The team stopped playing defense and starting hoisting up a ton of threes since the last time we were here to break things down. Seems fitting to get the boys back at the Round Table...

This season the Phoenix Suns (9-8) have been up-and-down, hence the record, which is largely due to a few flaws in the armor, as well as one major advantage they do not tap into enough.

After a week off the gang is back together to review the Suns current woes on the defensive end, their love affair with the three-point shot, and a secret weapon. This secret weapon might be so protected that even the Suns themselves do not realize it is there. Staring them in the eyes. Waiting for the chance to be unleashed.

Let's get it!

Twenty-Fifth Topic: Digging Deeper

1. Breaking the Ice: Are the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns good enough to "not get up" for lesser opponents?

Jim Coughenour: Maybe it's not so much that as they gravitate towards playing to the level of their opponent. They've had respectable showings against members of the NBA's pantheon while struggling mightily when pitted against the downtrodden. It's definitely a different mindset for this team to be "expected" to easily dispatch an opponent when they've been viewed as improbably competitive from the outset. Are teams like the Jazz bringing the same mentality that the Suns used to compete with San Antonio? Are the Suns a young team that doesn't have the experience to take care of business and fritters away opportunities? Is it human nature that a team just doesn't get up for every single game the exact same way?

Jacob Padilla: Definitely not. I agree with Jim: they tend to play to their competition. That's the mark of a middle-of-the-road team, which is something the Sun don't want to be and something Jeff Hornacek definitely won't be satisfied with. Overall, this team is just all over the place and really difficult to get a good read of.

Dave King: They apparently think they are. One of my lingering concerns is guys getting comfortable with themselves and thinking they can just show up to play well and win the game. And by "guys", I mean the Morrii and maybe even Eric Bledsoe. They all exude supreme confidence in themselves (which is usually a sign of deep seated insecurity, but I digress), which can lead to not being dialed in unless they are trying to prove something to someone. While the Morrii might show a lack of effort, Bledsoe will potentially show a lack of leadership. Regardless, the Sacramento and Utah home losses show me a sign that this team has a tendency to believe too much in themselves.

Kris Habbas: Short answer no, long answer absolutely not. After the Jazz loss head coach Jeff Hornacek and multiple veteran players were vocally upset about the teams effort. The phrase "getting full of ourselves" was used by nearly everyone. This is something that is natural. It is human nature. Players are going to relax and get comfortable just like everyone else at their job, but like Channing Frye said after the game, "This is all we have to do today." So why not do it well?

Sreekar Jasthi: Let me echo my cohorts: hell no. This team has proven itself to be far better than what most people predicted before the season began, but there's no way this current iteration of the Phoenix Suns can coast against ANY teams if they truly hope to be a legitimate playoff team - the Utah Jazz proved this recently. One of the staples of this team thus far into the young season has been the passion, consistency, and hustle this group plays with. Not only has that been pleasant sight to behold after last year's abomination of a team, but it's a quality the Suns must keep displaying if they hope to be successful.

Sean Sullivan: No, not at all. The Suns have earned their record based on hustle, fight, and energy. They do not have the talent to rely on anything other than that. They have to compete with full effort each game.

2. Which is more likely to stick: The defense that gave up 95.25 PPG (5-3) or the recent defense (4-5) that is giving up 103.6 PPG?

JP: Push. The Suns will be better fully healthy, but they just don't have the players to be an elite defense Bledsoe, Tucker, Dragic, Frye and Plumlee are all plus defenders for the most part, but Gerald Green and the Morri are not, and those three have been playing a lot. It will be interesting to see how Hornacek balances the offensive and defensive players. I think they'll end up middle-of-the-pack, which is more than I was expecting at the start of the year.

DK: That's always been my worry, expressed on podcasts and in comments: Can this team keep up the defensive effort? Because defense is all about effort. The scheme is good. But it relies on the players all being dialed in together at the same time on rotations. With such inexperience on the team, it's going to be tough to stay dialed in for 82 games. I hope I'm wrong. I really do.

KH: With consistent energy and effort the product (high quality defense) can be a consistent, not necessarily yielding the same results, but the defense can be that good long-term. This team has lots of athletes and young legs to help maintain the defensive effort throughout the season.

SJ: Realistically, I think this team's defense will prove itself to be somewhere between those two marks. The Suns showed a lot of promise at the defensive end in the first stretch and I think that if healthy, Mike Longabardi will continue to get the most out of this team on that end. However, PPG is a flawed statistic anyway - I expect the team to continue to push the pace, meaning they'll score a lot and give up a lot, simply due to an above-average rate of possessions per game like we've seen in recent games.

SS: Somewhere in the middle? I do think the Suns are a better team defensively with Bledsoe, so I expect our defense to improve a bit with him back in the starting lineup. That said, I think the lock-down D we saw from the Suns early on was a bit inflated as well. I don't think they can sustain those kinds of numbers deep into the season. They can be a good defensive team, but I don't think they will be considered great.

JC: I would go with the latter. IF the team is going to remain competitive, the point differential will likely still be exiguous. Maybe +/- two points a game. So if the defense is only going to yield 95 a game then the offense is going to score 97 or less a game. Why? Because only teams that win 50 games are going to have big positive differentials... I see the Suns as a score 100+, give 100+ team. What's most important is defensive efficiency and I don't see this as a top 10 team. Maybe middle of the road. I think teams are already learning to exploit our weaknesses and it will be hard to expect the Suns to play with effort (one of our greatest potential strengths) like they're in the last minute of game seven of the NBA Finals all year... especially if things start to deteriorate.

3. Right now the Suns biggest issue on the defensive end is closing out possessions with rebounds (11.5 offensive rebounds allowed per game), leading to second chance points. How do they fix that?

DK: Being smaller than the opponent has been a franchise-long problem, so that's not going to change any time soon. There are only two solutions I can see: (1) get Alex Len healthy, and play him enough to make a difference in rebounding, or (2) guards have to participate in the rebounding effort. But if you go with (2) then there's fewer players leaking out on the break.

KH: That comes down to technique. I have always said that energy rebounders are bad defensive rebounders. They can create havoc and make plays on the offensive glass at will, but it takes discipline and technique to be a great defensive rebounder. The Suns do not have one of those type of players on the roster at the moment, but they do have a handful of energy rebounders...

SJ: I don't think that's going to change this season. The Suns simply don't have the rebounding prowess of most other teams. Plumlee is a rim-protector first and rebounder second - he's good at corralling boards but is often out of place on box-outs, which leads to offensive boards for the opposing team. Frye is an average rebounder AT BEST, as are the Morrii. Ideally, the Suns will be a "rebounding by committee" team, as guys like Bledsoe, Tucker, and Green are all above-average rebounders for their posession, but that's tough to do since the offense is so highly predicated on those guys leaking out on fast-breaks. Long-term, a healthy Alex Len (who has already shown a strong rebounding ability in his limited minutes) will help this problem.

SS: We need someone to back up Plumlee when he goes up to challenge/block the shot. Plumlee does a great job of protecting the rim, but in doing so, he is often out of position to gather a rebound. This is where we need that "rebounding by committee" mentality.

JC: Get some players that can rebound the ball? Channing, Markieff and P.J. are average at best on the glass. Rebounding is one of the more innate abilities, as far as basketball skills go, so I don't see them reshaping the team's identity here. Then again, if they can just keep one more rebound away from their opponent each game they would jump from bottom third in the league to middle of the pack. I guess they could start giving up easier shots so their opponents miss less and there are less opportunities for offensive rebounds... That would work.

JP: As with the defense, the Suns simply don't have the horses to be a great rebounding team. Plumlee is the best the team has, yet he's the one often challenging shots in the paint and when he's not doing that his lack of proper box-out technique leads to giving away boards to the other team. It is going to have to be a team effort, and I mean that literally: the Suns have to outwork their opponent on the glass every night.

4. The three-point shot is a novelty, but the team has fallen in love with it as of late. Is that a good or a bad thing?

KH: For a team that boasts one career three-point threat on the roster they do seem to love hoisting up the long-ball a lot. With two attacking point guards there are opportunities for drive and kick-outs for open looks at the three, but the issue is that there is nobody attacking the rim (with or without the ball) with the point guards. Again, human nature. Once you are doing something well it becomes easier and easier to over-rely on that even when it is not the most economical option.

SJ: I think it's a necessary evil. This team doesn't have as many consistent shooters as an offense like this normally needs, but it still needs to put up those three pointers simply based on how the gameplan is designed. With two primary ball-handlers, a stretch 4, and one rolling big man, it makes total sense for this team to heavily orient itself around three-pointers, fast-breaks and layups/dunks, and limit most other shots. Frankly, that's smart coaching.

SS: For the Suns, it's been a good thing. The Suns have several players who can shoot the ball fairly efficiently from beyond the arc...Tucker, Green, Marcus, Dragic, and Frye. The Suns depend on a spread offense, and utilizing their spacing by incorporating their three-point shooting is effective for them. This is one of the Suns' biggest weapons, and as long as they aren't taking bad shots or forcing the three when they have higher-percentage shots available to them, I see it as a big positive.

JC: That's an interesting question. On the surface it seems that since they are getting 1.1 points per shot from three then they should let them fly, but what are the long term effects? Does the entire team just start settling for, or myopically focusing on, three point attempts? A team needs a certain level of versatility. If we become overly predictable, it seems teams would be able to stable down a one trick pony. If the Suns strategy of relying on so many threes is a viable route, shouldn't other teams with better shooters be able to implement it more effectively? Why not just build a roster with the 15 best three point shooters in the league, irrespective of their additional skill sets? There needs to be a balance, but I'm not sure what exactly that is or whether the Suns may have even already found it...

JP: The three-ball is definitely not a novelty. The Suns' rotation basically consists of two ball handlers, a big and a bunch of spot-up shooters. Therefore, the three is going to have to be a big part of their game (what a difference a couple months makes, eh?). However, I think they can get too caught up in jacking threes up in times. The team's two point guards, in particular, are each taking over three 3-pointers per game, and neither one is shooting over 32 percent. These two need to realize when the shot is falling and when it's not. The Suns are currently sixth in makes and fourth in attempts yet only 13th in percentage, and a lot of that comes from Dragic and Bledsoe. Oddly enough, the Suns are actually fifth in 2-point percentage yet they are bottom five in attempts. The three-ball is a big part of what these Suns do, but I would like to see them be a bit smarter about the shots they are taking and not rely on it quite as much.

DK: A team like this one has to live on the three, so yes it's a good thing. I wrote last week about this team's affinity for the three being higher than any Suns team in recent memory, yet the Suns are still a distant second to the Rockets in that regard. Taking lots of threes the way the Suns are taking them is a good thing. Most are open. It's a good scheme that should continue all year long.

5. Shot Distribution: The Suns are falling in love with the three-point shot (429 attempts, 3rd in the NBA), but they are one of the better mid-range shooting teams (49.2%) in the league. They have to do more of that, right?

SJ:

SS: Nope. If they shoot more mid-range shots, that percentage will most likely fall. I'd bet good money that they shoot that high of a mark from mid-range primarily because this offense tends to limit mid-range shoots compared to most other teams (and has a great mid-range shooter in Goran Dragic). You take what the defense gives you - if that means an open mid-range shot, so be it. But I don't think that's something the team needs to try and do more of.

JC: It's not always that simple. Not all shots are created equally. I mostly want the team taking quality shots rather than just shots at a specific location on the court. A wide open 18 foot jump shot in rhythm is better than a contorted, contested three point heave... or even an open 22 foot jump shot for that matter. Not every possession will result in a layup or corner three, but the goal should be to eliminate bad shots like the toe on the line three pointer... Not to mention that the little step away mid range jumper is Goran's bread and butter (except that I just mentioned it).

JP: Read what Dave said below me. Then pretend I said it instead.

DK: No, they don't. Just because you make mid-range shots doesn't mean you should take more of them. The distribution is just right. Take enough to keep the other team honest, but otherwise it's a bad shot.

KH: The Indiana Pacers are an NBA Championship contenders because they execute two things better than any other team in the league. They play great team defense and blister teams from the mid-range. Obviously there is a talent gap between the Pacers and Suns, but with the Suns shooters, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe, the mid-range shot can be a threat that sets up the three (that they already love) and open more opportunities in the paint.

Shotchart_1385937351250_medium

Bonus: Goran Dragic has been playing the best basketball of his career numbers wise as of late. In his last six games 20.8 PPG 9.7 APG and shooting 52.0% from the field; no other point guard in the league is doing that. So, is this his team again?

SS: I've gone back and forth with this myself. I asked the same question in the latest player of the week article, and there's simply no way to know yet. If you asked me who's team t was 10 games ago I would have said Bledsoe, but now I'm not so sure. Dragic may not be ready to step down from his throne atop Mount Orange just yet. I do think either he or Bledsoe will eventually emerge as "the guy", but they will have to stop trading injuries and play together for a longer duration of time before we will know for sure.

JC: The fact that this question continues to be asked ad nauseam suggests to me that it is nobody's... Which isn't necessarily a problem on a rebuilding team. It will work its way out organically at one point or another, even if it's not this season and the player isn't on this team.

JP: I've maintained that Dragic is the team's best player from the beginning, and my stance hasn't changed. Don't limit it to just the last six games; over the 10 games he has both started and finished (take away the four games he left early with the injuries or came off the bench), Dragic has averaged 21.1 points on 50.3 percent shooting with 9.0 assists and 3.0 turnovers per game. I'd say that's pretty darn good.

DK: For now. The team will yo-yo between Bledsoe and Dragic having great stretches of games, and that's a good thing. Let's give them time to mesh and see how it shakes out by the end of the season. It's good for Goran that, with some attention elsewhere, he gets more open looks and an offense designed to make him and Bledsoe look good. If both can keep up the elbow jumpers all season, they will be even more dangerous (much like Russell Westbrook got more dangerous when he could make an elbow jumper).

KH: Back-and-forth and forth-and-back with this, right? Lets make this very simple; The team belongs to the best player on the team. Right now that is Dragic, for a stretch it was Bledsoe, and once upon a time it was Markieff. So there is that...

SJ: I said this last time this question was asked: it's both Dragic and Bledsoe's team. They're clearly the best players on this team. We unfortunately haven't gotten to see as much of them together as we had hoped, but we appear to be reaching that point of full health for both (knock on wood). Much noise was made this offseason about the dual-PG system the Suns would run, and rightfully so - this is the Dragon & Bled-show.

Bright Siders, what do you think?

Time: 6 p.m. MST TV: FSA For different and very obvious reasons, neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Memphis Grizzlies expected to be a middle-of-the-road team in 2013-14. The two squads will jostle...

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The Phoenix Suns appeared to be a team in transition, ready to play anyone and everyone in order to find "keepers" for the next great Suns team. Yet, a month into the season, coach Hornacek is playing a tight 8-man rotation loaded with league veterans.

Throughout the preseason, Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek played at least 14 guys every night. A rotation so deep was untenable during the regular season. But after years of watching Alvin Gentry and Lindsey Hunter play at least a 10-man rotation on a regular basis, the Suns seemed destined to ride the rotational turnstile yet again.

Still, the question was a good one. How deep would the rotation be, once the season started?

"Eight or nine guys would be ideal," coach Hornacek said before the season. "But with this team, where we are, that's probably not possible."

Hornacek was referring a rebuilding squad that would try to incorporate young players with a handful of veterans in a hodge-podge season sure to produce a lot more losses than wins. Throughout the preseason, the Suns had 17 players on it's active roster if you included rehabbing Malcolm Lee.

Certainly, there had to be some give. It helped when the Suns traded four players (Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, Kendall Marshall) for none (injured Emeka Okafor and a future first round pick), but that still left 13 playable guys on the roster.

A month into the season, one thing has become clear: these Phoenix Suns are running with an 8-man rotation

The 13 players did not include any All-Stars, no one who demanded minutes over every other player on the roster. We all knew Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic would play a lot, but who else would get 30+ minutes a night?

Looked like a deep rotation was in the offing.

Yet, a month into the season, one thing has become clear: these Phoenix Suns are running with a veteran 8-man rotation.

Picture_1_medium

We haven't seen an 8-man rotation in these here parts since the mid-2000s "Dantonis" graced the court.

But here we are. Eight guys average 22+ minutes, while no one else gets more than 12. Some of that limitation on the rotation has to do with Alex Len's lingering injury. Yet, I don't see where Len will get big minutes when he's healthy. Channing Frye is rounding into form and Miles Plumlee is earning his minutes as well. That's your center rotation at the moment, and for the foreseeable future.

Another mitigating factor is the play of Gerald Green. The 6'8" long-distance shooting Green has been playing like the perfect compliment to Dragic and Bledsoe. In fact, he's giving the Suns most of what they hope Archie Goodwin can someday produce. Goodwin's ceiling is higher on defense and scoring, but he's only 19 and is just not yet earning minutes over Green.

And frankly, the only reason Ish Smith and Goodwin even get 23 minutes a game between them is due to injuries to Dragic and Bledsoe. I expect the 8-man rotation to become even more pronounced as those players stay healthy.

There will always be 9 or 10 men in the box score each night, but it sure appears that only 8 of them will get long, consistent minutes.

And the ones getting long minutes are the veterans. While Hornacek instills his imprint on the team, he's using his veterans to set the tone. Of the top 6 minute-getters, 4 of them are 27 or older (Dragic, Tucker, Green and Frye).

One wonders if the rotation will be as tight or as veteran when spring rolls around, but for now you're looking at the best players playing the most minutes every night. Something Jared Dudley wished for last year, but didn't get.

Here is your formal weekly recap for the Phoenix Suns with a look at all the games, the news and notes, key stats, NBA Draft updates, Quote of the Week, and more. Let's get it...

Despite the ugly loss to end the week, the Phoenix Suns (9-8) had a strong week in terms of rebounding after a losing skid and getting back on track. That was largely due to the career best play of point guard Goran Dragic.

Game Recaps

vs. Portland Trail Blazers - W (120-106) Full Recap

@ Utah Jazz - W (112-101) Full Recap

vs. Utah Jazz - L (112-104) Full Recap

The positives this week outweigh the negatives, if you want negatives scroll down to the Key Stat, but lets take a moment to appreciate the play of Dragic this week.

In three games he averaged 21.3 points, 9.3 assists, 53.5% shooting (50% from three), and took 8.6 free-throws a game. The efficient manner that Dragic was able to lead the team in scoring, assists, and free-throw attempts was impressive. He made as many free-throws as field goals, 23.

Production at this level has never been done by Dragic in his NBA career. He has come close with a few three game windows last year, but nothing near the 19+ points 9+ assists 50+% shooting and volume of free-throw shooting.

Dragic out-played Damian Lillard and then took rookie point guard Trey Burke to finishing school after that.

He was more impressive than ever shouldering the offensive load showing his ability to score in a variety of ways. Play like this always evens out over the course of an 82 game season. Last year Dragic showed this was a side of his game that can be tapped into, but did not have any help so defenses keyed on him. This year that can change with more offensive weapons around him to take some of the defensive pressure off of him.

For scorers at the NBA level, outside of the elite, efficiency is not a focus, which is something that Dragic was able to display this week. He was 18/33 from two, 5/10 from three, and 23/26 from the free-throw line. Efficiency in a nut shell.

This was the type of play that was expected when the Suns signed Dragic last summer and it took a year longer to get there, but this year feels more like the real Goran Dragic.

The Week of the Dragon is over, can this be the Year of the Dragon?

Key Stat

-3.0 & -5.4

In football a clean jersey for the quarterback is a sign that the offensive line did their job, they did the dirty work that is largely unnoticed, but leads to winning. A parallel for that in basketball is offensive rebounding and second chance points. This week the Suns were -3.0 in offensive rebounds per game and because of that gave up an additional 5.4 points per game in second chance points.

An exclamation point on this: The Suns gave up 106.3 points per game this week on average. Of that, 50.0 points per game came in the paint (and 20.6 from the free-throw line) showing the glaring hole inside right now. That is 66.4% of the opposing offenses production coming off of effort and from the free-throw line in...

Quote of the Week

We have the second youngest team in the league, I felt great today and I a thirty, so its like shoot... No excuse. Lets go out and play. This is all we have to do today. -- Channing Frye after the loss to the Jazz

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have one lottery pick (theirs) and with the current projections they do not own four picks yet. It was a pipe-dream to begin the season, but still something to root for. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:

Timberwolves (9-10) -- No. 10 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) Somewhere between 8-10 the draft sees a bit of a cliff with the next tier. The T-Wolves get Kansas freshman guard Wayne Selden here.

Suns (9-8) -- No. 14 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) This is a soft part of the 2014 Draft where reaching is an option, but on the current Mock Draft Croatian wing Mario Hezonja is available and would be a solid pick up.

Wizards (8-9) -- No. 17 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) The Suns philosophy is to take the best player regardless of position and add elite athletes to the roster. Here they do both with Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell.

Pacers (16-1) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) The third and final first round pick can be a Hail Mary pick, like last year, and on the current Mock Draft Indiana freshman forward Troy Williams can be just that. Long, active, athletic forward that has shown flashes early this season.

News & Notes

  • Eric Bledsoe returned to action this week playing 28 minutes as a pair of games scoring 19 and 13 points respectively off the bench shooting 55.0% from the field.
  • Since the All-Star Ballots were released on November 15th, Markieff Morris has averaged 10.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 0.3 blocks on 38.8% shooting.

Suns History Lesson

This week in Suns History: December 8th, 1999 Charles Barkley's career came to an end in Philadelphia (playing for Houston) when he tore his left quadriceps on an attempted block...

This week in Suns History: December 9th, 1993 Kevin Johnson became the 13th player in NBA history to record 10 steals in a game...

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Tuesday, December 3rd @ Memphis Grizzlies (8-8)

Wednesday, December 4th @ Houston Rockets (13-5)

Friday, December 6th vs. Toronto Raptors (6-10)

The concept of the Suns playing to their opponents will be tested this month and that starts this week. Early in the season the Grizzlies have struggled to find consistency under a new head coach, but are at .500 and playing quality defense overall. Last year the Suns played some exciting games against the Grizzlies when they were contenders, and like the game against the Raptors on Friday to end the week, this will be a test of wills for the team.

Then there are the Rockets, who every team gets up for. They won the James Harden and Dwight Howard sweepstakes in back-to-back summers giving them the dynamic duo they were looking for.

Harden loves seeing the Suns. For his career he averages the most points per game (19.9) against the Suns that any other team that he has played at least 10+ games against. In his 14 games career against the Suns Harden is averaging 19.8 PPG 3.4 APG 4.7 RPG, maybe it is an Arizona State thing.

If the Suns catch themselves looking ahead they run the risk of dropping two out of three games.

The topics du jours are bad defense, bad losses and a (not bad) player who may be on his way to a career year. It's hard not to lead with the bad stuff, though, after the Suns just got blowed up by the worst team in the NBA.

Indefensible

After Dave King analyzed the reversal in fortunes in regards to the Suns defensive and offensive efficiency yesterday morning, things became even more pronounced later that evening.  The Suns surrendered 112 points to Utah, a season high for the Jazz, coupled with a season worst DRtg of 129.1.  It marked the first time this season the Suns have allowed an opponent to shoot over 50% (.513).  Utah is 25th in the league in FG% at .426. It was a grossly atypical performance by a team that has only broken 100 points three times (twice against Phoenix) in 18 games.

It is becoming a disturbing trend on defense for the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns DRtg for the season is 105.4 (points per 100 possessions), but over the last four games they have posted numbers of 115.3, 118.1, 117.4 and 129.1.  The Suns have also been scoring more points per possession recently with ORtg numbers of 99.1, 133.6, 130.2 and 119.9.  This has happened while the pace has slowed down to 89 possessions per game, down from the season average of 94.  The Suns pace is actually slightly below the league average.

So the game has slowed down and the Suns have become worse defensively.

Allowing better shooting is part of that.  The Suns have allowed seven of their last eight opponents to shoot above 45%, which is both the league average and what the Suns have held their opponents to on the season.  Some of it is only forcing an average of 12.4 turnovers over the last seven games.  That was after pressuring their opponents into 17.1 over the first 10.

The defense has just lacked it's vivacity and tenacity... and if they continue to trend towards becoming a lackluster defensive team it seems unlikely they can muster enough offensive punch to offset that.

The Western Conference is stacked and deep... and likes to score in bunches.  12 of the 14 teams in the league that average more than 100 points per game are in the West.  That's basically the whole damn conference.  The Suns just got done getting torched by two (Sacramento and Utah) of the three teams that don't.

Speaking of getting torched by crap teams...

Lamentable Losses

When the Suns sprinted to a 5-2 start they had played everyone competitively and both of their losses were to two of the league's elite (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).  The Suns have been more tepid in their last 10 games, going 4-6, and have suffered some losses that are either bellwethers or inexcusable lapses.

The most recent of these puppet shows was a 112-104 loss to the Jazz at US Airways Center last night that gave Utah its first road win of the season. While I was reveling in the midst of an obstreperous crowd in Tempe cheering on the Sun Devils Kris Habbas texted me that the crowd at USAC was half asleep. Quite fitting since the Suns were playing  like they were in a coma.

The Suns have actually been humbled four times this season at the hands of the Sacramento Kings (twice), Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets.  Those three teams are a combined 4-2 against Phoenix and 8-35 against everyone else.

Those losses are compounded by the fact that the Suns have already exhausted five (out of eight) of their games against (apparently) the only two really bad teams in the Western Conference. Sacramento is 4-10 (14) and Utah is 3-15 (15), but the Pelicans (13) are actually the only other team in the conference under .500 at 7-8.  A 4-1 mark against those two measly squads could have the Suns sitting at 11-6.  Two teams who have only seven wins combined with nearly half of them (three) against the Suns...

In total, the Suns have played seven games against the bottom three teams in the West. That's seven of their 17 games.  They are 4-3 in those games.  Once again, not the best example of exploiting their early schedule.  The overall difficulty of the Suns' schedule has been buoyed by five games against the top three teams in the West and a game against the Heat in the East (one of only two good teams in the East).  The Suns are 2-4 in those games.

That leaves four games remaining against Charlotte (8-9), Orlando (6-10), Brooklyn (5-12) and Denver (9-6).  The Suns went 3-1 against this group with a quality win against Denver, albeit a Nuggets team that went to 1-4 with that loss and is 8-2 since.

All of this has culminated in a fairly imbalanced schedule.  The Suns have played 12 games against the top three and bottom three in the West, but only one against the middle eight.  A dramatic shift will occur this month as the Suns play nine of their thirteen games against those teams in the middle of the pack, all of whom have winning records.

By mid to late December we may finally have a good idea of how good the Suns actually are, although they are easily better than the catastrophic congeries that some foresaw. What we do know is that the Suns have failed to show a behavior that many good teams possess - winning the games they are supposed to win.  Instead the Suns have shown a proclivity to be hoodwinked into playing down to the level of their competition... Something that portends rather ominously in the West, where it appears possible that multiple teams with winning records will miss the playoffs.

ICMF

Frye is 20-40 from three point range over his last six games.  It is the first time in his career that he has made at least 20 three pointers in a six game stretch while shooting at least 50% from three point range.  Apparently the cold stuff is still coursing through his veins.

He is averaging 17.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game over this period.  In fact, Frye is matching or exceeding nearly all of his career numbers.  Only his rebounding is a little bit down.  His shooting efficiency is just a shade below his magical career season in 2009-10. In fact, lets look at where he rates out in a couple of areas compared to his career highs...

Turnovers per 36 - 1.2 (2)

Blocks per 36 - 1.2 (2)

Steals per 36 - 1.3 (1)

2P FG% - .534 (1)

3P FG% - .397 (2)

eFG% - .566 (2)

TS% - .582 (2)

Considering that Frye stumbled out of the block, he may very well be on his way to a career year.  This should be somewhat expected considering he is near the peak of athletic performance in terms of age (30), but is impressive considering the obstacles he has overcome.

Despite all this success on the court, though, Channing did lose a bet recently that should lead to some great twitter fodder and BSotS cover art.  But more on that later...

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