Remember all that talk about small sample size at the beginning of the season when the Phoenix Suns were just a cute tanking team that forgot tank? Well, the sample has grown and the results are impressive. Here are some takeaways.

Tonight's game against the Indiana Pacers will mark the halfway point of the Phoenix Suns' season. Remember all that talk about small sample size at the beginning of the season when the Suns were just a cute tanking team that forgot to tank? Well, the sample has grown and the results are impressive. Here are some takeaways.

PHACT: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragi? are an amazing backcourt tandem. Dave went into the offensive creation numbers here. But with both players averaging 18 points and 6 assists together, they proved the experiment worked. Here's hoping we get more of the same when Bledsoe's knee heals.

PHICTION: The Suns are an elite defensive team. After starting the season playing lockdown top 5 defense, the Suns have drifted back towards the middle of the pack, with a just-barely-above-average Defensive Rating of 105.9. But they're 11th in opponent field goal percentage, allowing a respectable 44.9%. No slouches, but not the shutdown D of early in the season.

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PHACT: Miles Plumlee is a legit NBA center. After trading away arguably the best Suns center this side of Shaquille O'Neal, there were questions about how gooey the Suns middle would be with rookie Alex Len sidelined with surgery. Frequent Flier Miles answered with an 18 point, 15 rebound debut against the Trailblazers. While he hasn't maintained those numbers, 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game are more than Suns fans could have hoped for. (Corollary fact: The Suns fleeced the Pacers.)

PHICTION: Channing Frye lost his shooting touch. Frye got off to a rough start, going 11 of 38 (28.9%) from long range in his first 10 games. Since then, he's been a blazing 44.1%. Even with the poor start, he's having his second best season in terms of 3PT% and points per game (12.4) of his career. Coming off a career-threatening heart problem, it's been a great comeback story inside the Suns' own comeback story.

PHACT: Kendall Marshall is a legit NBA point guard. Yeah, this is only tangentially related to the Suns, but credit where it's due. He's averaging 12 points and 11.8 assists per game and shooting a Channing Frye-like 44.7% from 3-point range (but a pedestrian 42.6% overall) on a putrid Lakers squad. The fact that he's getting 12 assists per game on a team that ranks 20th in field goal percentage is a testament to his ability to set guys up for easy buckets. (Still don't miss him.)

PHICTION: The rebuilding process is going to take 2-3 seasons. Welp, that was quick. The Suns are 2 games off their win total from all of last season. Winning 50 games and a playoff berth are completely in play if the team can hold its own until getting it's other star point guard back. The bar has been reset from lotto pick to future ‘ship in a few short months.

PHACT: Jeff Hornacek is a wizard. OK, maybe not The Wizard from Wallace and Ladmo, but way back in August, he stated goals of having players take more efficient shots and scoring over 102.9 points per game. As it stands, the Suns are scoring 103.9 points per game and taking 30.6% of their shots from 3-point range and another 46.8% in the paint. Less than 1 in 4 of their shots are from the dreaded "long 2" part of the court.

Yes, the Eric Bledsoe injury has put a damper on expectation of late. The wheels could still come off this almost-Cinderella season. But halfway through this NBA season, the Phoenix Suns have given fans way more to celebrate than denigrate. That's a welcome change from the sample size of the 2012-13 season.

Got your own Phoenix Suns Facts and Fictions, or other tales of an expanding sample size? Share them in the comments! (And apologies to Jacob Padilla for jacking his phunny way of spelling philm.)

We examine how the Suns and Pacers trade from this past offseason has worked out for both teams.

There is an awkward reunion tomorrow at US Airways Center when the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers meet for the first of two times this season.

For a full understanding of how a trade between these two teams went down you have to go all the way back to the summer of 2012.

In an attempt to reshape the Suns roster then general manager Lance Blanks claimed Rockets forward Luis Scola off amnesty waivers.  They got him on a three-year deal in the $12 million range and the final season of the contract wasn't guaranteed. Word at the time was that the Suns strategically offered just a bit more than any other probably bidder was able to offer, in order to secure his services.

We all know how 2012-2013 season went for the Suns and obviously Scola, who at this point in his career was nothing more than an average player, no longer fit their plans.

Enter the Pacers, a team that was one game away from the NBA Finals.  Indiana's roster was built around a stellar starting five featuring Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill. Arguably the best starting group in the NBA, but man was the bench a mess. The reserves were the main reason the team only won 49 regular season games.

Gerald Green was brought in last offseason to give the Pacers bench unit some pop coming off a solid season with a bad Nets team. But Green was buried on the Pacer depth chart behind high-minute players Paul George (37.6) and Lance Stephenson (29.2). Green only played 18.0 minutes per game, never finding his stroke, shooting 36% overall and only 31% on threes.

Miles Plumlee was drafted with 26th pick during the first round of the 2012 Draft.  Plumlee only played in 14 games for 55 minutes total his rookie year. Plumlee was third on the depth chart at center, behind Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi.

Current Suns general manager Ryan McDonough saw an opportunity to buy low on two players and it has worked out better than I imagine he expected. This is before even mentioning Phoenix will get Indiana's first round pick in the upcoming draft (it's only 1-14 protected).

The completed deal looked like this:

  • Suns acquire 25-year-old Miles Plumlee under team control until on a rookie deal through 2015/2016, Gerald Green' remaining two contract years ($3.5 million per season) and a first round pick.
  • Pacers acquire 33-year-old Luis Scola.

How McDonough got the Pacers to include a first round pick for a player he most likely would have released at the end this season I have no idea.  Based on how NBA trades work it's not crazy to think the Suns should have been the team including a first round pick even without knowing Plumlee would exceed the wildest expectations.

Plumlee has produced nearly 10 points and 9 rebounds a game, while ranking in the top 10 in blocked shots per game (1.65) and top 15 in defending the rim (allowing just 47% FG on 10 attempts this year).

In addition to how Plumlee has performed, Green has at least been close to the version he was with Brooklyn in 11-12. His 43% FG/37% 3P FG aren't matching the 48% FG/39% 3P FG from that season, but with the increased volume in his three point attempts, a career high 8.4 per 36 minutes, his true shooting % is only .08% lower.

The importance of Plumlee is multi-faceted. His play on both sides of the ball have been huge to the Suns success this season, but he's also allowed them to bring along fifth overall pick, 20 year old Alex Len slowly. Coach Hornacek recently said that without Plumlee the team would be under .500, and McDonough and Babby have both said that Plumlee's work in August and September with assistant coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison gave them the confidence to trade incumbent center Marcin Gortat for ANOTHER first round pick.

Len is five years younger than Plumlee and has more long range potential despite the former Blue Devils' excellent play this season. As their 2013 top pick becomes ready to take on more responsibility in the future, Plumlee could be a piece to include in a trade for a more valuable commodity. Or, Plumlee could be Len's insurance policy at least until his rookie deal expires (2 more years after this one).

From a Pacers perspective, Scola has brought exactly what they expected. The drop off when they go to him from David West no longer crumbles their second unit. It's not only Scola, but also the addition of C.J. Watson and return of Danny Granger has made them a better-balanced team.

In retrospect, Indiana probably could have acquired a better piece than Scola for the three assets they gave up. In the end their offseason, while not perfect, has been good enough to help them become the best team in the NBA and arguably the favorite to win the NBA Title.  Hard to complain about much when that's the place you've put yourself.

Alex Len put forth the best effort of his young career in a blow-out win over the Denver Nuggets. What can fans expect to see from the young 7-footer moving forward?

According to Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, No. 5 pick Alex Len was the Suns' No. 1 target in the 2013 NBA Draft. He possessed rare size and athleticism, which is why the Suns saw so much value in him. However, to this point he has appeared in only 12 games and played 83 minutes while dealing with ankle soreness stemming from his offseason surgeries. Getting virtually nothing from your top five pick has to be pretty disappointing.

However, the Suns believe in Len and were willing to take things slow and do whatever they needed to to get him healthy and keep him that way. They brought him along slowly, allowed him to build up some strength, and now Len is back on the court. The Suns' caution is paying off, as Len is starting to make a difference off the Phoenix bench.

In the Suns' 117-103 victory over the the Nuggets, Alex Len had the best game of his very, very brief career, posting highs in every category. He played 16 minutes, scored nine points on 3-4 shooting, hit 3-4 from the line and pulled down six rebounds (four of which came on the offensive end). He was a big part of a dominant bench performance as Markieff Morris, Leandro Barbosa and Ish Smith all made big contributions as well, and that should continue to be the case moving forward as Len gains experience.

"It was huge," Frye said about the bench. "Anytime we can get the bench that many minutes, especially Alex Len who missed the beginning of the season, is awesome. I thought he did well. He is learning. He is bigger than I think people think. For them to get that chemistry going is huge. They have been there for us a lot of times this year. You have to think about the bigger picture. I am always thinking about the bigger picture. That is great that they got those minutes to get there and guys like Goran who are constantly throwing their body around and falling all over the ground and stuff get some rest."

Let's take a look at how Len was able to make such a big impact in limited playing time.

*Video clips used below were taken from

Len is a legit 7-foot-1 center with long arms, but he's not your typical immobile big guy. In addition to being gigantic, he's also very athletic and fast, which he uses to his advantage. Here are a couple of examples from the Denver game that shows how quickly he can get down the floor.

As well as he can run, Len is still really tall and he uses his length to his advantage in every facet of the game.

"He is tall. He is long," Channing Frye said. "He is so long and tall that he is really another addition to our team."

He flashed that size on a couple of possessions against Denver, and I also went back to the Memphis game to showcase his defensive potential.

Len is still working his way back to full health after all the time he missed. He's still getting back in shape, adjusting to the speed of the NBA game and continuing to add strength to his frame. Len is big now, but as he continues to mature physically he can become even more of a force inside.

One thing that Len doesn't need much work on is his rebounding. His instincts are phenomenal and his fundamentals are sound. When the ball goes up, he's at the rim fighting for position almost every time. Pay attention to his timing, how he secures position rather than just running to the ball and how he fights to get a hand on it even when he doesn't have position.

Len is averaging a ridiculous 8.2 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, and 13.0 total rebounds per 36. Small sample size is clearly in effect, but his offensive rebound percentage is 24.7 percent, the highest mark of any player who has played 80 or more minutes. The only other player to match that feat is a 37-year-old Moses Malone, who only played 11 games. Len is still learning the rest of the game, but rebounding is one thing he can contribute right now on a consistent basis.

The Suns aren't asking Len to do very much right now, but Frye said the 20-year-old is only scratching the surface of his potential.

"I think Alex, eventually, once he gets things going can play the four," Frye said. "I think you are seeing simple Alex. We just ask him to rebound, roll to the front of the rim, block shots, and play defense. He is extremely talented and I see why they picked him five. He is just going to be another piece of that bench that is already big for us."

The Alex Len era is just beginning in Phoenix, and Suns fans have a lot to look forward to assuming he can stay healthy. He still has a long way to go, but he's starting to flash the potential that made him the No. 5 overall pick.

Time to recap the week that was with quotes, stats, a 2014 NBA Draft Update, a preview of the week ahead, and much more as we get to the Center of the Sun...

It is a difficult task to think back in recent years of a team that was a playoff contender, but had so many different barometers on whether they will win or lose a game. This years Phoenix Suns (23-17) are one of those teams. Sure, Goran Dragic is the man at the moment, but subtract any other player and this team could free-fall.

Game Recaps

@ New York Knicks - L (96-98 OT) Full Recap

vs. Los Angeles Lakers - W (121-114) Full Recap

vs. Dallas Mavericks - L (107-110) Full Recap

vs. Denver Nuggets - W (117-103) Full Recap

So far this season Channing Frye has won games with his shooting, Miles Plumlee with his energy, Gerald Green with his scoring in bunches, Ish Smith while lampooning a starter, and Markieff Morris with his efficiency.

The other names not mentioned are the obvious ones.

Obviously Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe have won games with their overall games and talent.

Obviously P.J. Tucker has won games with his toughness and workman's like mentality.

For this team the sum of the parts is the most important strength that they have. They may not fold like a house of cards if just one is removed, but they play a team brand of basketball that is conducive of having all the parts (or at least most of them) humming together.

This week was a prime example of that as the team was disjointed and a wreck in New York, which couldn't be salvaged despite overtime and the great play of Leandro Barbosa down the stretch.

Against the Lakers Markieff stepped up and against the Nuggets both Smith and Len played a major role.

"Next Man Up," is an old philosophy, but the Suns seem to have embraced that with this roster. Look at Smith when he is checking out of a game. Disappointed he is not closing when he is playing great. Coach Hornacek routinely has to give him a smile, pat on the back, and let him know he did his part. Everyone wants to close and the even more important revelation -- everyone feels like they can close.

That is a dangerous game that can create the biggest surprise in the NBA and the story of the year for the first half of the season, but also can create a house of cards. Through 40 games they have yet to fall over...

Key Stat

7.3 Minutes Per Game

Other than the overtime loss to the Knicks, rookie Alex Len played in every game this week and looked pretty good in each. He did not explode for greatness like Michael Carter-Williams then again he did not fall on his face like Anthony Bennett either. He was steady, rebounded, scored around the basket, and the Suns won two of the three games. Everyone on the roster and in the front office has spoke nothing but praise for the rookie as he is getting healthier and stronger every day to make a full capacity effort when he plays. He had a career-high nine points against the Nuggets and looked good doing so. Head Coach Jeff Hornacek is playing the Alex Len Card well so far. A very important card for this team to have.

Quote of the Week

"It was huge. Anytime we can get the bench that many minutes, especially Alex Len who missed the beginning of the season is awesome. I thought he did well. He is learning. He is bigger than I think people think.... He is tall. He is long. He is so long and tall that he is really another addition to our team. I think Alex, eventually, once he gets things going can play the four. I think you are seeing simple Alex." - Channing Frye

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 (19-21) -- No. 12 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) James Young, Freshman Wing Kentucky -- Same song and dance, the Wolves need shooting on the perimeter and Young is Michael Redd with a touch more athleticism.

Washington Wizards (19-20) -- No. 17 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Sam Dekker, Sophomore Forward Wisconsin -- Athletic, skilled, and can shot the ball. Dekker plays a smart, tough brand of basketball as well. Could be a Chandler Parsons type.

Phoenix Suns (23-17) -- No. 22 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) Jabari Bird, Freshman Wing California -- We all know how the Suns new talent evaluaters like athletes that can play both ways on the court. Bird is not dominating at Cal, but fits that mold as an athletic two-way player with three-point range.

Indiana Pacers (32-7) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Jordan Clarkson, Junior Guard Missouri -- A bit of a combo guard, but with a great first step, great size, and a vastly improved jump-shot Clarkson could be valuable in case the Suns lose either (or both) Eric Bledsoe or Ish Smith this summer.

Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.

News & Notes

  • Alex Len notched his career-high in minutes (16) and points (9) this week against the Denver Nuggets
  • Leandro Barbosa signed another 10-Day Contract through January 28th
  • Alex Len and Marcus Morris were fined a combined $40,000 for their roles in the altercation with Nick Young, who was suspended one game

Suns History Lesson

This week in Suns History: January 26th, 1995 -- Former Suns player Grant Hill became the FIRST rookie to lead the NBA in All-Star Votes received.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Wednesday, January 22nd vs. Indiana Pacers (32-7)

Friday, January 24th vs. Washington Wizards (19-20)

Sunday, January 26th @ Cleveland Cavaliers (15-25)

The long road trip ended last week and the long home stand ends this week against the best team in the NBA and one of those surrogates. This week is a "Welcome Back edition of Suns basketball as you were gone before we knew you Luis, Luis Scola returns to Phoenix for the first time since he was traded to the Pacers over the summer. Scola is back to being efficient, rebounding, and has adapted better to a bench role on a contender than he did here in Phoenix. The Pacers are the leagues best team for a reason. They are No. 1 in every defensive category from shooting percentage (FG, 3PT, 2PT), defensive rebounds, assists against, and points allowed. They get after teams on the defensive end and will know well the skill level of Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee.

Marcin Gortat also returns to Phoenix for the first time, but after 182 games with the Suns (139 as a starter) how will the Suns react to the Polish Hammer?

The Wizards foul a ton so an attacking, aggressive Suns team could put a lot of pressure on them scoring easy buckets at the foul line. They will need Goran Dragic and company to play inside and tap into that weakness all game. John Wall is having a career year, but if he and Dragic simply cancel each other out the Suns have the better coached team primed for a victory.

Then are the Cavaliers who are still the Cavaliers, outside of the Luol Deng addition (18.4 points 4.0 rebounds in five games), they are still an iso offense that can fall into funks. They shoot the ball poorly from mid-range to the three and seem to settle for a lot of those shots throughout the course of a game. They also cannot finish at the rim, but that is another story.

I can see a 2-1 week if the Suns are focused and aggressive from Dragic to Kravtsov.

The Phoenix Suns bucked an NBA trend this season by employing a pair of point guards whose primary offensive weapon is to drive to the rim and let everything else fall out of that. With Leandro Barbosa on hand, the Suns don't have to miss a beat without Eric Bledsoe.

Coming into the season, the Phoenix Suns planned to employ an unorthodox lineup of two point guards to run the offense from different sides of the floor and creating points off their drives to the rim.

Most of the NBA scoffed at the notion, pointing out that neither Goran Dragic nor Eric Bledsoe could properly compliment the other because neither was a good catch-and-shoot outlet, and that the Suns in general couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with jumpers, let alone the inside of the net, when those drives failed.

Drive, drive, and drive again

Yet, Bledsoe and Dragic produced a 10-3 December record together in the starting lineup (12-6 overall as paired starters) because their to-the-basket game was virtually unstoppable.

Goran Dragic is 5th in the league in drives* per game (9.4) and team points off drives (10.2, of which Dragic scores 4.6 himself on 48% shooting).

*Drive, per player tracking stats, is when a player starts 20+ feet from the rim and drives to within 10 feet or less before shooting or passing. Most importantly for this discussion, this stats excludes fast breaks.

Eric Bledsoe is 15th in the league in drives per game (7.5) and 12th in team points off drives (8.6, of which Bledsoe scores 5.9 himself), finishing 57% of those field goal attempts. That 57% conversion on drives ranks him 2nd in the league (to LeBron James) among players with 5+ drives per game.

But when Eric Bledsoe went down, half the Suns offense went with him. The Suns offense is designed around creating points off drives to the rim, but the next best driver was Ish Smith, ranked 86th in the league at creating 3.8 points per game off drives.

Beep beep!

Enter Leandrinho Barbosa.

When the Suns signed Barbosa after Bledsoe's injury, it was as if the waters parted and provided the Suns with a perfect partner for Dragic in Bledsoe's absence.

"He got to the hole several times," coach Hornacek said of Barbosa after the 117-103 win over Denver in which Barbosa had 13 points and 3 assists. "[It] doesn't even look like he is going that hard but he knows when to do it. He takes one or two dribbles and then he explodes and that explosive step is what gets him by people."

In only 5 games, after missing the past 12 months of NBA action due to a knee injury, Barbosa already ranks 31st in the entire league in drives per game (6.2) and 18th in points created off drives (8.6), despite only playing 22 minutes per contest.

Even better, his 54.2% field goal percentage on drives ranks him 7th in the league, among players who drive at least 5 times per game. Not bad for a guy who wasn't in the NBA two weeks ago.

"I think that could be a big weapon for us as we go forward," Hornacek said. "He can also make some plays and passes and kick outs and it will probably help our whole team. He has always liked to drive the ball."

Suns fans recall that Barbosa's game was tailor-made for creating points off drives. He never created a lot of assists. His career high is 4.0 in 32.7 minutes per game, with the next best season being 2.8 assists per game in 28 minutes. By contrast, Ish Smith is posting 2.3 assists per game this season in only 12 minutes per contest.

Still, the Suns look like a better offensive unit when he is on the court. Being paired with Dragic or Ish Smith is good for Barbosa so he doesn't have to run an offense. But this team doesn't employ traditional point guards. Their point guards are attackers who can handle and score. Dishing is only when the play doesn't work.

But it gets even better

We've only seen a portion of what Barbosa brings to the table though.

A career 40% three-point shooter, Barbosa has not taken or made many threes yet (just 1-8 so far). He's getting to the rim without even being a threat to drain the three.

When Barbosa gets completely comfortable in the scheme, expect his three-or-drive game to be an even better compliment to an already potent offense.

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