Recapping the week (weekend) that was, reviewing the news & notes, taking a look at Suns history, updating the 2014 NBA Draft Watch, and previewing the week ahead... Welcome to the Center of the Sun.
The past week for the Phoenix Suns (30-21) consisted of silly contests, disappointment, and a lot of rest for the surprise team of the 2013-2014 NBA season. With All-Star Weekend taking over the NBA schedule the team sent a representative to the now even more gimmicky Skills Challenge and another to the Rising Stars Game where he rode the pine like he was in Indiana all over again...
All-Star Weekend Recap
What was that thing that Goran Dragic was in? I think they called it the Skills Challenge, but if my memory serves me correctly the Skills Challenge used to look a lot different. Like, an individual contest where guards showed their skills?
This year it was some 2-on-2 drill that I didn't even understand, same with the new 3-on-3 Dunk Contest format. Trying new things could result in a net positive, or the thud of a day that Saturday became. There was little drama, no spectacle, and they took away the one thing that All-Star Saturday Night was all about -- allowing a star to rise. That was what it was about to me at least from Vince Carter at the Dunk Contest to Peja Stojakovic in the Three-Point Shootout. Stars were able to shine and come out of nowhere.
In the Skills Challenge someone like Goran Dragic or Reggie Jackson could have stood out against their more noteworthy peers, instead they were relay partners.
The weekend itself is a gimmick so turning an entertaining gimmick into a gimmicky gimmick is like the XFL. We already have football, but let's goof it up a bit for no reason. Hey, we already have an All-Star Weekend that is fairly entertaining, why not gimmick the you know what out of it? No thanks, back to real basketball please.
20+ PPG 6+ APG 50+ FG%
How special of a season is Goran Dragic having so far?
Only LeBron James and Kevin Durant are more efficient offensive producers for their respective teams. No big deal, right? There are only three players in the NBA that are in the Top 20 in points and assists per game while shooting over 50% from the field, two are MVP candidates, and the other wasn't even an All-Star. If Goran keeps this up he will be the first 20+ point scorer in four years and the first player since Stephon Marbury to average at least 20+ points and 6+ assists in a season for the Suns. Marbury never shot higher than 46.1% in a season...
No, Goran is not leading the league in scoring, assists, or shooting percentages, but he is doing all three at a very high rate, which is very rare.
2014 NBA Draft Update
Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have three first round picks with the current projections, none of which are in the lottery. A slight change of pace from pre-season projections. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:
Minnesota Timberwolves (25-26) -- No. 13 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) -- Wayne Selden, Freshman Guard, Kansas
Washington Wizards (25-27) -- No. 18 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) -- Chris Walker, Freshman Forward, Florida -- Although he has only played a few games this season Walker is still a very valuable long-term prospect. He has the athletic gifts of a Young Kevin Garnett and he is still developing his game.
Phoenix Suns (30-21) -- No. 22 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) -- Zach LaVine, Freshman Guard, UCLA -- Hyper athletic combo guard that has experience as a one, but has grown into more of a two. Either way he fits the mold as a McDonough Quality Athlete and can knock down the NBA three.
Indiana Pacers (40-12) -- No. 29 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) -- Jabari Bird, Freshman Wing, California -- Keeping it in the PAC12 with Bird who is a better two-way athlete than LaVine with the size to play both wing positions. The new regime is all about versatility and athleticism.
Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.
News & Notes
It has been five weeks and three days since Eric Bledsoe's injury/surgery, but he is rehabbing well in the training room and getting closer to a return.
Suns History Lesson
This week in Suns History: February 19th -- Charles Barkley grabbed his 10,000 rebound making him the 10th player ever with 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Tuesday, February 18th @ Denver Nuggets (24-27)
Wednesday, February 19th vs. Boston Celtics (19-35)
Friday, February 21st vs. San Antonio Spurs (38-15)
Sunday, February 23rd vs. Houston Rockets (36-17)
A quality start to the second half of the season for the the Suns with a little bit of everything on the menu. The Nuggets are not contenders this year under first year head coach Brian Shaw and find themselves in a very similar position as the Suns the past few years. Biggest difference -- they traded their pick so tanking is meaningless. Basically this season has been meaningless, but Goran needs to watch his ankles because the first two meetings this season (one in pre-season) he went down with injury.
At one point the Celtics were giving away wins at an alarming clip (lost 16 out of 18 games) before getting into a groove before the All-Star break going 4-2 overall. They are lottery bound and still close to gaining a Top 5 pick.
So far this season the Suns are 1-3 against the Texas Duo of the Spurs and Rockets. After winning the first round against the Rockets they were run out of the gym in a high scoring blowout the next time the teams met up. With both teams trying to play a faster pace and run the ball these games have the potential of being entertaining, but without a James Harden type closer the Suns are vulnerable against the Rockets. It always seems like when the world talks about the Suns and Spurs it is similar to the younger brother and the older brother. One has youth and excitement while the other has experience and equity. Each game this year has been played close, competitive even, with the Spurs besting their Western Conference Little Brother.
Getting a solid 2-2 start after the All-Star Break would allow the Suns to stay above water. So, why not strive for 3-1? That is my call, 3-1 week to start the second half of the season... Thoughts?
How many points will be scored in this game? Does anything else matter?
While the Suns do not have any participants in the actual All-Star Game itself, the game is a spectacle anyway.
Don't expect any defense, until maybe the last three minutes if it's close. This is an exhibition and the players treat it as such.
I watched some of the D-League All-Star game yesterday and when Ike Diogu can rumble unopposed to the basket on a pick and roll - the seas parting like he'd laid down his staff beforehand - you know the weekend is not about team play. It's about looking good. A minute later, Diogu let the seas part on the other. Quid pro quo.
So don't look for the best of basketball tonight. Look for the best individual players, and plays.
And ask yourself, which of these players would look best in Phoenix in the next 12 months? Any of them, right?
It's not often you get a small meet-and-greet with the Doctor himself, Julius Erving. Even less often when you share a drink while talking about the old days and the new days of NBA basketball.
One of the best aspects of this All-Star Weekend 2014 in New Orleans was to meet a living legend in the annals of NBA History - Julius "The Doctor" Erving, or "Dr. J". I had the fortune to have a quick conversation with the superstar and even got a grainy picture of us together by taking a "selfie" with the Doctor.
Dr. J. is a spokesman for Crown Royal and joined us for a tasting of some of the best whiskeys Crown Royal has to offer. He graciously introduced our "Master of Whiskey" for the evening, then was quick to note that there were two masters in the building as he himself was a "Master of Basketball".
The Doctor first told us how he got his nickname while growing up - his close friend and basketball rival called himself "The Professor" while Julius was "The Doctor". For a long time, only they used those names until Erving was playing in the Rucker League and didn't like the other nicknames people tried to give him. He went with The Doctor from that day forward.
Later, when asked about his favorite dunkers - a seeming 'feeder' question to talk of himself - the Doctor actually went in another direction.
"You know, no one ever mentions Wilt Chamberlain," he said.
He went on to mention other big men such as Moses Malone and, later, Shaquille O'Neal as some excellent dunkers as well who never got the credit.
But Dr. J. himself was a major reason events like the Dunk Contest existed in the first place, with his beautiful high-flying act on the court. A master of basketball indeed.
When asked if he'd ever tried to back out of the Dunk Contest, like modern day superstars do all the time, the Doctor scoffed. He said players today start their career with handlers and advisors before they've proven themselves, and that those advisors tell them to avoid such exhibitions. You didn't get such handlers in the early years of your career back in the 70s and 80s.
The conversation turned to advanced stats, which the Doctor answered in a complex fashion. He first pointed out that it is very difficult to dissect the entire game or player based on recordings and statistics. But then he admitted stats would have been a way to preserve the history of the game in his days and the days before him, because all we have left is grainy footage.
The interview finished with a one-on-one side chat with the Doctor. I asked him what he thought of LeBron James' comment that LBJ himself would make the Mount Rushmore of all-time NBA. Either the Doctor is a really good at shifting the topic or he just didn't know about LeBron's calculation. Erving laughed it off as went on to his next gig, the Sprite All-Star Slam Dunk contest.
My gut feel, based on how the Doctor answered questions all night, is that Erving would not put LeBron into any pantheon as rare as a top-4 all time. At least not right now.