While I was brainstorming for topics the staff and I engaged in the timeless debate of crunchy peanut butter vs. smooth, but in the end I decided to discuss the cacophony of silence at the trade deadline and how the Suns are finally getting noticed.

No Big Deal

The trade deadline came and went and the Suns stone gargoyled their way through the theatrics. I, for one, was mildly disappointed by the lack of activity from Suns prodigy GM Ryan McDonough. The chimerical notions of another McMiracle windfall went by the wayside as there was no joy in Mudville Phoenix last Thursday.

Maybe I've become spoiled (in less than a year) by McGenius's foudroyant moves, educing talent out of nowhere at bargain basement prices. After all, he has basically changed the fortunes of a franchise in shambles in his first year on the job. The ignominious and incompetent nature of last season seem like a lifetime away.

But after doing so much with so little in his inchoate tenure McMidas failed to do something spectacular with what was regarded by some as an invaluable asset. Sorry if I keep hopscotching between nicknames. I like to mix it up. I have four different nicknames for my daughter. I'll stick with the last one for a bit.

And as I sat expectantly waiting for Ryan to touch Emeka Okafor and turn him into gold (like King Midas did to his daughter in some versions of the story) Emeka instead turned into cold, hard cash.

This was part of the idea from the start, however, as much of the appeal of Okafor's expiring deal is that insurance was picking up 80% of the bill. That meant another team could potentially swap expiring deals with the Suns and avoid a dilemma with respect to their cap situation (such as paying the luxury tax or entering repeater territory). One such trade that made the rounds was a potential trade with the Lakers where the Suns would receive Pau Gasol. Here's how that kind of scenario played out.

The Lakers were ~$5.7 million over the tax line. By trading Gasol's ~$19.3 million dollar contract for Okafor's ~$14.5 million dollar deal the Lakers would get ~$4.8 million closer to the tax line. They would even have been in a position to do another small salary dump to get under the tax line. Then they would collect the remaining ~$5.7 left to be paid by insurance on Okafor's contract.

The Lakers could save some serous coin (about $10.5 million dollars not even including the tax money) and get under the tax line. I never liked this deal much to be quite frank. There were several reasons why.

1. I'm not really sure how well Gasol would mesh with the way the Suns are playing.  Although he address some of the Suns most glaring issues in terms of halfcourt and post scoring and ball distribution from a big I'm not infatuated with his lack of intensity and overall demeanor. He would inject some soft and slow into a gritty explosive squad.

2. From reports the Lakers actually wanted a first round pick in return for an expiring rental.

3. The deal would reduce the Suns available money under the cap from ~$5.2 million to about $400K. That would hamper the Suns flexibility to make moves at the draft - a time that I wouldn't be surprised for the Suns to be very active.

So, like I alluded to earlier, McMidas did turn Emeka into gold in a way. Phoenix just kept it. The Pau deal would have cost Robert Sarver ~$10.5 million. Instead Sarver keeps the ~$5.7 million insurance payout... And I'm perfectly fine with that. There's no reason for him to be a spendthrift. He can reinvest that money in the team in another way.

I was just woolgathering over the prospect of McDonough fleecing another team in a deal that made the Suns better now and later while conserving that cap space for future deals. I was hoping he would turn Emeka into more than ~$5.7 million in savings and an expiring deal.

In the end, maybe it just shows how much confidence I have in the way the Suns are headed.

We're the Suns. Recognize.

Speaking of the way the Suns are headed... they have been kicking ass and taking names. I wasn't even particularly surprised by the outcome of the 106-85 laugher against the Spurs. They just added San Antonio to the list of teams they've run off the court recently.  Since January 22nd they have double digit wins against the Indiana Pacers, Golden St. Warriors and San Antonio. Phoenix is 11-4 in its last 15 games.

The team whose best player's name is mispronounced to a ridiculous degree, the team that has lacked notoriety to the nth degree, is finally shoving its way into relevancy. It's still not all the way there, though, as coming out of the All-Star break I heard a couple clowns on ESPN talking about Phoenix as a team that could fall out of the playoff race with the Denver Nuggets, yes Denver, being one of the teams that could supplant them. The same Nuggets that are eight games behind the Suns... But at least they were talking about the Suns. Baby steps. You have to forgive some of these national guys who cover NBA basketball for a living but don't know sh*& about it.

But someone at ESPN is paying attention. After being scheduled for one measly game on their network against the Pelicans (Friday 2/28) at the beginning of the season the Suns are being flexed in. In addition to the game against Houston tonight Phoenix was showcased on a January 8th thriller against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the pantsing of the Pacers January 22nd.

The Suns are averaging 15,981 per game through 28 games so far this season (which is an abysmal fourth worst in the NBA), but against San Antonio Friday night they drew 18,422 fans, their first sellout of the season. That's 2,441 more fans that got to witness a bloodbath. The players are cognizant of the shift, too. Channing Frye specifically mentioned how much the crowd support helps after the Spurs game. This increase in ticket sales is taking place at the same time that prices are rising. The Suns are are trending towards being a hot commodity once again.

I'm past the point of looking behind the Suns, though. The surprises of the early season have been displaced by expectations. The teams that are trailing Phoenix are of little concern. I'm focused on climbing in the standings. My cupidity is steering me towards coveting home court advantage in the first round.

Why not? Phoenix is only down by one game in the loss column to the Clippers. A home win against the Rockets tonight would put them within two games in the loss column of them. Portland has been faltering recently. I could realistically see the Suns catching any or all of these three. Give the Suns home court advantage against any of the teams (not named Memphis) that would be below them and Phoenix becomes the favorite in that series.

Once again, why not? Phoenix is 8-7 against the other seven teams currently in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City 0-1

San Antonio 1-2

Houston 1-1

LA Clippers 1-0

Portland 2-1

Golden St. 2-1

Dallas 1-1

Take the top two teams out of the equation and the Suns are 7-4 against the other teams. The Suns have proven they can hang with them. Are you trembling at the thought at being matched up against any of these guys? Besides the Thunder and Grizzlies I like any matchup.

The Great Debate

Oh yeah, the debate. It was rather contentious. We became entrenched on our respective sides. Insults were hurled. Some of us are emotionally scarred. After the dust had settled crunchy won the day. It was predestined from the very start, though, as I lean crunchy.

Possible discussion during next week includes, "Who would win a fight between Goran Dragic and Mr. Fantastic?"

G Twice out.

Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: ESPN / FSA When the Phoenix Suns throttled the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, they looked like a playoff team. They contested most every shot and made nothing easy for a...

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After splitting the first two games in Houston, the Phoenix Suns need to beat the visiting Rockets tonight maintain a tie-break advantage for playoff positioning.

Both the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets are on a roll.

The Phoenix Suns, winners of 12 of their last 17 games, face off against the Rockets who have won 16 of 21. Even more recently, the Suns have bagged three in a row while the Rockets have taken 8 of 9.

The Opponent

The Houston Rockets remain the league's poster child for taking the most efficient shots on the basketball court, with 86% of all of their shots being taken either in the paint or from behind the 3-point line. By doing this, the Rockets can overcome the fact that they shoot at or below league average from everywhere on the court but still have the league's 5th best offense in terms of points-per-possession.

*of note, the Rockets are only 25th in assists per game. With an offense built on your ball handlers being scorers (James Harden, Jeremy Lin), the assist rate goes down.


The zones in yellow indicate that the Rockets shoot comparably to the rest of the league in those areas, while the zones in red show they shoot below league average.

  • 35% shooting on 3-pointer = 1.05 points per shot attempt
  • 45% shooting on 2-pointer = 0.9 points per shot attempt
  • 55% shooting on 2-pointer = 1.1 points per shot attempt

As you can see, unless you can shoot 50% or better on all of your midrange shots, it's better to take the higher value shots. Over the course of 100 shots, that's a 10-point swing in your favor if you can take higher-percentage shots over lower-percentage ones and it's why many NBA teams build their defense around rim protection and 3-shoot protection.

The Rockets are good at defending at the rim, thanks to Dwight Howard this year and Omer Asik last year, but are not so good at defending the 3-point line, allowing the league's 6th highest attempt rate from behind the arc.

The Suns

The Phoenix Suns offense this season has mirrored the Rockets in many ways, but is a little more balanced. The Suns only take 71% of their shots at the rim or from behind the arc, with the remaining 29% being in the mid- to long-2 range.

While the 71% mark pales in comparison to Houston, the Suns offense is still one of the league's best (8th in overall efficiency) and ranks as the third-highest 3-point rate, according to basketball-reference.com.


The only area the Suns shoot poorly is from the right corner, while from the left corner the Suns shoot it well. Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker are the primary corner-3 shooters in the Suns' offense.

The Stats


The Lineups


Patrick Beverly has been starting lately in place of Jeremy Lin, who provides scoring off the Rockets bench. Beverly brings much-needed on-ball defense into the starting lineup next to James Harden.

The Key Matchup

In this game, the key matchup is the Suns defense vs. the Rockets offense. The two prior games, both in Houston, could not have been much different for Houston despite playing the same lineup both times.

In the first matchup, the Rockets made only 35% of their shots and scored just 88 points. In the second, the Rockets made 55% of their shots and scored 122. Over 55 games, that represents the third-lowest points allowed to a Suns opponent (1st meeting) vs. a season-high in points allowed (2nd meeting).

The Suns defense allows the league's fewest 3-point shots made and allows the second-lowest opponent 3-point shooting percentage when they are taken. The defense is designed to run teams off the line and, hopefully, make them shoot midrange jumpers. That's what makes Miles Plumlee so important. If he can stay out of foul trouble and defend the rim, the Suns have a good chance of winning any game.

While Dwight Howard might go nuts under the basket, the key for the Suns will be to continue to defend the 3-point line against the likes of Harden, Lin and Parsons.

*note: James Harden (hyperextended elbow in loss to GS) is questionable for this game

The Prediction

Playing at home and on national television (ESPN), expect the Suns to come out focused and strong. They are playing the entire year with a chip on their shoulder that no one gives them credit, and national TV games have been their showcase.

Add in the embarrassment of the recent blowout at the hands of the Rockets, I really expect the Suns to play the best they can tonight. That might not be enough, since the Rockets are so good and on such a roll, but I think the Suns do win this one in a high-scoring affair.

115-105 Suns.

The Suns are on a 3-0 win streak since the all-star break, and although a few of those games were a little too close for comfort, the "W" is all that matters. Although every player seemingly had an off game this week, Gerald Green was one of the biggest difference makers.

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Gerald Green aka "Gr33n Light"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 22   FG%: .429   Rebounds: 5

On a team full of surprises, Gerald Green has to be one of, if not the biggest surprise of them all this season.  When Green was initially traded to the Suns along with Miles Plumlee and a first round pick for Luis Scola, most fans and analysts, including yours truly, thought he was basically just a throw in to make the deal work.

Whether or not Ryan McDonough and Coach Hornacek knew what they were really getting, or if they were just as surprised as everyone else is debatable, but one thing we know for sure is that Gerald Green has finally figured it out, and he is proving to be not only a productive player, but a game changer as well.

It seems as though Gerald has finally found a home in Phoenix, after playing for seven different teams in just as many years in the league.  His athleticism, hustle, and deadly three-point shooting have been a perfect fit for the Suns' high-powered offense.

While Green has already posted season highs with the Suns in nearly every category up to this point, it seems only fitting that he finally topped his old career high of 34 points this week as well, scoring 36 points and being the main reason the Suns were able to get an overtime win against the Denver Nuggets.

Not only has Green found a way to contribute to the Suns and help them win by doing what he does best, knocking down quick-release three's, he has also found a way to contribute even when those shots aren't falling.  This is something he was never able to do in the past.

Green had an off-shooting night against the Spurs on Friday, going 0-5 from three and even missing a couple of shots from the free throw line.  Still, he found a way to get inside and score on mostly mid-range baskets to eventually chip in with 13 points in his 26 minutes of play.

Although the Suns have been without their other star guard, Eric Bledsoe, for most of the season now, Gerald Green has helped to keep the Suns' playoff hopes alive.  He and Goran Dragic have created a new back-court tandem, The G-Force, that has been almost as scary for the opponents as the Slash Brothers were.

While Goran Dragic is without a doubt the leader, and the driving force of the team, Gerald Green has been a key part of the Suns' success.  He is having his best stretch of games in his career, and is giving both the fans and the front office another reason to feel optimistic about the future.


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While being very different players, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee bring unique skills to the center position that opponents have a hard time defending.

With Eric Bledsoe reportedly returning to practice in the next 1-2 weeks, barring setbacks, it appears the Suns will be healthy again before they hit their toughest stretch of the season.

The Suns play 14 of their last 21 on the road, including 9 of their last 14, while fighting for playoff position and not only trying to avoid missing the big dance altogether but also to avoid having to face the Thunder in the first round. A 15-13 record in the next 28 games gets them 48 wins and a likely 6th or 7th seed.

Can the Suns win down the stretch? And once in the playoffs, can they win in the playoffs?

The metrics say yes.

And a close look at the metrics shows that two of the most important players on the Suns are Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee. They play together in the starting lineup, but they also share the center position for much of the game as they rotate in and out of the game for rest.

Net differential on efficiency

The Phoenix Suns, as a team, have a +3.8 net differential on offensive efficiency vs. defensive efficiency, good for 8th in the league. But some of their lineups offer a much bigger bang for their buck.

The Suns have five lineups in the top-100 of the NBA:

  • The lineup of Channing Frye - Markieff Morris - P.J. Tucker - Gerald Green - Goran Dragic (89 minutes) has the 17th-best net differential in the league at +20.4 with an offensive rating of 120.2 vs. defense of 99.8 (points per 100 possessions). Their assist-% is 61.3%, much higher than a usual Suns lineup.
  • The second-best differential swaps Tucker for Marcus Morris with the same four guys (70 minutes), with a net +11.4.
  • After that, it's the long-awaited starting lineup of Eric Bledsoe-Dragic-Frye-Plumlee-Tucker with a +10.0 net rating (247 minutes).
  • The 2014 starting lineup, since Bledsoe's injury, has been pretty good too: Dragic-Frye-Green-Tucker-Plumlee is a +6.0 (460 minutes)
  • The best backup lineup features Leandro Barbosa - Alex Len - Morris - Morris - Ish Smith with a +5.4 net rating (58 minutes).

Each one of these lineups is a winner, but the season is so long you can't just play those lineups and nothing else.

"As you got through the season you'd love to say you can get back down to an 8-man rotation," Hornacek says. "But if you look at our schedule in March we would be wearing guys out if we do that."

The Suns will continue to to play a 9 or 10-man rotation, especially as Eric Bledsoe rounds back into form. Ish Smith has earned minutes for the rest of the season, and Leandro Barbosa is a great sub for scoring off the bench.

Come playoff time, the Suns have the stats to show which lineups work the best. They involve basically four combinations of eight guys, with a sprinkle of a good backup team featuring Barbosa, Len and Ish Smith.

There's your primary playoff rotation: Bledsoe, Dragic, Tucker, Frye and Plumlee to start, plus Morris, Morris and Green off the bench.

Five of the top 100 5-man lineups in the NBA. The Suns won't set the world on fire when push comes to shove, but they will be competitive each and every game.

Channing Frye is a big plus

Drilling down further, Channing Frye is the only player on the Suns in five of the top seven 3-man combinations on the team. Frye is also in four of the top six 2-man combinations on the team.

"There are a lot of times I like to go with Markieff and Channing," Hornacek said. "Depending on what's going on out there. It gives us a little different look with Channing at the 5. If they have a big [center] out there, we can get Channing some looks."

It's all about spacing. Playing Frye at the center position forces the other team's biggest player to set up away from the paint and defend a three-point shooter - something those big guys are not built to do. In response, opposing coaches have to pick their poison - play a zone which allows their big to stay under the basket, bench their biggest guy, or put him on Markieff Morris who is too quick for him. Any of those options is unfamiliar to the opponent, creating chaos and running opportunities.

"They especially spread your bigs," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said this week. "They have multiple times in the game where they will go with Markieff or Marcus and Channing together at the 4/5, and now you've got two guys that shoot behind the three that big guys aren't used to getting out to. It really puts you in a tough spot."

Indiana switched other players onto Frye, but then were messed up and their top-ranked defense was run over by the Suns.

But playing Frye at the five for long minutes only works when there's a big lineup employed by the other team. The Wizards simply assigned Trevor Ariza to Frye's hip and let the game become a 4-on-4 when the Suns were on offense. The Suns didn't respond well, and lost the game.

Miles better

Plumlee will remain in the rotation because he provides rim defense that most of the team lacks, and the Suns will need that when the games slog down.

Plumlee was better with the Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt because he didn't have to be an offensive weapon. He could defend the rim and flash to the basket for dunks.

Opposing coaches give Plumlee respect, so should Suns fans.

"They play nine people in their rotation (sometimes ten with Len)," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said this week. "Out of those nine, seven shoot it great and the other two are dynamite to the rim. The two that I'm talking about are [Miles] Plumlee and Ish Smith. The rest of them are very capable of going for big nights behind the arc."

But it's not all about shooting threes.

"What makes it really go, in my opinion," Stevens said. "Are those threats at the rim. So you've Dragic who can get in the paint, Ish Smith can get in the paint, Barbosa's been a great addition.

"And then Plumlee, obviously, every time he rolls you'd better think about him rolling. Otherwise it ends in a dunk. I've coached against him before in college twice, and that was the case when they played at Duke as well. Every time he rolls, that opens up lanes for the shooters."

The Suns have the firepower to play well against most teams and most lineups. Like most every other NBA team, the Suns will struggle against the likes of Oklahoma City and Miami.

But against the rest of the current West playoff seeds? The Suns have beaten all of them. Every single one. San Antonio. Los Angeles Clippers (in LA). Houston (in Houston). Golden State. Portland. Dallas.

No one is going to see the Suns as an easy out in the playoffs. In fact, many teams might dread that possibility.

And they should.

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