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.
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...
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.
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...