player in the Game

LeBron James (1.5)

The total game of LeBron, in conjunction with the injury KD suffered this off-season, keep him in the top spot for me. The gap has certainly narrowed, but if I had to pick a player to win with right now, its LeBron.

A+: Second Best Player in the Game

Kevin Durant (1.5)

Durant has managed to close the gap with LeBron more than I would have expected three seasons ago. He came into this season poised to be considered the best player in the game, coming off of the MVP performance in the 2013-14 season. However, I think the combination of his injury, plus the changed dynamic of a team that will have been KD-less for the formative first 6-8 weeks of the season, keeps him below LeBron again this season.

A: Top 5 Player

Outside of LeBron and Durant, I don't view any of the other Small Forwards in the league as Top-5 talents. A few are close (Paul George, Kawhi), or used to be in the group (Pierce, Carmelo), but at this exact point in time they just aren't good enough to fall in this higher tier.

A-: Top 5 at Position

Kawhi Leonard (4); Paul George (6.25); Carmelo Anthony (7.25)

I think Kawhi benefits from the Extremes effect (discussed in the Power Forwards article), and his overall ranking is likely skewed due to playing on such a hyper-successful team. That being said, he is pretty undeniably a Top-5 player at this position, with his overall versatility as a player and emerging confidence and assertiveness. While Paul George's team was really good, fewer of his teammates fall far higher than the eye test would place them, so I don't think he is benefiting the same way as Leonard. George has the best claim to be in the Top 5 overall discussion, but his injury precludes him from that discussion. Carmelo is clearly a great player, but I have serious concerns about his ability to adjust to the Triangle offense. Of the three,  he might have the greatest potential to move into the Top 5 players discussion, but I just don't see it happening.

B+: All-Star Caliber

Nicolas Batum (13.5); DeMar DeRozan (20); Rudy Gay (21.5)

If you look at the spreadsheet, you'll notice that all three of these guys are graded higher than their aggregate ranking. DeRozan and Gay I expect to perform better this season than last: both saw their metrics go up following the Gay-to-Sacramento trade, and with a full season of playing in their new systems, I expect the improvement to be fully realized. Plus, if Toronto continues to improve, and Sacramento manages to surprise people a bit, both players will be credited with being integral to that success, which might result in All-Star consideration. Batum I have here because I really feel like this is a breakout season for him. Batum had arguably his most efficient season last year, putting up a career best TS%. However, this came with a significantly reduced usage rate. If this rebounds, given his defensive chops, I expect him to get strong All-Star consideration in the West, especially since Durant won't be playing for much of the first half of the season.

B: Above Average Starter/Fringe All-Star Caliber

Chandler Parsons (12.5); Luol Deng (19.25); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (20.5)

Chandler Parsons is perhaps not that controversial of a placement here. Given the strong interior scoring preferences of Dirk, Chandler and Monta, I expect Parsons to get the same kind of looks he was getting in Houston. The only potential thing that could hold him back is that the offense that has been run the last few years in Dallas has not strongly featured the Small Forward in the offense, instead relying on them for staunch defense and transition buckets, skills that are not a regular part of Parsons' repertoire. Luol Deng saw his production decline with the Cavaliers. However, I expect him to return to prime Bulls form with a Heat team that is really going to ask him to do more than he has traditionally been asked to do. This might be a last hurrah year for him as a fringe All-Star candidate, but the potential is there for him to put up the numbers. Finally, I'm gambling a bit on Kidd-Gilchrist. While his offensive skills are still definitely a work in progress, his defense and transition skills started to blossom last year. With more pressure being put on him with the departure of Josh McRoberts, it might be a bit of a sink or swim year for Kidd-Gilchrist. I'm betting on him swimming and improving that mid-range jumpshot to something vaguely resembling a proper shot.

B-: Above Average Starter

DeMarre Carroll (11); Trevor Ariza (12); Gordon Hayward (26.75);

DeMarre Carroll was quietly one of the most effective players in the game last season. He graded out in the top 20 in every single metric. He is likely to see some reduced playing time this year as Al Horford returns, but realistically the Hawks should make room for him in the rotation. Ariza falls below where his numbers would put him because of his history of performing to get a contract, and then disappearing. Gordon Hayward was a tough call. There is some evidence that Jazz players suffered from the Extremes effect, but it wasn't as strong as it was for Orlando, Philadelphia and San Antonio. Since last season was such a departure from form for him, and since the cardboard cut-out of a coach that was Ty Corbin was replaced by someone who I can only hope is more competent, I'm going to give Hayward the benefit of the doubt.

C+: Average Starter

Paul Pierce (12); Mike Dunleavy (16); CJ Miles (17.25); PJ Tucker (18.25); Chris Douglas-Roberts (24); Shawn Marion (25.75); Corey Brewer (26.5); Andrei Kirilenko (27); Jae Crowder (28); Danilo Gallinari

Pierce and Dunleavy are both downgraded, despite strong seasons last year, due to age and the high likelihood that they will lose minutes this season in order to facilitate the growth of young players. CJ Miles graded out well last season, and is likely to see increased minutes with the loss of Stephenson and George, but I'm just not convinced he is any better than an average starter. Tucker, despite how much I love his game, isn't really better than average. He's a great fit for the team, but just an average overall player. Douglas-Roberts, Brewer, Kirilenko and Marion are all defensive specialists, and currently aren't slotted to play starters minutes, despite their strong seasons. For Marion and Kirilenko, like Pierce and Dunleavy, this is tied to age. Crowder has improved each year in the League, and I expect him to continue to improve. I also expect him to benefit from a Dallas team that is likely going to revert to giving him minutes at the 2, 3 and 4 positions, just to try to get him and his defensive energy on the court. Finally, Danilo is a wild card. If he comes back and plays like he did the previous two seasons, he will have a strong case for being in the B- or B discussion. However, I'm expecting cob-webs and synergy issues, plus perhaps minute restrictions early in the season.

C: Fringe Starter/Bench Player

Marcus Morris (22.25); Matt Barnes (24); Thabo Sefolosha (26.75); Martell Webster (29); Al-Farouq Aminu (31); Kyle Singler (35.25); Tyreke Evans (36); Wilson Chandler (38.25); Josh Smith (39.25); Nick Young (40); Giannis Antetokounmpo (47); Jabari Parker

It pains me to acknowledge that Josh Smith has some value, but I have to admit that, at least last season, he was a better than average offensive talent at the small forward position. However, his defense and energy oriented metric scores are terribly bad. Compare him to Swaggy P, and the problem emerges: both players are similarly skilled on one-side of the ball, but Josh Smith is paid tremendously more; this is true with Tyreke Evans as well, but Evans is younger, more versatile, and a better offensive weapon. Speaking of Nick Young, he manages to skip up a grade here because of the high likelihood that, on a Lakers team that is going to be desperate for scoring, he is going to be given the green light to gun, likely improving his 12th ranked PER number from last season, given the improved play that should be coming from the PG position with the acquisition of Jeremy Lin. Barnes, Sefolosha, Webster, Aminu and Singler are all 3 and D guys who would start on a number of teams, or who will start, but who could just as easily serve a 6th man role on a good team, as Aminu is likely to do this season. Giannis and Jabari are both sleeper picks here. Their team is going to be terrible, but under the guidance of new coach Jason Kidd, who says all the right things about experimenting with young players and letting them establish their play style, I expect both of them to play to this grade.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Tyreke Evans has been on a tilt the last couple of years, probably suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Sacramento Disorder), but I think he'll bounce back this year in the Big Easy. The balance on that team is good and they have the right mix of veterans and young talent. The franchise is hungry in the post-Chris Paul era. Evans uses his court vision to feed the Brow and he's gonna score in bunches if the 'cans go uptempo.

C-: Good Bench Player

James Jones (14.5); Dorell Wright (34); Omri Casspi (34); Robbie Hummel (34); Perry Jones III (36.75); Gerald Wallace (37); Danny Granger (37.25); Kyle Anderson; Cleanthony Early; Bojan Bogdanovic; James Ennis; Doug McDermott

James Jones was the beneficiary of the Extremes effect, plus a small sample size. These massively over-inflated his value, leading to him being the "11th" best player according to the aggregate model. In reality, at 34, he is a good bit player. Omri Casspi has been a criminally underrated player during his time in the NBA, and I'm glad that he was able to land a contract with the Kings. The walking corpse of Danny Granger performed much better than most commentators would have you believe, though in a somewhat limited minutes sample; I expect him to thrive this season as a bench three point shooter, taking over a good chunk of the minutes vacated by James Jones and Mike Miller. Of the rookies, I'm going to gush about James Ennis, who I think has the highest potential to perform above his grade due to the high potential for injuries among the Heat's aged wing rotation. The only guys definitively ahead of Ennis on the wing rotation are Granger, Wade and Deng. The likelihood of injuries, minutes restrictions, etc. stripping those guys of minutes is pretty strong, and so far in his young professional career Ennis has looked fantastic everywhere he has been. Given the opportunity, I could see him being this decade's version of Michael Redd - a second round talent who far exceeds expectations due to work ethic, energy and a lights out jump-shot.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

The Knicks face three burning questions:

1) Can Cleanthony Early be a legit backup for Melo? Yes.

2) Is his name a combination of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra? Nate Silver calculates a 64% probability with a +/- 3% margin of error.

3) Will pictures of his high school bun provide good team building banter at least through February when the Knicks are already out of playoff contention? Doubtful.

D+: Average Bench Player

Solomon Hill (40); Jordan Hamilton (43.5); Maurice Harkless (43.75); Jared Dudley (46.25); Lance Thomas (46.667); Khris Middleton (47); Chase Budinger (48.25); Harrison Barnes (50.25); Hollis Thompson (50.25); TJ Warren

A note of caution: while Maurice Harkless grades out this low, at least part of that is the fact that he played on such a bad team, another occurrence of the Extremes effect. However, that being said, he was pretty universally disparaged by the metric stats. I expect Solomon Hill to get more playing time this year, and to improve this grade, but I'm not sure how. I've never seen a player who, in his time on the court, is so unable to impact the box score yet grades out as positively impactful. I envision him becoming a slightly bigger, more versatile version of Thabo Sefolosha for the Pacers this season. Chase Budinger never looked healthy last season; if he can manage to get his body in shape, I fully expect him to move back up into the C-/C discussion. Harrison Barnes is the lowest graded projected starter at this position. Barnes only stands out slightly in the PoP48 metric, which seems to benefit energy guys. If Barnes doesn't show improvement this season, I fully expect him to lose minutes to Draymond Green. TJ Warren falls here because, by all indications he has been fairly impressive in the pre-season. On a less stacked team, he might get more chance to showcase his talents, but since he is going to have to fight for every minute he gets, and since most players tend to perform better with more minutes, I expect him to grade out as only an average bench player this season.

Gottlieb's Gut Check

Well, its official: JMZ (copyright pending) is a journeyman. He said he was thrilled to go to the Clippers to play for a winner and be close to home (San Diego). Now he's in Milwaukee. One is reminded of Dogma, when Metatron (Alan Rickman) is asked whether the fallen angels Bartelby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) were sent to Hell as punishment from God, to which he replies, "No. Worse. Wisconsin. For the entire span of human history. And when the world ends, they'll sit ouside the gates for all eternity." Poor Dudley.

D: Fringe Rotation Player

Landry Fields (39); Chris Johnson (40.33); Francisco Garcia (46); Cartier Martin (47); Victor Claver (48.5); Richard Jefferson (49.25); Caron Butler (50); Shabazz Muhammad (50.5); Evan Turner (51.75); Otto Porter Jr (63.75); Bruno Caboclo; Jerami Grant; Rodney Hood; Damien Inglis; Kostas Papanikolaou

Some of these guys are older guys that are rounding out relatively successful careers (Garcia, Jefferson, Butler), while a few are young guys who haven't really lived up to their draft potential (Evan Turner, Shabazz). Turner is particularly lowly graded for a guy who played so many minutes last season, but again, part of that is the stain of the extremes effect. The problem is, I think Turner ended up in nearly as toxic a situation, particularly if the Celtics trade Rondo, which means Turner is going to continue to grade out poorly. Otto Porter Jr never looked like he was comfortable on the court last season; if Paul Pierce can help instill enough confidence in the young player to make him look even remotely like the player that was drafted, I expect him to get solid rotation minutes, though he might not produce like a rotation player this season. Of the new guys, I actually think Caboclo, the infamous '2 years away from being 2 years away' phenom out of Brazil, is the most likely to perform beyond his grading. While not individually impressive in any one thing in the pre-season and summer league, he is such a unique talent that the Raptors, who aren't particularly deep at Wing, are likely going to feel pressured to play him this season.

D-: Fringe NBA Player

Wesley Johnson (52.25); Tayshaun Prince (53.75); Austin Daye (54.75); Glen Rice Jr (61.25); Sergey Karasev (68); Joe Ingles; Roy Devyn Marble

Wesley Johnson is going to get big minutes this season with the Lakers, but he remains an enigma of a player. Affable on and off the court, he's hard not to like, until he puts out the all too frequent 8 turnover game. Prince has declined far enough that I really don't think he plays all that much for Memphis this season. Daye, despite his poor play last season, managed to land a spot with the Spurs, and I fully expect him to grade out higher than this ranking this upcoming season as a result of the Spurs system. Karasev has been moderately impressive in the pre-Season, and I still think he has potential to be a sharpshooter off the bench. Roy Devyn Marble was one of the more impressive guys in the Summer League, and while Summer League usually doesn't mean much, I think he'll do enough to warrant some playing time.

F: Future Puerto Rican League All-Star!

John Salmons (54.25); Alonzo Gee (57.5); Quincy Miller (57.75); Luigi Datome (58); Jeffery Taylor (66.5)

Salmons is a rare combination: a player who is both objectively terrible by NBA standards and someone who played pretty large numbers of minutes. For New Orleans fans hoping to make a playoff run's sake, I hope that trend does not continue. Gee, Miller, and Taylor are all guys who so far just haven't managed to convince anyone that they are NBA caliber players, and the latest news is that Quincy Miller has actually been cut.

A photo posted by Miles Plumlee (@mc_plumlord) on Oct 10, 2014 at 10:51pm PDT As someone who has seen (what I thought was) a decent number of Parks and Recreation episodes, I was somewhat surprised...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Here is your formal weekly recap for the Phoenix Suns with a look at all the games, the news and notes, key stats, NBA Draft updates, Quote of the Week, and more. Let's get it...

How will the pre-season translate to the regular season for the Phoenix Suns here in the 2014-2015 season? It is easy to dismiss the preparatory season as having little to no merit on the actual season, but there are always little (and sometimes big) things to takeaway from any competitive basketball played.

Well, last year the team went 4-2 in the pre-season and then 48-34 in the regular season.

In 2012-2013 they went 4-3 in the pre-season and then 25-57 in the regular season.

In 2011-2012 they went 0-2 (lockout season) and then 33-33 in the regular season.

Game Recaps

@ Los Angeles Lakers - W (114-108 OT) Full Recap

@ Los Angeles Clippers - L (105-108) Full Recap

@ Utah Jazz - W (105-100) Full Recap

So the wins and losses are not an indicator of success, but there are always components that can be pulled from the overall team play and the individual play of the roster.

Eric Bledsoe: 24.6 MPG 15.0 PPG 3.9 APG 3.0 RPG 1.4 SPG 56.5% FG (46.7% 3PT)

Goran Dragic: 23.6 MPG 12.4 PPG 2.7 APG 1.4 RPG 1.3 SPG 52.8% FG (27.8% 3PT)

Markieff Morris: 23.3 MPG 11.9 PPG 5.0 RPG 1.7 APG 46.4% FG (28.6% 3PT)

Miles Plumlee: 19.0 MPG 6.0 PPG 4.7 RPG 0.6 BPG 42.2 FG%

Isaiah Thomas: 22.9 MPG 14.1 PPG 4.1 APG 2.3 RPG 1.4 SPG 46.6% FG (37.5% 3PT)

When you look at the numbers on more of a PER36 basis (add a third to the numbers above), which is what all three will likely play, then these numbers are all very encouraging. No one will dominate the ball enough to be a Top 10 assist per game candidate, but will have three point guards creating offense for both themselves and for teammates, putting lots of pressure on the defense. The three guards in one way or another played well as individuals and showed flashes as a unit when called upon, especially all three together at once.

On the other side of things Plumlee did not live up to the "most improved" Suns player that he was anointed from all the internal rumblings within the team. His GM, coach, and teammates raved about his improvements. None of which were on display.

The depth on the perimeter, especially at the lead guard spot, was the bright spot of the pre-season. Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas might be the most dynamic trio in the league when all is said in done. They could be the most productive trio in combined points, assists, steals, and rebounds in the entire NBA this season.

Defense: 96.9 PPG 43.7% FG (27.3% 3PT) 11 SPG (20.0 turnovers forced) 42.1 RPG

Again, pre-season basketball so the Suns got to play a Spur-less San Antonio team, a fuel-less Rockets squad, and a South American team with limited NBA athletic talent. The numbers are a little inflated from that. Watching the team play defense and swarm around moving laterally left to right they look like an overall better defensive squad from compared to last season. The turnovers are a direct result of the quickness, deflections, and ball pressure the perimeter unit is able to put on the opponent.

A number like 20 turnovers forced per game is not realistically sustainable since the league leader last season was at 17.0 per game, but the Suns could be in the hunt for the league lead in that.

The Markieff-Plumlee front-court defensive pairing is not the "Steel Curtain" of the NBA although they seem to have more lateral movement and cover more ground defensively. With Bledsoe at the head of the defense this quicker, more athletic version of the Suns should prove to be a Top 15 defense this season.

Offense: 23.4 FB Points, 43.1 PIP, 22.0 PTS Off Turnovers, 104.9 PPG, 45.6% FG, 33.5% 3PT

Last year the offense was the story and with an improved defense the offense has less pressure on it, but, as I've pointed out this pre-season before, the two sides ignite each other.

The Suns are going to score. The pace, style, shots they get up, and talent will make this a team that consistently scores more than the average team, but can they be as efficient or more efficient than last season? Overall the team was in the Top 10 in effective field goal percentage, pace, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating last season. They were also the worst in percentage of field goals made off of assists.

With more play-makers, less offensive burden on individuals on the perimeter, and quality shooting all-around the assisted field goals should go up giving this team a more efficient offense. Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas, and Markieff can go one-on-one with the best of their position every night, but that is not a formula to win 50+ games in this Wild, Wild, Western Conference landscape.

Let's dive deeper into this week:

Key Stat

36/40

The pre-season is the pre-season, but some things are just about effort and basketball. Over the course of the pre-season Isaiah Thomas led the entire league in free-throws made (36) and had the second highest percentage (90%) of any player that attempted 30 or more free-throws total. In his last three games Thomas went 23/26 from the line (8.6 attempts per game) off the bench. Add that to his shooting (9/24 from three) and Thomas is one tough cover off the bench scoring in nearly every possible way.

Quote of the Week

"People still look at us and say we're not going to make it that far. They're still saying we're not one of the top teams in the West. They're still saying we're not a contender so we love it. Same thing as last year. No chip. We just go in and do what we do and leave. We don't talk about it. We go out and play. " -- P.J. Tucker

Well said, Tuck, let's get the season started already!

Rookie Watch

  • T.J. Warren: 11 minutes 0 points 2 rebounds 1 assist (two DNP - Coaches Decision)
  • Tyler Ennis: 0 minutes (three DNP - Coaches Decision)

Welcome to the NBA, rooks. The rotation is getting set so the two rookies, well three with Zoran Dragic, saw a week of basketball from the best seats in the house without having a chance to participate. That is going to happen frequently during the season despite Warren showing the ability to be a productive player on both ends of the floor. The team is just two deep at the point and on the wing right now. Bakersfield might have a few All-Stars or the Suns will have some quality of depth for practices and lopsided affairs.

2015 NBA Draft

  • Los Angeles Lakers: (Top 5 Protected) After a 3-5 record in the pre-season (30 wins translated) they would have been the ninth worst team in the NBA based on last seasons standings. That would transfer the pick so long as the lottery did not grant them winning odds. No Steve Nash for the entire season. A full year of Kobe Bryant redemption games. Lot's of Jeremy Lin. Lot's of Byron Scott coaching games. It's Kobe versus Coach Byron (Michael) Scott for the Lakers success or lack thereof this season a storyline deserving of the Hollywood spotlight.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: (Top 12 Protected) They went 5-2 in the pre-season (58 wins translated) so obviously they will be a force to be reckoned with and the Suns will get the pick. Records can be deceiving. The Wolves may have pockets of time in the schedule like this, but they will also have a few 5-8 game losing streaks along the way. For the most part the Wolves are being looked at as a bottom two team out West, so, don't hold your breath for this pick.
  • Phoenix Suns: A 5-2 record in the pre-season (58 wins translated, Deja Vu from a second ago?) showcased a birth of positives as well as a lot of areas of opportunity. There is no doubt that the Suns will be a very good team with playoff aspirations leading to either another 13/14 pick in the late lottery or a late teens pick if they make the final eight in the West.

Follow along all season as I look at individual prospects as well as standings/odds for each pick.

News & Notes

  • The Suns finalized their 15-man roster cutting Earl Barron.
  • Steve Nash is out for the season and could potentially retire at the end of the year...

Suns History Lesson

This week in Suns History: October 29th, 1996: Charles Barkley was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time...

This week in Suns History: October 30th, 1996: The Phoenix Mercury are named as one of the eight inaugural teams in the WNBA...

This week in Suns History: November 2nd, 1990: In Tokyo, Japan the Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz in the first regular season game played by any professional sport outside of the United States of America...

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Wednesday, October 29th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)

Friday, October 31st vs. San Antonio Spurs (0-0)

Saturday, November 1st @ Utah Jazz (0-0)

Regular season is back this week. Starting off at home should do the Suns some good. The Lakers will come in on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, and with a depleted roster. For the Suns, you could not ask for a better way to get the season started with a potentially tired rival on the road that is ripe for the picking.

Following that the Suns welcome in the defending NBA Champions who will have an unnecessary chip on their shoulders created by Robert Sarver. Calling the champs out for resting veterans in a pre-season game is just throwing some gas on a fire that is already burning with enough ferocity. The Spurs and Suns had a tough, one-sided, rivalry for the better part of the 2000's before Goran Dragic buried them in the playoffs a few years ago. This will be a nice early season test of team chemistry and the style the Suns are branding coming into this season.

The week closes out with the Jazz on the road. They are a tough team to peg. A young new coach with an exciting style and a plethora of young athletes translates to something. Where the Jazz become an enigma is whether they will be another version of the 2013-2014 Suns or 2013-2014 Cleveland Cavaliers? I'm leaning more towards the latter.

A 2-1 week to start the year would be a solid one for the Suns. It would replicate last season, but it would make quite the statement to knock off the Lakers, Spurs, and start 3-0 in this brutal Western Conference.

Welcome to the Madhouse! Bright Side of the Sun is an amazing and diverse community and it deserves a place where the tyranny of topicality does not rule. And that's what The Madhouse is. It's Bright Side of the Sun's place to talk about whatever you want, whenever you want: favorite TV shows, news from around the league or how the hell did Ouija and its 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes beat out the 86% rated John Wick at the box office?

One of the big keys to the Phoenix Suns season will be to win the battle of the three-point plays.

When you didn't make the playoffs last year, you need to improve in a lot of areas. The Suns were good in some ways, but lacking in others.

We can debate the makeup of the roster all day long, and even the schemes the Suns employ. We can even suggest trades that would fill in every hole known to man and somehow make the Suns an 82-0 team without giving up any necessary players. You know who you are. You're already itching to jump down to the comments section to suggest a blockbuster.

But this article focuses on the current Suns roster, and identifies one way the Suns can improve without making any trades.

Some things we know for sure about the Phoenix Suns this season:

  1. The Hydra will make the Suns exciting and will win the battle of back courts on most nights
  2. The front court will be frustrating and will lose the battle of front courts on most nights

Breaking down the pluses and minuses of the front court is a long, drawn-out conversation. Today, I am going to focus on three-point plays, some of which are generated in the paint as shooting fouls on made baskets.

Last season, the Suns finished in the Top 15 on defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) for the first time since the 2006-07 season. They did so not with a premiere shot blocking anchor in the middle, but with a three-point line defense that ranked #2 overall in the league.

The Suns allowed a lot of scores at the rim, but more than made up for it by winning the battle of the three-pointer.

Defending the three

When you are smaller than most of your opponents, you cannot expect to win by playing traditional defense. You're going to get beat up under the basket.

But games aren't won or lost under the basket any more. When the object is to score more points than your opponent, the key is to stop the shots that create the most points.

There are only two ways to score more than two points on a possession: making a three-point basket from behind the arc, and enticing a shooting-foul on a made basket.

The Suns were the second-best team in league at defending the three-point line (34.1%) while being 8th best overall in making them (37.2%). Overall, the Suns took 5.2 more threes than their opponent and outscored them by 9.1 points per game from behind the arc.

For the Suns to continue to have success this season, they will have to reprise that advantage. On the perimeter, the Suns bring back all of their regulars from last season, with only swapping undersized Ish Smith for undersized Isaiah Thomas.

And to that end, the Suns in the preseasons have defended just as well as last year (2nd in three-point defense) but have not shot the ball as well. You can throw preseason stats out the window, for sure, but still it's good to see consistency in scheme there.

Making the three

Despite losing Channing Frye to the Orlando Magic, the Suns return all four of their top three-point shooters from last season (Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris made 38.1 - 40.7%) and six of their top seven overall. They also added Anthony Tolliver who made 41% of his threes last season in Charlotte, which would have been tops on the Suns, and Isaiah Thomas who made 40% of his threes in Sacramento last year before hurting his shooting wrist in February.

The Suns were only 8th in three-point percentage last year, so it's not a stretch to assume similar or better results this season.

Committing shooting fouls - the other 3-point play

I cannot find a perfect stat for this, so bear with me. I wanted to find out where the Suns ranked last year on the other kind of three-point play - shooting fouls. Ideally, I wanted to know how many three-point plays the Suns converted versus surrendered last year via the shooting foul. Unfortunately, I could not find such a stat on a team level. Synergy used to have it but they have shut down public access as of October 1. But I got close.

Back in the mid-2000s, one of Mike D'Antoni's tenets for his Suns team was to commit the fewest fouls possible. In fact, the Suns regularly were in the bottom three of the league in fouls committed. His premise was sound: why allow the other team to turn a two-pointer into a three-pointer?

Where Phoenix struggled was committing way too many fouls. The Suns committed the 23rd-most fouls last season and were 23rd in opponent free throw attempts per offensive play.

These errors should be correctable. As Miles Plumlee gains experience, he will learn when and how to commit fouls and when to just allow the points. He will also get better at early positioning on defense, so he doesn't put himself into recovery mode that so often results in fouls. Unfortunately, Plumlee hasn't shown any progress in this area in preseason.

Also working against the Suns this season is the role Alex Len will play. The 7'1" Len is only 21 and has barely played in the past 18 months, so he is very likely to have a high foul rate this season.

The Morris twins, as well, have high foul rates despite having a lot more NBA experience. As they enter their fourth seasons, each should be expected to reduce their foul rates this year.

If the Suns can somehow finish in the middle of the pack on shooting fouls committed, they can stop shooting themselves in the foot so much this season.

Drawing shooting fouls

Back in the mid-2000s, the Suns would prefer to convert their own three-point plays than watch the other team do it. In those days, PF Amare Stoudemire was a master at drawing shooting fouls on the pick-and-roll.

These Suns of 2014-15 have no one like STAT. Yet these Suns do have three point guards who thrive at drawing shooting fouls on drives to the rim from the perimeter. Overall, the Suns were a respectable 13th overall last season in free throws attempted per offensive play. Considering the Suns disadvantage in size, it's a testament to Dragic and Bledsoe's, as well as Markieff Morris', fearlessness driving into the teeth of the defense.

This year, the Suns have added Isaiah Thomas who is good in his own right at driving to the rim and drawing fouls along the way.

All three of the Hydra were among the league's Top 13 players with the most drives per game, Top 14 in team PPG on drives and Top 16 on personal PPG on drives, per NBA.com/stats. These guys create points in bunches.

Summary

Three out of four ain't bad. The Suns are:

  • Really good at stopping three-pointers
  • Pretty good at making them
  • Okay, and getting better, at drawing shooting fouls
  • Really bad at committing shooting fouls

The Suns will likely continue to focus on both kinds of three-point plays this season and it will be one of their keys to the season. Between the long-range bomber offense and the Slash Brothers, or Slash Triplets, or Hydra, they will continue to score in bunches.

Where the Suns need to improve is on the defensive end. They need to maintain their effectiveness in defending the long bombs while also reducing their foul rate at the rim.

Teams are going to score at the rim. They just will. The Suns are not the biggest team in the NBA nor the stingiest defense.

They just need to stop making matters worse by committing shooting fouls. The Suns are an aggressive defense. Fouls will happen. Layups will be given up.

Just don't make it a three-point play.

Page 841 of 2362

841

Web Links

Sponsored Ads