Gortat's the man! (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

A week ago at this time, the Suns were slipping into darkness. They had completely fallen apart to the tune of a 4-game losing streak as of Ray's writing of last week's 'Week in Review' post. A respectable start had degenerated into embarrassing losses to Cleveland and New Jersey on consecutive nights and a 5-game east coast trip on the horizon.

After an embarrassing loss to Chicago (without Derrick Rose, even) that stretched the losing streak to 5 games, 2-time MVP Steve Nash finally found his handy dandy headlamp and carried the team through the darkness. Coach Alvin Gentry switched up the starting lineup, by moving Channing Frye and Jared Dudley back to the bench where they previously shined, and the team rebounded with gritty wins on the road against New York and Boston. The wins were by no means pretty, but wins are wins. All wins count the same.

Did I use the word 'wins' enough in that last paragraph? It's a nice word. Can't possibly be overused.

As the Suns enter a new week, let's take a deeper look into the week that was.

Record for the week (January 16-22): 2-1

Overall record for the season: 6-9

Western Conference Position: 12th

Even going 2-1 this past week, the Suns lost ground in the conference (they were 11th a week ago). It's going to be an uphill battle all season folks, so strap yourselves in for a bumpy and expectedly unpleasant ride. There are a lot of teams in the same talent range as the Suns, and too many with more talent. Read this article by Paul Coro - beat writer for the Suns - for a great breakdown of the west.

Offensive Rating: 101.8 (17th of 30); Points per game: 92.9 (18th of 30)

As you can see, the Suns are no longer an offensive juggernaut. They began to fade last season too, but not nearly to these levels. Grant Hill is slowly regaining his legs, which are key to his offensive arsenal of jump shots and breakaways. Jared Dudley and Channing Frye have been completely healthy, but haven't shot nearly as well this season as last season. And remember, this is the same top-5 as the second half of last year.

Over time, the offensive rating should improve, but the days of leading the league in scoring are gone. The Suns simply don't play fast enough anymore.

Defensive Rating: 103.8 (20th of 30); Points allowed per page: 94.7 (17th of 30)

The Suns' defense improved again this week, against New York (88 points allowed) and Boston (71 points allowed). Only the Chicago game was a real stinker (whopping 118 points allowed). If the Suns are going to win half their games this year, they need a defense in the top half of the league. A healthy Grant Hill will go a long way toward that end. He really put the screws to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce last week. Plus, Ronnie Price hounded Ray Allen into a poor night as well.

As you can tell from the offensive and defensive ratings, the Suns are a bit below average. Their 6-9 record is no aberration.

Game of the week: Suns 79, Celtics 71

The Suns played really good defense in this game, as Ray told us after the win.

The Celtics "Big Three" tallied only 36 points combined as the Suns played a stifling, ball-hawking defense that is foreign to most Suns fans. Sure, the Celtics are aging and their offense was discombobulated with Rondo out, but the Suns played defense with a ton of energy.

The game was so recent, let's just hit the link to the game recap and bask in the glory.

Stud of the Week: Steve Nash

While Marcin Gortat has been stellar all week, it's the magical return of Steve Nash to his MVP form that has made the Suns a winner these past two games. Nash is hitting that on-the-run-3 from the right elbow again and driving to the basket for twisting behind-the-head layups for the first time since... well, he hasn't hit those shots with ease and regularity in a long, long time. Makes me smile all big and goofy.

Nash's week produced averages of 20 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds. Very nice.

Honorable mention to the inimitable Marcin Gortat, with averages of 16 pts, 13 rebounds and almost 2 blocks this past week.

Dud of the Week:

Channing lost his starting job, and no one was surprised. He's been so maddeningly inconsistent. Even when we thought he was breaking out of his shooting slump in time to go on a hot streak, he didn't. And he's not producing much of anything else, either.

Channing's week: averages of 5 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, along with 3 fouls in 20 minutes per game.

Not many other duds, really. Unless you count Michael Redd, who sat the last 2 games. The team had a pretty good week, overall.

Outlook

The team finally comes back home, and at worst it will be a 2-3 trip. if they can slip past Dirk-less Dallas tomorrow, I will rejoice. After that, the Suns host Toronto, hit the road to Portland and then host Memphis. Not a good sked overall. Better hope for wins against Dallas on 2 rare days rest, then lowly Toronto at home.

Think positive!


Mike and Amare got what they wanted. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

I watch Amare Stoudemire play these days - specifically against the Suns last week, and against Denver last night - and can't help but feel for him.

As a power forward who does not control the ball at the beginning of a possession, Amare is wholly dependent on the scheme and the players around him to get him the ball where he can score. Once Amare gets the ball in the post, or on the pick-and-roll, he scores it better than nearly any player in the league. There's a reason Amare is paid more than $16 million per year. He's worth it.

However, his presence becomes nothing more than a decoy when the guy holding the ball is Carmelo Anthony. Anthony took 18 shots to Amare's 2 in the last 22 game minutes - 4th quarter plus 2 overtimes. Oh, and the Knicks lost because Denver started triple-teaming Melo, who went 2 for 8 in the overtimes, while Amare's only shot came with 7 seconds left in a 6-point deficit.

To hear the Knicks' gamecallers on NBATV, this was no aberration. It's simply life with Carmelo. Anyone but Melo is now just a decoy. Sound familiar? Remember when the Nuggets were considered selfish and full of too much one-on-one heroism? That disappeared last February. Since Melo was traded, Denver has become a MUCH better team.

And now, Amare gets what he asked for. Well, not exactly I guess. He wanted to be the man in New York. He wanted to be Batman. And he wanted a few Robins around him. I doubt he envisioned the Robin that he actually got, in Carmelo Anthony.

In the fourth quarter and 2 overtimes of last night's nip-and-tuck game against Denver, Amare TOUCHED the ball no more than a handful of times. And he took 2 shots: one that drew free throws in the 4th, and then a meaningless 3-ptr with 7 seconds left in the second overtime with a 6 point deficit. That's 22 minutes of game time (12 fourth quarter + 2 five-minute overtimes), where one of the greatest scoring machines in the NBA barely touched the ball. He must have been double or triple teamed to deny him the ball, right? Uh, no. He was being defended in those 22 minutes by either Al Harrington or Nene.

It's just that once Carmelo Anthony got the ball, he was going to take the shot. And for some reason, he got the ball on nearly every Knick possession. If D'Antoni had visions of Anthony making smart choices with the ball, he was sorely mistaken. In the first three quarters (36 minutes of play), Carmelo Anthony went 1-12 on shots. ONE FOR TWELVE. So what does he do in the fourth quarter and 2 overtimes (22 minutes of play)? He takes 18 more, of course. Buoyed by three successful layups to start the run, he made half of those (9-18) and drew two additional shooting fouls. That's good right?

Not when Denver realized Anthony had tunnel vision and started triple-teaming him in the overtimes. They literally left two Knicks open on each possession, knowing Anthony wouldn't bother passing the ball. How could they know this? How could George Karl be so reckless with the game on the line? Oh yeah, Anthony played in Denver for 7 years. After going 7-10 in the 4th, Anthony shot only 2-8 in the two overtimes, and Denver won the game.

And before you blame D'Antoni for the 18 to 2 differential in shot attempts between his 2 stars, remember that Anthony did this same thing to George Karl for years. Once Anthony left, Karl now magically coaches a team that passes and shares like crazy. And before Anthony arrived on D'Antoni's doorstep, Mike's teams passed and shared like crazy. Who's the culprit again?

Which brings us back to the theme of this post. Two ex-Suns - Mike D'Antoni and Amare Stoudemire - thought they'd found their panacea. They thought they could step out from Steve Nash's (and Robert Sarver's) shadow and show that the Suns' success was really about them. And that if they could just get that meddling owner out of their hair, life would be grand.

But the problem with real life is that we humans make too many assumptions. We make decisions to fix or eradicate the "bad", assuming that what's "good" will always be there for us because we're the ones who brought the good.

It never crossed Amare's mind that maybe just maybe it could be worse in New York than it was in Phoenix with 3 WCFs in 7 years. He thought he could do better than being the #2 on a contender, living in a city that loved him and playing with a point guard who got him the ball every chance he got.

It never crossed Mike D'Antoni's mind that it could be worse in New York than it was in Phoenix with 2 WCFs in 4 years. He thought he could do better than a roster tailor-made to his coaching, than a PG who knew how to run Mike's offense better than anyone in history, than a front office who wanted to win despite a tight (yet, luxury-tax spending) budget.

Well guess what?

Mike D'Antoni might be out of a job real soon, and his inability to control strong personalities like Carmelo will severely hinder his future head-coaching possibilities. Maybe he actually DID have it pretty good in Phoenix.

Amare Stoudemire has already found himself mentioned in trades, because it's obvious to everyone that Amare + Melo will not bring a championship to New York. And since Amare is dependent on Melo to pass him the ball, Amare is the one who is quickly becoming the more tradeable piece. And with 4 years left on his guaranteed contract, Amare has NO say on where he might be headed.

Sometimes, you get what you asked for. Unfortunately, it's not always what you expected.

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The one story that won’t go away this season features this simple yet excruciating question: Will the Suns trade Steve Nash, and if so what can they get for him? Every time they lose a few...

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Did Gortat add a post game?

Through the first 15 games of this compressed season, few things have been consistent for the Phoenix Suns. Many players have gone through ups and downs already including the likes of Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, who have been very consistent in the past. However, the two-time MVP and aging superstar of the Suns, Steve Nash, has continued to play at an all-star level in what could be his last year in a Suns' uniform. The only other player on the roster who has also played consistently well is Marcin Gortat, the relatively new starting center for the Suns who has been registering all-star caliber stats since joining the team just over a year ago.

Marcin Gortat was widely regarded as the best back-up center in the league while playing in the shadow of Dwight Howard in Orlando. However, because he was playing behind the best center in the league and rarely saw substantial minutes, it was hard to gauge just how good he really was. The Suns took a chance on Gortat when Robin Lopez struggled to get back to form after returning from a back injury that affected his jumping, movement, and overall athleticism.

The Suns were looking for a tough, defensive-minded player who could provide quality minutes at the center position, but it was unclear exactly how effective Gortat could be on offense since he was still viewed as being slightly raw and unpolished in that regard. After the trade, Gortat quickly found success in Phoenix and exceeded even the loftiest of expectations on both sides of the court. After about four months of outplaying Lopez who remained a starter, Gortat was moved into the starting lineup and never looked back. Gortat finished the season averaging an impressive 13pts, 9.3rbs, and 1.3blks a game during his time in Phoenix, and also did very well defensively.

How has Marcin Gortat shaped up for the Suns so far this season? Do the Suns have a legit all-star caliber big man to build around in the coming seasons even after Nash retires or signs elsewhere? Read on for some analysis.

During the off-season, many fans wondered if Gortat could continue to flourish in Phoenix or if his performance last season was more of a fluke. Even with his numbers, many fans and analysts still noticed some sizable holes in Marcin's game. One area in particular that Gortat seemed to struggle with was his post game, even when matched up against smaller or less effective defenders. Many questioned if Gortat would ever take the next step in becoming a true all-around center by developing an ability to score inside without having to catch the ball while already in motion.

Gortat worked out in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon for a week during the off-season, and so far it seems to have helped. While Marcin hasn't perfected the dream shake, he has already added a slightly different version of it to his arsenal along with other post moves that he has seemingly improved upon.

Here's a video of some highlights during their time together, and some moves that should look familiar to what we've seen from Gortat during these first 15 games:


Here's a video of highlights from his game last night against the Celtics:


It's easy to see that Gortat has been working hard at improving his overall game, and while he still has more room for improvement, this is a good sign that he has not yet reached his ceiling and could conceivably get even better. He may not have the upside of a young, athletic player just coming into the league, but one should also remember he has only been in the NBA for four years and has only been starting for less than one. So far, he has done a remarkable job in making the most of his opportunity in Phoenix and continues to get better.

Here are Gortat's stats so far this season compared to who many consider to be the best center in the Western Conference, Andrew Bynum:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2011 - Marcin Gortat 15 29.9 6.7 11.1 59.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.4 2.2 63.6 2.1 7.3 9.3 0.8 1.7 0.7 1.6 2.0 14.7


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2011 - Andrew Bynum 13 34.3 6.5 12.2 53.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.8 5.2 52.9 3.8 9.8 13.6 1.3 2.5 0.5 1.9 2.5 15.8


Looking at his stats thus far compared to Bynum's the biggest difference is in the rebounding, where Bynum is averaging about four more per game. Bynum is also scoring about one more point per game then Gortat, but that's also while averaging about four more minutes of playing time. Bynum also attempts more free throws per game but Gortat makes them at a better percentage, even though his numbers are actually down this season (I expect his percentage to go up). Gortat is also scoring more efficiently from the field, averaging nearly 60% to Bynum's 53.5%.

This comparison isn't made to suggest that Gortat is better or even as good as Bynum, but instead to show that his numbers are at least comparable. Now I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that Bynum and Gortat are completely different types of players. Bynum is a bigger and stronger player who bullies his way into and around the paint for most of his baskets and rebounds. Gortat is quicker, more agile, and a better shooter who uses those qualities to his advantage in both of these areas. However they are both very effective in what they do.

In my opinion, Gortat possesses the natural ability, skill, and work ethic to be a very effective player for this team and should even continue to improve because of his work ethic, which is something many people did not believe was very likely in the past. Gortat may not possess elite size or leaping ability, but he uses his strengths to his advantage very well. At nearly 28 years old he isn't a young player but he certainly isn't old either, and his limited mileage over his first few seasons in the NBA could help extend his career as well.

I believe the Suns would be well served to build around Gortat after Nash, and fortunately he is still under contract for two more seasons after this one at a very reasonable $7 million a year, so the front office will have plenty of time to further evaluate him. I expect Gortat to continue to develop into one of the premier big men in the league, and his versatility may also allow the Suns to explore using him at both the center and even the power forward positions in the future.

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Everyday I'm hustlin'! (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

When Markieff Morris was picked at #13 overall in last June's draft, the collective moaning began. Conventional wisdom had him a worse player than several power forwards still on the board - including Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried and twin brother Marcus - as well as rookie scoring revelations Iman Shumpert and Marshon Brooks.

But the moment Suns fans and coaches saw Markieff play his first NBA game, they realized they had a gem. Morris is a tough guy who hustles, rebounds, blocks shots AND can score from the post as well as hit 3-pointers with aplomb. He's got all the skills wrapped up in a Philly-raised package of toughness and moxie.

Morris' comment before the Laker game this month, thanks to Paul Coro:

"If they leave me open, I'm going to shoot it. If they're not watching tape, I'm just going to keep popping it and be an unexpected shooter."

But Markieff does have an achilles' heel. He is a starry-eyed rookie when it comes to current or former MVP candidates he's been watching his whole life. Some of his worst NBA games have come when he's matched up against Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

Here's Morris talking about playing these guys, to Paul Coro of the Republic and azcentral.com:

Question: Is it uncanny to you to be going against guys you watched on TV last year?

Answer: Yeah, but I'm still waiting on the Kobes and LeBrons. I was star-struck when I played against Dirk (Nowitzki). I was just like, "Man, I'm really here playing on the floor with these guys." I'm just happy to be part of the team.

Q: How much did you end up covering Nowitzki in the game?

A: Two possessions. I even fouled him. I was happy to foul him at least.

His line against the Mavericks: 2-4 shooting points (0-1 on threes), 5 rebounds, 4 fouls in 17 minutes

His line against the Lakers: 0-4 shooting (0-1 on threes), 3 rebounds on 15 minutes

His line against the Celtics: 0-3 shooting (0-1 on threes), 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers in 20 minutes

And even beyond these stat lines, Morris has looked as awestruck as he said he was. His shots were rushed, hitting off the back iron or even missing the hoop entirely.

His line against everyone else*: .50% shooting (51% on threes), 6 rebounds, 10 points in 22 minutes

*(includes a 1-minute stint against the Hornets in game 5. No idea what happened there...)


He did play well with Tim Duncan on the floor, and laid an egg against the likes of journeyman Kris Humphries, so his struggles are definitely not confined to superstar opponents.

Rookies have highs and lows. They don't yet know how to mentally prepare for the NBA schedule, and if you're not mentally prepared then your body and energy will fluctuate unexpectedly.

But for a guy who seems have it all figured out, and who seems to prove it on most nights by making hustle plays on one end (steals, blocks) followed by draining an open jump shot on the other end, he just seems to lose a bit of that luster when the opponent is someone he's been watching since he was a kid.

And now that he is a starter for the foreseeable future, he will be facing superstar power forwards on a regular basis. Let's hope he gets over those rookie, starstruck jitters fairly soon.


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