At our Round Table all opinions are not equal. Some are better than others as you will see. Enjoy.
The off-season is tracked the FBI looking for a serial killer these days with investigative tools such as Twitter, Instagram, and "sources" filling us in on the happenings of every NBA player. Every athlete for that matter. It is rare for an athlete to sneak by the world and do their own thing, but the off-season is almost over for them now.
Training Camp is around the corner for the Phoenix Suns so it feels like a good time to get to the brass tacks here with the Round Table.
We took this High School Yearbook style with a handful of "Most Likely To..." categories to see which Suns players improved, regressed, baseline'd, and so on. Long are the days of the chain smoking, beer swilling, red meat athletes that come into Training Camp overweight, tired, and looking to work off the off-season. That athlete is nearly extinct. Unless their name is Glen Davis. Glen Davis has been working off his off-season since LSU...
Enough of me, let's get to what matters, the staffs takes on the most likely players for some very serious scenarios.
1. Breaking the Ice: Who is the most likely to have added a killer new skill to the repertoire?
Kris Habbas: Who do I hope adds a skill or who is most likely...? I hope Alex Len added a killer new skill to his game called staying healthy, but that is not a real thing unless we have somehow morphed into a movie or a new season of Heroes. P.J. Tucker is arguably the hardest worker on the team so if he finds some consistency in the mid-range it will create new wrinkles in the offense. He shot 34.2% on all shots not in the paint or from three last year. That is not a good percentage. So either or, Len's movie style health serum or Tucker's mid-range game, I'm waiting.
Geoff Allen: I'd say Warren. I think he's going to show some defensive chops that we didn't see in his time at NC State. I don't think he's going to become PJ, per se, but I think with his relatively developed ability to score the addition of even an average or slightly above average defensive skillset is going to make him a weapon.
Sean Sullivan: I'm hoping it's Archie Goodwin. Goodwin has had the benefit of a healthy year of development not only during the season, but in the off-season as well. Although Archie wasn't as prolific a scorer as some may have hoped they would see in this year's Summer League, he has been working on his shooting and adjusting to the speed of the NBA. I'm hoping that Archie can become a solid contributor this season. He may not be ready to take over the league as has been prophesied here on BSOTS, but I do believe he will show marked improvement.
Dave King: Last season, we saw Markieff Morris develop a killer midrange game, Goran Dragic become a dead-eye shooter and Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker become reliable threats from three-point range. None of that was predicted before the season started. In fact, I personally predicted that Morris would be among the most disappointing players on the team. And I wasn't alone. So who will surprise this year? I'll say Alex Len. I'll say that Alex Len becomes a two-way player of the future with a solid offensive game and quality defensive instincts. Secondarily, I'll say Eric Bledsoe becomes an All-Star player that will leave us wishing (or thankful) he signed a long-term deal before blowing up.
Jim Coughenour: I don't know if this is a completely new killer skill, but I believe that Isaiah Thomas will massacre teams with his three point shooting. I'll predict now that he leads the team in three point shooting percentage and is second to Gerald Green in makes. This isn't necessarily a stretch, though, since Thomas shot 41% from three point range through the first two months of last season (40 games) before a wrist injury that was likely influential in a decline in the second half. Now put Isaiah in the Suns system and give him time with the coaching staff... He has a chance to shoot well over 40%.
2. Who is the most likely to come back as the exact same player overall?
KH: Marcus Morris.
DK: Exactly the same as last year... well, sorry to say I think that will be Archie Goodwin. I can't tell you how disappointed I was to see no progress this summer over last summer. Sure, he was playing a different role (as leader, facilitator) while T.J. Warren took on the "do what you do best, all the time" role, but Archie was a space-case on defense too much to make me stay on that bandwagon for now.
GA: Goran Dragic. What is there to say? He had the season of his career last year, and while I don't see him adding to that stellar campaign, I also don't see him declining very much, if at all. I see him producing at roughly the level of last season (at least in per minute stats) for at least another 2 years.
SS: I'm thinking P.J. Tucker...and that's not a bad thing. Unlike other players who depend on their athleticism or shooting to impact the game, P.J.'s greatest attribute is his demeanor. Tucker is more than just an energy guy, though he is certainly that as well. He is a physical player who not only out-hustles, but out-muscles his opponents, and plays with a chip that's been permanently embedded in his shoulder. Last season Tucker perfected the corner three, and while I do think he can continue to work on his shooting from the perimeter, I think Tucker will be more or less the same exact guy we saw last year, and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever.
JC: I'll go with Gerald Green. He turns 29 in Janurary, and despite his career year last season it's just hard for me to imagine he'll be adding many new wrinkles to his game. I expect him to be the same efficient volume three point shooter that throws down savage highlight reel dunks while going on incendiary stretches were he takes over the game. That's not bad for a guy who could conceivably be the team's fourth guard.
3. Who is the most likely to have muscled up & who likely slimmed down this off-season?
KH: I've seen Archie and he looks noticeably bigger based on being around the team last year and seeing him as a rookie a lot. Markieff looked trim, in shape, and ready to go a month ago at the WNBA All-Star game so he might be even more nibble on the perimeter.
GA: I'll go with Archie for having muscled up, mainly because at times last season he looked like a child out there on the court. It is inevitable that he will come back bulked up a bit. I actually don't think anyone will have slimmed down...almost no one on the team had any weight to shed.
DK: We already know that Len added a bunch of muscle, and we heard that Marcus Morris is adding muscle as well. I'll throw Chief Kieff into that mix. Both Morrii have been slim in the shoulders the past two years despite their stature. I'll guess they both come back noticeably bigger. A wildcard here could be Bledsoe himself. Already a tank, I see him prepping all summer for this to be a "prove it" year for him.
SS: Judging by what I saw prior to the Summer League, I'm going to go with Alex Len. Going to the Summer League practices, Len was noticeably bigger. He has clearly benefited from a year in an NBA workout regimen, and although he likely still has a ways to go before he reaches his peak, he appears to be well on his way. As for slimming down, I'll go with Warren. Although TJ wasn't on the Suns last year, he was noticeably bigger when he played for NC St. Since then, Warren has already dropped some pounds, and I think training and running with the Suns and their up-tempo system will help keep him lean.
JC: Alex Len had the most room to fill out his frame and he had already noticeably bulked up before the summer league. What I don't know here is how his injury affected his weight training, if at all. For slimming down I'll go with Lon Babby. He could stand to lose a couple pounds.
4. Who is most likely to come in out of shape to "work off the off-season" at Training Camp?
DK: Out of shape... I'll guess Gerald Green. Oh, he won't look it. He's just naturally "in shape", but I would guess someone will mention he's moving a little slow for the first month of the season or so. Same goes for Goran Dragic. The grainy footage of Slovenian National Team looks to me like Goran has taken his "summer of rest" to heart. It's all about the ankles though. Get them healthy!
KH: Nobody. Plumlee is with Team USA, Dragic is playing for his country, and everyone else is young enough to keep weight off by just playing pick-up ball over the summer for different leagues. Also, there is no Glen Davis or Jared Sullinger on this roster that makes you worry about those things.
GA: I hope it isn't true, but I think it will be Gerald Green. Green has had a habit of producing a sub-par year right after a good year over his career, and I have a feeling this is gonna be one of those years. Like I said, I hope I'm wrong.
SS: Eric Bledsoe...assuming he comes back at all. I have no idea what he's been doing this off-season, and neither do the Suns. For all we know he's been lounging around in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas all day. I'm mostly joking...but still.
JC: Gerald Green. This is another reason why I don't really expect much improvement from his this season. Green has taken the idea of summer vacation very literally, like Eric Bledsoe, and has gone off the grid. That's not to say he's not working his butt off, I don't know, but there isn't any news that reveals he is. Most of the Suns have put themselves in conspicuous positions that let people track their progress.
5. Who is the most likely to have practiced his interview skills in the mirror to fill that Gortat-Frye void this season?
KH: Man, hopefully someone. It is not a need for a professional athlete to be quotable, but is nice. This roster is void of those personalities at the moment. I can see Gerald Green being more vocal as a veteran with personality, same for Dragic, and maybe newcomer Isaiah Thomas, but he is new so might not want to step on toes. Nobody stands out, but P.J. Tucker's post game attire is loud enough as is.
GA: Marcus Morris. Marcus is a smooth operator, and I think he's got the personality to fill that void, or at least he probably thinks he has the right personality. If it happens, I can't wait for him to pull the switcheroo with 'Kieff a time or two to embarrass the reporters.
DK: No one. None of these guys like the camera. Our new favorite interview will likely be Isaiah Thomas. He's articulate, passionate and focused. But he's always been that way, so I won't chalk that up to being developed over the summer. I have zero hope for Bledsoe getting markedly better, or Chief Keiff for that matter.
SS: Gerald Green. Green provided some of the best interviews on TV last season and seemed comfortable talking with media and answering questions. I'm not sure he will become the spokesman of the team, but I do think he will provide quality insights. Isaiah Thomas may also provide some great material, judging by his comments since signing with Phoenix.
JC: Isaiah Thomas just stepped into a team full of mostly terrible interviewees, so he could hopscotch the few that are somewhat coherent and audible (like Goran Dragic) and become the voice of the team. He definitely has some energy and charisma. In terms of practicing, though, I'd guess P.J. Tucker has went through some responses in his head to prepare for saying the right things after his offseason transgressions.
BONUS: Who is the last to arrive (Goran excluded) for voluntary workouts?
KH: I mean, is there any other answer here than the most talked about basketball player in the NBA the past few weeks? Eric Bledsoe.
GA: Eric Bledsoe. Regardless of whether or not a contract is finished, I think Bledsoe makes sure he arrives as late as possible to send a passive reminder that he isn't happy with the way he is being treated.
SS: Eric Bledsoe...definitely. Again, we don't even know if he'll be in Phoenix by the time training camp starts, but if he is, I seriously doubt he'll be showing up early.
DK: Bledsoe. Most everyone else on the team has been there all summer, so there's no reason not to be there in September when it gets fun again. But Bledsoe got here on the last possible day last year, and he'll do it again. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a no show for Media Day, even. #basketballreasons
JC: Bledsoe, if he ever shows up. I would guess that never would make him last. I still think there's a definite chance he gets traded, which might make the player/s that he is traded for the last to voluntary workouts. But between spending time with his family, trying to get healthy, and the ongoing
bullshit drama I really can't see Eric doing anything "voluntary" for the Suns and their fans... that might suggest he actually likes being here.
Bright Siders, what do you think?
Team sports are broken down into two seasons from the regular season to the playoffs and the reset button has been hit for the WNBA -- Playoff Time. The Phoenix Mercury wrapped what was one of the most historic seasons in WNBA history winning 29 games, including 16 in a row, and winning the last 15 straight games at home.
This team is primed and poised to make a run in this second season that is equally historic with the end goal of hanging up a third banner from the rafters at U.S. Airways Center.
Up first for the Mercury is an all to familiar foe in the Los Angeles Sparks. Last season the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs where the Mercury advanced in a thrilling three game series won at the last second on a Brittney Griner bucket. That was last year. That was a Mercury team that was still trying to figure each other out as individuals. That was not this team.
All season they were trying to figure each other out and this season they have found that formula, especially against the Sparks.
This year the Mercury dominated the Sparks. There is no other way around that when you look at the five wins (and no losses) by an average 11.6 points per win. No losses. Dominance. But, when the second season begins that gets thrown out the window to an extent as every game becomes a micro-season in and of itself. Pressure is heightened and the focus has to be at an elite level.
The Sparks are a very talented team, but they have not been a complete team all season as Candace Parker missed two games against the Mercury and Nneka Ogwumike missed one herself. Typically the Sparks have the advantage in the paint with that duo, despite the redundancies and limitations discussed on this weeks podcast, but against the Mercury that advantage gets neutered.
Not just this series, but the playoffs as a whole are going to determine a lot for this Sparks team.
The Mercury are building what might be a 3-5 year window dynasty with DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, and Diana Taurasi all signing extensions in recent years and the youth of Brittney Griner enfusing the team together into greatness. They have their coach, their team, and organizational structure from top-to-bottom now.
All of that cannot be said about the Sparks who have to deal with Candace Parker's free-agency this fall/winter, a potential change in the coaching staff, and a roster filled with talent, but talent that is not clicking at the highest level possible. Despite the fact that free-agents rarely leave home in the WNBA because the money is not like it is in the NBA, she could leave. Parker has not won in the shadow of Lisa Leslie and could find greener pastures, or at least more successful pastures, elsewhere.
This series could be the rise of the Mercury Dynasty and the fall of the Parker Era in Los Angeles.
For the Sparks it comes down to jump-shots... Either making them or reducing the amount of long two's that they take because of Griner inside. Those jump-shots are fool's gold after a few go down they are playing into the Mercury's defensive strategies as a whole. Jump-shots.
That player is Bonner for the Mercury. After you get past the Griner-Parker, Candice Dupree-Ogwumike, Taurasi-Tolliver match-ups the game is wide open for Bonner to play free safety on defense and be a weapon on the offensive end. Her efficiency has been admirable this year on the offensive end taking less difficult shots and scoring smarter all-around.
This season the Mercury outscored the Sparks 85.4 - 73.8 and out-rebounded them 35.2 - 33.6 on the season per game. The turnovers were dead even. Looking at the match-ups in the season series here is how the teams stacked up against each other in the five games:
|Diana Taurasi||18.8ppg 5.4apg 3.0rpg|
|Penny Taylor||8.0ppg 3.4apg|
|DeWanna Bonner||13.6ppg 5.4rpg|
|Candice Dupree||13.8ppg 7.6rpg|
|Brittney Griner||15.8ppg 7.2rpg 3.2bpg|
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
|Alana Beard||7.2ppg 1.2apg|
|Kristi Tolliver||12.6ppg 3.6apg|
|Jantel Lavender||11.2 8.6rpg|
|Candace Parker||21.3ppg 9.3rpg|
|Nneka Ogwumike||15.5ppg 7.2rpg|
With full health the Mercury are too deep, too balanced, and too focused to lose to this Sparks team. Parker and Ogwumike are very talented, but not a great mix on the court and the Head Coach Sandy Brondello will key in on that. This could (should) be a quick series leading to another trip to the Western Conference Finals and an opportunity to win another Championship.
Mercury in Two (2-0)
Your gameday gear is waiting on eBay.
Preceding the seminal Suns banger, "I'm a Suns Fan," was this collection of Phoenix favorites, "Sunsational Sounds." The CD, released in 1996, includes all of your arena favorites, as well as classic Phoenix Suns highlights. Included is the drafting of Dan Majerle, the 1976 NBA Finals against the Celtics, and of course, Al McCoy. This auction includes the disc only, and can have a place in your 8 disc CD changer in your 1987 Nissan Stanza, complete with Blue Thunder subwoofers, for a twenty dollar bill.
Famed California poet Tupac Shakur once wrote, "all eyez on me." No doubt he was clad in vintage Zubaz pants. How popular was the company? They sold 100 million dollars worth of merchandise in 1991 alone. These pants, of the Phoenix Suns variety, are a size large and show visible wear and fading according to the seller. That, nor the stain on the back, prevented "invtgwetrust" from coming up with the $47 price tag, after shipping.
For the Suns fan who needs the appropriate shirt to go along with his vintage Zubaz pants, here's a t-shirt featuring the front page of the Tribune following Phoenix's defeat of the Seattle Supersonics in the 1993 Western Conference Finals. The Suns advanced to play the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, and I choose not to further comment on that series. Pair this with the above pants, and fellow fans will think you came to US Airways Center in a time machine. 35 bucks using buy it now, after shipping, is the damage. That includes no mention of "visible wear, fading, or staining."
Commemorate the 1977-78 Suns with this vintage beer can featuring the Suns schedule from that year. This was the 10th NBA season for Phoenix, and it wasn't a terrible one. The Suns finished 49-33 before bowing out to Milwaukee in the first round in a three game series. Paul Westphal and Walter Davis where named All-Stars, and Davis was selected as Rookie of the Year, joining Alvan Adams as the second Sun in three seasons to be honored. The Suns finished second in a Pacific Division that did not have a team finished below .500. The tab is intact, as this beer can has been opened from the bottom, because you will not tolerate the integrity of your vintage NBA schedule beer cans being compromised. Bidding starts at three bucks, another three to ship.
Ok, so as goofy as this item may be, it's perhaps the best buy this week. Kevin Johnson throwback NBApron, showcasing the short shorts, without actually having to risk a wardrobe malfunction. I originally found this with a $15 price tag, did a little more research, and found out it can be had for less than $10. Obviously, manning the grill at home in this is a no-brainer, but 1000 BSTOS bonus points to the fan who dons this to a game next season. 500 more if there's a sign that ties it all together. Like "Grillin' Grizzlies." Or, "F*** The Lakers."