New week, new Madhouse.  What's hot these days?  You got your Eric Bledsoe negotiations being a trainwreck for the 4th month in a row, you've probably got some residual Galaxy of the Guardians references to make... Oh! The Emmys are this week!  Is True Detective being listed as a drama series instead of a miniseries a travesty or what?!

And something called "American Football" is gearing up in both the college and professional ranks.  Plenty of stuff to talk about.  Go Mad!

One step closer to that "C" word...

Wins Till A Championship: 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Playoff Record: 2-0

Playoff Points Per Game: 84.0 (4th)

Playoff Points Against: 70.0 (1st)


A tale of two games is about as on the nose a description for this series as you are going to find where the Phoenix Mercury dispatched the Los Angeles Sparks in two games. Game one was one of the tougher games of the season for the team that finished with the most wins in league history, while game two, was a slightly different story.

In game one the Mercury were thrown off their game by the Los Angeles Sparks, who, are not known for their defense, but on every play were in the face of the Mercury smothering them. It threw them off. Brittney Griner was a non-factor, the score was low, and the Mercury trailed with a few minutes to go at home. What kept them in the game were three things:

1) Penny Taylor was on top of her game. She was distributing the ball, rebounding, scoring timely buckets, and leading the offense. She was not sitting around waiting for things to figure themselves out.

2) DeWanna Bonner may not have stopped Candace Parker on every play (22 points on 19 shots), but limited her good looks, forced a ton of long two's, and limited her ability to get to the free-throw line with only four attempts. Her contest on the final offensive burst for the Sparks was as good as it gets, but then following that with the single toughest rebound of her career and two game sealing free-throws won the game.

3) Diana Taurasi went into video game mode hitting her first five three-pointers keeping the Mercury in the game single-handily from an offensive scoring perspective. She finished with 34/75 points for the team, which is 45.3% of the scoring load. That is a lot. Scoring 34 points is one thing and scoring 34 points on 15 attempts is another. Taurasi was aggressive going to the basket (8-8 free-throws) and dialed in from distance (6-9) making her impossible to defend.

Game two was a completely different story as the Mercury scored 30 first quarter points (35 in the first half of game one) and took a 19 point lead into the half on the road.

It was utter domination as Griner woke up 21 points including a thunderous dunk in transition setting the pace early. "I wasn't running myself out of the paint or letting them push me out so I was close to the rim. When you're close to the rim and 6'8", that helps," stated Griner after the game.

Taylor and Bonner chipped in on the perimeter with 17 and 11 points respectively. Erin Phillips came in and made a huge difference with her confidence, decision-making (5 assists), and steadiness. Those three allowed Taurasi to play only 23 minutes in this lopsided affair.

The Mercury ended the Sparks season abruptly and now take on the team that has ended the last three seasons in the WNBA Finals; the Minnesota Lynx.



"When we move the ball and get it through hands and have an aggressive mentality we're hard to guard, and I thought that was good for us tonight. D (Diana Taurasi) initiated it with the speed, but then the players around her: BG (Brittney Griner) getting deep, obviously Penny (Taylor) attacking on closeouts, DB (DeWanna Bonner), Candace Dupree, we just had so many weapons and it was hard for them to combat it." -- Head Coach Sandy Brondello after Game Two


...Two Greats Playing Like MVPs.

Through the 1990's we saw the "anything you can do I can do better" fad sweep across the nation with sports being the epicenter of it all. Flash forward to 2014 and the M.V.P. of the WNBA Maya Moore and the M.V.P. of the Phoenix Mercury Diana Taurasi are playing like M.V.P.'s for their respective teams in the playoffs leading to a collision in the Western Conference Finals.

In game one against the San Antonio Silver Stars Moore needed to be more giving the Lynx a scoring boost with 26 points (adding in 7 assists and 6 rebounds as well) showing off her ability to score with the bright lights on.

The next day in game one against the Los Angeles Sparks Taurasi finished with a playoff career-high 34 points (2 assists and 3 rebounds) scoring like a machine for the victory.

In game two for Moore she saw her teammates catching fire and became an M.V.P. in a different light going for 11 assists (with 16 points and 8 rebounds) leading the comeback win to advance her team. Then, yes, the very next day Taurasi saw her teammates were ready as she changed gears as well dishing out 7 assists (9 points 5 rebounds) in 15 less minutes than Moore as her team cruised to the most dominate win of the playoffs to date.

Each player is an M.V.P. in their own right. Taurasi led the best team in the WNBA and Moore had a statistically dominant season as Lynx stayed with the Mercury nearly all the way. They can both erupt for big scoring nights and run the offense allowing the plethora of talent around them to shine.

They are both remarkably unselfish for being great individual talents, which is exactly why they are going head-to-head for the right play in the WNBA Finals this week.


Western Conference Finals Schedule

Friday vs. Minnesota Lynx at 7:00 p.m. AZ Time

Sunday @ Minnesota Lynx at 12:30 p.m. AZ Time (NBA TV)

Tuesday vs. Minnesota Lynx at 7:00 p.m. AZ Time (NBA TV)

Playoff basketball is heating up as the summer winds down in the desert. That means the Phoenix Mercury are in the WNBA playoffs and looking for a third championship. On Sunday night the team swept...

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The Phoenix Suns featured several surprising players last season in winning roughly twice the number of games forecast by most, but none blew away expectations more than former castoff Gerald Green.

Gerald Green is an incredibly talented athlete. He leaps, twists and runs the floor the way you and I walk outside to pick up the mail. It looks so easy when he performs physical feats that only an extremely tiny percentage of the world's people can.

Still, those amazing gifts never allowed Green to become a productive NBA player through his 7 seasons and 6 franchises until he found the combination to unlock them this past season with the Suns.

Green's flaws are plentiful:

  • Poor ballhandler
  • Tends to get lost in team defense
  • Shoots too much, and takes undisciplined, bad shots
  • Was acquired by the Suns when the Pacers wanted to unload him after his flame-out there
  • Is missing a finger
I didn't want him at the time of the Luis Scola trade. Few Suns fans did, but accepted it as the cost of doing business and acquiring a first round pick (Bogdan Bogdanovic) and Miles Plumlee in exchange for Scola.

Then Green showed us all by becoming the Suns' third leading scorer at 15.8PPG (second in points/36 mins), playing all 82 games and leading the team in made 3-pointers with 204, converting them at a 40% clip.

He also won the Suns a couple of games with amazing heroics like this:

And this game-winner:

The man doesn't lack confidence; that's for sure.

In this "summer of our discontent," let's remember that the flawed player we think is garbage today might send us into delirious delight with his achievements tomorrow, as Green did.

Wabi sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism, particularly the tea ceremony, a ritual of purity and simplicity in which masters prized bowls that were handmade and irregularly shaped, with uneven glaze, cracks, and a perverse beauty in their deliberate imperfection.

Gerald Green is an irregularly shaped bowl. His glaze is uneven. He's cracked. And he's perfect. Or at least, he was perfect for what the Suns needed last season. I won't go into his contract situation, or how he might figure into future Suns plans.

All I know is that Green gave us all a happy surprise last season, and I enjoyed the hell out of watching him play.

So, you wanted LeBron James? Or Kevin Love? Or Thad Young? Or a drama-free Bledsoe contract negotiation? Or...I could go on and on. It doesn't work that way. It's always a struggle, and always imperfect. Embrace that.

Now, time for a poll question.

Which Suns player will surprise us by exceeding expectations in a huge way?

  666 votes | Results

Each summer, ESPN projects the top players at every position for the next season. It's good, clickable content to start conversations. But for some teams, it's a chance to lament the lack of respect people have for your team.

Phoenix Suns. Los Angeles Lakers. Boston Celtics. Philadelphia 76ers. Brooklyn Nets.

Those are the only five teams that failed to get a single player ranked in the Top 10 at his position - in terms of projected Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) - this week by ESPN's Bradford Doolittle.

That's it. And three of those, Nets and Lakers and Celtics, are only off the Top 10 list due to injuries to Brook Lopez, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo, respectively.

The other two - Suns and Sixers - have no such injury excuse.Not-top-10

That means 28 of the other 29 NBA teams have at least one player on their roster who is a bigger difference-maker, when healthy, than anyone on the Suns roster. Thank you, Philadelphia!

Likely, it's not that simple. The point guard position is incredi-deep while the shooting guard position has the aging Dwyane Wade at #2 overall and Dion Waiters at #5, for example. The Suns trio of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas all made the "honorable mention" list at point guard, so at least they are in the top-20 discussion at the PG position.

But still. Not one Top 10 player at ANY position.

There's your Rodney Dangerfield moment, folks.

Here's an even bigger eye-opener: Outside of the Slash Triplets, not one Suns player even made the "Top 15" at his position according to these projections. That covers shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Remember, there's only 30 teams in this league.

Uh, wut?

This for a team that finished last year as arguably the best non-playoff team in NBA history, winning 48 games to tie the Golden State Warriors for the most non-playoff win total since the 16-team playoff format was introduced more than 30 years ago.

Honeymoon's over, dudes and dudettes.

The Suns roster sucks eggs. Again.

At least, according to ESPN's "WARP Projector":

Rankings methodology
The annual offseason position rankings offer a snapshot of the top players in the league by base position, according to the forecast quantity and quality of performance for the coming season. Players are ranked by wins above replacement player (WARP), an estimate of the number of wins a player adds to a team's bottom line above what would be expected of any easily acquired talent from outside the NBA. Players are measured for usage and efficiency on both ends of the floor, and these ratings are converted to an individual winning percentage. From there, WARP is calculated based on the player's winning percentage and forecast playing time for the coming season. Playing-time projections are based on recent seasons, health and role on the player's current team. Players are assigned a position according to where they appeared most often in their most recent NBA season, though subjective adjustments have been made for some players based on anticipated usage in 2014-15.

The underlying methodology of calculating the player efficiencies used in these rankings has changed since last year and now relies on real plus-minus methodology, with adjustments. Each player's offensive and defensive RPM is converted to efficiency ratings for each end of the floor. Those ratings are then evaluated for "direct" and "indirect" impact. Direct impact is composed of points scored and possessions used, as calculated from traditional box scores. Indirect impact uses RPM to evaluate how a player affects the possessions finished by his teammates while he's on the floor. RPM has been split in this manner for a couple of reasons. First, indirect impact has a higher season-to-season correlation and is less affected by player aging patterns. Also, splitting direct impact and indirect impact is useful for projecting how players will perform in new environments and in calculating team projections. For first-year NBA players, their SCHOENE projection is used as their WARP projection in these rankings.

So the Suns are just not a very talented team. They're aren't even a kinda talented team, outside of point guard. Most every NBA team can field a better shooting guard, a better small forward, a better power forward or a better center. And a third of them can field a better point guard.

How did the Suns win 48 games then?

They did it through teamwork and coaching and unselfishness. And by leveling the playing field by playing their best players without regard to traditional position. But because of Bledsoe's injury, Dragic still ended up playing the majority of his minutes at point guard along with Bledsoe. Bledsoe's 2014-15 projection was downgraded due to injury and low minutes in prior years, while Isaiah Thomas was likely downgraded because of his projected role as a backup.

But what of the other positions?

ESPN named 15 other shooting guards ahead of Gerald Green, likely because his minutes are projected to decline with the presence of the Three Amigos.

They named 15 other small forwards ahead of P.J. Tucker. He may not be the most talented starter in the game, but I'd go to war with P.J. (just not in a car on a Friday night).

They named 15 other centers ahead of Miles Plumlee. That's not a total stretch. Moving on.

What has me scratching my head the most is that they named 15 other power forwards ahead of Markieff Morris, a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year with more than 13 points and 6 rebounds a game on just 26 minutes a night. If it makes you feel any better, Taj Gibson didn't make Top 15 either.

Here's how the other teams fared:ESPN-Top-10s

To the future

Given these rankings, will any of these Phoenix Suns become a Top 10 player at his position in the next year?

I would argue that Goran Dragic deserves a Top 10 point guard ranking right now and that he's only being held back by a projection of fewer minutes (and therefore lesser impact) in 2014-15 being part of the Triplets. But I would also argue that so far Dragic's career year is just that - a career year. He's more likely to decline slightly in 2014-15 as rise even higher.

Will 29 year old Gerald Green rise to Top 10 status when he can't even crack the Top 15 after a career year? Probably not. Same goes for P.J. Tucker. And Miles Plumlee.

Nay, the two players most likely to rise to Top 10 at their position in future years are Markieff Morris and Eric Bledsoe.

Bledsoe is already a Top 10 point guard - he was just held back by injuries and limited minutes in prior years. One more year of starting will make him a shoe-in.

Markieff Morris is entering a contract year and has been working on expanding his game to become a threat as a stretch four. If he can become a threat out there AND keep his post game alive (which was also a one-year wonder so far), then Morris can become a Top 10 Power Forward in the NBA.

So that's Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris who could become Top 10 Players at their position in 2014-15.

What else do those three have in common?

All could be free agents (Morris restricted) in the summer of 2015, if Bledsoe doesn't sign a long-term deal in the next 39 days.

Ball Up

Speaking of Bledsoe, he spent some of this summer working with kids and youth basketball camps. He also participated as a celebrity coach of a Birmingham basketball team made up of non-professional locals who beat the touring Ball Up All-Stars this summer for the first time in 4 years.

This Ball Up tour is a showcase for street ball talent to make a name for themselves and maybe even make some cash along with it.


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