With Steve Nash listed as questionable to play, the Suns will need Aaron Brooks to forget his cold streak and step up in a big way. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In a season replete with ups and downs, positives and negatives, victories and losses, the Phoenix Suns have been anything but predictable. However, there is a major difference between unpredictable and inconsistent. Unpredictable can be the Indianapolis Colts offense, built on Peyton Manning's ability to read defenses and call audibles. Inconsistent usually means showing flashes of brilliance, yet displaying even more moments of ineptitude.

Choose for yourself what the Phoenix Suns are to you, but one thing is certain: just when we think we know this team, the rug is pulled out from underneath us. While the recent blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets wasn't the end of the world, as we were playing with a gimpy Steve Nash and without Channing Frye. But frankly, if the Phoenix Suns are to make a playoff push, these are the games that need to be won.

The Suns are still a respectable 6-3 in their last nine, with a 4-game winning streak thrown into that mix as well. However, when you consider that the Suns are just 2-3 in their last five, we find the more telling statistic: the Phoenix Suns are still figuring out how to play together.

The Suns will have to do more than pray for a Hakim Warrick explosion or a late game Jared Dudley parade in order to beat the visiting Orlando Magic, who are the exact kind of team that gives the Suns fits: a rebounding team.

The Orlando Magic currently rank 6th in the NBA in total rebounds per game (43) while the Suns stand at 24th, pulling in just over 40 (40.1). Not too bad, right? A differential of 2.9 isn't too bad, given the apparent lack of rebounding we as fans have come to expect from anyone not named Marcin Gortat.

However, that's just total rebounds. The differential between rebounds pulled in versus rebounds allowed for opponents is a bit more troubling. The Suns pull in 40.1 per night, but allow their opponents to pull in 43.8, a +/- of -3.7. The Magic, on the other hand, pull in 43 and only allow their opponents to grab an average of 40.1, a +2.9 for the Magic Men.

Undoubtedly, Marcin Gortat will be everywhere on the court during this matchup. He's playing against his former coach, team and mentor, Dwight Howard. And if there's one thing we know about Marcin, it's that he's not lacking in confidence, especially on the defensive/rebounding side of things. However, even he was quoted as saying, "I'm starting from the worst position: he's supposed to kick my ass."

The Magic also have Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, two guys that have the exact formula to beat the Suns. A rebounding big man who can shoot the ball.

Injury Report

  • We all know Channing Frye is still out with a separated right shoulder. Old news.
  • Steve Nash is listed as questionable for the game, saying the he "can't move ... [there is] just too much pain and immobility." Personally, I think Nash will probably gut it out. Realistically, however, it is probably safe to assume that he'll likely sit this one out. Updates to come, as we get them.
  • From the Magic side of things, JJ Redick injured himself in Friday's shootaround at Golden State. The diagnosis is still uncertain, but the Warriors' team doctor mentioned the possibility of a sports hernia. If that's the case, he will likely miss a good deal of time. Count him out for tonight's game.

Keys to the Game

  • Aaron Brooks is going to have to find a way to shake off the rust and start hitting shots again. Especially with the possibility of Steve Nash missing the game, the Suns will need Brooks in a big way. Look for Brooks to be more assertive on offense, and if not, well...the Suns don't really have a chance in this one.
  • Play some (or a lot of) defense. The Magic love funneling opposing teams' guards in to their human eraser, Dwight Howard, and the Suns need to try and counter their defensive attack. Marcin Gortat is going to need a solid game from Robin Lopez to help counter the defensive deficiencies of Hakim Warrick.
  • Keep the Magic off the three point line. When the Magic are hitting their threes, it's nearly impossible to beat that team. It's as simple as that.
  • Limit the turnovers. I won't name names, but Hakim Warrick's two turnovers to end the first half were the worst consecutive turnovers I've ever seen in a basketball game. Did I say I wasn't going to name names? Oops.
  • Don't accept excuses. This isn't really a key to the game as much as it's a key to the rest of the season, but after Thursday's loss to Denver, Vince Carter had all the right excuses going. "They gamble," Carter said. "When they're on, they're on. They're very good in transition. They rebound the ball extremely well so they make you take one shot and they're out. As far as the turnovers are concerned, they have quick guys who are in the passing lane constantly. When they gamble correctly, they're tough to beat." Carter should take a page from Gortat's book of accepting blame and promising to improve.
BREAKING NEWS! (Sorta)

As per Paul Coro, Suns center Marcin Gortat will begin to start the second halves of games. Said Gentry, "I probably will do that because I think it helps him (Gortat) some. I just think it's hard. You're guarding Dwight Howard. You're not going to be able to bang with him 18-19 straight minutes." Read the full story here.

The Suns are going to need big effort from everyone on the court in order to pull off a victory. There can't be any extended defensive lapses. There can't be many (or any, if it can be helped) unforced turnovers. The Phoenix Suns are going to need every player to have 100% focus, 100% of the time. The Magic may have just come off an overtime loss to Golden State and are a pedestrian 2-3 in their last 5, but this team wants this game. The only question is, do the Suns want it too?

Gameday Links




PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns drafted Earl Clark with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, they knew exactly what they were getting. Then-GM Steve Kerr was well-aware that Clark would...

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Arizona's Derrick Williams (23) dunks over Oregon's Teondre Williams (32) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. Arizona won 70-57. (AP Photo/Wily Low)

Opening Prayer:

Oh NBA Lord we love you,

You are big, so very big

in fact huge you are,

we're all REALLY IMPRESSED.

Thank you for the spherical leather object we call the ball,

A hard court to bounce the ball on,

All these things we thank you for,

Oh sweet lord, a Basketball team to love,

to root for, to cry about and for.

Dear NBA lord these things we pray,

Day by...day by day, we pray that you fix Steve's crotchal region,

And Channing's arm.

Dear Gentle, accomodating NBA God,

either make VC good or injure him for the remainder of the season.

Or perhaps we can pray for no harm, 

Just a gentle OD of cookies.

And for our Suns in the 2011 draft one or two good rookies 

Thank you dear sweet, sweet NBA Lord.

 

Does Robin Lopez Suck?

The Suns gave Goran Dragic approximately 2.5 seasons to impress them before dispatching him for a player who was more developed but arguably a lower ceiling. Dragic showed flashes of brilliance throughout his career as a Sun. Similarly, Robin Lopez has shared the "Moments of Brilliance" tag with Dragic. If the Suns found it acceptable to trade Dragic at this point in his career, why wouldn't they find it acceptable to trade Lopez? Both are young enough and have a pretty decent market value. Especially Lopez as a 7 footer who has some tools to work with. 

With the emergence of Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez is expendable. I'll throw some numbers at this statement below to validate it. Yes it is nice to have a two headed monster, a quality 5 (Gortat) along with something better than Jarron Collins to back him up. Yet the Suns have needs. If Lopez is underperforming/needs a change of scenery/breaks too many doors, then why not send him to the highest bidder?

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS FOR SCHMUCKS (Dumbing it Down):

Tonight I set out to prove Robin Lopez sucks. And while many of you my bretheren would agree with that statement without some sort of numbers based evidence, I felt it only ethical to reach a verdict by statistic. But which one? How do we prove a player sucks?

League-wide statistical ranks are one option, going Hollinger-Geek is another.  One could also just toss a whole bunch of numbers at the wall and see what sticks. So I'll do this...

Are you all familiar with the NBA's "Efficiency Rating?"  In short this is a number we can use to evaluate players. It goes something like this:

((Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) - ((Field Goals Att. - Field Goals Made) + (Free Throws Att. - Free Throws Made) + Turnovers)).

Per the wikipedia, this was created by one John Hollinger, who I respect, because he's certainly more intelligent than I, he's landed a high paying gig with ESPN, and he's bald and hasn't stapled a chipmunk to his head (just like me). Nevertheless I tend to overlook his rankings:

The Player Efficiency Rating is ESPN Insider writer John Hollinger's all-in-one basketball rating, which attempts to boil down all of a player's contributions into one number. Using a detailed formula, Hollinger developed a system that rates every player's statistical performance.

Everyone knows that the statistic is flawed, and Mr. Hollinger even admits to it. The one area in which efficiency seems to gain credence though is the list of the all-time top 50 efficiency leaders in the NBA. 27 of the names are currently in the NBA Hall of Fame. Another 8 names are active and most likely will go to the Hall of Fame. That is 35 of 50 names. Again, it is not perfect, but it gives us something to work from. So back to Robin Lopez...

Robin Lopez is averaging 7 points and 3 rebounds a game. There. Simple. An average fan can look at that and figure the guy isn't so great. But you and I are sophisticated thinkers and passionate Suns fans. We can do more:

  • Robin Lopez is currently residing in 38th place among Centers in the league with an efficiency rating per 48 minutes of 22.86.  
  • Robin Lopez's PER ranks him at 25th in the leaugue at 14.82, just below Hibbert, Mohammed, Speights and Foster.
  • If we want to look at it in a different light, how about Averaged PTS/Rebounds/Assists. This is simply addition:  AVGPPG+AVGRBPG+AVGAPG.  With a minimum of 46 games played, Robin Lopez is 30th in the league among Centers with average of 11.3.
  • Robin Lopez is 40th in the league among centers playing at least 17.3 minutes per game, give or take 2-3 mpg. 
  • If you go by the rebounds per 48 minutes PG, Lopez is 48th among centers with 10.0.

The problem with this statistic is that no one plays 48 minutes per game. Yes this is a way to put everyone on an even plane. But it still isn't a realistic way to analyze a guy's production.

What if we just got simple and assume that a 7-foot Center should be rebounding? Then wouldn't it make some sense to compare Lopez' s average rebounds to others who are playing about the same minutes?  Of all centers playing around 17 minutes a game, + or - 2-3 minutes, here is the class that Lopez is hanging with:

30. Nazr Mohammed , OKC-CHA
31.  Nenad Krstic , BOS-OKC
32.  Chris Wilcox , DET
33.  Jordan Hill , HOU
34.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas , MIA
35.  Joel Przybilla , CHA-POR
36.  Omer Asik , CHI
37.  Aaron Gray , NOH
38.  Zaza Pachulia , ATL
39.  Jermaine O'Neal , BOS
40.  Brad Miller , HOU

Lopez would fall here at #41.

The Draft?

The Washington/University of Arizona game was impressive. Isiah Thomas is good. Derrick Williams is great. He's a 19 year old PF fom Southern California if you don't follow the college game a whole lot.

He is currently averaging around 19 and 8 a game, along with 61% from both behind the arc and in front of it. If you want to go off the PER stat, you can say Williams is #2 in the league. His TS% (true shooting) is 3rd in the league at 72.4

Williams has been mentioned in mock drafts from 1-5.

From Draft Express:

While he's not the biggest player in this draft (he's likely to measure somewhere between 6-8 and 6-9), nor the longest or most explosive, Williams' polished skills, high basketball IQ and fantastic scoring instincts are tools that NBA teams are in desperate need of these days. Smart, versatile power forwards who can create their own offense and score from anywhere on the floor are viewed by many as the second-most coveted players in the league right now after pick-and-roll point guards.

If you are the Suns brain trust of Gentry/Blanks/Babby/Sarver, what are you thinking? Gortat is the man in them iddle. Finding Lopezesque production is probably fairly cheap, and most of us can agree that Lopez doesn't have the ceiling of a top big man in the league. The glaring need is a dominant 4. But have the Suns found it in Channing Frye? He's brought his defense this year and upped is work on the boards. While were talking ceilings, can Frye at 28 become even better? A 20/10 guy? If not, what's more expensive, trading into the top 5, or signing an established veteran to a huge contract?

OR

Is this the Summer the Suns finally deal with the harsh reality that Steve Nash may need to go? If so, do you package Nash and Lopez for a shot at top 5 pick? And if the Suns are dealing Nash, is Jimmer the heir apparrant?

Again from Draft Express:

Fredette shows excellent quickness, outstanding footwork and incredible creativity with the ball in his hands. He creates space to operate about as well as any guard in college basketball not named Kemba Walker, and he is a more complete scorer than Walker in terms of his offensive polish.

His best asset is clearly his shooting ability, which borders on outrageous when it comes to the difficulty of shots he is capable of making.

Certainly sounds like someone we know, yes?

Did u see this?

What about this? 

 


Oh, my friends I leave you for the moment and leave my musings at your door step.

 

 

What is next for the Phoenix Suns?


PHOENIX — For three and a half years, Marcin Gortat took blow after vicious blow from a beast of a sparring partner every day in practice. He would go hard for three hours only to have to...

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