A look at Suns-related news floating around the internet from the last week. Also an open thread to discuss anything and everything.
In the last seven days (11/28-12/5), the Phoenix Suns played four games - splitting a pair against Utah, losing in Memphis and taking down the Rockets in Houston. It's still incredibly hard to get a firm handle of this team, as they've developed a tendency to be inconsistent enough to make fans wonder if they're a legitimate playoff team one day and question where they'll land in the draft lottery the next day.
Phoenix only has two games on its slate for the next seven days - a game against the Raptors at home on Friday, 12/6 and a visit to LA to face the Lakers on Tuesday, 12/10, when Kobe Bryant might grace the Suns with his return to NBA basketball.
Let's now take a look at some random Suns-related content that floated around various parts of the internet this last week.
Most of these power rankings were published earlier in the week, so keep in mind that they haven't accounted for the two losses to Sacramento.
CBS Sports (Dec. 2) - #13:
Still hanging in there despite all reason and logic. Jeff Hornacek is doing some work in the Valley.
Sports Illustrated (Dec. 2) - #11:
Markieff and Marcus Morris are thriving after being reunited in Phoenix, with both averaging career bests in points, rebounds and minutes. It's too bad Eric Bledsoe doesn't have a twin brother.
ESPN (Dec. 2) - #10:
Last Monday's 15-point loss in Miami was the first (and only) double-digit defeat of the season for Jeff Hornacek's scrappers. Suns fans will surely learn to live with Saturday's home L to the Jazz once someone reminds them that Portland is 0-2 in Phoenix thus far and 14-1 everywhere else.
USA Today (Dec. 1) - #13:
Playing one Morris at a time is like saving a Twix bar for later: It makes sense, but you wont do it.
NBC Sports (Dec. 2) - #14
I’m as stunned as anyone to see them crack the Top 10, but they are outscoring opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. Channing Frye has shaken off the rust and his shooting from three is spacing the floor and sparking the offense.
Suns sit at 9th in the west, just a game behind the 8th-seeded Warriors. Somehow, someway, the Suns are managing to stay in the playoff picture in the rugged western conference.
ESPN Insider ranked the NBA's rookie head coaches and the Suns' Jeff Hornacek deservedly came in at #1:
1. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Plus-6.1 (Expected wins: 3.4 through 18 games / Pythagorean wins: 9.5 through 18 games)
The early reviews on Hornacek have been universally positive. ATH projected the Suns as the worst team in the league. After winning at Houston on Wednesday, the Suns stand at 10-9. Phoenix has leaped from 29th to ninth in offensive efficiency and has improved four spots in the defensive rankings. Hornacek has ridden excellent shot selection to the NBA's sixth-best effective field goal percentage. The preseason Suns were angling for the top spot in the 2014 draft, so maybe Hornacek is doing too good of a job.
Bledsoe's steal and slam against the Jazz:
PJ Tucker shutting down James Harden:
This hilarious exchange between the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns' Twitter accounts:
@trailblazers We asked you to keep that on the down low. That eager to get rid of us already?— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 4, 2013
@Suns Well played— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 4, 2013
Bright Sider of the Week goes to.............Mike Lisboa! He always posts great comments, but one in particular was fantastic - his analysis (and defense) of Channing Frye in this game recap was one of the most well thought-out and articulated comments I've ever seen on this site and really deserved to be its own post. Thanks, Mike!
Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for what else you'd like me to do/include in these weekly segments (I'm open to anything!)? As always, feel free to discuss below!
The fable of the Suns playing to the standards of the competition might be a little premature...
There is a level of complacency that occurs when any level of success is achieved. Even if the success was minor and unexpected, that is just human nature to dial it back out of sheer confidence on occasion with the thought of, "We (or I) have made it."
That is something that the Phoenix Suns (10-9) have experienced a little as of late, but the stories of their demise are being written.
"What have we won, seven (10) games? We haven't proved anything," Channing Frye on the early success. "What if we finish the season 7-73? Then we just one nine games early. We have a lot to prove every game. They don't pay us to play 17 games, they pay us to play 82 so right now we compete against good teams and teams with lower record than us, do we compete the same? The coaches just want consistency."
After a tough loss to the Utah Jazz where they surrendered 51.3% shooting and a season high 112 to the previously last place Jazz was a low point in the season. Lately the team has regressed on the defensive end giving up 100+ points in five of their last six games has been the real issue, but the focus is on the recent play against sub-.500 teams as of late as they have gone 1-3 against the Jazz and the Sacramento Kings has people around the team talking.
"I don' t think anything is unraveling," P.J. Tucker on the teams lackluster defense as of late. "It is energy and defense. With 82 games it is hard to do it night in and night out.
Early on this season they have been like a house on fire going 5-2 winning games with effort, defense, and flat out surprising some of their opponents. Effort has been the flag for the Suns through the first 19 games, when they play with it, they win -- when they don't they lose. For a team that lacks top level talent effort is what any overachieving team has to have, in spades.
It is easy to get up for the top teams in the league because they have a target on their backs. The Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Blazers, and Pacers have success that every team wants and individuals to key in on to make statements against.
Against the better teams in the league the Suns have consistently played with effort despite the up-and-down results. Their record is not great, 5-5 against teams at or above .500, but the effort is there.
(S = Suns OPP = Opponent)
They play even with the teams that are considered Championship Contenders and the statistics back that up. Then again, most teams do. Use the Jazz, for example, the once worst team in the league is 2-11 verse the best teams in the NBA, but with only a -8.1 scoring margin. They get up for the big games or the higher seeds hit snooze until late enough in the game to still come out victorious.
When playing against teams at or above .500 for the season the Suns are more consistent in the effort categories. They are out-rebounding teams, out-hustling teams, and shooting better overall. The Suns have won the rebounding battle 7-3, the shooting battle 9-1, and the hustle battle (steals + blocks) 7-3 in 10 games against good teams.
They are getting up for these games, clearly.
On the other hand when there is not the incentive of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, the Spurs rivalry, or the up-start young Blazers the Suns have seen the pendulum swing to the other side, but not to an extreme.
Playing with a winning record against the lesser teams in the NBA is what any team aspiring for the playoffs has to do. Rack up the wins against the struggling teams and play even with the better teams can put you position to be a playoff team in return.
There is no formula or equation for effort in sports. It is an eye test and more of the human element that, no matter the success rate, is visible to those who are looking for it. For the most part it is a visual test of how a team is reacting to runs, how they take punches to the mouth, and their overall demeanor on the court.
One way to look at effort is in a measurable statistic is the amount of free-throws a team earns and the amount of three-pointers they settle for. Against the better teams in the NBA the Suns are shooting 24.4 threes a night and 21.2 free-throws a night. That is two less threes a night than they hoist against the sub-.500 teams (26.4) showing a more aggressive and assertive team.
Are the Suns playing a lesser quality of basketball against specific teams? Situationally, yes, but overall no. The big picture is that they are a .500 team against any competition. Period.
For the rest of this month the Suns have only three games against teams that are currently under .500 for the season in the Toronto Raptors (6-10), the Sacramento Kings (4-12), and the Philadelphia 76ers (7-12). Normally these would be games to look forward to, but with the effort level the Suns have displayed in recent weeks (1-3 against the Kings and Jazz collectively) this may be a cluster of coal scattered, masked, as gifts.
To use the Suns own formula that means they have an opportunity to win 5.16 of those games, therefore remaining an above, or close to a .500 team this month.
The sample size is small of them playing well and even smaller of them playing poorly against lesser teams.