What are the Suns going to get from the newly acquired Isaiah Thomas?
Last season, the strength of the Phoenix Suns was its backcourt - when healthy together, the Slash brothers of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe tore up the NBA. Unfortunately, those two were only healthy together for 24 games.
Jeff Hornacek's two-point guard system relied on having two dynamic guards on the floor at the same time, and as hard as Ish Smith played, the drop-off from Bledsoe to Smith was significant. To adress this, the Suns went out and signed Isaiah Thomas away from the Sacramento Kings on a favorable contract.
Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game last year for the Kings as a part-time starter. For the Suns, Thomas will play the sixth man role as a sparkplug off the bench. How does his game compare to Dragic and Bledsoe's? How does he fit into Hornacek's system?
From what I've seen, the answer to those questions is "very well."
The vast majority of the Phoenix point guards' offense came on four play types: pick-and-roll, transition, isolation and spotting up. Taking a look at Tomas' numbers via MySynergySports.com reveals a very similar play distribution, and also shows that Thomas does very well in all these areas.
Thomas ran the pick-and-roll on over 40 percent of his possessions, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and scoring 0.89 points per possession, a number that places him inside the top 30 in the NBA.
In comparison, Bledsoe scored 0.85 points per possession on 42.8 percent shooting and Dragic scored 0.98 (top 10 in the NBA!) on 51.5 percent shooting.
It was quite impressive that Thomas was able to be as effective as he was in a situation like the one in Sacramento, where spacing is virtually nonexistent and Reggie Evans was often on the floor.
Thomas' greatest asset is his quickness. With his speed and agility, and a screener to give him some seperation, Thomas is able to get anywhere he wants on the floor. Often enough, Thomas catches the defender off guard by rejecting the screen and using his quick acceleration to blow by his defender.
Here's an example from a game against Minnesota (he actually made the same play twice in the game).
Thomas brings the ball up and waits on the right wing for DeMarcus Cousins to set the screen.
As Cousins gets closer, Thomas takes a step towards him, and when Ricky Rubio takes a peek to find the screen, Thomas takes advantage and explodes.
Thomas had Rubio beat the second he looked for the screen, and he easily sidesteps the lackluster attempt at help from the corner.
Then elevates and finishes. As if Kevin Love was going to block him.
Thomas has been short for a long time, and has developed an arsenal of shots to compensate for his lack of height. He's very explosive and has good touch around the basket, using a lot of floaters, short pull-ups and difficult layups around the rim. However, even with his skill it can be difficult for him to get good looks off once he gets into the paint.
Thomas is definitely a scoring point guard, but with his quickness he can really force the issue, collapsing defenses and drawing double-teams. When he does that, he's more than capable of dumping the ball off to the roll man or kicking it out to the popping big for the open jumper.
Sacramento's lack of spacing isn't the best situation to learn about shot selection, but Thomas' biggest downfall in the pick-and-roll is his inconsistent jumper, and his over-reliance on it.
Thomas is not a strong shooter off the dribble. He is often off-balance when he rises up to fire, either leaning forward or falling back, and that makes it tough for him to be consistent. He also settles for too many of these jumpers, although part of that could be due to the less-than-iseal situation in Sacramento.
Phoenix is one of the fastest teams in the league, and with the addition of Thomas, the Suns only got faster. In Sacramento, Thomas didn't run quite as much as our guys in Phoenix, but it was still his second most common play type at 17.8 percent.
Thomas shot 55.1 percent and scored a respectable 1.17 points per possession on the break, placing him in between Dragic at 1.23 points and Bledsoe at 1.08 points per possession.
Thomas is as fast from end to end as anyone in the league. If you don't stop the ball early when he's in transition, he's running right by you and all the way to the rim. If someone does pick him up, he uses his excellent hesitation and change of speeds to still get to the rim.
Here's an example of Thomas' blazing speed in the open floor.
Minnesota's Alexey Shved tries to throw up a floater (silly Alexey Shved) that gets spiked right into Thomas' hands ...
and Isaiah is off to the races. Notice where the two Sacramento defenders are when Thomas takes off.
Good job, good effort Jose Juan. Two points for Thomas.
Unfortunately, he still gets blocked a decent amount despite his speed and athleticism, and he's not going to get any taller. That, and his tendency to settle for pull-up jumpers is why his field goal percentage is only 55, whereas Dragic and Bledsoe are both around 60 percent on the break.
Thomas makes up for this, however, by shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range in transition. He's quite good when he can step into the shoot, whether that be pulling up off the dribble or spotting up to catch and shoot.
Thomas is much more of a shooter than a distributor when he gets out on the brake. By my count (with the help of Synergy), he racked up 44 assists on the break last year, many of the highlight variety. He loves going for the lob down court, especially to big time leapers like Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore. Unfortunately, those are high-risk passes and it comes at the cost of turnovers, 28 of them to be exact.
Instead of blabbering on, I'll just drop the rest of my transition statistics into a table and move on.
|Name||Possessions||Points per Possession||Field Goal Makes||Field Goal Attempts||Field Goal Percentage||Shooting Fouls||Assists||Turnovers||Assist to Turnover Ratio||Field Goal Attempt to Assist Ratio|
Looking at that chart, Thomas is fairly similar to Dragic in the way he runs the break - fast and looking to score. Bledsoe is a different kin of player, instead looking to play point guard on the break and find others to finish. Jeff Hornacek has said how he is always encouraging Bledsoe to push the pace more like Dragic does, and the numbers show he really doesn't use his own ability on the break s much as Hornacek would like.
Thomas is also a very good isolation scorer, averaging 0.98 points per possession despite shooting just under 40 percent from the field. Dragic also scored 0.98 points per possession on 39 percent shooting, while Bledsoe scored a still respectable 0.92 points per possession. Each of them does it slightly differently, but all three get buckets when they have to.
Dragic is so effective because he almost always gets a shot off, turning the ball over just 15 times in 172 possessions. Bledsoe is really good at converting when he gets the shot off, shooting 50 percent from three-point range and 42.1 percent overall, but he turned the ball over one more time than Dragic in over 70 fewer possessions.
As for Thomas, his strength is scoring inside (47 percent shooting inside the arc) and drawing fouls (eight and-ones, 17 trips to the line for a pair).
Once again, Thomas' quickness is his greatest asset. He is already at an advantage against almost any defender, but he maximizes that with hesitations and head fakes that freeze defenders in their tracks and allow him to blow right by them. His agility and body control are excellent.
Here's an example against Golden State where Thomas used a simple ball fake to get his defender off balance.
Thomas is isolated at the top of the key, with Klay Thompson - a pretty good defender - checking him.
Thomas uses a ball fake, looks left, then crosses over and explodes left.
Thompson barely even moved before Thomas had him beat.
Once again, his size sometimes makes it difficult to get shots off but even so he is still a crafty finisher. An added effect of his quickness is the amount of both shooting and non-shooting fouls he draws as opponents often have no choice but to reach out and grab him in order to slow him down.
He has a decent in-between game, with an arsenal of runners and short pull-ups, and he is pretty good at creating contact too. However, once again he settles for the jumper too often, although it's hard to expect a player to create good shots all the time in isolation situations.
In a two-point guard system like the one the Suns use, it's important for at both players to be a threat off the ball as well as on it; there's only one ball to go around. Neither one of the Dragic or Bledsoe are naturals, as both do their best work with the ball in their hands. However, each of them adapted and both were effective in that role last season. In Sacramento, Thomas spotted up more than either one of them so this shouldn't be a problem for him.
Thomas scored 1.06 points per possession, placing him just outside the top 100. He shot 37.5 percent from deep and 41.4 percent overall, and also drew 11 shooting fouls.
Bledsoe scored 1.1 points per possession, a figure that ranks him in the top 70, despite shooting just 17-50 from 3-point range. His real strength was attacking out of the spot up, converting on 16 of his 26 shots inside the arc in addition to drawing six shooting fouls. Dragic was more of a straight shooter in these situations, making only five shots inside the arc and drawing only one foul. However, he still scored 1.04 points per possession because he shot 39.8 percent from 3-point range on nearly 100 attempts.
Just like in transition, Thomas is a good shooter when he has the time and space to step into his shot as opposed to having to create his shot off the dribble. He's also pretty good at moving around the arc to maintain floor balance, get himself open and create passing lanes. A quick look at his shot distribution chart shows he's pretty comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court.
Here's an example of how he might fit into Jeff Hornacek's system.
On this play, Thomas brought the ball down and is going to pass it off to Rudy Gay on the right wing. Imagine Rudy Gay is Goran Dragic for a moment.
Gay initiates a pick-and-roll with one of the Sacramento bigs - much like Dragic would do after receiving a pass from Bledsoe - while Thomas chills on the left wing.
Thomas' defender slides down into the paint to help on the roll man, while Thomas remains on the wing, maintaining spacing while staying roughly parallel to the play and within Gay's range of vision.
Gay makes the cross-court pass and Thomas rises up for the open shot before the defender can get back out to contest. Three points for Sacramento.
This is something I'd imagine we'll see quite often from Thomas on the Suns, with him playing both the shooting and passing roles.
Isaiah Thomas is a very talented basketball player, and he's going to fit right into Jeff Hornacek's system. Everything he does is very comparable to what Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe did last year. He's a massive upgrade from Ish Smith on the offensive end and will allow the Suns to keep up the pressure for 48 minutes every single night. Thomas can score from everywhere on the floor on every relevant type of play, and Suns fans are going to really enjoy watching him do his thing.
In this week's edition of Throwback Thursday, we jump back to 1997, when perhaps the most hated rival player to the Suns franchise actually wore the purple and orange, and of course made a complete ass out of himself.
The NBA has a rich history of jackass behavior from some of it's more recognizable players.
We have Charles Barkley channeling his inner-Englishman and spitting at a fan who allegedly had been spouting racial slurs. Unfortunately, he unwittingly spat on a little girl instead.
If that doesn't do it for you, how about those bastions of jackassery in Detroit, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre, defiantely leaving the court with 7.9 seconds to play after being dethroned by the Bulls?
We have Latrell Sprewell and the choking incident with P.J. Carlesimo, although I would tend to label one who strangles his own coach a psychotic rather than a jackass. Luckily, Spree didn't disappoint and proved to be both a psychotic and a jackass by declining a $21 million contract extension in 2004, and immortalizing himself by saying "I have a family to feed ... If Glen Taylor wants to see my family fed, he better cough up some money. Otherwise, you're going to see these kids in one of those Sally Struthers commercials soon."
Not only did Sprewell insult the entire working class, as well trivialize starvation, but he unnecessarily evoked the image of Sally Struthers.
Andrew Bynum is in this conversation for many reasons, but my personal favorite has to be parking his BMW across two handicapped parking spaces.
I could go on and on.
Maybe I'm egregiously biased as a Suns fan, but my all-time jackass moment in NBA history came courtesy of the villainous Robert Horry, when he verbally berated coach Danny Ainge and threw a towel in his face during a game in Boston.
Let us relive the shameful actions of this supreme jackass.
The 1996/97 began as a difficult transitional period for the Suns. The previous season saw the worst finish in 8 years for the Suns, as they finished the lackluster season at 41-41 and were quietly dispatched in 4 games by the Spurs. Paul Westphal was fired after a 14-19 start and was replaced with the familiar old hand Cotton Fitzsimmons, Danny Manning's season was cut short due to knee injuries for the second straight year, and Dan Majerle was traded for Hot Rod Williams.
The Majerle trade turned what had already been a tense partnership between Charles Barkley and Jerry Colangelo into an irreconcilable rift, and after some public sniping between the two (mostly by Barkley), it was only a matter of time before Sir Cumference was traded.
Barkley's preferred destination was Houston, and after Colangelo tried unsuccessfully to involve the Nuggets in a three-team deal that would have landed Dikembe Mutombo in Phoenix, a deal was reached without a third party.
Barkley went to Houston along with a second-round pick. The Suns received Sam Cassell, Mark Bryant, Chucky Brown, and one Robert Horry.
Bryant and Brown were both journeymen that only served as roster filler in the trade. Here are some fun facts about them that I looked up myself:
Sorry, I was lost in journeyman land for a moment there. While Brown and Bryant were both roster filler, the real prize to the Suns was the pair of young guns, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry. Both already having received a pair of championship rings that were earned at the expense of the Suns, something felt amiss from the beginning with these two.
Cassell was coming off a breakout year as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Houston, while Horry had found a niche as a sweet-shooting combo forward. Both had star potential and championship experience, so ... not a bad haul for Barkley, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The Suns began the season without the services of Kevin Johnson. Their opening night starting lineup consisted of Cassell, Horry, Wesley Person, A.C. Green, and Joe Kleine. They lost on opening night in L.A. to the Lakers, 96-82. The following night they were drubbed again in their home-opener by the Rockets, 110-95. Barkley scored 20 points and pulled down 33 rebounds in his return to the desert.
As for Cassell and Horry, they combined to go 11-28 from the field and managed 8 boards and 5 assists between them.
After two days to regroup, the Suns were nipped at home by the lowly Timberwolves, then suffered another loss on the road to the powerhouse Sonics. This kicked off a five-game roadie in which the Suns were winless, culminating in a 92-89 loss in Vancouver to the Grizzlies, who would go on to win 14 games that year.
That was enough for Cotton Fitzsimmons, who was just too old by that time to go losing to the Grizzlies. Enter former Sun Danny Ainge, who stepped into his first head coaching gig only a season removed from his playing days.
By the time the Suns were positioning themselves for their next whipping by the Rockets, second-year phenom Michael Finley had and Danny Manning had made their way to the lineup, with Person and Horry heading to the bench.
It didn't matter. 115-105, Rockets. Barkley took it easy on the Suns this time, only going for 20 points and 16 boards.
The Suns stood at 0 and freaking 11.
Luckily, help was on the way. By November 27, K.J. was back in the lineup for a home game against the Nets. The Suns rolled to their first victory of the year, 99-77, and stood at 1-13. Despite the embarrassing start, there were a few glimmers of hope with a healthy K.J. and promising youngsters like Finley and the rookie point guard, Canadian Steve Nash.
The Suns' win against the Nets was the first of 8 wins in the following 10 games leading up to December 18, but by the time they arrived in Beantown they had dropped 5 of their last 7. Horry had been struggling mightily with his reserve role, and didn't fare any better after being reinserted into the starting lineup on 12/28.
In 10 out of his previous 19 games, Horry had registered either one made field goal, or none.
On the cold winter evening of January 5, 1997, the Suns faced a 7-22 Celtics squad in Boston.
The Suns saw the Celtics pull away in fourth quarter. At some point, Ainge opted to pull Horry, who was working on another masterpiece and was 1-4 from the field on the night. Astonishingly, I cannot find a single video on the internet of the incident (if you can find one, put it in the comments and I'll add it ASAP), so I can only provide you a play-by-play account of what happened next.
Ainge sat defeated as the game pulled away. The 6'9 forward stood above him, the fateful towel slung loosely around his neck. Ainge said some words, looking particularly exasperated. Horry was animated, as his temper was clearly beginning to flare.
A hush seemed to fall over the Suns bench, as Horry seemed to be saying something along the lines of "WTF?" Ainge, known for having quite the temper himself, seemed to raise his voice at the petulant big man.
Then the shot was fired.
The once harmless towel was flung into the face of Ainge, still seated at the moment of impact. Horry turned his back to Ainge, who by this time had freed his unfortunate face of the weapon, which, along with his dignity, fell limply to the floor.
Early eye-witness accounts reported an anonymous towel-thrower somewhere in the vicinity of the scorer's table, and there were reports of conspirators armed with towels gathering in a nearby Boston pub on the evening of January 4, but neither reports were founded.
It was the work of a lone towel-slinger, and that man was none other than supreme jackass Robert Horry.
Oh, the Celtics won 109-102 behind 25 points from Todd Freaking Day.
Horry was suspended by the Suns before their next game on January 9 in Atlanta. Due to CBA stipulations, he was only allowed to be suspended for a maximum of 2 games, a fact that Jerry Colangelo was none too pleased about:
``I'm of the old school, so I would have taken much sterner action if we weren't limited by the bargaining agreement,'' Colangelo said, comparing Horry to an unruly child and calling him ``a shadow of his former self'' as a player.
``My belief is that it was really frustration with his own play because his play has been sporadic at best and is very disappointing, from my point of view,'' Colangelo said.
On a personal note, that statement alone makes me wish I could take back every barb I ever tossed at Colangelo. Honestly, I don't even know what to add to that.
It didn't take long for the Suns to find a suitor for the malcontent jackass. Just three days after the suspension they flipped him with Joe Kleine to the Lakers for former Sun Cedric Ceballos and Rumeal Robinson.
Ceballos immediately returned to his familiar scoring role with the Suns, pumping in 20.2 points per 36 minutes.
Kleine somehow found his way back to the Suns in 1999.
As for Horry, he continued to be living proof that there is no karma in the universe by hanging on with the Lakers through their early-2000's dominance and picking up three more championship rings on the way, as well as developing a reputation for always being left open in the clutch.
Of course his days as a Suns villain were still only beginning, as he scored two more rings with Spurs while directly causing the most infamous moment in recent Suns history, about which I refuse to go into detail.
On a positive note, that 1996/97 Suns team was one for the ages, and probably deserves their own Throwback article for winning 10 of their last 13 games to sneak into the playoffs at 40-42, despite their 0-13 start.
No team in NBA history has gotten off to a worse start and still managed to make the playoffs, and if that wasn't enough, their brief playoff run featured what was in my opinion the greatest shot made in Suns history.
Oh, and they traded Cassell, Finley and Bryant for Jason Kidd midseason, which in a roundabout way made the Barkley trade a success.
Yeah, it really deserves its own article. I'll stop there.
The towel was washed and returned to circulation, at which point it was just another towel.
So Mr. Horry, on this Throwback Thursday we salute you for reminding us that no matter how classless or immature a Suns player might be, you've set the bar so insanely high on the jackass meter that every night when we lay down our heads, we do so secure in the notion that every player on our team is a better human being than you.
You arrived to the desert bearing the weight of being traded for the iconic Charles Barkley, surely a tall order for any grown man, and you responded by pissing the bed and publicly humiliating your coach.
I can only wish for a more fair and just universe in which that would be the last memory Suns fans have of your existence in the world of professional basketball. Despite all your achievements, when the book is closed and all is said and done, this is how I will choose to remember you.
Good day, sir.
At the annual NBA rookie photo shoot, 38 newly drafted NBA players not only posed in their team jerseys, but answered questions about their peers. You may be surprised to see where T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis were mentioned.
Earlier this week, the NBA Rookie Photo Shoot took place in New York, featuring 38 of the top NBA draft picks who donned their team uniforms and posed for the cameras in a variety of ways.
However, in addition to the photos, the rookies were surveyed with 10 questions total, and eight regarding various predictions and perceptions about their peers. And you may be surprised that both of the Suns top picks were mentioned among the leaders in one question each.
T.J. Warren ranked third overall among the group for the question "Which Rookie Will Have the Best Career?", with 8.1% of the vote. That may not sound like much, but he beat out both Zach LaVine and most surprisingly of all, Andrew Wiggins who were both tied for fourth place with 5.4%.
As for Tyler Ennis, he ranked first overall for the question "Which Rookie Is the Best Playmaker?", with 24.3% of the vote. Ennis beat out Kyle Anderson who received 18.9%, Marcus Smart with 13.5%, and Dante Exum who received 5.4% of the vote.
Again, there were only eight questions total relating to their peers, so for both of the rookies to be mentioned at or near the top for one each is a pretty big compliment. In fact, T.J. Warren also received votes for "Who Will Be the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year?", "Which Rookie Is Being Most Overlooked?", "Which Rookie Is the Best Shooter?", and "Which Rookie Is the Best Playmaker?", and surprisingly, "Which Rookie Is the Most Funniest?" as well.
Apparently, Warren wasn't allowed to vote for himself on any of these either. So the votes did in fact come from his peers.
In any case, as John Schuhmann pointed out, "The Suns' T.J. Warren gets the 'Jack of all trades, master of none' award for this Rookie Survey. He got eight total votes, but in six different categories, with this being the only question he got multiple votes on. Only No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins also got votes on six different questions."
So who else fared well among the rookies?
You can see the complete list of questions and all of the answers compiled by John Shuhmann of NBA.com here.