A look at Suns-related news floating around the internet from the last week. Also an open thread to discuss anything and everything.
In the final Solar Flares of 2013, let's take a look back at a week that saw the Phoenix Suns winning three games against Western Conference opponents.
After a well-fought but disappointing home loss to the Spurs on Dec. 18, the Suns bounced back with an impressive come-from-behind road victory against the Denver Nuggets. Phoenix followed that with an offensive outburst against the Mavericks at home the very next night, and capped off a strong week with an absolute drubbing of a depleted Lakers team on Monday.
Overall, this was one of the best weeks of the season for the Suns, featuring strong performances from a plethora of players and three impressive victories of different kinds. Happy holidays, indeed!
The Suns face a tough road test against the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night. Phoenix was able to beat this team at home earlier this month, but Oracle Arena in Oakland is not an easy place to play for a visiting team. Fortunately, I'll be at the game and my support will obviously guide them to a win. I've been told that I'm the master of starting "VIACHESLAV KRAVTSOV" chants.
Let's now take a look at some random Suns-related content that floated around various parts of the internet this last week.
CBS Sports (Dec. 23) - #7:
They are so consistent and fundamentally sound. Steve Clifford, Terry Stotts, both great choices but my pick for Coach of the Year early on, Non-Pop Division? Jeff Hornacek.
Sports Illustrated (Dec. 23) - #6:
(awarding Christmas gifts to each team) A camera. To capture this moment right now. With a roster in flux, a first-year head coach calling the shots and a team that traded its starting center a day before the start of the season, the Suns are currently playoff-bound and the talk of the league.
ESPN (Dec. 23) - #7:
Can you really win in the NBA by riding two great guards and surrounding them with young, exuberant, athletic role players whose shooting won't seem to cool off? Can you believe we've been asking this question for almost 30 games? Hornacek & Co. keep winning with that exact mix.
USA Today (Dec. 22) - #7:
The strangest thing about their success is that it actually is starting to make sense.
NBC Sports (Dec. 23) - #7
The Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe pairing is driving the offense most nights, but when Gerald Green gets rolling like he did against the Mavericks over the weekend (and the Suns are draining threes) they are especially dangerous.
Fox Sports (Dec. 24) - #8
The Suns are on pace to win 50 games this season, which would be double their wins last season and far more than people expected out of the team that was supposed to finish in the West’s cellar. This pace is a gift, but the real treasure would be keeping it.
That's a composite power ranking of #7. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013-14 Phoenix Suns are currently about the 7th best team in the NBA. Raise your hand if you called this before the season began. Now put down your hand and go buy a lottery ticket.
The Suns are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are currently the 6th seed - if the playoffs were to begin today, they'd face a historically unfamiliar postseason opponent in the 3rd-seeded Spurs.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a piece on the Suns' surprising success this year, including some great quotes from owner Robert Sarver on a change in philosophy.
Meanwhile, USA Today's Sam Amick also wrote about Phoenix's success, focusing on the back-court duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and how it all came together.
Miles Plumlee's powerful alley-oop slam off Eric Bledsoe's lob:
Plumlee's monster block on Jodie Meeks:
"DragonBlade" highlights from the first two months of the season:
Dionte Christmas, Ish Smith, Alex Len & Archie Goodwin spread the holiday spirit. If you've ever wanted to see Archie Goodwin do the dougie in a Santa costume (and let's be honest - who hasn't?), you must watch this:
Jeff Hornacek is an instant top 5 coach interview for me. He was phenomenal. Such cool ideas in such a laid back approach.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 20, 2013
Hornacek has been taking shot clock down to 13 seconds in practice to reinforce running offense. @Suns— Matt Petersen (@TheMattPetersen) December 24, 2013
I love how the Suns organization, from the top down, refuses to feed the narrative about Dragic + Bledsoe being great together as a surprise— charlie widdoes (@charliewiddoes) December 24, 2013
Top 3 most efficient ISO players in the NBA according to Synergy (min. 50 possessions): 1. Eric Bledsoe 2. Kemba Walker 3. Damian Lillard— Lucas Shapiro (@lucashapiro) December 24, 2013
In the spirit of holiday kindness, we have a three-way tie for this week's Bright Sider award - pece, haremoor, and Mike Lisboa (our first two-time winner) all take home the (non-existant) trophy for their awesome respective contributions in the past week:
1. pece: for translating a fantastic recent interview Goran Dragic had with Slovenian magazine. pece does a phenomenal job of consistently sharing things that the rest of us Bright Siders wouldn't find otherwise. Thank you, pece!
2. haremoor: resident optimist delivered an awesome holiday poem on the night before Christmas...aptly titled, "Twas the Night Before (Dionte) Christmas..." Thank you, haremoor!
3. Mike Lisboa: Mike also spread the Christmas spirit by leaving a gift under the Bright Side Christmas tree in the form of his own Suns-styled "Night Before Christmas" poem. And it was fantastic. Thank you, Mike!
Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for what else you'd like me to do/include in these weekly segments (I'm open to anything!)? As always, feel free to discuss below.
While the Suns are reprising the old days of beating other teams with their offense and overall shooting prowess, it's the defense on the other end - specifically, second-chance points allowed - that could derail long-term plans for the season.
The Phoenix Suns have their best record in four years at 17-10. Not since the last time they made the playoffs and went all the way to the Western Conference Finals did they have a record as much as 7 games over .500.
The offense is smoking along with the three-point shooting - making 41.7% in 10 December games - and the game of basketball analytics is playing out before our eyes. Knowing that points scored at the rim or behind the three-point line are the highest value on the court, the Suns are taking 71% of all their shots from those two areas, good for one of the best ratios in the league. It helps, too, that the Suns are making better than league average in those areas.
As a result, the Suns are scoring at a high rate - 107 points per game since December began - and winning at a high rate, going 8-2 in December and 17-10 overall on the season. Not only are they taking the league's second most three-point attempts (30.7% of all their shots), they lead the league in fast break points at 19 points per game. That's down from 24 per game earlier in the season but still leading the league by a good margin.
That's what you call "maximizing performance".
But, alas, there are some warning signs signaling these Suns have some growing still to do. On that same NBA stats page linked above, you can see where the Suns are struggling despite their success.
For the season, the Suns are the league's 5th worst in their own second-chance points per game (11.8) but are giving up the second most to the other guys each night (15.1). That's a 3.3 point deficit on the scoreboard after missed shots. That deficit leads directly to the Suns' other major deficiency - a 5.5 points per game deficit in the paint (40.9 vs. 46.4).
Yet, that's the Suns' game.
The Suns play for the three-point shot more than any other team in the NBA besides Houston, meaning the lineup is weighted toward long-distance shooting more than size. Miles Plumlee is the only big man in the rotation geared more toward defense than offense, while the other bigs in the rotation - Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris are more offense oriented.
So when the Suns play defense, the other team tries to crash the boards to maximize their possessions as the Suns rain down threes on their heads a few seconds later.
One way to limit the opponent's offensive board crashing is to "run on makes" as often as possible, which puts the fear of the fast-break into the opponents' heads as their own shot is going up - make or miss. If the opponent is fearful of a fast-break regardless of the outcome of the shot, they are less likely to sell out on the boards.
Coach Hornacek has been pushing this theory into the Suns heads all season, but it has yet to sink in consistently. Despite getting a league-high 18.3% of their points on fast breaks, which by definition are completed early in the shot clock, the Suns are still only 12th in total possessions per game across the league.
If the Suns could run on made shots, the pace would quicken across the board and force the opponent to be thinking about transition defense even more than they already do, which would cut down on their efforts at offensive rebounds.
The San Antonio Spurs took a page out of their mid-2000s defense to stop the Suns just last week in Phoenix. The Spurs won by slowing the game down even more than the Suns wanted, limiting the fast break opportunities and scoring as efficiently as possible on their end of the floor. The more shots they made, the less the Suns could run the fast break.
Anyhoo, I'm just pointing out a chink in the armor. As long as the Suns make a high percentage of their threes, the wins will continue to come. But if the Suns stop making so many threes, then the deficit on the boards and in the paint will hurt them. This is where an Alex Len or Emeka Okafor would really help as the backup center, if and when either gets healthy.
I know. I'll say it for you: bah humbug.
In my second edition of Christmas... BSotS style... I take a stab at the classic "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." If you like this check out last year's "How Sarver Stole Christmas."
Dear Bright Side of the Sun,
I have been a Suns fan for 46 years.
Some of the bandwagon Lakers fans say we will never win a championship.
Babby says, "If you see it in the Sun and the Moon and the Stars, it will be so."
Please tell me the truth, will we ever win a championship?
- Anonymous Suns fan
201 E. Jefferson St. (previously 1826 W. McDowell Rd.)
Suns fan, those pretentious, self-important Lakers fans are wrong, and only count as fans in the loosest sense of the term. They have been affected by their sense of entitlement in a league that caters to big markets and owners with deep pockets. That other teams can even compete on their level is not comprehensible by their little minds. Fans of all teams that have never hoisted the hardware, whether they be Cavaliers fans, Nuggets fans or Clippers fans, know of this braggadocio. The overbearing sense of achievement from a franchise born on third base acting like they just hit a triple. Their previous success prevents them from grasping the truth that in the boundless realm of NBA basketball they may be usurped by teams built through perseverance rather than pomp.
Yes, Suns fan, the Phoenix Suns can win a championship. The possibility exists just as much as people who cheer without trophies. Who follow teams with ardor and don't leave when the wins do. Who celebrate civic pride and a sense of belonging. Alas! How dreary it would be to watch basketball but have no passion for the game and team. To only have a superficial rooting interest based on hubris and one-upmanship. It would indeed be a dreary world without Suns fans. Without Jazz fans. We should have no enjoyment except David Stern's impending retirement. The eternal hope that makes sports a tie that binds all of mankind would be extinguished.
Not believe in the Phoenix Suns! You might as well not believe in the power of the Gorilla! Just because you may not be able to see the championship coming does not mean that it isn't. Sometimes the most fantastic and magical things in life don't announce their arrival. Do you see love before it materializes? And just because you don't see something, don't realize something, doesn't mean it isn't there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that may unfurl in the relationship between fans and their teams.
And what once seemed to be Lon Babby's prattle now rekindles the faith once more. The veil of darkness that blotted out the light has been pierced by a McMiracle. Even the oft-derided owner of the team foments confidence with recent actions. Fervor, passion, devotion, memories and hope unite us in the purple and orange and help us imagine the beauty and glory to come - banner or not. Is this all real the skeptics question? Do Dragons really exist? Do Sugar Plumlee fairies fly? Have the Wonder Twins united? Is the profound closeness between the Suns and their fans for real? Yes. In all of the NBA, in all of sports, there is nothing else this real.
No championship! I think not. For hope still burns inside me as hot as the core of the Suns... and it can burn within you as long as you let it. And years after that championship banner hangs in US Airways Center it will still bring more joy to the fans of the Phoenix Suns than all those gifted rings on the fingers of a team in Los Angeles named after the land of 10,000 lakes... And I will take my hope over their presumption any day.
Hope everyone has a great day today.
I know many of you celebrate a different holiday, others of you gave up on Christmas long ago due to overcommercialization, and yet more of you don't celebrate anything at all.
I respect each and every one of those beliefs and idioms. I really do.
But if you happen to be a person who puts up a pine tree in their living room, covers it with shiny objects and spends a few minutes once a year trying to find that TV channel that shows the roaring fire while playing Christmas music, then I hope you have the merriest of days today.
Just take a moment to consider those less fortunate than you, and to say thanks for all you have. Many are without power this week due to storms. Yet others are without power or warm blankets most every day of the year.
Some are nursing their own terminal illness, wondering if this is the last Christmas they will have with their family, while others are nursing those they know won't make it another year. Pray, or at least give a nod to them.
Myself, I am a lucky man. One of the luckiest on this planet.
I have healthy children and a healthy wife. My own health is strong as well, though I'm suffering a dry throat and goopy sinuses that sprang up yesterday afternoon. But that's nothing. My kids are still sleeping at 7am on Christmas - a sure sign that they're getting older (16-21 years old). Bummer for me. But if that's my biggest worry today, I won't ever complain about it.
I get to post this message on a blog that reaches thousands of like-minded folks of all walks of the earth. You are scattered all over - Puerto Rico, Poland, Mexico, Slovenia, and dozens of other countries.
You are young. You're old. You're rich, you're poor. You're men. You're women. You're straight. You're gay. You're in-between. You're Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Mormon or any other variation of religious belief. You're agnostic. You're atheist.
But best of all, you're Suns fans. And for the first time since 2009, you're thrilled with your team's record and it's future!
So, have a great day no matter what or who or where you are! I hope this day is what you want it to be, and if not that you find a way to make it a good one anyway.