While the Suns are reprising the old days of beating other teams with their offense and overall shooting prowess, it's the defense on the other end - specifically, second-chance points allowed - that could derail long-term plans for the season.

The Phoenix Suns have their best record in four years at 17-10. Not since the last time they made the playoffs and went all the way to the Western Conference Finals did they have a record as much as 7 games over .500.

Smoking offense

The offense is smoking along with the three-point shooting - making 41.7% in 10 December games - and the game of basketball analytics is playing out before our eyes. Knowing that points scored at the rim or behind the three-point line are the highest value on the court, the Suns are taking 71% of all their shots from those two areas, good for one of the best ratios in the league. It helps, too, that the Suns are making better than league average in those areas.

As a result, the Suns are scoring at a high rate - 107 points per game since December began - and winning at a high rate, going 8-2 in December and 17-10 overall on the season. Not only are they taking the league's second most three-point attempts (30.7% of all their shots), they lead the league in fast break points at 19 points per game. That's down from 24 per game earlier in the season but still leading the league by a good margin.

That's what you call "maximizing performance".

Not all daisies and sugarplums

But, alas, there are some warning signs signaling these Suns have some growing still to do. On that same NBA stats page linked above, you can see where the Suns are struggling despite their success.

For the season, the Suns are the league's 5th worst in their own second-chance points per game (11.8) but are giving up the second most to the other guys each night (15.1). That's a 3.3 point deficit on the scoreboard after missed shots. That deficit leads directly to the Suns' other major deficiency - a 5.5 points per game deficit in the paint (40.9 vs. 46.4).

Yet, that's the Suns' game.

The Suns play for the three-point shot more than any other team in the NBA besides Houston, meaning the lineup is weighted toward long-distance shooting more than size. Miles Plumlee is the only big man in the rotation geared more toward defense than offense, while the other bigs in the rotation - Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris are more offense oriented.

So when the Suns play defense, the other team tries to crash the boards to maximize their possessions as the Suns rain down threes on their heads a few seconds later.

One way to limit the opponent's offensive board crashing is to "run on makes" as often as possible, which puts the fear of the fast-break into the opponents' heads as their own shot is going up - make or miss. If the opponent is fearful of a fast-break regardless of the outcome of the shot, they are less likely to sell out on the boards.

Coach Hornacek has been pushing this theory into the Suns heads all season, but it has yet to sink in consistently. Despite getting a league-high 18.3% of their points on fast breaks, which by definition are completed early in the shot clock, the Suns are still only 12th in total possessions per game across the league.

If the Suns could run on made shots, the pace would quicken across the board and force the opponent to be thinking about transition defense even more than they already do, which would cut down on their efforts at offensive rebounds.

The San Antonio Spurs took a page out of their mid-2000s defense to stop the Suns just last week in Phoenix. The Spurs won by slowing the game down even more than the Suns wanted, limiting the fast break opportunities and scoring as efficiently as possible on their end of the floor. The more shots they made, the less the Suns could run the fast break.

Anyhoo, I'm just pointing out a chink in the armor. As long as the Suns make a high percentage of their threes, the wins will continue to come. But if the Suns stop making so many threes, then the deficit on the boards and in the paint will hurt them. This is where an Alex Len or Emeka Okafor would really help as the backup center, if and when either gets healthy.

I know. I'll say it for you: bah humbug.

In my second edition of Christmas... BSotS style... I take a stab at the classic "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." If you like this check out last year's "How Sarver Stole Christmas."

Dear Bright Side of the Sun,

I have been a Suns fan for 46 years.

Some of the bandwagon Lakers fans say we will never win a championship.

Babby says, "If you see it in the Sun and the Moon and the Stars, it will be so."

Please tell me the truth, will we ever win a championship?

- Anonymous Suns fan

201 E. Jefferson St. (previously 1826 W. McDowell Rd.)

Suns fan, those pretentious, self-important Lakers fans are wrong, and only count as fans in the loosest sense of the term.  They have been affected by their sense of entitlement in a league that caters to big markets and owners with deep pockets.  That other teams can even compete on their level is not comprehensible by their little minds.  Fans of all teams that have never hoisted the hardware, whether they be Cavaliers fans, Nuggets fans or Clippers fans, know of this braggadocio.  The overbearing sense of achievement from a franchise born on third base acting like they just hit a triple.  Their previous success prevents them from grasping the truth that in the boundless realm of NBA basketball they may be usurped by teams built through perseverance rather than pomp.

Yes, Suns fan, the Phoenix Suns can win a championship. The possibility exists just as much as people who cheer without trophies.  Who follow teams with ardor and don't leave when the wins do.   Who celebrate civic pride and a sense of belonging.  Alas!  How dreary it would be to watch basketball but have no passion for the game and team.  To only have a superficial rooting interest based on hubris and one-upmanship.  It would indeed be a dreary world without Suns fans.  Without Jazz fans.  We should have no enjoyment except David Stern's impending retirement.  The eternal hope that makes sports a tie that binds all of mankind would be extinguished.

Not believe in the Phoenix Suns!  You might as well not believe in the power of the Gorilla!  Just because you may not be able to see the championship coming does not mean that it isn't.  Sometimes the most fantastic and magical things in life don't announce their arrival.  Do you see love before it materializes?  And just because you don't see something, don't realize something, doesn't mean it isn't there.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that may unfurl in the relationship between fans and their teams.

And what once seemed to be Lon Babby's prattle now rekindles the faith once more.  The veil of darkness that blotted out the light has been pierced by a McMiracle.  Even the oft-derided owner of the team foments confidence with recent actions.  Fervor, passion, devotion, memories and hope unite us in the purple and orange and help us imagine the beauty and glory to come - banner or not.  Is this all real the skeptics question?  Do Dragons really exist?  Do Sugar Plumlee fairies fly?  Have the Wonder Twins united?  Is the profound closeness between the Suns and their fans for real?  Yes.  In all of the NBA, in all of sports, there is nothing else this real.

No championship!  I think not.  For hope still burns inside me as hot as the core of the Suns... and it can burn within you as long as you let it.  And years after that championship banner hangs in US Airways Center it will still bring more joy to the fans of the Phoenix Suns than all those gifted rings on the fingers of a team in Los Angeles named after the land of 10,000 lakes...  And I will take my hope over their presumption any day.

Hope everyone has a great day today.

I know many of you celebrate a different holiday, others of you gave up on Christmas long ago due to overcommercialization, and yet more of you don't celebrate anything at all.

I respect each and every one of those beliefs and idioms. I really do.

But if you happen to be a person who puts up a pine tree in their living room, covers it with shiny objects and spends a few minutes once a year trying to find that TV channel that shows the roaring fire while playing Christmas music, then I hope you have the merriest of days today.

Just take a moment to consider those less fortunate than you, and to say thanks for all you have. Many are without power this week due to storms. Yet others are without power or warm blankets most every day of the year.

Some are nursing their own terminal illness, wondering if this is the last Christmas they will have with their family, while others are nursing those they know won't make it another year. Pray, or at least give a nod to them.

Myself, I am a lucky man. One of the luckiest on this planet.

I have healthy children and a healthy wife. My own health is strong as well, though I'm suffering a dry throat and goopy sinuses that sprang up yesterday afternoon. But that's nothing. My kids are still sleeping at 7am on Christmas - a sure sign that they're getting older (16-21 years old). Bummer for me. But if that's my biggest worry today, I won't ever complain about it.

I get to post this message on a blog that reaches thousands of like-minded folks of all walks of the earth. You are scattered all over - Puerto Rico, Poland, Mexico, Slovenia, and dozens of other countries.

You are young. You're old. You're rich, you're poor. You're men. You're women. You're straight. You're gay. You're in-between. You're Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Mormon or any other variation of religious belief. You're agnostic. You're atheist.

But best of all, you're Suns fans. And for the first time since 2009, you're thrilled with your team's record and it's future!

So, have a great day no matter what or who or where you are! I hope this day is what you want it to be, and if not that you find a way to make it a good one anyway.

Merry Suns-mas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

After a year away, I've resurrected an old Bright Side tradition.  As always, my humble apologies to Clement Clark Moore for adding a decidedly purple and orange hue to his holiday classic.

Twas the night before Christmas... y'know, September Fourteenth,

With the Suns set for tanking, not picking thirteenth!

The draft picks were stocked by McDonough with care,

In hopes that St. Wiggins soon would be there;

Bright Siders were nestled behind their computers

With predictions of Phoenix as NBA losers.

With Channing still healing, and Gortat on the block

Only one thing was settled: a good season would shock!

When from the pre-season arose such a clatter:

The Suns beat some teams! But those wins didn't matter.

Away to the Wizards, they flew like a flash:

Three players whose salaries were wasted cash.

The real season began with a roster of "dreck"

And low expectations for Coach Hornacek.

When what to our wondering eyes did appear

But several quick wins and hope for the year!

Eric Bledsoe and Dragic were so lively and quick

They resurrected that stand-by: the ol' drive and kick.

Faster than sunlight, the new guys all came

And fans whistled and shouted and learned all their names:

"Who's Plumlee?!  What's Gerald?! Huh, Goodwin and Green?!

Why Dionte?!  How Slava?! And, um, the rest of the team!

From outside or in, if you've got the ball,

Dunk away! Fire away! Score away all!"

And with great efficiency the shots they did fly

If they were trapped in the paint, they'd just pass it to Frye,

All over the court, for loose balls Tucker flew

For rebounds and tip-ins... and a corner three too!

And then in a twinkling, as part of each win,

I did a double-take at the play of each twin!

With Marcus outside and Markieff banging around

They dazzled with three balls and scrappy rebounds.

Now poor young Alex Len was stuck healing his foot

But that didn't make all the Suns' centers kaput!

Miles had no problem attacking the rack

And he looked like Mutombo, sending shots back!

The #Slashbros - they sprinted, their speed is so scary,

They can drive or pull up, with daggers to bury.

This bold little team was drawn up like a plan

Hatched in the mind of a wily young man.

But credit belongs to the whole leadership team

From Bob Sarver's money to Lon Babby's dream

They hired a fresh face at GM and at coach

To shake up the Suns with sharp new approach.

They got rid of the past, a right jolly mess

And then stockpiled some assets... with talent, no less!

A wink of the eye, a tweak of the scheme,

Soon the rest of the league would respect this team,

They spoke not bold words, but went straight to work

By proving they were winners, not some seasonal quirk.

And laying waste to foes out east and out west

These Suns are determined to beat all the rest.

With hella good shooting and scrappy good hustle

This team's shown precision to go with some muscle.

And so I believe or hope with all my might:

The Phoenix Suns can win it all! (Or give a hell of a fight.)

While it's still with a grain of salt, the world is finding out that what coach Hornacek. GM McDonough and Pres Babby predicted preseason might actually have been right: no tank in this team. And the parallels to the great 1988-89 Suns are too clear to ignore.

The Phoenix Suns are the best story of the year, the biggest overachievers in the NBA, and are making fans, analysts and front office folks across the league scratch their heads with confusion.

After beating the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers by a combined 42 points in the last three days, upping their season record to 17-10, more and more outlets are being forced to take notice.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

Only Chad Ford, life-long Suns hater who must have been bullied by a Suns front office guy in an alley once, still chooses to stick to months-old rhetoric saying that the Suns are still shopping for a tanking opportunity and that #1 pick next year (LOL, stay Chad, Chad!).

Still, the Suns don't have any established star players so the national love is often couched in "for now" undertones. There's no re-write of the national TV schedules to broadcast this fun team across the globe.

To get national recognition, these Suns are going to have to follow the post-Carmelo Denver Nuggets path and the Memphis Grizzlies path of recent years: national exposure starts in the playoffs.

You can go all the way back to the stone age, or in NBA terms, the 1988-89 season in which the Phoenix Suns, reeling from a drug scandal and roster purge, surprised the NBA and the city of Phoenix with one of the best basketball teams in the history of the league.

The Suns had just finished a 1987-88 season in which they struggled to a 28-54 record while shipping out half their roster at the trade deadline, including All-Star Larry Nance, for a promising point guard and underutilized center stuck behind All-Stars at their respective positions in Cleveland.

No one expected the Suns to do well in 1988-89, including the city of Phoenix. Yet they went a whopping 55-27 that year behind a two-headed point guard system (Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek) with an sweet shooting power forward (Tom Chambers), a rebounding center (Mark West) and a host of supporting players including a sharp-shooting sixth man (Eddie Johnson).

How their season started was quite similar to this current Suns team:

  • In 1988, the Suns started 9-8; In 2013, the Suns started 9-8
  • In 1988, the Suns went on a 4-game winning streak to get to 15-10 and won 9 of 10 to get to 20-11; this year, the Suns started 10-9 before winning 7 of 8 to get to their current record of 17-10 and still counting...

While I wrote how the city is taking it's time to warm up to this year's Suns, the city did the same to that incredible team. Even while winning 55 games with the league's 2nd best offense and 5th best defense, fans still left the arena 20% empty on most nights. Overall, that season the Suns finished 20th of 25 teams in attendance.

It wasn't until the 1989-90 season - with a roster almost exactly the same as the year before - that fans filled the arena to capacity again.

So, don't fret Suns fans. Support always lags behind performance.

Speaking of performance, as the Suns languish at 25th of 30 teams in attendance to date, they were outperforming expectation like nobody's business.

As of Christmas, my preseason prediction was somewhere around 10 wins. Even last month after the 9-8 start, I predicted no more than 5 wins in December's tough schedule.

So I must take some heat for failing to properly predict the Suns' rise to prominence with a 17-10 record and no looking back.

When coach Hornacek famously predicted a scoring offense touching or exceeding 103 points per game, the nation chuckled. Last year, only five NBA teams scored 102.9 points or more per game. The Suns were coming off a season in which they scored on 95.2 and didn't add a single big-time scorer to their lineup.

"What did we average last year?" he asked our own Jim Coughenour. "Over 102.9, we would hope we can get there. If we can get there I think that's a good start for us in our first year. So, hopefully, I would say yes."

Talk about meeting expectations. Right now, the Suns are at 103.8 points per game, 7th overall in the NBA. Their pace is still slow (12 in the league), but their points per possession is 5th overall.

And they-re even playing defense - 16th in scoring defense, 17th in points-per-possession allowed - while scoring at levels not seen since a Canadian was running point with Amare Stoudemire the roll man.

A season after getting killed at the three-point line (29th in their own 3p% vs. 30th in 3p% allowed), they are killing the opposition with it (6th in their own 3p% vs. 2nd in 3p% allowed). And they're taking advantage of that: taking the league's 5th most 3s while allowing the 2nd fewest.

A season after having their top scorer get only 14.7 points per game, that same top scorer is now pouring in 19.0 per game with a lot more threats around him in the offense.

And a season after disappointing the masses, the Morris twins are playing like lottery picks.

"I'm a shooter. No doubt about it," Marcus Morris said in the preseason. "I had a good year in Houston when I shot almost 40% on three pointers. Whatever you need me to do, I'll do."

Marcus is now shooting 45.1% on 3.4 threes a game, good for second on the team to P.J. Tucker's 46.3%. Overall, the Suns have 7 players hitting better than 33% on threes (the league average) - all 7 are in the regular 9-man rotation. Only Miles Plumlee and Archie Goodwin aren't taking and making threes.

Markieff Morris has stepped up as well, in ways we never thought he would. A season after hanging around the three-point line for nearly 1/3 of all his attempts, he's living much closer to the basket this year. Now, only about 10% of his shots are three-pointers, and his true shooting percentage is up as a result.

As Jim noted, ALL the Suns are having career years. Yes, these Suns are exceeding expectations.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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