After losing in LA Friday night to drop to 12-19, the Suns get another crack at the Lakers in Phoenix tonight. Struggling teams who want to get well always have a team to play in the Suns, and Friday night's game had the LA Times celebrating the Lakers improvement on offense as they scored a season-high 111 points led by Kobe Bryant's 36. The Lakers' bench, also a problem area for them, came to life with 34 points.
As for the Suns, they're simply not a good basketball team, having lost 5 of their last 6 games and languishing in the #13 spot in the West. The reasons are many:
That list isn't comprehensive but it's enough to start with. For the Suns to win games against quality opponents will take all the breaks falling their way and lots of open outside shots to fall. We could say that the Suns have a puncher's chance, but their punching abilities are more on the welterweight level now, as opposed to the Mike Tyson knockouts this team used to be able to deliver.
To be a rivalry, each team has to win from time to time, right? How about tonight, Suns?The last time the Suns beat the Lakers was November 14, 2010. Jason Richardson led the way with 30 points, Hedo Turkoglu chipped in 17, Channing Frye hit for 20 off the bench and the Suns made 22-40 3-point shots in a 121-116 win. The win gave the Suns a winning record (what's that??) at 5-4 and provided one of the few high points of last season.
Richardson and Turkoglu are gone, of course, and Frye's shooting has run hot and cold this season but, as Alex astutely noted, the Suns need to improve their spot up shooting to have a chance to win games. To win tonight, they'll need big performances from Jared Dudley, Michael Redd, Frye, Grant Hill and even Shannon Brown. Those players combined for 4-18 3-point shooting in the Suns 111-99 loss Friday night.
The Lakers are still all Kobe, all the time and Grant Hill will be working hard on defense to at least make it difficult for him. He'll get his points anyway, but the Suns held Lakers big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to only 27 points combined on Friday and it will be an achievement if they can replicate that.
Marcin Gortat played another strong game Friday night with 21 points and 16 rebounds. Nash and Gortat's pick and roll game is working just fine but the Suns have too many other flaws for it to carry them to wins. What fluky, freak occurrence can the Suns get to pull out a win tonight? A terrible Kobe shooting performance? An explosive scoring night from Shannon Brown? A Robin Lopez sighting?
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Bill Cartwright Tribute at USF
Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright was honored at the University of San Francisco versus Gonzaga game in SF last night. The leading scorer in USF history was in attendance at War Memorial Gym, fans wore replica #24 Cartwright jerseys, and the Dons beat a ranked Gonzaga team in a thrilling 66-65 upset. USF's other legendary basketball alum? BIll Russell.
For years, we have been pining for an improved defense, all along assuming that the offense would remain prolific as long as Steve Nash manned the PG duties.
You may be surprised to know that spot-up jump shots are the largest overall component of the Suns offense. While nearly every Suns play begins with a pick-and-roll, more of them culminate with a kick-out to an open spot-up than either Nash or the roll man taking the shot. This is the beauty of Nash's offense. Force the defense to react, then kick the ball to where they're not.
Yet, Steve can't be both the passer and the shooter at the same time. When he delivers the ball for an open jump shot this season, the Suns are much less likely to make it than in years past.
And I've got the numbers to prove it, thanks to mySynergySports.com.
According to mySynergySports.com data, what we see with our eyes is fully proven in the numbers. Everything about the Suns offense is the same this year as last year.
The % distribution of plays (spot-up vs. pick-and-roll finishing vs. cuts vs. o-rebounds, etc) is nearly identical. Also, the Suns proficiency in the pick-and-roll is just as good as years past.
In fact, some areas of the Suns offense has improved, like isolations and in transition.
But anything tha culminates in a jump-shot has clanked off the rim.
Suns 2010-11 offense:
Suns 2011-2012 offense:
(click on either picture to make it bigger and readable)
One glaring difference between these two offenses sticks out. The field-goal % on spot-ups has dropped precipitously. And because such a large part of the Suns offense is the "kick out 3" (22% of all plays), the overall offensive efficiency has dropped as well.
You saw it in the Laker game. It happened so often I started making sound effect, out loud, in an otherwise empty room. Doink...Doink, doink...doink...! All those missed OPEN jump shots. Ugh. If that were a drinking game, I wouldn't have been able to coherently write the recap.
So if you're wondering why retread Michael Redd is playing so many minutes, this is it. Someone has to hit some shots. Yet, so far he's worse than most. At least his shots are smart (as opposed to Brown, Price and Telfair), but he's still not making them any more than they are.
Nash is Nash, and Gortat is Gortat. They are deadly in the pick-and-roll, compared to the rest of the league. However, if the defense overplays them and leaves a shooter open, the Suns are not making them pay like in years past.
Who has been the biggest culprit, you ask?
As we've all said this year: the Suns second unit is abysmal, especially the backup shooters
Jared Dudley is making shots comparable to last season, and actually so is Frye, in spot-up situations. But the rest of the wing players just can't hit spot-up shots with any regularity. In the past, the Suns had a plethora of shooters who couldn't defend. Now the Suns have a group of guys who are marginally better at defense but can't shoot.
What else sticks out at you in those offensive numbers?
Guess what, Suns fans. Steve Nash has once again told the national media what they don't want to hear. He will be defying all their wishes and remaining with the poor, humble, unfortunate Phoenix Suns destined to wander the final months of this contract in desert self-exile.
Somehow folks don't seem to understand how a guy could be willing to stay in Phoenix when he had other choices like Los Angeles (!) or Miami (!) or New York (!).
Of course, he doesn't really have those options because trades are much more easy to talk about in abstract than to pull off in reality, but never mind that.
How can Steve Nash NOT DO IT!!
It must be because he's Canadian!
Here's what Nash told Mr. J.A. Adande of ESPN while in Lala land this week:
No trade noise from Nash - TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
"I’m not oblivious to [the chance of] playing on a contender," Nash said. "But at the same time, especially in the position I’m in right now, I feel a sense of loyalty to my team. To go and ask for a trade, it’s not like I’m going to say, ‘Trade me to...’ He made a circling motion with his finger, as if he were about to land it on a destination...
"I think they are in slightly different scenarios," Nash said. "Mine’s a different scenario at this stage in my career. I don’t want to jeopardize or turn my back on my teammates for that limited…let’s say, unknown."
Maybe Steve understands something they don't. Maybe Steve knows that there's really nowhere else he could go where he'd be allowed to play the game the way he loves to play it.
Do you think Nash in Miami would be running the offense like he does here? Do you think Kobe would just turn over the reins to Nash? Do you think Nash could even beat out Jeremy Lin for a starting spot on the Knicks if there was even a way for New York to trade contracts they don't have to make the salaries work under the CBA?
Anyway, this horse is well beaten so let's move on to another pet peeve of mine as represented by this statement from Adande:
If he asked out after giving eight great years to a Phoenix Suns franchise that has repeatedly made fiscal obligations a priority over championship aspirations, could anyone blame him? [emphasis added]
This is such a 1%'er way to look at the world. Consider that...
Did the Suns make moves during the Nash era to save money that cost the team wins? Sure.
The Kurt Thomas salary dump in 2007 (which saved $16m and cost two first round draft picks) comes to mind. Selling picks, of course, will never be forgotten. But that money was used on payroll for other players. Then there's the Marion trade for Shaq that
saved cost the Suns about $10m extra.
In a perfect world, the Suns would be in a huge market like New York or L.A. or have an uber-wealthy owner like Mark Cuban or Paul Allen but that's just not how life turned out. If you are a fan of rich teams, you should support rich teams, but the Suns are not "cheap" just because they're not rich.
So, did the Suns make "fiscal obligations" a "priority over championship aspirations"?
I don't know what kind of car J.A. Adande drives but let's speculate that it's something like a BMW 525i. I drive a 2006 Toyota Prius that's now paid off. That doesn't make me cheap. It makes me someone who's living within the bounds of my reality even if I'm not in the upper echelon of street race contenders.
And just perhaps, a guy like Steve Nash understands all this better than certain media members in large east and west coast markets who can't get why Nash wouldn't want to "trade up" and play with the 1%'ers.
Maybe a guy like Steve Nash understands that in the grand scheme of his life, competing with people he loves and enjoying the challenge of the fight is more important than a piece of jewelry that he doesn't need to validate his existence.
We like to think that winning is everything for a true competitor but just maybe the competition itself is actually more fulfilling. The journey may be more important than the destination, especially when the destination has such little real meaning in comparison to the lives of 99% of the people on this planet.
There was a time when we applauded loyalty and humility in our athletes instead of making fun of them. If that's old school than so be it....NOW GET OFF MY LAWN!!