Welcome to Film Study! We can all be as enamored as much we want by the Eric Bledsoe negotiations, but other than that, not much is happening. With that in mind, let's take a look at some film of the Suns from last season. We will start with the negatives and the pain of course. The Suns were in the playoff race till the very end, but the blown leads against the Spurs and the Clippers were a large part of their demise. Today we will look at where the Suns went wrong defensively in that blown game in San Antonio. Prepare yourself.
There are many ways to approach a box score like this. Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, and Markieff Morris were fantastic. Bledsoe had his line of the year, with 30/11/9 on only 16 shots and the Green/Keef monster went for 47 combined while having one of the best defenders in the league Kawhi Leonard on them for portions. You could blame the loss on Danny Green going off with 33 points and you can blame P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris for going 2-15 combined. You could also assume the Spurs were just the amazing team that they are late and Tony Parker made some absurd shots while creating for this 3-point shooters off the bench. That's where you'd be wrong though.
It's a strange place we've landed ourselves in with basketball, as about 95% of the time you can assess where the swing was in a game without even watching it. Box scores account for individual offense, but are extremely limited in accounting for a player and team's defense. I really have no idea how much I account on the defense/offense spectrum, but I definitely agree that "defense is half of the game." The box score argument wins again on the Suns 20 turnovers, 7 for Bledsoe, and the 26 points the Spurs got off of them. That'll do it, but there was a lot more going on here besides that.
As a Suns fan, the most frustrating part of watching the Suns is the amount of simple defensive mistakes the young and inexperienced team makes. It's one thing to lose to the Spurs because they were the better team that night, but it's another thing to hand them open looks. It's even worse that it nullifies the outstanding performance offensively from those three I mentioned earlier. For those of you who hold some Suns close to your heart please take it easy. I know I am looking at just bad examples in this and I'll be sure to cover the good as well over the course of this summer.
Due to the magic of technology, let's look at some examples.
There is a lot that should jump out to you right away about this possession. First of all, Gerald Green is extremely out of position. The guys to keep an eye on here are Bledsoe (pursuing the ball), and Plumdog Millionaire sitting under the basket. Austin Daye has the ball and proved in this game that he can't really shoot. Due to Green being out of position Bledsoe has to pursue Daye here, but as we will learn through these examples Eric over pursues and allows Daye to get around him easily. It's not as bad here, as Eric is fortunate enough to force him into the heart of the defense. Ignore the open man on the wing by the way, just like Daye did.
Uh oh. Still can't tell where on earth Gerald should be. Anyway, Bled has overpursued, allowing Daye to get in. Plumlee is still giving Splitter WAY too much room for being so close to the rim. Daye begins to penetrate, and has so many possibilities to go with.
Daye chooses to ignore the wide open wing man still and passes to Splitter. Channing Frye has done his job and cut off the penetration. Once again though, Bledsoe, Green, and Plumlee are all in helpless positions. Only P.J. Tucker has successfully guarded his man in this possession.
Plumlee being in another county causes him to come from out of position on Splitter and while he did go straight up, coming from out of position makes it an easy call for the ref and Splitter gets an easy and-1.
Archie Goodwin is in the game, because that's fun! Anyway, Archie is going to go under a Danny Green ball screen, which is usually not wise. Did anyone watch the 2013 playoffs or was that just me? Don't blame Archie though, as it appears Markieff Morris is supposed to come out and cut off Danny Green's lane to the basket.
Here comes Keef! Wait. Keef. Why are you not facing Danny Green? Keef is denying the pass like Diaw is Tim Duncan and even if he was he's allowed the best 3-point shooter in the building to be open. This might have been an adjustment for Tony Parker, but Keef has to know better. Archie recovers as best as he can but it's already too late...
Instead of Keef playing aggressive defense on Green he's left Archie out to dry and Green nails the open 3. This is the area where the Suns have a very long way to go, as good to elite defensive teams are able to make the plays Keef should have made. They can rely on their rotations to cover for the open Diaw and then the presumably open Belinelli in the corner.
Another starring role for Keef. Diaw gets the pass here on the wing, and for whatever reason, Keef is already extremely out of position. Yes, Keef was denying penetration off of the play on the right wing, but he's supposed to have that one step to "appear" to deny the key and then get back to his man. It's a difficult thing to master and obviously, Keef has a long way to go on it. Either way, the penetration wasn't even going to get there as you can see, so Keef had no reason to be there.
Keef thinks Diaw is Reggie Miller so he over-rotates like a mad man instead of just closing out nice and slow. Even allowing the Diaw jumper here is fine. Keef does not and looks like his ankles are about to snap. Plumlee is keeping an eye on the action, so he's about to swat this into another stratosphere right?
Nope. We've all seen Diaw move and while he is graceful, he's not quick. Plumlee had time to be ready to swat this Diaw lay in, but he's so caught off guard by a lay up that he didn't even jump. Yikes. Miles is a great shot blocker, but only in situations when it's very clear where the shot is going to come from. Diaw surprised him here, but Plumlee had plenty of time to make the adjustment and swat this. He did not. Open finger rolls for Boris.
The man to keep an eye on is Patty Mills (bottom of the screen). That step-in we talked about defensively for Keef is what Bledsoe is doing at the free throw line right now. He's done it well, as the ball is going to get swung to Mills in the corner. Bled's a fast man, so he will get there.
Bad screenshot skills by me, but Mills is actually catching the ball here, not pump faking. Bled has taken a very bad angle here, basically allowing Mills a path to the basket. He may sacrifice a half step, but he needs to deny Mills the basket.
Whoops. Not only has Bledsoe allowed Mills to get to the basket easily, but he didn't close out properly. The over-extension allows Mills to get right by him. Once again, Mills didn't even pump fake. Just ran right by him.
Channing does just about everything he can here, but Mills gets the floater to go.
This is a fun one. For our second time tonight, Gerald Green finds himself in no man's land with no responsibilities at all. A loose ball allowed the Spurs to catch the Suns not properly matched up and now Parker is attacking Plumlee. Due to wherever Gerald was on the rebound he is helping out Plum right? Take a look at the shot clock. Gerald had seven seconds (or less) to figure this out and he's still in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the help for Plumlee is not a horrible idea, but he's gotta have the basketball sense to see that Tucker (free throw line) and Frye (under the basket) are both in position to help Plumlee. Parker is absolutely loving this and keep an eye on Danny Green at the bottom of the screen seeing the future.
Parker has got by Plumlee with ease and somehow Gerald has still allowed Parker to get by him as a help defender. This forces Tucker to go for at least a swipe of the ball. Take a look as all five Suns are looking at Parker. Danny Green is slowly drifting over.....
Bledsoe has tried to outsmart Tony Parker which is always an awful idea. He has not only guessed wrong, but he went to deny AUSTIN DAYE an open three instead of Danny Green. Whooooooops. Parker could have had an open layup, but naaaaaah.
I love P.J. Tucker for his rotation here, but he's so far away that in order to contest he has to get there very quickly. He slightly overplays it and fouls Danny Green for the 4-point play.
For the first time I encourage you to take a look at the score. While I am only highlighting mistakes, I still missed a lot of them. The cut was about 75/25 in terms of defensive mistakes to the Spurs being a great basketball team. That's how much the Suns let this slip. Here we go. The Suns have kept themselves in this despite a massive 3rd quarter from the Spurs and need a stop here. First of all, do you see Tony Parker on the floor? Pop is the best. Belinelli has a pick and roll here with Diaw and attacks the basket. As you can see, Belinelli is 3298572395872 miles from the basket, so the Suns should be fine in rotations here or getting back to Belinelli. Keep an eye on Danny/Gerald Green from screen cap 1 to 2, and Keef's defense (covering Diaw) from here on out.
First of all, somehow Danny Green got all the way to his favorite right wing while Gerald Green is still in the key. How is this possible when Danny Green is absolutely on fire at the time? Keef is still where he was last screen cap while he expects his teammates to cover Diaw rolling. P.J. Tucker's ability has allowed him to catch Belinelli, AKA Belinelli was eons away from the basket like I said, so Tucker caught him. Green still stays in the key to help here (NOOOOOOO) and Keef is still in the same place.
Keef is still in the same spot. He's moved maybe 5 feet? Gerald is in no man's land again, as he has failed to cover Diaw, Belinelli, AND DANNY GREEN. He chooses to stand in the middle of all 3 and the rest probably went in slow motion for him. Once again, as you can see, Tucker got back to Belinelli, so none of this was needed. In screen cap 2, it was Keef's job to swing over to Danny Green. He has see right away that despite the other flaws here, the open guy closest to him is Danny Green. The one thing I want you to see is the FOUR OPEN SPURS. Everyone is open except Belinelli. But what do the Spurs do?
They find the hottest guy in the building in his favorite spot. Once again, there were 4 wide open players in the most crucial possession of the game. As you might have guessed, Green made this, and the Suns lost.
As you can see, there are so many places that a lot of Suns need to improve on defensively. If you think that I am overanalyzing because I can take screencaps and watch in slow motion, watch a great defensive team play. The rotations and lack of mistakes are astounding, and it's so fun to watch once you realize that. The Suns were the best story in the NBA, but if they want to take it into the playoffs, they need to stop doing this. Sometimes they are just lazy (Lakers late last season), but other times, they are just out executed and absolutely demolished for their mistakes (Clippers/this game late last season).
Once again, those 6 examples were from just about 10 Spurs possessions I looked over. There were so many more examples and a lot of them were much worse. The crazy thing is, this team has actually been pretty great on defense at times. I've seen them do these things correctly that I highlighted here. They can get it done, it just takes the maturity that we hear old players and talking heads bash into our skulls on TV. That's the next step for the Suns next season.
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has received (at least) his share of criticism over the years based on missteps that have proved costly to the organization. On Friday he took to the airwaves (again) to "clear the air" on the Eric Bledsoe contract situation... and I'm ready to criticize him again.
I don't think Sarver is doing himself any favors going on the Burns and Gambo show. I know that John Gambadoro and he are as thick as thieves and the station serves as a great platform for him to push his agenda and let propaganda proliferate, but his message rings hollow to me.
Sarver went on the show before the free agency period and talked about how the Suns wanted to spend big. They haven't.
Sarver went on the show again last week (when he called in impromptu) to attempt to quell rising doubts about the state of the Eric Bledsoe negotiations. He didn't.
There was nothing he said that wasn't expected and couldn't have been just as effectively conveyed by someone else in the organization. What would people expect besides rhetoric? That the situation had escalated into a greasefire? That Eric was being petulant? That the team lowballed him?
It isn't hard for me to demagogue on this subject. Robert is sort of an easy target to traduce.
To many people Sarver is still the villain.
To many people Sarver is still a cheapskate.
I don't think that is representative of his body of work, but sometimes a few defining moments blot out the bigger picture.
The Suns losing Joe Johnson over $5 million dollars (total) on a six year contract, the disregard for in-house growth that was epitomized by the trading of Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks for salary cap relief, and the speculation of money playing a factor into Steve Kerr's decision to vacate his position as Suns' GM after the 2009-10 season are what people remember.
It doesn't register that the Suns were one of the higher spending teams during their contending window from 2007-2010. Or maybe it's just that the mistakes were so egregious that they do in fact completely nullify the positive talking points
The villification of Sarver isn't completely unfounded. There are valid arguments that roil the blood of fans. Here's another one - it's been a long ass time since the Suns spent big on a player.
The last time the Phoenix Suns were in negotiations for a contract north of $40 million was in 2006 when they signed Boris Diaw to a five year, $45 million extension in October of 2006.
It's been that long.
Laughably, since that agreement was reached nearly eight years ago the largest contract the Suns have doled out was five years and $34 million to Josh Childress. A deal that Sarver had his fingerprints all over.
Since then, Frye and Dragic have each garnered $30 million dollar deals. That's it.
Personally, I would point at the team's catastrophic failure to draft well (or at all) and bring in quality free agents as the overriding factor in why the Suns haven't inked any big deals. The team just went on a long run of having nobody worth giving any money to.
It wasn't a matter of frugality, it was a penury of talent. The team wasn't cheap. It was merely incompetently managed.
But the parsimonious label has stuck with Sarver.
Fair or not.
Sarver said something very applicable himself, but with respect to Eric Bledsoe...
It's not necessarily us to determine what he thinks is fair; it's him to determine that.
It doesn't matter whether Sarver's been cheap or inept (those are basically the choices, right?); a large segment of people have determined it's both.
And when you go on the radio telling people you want to spend money and then don't do it... well, yeah. The Suns are still well below the cap. Pending a trade the team should be well below the line for the second straight season. While this does give the team flexibility and it's nonsensical to spend money just to spend money, it's easy to spin this as Sarver tightening the purse strings.
The Suns have avoided paying veterans in recent seasons.
The Suns in effect traded Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for Tyler Ennis. Gortat is a quality starting center in the NBA and the Suns let him go for a potentially small return. In the grand scheme of things I don't think that Gortat in his thirties is a good fit for what the Suns are doing. I actually applauded that trade and still do. I'm also nonplussed by the spendthrift contract (five years, $60 million) he coaxed out of the Washington Wizards. But once again the Suns saved money.
It's hard to argue that Channing Frye wouldn't have made next season's team better (actually it's not hard at all to argue, just difficult to do so effectively). I certainly don't claim to know anything about the team's interaction with Frye, but is it possible they could have reached a deal before Frye even hit the market? Could the team have signed him to a more palatable deal and forestalled Channing ever getting the four year, $32 million dollar contract offer from the Orlando Magic?
Instead Frye, with a reputation for being a class individual, ripped the team on his way out the door. Appropriate or not, it's another blemish that reflects right up to Sarver.
The contracts those two received would rank as the highest and third highest contracts handed out by the Suns since 2006.
Sarver doesn't need to put himself in the public eye, either. He has managed (I think) to put together a very capable staff beneath him - from PBO to GM to head coach.
Lon Babby stood against the firing squad last season while Lance Blanks was occupied with whatever the hell he was doing instead of his job. Babby took his beating with as much composure and candor as could possibly be expected.
Let him share the team's vision with the fans.
Ryan McDonough is dripping with confidence and charisma. He has built up a great deal of credibility in a very short period of time.
Let him talk. People will listen.
Those are the guys who I want handling this situation in the media and in the bargaining room. I don't know about you, but the vision of Robert Sarver sitting at a table trying to negotiate a contract with Rich Paul is absolutely terrifying.
Sarver has these people working for him that are eminently more qualified to act as spokesperson for the franchise, yet he feels the need to take chances to expose himself to criticism.
If he really wants to increase his likability, ending the team's playoff drought would be a good place to start. By missing the playoffs in four consecutive seasons the Suns have managed a dubious feat that even the drug scandal team couldn't accomplish. The Suns have missed the playoffs as many times in the past six seasons (five) as they did in the previous 31. That's a three followed by a one.
This paucity of postseason appearances threatens to match the struggles of the franchise's first seven seasons.
Of course the case could be made that the Suns are improving and were painfully close to the playoffs last season. Maybe even that they were unjustly left out (please change the format).
Well, in the 1970-71 season the Suns missed the playoffs despite having the fourth best record (48-34) in the entire NBA. The next season (1971-72) they were left out in the cold with 49 wins. If the Suns had made the playoffs either of those seasons the current team could already be building on a record drought.
It has been pretty damn awful here recently by the Phoenix Sun standard. Last season provided plenty of hope for the future, but for a franchise measured by playoff appearances the team is still wanting. Where does the blame for this stygian stretch fall? Ultimately, accountability goes to the top.
And until he's finished cleaning up his mess I don't think Sarver is helping his case with the fans. Winning will speak volumes and is the single biggest thing that will improve his image. The Suns need to be back in the playoffs.
I don't want to hear Sarver on the radio talking about how he's going to spend money. I want him on the radio talking after he has spent the money.
I don't want to hear Sarver on the radio talking about how he's going to sign Eric Bledsoe. I want him on the radio talking about how he just signed Eric Bledsoe.
I'm much happier when the Suns are kicking ass and Sarver has his hands on a foam finger and not personnel decisions.
Empty promises and doublespeak don't push the needle. Results do.
According to ESPN and CBS, DeMarcus Cousins is likely to be passed over in favor of Mason Plumlee for a spot on the USA basketball team, a victim of character standards that Suns fans are all too familiar with.
While USA Basketball is mired in scrutiny following the horrific injury of Paul George on Friday, a curious report has somewhat flown under the radar. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Mason Plumlee is likely to make the team over DeMarcus Cousins.
Should there be any doubt over who the better player is, let us look at the tale of the tape.
Cousins: 4 years in the NBA, 22.7 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 26.1 PER in 2013/14
Plumlee: One year in the NBA, 7.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 19.0 PER (only 18.2 MPG) in 2013/14
Plumlee had a solid rookie season as he eventually took over the starting center position for the Nets after Brook Lopez was lost to injury.
Cousins, on the other hand, has steadily improved throughout his four professional seasons, culminating in his monstrous 2013/14 campaign. Very few NBA players can even approach Cousins' level of production.
There is just one problem.
While Plumlee is a squeaky-clean white kid from Indiana, Cousins is just as well-known for his combustible temper as his play on the court.
When Jerry Colangelo is making the decisions, these things matter.
In Phoenix, Colangelo fostered a high standard of character for professional athletes that, at least with the Suns, is still practiced today. His conviction was only emboldened by the ugly drug scandal of 1987, which eventually led to the decision not to offer all-time leading scorer Walter Davis a competitive contract the following year, in essence letting him walk.
While he has been widely commended for his business practices, they often have presented a direct conflict to putting the best teams on the playing field, and there have also been some curious contradictions along the way.
In 1983, Colangelo traded mercurial but talented guard Dennis Johnson to the Celtics in what is widely considered one of the most lop-sided trades in NBA history. Johnson often clashed with coaches during his time both in Seattle and Phoenix, and after three stellar seasons as a Sun was shipped to Boston for center Rick Robey.
Johnson became a key cog for two championship Celtics teams with his fierce defense and clutch playmaking. His jersey number 3 was retired by the Celtics, and he was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
In three miserable seasons in Phoenix, Robey never played more than 61 games in a season or averaged more than 14 minutes per game, due to injuries that some suggested were a result of suspect conditioning.
In 2001, Suns star Jason Kidd and teammate Clifford Robinson both found themselves in legal trouble, Kidd for domestic violence and Robinson for marijuana possession.
Colangelo acted swiftly, trading the All-NBA Kidd to New Jersey and ushering in the woefully uninspiring Stephon Marbury era.
Despite the seriousness of Kidd's domestic violence incident, the joke was on Colangelo again. While Kidd led the invigorated Nets to the first of consecutive Finals appearances in 2002, the Marbury-led Suns ended a 13 year streak by missing the playoffs in the West.
As for Robinson, despite being a decorated NBA veteran, valued teammate and a renowned defensive player, he was sent to Detroit for lowly-regarded reserves Jud Beuchler and John Wallace.
While Robinson was a key-contributor for the playoff-bound Pistons, Beuchler and Wallace combined to play 52 games for the Suns.
As the luster was slowly being drained from the Suns franchise, Colangelo had again made his point quite clear. Only players of the highest quality of character would wear the uniform of the Phoenix Suns, even if it hindered the success of the team.
In light of his clear willingness to place character standards over the quality of the team on the floor, how ironic then were the times that he used his considerable power and reach in the community to protect those close to him when certain unfortunate incidents arose.
Like in 1997 when the Suns' poster child Kevin Johnson found himself under police investigation for alleged misconduct with a minor. A year after Colangelo engaged in a public squabble with Charles Barkley, the ugly KJ scandal went untouched by every media outlet in Phoenix aside from those meddling kids at the New Times.
Colangelo responded by re-signing Johnson for the 1997/98 season at $8 million, and to date neither have ever publicly addressed the scandal.
Or in 2003 when Colangelo's daughter was arrested for an extreme DUI in which she even topped recently-busted P.J. Tucker by producing a blood-alcohol level of .238. According to an investigation again conducted by the pesky New Times, Jerry responding by arranging a fundraiser for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio which raised $50,000 for the controversial lawman.
Presumably as a result of Colangelo's generosity, his daughter was able to avoid the grueling environment of Tent City in exchange for a ten-day stay at Arpaio's alternative facility, derisively dubbed the "Mesa Hilton", where she enjoyed such amenities as air conditioning, her cell phone and take-out meals. According to the report, she was also only required to spend 12 hours per day in the facility.
Of course, to establish a direct link between Arpaio's fundraiser and the preferential treatment shown to Colangelo's daughter would be a serious accusation of public corruption. Surely that would be beneath the scrupulous Colangelo.
As DeMarcus Cousins is learning, if you're fortunate enough to be close to Colangelo, you'll find him to be quite magnanimous. If not, you're at the mercy of his ever scrutinizing judgement of character.
While Cousins' behavioral issues have been well documented, he has led a quiet life away from the court and has thus far never had an instance of criminal behavior. He is not by any means an ideal personality type for a basketball team, but he is one of the best active American basketball players and is at least a top-five big man on any refutable list in terms of sheer production.
What's more, he has exhibited a genuine desire to represent his country, which should be specially noted in light of the Paul George incident, not to mention the tendency of a number of high profile players to forgo the honor of international competition. When asked by the Sacramento Bee how disappointed he would be if he indeed is left off the team, Cousins replied, "I would be crushed. Everyone knows how much I want to do this. This is my third year here, and I don't run from any challenge. I would be crushed, but I'm not a quitter."
During USA workouts in 2012, Cousins reportedly drew the ire of Colangelo for his heated, physical style of play, which unfortunately for Cousins included trash-talking and complaining about refereeing.
Despite this, or perhaps partly because of it, he garnered the respect of the veteran players at the workouts. Kobe Bryant said of him, ""European basketball is extremely physical, and he brings a physicality that really changes the energy of the game. He's not afraid to upset guys, and he kind of makes the game uncomfortable."
Colangelo was not impressed, and Cousins was left frustrated by their exchange, stating "I had a conversation with him, I asked him, 'How was I being immature?' He never really gave me an answer. I mean, I really wanted to know. I took offense to it. It definitely bothered me."
One thing you cannot take away from Cousins is that he takes basketball very seriously. It appears that his passion and his elite play at the center position will not be enough. Once you find yourself on Jerry Colangelo's "naughty" list, you're essentially a non-entity to him -- unless you happen to have a close and personal relationship with him, of course.
We also know from the Barkley fallout how seriously it grates on Colangelo when one publicly airs details about disagreements with him.
Enter Mason Plumlee, the rich man's version of every center Jerry Colangelo has ever brought to the Suns. Quiet, hard-working, squeaky-clean, and golly wouldn't you know it, used to play for USA coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
Small world, innit?
I would tell you not to take it personally, DeMarcus, except for the fact that it appears to be 100% personal. Anyone that can identify a basketball out of a lineup knows that you're a better player than Mason Plumlee, and USA Basketball should be grateful to have a player of your caliber that possesses your desire to represent your country.
If it makes you feel any better, Suns fans have suffered many times on many different occasions under the weight of Colangelo's character standards.
Join the club.