With the way the Phoenix Suns (12-23) played this week there were a lot of positives to take a way, but the 1-4 overall record is more of an indication of who this team really is.
@ Oklahoma City Thunder - L (114-99)
vs. Philadelphia 76ers - W (95-89)
vs. Utah Jazz - L (87-80)
vs. Memphis Grizzlies - L (92-81)
It was an embattled week for the team as they went 1-3 despite the ambitious level of defense they played. No matter what this team does to correct one issue, another rises to the surface and becomes the teams Achilles Heel for that game or week.
This was a stretch that the team need to take advantage of with winnable games, but fell flat. That was mostly due the offenses inability to score points early and in general when they were needed.
In the past the Suns never struggled with offense, but they are embarking on a new era in basketball for the franchise. That new era was known to be a different one, centered around team defense and young players, but there were not any signs that pointed to the offense to becoming the worst the team has seen in nine years. They are also the ninth worst offensive rated team in the teams franchise history.
The funny thing about a good offense is that generally it forces other teams to play your style and they fall into the trap, scoring at a high rate, but not enough to win. Same thing can be said for a bad offensive team that slows the game down and gets into grind it out battles with their opponent.
The Suns went from being that first team to the second team over night with the loss of Steve Nash, just like they did the opposite eight years ago when he arrived.
0.96 Points Per Possession
A stark contrast to the 1.08 PPP that they are giving up on the season to opposing teams. That is a stat that shows how many points a team comes away with per possession, which is very important in a game that comes down to a few possessions at the beginning or ends of games for a struggling team. Hence the 1-3 week behind a strong defense, but a feeble offense.
Revenge was on the menu -- sort of, and the Suns delivered with a win over the 76ers. It was the defensive effort the team put forth against Jrue Holiday, who torched them for 63 points scored and created combined. Sure, he had a triple-double, but oddly enough the Suns held him in check to a tune of 36 points combined between points and assists.
There was a stretch in the Utah game where both teams shot impeccably bad from the field missing wide open lay-ups, turning the ball over at an alarming rate, and finding ways not to score. In that second quarter both teams combined for 26 total points, seven turnovers, 32 missed field goals, and set basketball back to a peach basket with their offensive play.
Another line-up change wielded another mixed bag of results as the Suns seem to react well to the constant shuffle of the starting line-up. This season they have made four primary changes to the starting line-up and have netted six of their wins because of it.
The team was coming off of a big win over Philadelphia, but didn't seem satisfied in practice. They were happier, more confident, but not satisfied.
As I reported in the practice report the only off element of the practice was after it was all over Michael Beasley secluded himself. He was the furthest outside of the team huddle, immediately went to a table away from everyone else, and left without talking to anyone. He is not assimilating well to the team and there is a bigger disconnect than before.
A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.
A- for Goran Dragic -- For the week the point guard put up respectable numbers leading the charge on both ends of the floor. His 15.5 points per game and 5.5 assists per game were a touch above his season averages.
DNG for Michael Beasley -- The now ostracized forward has three Did Not Play Coaches Decisions this year, which means his grade is simply Do Not Grade for his lack of performance. This week in two games he manages to shoot 1-4 with two points and four rebounds total.
B- for P.J. Tucker -- Well every Garbage Man gets their day in the sun and Tucker took advantage of his with four consecutive starts which ironically coincided with the defensive play of the team this week. Despite the record, the defense has improved dramatically.
Player of the Week:
Luis Scola - 16.75 PPG 6.0 RPG 5.0 APG
Over the course of the last five games, lumping in last weeks tilt with Minnesota in the mix, the first year Suns forward has found a rhythm finally. He is distributing the ball from the elbow giving the offense more fluidity and shooting the ball like an assassin from the perimeter. On the season Scola has three games of 5+ assists the Suns are 3-0.
Is that a coincidence?
One could say yes, but it is hard to ignore how the offense can be effective when the ball flows through Scola as a secondary play-maker. The rocket fueled duo or Dragic and Scola seem to give the team their best chance at winning on a nightly basis.
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Tuesday, January 8th @ Milwaukee Bucks (16-16)
Wednesday, January 9th @ Boston Celtics (16-17)
Friday, January 11th @ Brooklyn Nets (19-15)
Saturday, January 12th @ Chicago Bulls (18-13)
Top 10 draft picks, everybody loves them but how good are they?
Let's start by stipulating that ALL NBA PLAYERS come from the draft. Duh. This isn't about draft vs. free agency vs. trades. We'll leave that for some other bar stool.
This is about being realistic about what to expect from those high lottery picks the Phoenix Suns are destined to accumulate over the next few years and as such, to properly gauge their value when it comes to thinking about using them in possible trades.
What we did with this thought experiment was look at all the players picked over the past five years in the top ten slots in the draft. That's fifty players for you math geniuses.
Then we ranked them.
We asked 11 NBA writers* from various markets to rank each player's potential on a scale of one to six:
1- Franchise Player; 2- All-Star; 3- Solid Starter; 4- Rotation Player; 5- Deep Bench; 6- Out of the League
The picks were then averaged in the chart below. Others have done similar research of draft picks using various statistical measures to rank players (which would have the same issues with young players). I prefer crowd sourcing. Get over it.
There are obviously some issues with the rankings.
Tyreke Evans in his rookie year would have easily been seen as a possible All-Star or even franchise player and he is now considered a "solid starter". Half-way through his rookie year, would Michael Beasley be considered a "deep bench" guy? No. Along those lines, will Andre Drummond will turn into an All-Star? John Wall? I doubt it, but they averaged out that high in their current rankings.
On the flip side, James Harden certainly wouldn't have ranked as a franchise guy until perhaps his second or even third year.
Evaluating young talent is hard even after the guys are in the league. It's even harder before they are drafted. Some teams are better than others but there's a huge element of luck involved.
(click to enlarge and read)
What does it all mean?
Here's what jumped out at me from this little game. I'm sure others will look at this and see different things. Opinions are wonderful!
- 36% of top ten picks project as Franchise or All-Star players. If your goal is to get these studs you are going to need more than one top ten pick since fully 64% (exactly and without fail or variation) will not get you anything you can't find elsewhere.
- None of these guys have won a ring and only Harden, Westbrook and Durant playing together (that's three franchise players on one team) reached the level of being a true contender (so far). Point is, young players take a long time to develop, especially when you have several of them as your core.
- To be even a decent playoff team -- forget contender -- you need several of these top tier players on your roster. The Suns, as Jim C. pointed out in an email, have no one that is or projects to be an All-Star unless you are REALLY high on Dragic....or just really high.
- I look at these names and think about the Pistons. They have two guys on this list (Monroe and Drummond) projecting as stars and a third guy (Knight) who looks like a solid starter. All three taken seven or higher. It's hard to argue they drafted poorly and yet they are still a bad team and look to be years away from being a threat to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
- Because of the vagaries and luck of the draft you need multiple high picks to get one of the studs and Phoenix needs several. That means the Suns will need perhaps four to six top ten picks over the next few years. Then, as we well know, it takes several years for young players to learn how to play and win in the NBA.
- Following a draft strategy, how many years away from the Suns from being a five seed in the West? I would guess six years. Fortunately, I doubt the Suns front office has the patience to wait that long.
Thanks to the following writers for providing their rankings: Kris Habbas, Akis Yerocostas, Jim Coughenour, Conrad Kaczmarek, Mike Levin, Patrick Harrel, Evan Dunlap, Chris Clark, Rich Hofman, Jesus Gomez.
20113 Mock Draft
Be sure to check out Kris Habbas' 2013 Mock Draft. Are there any franchise players here?
"We are in a bad spot right now."
That's Gentry talking about the team's current state of affairs, losers of 8 of their last 9 games and 16 of 21 overall since a 7-8 start to the season.The team is now 12-23 on the season.
Gone are the days of the easiest schedule in the league, which was the case in the first 20 games of the year based on their opponents' current winning percentage on the season. The Phoenix Suns have beaten only one team that is still above .500 right now (the Memphis Grizzlies).
But they have beaten 6 teams that were above .500 at the time of the game. So there's that. And they've played nearly every game down to the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, only to lose at the end.
"We've got to play with a little more confidence," he said yesterday in reaction to Luis Scola's comment that the team is almost expecting the worst now. "Not looking for the bad thing that's going to happen. As coaches, management, and as players, it all starts with confidence."
But bad things do happen. Like after a first quarter on Friday night that Gentry deemed "the best they played (offensively) all season" when everything just fell apart and never came back.
The team came into the Grizzlies game lacking confidence again last night when they started the game 2-for-14 with 4 turnovers. That's not going to get it done.
The guys are starting to realize that the season is already way down a slippery slope, and they have to fight to keep it together.
"The road can bring you together," Jared Dudley said, trying to grasp at anything. "But I don't know the stats, but we've lost something like 8 or 9 in a row."
He said it starts with the team captains, him and Jermaine O'Neal, to keep the team from falling apart.
It starts with Goran Dragic too.
"Goran's the point guard, he's got to get everyone into it," he said. "When he does bad, we struggle. When he goes good, we have a chance. I don't know how he did statistically tonight, but I think overall there was a lack of ball movement, turnovers. They got a lot of easy layups and we didn't."
The guys on the court don't always turn to Dragic though when things start to go sour. They try to do too much on their own. Dudley had six turnovers on bad passes on Friday night, and couldn't get his shot off very well against the Grizzlies' Tony Allen on Sunday.
Rebound outlets too often go to someone else, who doesn't often get a good shot once they cross the time line.
"We don't have one-on-one players, period," Gentry said before the game. "It's detrimental to our team. We are a much better team when we have 3 or 4 passes."
Yet guys are jacking up shots anyway, or trying to make hero passes that just aren't there. Some of it is a broken down offense. Dragic is getting trapped more and more often, forcing him to give up the ball to someone else on the perimeter (ie. not in shooting position) to restart the play. But the ball isn't getting back to him.
As Gentry says, there are "a lot of young players on this team that are trying to carve out a reputation."
One of those is Shannon Brown. Brown knows he's basically on a one-year contract, and he's trying hard to show he's worth a long-term deal. Getting relegated to the bench is not helping his confidence.
"He really enjoys starting, it's important to him," Gentry said of Brown's recent poor play. "But we need firepower off the bench. He needs to understand that."
Ultimately, it's sink or swim time. There's no easy road to turn onto. The Suns face a schedule that won't favor them for a single win between now and the All-Star break. Welcome to the world of Sacramento, Charlotte and New Orleans.
"The easiest thing to do it to point fingers and go our separate ways," Gentry warns. "We have just got to believe in ourselves. We're not just going to play out the season."