You've got tons of questions about the Phoenix Suns and we are here to answer them! Today's mailbag covers questions on the Suns defense, Eric Bledsoe's return, Archie Goodwin's potential, Shavlik Randolph's disappearing act, and the summer cap situation.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the SunBlast, where Bright Side answers YOUR questions on the Phoenix Suns. As of this morning, the Suns sit just a half-game out of the playoff picture but face a difficult test of 9 road games versus only 4 home games to finish out the season.

Let's get to the wide-ranging questions posed via email and this post earlier this week.

MJFerguson: Why are the Suns so terrible defensively since the All-Star break??

Statistically, opponents are getting to the rim at higher frequency now than before the break and they are converting better than before when they get to the rim. Shots at the rim are the highest % in the game, so the more you allow the worse it gets for you defensively. However, the stats today show that the Suns are 15th in the league on defense since the All Star Break (up from 20th three days ago), which is basically on par with pre-break results. The down side is that only three current playoff seeds are playing worse defense than the Suns.

However, the Suns are also only 15th in offense since the break despite having nearly identical efficiency to the first half. This means that other offenses have stepped up, making it tougher on middling and worse defensive teams as the playoff hunt heats up.

The biggest reason for the Suns' struggles on defense, in my opinion, is that they have been largely unable to practice for a long time now. The further the Suns get from training camp, where they came out as a top-10 defense for a month, the more they lose their timing on rotation. The Suns have the second-least experience in the entire league, and by far the least among playoff teams.

dshock88: Do you think the return of Eric Bledsoe has slowed us down offensively..? defensively..? If yes, why, and will we bring it back to normal?

Certainly, Eric Bledsoe looked like his old self in the Detroit game, scoring 15 points in the 4th quarter to help the cold-shooting Suns win a game they really, really needed to win. His 23 points were his best numbers since before injury, while Dragic still had 20 of his own points, and the two combined for 10 assists.

I think the team did have a "Bledsoe effect", though no one would corroborate that with me. As soon as Bledsoe started practicing with the team, their on-court performance suffered. The Suns don't practice often, but for 2 or 3 practices there was Bledsoe working alongside them - or staying after to scrimmage - which could have had an effect on their game performance without him.

Once Bledsoe returned to the starting lineup, the Suns have won 4 of 5 games. Overall, the Suns are 16-7 when Bledsoe and Dragic start together with a front line of Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker. Ever better, they are 16-5 when both finish (Dragic left two games with injury and the Suns lost both).

It sure appears to me that Miles Plumlee's resurgence has coincided with Bledsoe's return. They have a connection on the court, offensively, and Plumlee has posted consecutive double-digit scoring nights for the first time in two months. Dragic and Frye are the league's best pick-and-roll combo (really, the stats show this), but Bledsoe and Plumlee are fun to watch as well.

Pece: Why Shavlik’s minutes shrink in last 4 or 5 games?

Keep in mind that Shavlik Randolph has not played more than 16 games in an NBA season since he was a rookie, and he's already approaching his 30s.

He was signed because Miles Plumlee was struggling with low energy and an ankle issue, and Alex Len was struggling with being 20. Plumlee feels better than he has most of the year and is playing great with Bledsoe back in the lineup. Len is playing with a lot more confidence. He had 9 points and 5 rebounds against Orlando, and 3 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Pistons. There's no need to play a guy who's smaller than both of them and has less of a future in Phoenix.

Be happy that Randolph isn't playing. When he plays, it means Plumlee and Len are not.

Javier Pastore: Archie Goodwin has the youth, the tools, the work ethic and the willingness to be the best. I personally think he will be one of the next great things, how much do you agree with me?

I agree that Archie Goodwin has a very high NBA ceiling, but there's a long way between seeing it and reaching it. Goodwin has to develop a solid jumper, at least on three pointers, to force the defense to play him honest and open up driving lanes.

His bread and butter in the league will be a great ability to get to the rim, draw fouls and finish through contact. We see with Dragic and Bledsoe that the ability to finish through contact is highly effective - it puts the other team's bigs in a tough situation with foul trouble, making life easier on the rest of the offense.

Archie also has very good defensive instincts, though he was ever been a guy who gets the flashy steals. If he can become a very good on-ball and help defender by using his quickness, he can be a better defender than most NBA shooting guards.

Archie has the tools. Now he needs to build up his body to NBA levels and get that jumper in shape. I imagine that a 21-year old Archie Goodwin - two years from now - can be a great young NBA player.

LeandroBarbosa10: What is the Suns summer cap situation?

No matter what happens this year, the Suns are set up nicely this summer to get even younger and more talented. The Suns have three first-round picks for sure, and then probably three more coming in 2015 (guessing that Minnesota's will roll over to 2015 as top-13 protected).

Before free agency starts, assuming the Suns make no trades, the team will have 5 players under 23 on the team (Len, Goodwin and 3 draft picks) to go along with guaranteed 2014-15 contracts for Dragic, Gerald Green, Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee. Channing Frye's contract is guaranteed as well, though it's a player option he may not pick up.

With Bledsoe's cap hold factored in and Beasley's dead money, the Suns will have that core of players (including Frye) and draft picks locked into $42 million for 14 players on July 1.

The cap is expected to be about $62 million, giving the Suns $20 million to play with.

Bledsoe, who's cap hold is $6.57 million, will be a restricted free agent likely to command a max extension of nearly $14 million for next season. That eats up about $7 million (the difference from his cap hold), leaving $13 million for someone(s) else.

The big question is who would the Suns spend that money on? It's not enough for one of Miami's big three can opt out this summer.

Possibly, you fork out a restricted free agent offer to a Greg Monroe or Gordon Hayward to raise the talent level.

But Monroe, a center, would take nearly all of Plumlee's minutes and many of Len's. Is Monroe worth two or three times the money of Len and Plumlee put together next year?

It's possible the Suns could play Monroe at PF, but you've seen the results in Detroit when they play Monroe out of position. He doesn't have an offensive game outside of ten feet, and his defense is terrible despite the rebounding numbers.

The same quandry is true of Hayward vs. Tucker. P.J. Tucker will be a restricted free agent likely to command 2-4 million per year, while Hayward would require at least $11 million (maybe 12-13) to pry away from Utah. Is Hayward worth three or more times the money of Tucker for what he brings? Hayward is a much better passer and playmaker, but he doesn't make as many shots and doesn't rebound as well as Tucker. And we saw in the Cleveland game last week how important Tucker is to the Suns' effort level.

Another quality option is Lance Stephenson from Indiana. He could get a contract anywhere from $10-13 million a year this summer, but signing him would mean you're giving up one of Dragic or Bledsoe or Goodwin. Stephenson is a very good player, for sure, but is he worth the investment along with the sacrifice of one of those three?

Having said all this, though, expect nearly half the roster to be turned over this summer. A couple of new rookies will take the places guys like Ish or Christmas or Randolph at the bottom of the roster. The Suns likely don't want five players under 23 next season, so they will want to package one or more draft picks for something better. McDonough and Babby will have to make tough calls on bringing back Tucker for more money, and whether to keep Frye in the starting lineup.

But one of the biggest decisions might just be what to do with the Morrii. Both will want extensions on their rookie contracts. What happens when/if they don't get them until summer of 2015, when they become restricted free agents? Will they pout? Or will they improve even more, to prove their worth on the market?

PHOENIX — The US Airways Center was sold out for just the second time in 2013-14, but unlike the prior occurrence — a 106-85 win over the San Antonio Spurs back on Feb. 24 — the...

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The Phoenix Suns really needed a win, but couldn't put the Pistons away until the final minutes. The Suns missed open shots, but the Pistons outdid them by missing free throw after free throw.

It was a sell out crowd on Star Wars night, but the Suns weren't backing it up with stellar play. The Pistons bulled their way to points just like we predicted pregame, and the Suns barely made enough shots to close out the game. Eric Bledsoe had his highest scoring fourth quarter since November (15 points) and the Suns now stand only a half-game out of 8th in the West.

The Pistons, #1 in the league in points in the paint, were held below their season average tonight as the Suns nearly held them even (46-40).

Much like the Wednesday game against Orlando, the Suns slogged their way to a basically a stalemate then started the third quarter on a 7-0 run before the Pistons scored.

Maybe Suns owner Robert Sarver came into the locker room at halftime again, this time telling them Memphis lost and Marc Gasol went home in a walking boot?

The run to start the third quarter ran up to 14-3 before the Pistons called a timeout and righted their ship with a 14-2 run of their own to tie the game. The Suns didn't help their cause with bad possessions and missed open shots.

And just like Wednesday night, it was a 1-point game late in the third. The Suns just couldn't find a way to pull away from a losing team on a losing streak.

But this time there was no 27-5 run. The Suns could not get untracked and the game stayed close thanks to Rodney Stuckey scoring 9 points on three touches early in the 4th (two threes and an and-one).

With the game tied at 82-82 with 5:51 left, the Dragon re-entered the game. But it was Eric Bledsoe's night to have the killer 4th quarter, with 10 huge points to give the Suns the lead for good with 3 minutes left (finished with 15 in 4th, and 23 for the game).

The Pistons killed themselves with terrible free throw shooting, making only 8 of their first 24 attempts.

The Suns tried to kill themselves with terrible shooting against the league's 4th-worst defense, but Eric Bledsoe carried the Suns to victory.

Goran Dragic kept the Suns alive with 19 points and 5 assists in the first three quarters (20 for the game as this was Bled's night). Markieff Morris had another good game with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.

Greg Monroe had a very frustrating game but still finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.  Andre Drummond finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but missed 4 of 7 free throws. Not to be outdone, Josh Smith finished 0 or 8 on free throws, and Detroit made only 10 of 26 for the game.

The Phoenix Suns started the game sluggish again, thinking that good offense always beats bad defense but forgetting that the other team thinks the same thing.

In the first 15 minutes of play, the Pistons had outrebounded the Suns by 10 already and held a 2-point lead. But then the Suns second unit took the lead, behind rookie Alex Len, the Morris Brothers, Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe. The game was not pretty, by any stretch of the imagination.

The Suns Star Wars productions were better prepared than the Suns mental state for this game.

The entire first half was a slogfest of the Suns and Pistons playing to their strengths and doing it well. The Pistons had 30 points in the paint in the first half, 11 second-chance points and 8 offensive rebounds. The Suns made 5 of 13 threes and 9 fast break points.

Time: 7:00 MST TV: FSAZ With a pivotal three-game road trip on the not-too-distant horizon, the Phoenix Suns close out their brief two-game home stand with a visit from the reeling Detroit Pistons....

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The Phoenix Suns sit a game-and-a-half out of a playoff spot with 14 games to go. In their next six games, starting tonight against the Detroit Pistons, the Suns will face 4 teams with losing records. These are must-win games if you want to make the playoffs.

The Pistons come into US Airways Center to face the Phoenix Suns as losers of 12 of 15 games since returning from the All-Star break, giving up 108.5 points per game in the process.

But the Pistons could prove a tough matchup for a playoff-hopeful Phoenix Suns team that can't defend the rim. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and the rest of the Pistons get the ball inside on most possessions where the Suns are indefensible.

The Phoenix Suns really need this win to stay in the playoff hunt, a game-and-a-half behind two teams that are winning at a much faster rate than the Suns lately. The Suns have won only 6 of their last 14 games as the playoff pressure mounts.

The Opponent

The Detroit Pistons are an interesting lot, and potentially a tough matchup for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns struggle by giving up too many points in the paint. Lo and behold, the Pistons are good at just that. In fact, the Pistons take the second most shots in the restricted area (ie. at the rim) and the fifth most just outside that, but still in the paint.

This will be a killer for the Suns, who allowed 44 points in the paint IN THE FIRST HALF on Monday night to a Brooklyn team who started 4 guards in their lineup. Those 44 first-half paint points were more than 75% of the NBA's teams average on a nightly basis over 48 minutes. Ugh.

Expect a lot of yelling at your TV over how many times the Pistons make a shot at the rim. They are #1 in the league in 2-point shots and #1 in offensive rebounding.

You'd think they are a winning team with that combination right? Wrong, actually. The Pistons have lost 13 of 16 games and are 25-42 on the season despite playing in the Eastern conference.

When they are not taking shots at the rim, the Pistons offense is terrible. They'd rather shoot long-twos than threes (29th in makes and %), their defensive rebounding is poor (25th), they can't make free throws (30th in FT%) and they commit a lot of fouls (21st). Their top two scorers are really bad decision-makers - Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.

On the other side, the Pistons defense is terrible. They are giving up 108.5 points per game since the All Star break, topping even the Suns' ineptitude in that area.

Goran Dragic feels confident about this game, citing that it took two buzzer beater long-twos from Josh Smith to win the earlier game this year. The Pistons are 5-21 against the West this season.

The Suns

To contrast the Pistons' strength, the Suns are good at defending the three-point line but terrible at preventing shots at the rim. On the season, the Suns have allowed the league's 4th most attempts in the paint and restricted areas, numbers that have gotten only worse since the All-Star break.

Expect the Suns to shoot a ton of threes because the Suns are great at it while the Pistons are terrible at defending the three point line (allowing 36.6% shooting on the 21st most attempts allowed). In fact, overall on defense the Pistons are terrible and the Suns should be able to capitalize.

The Stats


The Lineups


Andre Drummond, their leading rebounder, is day-to-day with a neck strain.

The Key Matchup

The key matchup, I guess, is P.J. Tucker trying to make sure Josh Smith doesn't have an awesome game and carry the Pistons to victory again.

Otherwise, you could say it's Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic keeping Brandon Jennings from tallying a double-double by halftime, something he did in the first matchup this year.

Or, you could say it's Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye keeping Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith from scoring 100 points at the rim.

The Prediction

It will be a frustrating game for Suns fans, watching the Pistons feast in the paint. But in the end, the Suns will make enough shots to outscore the Pistons easily.

I'll call this one a 13-point win. Could be even bigger than that. The Pistons are just really bad lately.

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