The Phoenix Suns are currently nestled in 12th place among Western Conference foes, 3.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed. Amid the rest of the WC in between Phoenix and the playoffs are three other squads, Portland, Utah, and Minnesota. The chances of all 4 taking a dump while the Suns make a victorious run are slim to none. Nevertheless, two straight victories after the All-Star break may have given many of us a reason to watch tonight as the Kings come to town.
The men in purple and orange have sauntered out of the All-Star break knowing if they are to make any kind of improbable run to the playoffs, they must play full games in which they play defense, rebound, and shoot a respectable percentage from the field. Although it's only been two games, the Suns have shown that shutting down the opponents best player(s) is a great way to win games.
"We have got to take advantage of every situation as far as playing at home...If we are not going to shoot the ball well then the only thing that can keep us in the game is our defense..."
"We're not trading Steve Nash because he represents everything this franchise is and should stand for, he's an important part of the fabric of this team and the community...he's earned the right to stay here as long as he wants and as long as he's all in on this program...the value that he brings both on and off the floor is incalculable...To me, and I've been through this process on the other side...the most important thing in attracting other players here and retaining players is that we communicate the culture and the values that this franchise stands for...the most important value that you can stand for is treating people the right way and respectfully and honoring the service they have provided, and I think we are communicating that to Steve and the NBA community at large."
"I don't want to get into details. That's spilled milk. I just think there are opportunities to make moves. What was the identity? That's the biggest thing we struggled with. What was our identity going to be? When they went and got Shaq, they had a certain idea of what the identity was going to be. To try to implement that, you would have to change some roster spots."
"The conditions are different -- the Kings have no momentum on the court with two straight losses to the L.A. teams after beginning the second half with a home win over Utah. We also know the difference between the home Kings and road Kings, and must adjust accordingly. Phoenix isn't amazing at home (9-9, +1.3), but is better there than on the road (7-11, -5.3)."
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One of the most problematic aspects of the Phoenix Suns so far this season has been the inability of the bench to hold onto leads, much less create or expand them, when Steve Nash and the starters are rested. At the crux of this issue has been the point guard play, specifically, with back up point-guards Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price struggling to lead the offense and execute plays.
The inability of the Suns' second unit to establish a rhythm and maintain the flow that the starters set in motion has already cost the Suns several games, and even led to our own Alex Laugan to coin the "2nd Quarter Rule" based on this very problem, in which he proposed that the Suns chances of winning or losing a game could actually be predicted with 90% accuracy by whether or not they won the second quarter when the bench plays most of the minutes.
This issue has led many fans to cringe when Nash leaves the floor, and call for Alvin Gentry to put Nash back in as soon as either Telfair or Price make a mistake. But what if the problem was that the second unit hasn't been given enough time on the floor or trust to work through the problems? Well according to an article from Paul Coro of the AZ Republic, Sebastian Telfair apparently believes just that.
Read on after the jump for more...
In the article, Sebastian Telfair explains why he thinks the Suns' struggled in the first half of the season.
"I think there should've been more put on us in the first half of the season. We should've been used more. We're going to win or lose a lot of games with the second unit."
At face value, this seems to make sense. After all, the bench unit this season is comprised of mostly new players to the Suns who did not have much of a training camp to work together or establish any kind of continuity before being thrown to the sharks. Sebastian Telfair, Ronnie Price, Shannon Brown, Michael Redd, and Markieff Morris are all new to this system, with only Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress having experience working together.
But how can head coach Alvin Gentry justify giving more minutes to a unit who is struggling so mightily, when the team is fighting to win each and every game for a chance just to qualify for the last spot in the playoffs? It's a catch-22. Plus, does Telfair's assertion really explain all of the troubles the second unit is having? Doubtful.
Sebastian then went on to explain some of what he thinks are the causes of the second unit's struggles thus far.
"When we struggle offensively is when we get scored on defensively. When we come down and run set plays every time, that doesn't work for the second unit as well as the starters. The key for us is coming out with energy on defense and getting out in transition. That's how the ball is going to get moved. Half-court hasn't worked the first half of the season, and I don't think it's going to work in the second half. Defense is the key."
This observation also seems to have some merit as it appears that the strength of the second unit is its athleticism, speed, and youth compared to the starters; and since they have not had the time to gel as a unit, they are more effective on the break and in transition than they are in a traditional half-court set.
So what should be done? Well, for the time being the Suns appear to be on a roll starting the second half of the season with two impressive wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the L.A. Clippers, despite the continued poor performance of the bench.
Going by the old saying if it ain't broke, don't fix it, it probably wouldn't be the best time for Gentry to force the issue with the second unit in an attempt to overcome their problems. But if the Suns' really do plan on competing for a playoff spot this season, it's an issue that simply cannot be ignored much longer. With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Suns will have to make a decision of whether or not to make a move in an attempt to improve their roster, or stick it out until the off-season with what they already have.
One thing's for sure, what was once a strength for the Suns over the past couple of seasons is now one of their biggest weaknesses, and something will have to change regarding the lack of productivity from the second unit if the Suns are serious about saving the season.
I will be the first to admit (because if I don't, many of you should remind me anyway) that I've been disappointed in Steve Nash's late-game clutchness since at least 2009. Even during the Suns' last magical playoff run, Two-Time battled nicks and bruises that often had impact on his play at the end of games.
But if you look at the last 12 years in composite - years during which Nash won the league MVP 2 times, was named to 8 All-Star games and 7 All-NBA teams, boasts the 5th-most MVP award shares and the third-most offensive win shares among active NBA players and oh-by-the-way turned in a league-record 4 separate years of 50/40/90*...
I digress, and take a breath. If you look at the last 12 years in composite, across the entire NBA, Steve Nash actually ranks third in the NBA in clutch shooting* in terms of field goal percentage and first in 3-pt% while having the lowest overall percentage of those shots being set up by someone else (Ast'd rate).
The first table includes 15 active players who have attempted at least 650 "clutch" shots since the 2000-01 season. Again, for this set, ‘clutch' is defined as "the shots that occur during the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining, and neither team ahead by more than five points". Playoffs are included.
Yes, I am chastened. Not ashamed, mind you. Just chastened. Because this Liberty Ballers writer's criteria for his first table (last 5 minutes of a close game, dating back to 2000) is different enough from my own that I can stand (somewhat) tall AND stand corrected at the same time.
When the LibertyBaller's Jordan Sams narrowed the focus to only go back to 2006-07, or when he limits the list to clutch shooters in the final minute, our favorite Sun Mr. Nash doesn't make the Top-15 in terms of attempts.
Sams' focus in the article is to determine the relative "clutchness" of Kobe vs. LeBron vs. Wade, while sprinkling in other NBA players with similar clutch chances, in varying definitions of clutchness.
When Sams narrowed the clutch rules to include only shot attempts to tie or take the lead in the 4th quarter or overtime of a game, playoffs included, Kobe has the highest total volume of clutch attempts in the last 12 years, but Dirk, LeBron and Ray Allen made a better percentage of their shots in that situation. In fact, Dirk wipes the floor with the others.
Sams does some more variations as well, including limiting the "clutch" comparisons to playoffs-only and LeBron/Wade/Kobe only.
Fascinating results, folks. You really, really need to hit the link above and look at the pretty tables. Sams even figured out how to put sortable tables in there! You can sort any column any way you want. I like.
The other thing I like about this article is the cleanliness of the writing. Tables, bullet-points and experience-based observations - after the jump, anyway - on a topic that many people have strong predispositions about.
Read it. You will be a better person for it.
In the NBA, the term ‘clutch', is defined as "the plays that occur during the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining, and neither team ahead by more than five points". But the public perception of clutch goes beyond that.
Players are usually classified as "clutch" or "unclutch" based solely on their ability or inability to make the final shot of a close game. Basically, the first 47 minutes and 59 seconds are insignificant, as long as you're in position to win the game, and proceed to do so by making a clutch final shot.
Back to our own Steve Nash for a moment:
*50/40/90 - a year in which the player made at least 50% of all field goal attempts, 40% of all 3-point shot attempts and 90% of all free throws.
Steve Nash has accomplished this feat 4 times in his NBA career, all with the Suns. Only one other NBA player has done it more than once (Larry Bird) and only 6 other players did it even once. One of those players is Steve Kerr, who never started a game but played enough minutes to qualify for the scoring title.
In Nash's last 6 seasons, he only missed 50/40/90 by a hair in 2006-07 and in 2010-11. By this measure - 49/39/89 - the total all-time list grows to 21 total player-seasons (of which Nash has 6) among 13 individual players. Interestingly, two other former Suns met this 49/39/89 criteria: Kyle Macy and Jeff Hornacek.