Last week we looking into the defensive potential of the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns. There are two sides to basketball and historically the Suns have been an offensive team capable of running up the score on their opponents nightly.

Things have changed and the team is trying to get back on track in general, can they be an offensive team?

Twelfth Topic: Let's Get Offensive

1. Breaking the Ice: Who is the Phoenix Suns best overall offensive player? Explain.

Jim Coughenour: If it's not Goran Dragic things will be looking up.  Goran led the Suns in both points and assists last season.  The fact that Goran's 14.7 per game was only good for 59th in the league speaks to the anemic nature of the offense as a whole last season... the lack of any true scoring threat.  Goran's 7.4 assists per game were good for 9th, however, among a list of pretty impressive names.  15 and 7.5 from Goran is good production, but needs to be the line from a third most prolific option rather than the #1 option.  Goran will also be the main motor for the offense, so there's that.  The only person I could really see challenging, or usurping, him this season would be EB... maybe with a 17/4.5 line.

Jacob Padilla: Goran Dragic is still the best overall offensive player on the team. He produces more points than anyone else on the roster between his scoring and distribution, and it's really not all that close. He's not incredibly efficient (although efficiency would be tough to come by on the team like last year's Suns), and his perimeter jumper needs some work, but he's still pretty good at creating shots for himself an others. Whatever else he may be, Eric Bledsoe is not a great scorer at this stage, nor is he a great distributor. Channing Frye isn't the best offensive player, per say, but he might have the most positive offensive impact. His floor spacing opens up lanes for penetrating guards like Dragic, Beldsoe and Archie Goodwin and gives the bigs like Marcin Gortat more room to work with in the paint.

Dave King: That's a good question. Kind of like asking "which pastel color is brightest?". None of these guys is 80s-bright when it comes to color scheme. Okay, enough of the HGTV references. Sorry. Wife. Anyway. The Suns best offensive player is likely Jeff Hornacek. He recently quipped that he's one of only a few players in NBA history with 15,000 points and 5,000 assists for his career (34 players have reached that milestone, to be exact). If he can teach these guys to take good shots, and design an offense with enough options to get those shots before the players panic and scrap the play, then he's golden.

Kris Habbas: Obviously this is hingent on health and ability to play, but Channing Frye is the most complete offensive player on the entire Suns roster. It is trendy to say Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic because of their general proximity to the ball on most possessions, but they can be limited by the defense. With Frye he is always going to be tall, can shoot, and brings versatility to the game. Last year Marcin Gortat struggled sans Nash, but with Frye's skill-set I can see him remaining a threat on the offensive end.

Richard Parker: For the 2013-14 NBA season, the Suns' best offensive player will continue to be Goran Dragic. Although the team has upgraded in overall TALENT, there won't be much in the way of immediate returns. Both rookies will take time to develop and Bledsoe's success most likely won't be in offensive efficiency categories. Dragic is still the team's best offensive player as of today. The hope is that won't be true after this season.

Sean Sullivan:  Dragic was the Suns' best overall offensive player last season, and while I think he could still hold that title next season, Eric Bledsoe should at least have a chance of being that guy.  Still, I think the odds on favorite is still Dragic...and that means the Suns will still struggle.

2. Should (or can) this team rely on offense to win games next season as they are currently constructed? Explain.

JP: As I said when you asked this about the defense, I don't think the Suns can rely on any part of their game to win games. They don't have enough good defenders to be a defensive team and they don't have enough good scorers or shooters to be a good offensive team. They're just not a very good team at this stage in the rebuild. The Suns' best shot to win games is probably going to be trying to make the game as crazy as possible. Play really fast. Get out in the open court. Pressure the ball and try to force turnovers. That's probably their best shot this season.

DK: Insomuch as the team will win games at all, yes. They need a quality offense with some unstoppable wrinkles in order to close out some games. Attacking the rim can only help, because it gets the opponents' big men in foul trouble. And when big men are in foul trouble, the opponent gets soft. And when the opponent gets soft, points come easier. Amar'e used to do that for the Suns. Now it's Dragic, Bledsoe and Goodwin who can do it this year.

KH: Absolutely not. As Dave alluded to in a previous article this team cannot shoot. The point guards are not elite pick-and-roll facilitators (or scorers for that matter) and do not have the ability to make offense out of nothing. Defenses can pack the paint and dare P.J. Tucker and Goran Dragic to beat them from the perimeter. Coach Hornacek talks about 102.9 points per game... If they are averaging more than 95.0 points per game more than 30 games in I would be surprised.

RP: Yes. The team's offensive talent outweighs its defensive muster, which really isn't saying much at all. The team can try to rely on whatever it wants or needs to win games but the truth of the matter is that the Suns will regularly be outmatched in terms of overall talent (both offensive and defensive) by other teams. The hope is that won't be true after this season.

SS:  I think that's about all they can rely on. This team is built for speed, with plenty of youth and athleticism, and a coach who seemingly wants to return to the fast, transition style of play.  The Suns really don't have any legit defenders besides Tucker, so i don't see how they can be expected to do anything but try to outscore their opponents.  Not saying it will happen, but that's about their only shot.

JC: Both games they win next season will likely be in dominating offensive efforts.  I don't think the team is playing away from their strengths or anything... it's just that their strengths are more like minor flaws.  It appears the team is scouring the landscape for players who they think will thrive in this type of system, but obviously there was more than one offseason's worth of problems to fix.  I think the Suns will score more points than last season, but not to the extent that it results in any more than a minor incremental difference in wins, if any.

3. Overall the numbers do not suggest this team will be efficient in terms of shooting. Their collective three-point shooting (30.4%) and True Shooting (50.2%) rank dead last with this current group compared to all 30 NBA teams last year. Their effective field goal (47.3%) shooting would be T-27th... In this case, do the numbers lie? Explain.

DK: I do believe that Hornacek will help the Suns improve on that figure and be more respectable from the field in 2013-14. While Gentry was a good offensive coach, he was a leader of men not a teacher of boys. Hornacek will have to teach these boys how to play efficient offense. He certainly knows it when he sees it, from a long and successful career.

KH: No. The numbers are an indictment of what this team will be. They are going to be a bad shooting team that struggles to score. It is nice to think the former prolific shooter that played on high powered offenses in the past will be enough to counter the porous roster of shooters, but he is the coach. Not a player. I am still wearing away the hangover from guzzling the Kool Aid from last years spin of a "more talented team" and fool me once, shame... Shame on me, fool me twice, and... YOU AIN'T GONNA FOOL ME TWICE!!!

RP: Since Hornacek seems to know when and where good shots are found and taken on the court, I strongly believe that the team will be more efficient on the offensive end compared to the putrid numbers they put up last year. However, the team does not have a single dead-eye long-range shooter. When Caron Butler is your best three point shooter, there are going to be MANY nights when your team is going to struggle with shooting numbers. The hope is that won't be true after this season.

SS:  Seems about right.  And to make it worse, the Suns lost one of their best three-point shooters when they sent Dudley to La-La Land.  If Frye returns he will at least help soften the blow, but I definitely don't expect the Suns to be lighting it up from beyond the arc this season.  Hornacek may have been a great shooter, but I'm not sold on the idea that he can make this group of players much better in that respect ... at least not yet.

JC: This definitely appears to be a team bereft of shooters.  Even worse, the best shooters on the team are veterans (Frye) and placeholders (Butler).  There has also been a great deal of tumult in the roster.  How will the new players adapt to Hornacek's system... will they regress by osmosis?  Will a fresh start have a positive impact on others?  I'm sure we'll see at least a couple players step up and improve upon career numbers, but I'm not expecting improvement to spread like wildfire.

JP: Not even a little bit. The Suns were every bit as putrid a shooting team as those numbers suggest. Combine a lack of multiple competent perimeter shooters with a dysfunctional offensive system and the 2012-13 Suns are what you get. Jeff Hornacek has been praised by many as a miracle-worker when it comes to improving players' jumpers, but he's not going to magically be able to fix all the broken shots on this team in one training camp. Assuming Frye plays this season, it's very possible we see more of the 2011-12 Frye that shot 34% than the one who was close to 40% the years before. Richard made a good point that the Suns will hopefully be taking better shots in Hornacek's system, but ultimately better shots by bad shooters still aren't great shots.

4. The team has talked about being an up-tempo team getting out in transition, but can they do that effectively with the current roster?

KH: To be a decent offensive team they are going to have to rely on turnovers, fast-breaks, and getting points in transition. They are not a shooting team, not a cohesive team that has tenure together, or efficient in the pick-and-roll. With that, plus a lack of developed talent the best way to be effective is to run, run, run.

RP: I definitely think so. Hornacek had the team run and score more than any other team in the 2013 Vegas Summer League. He will obviously have to deal with better defenses in the regular season, but with the likes of Dragic and Bledsoe, he can definitely have the team wreak some havoc in transition. Dragic scored 55% of his points in transition last year, a phenomenal number, while shooting 60% on those attempts. Bledose was a bit worse, but is no slouch when it comes to transition scoring: 47% of his points came in transition and he shot 53.6% on those attempts. Together, they can be a fast, fierce, and feisty back-court.

SS:  I think this HAS to be their bread and butter.  Dragic and Bledsoe both do very well playing at a fast pace and attacking the basket.  And if Goodwin sees substantial time, this is definitely his biggest strength as well.  Although Marshall cannot be counted on as an offensive weapon, he is very good at pushing the tempo and can also help keep the fast pace with the second unit.  The Suns need to play fast and furious in order to maximize the talent on their roster, and I think this is exactly what they will do.

JC: Creating opportunities to run and get better looks sounds like a good strategy to mask their offensive shortcomings. The looks the Suns get in transition will be better than the ones they get in half court sets, which may range from comical to calamitous.  If the Suns can win turnovers and fast break points on a regular basis it may help mitigate areas where they are less likely to be competitive.

JP: As I said above, they're going to have to. I do think the roster fits that style. Dragic, Bledsoe and Goodwin are all guys that can pressure the ball and force turnovers to start the break, an they're all at their best in the open court. The bigs are all pretty mobile an should be able to outrun opposing centers, and Gortat and Len are both capable of getting rebounds and blocking shots to start a break. The talent on the wings doesn't fit quite as well, but maybe even Shannon Brown and/or Gerald Green can find a way to use their athleticism and be effective.

DK: The team will certainly get out in transition often with the long arms and active hands of Dragic, Bledsoe and Goodwin. They will also gamble too much and give up lots of points from broken down rotations. But there promises to be a few good fast breaks per game that we haven't seen in the Valley since Shawn Marion was running the court.

5. Should they consider a slower tempo, run more pick-and-rolls, and try to control the pace of the game? Explain.

RP: Only if they're blatantly, explicitly, and disgustingly trying to lose every game they play. Hornacek knows that the best shots are quick ones a team takes after getting defensive stops, and that is what this team will need to do.

SS:  Not at all.  They simply don't have the right personnel for that type of offense.  Of course they won't be able to score in transition and run the floor at full speed on every possession, so they will have to incorporate some of this as well.  But their focus should be to get out and run as much as possible.

JC: I'll pass.

JP: Please, no. For my sanity. The pick-and-roll will be a significant part of the Suns' offense as it is in most modern NBA offenses. However, slowing things down more than they have to will just make it even more difficult for the Suns to score. Please, please let them get out and run.

DK: No way. The Suns don't have that kind of roster, as they proved last year by being boring AND bad. Yes, the Suns were 11th in the NBA in pace, but that wasn't from very many easy fast break points and quick, smart shots. The shooting numbers you posted above are so bad because the Suns very basically a half-court team that walked the ball up, then took an ill-advised jumper early in the clock or got confused and turned it over. That kind of offense up your pace without intending to up your pace.

KH: Looking at this from a long-term mindset they should absolutely work on these aspects of the game. Right now they have to be scrappy to be competitive, but with a new coach and a new roster this is the perfect time to learn each other and introduce a system. Take you time. Be patient. Allow Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, and Eric Bledsoe to become more proficient in the pick-and-roll.

BONUS: Coach Hornacek mentioned wanting to average "over 102.9 points per game," but what say you? How many points per game will the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns score?

SS: I'm thinking that's a pretty lofty goal with this roster.  I could see them averaging around 98-99 when it's all said and done.  They will certainly have games where they come out firing on all cylinders, but they will also play some tough defensive teams next season that will limit their ability to push the tempo and won't allow them to penetrate and attack at will.  I don't know if Phoenix is versatile enough to adjust to a slower paced game and still score effectively, so I think those games will really hurt their scoring average.

JC: Last year the team scored 95.2 per game.  They were 9th in pace at 93.4.  If they can move up to #1 in pace at ~96.5 and have a slight increase in shooting based on the easier attempts... then I see 100 as a goal to shoot for.  The problem is that our opponent's scoring will also go up and we'll probably still be looking about -5.0 or so points per game in scoring margin.

JP: Hornacek seems to have more faith in this team's scoring ability than I do. I'd be surprised to see the Suns hit triple digits. Somewhere in the 95-99 range.

DK: I am guessing over 100 next season (though they will give up more than that, by a lot). Hornacek knows what a good offense looks like and he has no encumbrances on him to win like Gentry, or even Hunter, did. It's Hornacek's job to entertain the fans as much as anything else, and that's what he plans to do.

KH: I alluded to this earlier. With the combination of poor overall team shooting, lack of true play-makers, and modest experience this team will struggle to score. My initial thought is somewhere between 95-98 PPG which would put them in the middle of the pack. Only one truly bad team averaged 100+ points per game, but they also featured two players capable of getting 20+ a night and were the 11th best three-point shooting team in the league. That is not the Suns.

RP: It's really tough to tell with a completely new coach and several different roster pieces, but I'll go with that 103 ppg figure. I think the team will struggle to score in the half-court, but constantly pushing the pace (as Hornacek wants to do) will help them reach that figure. With a higher pace and a suspect defense, the team will almost definitely surrender more than that though, which is good and bad news. The hope is that won't be true after this season (notice a trend?).

Record: 13-12 (3-1)

Place In Standings: Third

Points Per Game: 81.0 (76.0)

Points Against: 81.8 (67.2)


Three games at home were nice, comfortable, and to an extent easy for the Phoenix Mercury to have a fairy tale start to the new era under head coach Russ Pennell. They cruised to three straight wins behind tremendous defense and team play in front of their loyal fans.

Then they had to hit the road.

On the season the Mercury are 6-6 on the road. That is a trend that will have to change come playoff time if they can hold off the charging Seattle Storm (11-13) and even the San Antonio Silver Stars (9-15) who knocked off the Mercury this week, and, have enough time to catch them. As the season winds down to the final third or so the Mercury are going to have to earn the third slot in the playoffs. That third slot is paramount in terms of avoiding the Minnesota Lynx (0-5 against them on the season) in the first round.

Here is how the season wraps up for the Mercury, Storm, and Silver Stars in terms of head-to-head match-ups:

Mercury: Two games versus San Antonio (both home) and one game against Seattle (home)

Silver Stars: Two games verses Seattle (both home) and two games against Phoenix (both on the road)

Storm: Two games versus San Antonio (both on the road) and one game against Phoenix (road)

Seattle has the toughest path to retaining their seeding if they cannot win on the road (5-7) against their peers fighting for the playoffs. The Mercury have the lions share of their games at home to close out the season, but the final road games, especially those against potential playoff teams, are important to whether or not they can meet their potential.


Diana Taurasi Making History With Every Point She Scores...

With every game, every shot, and every made basket Diana Taurasi is going to make history. As of today she is 5th All-Time on the WNBA scoring list and has played between 70-194 less games total than her peers in the Six Thousand Point Club.

She is chasing Tina Thompson (7,324), Katie Smith (6,383), Lisa Leslie (6,263), Tamika Catchings (6,150), and Lauren Jackson (6,007).

To put things in perspective at the end of this season if Taurasi simply averages her season average she will be at 6,231 points. With one more healthy season of basketball at her career average (20.6 points per game) she will be at 6,931 points, firmly in second place all time at the 327 game mark. More points than Leslie, Sheryl Swoops, and the other legends mentioned before.

From a points scored perspective Taurasi is a few seasons away from being the G.O.A.T...


...And Coach Pennell Keeps Winning.

Despite picking up their first loss under Coach Pennell the Mercury are still playing well. The team has had an advantage on the glass (+31 rebounding advantage), protected the ball better (+1 turnover advantage), and most importantly have been winning with a +35 point advantage in four games. The team is playing better all-around basketball which is the most important change so far.

Yes, the points are down and the games are a little slower, but if this is winning basketball that is the most important thing. Brittney Griner is an offensive focus, Taurasi is doing it all as she usually does, and the chorus of athletic defenders are filling in their roles.

What Coach Pennell is doing is allowing the team to go out there and play offense, but also holding them accountable on the defensive end. Defense wins Championships is not just a tired old slogan. Over the past five years the Mercury are the only team to win a WNBA Championship with less that a Top 3 overall defense. Right now they are dead last, but under Coach Pennell in his four games they are the stingiest points per game defense in the league. Foreshadowing something here? Who knows, but it is a good, positive sign regardless.


Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday @ Tulsa Shock at 5 p.m. AZ Time

Friday vs. Seattle Storm at 7 p.m. AZ Time

Most Suns fans, especially those who have followed the team closely at any time since the mid-nineties, have a special hatred for the San Antonio Spurs. This hatred is not unwarranted. In the 15...

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The Phoenix Suns likely won't have any preseason Top 100 players in the upcoming season, 2013-14. Last year, ESPN put only three Suns - Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola - in the preseason Top 100 on their #ESPNRank and that turned out to be too optimistic for at least two of them.

This year, it's possible Gortat lands there again, but only if he has a good Eurobasket run with a healthy foot. He played for the first time yesterday and scored 20 points with six of those coming on dunks. Scola is now a backup for the Pacers, so he won't see Top 100 again. Plus, he no longer a Sun.

Goran Dragic might make it again this year. He jumped from 201 in 2011, to 83 in 2012. He was one of only a handful of NBA players who scored 14 points, dished 7 assists and stole 1.5 passes per game. But the Suns are not projected to win more than 25 games next season, so Dragic might be in trouble here.

Other than that this season? It would be a major stretch to put Eric Bledsoe, the Suns most talented player, up there before he even starts a game.

Fast Forward to 2017 - Bledsoe and Len

The suits boys at the main SB Nation office have decided that four years from now, in 2017, just two of our Phoenix Suns will definitely be among the league's Top 100 players.

By that time, Dragic and Gortat will be in decline while Bledsoe will be at his peak and Alex Len - still just 24 years old in 2017 - will have had four seasons to establish himself as a top NBA player.

The Bledsoe pick seems clear, since each team likely got someone onto the list.

But Alex Len? Really?

Here's my comment for the article:

"Marcin Gortat ranked in ESPN's top 75 after just one year of starting at center for the Suns, so I can see Len making this list if he matures into exactly the player the GM thinks he will: great touch on offense, solid with rebounding and defense, and healthy enough to prove it."

Suns fans are probably scoffing at that pick, at least here on BSotS. Since Len has been in walking boots for much of the time since being drafted, fans have quickly forgotten why he was picked #5 overall in the 2013 Draft. In fact, Len was projected as the #1 overall pick by many.

I would throw in Len's link, or his link for a good scouting report from way back then (two months ago), but I know very few of you like to click through. I could also link to this article stating that Alex Len is a better prospect than Nerlens Noel, or this SB Nation preview article as well.

So let's leave it up to his new coach to explain, from draft night.

"Any time you can get a 7-1 guy with a long wingspan and he's athletic, he's got skills, he's 20 years old, it's a bright piece for the future," Jeff Hornacek said after Len was drafted. "It's not very often you can get those types of players."

On why they picked Len over Nerlens Noel:

"I think all around skill. Is he as good of a shot-blocker as Noel? Maybe not, but he is still long and he can block shots. Then he had the offensive game. When you can get a guy - again, I'll keep going back to this - you get a guy that's 7-1 that can do things defensively and block shots, take up space, with the wingspan and he's got a good offensive game; you can use him to pass, you can use him to score; that's something you don't see very often at both sides of the game. That's what we felt was really exciting about the guy: he's not just one-dimensional."

On Len being a gymnast before playing basketball:

"I always feel that the best all-around players were guys that played multiple sports. You get trained different ways. And to be a gymnast, obviously you're looking at a kid that's 7-foot-1, how could he be a gymnast? That just goes to show his agility. We saw several highlights where he catches it on one side and he can spin on a guy and get to the other side of the basket. Again, big guys are not usually that mobile. He's a very mobile guy and especially in our system, we want to get out running and he can fill the lane. Several times you saw him go down the middle of the lane, get a pass just inside that free-throw line, take one long stride and he's dunking it. I think being a gymnast is going to bode well for footwork and everything else."

On when it became clear that Len was the way to go, versus trading down:

"Well, I think it was the first pick. Most of us thought that maybe [Len] would go number one. When [Cleveland drafting Anthony Bennett] happened... Ryan and his guys do a great job of talking around the league. They have relationships with all these other GMs and I think they had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. I think that was a surprise to everybody and once that happened he was pretty confident that it was going to work out fine."

Ryan McDonough said a lot about Len, but this quote sums it all up: "When Alex was there the decision was clear."

Anyone else in 2017?

Clearly, this list completely ignores the three top-100 2017 players the Suns will draft in June 2014. Psssh.

As Toon Army Sun points out below, the list does include the FOUR of the projected 2014 picks into the NBA's Top 30 in 2017. That's not bad. The Suns will hopefully get one of those guys.

Until then, I can see how Len and Bledsoe are the Suns youngest, brightest hopes to be in their primes in 4 seasons. The only quibble, and it's a homerish quibble, is that Archie Goodwin has just as much chance to be top-100 NBA in 4 years (at age 23) as Alex Len does. But that's just me. Maybe both of them will make it. But for some reason, SBNation didn't project this year's #29 pick into the NBA Overall Top 100 before he ever plays a game. Go figure.

For the first time since March 2013, Marcin Gortat was able to take the court to lead Poland to a victory in a warmup game for Eurobasket 2013. That he was even able to take the court in a competitive basketball game was a huge step forward in Gortat's rehab.

Gortat scored 20 points of Poland's 66 points, including 3 dunks among 9 of 12 field goals. He also pulled down 5 rebounds and committed 4 turnovers in 21 minutes.

According to @SunsNationPL, a polish site for Suns fans, Gortat "made a huge difference on both ends of the floor."

Regarding the foot recovery, @SunsNationPL tweeted that Gortat "didn't show any signs of the pain in his foot. Very positive both for the Polish team and the Suns."

This must be a big relief for Gortat more than anyone.

The injury

Gortat missed the last 21 games of the Phoenix Suns season after suffering a mid-foot Lisfranc injury on March 6, 2013. His rehab and healing process has been slow. After an initial diagnosis of 3-4 week recovery, Gortat was barely walking freely before the Suns season ended five weeks later.

After the season he took a few weeks off, and then began preparing to represent Poland in Eurobasket 2013. Jared Dudley recently visited Gortat in Poland and tweeted several times about how Gortat is the clear face of Polish basketball. Gortat himself said he feels a lot of pressure - both from himself and his country - to play year-round for the NBA and Poland.

The continuing pain

Gortat had said he felt "better and better" and that "the rehabilitation is going well, but I still feel the pain of the foot, even during training."

Of the return to Phoenix for a checkup before playing competitively, Gortat said "I have to make sure that I will be healthy for the whole [NBA] season."

Frankly, no matter what your obligation is to your country, your first responsibility is to the team that is paying you $8 million dollars to compete in the U.S.

In further comments to Eurobasket 2013 reporters, Gortat laid fears to rest even before hopping stepping on the plane.

"I told my colleagues on the national team, that this is not not a holiday trip," the 29-year-old center explained.

"I'm going there [to the USA] to train normally, but also to meet with the physio-therapists of the Phoenix Suns.

"It was a serious injury and it has been slow to heal.

"The worst thing is that I cannot rest, especially at a time when I know I should train hard.

"I realize that sometimes you have to give the leg some rest, and I'm running in the gym, on the floor, doing more exercise and even prolong my workouts."

Cleared to play

Last week, Gortat was cleared to play basketball by the Suns doctors, despite the lingering pain. After spending a few days in Orlando, he returned to Poland over the weekend and played today. Very well, in fact.

Good for everyone - Marcin, the Suns and Poland.

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