Scott Howard, Sreekar, and Bryan Gibberman return to deliver the wood anniversary edition of Bright Side After Dark. There's some discussion of Phoenix Suns basketball.
I can't believe we've done 5 of these either. For the first time since our initial podcast we actually recorded this one after dark but we didn't want to post until morning in the US so we could make sure our European listeners had nothing to listen to on their way to work.
On this very special episode of BSAD, we talk about the Eric Bledsoe contract situation, discuss Greg Monroe twitter rumors, ponder Anthony Tolliver's old looking face, and wave a tearful goodbye to Ish Smith. We also add a little hint of Shavlik Randolph while telling a series of bad jokes on subjects ranging from the Flintstones to apes on horseback shooting machine guns while jumping through fire.
Enjoy these satisfied listener testimonials:
The WNBA All-Star Game is an advertisement for league. Did they get their message across?
It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. With that there is no amount of words that can be written, read, or spoken to describe the atmosphere that was the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game this weekend. The Eastern Conference prevailed in overtime after numerous runs, great plays, and individual performances that were awe inspiring.
The Phoenix Mercury hosted the event with three players in uniform, but were not able to celebrate a victory in-front of their loyal fans and WNBA audience that had over 14,600 in attendance.
It was an event.
Shoni Schimmel of the Atlanta Dream, a rookie, led the Eastern Conference down the stretch with some jaw dropping plays that had Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and Ish Smith out of their seats every time down the court. Play-after-play the rookie made it known that she was built for this stage. She has the perfect style for an All-Star event finishing with 29 points and eight assists taking home Most Valuable Player honors. Not a starter for her team this season, Shimmel started as an All-Star, and was the All-Star in this event scoring or assisting on 20 of the teams final 31 points.
This has been the Season of Schimmel with her jersey being No. 1, starting in the All-Star Game, and winning the MVP all during a fairly quiet season in Atlanta averaging 7.1 points per game.
Tina Charles (19 points), Tamika Catchings (14 points 13 rebounds), and Angel McCoughtry (13 points 7 rebounds) also chipped for the East in victory.
For most of the game the West was in control of the game behind Skylar Diggins (27 points 7 assists), Brittney Griner (17 points 3 blocks), and Candice Dupree (12 points 8 rebounds). When the East made their run and took the lead the ball went in Maya Moore's (24 points 8 assists 5 rebounds) more than capable hands as she made the tough plays late to sent the game to overtime.
The stars were stars.
The game was live on ESPN2 at an optimal time for viewers around the world to give the league center stage. Sports are taking a breather right now as NBA Summer League and free-agency have more or less ended, football is still in hibernation, and baseball is baseball, a marathon that matters to few in July. You can argue the time slot at 3:30pm EST was not as ideal as possible, but the game was tipped and finished before 8pm and the night starting for most. Kids were able to watch. Advertisers got their message out.
Did the league get their message out?
Before the game WNBA President Laurel J. Richie was all smiles before the game discussing the events of the week and the success of the outreach the league has had with the community. The week was a success when measured in smiles and happiness that the league was able to produce over the course of the All-Star event that spanned from Thursday to Saturday afternoon.
President Richie was excited talking about expansion into the cities of Cleveland and an opportunity with a partnership with the Golden State Warriors.
Right now the 12 team league is operating with five teams in the "black" in terms of revenue and monetary success. Three teams mentioned were the Minnesota Lynx, Indiana Fever, and the Connecticut Sun are currently the teams she was able to verbally verify at the pre-game press conference. That is surprising considering the fact that the Lynx are tied to the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sun are connected to NCAA juggernaut Connecticut Huskies, and the Fever are in Basketball City with the Indiana Pacers. Last year there were six teams at the end, or 50% of the league.
It is alarming that those three teams are there for the mentioned affiliations, but also because of the fact that Minnesota has won a few championships recently and has the stars. Indiana won a championship and has a few stars. Those teams should be the most fruitful right now.
This year they are tracking five teams, or 41.6% of the league, with a few teams "on the bubble" as President Richie alluded to in her press conference.
There is no doubt that for those in attendance this was an event that would have turned even the most despondent viewer of the WNBA into a casual fan. At least when Shimmel or Moore or another star was on TV or coming to town. That is the message that the league wants to get out to the rest of the world that has not bought into the WNBA as a form of entertainment. There are stars.
There are plenty of stars.
The current favorite for league MVP played 16 minutes and then waived a towel in the most exciting game in years. A rookie won All-Star Game MVP. Griner dunked one home to get the fans in attendance on their feet. One of the top 5 players in the world, arguably, Elena Delle Donne didn't even play in the game. There is a lot to like about this league and the All-Star Game was a shinning example of that.
Turning the event into more of an event is a next step for the league. The NBA dominates an entire weekend with skill events, rookie challenges, former stars playing caricature basketball, and more. The WNBA has to find their "dunk contest" to get the fans invested. That is what gets people in-front of their televisions for the NBA All-Star Weekend before the game itself.
What would that event be? Who knows...
Overall the feeling coming out of U.S. Airways Center on All-Star Saturday Night for the WNBA was that the league is excited, exciting, and looking to grow. The underlying theme was teams are not finding financial success, the league is not getting itself in more optimal time slots for viewership, and there is a lot of room to grow.
This is all about the marketing and investment the league is selling to the masses. Did they get their message across to the world? Maybe, they did in Phoenix as nearly 15 thousand people saw one hell of a game.
Isaiah Thomas and T.J. Warren will help the Suns get tough buckets in crunch time and the playoffs. But how much of a good thing is too much? Also, Eric Bledsoe's contract negotiations leave me feeling further alienated from the stoic star...
Hey there readers... Yes, both of you. Going Gorilla is back by popular demand! And by popular demand I mean one person was insistent that I resuscitate the weekly segment of opinionated prose. So here goes nothing (or at least very close to it).
"That's a tough skill to have. A lot of guys, they can shoot open shots but when you get down in -- and hopefully we're in the playoffs -- you start getting into the playoffs in tough games, you need tough buckets. He's a guy (T.J. Warren) that we think can get tough buckets."
- Jeff Hornacek (on azsports.com)
The main impetus for the Suns drafting Warren is his elite scoring ability. Warren was the second most prodigious scorer in college basketball last season, averaging over 28 points per 40 minutes, with a .590 TS%. This is even more impressive considering that Warren managed the feat in a major conference (ACC). Here are the schools of the other top 10 scorers in the NCAA last season - Creighton, Niagara, Canisius, Tennessee St., BYU, Evansville, Eastern Washington, Providence and Texas Southern. Pure speculation on my behalf leads me to believe that Warren may have achieved his exploits against more formidable defenses.
In T.J.'s last two simulations of playoff style basketball he had mostly positive, though somewhat mixed, results. Warren scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half of N.C. State's play in game against Xavier that qualified the Wolfpack for the NCAA tournament. In his team's first round match against St. Louis, the fifth seed in the Midwest Region, Warren went for 28 (his 19th consecutive game over 20), but was just 6-14 from the line... including a miss that would have tied the game in the final minute of overtime. Warren was a .690 free throw shooter on the season.
Warren will want to shore up that free throw shooting in addition to working on extending his range.
Obviously the Suns couldn't predict (with exact certainty) what would be available in free agency when they selected Warren with their first pick (#14 overall) in the NBA draft, but what was the greatest strength of their first free agent acquisition?
Elite scoring ability.
As I previously delineated in my story heralding Isaiah Thomas's great fit on the Suns, Thomas was one of just six players in the NBA last season to average at least 20 points and six assists per game. He did this on an efficient .574 TS%.
But did he get tough buckets?
According to 82games.com Thomas was 16th in the NBA in points per 48 minutes (36.9) during clutch time (which is defined as fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than five points). Isaiah was 23rd in FGA per 48 minutes (25) while shooting .400 from the field. Does .400 sound low? Remember, these are tough buckets. Of the 22 players ahead of Thomas he was better than or tied with 14 of them. Where Thomas really shines is getting to the line at the 14th highest rate while knocking them down at a .920 rate.
How will this translate to his new role on the Suns, though, where he may struggle to get minutes at the end of games competing with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe for playing time?
Bledsoe makes his own case for getting tough buckets.
Bledsoe was fifth in the NBA in points per 48 minutes (41.8) during clutch time. Bledsoe was fifth in FG% among the top 10 in scoring per 48. Eric was 13th in FTA per 48, one spot ahead of Thomas, but made just .770. Not necessarily terrible, but fourth lowest among the top 14.
What about Dragic?
This set of criteria isn't as glowing for the Dragon. He finished 99th in scoring per 48, below his teammates Markieff Morris (57) and Gerald Green (92). Does this mean Goran isn't clutch?
The San Antonio Spurs might disagree, but that fourth quarter is about the extent of Dragic's crunch time playoff career. In fact, it's about the extent of the entire team's crunch time playoff career...
Bledsoe could have dominated the ball late in games the duo played together, but he missed quite a few games. Other sets of teammates also were able to rank near the top (Nowitzki, Ellis - Durant, Westbrook), so it's definitely possible for a team to have two players that combine to close out games. Dragic just wasn't offensively assertive according to this metric.
**Perfunctory disclaimer about the reliability of advanced statistics as evaluation tools.**
A little bit more anti-rainbow information that can be inferred from the clutch time statistics. The Suns ability to score late may be disrupted by their ability to maintain possession of the ball. Bledsoe (6), Thomas (9) and Dragic (26) were all near the top in most turnovers...
Spoiler alert - Warren may not jump to the top of the clutch time scorers in his rookie season. Who knows if he'll even be able crack the rotation and wrestle away minutes from returning veterans. With seasoning the Suns hope is that he'll join that class eventually. The Suns shouldn't need that from him right away, either.
The Suns have a wealth of elite scoring and players with track records of finishing games.
But how much is too much? Phoenix added four new players this offseason, none of whom are known as strong defenders. Thomas and Warren can help get the team buckets, but none of the additions appear to be elite at getting the team stops. The team's philosophy of getting two way players appears to have run catawampus.
At this point I wouldn't expect the Suns defense, which was already deficient compared to its offense, to improve heading into next season. The offense has won the seesaw battle this offseason.
One of the Suns players that gets the team those tough buckets is in another tough situation right now. Eric Bledsoe's contract negotiations have taken on the perception of outward hostility even if that doesn't necessarily exist in reality. Eric's representation believes he is worth the max, even though he's in a position with very little leverage to demand it.
Many people thought Bledsoe would receive a max offer sheet from another team that the Suns would be forced to match. He hasn't. Bledsoe's intentionally evasive and aloof nature all the way through his exit interview seemed to be a negotiating tactic designed to educe a deal from another team in free agency. It didn't.
And if it was a negotiating tactic, as I've stated before, I think he (despite what Lon Babby might have said) was getting bad advice. I still very much question whether Eric Bledsoe wants to be a Phoenix Sun.
Above all, I think Bledsoe wants to be where he gets paid. That aspect of reality was once again made quite transparent in the relocation of Channing Frye to the Orlando Magic. Money talks and hometown discounts are few and far between. Loyalty is very nebulous in the business of professional sports.
Completely aside from Channing, there shouldn't be any other expectation than for Bledsoe to fight for every contract dollar. The first way I would think of using the words Phoenix, Bledsoe and hometown in a sentence is... Phoenix doesn't feel like Bledsoe's hometown.
Some of this is due to the fact that Eric Bledsoe is so reticent and impassive. Basketball is entertainment and I don't think it's beyond reason that I should expect a little off the court flavor from the players on my team. Bledsoe is as insipid as they come.
Dragic takes every opportunity to let it be known just how much he likes playing in Phoenix. He's a star player a fanbase can really get behind. I really like Goran Dragic. For some reason when I think of Bledsoe's relationship with Phoenix I'm more reminded of the pallor that fell over Zach Lavine when he heard his name called by the Minnesota Timberwolves. I'll admit that I've never been much of a Bledsoe guy.
Maybe I'm on an island here, but if Eric was just a little more charismatic and had been a little more complimentary of his time here in Phoenix... I'd be a little more inclined for the Suns to sweeten their deal. Here's my slide - if the on court performance is relatively equal the guy with the personality off it is going to garner my affection. Even though these situations are always evolving a player usually exudes the appearance of belonging unless he doesn't want to belong (see Love, Kevin).
Am I picking on Eric based on his social skills and personality? Quite possibly. At the same time, I get the feeling that every other player on the roster really likes being here. I just don't get the vibe from Eric.
There are a lot of great players around the league that can at least pretend to enjoy the situation they're currently in and I still think that settling for a max (or near) player that can't bring the complete package is, well... settling. With these protracted negotiations shuffling along towards the end of July I'm not sure whether I find myself siding more with the Phoenix Suns or against Eric Bledsoe, in a situation that has always felt more venal than familial.
If things end up getting settled and Bledsoe plays up to (or outplays) his contract and the team flourishes the wins might have a way of swaying my opinion on this subject. I'm not intransigent to the point that I can't be won over by a post-contract Bledsoe and a playoff Suns team.
It could happen.
But it also wouldn't break my heart right now if the Suns decided to move on from Bledsoe and go in a different direction with a player that feels a little more like a Phoenix Sun.