Suns second unit can't get off the ground this season. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

While the talent on the whole Phoenix Suns roster is marginal, it is the second unit of the Suns that falls completely flat compared to the rest of the NBA.

You would think that a roster built 13-deep in rotation-quality players - that is, players who played regularly in the rotations of winning teams in prior years - would perform well when the other team's starters were resting. And that the top-end talent of the Suns would be the unit suffering against the top-end talent of other teams.

By that reasoning, and considering the normal playing time of each team's first and second units, you would think the Suns would suffer by comparison in the first, third and fourth quarters. And that the Suns' best quarter, by scoring margin, would be the second quarter, when every team's backup players get their most run.

Well, that is not the case for the Suns. Not by a long shot. And it never has been.

In fact, the second quarter is the BEST predictor of the Suns' success as a team. Win the second, win the game. Lose the second, lose the game. This has been true in every season since 2003-04.

Don't believe me? I'll show you a pretty chart to prove it.

The chart below shows the unnerving correlation between the scoring margin of the second quarter vs. the scoring margin of the entire game, for every season back to the 2003-04 season.

Quarter-scoring-margins_medium

As you can see, the Suns' ability to win the second quarter is highly indicative of their ability to win the entire game.

Of course, we all know this logically. But don't tell me you knew the correlation was THIS high all the way back through the glory days. Remember those few minutes at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters when even the national announcers would count the minutes until Nash re-entered at the 8-9-minute mark? We all knew the second unit couldn't hold or build a lead consistently. All we needed were the starters to right the ship again. Yet, the second quarter was still the most predictive of success for the Suns, even then.

How have the Suns done, game by game this season?

When the Suns win the second quarter this season, they are a whopping 10-2.

When the Suns lose the second quarter this season, they are a dismal 2-13.

So...yeahhhh...it's indicative of team success.

This is why Michael Redd has supplanted Shannon Brown on the second unit, and why - for the most part - Sebastian Telfair has supplanted Ronnie Price. With those players better on offense than defense, you can guess why Josh Childress has suddenly popped back into the rotation in place of offense-only Hakim Warrick.

Head coach Alvin Gentry is just trying to find a successful combination of players for that second quarter while the starters on both teams are resting. If this new unit starts falling off the cliff, we'll see the old guys right back in there. Mixing and matching. When it works, Alvin is doing a good job. When it fails, Alvin is failing. Don't forget it's the players who have to perform.

"It's frustrating and it's embarrassing," Suns reserve small forward Josh Childress said, in an article on azcentral.com by beat writer Paul Coro. "We have to be better than that. Coach (Alvin Gentry) has given us a lot of trust. We have to find ways to help the team. Every single one of us wants to do the right thing but we have to make that translate into results."

You may have also noticed lately that Marcin Gortat often stays in the game for the beginning of the second quarter. Or that Dudley or Frye show up more often, if Gortat is resting.

Gentry is trying to pull this team together with paper clips, rubber bands and bubble gum. He's got a hodge-podge of player with their own skills but no one player with great skills. There's no "sixth man of the year" candidate on this roster.

So, watch the second quarter closely from now on. By halftime, you'll have a 90% chance of guessing the winning team correctly.


The Sacramento Kings came into Saturday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns as one of the NBA’s hottest teams. Winners of four of their last five with victories over the Thunder, Trail...

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The Suns Brought the D Tonight. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Tonight the Phoenix Suns clearly had their big boy pants on. They withstood the blood and hits and intimidation of the Sacramento Kings and won the bout of Western Conference light weights, 98-84.

The Suns put in an excellent defensive effort, limiting the Kings to 35% shooting on their home court. The defensive charge was led by Grant Hill, who made Tyreke Evans a non-factor, holding the 6-6 point guard to 4 points on 1-9 shooting.

Down in the trenches, Phoenix narrowly lost the overall rebounding battle 42-38, but 50% shooting and an excellent bench effort more than made up for it.

Jared Dudley led the Suns with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while a bloodied Steve Nash dished 15 assists. Channing Frye continued his improvement from the field, knocking down 6 of 12 for 17 points.

This is about as good as the Phoenix Suns can play in the year 2012. The Kings record isn't very good, but they have put together quality efforts against the WC elite winning against the likes of the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, and Trailblazers. What is also impressive about this victory is the Suns began to pull away from the Kings early, opening up an 11 point 1st quarter lead, and held the lead without Steve Nash in the lineup for the second quarter. Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair put in quality appearances, with Price adding 6 points on 3-3 shooting while Telfair handed out 4 assists. Neither player turned the ball over. This was just one of the things that...WENT RIGHT!

And there were more:

  • Marcin Gortat had a rough assignment trying to contain DeMarcus Cousins. Gortat responded by limiting the big new insane guy in the NBA to 8-18 shooting while going 15, 7 and 4.
  • Markieff Morris picked up his first technical foul tonight while getting in the grill of Francisco Garcia. Kieff added 18 6 and 3 off the bench. He didn't back down to anyone tonight, and Alvin Gentry rewarded the youngster by keeping him on the floor down the stretch while Marcin Gortat watched from the bench.
  • Jared Dudley scrapped and clawed his way to a double-double including 10 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocked shots.
  • Steve Nash once again bled for the Phoenix Suns and their fans. At the end of the first quarter Nash was struck accidentally by Isiah Thomas, who was crushed by a Gortat screen. The hit was so hard, Thomas' arm spasdically extended, his hand catching Nash on the lip. Nash would later return after 4 stitches were sewn into his flesh.
  • The Suns bench stepped up, outscoring the Kings 35-27 and didn't lose the lead in the dangerous second quarter.

Next up, the Warriors, on Monday in NorCal.

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    Sactown Royalty








    Keep up the high intensity, Channing!

    The Sacramento Kings haven't had a winning season since 2005-06, when their team featured Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Ron Artest (AKA Metta World Whatever). This year's edition doesn't figure to reach .500 either, but the Kings do have some quality young talent in Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, and have won 4 of their last 5 games, including a 106-101 win over the Thunder on Thursday night. They sit at 10-16 going into tonight's game against the Suns in Sacramento.

    Thursday night wasn't as good for the Suns, as they dropped a winnable game to the Rockets and played their starters a lot of minutes in the process due to woeful bench play. If the game against the Rockets was a measuring stick to see how far the Suns can rise, this game could be seen as a measuring stick for how far they can fall. Last season, the Kings beat the Suns in 3 of their 4 meetings despite the fact that, let's be honest here, the Kings had a terrible team.

    This year's version of the Kings looks to be slightly improved, as Evans and Cousins gain more experience and they're adjusting to new head coach Keith Smart, promoted from assistant after a 2-5 start and a near-mutiny under former Suns player and coach Paul Westphal.

    It's tempting to look at this game on the schedule and think the Suns "should" win, but these are fairly evenly matched teams.

    Read on for more........

    Is DeMarcus Cousins an emerging franchise big man or a selfish coach killer? The answer to that question is the key to the Kings hopes for the future. The #5 overall pick in the 2010 draft was suspended by former coach Paul Westphal for being, according to Westphal, "unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team; it cannot be ignored indefinitely." Four days later, Westphal was fired, as the Kings decided it was easier to replace a middling head coach than a 21-year old tremendously athletic (almost) 7-footer.

    Cousins is a rebounding monster at 11.4 per game, 4.3 of them offensive rebounds. Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye will have their hands full, and Robin Lopez will have to see more action than he did Thursday when he sat out the entire second half. The good news is that the rest of the Kings bigs, Jason Thompson, J.J. Hickson and Chuck Hayes, are nothing special, and they're not an effective rebounding team overall.

    On the offensive end for the Kings, Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton figure to carry the load. Thornton isn't shy about hoisting 3-pointers, taking over 6 of them a game. He hit two huge 3s late in their game against the Thunder to help seal the deal. Hey Suns, please do NOT leave him alone in the corner!


    FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
    G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
    Tyreke Evans 26 36.5 6.3 15.2 41.5 0.5 2.3 23.3 4.2 5.5 76.9 1.1 3.8 5.0 5.1 3.0 1.6 0.4 2.3 17.4
    Marcus Thornton 19 35.4 5.9 15.2 39.2 2.1 6.2 33.9 3.2 3.7 85.9 1.3 2.2 3.4 2.0 2.2 1.4 0.2 2.5 17.2
    DeMarcus Cousins 25 29.2 5.8 13.0 44.6 0.0 0.1 0.0 3.8 5.3 72.7 4.3 7.1 11.4 0.8 2.7 1.1 1.4 4.2 15.4
    Jimmer Fredette 24 21.9 3.0 8.0 37.8 1.5 3.8 39.6 0.9 1.0 88.0 0.5 0.8 1.3 2.0 1.4 0.7 0.0 1.2 8.5
    Jason Thompson 26 22.6 3.4 6.2 54.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.3 2.4 54.0 2.3 3.4 5.8 0.9 1.0 0.5 0.4 2.0 8.2
    John Salmons 25 29.4 3.1 8.4 36.8 0.8 2.9 28.8 0.6 1.0 66.7 0.4 3.0 3.4 1.9 1.0 1.0 0.2 1.8 7.6
    Isaiah Thomas 25 17.0 2.2 6.0 37.6 0.9 2.8 33.3 1.6 1.9 83.0 0.5 1.2 1.7 2.4 1.2 0.6 0.1 1.3 7.0
    J.J. Hickson 26 20.5 2.2 5.6 39.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.3 2.1 63.0 2.2 3.4 5.6 0.5 1.4 0.5 0.5 1.4 5.7
    Donte Greene 20 13.9 2.1 5.1 40.6 0.5 2.2 20.9 1.1 1.4 78.6 0.4 2.3 2.7 0.7 0.6 0.4 0.4 1.3 5.7
    Chuck Hayes 15 22.7 1.7 4.3 38.5 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.7 1.0 66.7 2.1 4.1 6.1 1.2 0.9 0.7 0.3 2.5 4.0
    Francisco Garcia 20 14.4 1.3 3.8 33.3 0.6 2.2 27.3 0.8 1.0 75.0 0.2 1.4 1.6 0.6 0.5 0.7 0.5 1.0 3.9
    Travis Outlaw 18 10.7 1.0 3.9 25.7 0.2 1.3 12.5 0.8 1.2 63.6 0.4 0.9 1.4 0.1 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.7 2.9
    Tyler Honeycutt 3 2.3 0.3 0.7 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 1.0 66.7 0.3 0.3 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.0 0.0 1.3

    For the Suns, the obvious area for improvement is bench play after their train wreck of an effort Thursday. Michael Redd is becoming a solid contributor, a welcome addition to a team in frequent need of an offensive boost. But Sebastian Telfair, Josh Childress, Markieff Morris and Robin Lopez have been far from dependable.

    How long before Alvin Gentry goes back to Ronnie Price at backup PG? Or gives Zabian Dowdell a call? Or maybe tries to coax Frank Johnson or Elliot Perry out of retirement? I'm open for any of these possibilities because watching Telfair makes my head hurt.

    Channing Frye looks to finally be coming around as he's scored 19, 14 and 21 in the last three games, but his 3-point % is still only at 31%, well below his career average of 39%. If Frye would like to go on a tear right about now, that would give the Suns a huge lift. Some of the team's problems were to be expected, Frye's poor shooting was not.

    The Suns are currently #12 in the West, while the Kings are #14. A loss would drop the Suns to #13 so, let's try not to lose, huh?



    Notes

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