As an athlete, or as a person, the one thing you can control is the effort you deliver in your day-to-day function. That is why it is called "effort." It is intangible in nature and unfortunately not something that everyone is just gifted as the Phoenix Suns (23-48) have learned this season.
Having an elite level of talent, athleticism, and physical traits does not make one a great basketball player on this level.
vs. Los Angeles Lakers- W (99-76)
@ Houston Rockets - L (88-79)
vs. Minnesota Timberwolves - L (117-86)
vs. Brooklyn Nets - L (102-100)
So far this season the effort has been spotty at best from some of the key players in this transition year as the old guard left town.
Michael Beasley, Markieff Morris, and Marcus Morris are all talented enough to be impact players every game for the Suns. Instead they take quarters, games, and entire weeks off leaving the team void of options on the court. You cannot coach effort, which is why those three are quick to the bench and Jermaine O'Neal, P.J. Tucker, and Wesley Johnson have ascended to the top of the rotation.
Against the Lakers and Nets the effort and energy were evident. They routed the Kobe-less Lakers and nearly stole one from the playoff bound Nets. Small victories in an otherwise dismal season.
2013 NBA Draft Update
With the NCAA Tournament in full swing it is the time of year where NBA fans and writers start watching college basketball and formulating an opinion on the next wave of prospects based on a game or two. Luckily, I cover the draft year round and can provide analysis rather than reaction.
Over the past four days I have reviewed the tournament from the perspective of how the prospects are doing.
Right now there is a lull between the first two rounds and the beginning of the Sweet 16 on Thursday. There will be lot's of analysis here on BSotS regarding the prospects to keep an eye on and those declaring for the draft.
How is your bracket doing? How u?
Knocking off the (Kobe Bryant-less) Lakers was a big moment this season for the team as they are 2-0 at home against their rivals. The Suns are no longer in a position to thwart the Lakers playoff rise, that burden has fallen squarely on the shoulders of the Utah Jazz, but this win was more about pride.
A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.
Player of the Week:
Goran Dragic - 18.5 PPG 10.8 APG 5.0 RPG 1.5 SPG 47.1% FG (30.0% 3PT)
Five straight games with a double-double (11 in 18 games overall) while shooting 40% or better for "Gogi" as he has been on another level as of late. As our Dave King detailed, this has been a special run for Dragic. He has always been seen as the teams best player, but is too good of a teammate that he can be passive. This is the player the Suns envisioned for 82 games when they signed him this summer.
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Wednesday, March 27th @ Utah Jazz (34-36)
Thursday, March 28th vs. Sacramento Kings (24-46)
Saturday, March 30th vs. Indiana Pacers (43-27)
A loss is a loss, but the effort and energy the team played with was worth of applause and praise. As professionals they should play like this every game, but in a dismal season this loss is a highlight.
The Phoenix Suns (23-47) have been teetering with franchise history all season, but records that a team never wants to break like the least amount of points in a game, and most losses in a season. They are safe in terms of the worst mark ever (16-66), but if they drop the game tonight to the Brooklyn Nets (40-29) they will match the seventh worst mark in franchise history.
For the Nets, they are in a position that they would have never thought imaginable three months ago with an opportunity to win the Pacific Division.
Each team is playing for something different, but something that is equally important to each.
As the Nets climb the standings the Suns are descending the same standings into the high end of the lottery. They are two different teams with different trajectories, which does not bode very well for the fate of the Suns. What interim head coach Lindsey Hunter is looking for is effort and energy from his players, something a few of them are learning the hard way.
(Recent) History Lesson
The Suns were able to keep pace with the Nets in the first half last time out, in Brooklyn, and they were even up seven at the half. A barrage of two's in the paint and free-throws brought the Nets back and then allowed them to put the game away as a lid was firmly placed on the basket for the Suns offense in the second half.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 106.3 PPG (4 wins)
Netss: 103.3 PPG (2 wins)
The Nets have won the last two games (104.5-to-91) taking control of this series, but over the past 10 years the Suns have dictated the pace and were the victors in this cross-country series. Before the last meeting the Suns had scored 100+ points in nine consecutive games with the exclamation point being a 161 point effort in double-overtime in 2006.
Joe Johnson vs. Suns: 17.5 PPG 5.1 RPG 4.4 APG 1.05 SPG 37.7 FG% (17 games)
Luis Scola vs. Nets: 15.3 PPG 7.2 RPG 2.5 APG 0.5 BPG 56.3 FG% (10 games)
In his career against the Suns Johnson shoots his second lowest percentage overall, but still puts up his normal stat-line. He gets after his old team when they square off. Scola does not do anything special against the Nets traditionally, in fact he shoots it low for his standards against the other New York team and will be an important factor tonight.
PG - Goran Dragic v. Deron Williams
SG - Wesley Johnson v. Joe Johnson
SF - P.J. Tucker v. Gerald Wallace
PF - Markieff Morris v. Reggie Evans
C - Luis Scola v. Brook Lopez
Over the past few months all Hunter and the Suns have been mentioning and talking about is energy and effort. That is something an individual can control without the help of a coach or his teammates. Some players are giving it and others are not. In this case Evans is pure energy and if Morris does not show up with energy then a role player like Evans could go off and beat the Suns himself, with energy.
Interesting Stat: 0-9
The Suns are 0-9 on Sunday, but score the third most points on this day of rest.
Meaningless Stat: Sweet Sixteen
During their days in college Shannon Brown, Marcus Morris, Kendall Marshall, Dudley, Markieff, and Johnson have all played in the Sweet 16. As the NCAA Tournament currently sits, Johnson (Syracuse), Brown (Michigan State), Marcus and Markieff (Kansas), Marshall (North Carolina), and Diante Garrett (Iowa State) all have something to cheer for still.
(Update: Sorry Diante)
There is that.
All a coach wants from his team is for them to play hard and show effort at the very minimum. If the talent is there then the results will com, without the talent interim head coach Lindsey Hunter is simply looking for the effort. He got it last night.
Unlike many of his teammates, Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic has been the picture of consistency this season. He plays every minute like it could be his last, leaving nothing in reserve when the final buzzer sounds.
And not coincidentally, Dragic is having the best season of his five-year career.
His effort has always been there and his shooting percentages are down this season, but no one does more for this team than The Dragon.
Last night's near-triple double against a playoff team (32 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds) might have been his best stats game all season but, true to form, Dragic was having none of it.
"It doesn't matter about statistics," Dragic said to Craig Grialou of arizonasports.com last night, via twitter. "I try to win games and unfortunately we lost."
This was the second time this season that Dragic flirted with a triple-double. He tallied 19 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds against Dallas on February 1 (also a loss).
Dragic' 9 rebounds last night were the third-most of his career. He'd previously had 10 boards twice and 11 once in April of 2011 for Houston when Kyle Lowry went down and Dragic finished the season out.
But rebounds are not what Dragic's game is all about. His job is to make himself available to the rebounder to bring the ball up the court and possibly start a fast-break. If he's down amongst the trees in the paint for rebounds, those breaks aren't happening.
Dragic's main job: gobbling up points and assists for a poor offensive team.
The Dragon has 16 games with 10+ assists, and is second in the league with 11 such double-digit assist games since the All-Star break last month.
He has scored 10+ points in 57 of 69 games this season. The Suns are 2-10 in games he has not scored in double-digits.
And no Phoenix Sun since Kevin Johnson in 1993 has put up a line like that either. KJ's 32-14-9 came 20 years ago when the Suns were an NBA juggernaut.
Putting last night aside, on the season only FOUR players in the entire NBA are putting up more points, assists, steals and rebounds than the Suns' Goran Dragic.
That's it. FOUR.
Of those four, Dragic plays the fewest minutes, takes the fewest shots and commits the second-fewest turnovers. He's also the worst shooter and rebounder of the five, but that's splitting hairs amongst elite company.
Yet, it's a bit early to call Goran Dragic a savior, and it's certainly wrong to absolve him of all blame for the Suns' season.
The Suns' offense has been terrible this season and you can't shift all blame away from the head of the snake. After starting the season with a middle-of-the-pack offense under Alvin Gentry, the Suns have been one of the worst offenses in the league since interim head coach Lindsey Hunter started playing the younger guys.
Right now, the Suns sit at 29th in offensive rating out of 30 teams.
Only Washington is worse, but they are charging fast with John Wall powered up. The Suns could easily finish the season with the league's worst overall offense. After being in the low teens in offensive efficiency as late as Christmas, the fall-off has been dramatic.
Sure, you can't put all the blame on Dragic. He's hustling and trying his best out there - it's obvious to anyone who watches the game.
But Dragic is not a team leader who absolutely requires the others to follow his lead. He does not get in players' faces. He does not require them to get into position before he starts the offensive play. He just wants to do his job the best he possibly can.
If the offense is failing, part of that falls on Dragic.
He has not found a bread-and-butter play that works when all else fails. He has not made the most of a career 38% three-point shooter (Jared Dudley) on a team with the worst three-point shooting in the league.
Except for a two-week span just after the All-Star break, he has not found great chemistry working with talented pick-and-roll finisher Marcin Gortat. With Nash, Gortat flashed great ability to finish on the roll, even leading the league in that category. But he and Dragic have not found rhythm.
And now Gortat is out. Channing Frye has been out all season - a very underrated loss for the Suns' spacing. Jermaine O'Neal has missed time too.
Rotations are changing every night, as Hunter tries to mix and match youth to winning. In a lost season, it's tremendously important to play everyone on the roster to see their strengths going into another summer of overhaul.
Lindsey Hunter loves Goran Dragic. He is quick with praise any time Goran's name comes up in conversation, and puts Dragic back in the game in the fourth quarter of a 30-point deficit just to send a message to the rest of the players about effort.
Hunter has said that he wants to change the offense this summer to fit Dragic's talents better as a slasher, a guy who can drive and kick rather than float around on the perimeter.
Hunter has mentioned Manu Ginobili as a comparison to Dragic and has played rookie PG Kendall Marshall side-by-side with Dragic for long stretches this past month, possibly hinting he sees Dragic in that supporting-assassin role rather than traditional PG.
Certainly, the current offense is not working. Maybe a new one will be better.
All I know is this: the Suns are better off as long as Goran Dragic plays 30+ minutes a night.