Panic time in the NBA is about to arrive, if it hasn't already knocked on that door. The Phoenix Suns, armed with sizable cap space, movable parts, draft picks and a smart GM, could facilitate trades to improve the team's long term outlook.

The Phoenix Suns are definitely in rebuilding mode, albeit with some unexpected success in the earliest stages. At 5-4, the team has shown heart and resiliency to suggest too many wins for a Top-5 pick in the upcoming draft but too few foundational parts to say that all the future pieces are in place for a championship run some day.

So what should the Suns do this season? Add veterans for a playoff push, or purge veterans for a tank job? How about neither. At this point, the Suns should only make trades that improve both the short AND long-term future of the team, with a tie-breaking eye toward the future.

The NBA is all about the best individual talent that wins games. Depth is necessary, for sure, but individual talent must be top notch to be consistently good in this league.

Now that the Suns have acquired lots of assets, including SIX first round picks in the next two drafts and a number of young players better than expected, the only trades the Suns should make would be to acquire an All-Star level talent or to improve the quality of an individual asset even further.

Reviewing the Suns' foundational needs

Point Guard

The only position that appears already solid for years to come is at point guard, with better-than-advertised Eric Bledsoe and fan favorite Goran Dragic leading the way to early success.

In fact, with those two already in the fold and point guard being so important to team success in the NBA, the only way you actively replace either is to dramatically upgrade that or another position with a Top-5 player at their respective position. Sure, you'd include Bledsoe/Dragic in a trade for Kevin Love, but it's not as simple to include either in a trade for Gordon Hayward, for example.

This point is debatable, I know. Some love Bledsoe. Some love Dragic. Some love change for change sake. But for the purposes of this discussion, let's just agree that the most valuable "keepers" at this point in time include Bledsoe and Dragic. If the Suns improve other areas and still have Dragic and Bledsoe running point in three years, those two could lead a deep playoff run. It would take a lot to pry either away from the Suns.

Center

This position is more of a need than point guard, but with the present and future of Miles Plumlee and the future promise of the bigger Alex Len, there is no need to improve this position during the 2013-14 season unless the Suns luck into a Top-5 NBA center.

Yet even then, as we can see with the mixed results Dwight Howard bring to his teams, is it worth giving up a ton of assets to improve upon Miles Plumlee right here and now? Plumlee drops 11 points, grabs 10 rebounds, blocks 2 shots and defends the rim very well (Top 10 in opponent FG% at rim).

The Suns have the future covered as well. 25-year old Plumlee and rookie 20-year old Alex Len have the measurables and quality work ethic for a successful NBA half-decade, at least, at center.

At this point, I'd say the center and point guard position do not need an upgrade during the 2013-14 season.

Shooting Guard

Now it starts getting a little fuzzier. The Suns have bodies at the shooting guard position right now, but are they foundational pieces for the future?

One could argue that Dragic/Bledsoe IS the future at shooting guard in a two-headed point guard lineup, but that seems more like an opportunistic play based on the current roster than a master-plan based on a blueprint.

An bona-fide All-Star shooting guard would be welcomed, moving one of the PGs moving into a sixth-man role like Manu Ginobili.

But with 19-year old Archie Goodwin developing on the sidelines and flashing occasional brilliance, is it worth giving up a ton of assets for a new shooting guard to replace him? Or, should the Suns ride out the Dragic/Bledsoe experiment while Goodwin develops and Gerald Green fills in admirably?

I'd take the latter.

Players like the Knicks' Iman Shumpert, long coveted by the Suns in the past and currently available via trade, don't seem worth the assets to acquire (a strong rebounding/defending big man) or a perfect match with Phoenix. Still, even if the Knicks wanted to hand over Shumpert, do the Suns need him anymore? Isn't it better to develop Goodwin, who by next season might be equal to or better than Shumpert?

That's three positions in the books - point guard, shooting guard, center - and no real pressing needs to improve at the moment. Sure, Len and Goodwin could fizzle out and force the Suns' hand in the future, but at the moment the Suns should be content to "wait and see".

Small Forward

Now, we get to the meat of the Suns' needs.

Both forward positions are currently a patchwork of low-ceiling rotational potential (Morris brothers) and middle-class current production (Tucker and Frye).

Nothing against Tucker and Frye, but if you're envisioning a 2015 or 2016 championship run, these guys are best served as a team's 5th-8th best player. At the peak of their potential, you can't have both Frye and Tucker in your starting lineup and expect to reach the NBA Finals.

Let's start with small forward. Marcus Morris - the youngest of the bunch at 24 - has been playing well off the bench (44% 3-point shooting, 6.3 rebounds per 22 minutes) and 28-year old P.J. Tucker has been dynamite in the starting lineup (54% 3-point shooting, 4.3 rebounds in 32 minutes).

But are P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris your future? Probably not. The Suns would be better served to draft or acquire a higher-ceiling talent for the future at small forward.

But here, the ceiling of that player should be really high. Like, All-Star high. Because getting a "small forward of the future" is as easy as waiting until the 2014 draft. With so many picks, small forward should be an easy fill.

Around the NBA, one intriguing name who is a restricted free agent next summer is Gordon Hayward.

Is someone like Gordon Hayward that much better than Morris or Tucker? Maybe. Maybe Hayward is a star in the making. He's putting up 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the terrible Utah Jazz in 37 minutes per game. At 6'8", he could easily play at the same time as Dragic and Bledsoe as well as alternating into the shooting guard position when one of them rests.

But Hayward is not available via trade at this time, and may never be. So, the Suns should look elsewhere.

Let's say, for a minute, that Denver is willing to trade Wilson Chandler, who once posted 20 ppg before getting lost in the Denver shuffle of too many small forwards. Is Wilson Chandler worth a handful of assets? Would he produce more than Tucker and Morris in the same minutes?

I'd say no. Sit tight, and wait for that great opportunity to drop in your lap. Tucker and Morris are a good combo for now, until an All-Star becomes available.

Power Forward

Finally, we reach a position that doesn't need an All-Star to improve upon it and doesn't have a crazy-young position player to groom for the future.

Markieff Morris' Western Conference Player of the Week award might beg to differ, but I just don't see a future All-Star game in Morris' future. Neither do I see one in Channing Frye's future.

If there was one position on the team in most need of an upgrade for the future, it's the power forward position. Sure, Julius Randle would be ideal in next year's draft. Wouldn't require any extra assets to get him. Except a ton of 2013-14 losses, that is. Certainly, the 2014 Draft will have a power forward available in the teens to take with Washington or Minnesota's pick no matter what the Suns do this season, but that's not a comfortable bet to be better than the Morrii.

If the Suns could acquire (a) a young player with tremendous upside or (b) a veteran with All-Star resume, THIS is the position in most need to fill.

Who is available at power forward? Nothing is certain, but you can look at the struggling teams with high expectations for a few clues. And, you can look at playoff hopefuls who have buried their young talent (a la Miles Plumlee, Tobias Harris) and might part with that talent for a proven rotation player.

Click the link for a quick list of young (19-23 last year) PFs in order of Win Shares, courtesy of basketball-reference.com

PFs Ranked in order ease to acquire - the simpler the better

  • Multiple options, 2014 Draft, #10-20 range
      • The Suns will likely have at least one pick at the back end of the lottery from either Minnesota (top-13 protected), Washington (top 10 protected) or both, if not their own as well. At least one mid-quality PF will be available. The likelihood that the one the Suns draft is better than the Morrii? Possible but not likely. Younger? Certainly. This is the easiest path to get younger at PF.
      • Good option? Of course.
  • Derrick Williams, 6'8", 21 years old
      • Williams is #15 on the linked list. He is still young, but really is a tweener who probably fits best as a PF in a small-ball lineup. Right now, he's behind Kevin Love but couldn't establish himself last year when Love was unavailable and the Wolves were begging anyone to step up. He did not.
      • Rumors: Apparently, Williams is available for a quality SF who can minutes from Corey Brewer, who can't shoot. Frankly though, I don't see Williams grabbing a lot of minutes over the Morrii, and I don't see the Suns bothering with splitting up the Morrii (sending shooter Marcus to Minny) just for the sake of change.
      • Good option? No.
  • Donatas Motejiunas, 6'11", 23 years old
      • This is an intriguing one to me. This kid has a lot of talent, though he profiles like a stereotypical Euro - great offensive skills with no interest, and feet too slow, to play NBA-quality defense. Yet he's been a great producer when given minutes, which are hard to come by in Houston. He can score inside and out, all the way to the 3-point line. He doesn't rebound well though, or play D.
      • Rumor: None at the moment, except that Houston REALLY needs a stretch-four who can shoot the 3 so Dwight can have the middle to himself. Channing Frye would be a really nice fit in Houston's lineup.
      • Good option? Only if its a cheap price.
  • Kenneth Faried, 6'8", 23 years old
      • Of the available PFs on the linked list, Faried puts up the best numbers - he's a double-double machine with a high motor. The downside is that he's small for PF (6'8", 220), has no offensive game outside 3 feet, and doesn't play positional or rotational D. His opponent scores a lot on him.
      • Rumor: Faried is really, really available right now, but the Nuggets want a lot in return. They apparently want Shumpert AND draft considerations, for example. The thing is that the Suns already have a bigger Faried in Miles Plumlee now, and playing them together along with P.J. Tucker isn't a very good balance. In fact, they may end up cancelling each other out while clogging the lane too much for the guards. I think the Suns pass on this one.
      • Good option? No.
  • Tristan Thompson, 6'9", 22 years old
      • As the talent gets better, it becomes a lot harder for the Suns to make a deal.
      • Tristan Thompson is really young and slightly bigger Kenneth Faried with a higher ceiling because he can play quality defense in the post and on the pick-and-roll. Otherwise, he profiles a lot like Faried - rebounding demon with little offensive skill. And while bigger than Faried, Thompson isn't that much bigger. He still is listed at 6'8". Thompson's ceiling is probably 15 and 10 with good defense.
      • Rumor: Cleveland really, really wants to make the playoffs. And they already have Earl Clark, Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bynum, Tyler Zeller and #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett on the front line. Someone has to go, and I think it's Thompson. The Cavs need a high-quality shooter on the wing. Here's another place that Channing Frye could really help, despite being a big, as well as Marcus Morris. Either could slot in there as the wing shooter they need. I don't see this one happening though. Cleveland usually values their guys a lot higher than anyone else, hence the lack of trades executed by Cleveland in recent years.
      • Good option? Sure. Likely? No.
  • Greg Monroe, 6'10", 23 years old
      • Monroe is young and through the end of last season he already played a near-max salary level at only 22 years old. His ability to score in the paint, rebound and pass rival any other big man in the game. Yet, he's a "below the rim" player who scores on a variety of moves, but doesn't jump all that high, defend all that well or block many shots. He would help the Suns half-court offense but would potentially slow down the team speed and high-flying acrobatics.
      • Rumor: Once Detroit drafted Andre Drummond and signed Josh Smith, Monroe became expendable. Monroe is not a four who can consistently play 10-15 feet from the basket, yet Drummond is the center of the future and Josh Smith profiles as a PF. Why Detroit decided to squeeze Monroe out, I don't know. But they did, and it's almost certain that Monroe will be in a different uniform by next summer. The Phoenix Suns, with a treasure-trove of assets, can likely acquire Monroe if they want him. But do they? The Suns already have Alex Len, whose skill set profiles similar to Monroe yet he has the ability to play above the rim and the quick feet to defend it. He just needs to get healthy. The Suns also like athleticism, and Monroe is not a great athlete. Miles Plumlee is a great athlete who profiles best at C. With the Suns, either Monroe replaces half of Plumlee AND all of Len, or he's out of position yet again. Why pay max money for that? I recommend the Suns pass on Monroe.
      • Good option? Debatable. Doesn't fit the new mold, but a very good player who would be both a win-now and win-later move. Likely? Toss-up.
  • Aaron Gordon, 2014 Draft, #5-10 range
      • Gordon is the second-rated PF in college basketball. His college game profiles favorably to Blake Griffin's "above the rim" game but he's about two inches shorter at 6'8". Still, an almost-Blake would fit perfectly with Bledsoe, Dragic, Plumlee/Len, Goodwin and the athletic Suns.
      • I put this one as harder to get than Monroe because the Suns are playing themselves into a lower pick than #10 overall, and there's no way the second-best PF in college lasts to the late lottery no matter who rises this year. Gordon won't be there for the Suns unless they lose about 55 games.
      • Good option? Of course. Likely? Getting dimmer by the day, but still probable.
  • Julius Randle, 2014 Draft, #1-4 range
      • Randle is by far the best PF on the board for next summer and his first few college games have only solidified that status. Randle has it all, and any team would love to have them as their PF of the long-term future.
      • The Suns would have to either (a) finish the season 15-58 (for a 20-62 finish overall) to have the best chance at their favorite player or (b) miss the playoffs and get really lucky with ping pong balls. With the Suns winning more than anyone thought, that's a hard nut to crack.
      • Good option? You betcha. Likely? The light at the end of that tunnel is now a pinprick.
  • Any of Kevin Love, LeBron James, Chris Bosh or other current/recent All-Star PF
      • Of course, the Suns could always decide to use their cap space to sign an All-Star level talent in free agency. Kevin Love (2015) and Bosh and James are all All-Star type talents who would fit on any team, including the Suns. Any of these would raise the Suns to contender status pretty quickly.
      • Rumor: None. Yet. It's happened before. Miami got Bosh and James to join Dwyane Wade for a mini-dynasty, and now Bosh and James can both opt out for new contracts next summer. In 2015, Kevin Love is available if he doesn't pick up his player option. In 2014, James and Bosh both have ETO options to become free agents and sign new contracts with anyone.
      • Good option? Definitely. Likely? No, but crazier things have happened. The Suns are starting to build a national love for their playing style and organization once again, and Phoenix has always been a great destination.

Summary

Should the Suns go after Iman Shumpert for the SG position? No, unless they already want to replace Archie Goodwin's future with Iman's.

Should the Suns go after Wilson Chandler for the SF position? No. He wouldn't put up demonstrably better numbers than the current SF rotation.

What about Derrick Williams or Donatas Motejiunas? Only if the price is small, but probably not even then.

How about Kenneth Faried? No. This is a polarizing topic, but I don't see Faried bringing enough improvement to the current PF rotation to justify the cost (a high value asset), and he might negate Plumlee's value a bit.

Is Tristan Thompson an option? A deal may be tough here based on asking price and the Suns ability to fill Cleveland's needs, but if the Cavs are entertaining the notion of moving him it's at least a conversation worth having. Ultimately, the draft would be more appealing than potentially overpaying.

Should the Suns go after Gordon Hayward? Sure. But don't put all your eggs in one basket. There's LOTS of moves that should be considered before next July 1, which is the moment Hayward becomes eligible for offers.

Should the Suns wait till free agency to sign a veteran All-Star? Of course they should try this route. But you don't base an entire game plan around signing an All-Star in free agency. That's only if everything else falls through (bad draft, no great trade opportunities beforehand).

Should the Suns just sit tight and take what the draft brings? On the latter, of course that's a given. The Suns have a lot of options in next year's draft to fill holes and add more kids with potential at SF and PF, among other positions. But there's no way the Suns want FOUR rookies on next year's team, so trading a couple of assets is necessary at some point.

Something will shake loose on the trade front in the next several months. Hang on tight, Suns fans. Ryan McDonough and Lon Babby are just getting started.

Poll
Should the Suns make a trade for an available player who they've coveted for a long time?

  439 votes | Results

PHOENIX — Jeff Hornacek isn’t blaming late-game execution for the Phoenix Suns’ last two losses, both of which came in the final seconds of regulation and overtime, respectively....

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News, notes, and recapping the week that was for the Phoenix Suns...

Three points. That was the difference between the Phoenix Suns (5-4) being either 6-3 or 7-2 to start the season. They witnessed three brutal game changing shots that led to losses this week and the hope is that something was gained.

The one thing to be gained in these types of emotional losses - character.

Game Recaps

@ Portland Trail Blazers - L (90-89) Full Recap

vs. Brooklyn Nets - L (100-98 OT) Full Recap

In games (or weeks) like this it is always better to come out on the winning end, but these type of losses build team unity and character. As players and coaches the feeling of these losses sting and the feeling lingers. They do not want to feel it again. That is the positive that comes out of these losses.

"The first one, yeah, they were probably upset," Coach Hornacek after the Nets loss. "Two in a row they are probably going to need a couple of days to get it out of their system. That is the way the game goes."

With three days off between games this is a week that could bring the team closer together. They are already a group that plays well together and fights for each other, but losses like this can build character. They can build a foundation. They can help a team grow-up faster than expected. And, they can make a young athletic team with everything to prove, angry.

Key Stat

-16.8 PPG -3.0 RPG -46.3 FG%

How do you lose that kind of a stat-line? Markieff Morris went from Player of the Week to unfortunate sidenote this week. In the two games since winning the honor he put up a paltry 12 points total on 4-17 (23.5%) shooting from the field. This was highlighted by getting a third quarter start against the Nets and producing a -16 plus/minus that loss. What will be in the cards for Markieff this week?

Quote of the Week

"They had (Brook) Lopez out there with a sprained ankle. The guys knew there was a 20 second timeout in there and to just attack him and see if you can make a play. It was a case where he wasn't moving very well." -- Coach Hornacek , candid, honest about the plan of attack in the Nets loss

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch is starting to look a little better as the Suns, Timberwolves, and Pacers have all moved down the standings and up the draft boards. The Suns are in the lottery (weird, but true) and if you are more of a fan of this years prospects than wins this year, this is for you.

Here is a snapshot of the four picks today:

Indiana Pacers (8-1) -- No. T-29 Overall - (Pick to Phoenix based on protections) This is a Hail Mary pick like last year. Take a swing at a guy you like with potential, like Duke sophomore wing Rodney Hood. He can shoot, he can defend, and he is a quality athlete. Think, Bryon Russell or Shandon Anderson type of glue player.

Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4) -- T-No. 22 Overall - (Pick to Phoenix based on protections) The Suns can go a lot of different directions here, but Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott would be a solid pick-up in this spot. Great shooter, craftier and more skilled than given credit for, and a very good rebounder. Think, somewhere between Kyle Korver and Peja Stojakovic.

Phoenix Suns (5-4) -- No. 14 Overall - (Pick stays in Phoenix) This pick winds up in the lottery despite being better than four eastern conference teams. On my updated mock draft this pick would be Kansas guard Wayne Selden. So far this season Selden has displayed great body control, strength, and an ability to make plays from the two. Think, Wesley Matthews.

Washington Wizards (2-7) -- T-No. 2 Overall - (Pick stays in Washington based on protections) The Wizards clearly know what they are doing. They already have John Wall, Bradley Beal, and traded away their 2014 1st Round pick for Marcin Gortat. Or did they... If the balls bounce this way the ‘Zards might have the best young core in the NBA.

Follow along with the 2014 NBA Draft as the season progresses.

Suns History Lesson

November, 23 1994 with the Utah Jazz Jeff Hornacek scored a career high 40 points (still remains his career-high) and went 8-8 from three. At that point, that was an NBA record, before Latrell Sprewell went 9-9 in a game in 2003 removing Hornacek from the record books.

He was the first to do it. He did it with flair. Coach Hornacek was once the BAMF.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

This season the Suns have had a hot and cold schedule, that against non-playoff caliber teams they were hot and against potential playoff teams they were not necessarily cold. In the four games the Suns have gone 1-3 so far with a total margin in those games of +2 because of a decidedly one sided victory against the Blazers early in the season.

Tuesday, November 19th @ Sacramento Kings (2-7)

Wednesday, November 20th vs. Sacramento Kings (2-7)

Friday, November 22nd @ Charlotte Bobcats (5-5)

Sunday, November 24th @ Orlando Magic (4-6)

With this schedule there are a few teams hovering around .500 that might pose some trouble for the Suns, but they could also have a big 4-0 week to get things back on track.

The Kings are one of four teams that are taking this upcoming draft very serious. They won the first game of the season and since then have gone 1-7 playing a fairly tough schedule early on. This week they trade venues with a home-and-home with the Suns before they hit the road for a three game east coast road trip.

This week will do one of three things: One, it will get the Suns back on track with three or four wins. Two, drop them back down to earth with three or four losses. And, three, remain a team hovering around .500 which is what this team has felt like through the first nine games of the season.

The Phoenix Suns had been cheating death through the first two weeks of the NBA season, but last week they were scythed. Speaking of dead things, I exhume some information from the beginning of last season... and find some disturbing interesting parallels.

It's really hard to use a simple set of criteria to define what a close game is.  For the sake of this I will use within 5 points with less than five minutes to go (sort of).  But that isn't always a close game...  A team could score to cut it to five with 4:30 to go only to see their opponent nail a three on the ensuing possession and run off 10 straight.  Not so close. What if a team is down by 10 plus the entire fourth quarter and then hits a pair of meaningless threes in the last few seconds of the game to lose by five?

A final score within five points can also be prevaricative, as a game could have been tied with two minutes to go before one team pulled away.

Maybe a single score game (three points) in the final three minutes is better?  What are your thoughts?

But here's the inadequately insufficient touchstone of the five/five as it relates to the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns.

0-1: Loss vs. Golden St. 87-85 (Suns up by one at 1:43)

1-1: Win vs. Detroit 92-89 (Suns up by five at :52, three at :21 and two at :04)

2-1: Win vs. Charlotte 117-110 (Suns up by four at 3:31 and :31)

3-1: Win vs. Cleveland 107-105  (Suns trailed by one at 1:47)

3-2: Loss vs. Utah 94-81 (Suns trailed by five at 4:46)

4-2: Win vs. Denver 110-100 (Suns up by two at 3:00)

4-3: Loss vs. Chicago 112-106 OT (Suns never led in OT)

The Suns other two losses were blowout affairs emceed by Miami (124-99) and Orlando (115-94).  Still, the Suns had been playing, and winning, a lot of close games early in the season.  After nine games they sat at 4-5.

At that nine game point a lot of us still felt that the window for the Suns was between 30-40 wins, rife with a pick in the 10-12 range.  There was even still a contingent (Jim sheepishly raises hand) claiming that Michael Beasley, and the eventual contretemps this experiment devolved into, should be shown some clemency as it would take some time for him to adjust to his new surroundings.  That's still a situation where I defend my logic, but feel like a blithering buffoon for not recognizing an obvious exception. Several early impressions were shattered.

Using just five points or less, the Suns would be just 2-1.  It would even cut out the six point overtime loss... because obviously that wasn't close.  Using three/three eliminates the Charlotte and Utah games, making the Suns 3-2.

Regardless of the exact criterion, though, these results show that the Suns were performing well in close games.

Fast forward to this year.

1-0: Win vs. Portland 104-91 (Suns up by five at 3:15)

2-0: Win vs. Utah 87-84 (Suns trailed by three at 4:20, Bledsoe game winner at :00.4)

2-1: Loss vs. OKC 103-96 (Suns trailed by one at 4:47, one at :30)

3-1: Win vs. NO 104-98 (Suns up by four at 4:18 and :04)

3-2: Loss vs. SA 99-96 (Suns up by one at :40)

4-2: Win vs. Denver 114-103 (Suns up by four at 1:57)

5-2: Win vs. NO 101-94 (Suns by five at 2:39)

5-3: Loss vs. Portland 90-89 (Suns up by four at 2:30, Lillard game winner at :04)

5-4: Loss vs. Brooklyn 100-98 OT (tied at :56 in OT, Johnson game winner as time expired)

Using the five/five metric all nine of these games would be considered close, and for the most part they have been, but two of the games never got within that five point mark and another never got within four.

Using the games decided by five points stat the Suns would be 1-3.  That seems like a fairly preposterous gauge of their performance.  But using the three/three they would be even worse (1-4)...

What gives?  Well, the other four wins were games where the other team never even got within one possession in the final five minutes.  Two ways of looking at it (feel free to add more of your own):

1. The Suns are more confident with an insulator between them and their opponent.  Once the other team makes it really tight the Suns lose their equanimity and doubt creeps in. The Suns only have one win, against Utah, when they've trailed in the final five minutes. In these games the Suns are 1-4.

2. The Suns have played well enough in those fourth quarters that their opponents couldn't manage to scrap their way back in.  The Suns led from wire to wire down the stretch and showed great poise as closers.  In these games the Suns are 4-0.

Speaking of closers, let's look at how Eric Bledsoe has performed in these late game situations to earn the moniker "Mr. Fourth Quarter."

Portland: 2-3 FG, 4-4 FT, 8 points

Utah: 4-9 FG, 2-4 3FG, 7-8 FT, 17 points (14 straight to close game including game winning three)

OKC: 3-8 FG, 1-5 3FG, 3-4 FT, 10 points

NO: 3-3 FG, 4-4 FT, 10 points

SA: 0-3 FG, 0-1 FT, 0 points

Denver: 3-4 FG, 1-1 3FG, 2-2 FT, 9 points

NO: 3-4 FG, 1-1 3FG, 7 points

Portland: 1-7 FG, 2 points

Brooklyn: Fourth quarter: 1-4 FG, 0-3 3FG, 2 points. OT: 0-1 3FG, 0 points

After a parching four games to begin the campaign, EB has been tepid at best. Through four games Bledsoe had scored 45 points on 12-23 shooting.  Doubly dazzling was his 18-20 mark from the charity stripe.  Add in the surreal performance to close out the Jazz and Blade was playing as well as anyone in the league in crunch time.

Then he tapered off.  The next five games produced just 18 points.  In fact, Bledsoe had 16 of those in the Suns' two wins during that stretch and only four points in the three losses.  Eric is a combined 8-23 (35%) and, maybe most disconcerting, has only attempted three free throws.

Flashback.

In 2012-13, Shannon Brown started off the season as that team's "Mr. Fourth Quarter."  He had 10 points against Detroit on 5-8 shooting and went mushroom cloud against the Bobcats with 18 points on 6-8 shooting (and 6-6 from three point range) against Charlotte. Then he had 12 more against Cleveland on 5-7 shooting (with one made three and one made free throw).  Then he had eight points on 4-6 shooting against the Nuggets.

After all that the Suns stood at 4-4 and Shannon "The Cannon" Brown had cumulatively scored 48 points in the fourth quarters of the four wins.  He was shooting 20-29 from the field (69%).  Yes, that actually happened... go check for yourself if you don't believe me. For comparison, Bledsoe's best four scoring totals in the Suns five wins still only netted him 44 points on 12-24 shooting.

The oft maligned, and deservedly so, Brown Bomber was mad clutch. For those of you not familiar with these nicknames, they are more stinging jabs than signs of affection.  Brown's ability to over-dribble and end up taking a difficult shot grated on the soul.  We can all be thankful that the current Suns don't have a guard with even remotely similar tendencies...  As aforementioned, disturbing interesting parallels.

Not to say that EB hasn't provided defense and intangibles that Brown didn't, but those of you who remember that Charlotte game know that Brown was every bit as responsible for single-handedly winning that game as Bledsoe was for the victory against Utah.

The point of this isn't to suggest that Brown is even remotely close to EB talentwise. It would be lunacy to suggest that Blade isn't a far superior player, but this little stitch in time did make me chortle. Besides, ball-stopping and decision making have been issues at times...

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Making sense out of the senseless

So what does this all mean?  Maybe something, maybe nothing.

Last season's team played a bunch of close games early on and fared well behind the heroic exploits of Shannon Brown.

This season's team played a bunch of close games early on and fared well behind the heroic exploits of Eric Bledsoe.

The Suns failed to execute in the waning moments of both games last week.  Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris all missed last second shots in Portland, while Goran Dragic and Channing Frye couldn't connect against Brooklyn.  Any one of those five shots goes in and the Suns (very probably) go 1-1 instead of 0-2.

Do these types of games help build the confidence of a young team?  It didn't seem to help the veterans last season.  After starting 7-8 they crumbled, with losing streaks of seven, six and five games stretching through December.

But that team also got rode hard and put away wet a couple times in the early going, something we haven't witnessed from this season's team so far.  Against the Nuggets and Nets things appeared to be unraveling, but the youngsters weathered the storm.

Bledsoe is seemingly regressing to his norm.  After 9 games he has scored 65 fourth quarter points.  After averaging 11.3 through four games, he averaged just four in the next five contests.  That's still an average of 7.2 per game.  That would most likely put him top five in the league in that category if he could maintain that pace.  Which means this nine games is still probably above average.

Since the success of the team so far has been closely tied to the performance of Bledsoe, this may not bode well. Less than three weeks ago doubts swirled about EB's ability to succeed in a starting role.  Now he is expected to carry a team of tyros.  That's a tall order.

The Suns and Blade came back down to earth a little last week.  Will the team return to a more celestial state or burrow into the outer crust?  If the at least tenuous similarities I covered in this disquisition continue... The Suns better grab some gloves so they don't get blisters from that shovel.

PHOENIX — Late-game execution makes a winning team in the NBA, but the Phoenix Suns would rather avoid that theory altogether. The painful ending in the Suns’ 100-98 loss to the Brooklyn...

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