Your Phoenix Suns recap of the week that was, plus a preview of the week to come.

The Phoenix Suns are still in a seemingly constant state of flux after 10 games. A five-game homestand didn't provide the desired results, so they'll have to try and find their footing during a five-game Eastern roadie instead.

While all Suns players have had their bright spots so far in the young season, there is still an ingredient missing somewhere, as they have struggled to exhibit the same charm and competitiveness that they were blessed with during the 2013/14 campaign. Possibly the problem isn't quite as mysterious as it might seem.

(All stats from basktball-reference.com)

Last year's roster had a rather simple structure. The starting lineup featured dual scorers in the backcourt with a supporting cast of role players. Consider the usage rate of each starter on the team:

As the usage rates show, their roles on offense were about as simple as they come. Tucker hustled and hit the corner 3, Plumlee rolled hard to the rim, Frye spread the floor for the guards, and Dragic and Bledsoe carried the bulk of the scoring and playmaking.

Put simply, the guards' job was to score, and the other three players were there to make it easier for them. As Walter Sobchak was known to say, "the beauty is the simplicity. Once a plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong."

Funny you should say that Walter, because that's exactly what we're witnessing now.

While the Morris twins have provided steady production as usual, their presence in the starting lineup completely changes its dynamic. Their usage rates have both dropped from last year, but are still significantly higher than that of Tucker and Frye, whom the twins effectively replaced on opening night.

Here is the current starting lineup and each player's usage rate, and keep in mind Dragic's recent comment about there only being "one ball":

Quite the horse of a different color. If it seemed to you like the players on the court were unsure of whom to defer to and when, you weren't losing your mind; the numbers corroborate this. Having four score-first players on the court to start the game has created obvious problems. Factor in the bloated usage rates of Gerald Green (30.6) and Isaiah Thomas (29.1) off the bench, and the numbers become every bit as convoluted as the team looks on the court.

Of course, usage rate only tells part of the story. The real problem with grouping the Slash Bros and the Morris twins is that all four players have suffered a drop in TS% from last year.

  • Dragic, .604 to .541
  • Bledsoe, .578 to .558
  • Markieff, .564 to .518
  • Marcus, .552 to .499

The sample size is duly noted, but the data is consistent across the board. Collectively, these guys can't get out of eachother's way.

Whether it is through trade or a reassignment of roles and responsibilities, the task at hand for the Suns is to get back to complementing their own strengths, rather than compromising them. Dragic and Bledsoe in particular were the engine that led this team to 48 wins in the rugged West -- sooner or later if things don't improve, someone is gonna have to throw them a bone.

The Roundup (click the links for full recaps)

Nov 12 vs Brooklyn Nets, W 112-104

In a game that was eerily similar to the previous matchup with Golden State, the Suns stumbled through 2 1/12 quarters of uninspired basketball before Thomas and Green duo ran away with it in the fourth. This time they combined for 41 points, including 20-21 from the free-throw line.

Nov 14 vs Charlotte Hornets, L 95-103

It's nice being able to say "Charlotte Hornets" again, but it's not that nice. The starters delivered another underwhelming performance, but this time Thomas and Green went 2-13 from the field.

Nov 15 @ LA Clippers, L 107-120

The Suns created an insurmountable hole by surrendering 42 points in the third quarter. The Clippers played a typical Clippers game, which meant 51 points on 25 shots from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and enough petulant antics sprinkled throughout to make you temporarily hate professional basketball.

The Shark Tank

The shark is always circling. Who got bit this week?

"Faster than sharks, so it's no big deal": Goran Dragic is faster than sharks with a steady-if-unspectacular week in which he scored 16.3 PPG on 20/41 from the field. Really he wins this by default since he was the only regular that provided any consistency over the last three games.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat": This Eric Bledsoe/Chris Paul thing should be a compelling storyline, or perhaps even a rivalry. Bledsoe made sure to completely ruin the narrative by being outscored by his former mentor on Saturday, 32-1. One point! Sadly, his ten assists weren't enough to keep the shark at bay.

On The Horizon

The Suns take their struggling act on the road with a slate full of Eastern opponents.

The good news is, the next four teams they play have a combined record of 10-28. Even better news, the Suns were 7-1 against them last season. This seems like a great time to build a bit of mojo, but it also would be an embarrassing stretch of losses if they can't conquer their internal struggles.

Your Phoenix Suns recap of the week that was, plus a preview of the week to come.

The Phoenix Suns are still in a seemingly constant state of flux after 10 games. A five-game homestand didn't provide the desired results, so they'll have to try and find their footing during a five-game Eastern roadie instead.

While all Suns players have had their bright spots so far in the young season, there is still an ingredient missing somewhere, as they have struggled to exhibit the same charm and competitiveness that they were blessed with during the 2013/14 campaign. Possibly the problem isn't quite as mysterious as it might seem.

(All stats from basktball-reference.com)

Last year's roster had a rather simple structure. The starting lineup featured dual scorers in the backcourt with a supporting cast of role players. Consider the usage rate of each starter on the team:

As the usage rates show, their roles on offense were about as simple as they come. Tucker hustled and hit the corner 3, Plumlee rolled hard to the rim, Frye spread the floor for the guards, and Dragic and Bledsoe carried the bulk of the scoring and playmaking.

Put simply, the guards' job was to score, and the other three players were there to make it easier for them. As Walter Sobchak was known to say, "the beauty is the simplicity. Once a plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong."

Funny you should say that Walter, because that's exactly what we're witnessing now.

While the Morris twins have provided steady production as usual, their presence in the starting lineup completely changes its dynamic. Their usage rates have both dropped from last year, but are still significantly higher than that of Tucker and Frye, whom the twins effectively replaced on opening night.

Here is the current starting lineup and each player's usage rate, and keep in mind Dragic's recent comment about there only being "one ball":

Quite the horse of a different color. If it seemed to you like the players on the court were unsure of whom to defer to and when, you weren't losing your mind; the numbers corroborate this. Having four score-first players on the court to start the game has created obvious problems. Factor in the bloated usage rates of Gerald Green (30.6) and Isaiah Thomas (29.1) off the bench, and the numbers become every bit as convoluted as the team looks on the court.

Of course, usage rate only tells part of the story. The real problem with grouping the Slash Bros and the Morris twins is that all four players have suffered a drop in TS% from last year.

  • Dragic, .604 to .541
  • Bledsoe, .578 to .558
  • Markieff, .564 to .518
  • Marcus, .552 to .499

The sample size is duly noted, but the data is consistent across the board. Collectively, these guys can't get out of eachother's way.

Whether it is through trade or a reassignment of roles and responsibilities, the task at hand for the Suns is to get back to complementing their own strengths, rather than compromising them. Dragic and Bledsoe in particular were the engine that led this team to 48 wins in the rugged West -- sooner or later if things don't improve, someone is gonna have to throw them a bone.

The Roundup (click the links for full recaps)

Nov 12 vs Brooklyn Nets, W 112-104

In a game that was eerily similar to the previous matchup with Golden State, the Suns stumbled through 2 1/12 quarters of uninspired basketball before Thomas and Green duo ran away with it in the fourth. This time they combined for 41 points, including 20-21 from the free-throw line.

Nov 14 vs Charlotte Hornets, L 95-103

It's nice being able to say "Charlotte Hornets" again, but it's not that nice. The starters delivered another underwhelming performance, but this time Thomas and Green went 2-13 from the field.

Nov 15 @ LA Clippers, L 107-120

The Suns created an insurmountable hole by surrendering 42 points in the third quarter. The Clippers played a typical Clippers game, which meant 51 points on 25 shots from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and enough petulant antics sprinkled throughout to make you temporarily hate professional basketball.

The Shark Tank

The shark is always circling. Who got bit this week?

"Faster than sharks, so it's no big deal": Goran Dragic is faster than sharks with a steady-if-unspectacular week in which he scored 16.3 PPG on 20/41 from the field. Really he wins this by default since he was the only regular that provided any consistency over the last three games.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat": This Eric Bledsoe/Chris Paul thing should be a compelling storyline, or perhaps even a rivalry. Bledsoe made sure to completely ruin the narrative by being outscored by his former mentor on Saturday, 32-1. One point! Sadly, his ten assists weren't enough to keep the shark at bay.

On The Horizon

The Suns take their struggling act on the road with a slate full of Eastern opponents.

The good news is, the next four teams they play have a combined record of 10-28. Even better news, the Suns were 7-1 against them last season. This seems like a great time to build a bit of mojo, but it also would be an embarrassing stretch of losses if they can't conquer their internal struggles.

This is the first installment of what will be a new weekly segment. Each weekend I will choose a "player of the week" for the Suns, but in addition to posting an article discussing that player's performance there will be an accompanying highlight video. This week, we start with Goran Dragic.

A rocky start is nothing new for Goran Dragic.

Despite the expectations that come with making the All-NBA 3rd team and posting career-high averages in virtually every statistical category, it took a while for Dragic to establish himself as a star last season. During the first nine games of the 2013-14 regular season, Dragic averaged only 15.7 points per game while shooting 45% from the field and 27% from three-point range.

And this year, the numbers through nine games are quite similar: 14.6 PPG on 46% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from deep.

Even so, the Dragon seems to be finding his groove again despite a tough 2-2 week for the Suns. Because the Suns-Clippers game was only last night, it will be factored into next week's article. The only games that mattered for this week happened against Golden State, Brooklyn and Charlotte.

There were plenty of candidates. Dragic, while looking better, is still by no means a transcendent superstar. At least not yet.

Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green led the Suns to two victories over the Warriors and Nets, but both struggled against the Hornets. Eric Bledsoe put up a fantastic performance against the Hornets but was not a major factor in the other games.

Dragic was the most consistent of the four guards, and for that he is the player of the week. In the three games, he averaged 16.3 PPG and 3.7 APG and shot 21-for-39 from the field (54%). Furthermore, after starting out the season missing 11 consecutive three-pointers, Dragic has made 8 of his last 20.

We are still waiting on Goran to churn out his first dominant performance of the season. Last night against the Clippers he put up 15 points in the first half but was unable to maintain that production and finished with 19. Against the Warriors he put up 13 points in the first quarter alone, but once Andre Iguodala was put on him he stopped looking to score and finished with only 19.

And in a way that is the main problem with Dragic; whereas the other guards are often too aggressive, he is too passive. And that is not entirely his fault. The arrival of Isaiah Thomas has put Dragic in a situation where he is not usually the primary ball handler. Without the ability to run plays and create offense both for himself and for others, he is less effective. Dragic's usage rate has dropped from 24.5% last season to 21.3%, and his assist percentage has been cut in half.

Dragic should certainly be applauded for his great performance this past week. And yet, one must wonder if he will have the opportunity to take it a step further and become the player that we fell in love with last season. He's just as efficient, but will he have both the confidence and touches required to single-handedly lead the Suns to victory when they need him to step up?

Because this is an article/video combo, here is the video. It has all of the fancy moves that we have come to expect out of the Dragon; three-pointers, fast break opportunities, step back jumpers, spin moves, and great passes. Here's to hoping that we'll see plenty more of this throughout the year.

Coach Nick from BBALLBREAKDOWN breaks down some of the Suns creative offense.

The Phoenix Suns are Fun. Fast paced, nicely spread and they have that whole potential triple point guard threat going. As Suns fans we all know that or more like we feel it. But others are starting to notice as well. If you haven't heard of him yet, Coach Nick from BBALLBREAKDOWN does video analysis on NBA basketball gameplay. In this video he breaks down some examples of Suns offense, giving us a glimpse into Jeff Hornacek's basketball mind. Need I say more? Just press play.

When you're done watching and want more I recommend you continue with this Suns break down from last year and definitely give this wonderful article on Goran Dragic a read.

The Phoenix Suns were successful last year by playing as a collective unit out to prove something to the league. This year, they are spending too much time trying to prove something to each other.

To watch the Phoenix Suns this season is, sometimes, like watching a dumpster fire. The Suns are 5-5 after 10 games and looking less like a playoff caliber team than a year ago.

Many would say that 5-5 is not a bad record, but when you consider that two of the wins have come against the lowly LOLakers and three of the losses came during a generous season-opening home schedule, you could conclude that the Suns are not even as good as their record.

But what's worse is that the Suns have more talent at the ready than at any time last year, so much playable talent they can't even get them all on the court, yet the team is underperforming at a frustrating rate.

All-NBA (third team) point guard Goran Dragic has looked frustrated and, at times, quite average. $70 million point guard Eric Bledsoe has looked like the jack-of-all-trades-who-can't-shoot version the Suns were acquiring a year ago. And the potential Sixth Man of the Year signee Isaiah Thomas has, gasp, played like a guy with a chip on his shoulder.

How did this happen to our overachieving team of a year ago?

"We need to recognize how unpredictable chemistry is," Suns president Lon Babby said last April. "And not to deceive ourselves into thinking that it will automatically be recreated if we brought the core, the same group of guys back."

After trying to add major talent (LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love), the Suns brought back nearly the entire team from last season, replacing only one major rotation player. Yet, the team has been "off".

Some would say that the one rotation player change has screwed everything up, but if you look at the shooting stats from last year to this year they are almost carbon copies of each other.

Here's the shot distribution for 2014-15:

2014-15-shot-distrib

And here's last year:

2013-14-shot-distrib

Here's the 2014-15 stats on "open" looks:

2014-15-Nov-open-looks

And here's last year's "open looks":

2013-14-open-looks

*stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats

You will see a slight variation in the numbers year over year but not a large change. The Suns took about 2 more open shots per game last year out of 50 attempts. Otherwise, the stats are nearly identical in distribution.

The biggest difference this season is field goal % on those open shots being so much worse this year. The Suns made a much higher % of open shots last year. So far this season, the Suns are shooting better on contested shots than open shots. Wait, what? Sounds like a sample size problem to me. Professional NBA players are not going to shoot 32% on open shots all year long. They just aren't.

But even so, it "feels" different this year. Last year was like Christmas, while this year feels more like Halloween without the candy.

"The sum was greater than the parts," Babby said of last season. "But things change. Contracts change, players want to demonstrate that they have improved. I always say its like another school year. It's not the same each year."

True enough.

  • Starting small forward P.J. Tucker came back with his tail between his legs, after getting a super extreme DUI over the summer just before signing a big contract. He lost his starting spot due to a three-game suspension.
  • The Morris twins came back with a focus on major improvement, trying to prove they can be starting-caliber NBA forwards.
  • Starting guard Eric Bledsoe came back wanting to prove he's worth the $70 million contract he fought so hard to get in the off season.
  • Newly signed Isaiah Thomas came in trying to prove he's better than Dragic and Bledsoe.
  • Starting center Miles Plumlee has tried to prove he can hit a hook shot.
  • Gerald Green is trying to prove he's still the same Green who's earned his 25+ minute rotation spot.

That's more than half the rotation trying to prove something.

The problem is that if you enter a season trying to prove something about yourself, that effort can run counter to the efforts of your teammates. Especially when they're trying to prove something too.

Coach Hornacek has a tough job this year. Last year, all he had to do was give the guys something to focus on, a scheme that would be successful and make each of them look good.

"The guys, they seemed like they played for each other and with each other," Thomas said when he signed. "They just had fun out there. Everybody counted the Phoenix Suns out and they won 48 games. I want to be a part of something like that."

This year, Hornacek has got to balance newly formed egos armed with big paychecks. They can be running the same plays, using the same primary and secondary actions, but it doesn't come out the same because guys are spending too much time thinking about their shots.

Early in the season, it was clear that each player with something to prove thought they could "get theirs" while the Suns were winning.

Even at 5-5, these guys still might think they can "get theirs" while the Suns win and make the playoffs. It just might take a bit of a losing streak to shake that bravado.

But Thomas, Bledsoe and the Morrii will soon realize that for the team to be successful they will have to shirk those egos and just play the game of basketball the way the coach wants to play. They've all got their money in their back pockets now.

Last year, the Morrii swallowed their pride and rode the second unit all season without complaint. This year, at least one of them may have to do it again. And their maturity will have to rub off on Isaiah Thomas, who needs to embrace his role running the second unit and stop worrying about proving he's better than Bledsoe or Dragic.

He needs to really believe what he said when he signed with the Suns.

"[Starting] is important to me," he said in July as his press conference. "But when it comes down to winning I'll do whatever it takes to win. I want to be on a winning team. I know I have a role. It's a big part of what's going on here. I'm all for it. At the end of the day we're going to play with each other no matter who starts and who comes off the bench it's about winning."

When the players truly leave their egos at the door, the Suns will shine again.

Until that day comes, expect more clouds.

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