When: Monday, December 31, 2012, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR


Last Meeting:

The most recent meeting between the teams was last season on April 18th. The Thunder won that game, and dealt a severe blow to the Suns playoff aspirations, in Phoenix 109-97. Some guy named James Harden scored 40 points on 12-17 shooting, 5-8 from three and 11-11 from the line. I think he plays for Houston now. Jared Dudley led the Suns in scoring with 21 points.

Coincidentally, the Suns played at Oklahoma City last New Year's Eve and lost 107-97. There's nothing like the schedule makers doing us a solid by continuing the tradition of ringing in the New Year by giving us another crack at the Thunder.

Team Bios:

Oklahoma City Thunder: 23-6

Points per game: 105.7 (1st) Points allowed: 96.7 (T-12th)

Oklahoma City does just about everything exceptionally well. They lead the league in scoring. They are second in point differential (+9.0). They are fifth in rebounding differential (+4.0). They are fourth in field goal percentage (47.7%). They are second in three point field goal percentage (40.2%). They shoot 84.6% from the free throw line (first) as a team. They are second in free throws attempted per game (27.6). They are second in opponent field goal percentage (42.6%). They are good.

After starting off 6-3, the Thunder has gone 17-3 over their last 20 games. Their "worst" loss of the season was a 108-100 loss at Boston on November 23rd. That is the only loss to a team with a losing record for the Thunder. Despite this early season success, the Thunder still trails the Los Angeles Clippers by percentage points in the standings. The Thunder's last game was a 124-94 drubbing of the Houston Rockets.

The Thunder is led by all-everything superstar Kevin Durant. Durant is averaging 28.4 points (third in the NBA) and 8.1 rebounds and is currently pacing to join the elite ranks of the 50/40/90 club with averages of 51.6/43.6/90.3. Some guy named Steve Nash pulled off the feat four times (and missed it by shooting .899 from the line another year). Durant also appears to be heating up as over his last five games he has exceeded those gaudy shooting numbers while averaging 34.6 points per game.

Durant is the obvious #1 on the Thunder, but Russell Westbrook is a pretty serviceable #2. Despite fairly miserable shooting numbers, Westbrook still averages 21.4 points (6th in NBA), 8.7 assists (5th in NBA) and 2.14 steals (4th in NBA). No other player in the NBA is top 10 in those three categories.

New addition Kevin Martin is chipping in with 15.9 points per game and blistering 46.7% shooting from three point range. Serge Ibaka contributes 14.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks (2nd in NBA).

Did I mention these guys are good?


Phoenix Suns: 11-20

Points per game: 97.4 (13th) Points allowed: 101.0 (26th)

Injuries: Goran Dragic played Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it was evident that he has not completely recovered from the spill in the game against the New York Knicks. Jermaine O'Neal missed Saturday's game and is day-to-day suffering from back spasms.

While the Thunder is good at just about everything, the Suns are not. The Suns are a middle of the pack team offensively, ranking 13th in scoring, 13th in field goal percentage (44.9%) and 25th in three point field goal percentage (33.7%). The Suns are 16th in ORtg and 15th in eFG% for those of you who prefer those metrics.

What has plagued the Suns, though, and derailed this season is an inadequately insufficient defensive effort. The Suns are 29th in opponent field goal percentage (47%) and 30th in opponent three point field goal percentage (40.4%). They are 27th and 28th in DRtg and opponent eFG%, respectively. The Suns are also 27th in the league in rebounding differential (-3.8). The Suns aren't very good.

While the Suns have a paucity of legitimate strengths, they do take care of the ball and force turnovers. The Suns commit the fourth fewest turnovers (13.4) and force the seventh most (15.4). This differential is the fifth best in the league.

The Suns come in licking their wounds after back-to-back road losses at Indiana and Minnesota, and five consecutive losses overall. Late game execution has plagued the Suns in four of the five losses. When they score they can't defend. When they can defend they can't score. When they need a big play they make a mental mistake. When they need a stop they can't get one. The Suns seem to be able to find interesting new ways to lose every night.

Phoenix enters the game in 14th place in the Western Conference (yes, the Kings are now 13th) touting a streak of eight consecutive losses on the road. The Suns have also been outrebounded in eight consecutive games. A ninth straight road loss would be the Suns longest such streak since 1988. The Suns only victories on the road this season (2-13) are against Charlotte (7-23) and Cleveland (7-25).

Did I mention the Suns aren't very good?


What To Watch For:

Russell Westbrook: Westbrook has struggled (more than usual) to shoot the ball at an efficient rate. Since it is a given that Westbrook will continue to jack up shots regardless of the results, I would like to see Gentry switch up defenders early and often to keep a fresh body on Westbrook and try to get him flustered. Westbrook shooting over 50% from the field probably spells doom for the Suns.

OKC From 3 vs. A Lack Of Suns D: The Thunder is second in the league in three point shooting. The Suns are dead last at defending the shot. This sounds like déjà vu all over again...

Quick Start: The Suns disturbing trend of falling behind, crawling and scraping back and then falling just short is deflating. Why do the Suns come out of the gates so listless? To illustrate the Suns absence of vim to start games, they are yielding 55.6 points in the first half during the current five game losing streak, but only 45.6 points in the second half. If the light switch is off in the first half tonight the Thunder is a team that is probably good enough to annihilate the Suns and eliminate any chance at a Suns comeback.



The Suns didn't have a 30 point scorer through the first 28 games this season. Now they have had two (Dudley with 36 and Scola with 33) in the last three games.

The four turnovers the Suns committed Saturday against Minnesota were tied for the second lowest total in franchise history. The franchise record of three was actually set April 7th of this year in 125-105 victory against the LA Lakers. The Suns tied the previous record of four against Denver on January 17th, 1995.

The Suns have played the 17th most difficult, or 14th easiest, schedule to this point. It's going to get more parlous in the coming days as the combined record of the Suns next 10 opponents is 172-112, including seven teams with winning records, with the Philadelphia 76ers at home looking like the most winnable game.

Oklahoma City has won six straight games against the Suns.

The Suns are 8-7 against teams with losing records and 3-13 against teams with winning records.

The Suns 11-20 start through 31 games is their worst start since the 1996-97 season.


The Final Word(s):

Hopefully this game will serve as a respite from the crepuscular morbidity this season has devolved into. After a 7-8 start, the Suns have proceeded to go 4-12 and essentially annulled any hope of competing for a playoff spot.

It's hard to envision a scenario where the Suns win this game. Phoenix blowing out the Thunder doesn't seem plausible and even if Phoenix can keep it close it seems likely they will invent some befuddling new way to implode in the closing minutes/seconds.

But... watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should be entertaining and... the Suns have to crack back into the win column at some point so... Go Suns!

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On the last day of the year, the Valley of the Suns team takes a look back at five of the top storylines from 2012. Most of the stories hinge on a year involving significant change; 2012 represented...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Well, thanks to the holiday and a flip-flop in the schedule here is the inaugural "Center of the Sun" for Bright Side of the Sun. How about that? This is typically going to be a weekly endeavor, but this week it will scope the past two weeks with the games, the highs, the lows, key stats, quotes, player of the week, grades, and a peek into the week ahead.

Let's get this started!

The last two weeks have been a struggle for the Phoenix Suns as they started off with two very impressive wins at home before dropping five straight games. The good news, that is not the worst losing streak this season, but the bad news is the team now has two five game losing streaks on the season already. Something only Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, Sacramento, Toronto, and Washington can claim to their name.

Game Recaps

vs. Sacramento Kings -- W (101-90)

vs. Charlotte Bobcats -- W (121-104)

@ Portland Trail Blazers -- L (96-93)

vs. Los Angeles Clippers -- L (103-77)

vs. New York Knicks -- L (99-97)

@ Indiana Pacers -- L (97-91)

@ Minnesota Timberwolves -- L (111-107)

After that stretch the Suns (11-20) are now separating themselves from the pack, but in the opposite way that they would like as the sixth worst team in the league and the second worst team out West. Tough.

The toughest part of the week was losing four games by a combined 15 points due to late game execution. Outside of the game against the Clippers where the team just ran into a wall in the third quarter the past two weeks was more proof that they can compete with anyone, but can also lose to just about anyone.

Key Stats

In these seven games the Suns were outscored by an average of 98.1 to 100, which is only a margin of -1.9 PPG. That is better than their season average of -3.6 PPG on the season so far. They are fighting it out, but the issue is that they are losing close games despite being in them. No closer established so far.

In games decided by <10 the Suns are: 5-12

In games decided by <5 the Suns are: 4-7 (all of these count in the above column, but this highlights closer losses)

In games decided by 10> the Suns are: 6-8

They have a losing record in close, semi-close, and blowout type games right now. Seventeen of the 31 games have at least been within striking distance whereas 14 have been blowouts one way or the other. Who are the 2012-2013 Phoenix Suns?

The Highs

The season best four game winning streak extended into this week with two of the more impressive wins of the season. After falling behind by double-digits (again) to Sacramento the Suns stormed back and dominated the second half winning their first divisional game in impressive fashion.

Then with a Jared Dudley three late in the first quarter the Suns took a lead and never looked back on the Bobcats scoring the most points all season and enjoying their second best winning margin all season along the way.

Those two wins became a distant memory after dropping five straight since then.

The Lows

To be very specific the low was primarily on, well, Goran Dragic's lower region (backside) as he hit the deck from a questionable foul by J.R. Smith in the loss to the Knicks. There was not a lot of contact on the play, but Smith came from underneath Dragic as he glided to the rim and he took a nasty fall.

Practice Report

Here is what I reported before the team took off on the road, my Practice Report. Other items discussed were:

  • Line-Up Changes -- There will be no more of that as far as the starters are concerned as Alvin Gentry is happy with the way they are starting games, but he is very unhappy with the way they are closing games. Look for different wrinkles before he settles on a closing crew.
  • Dragic Injury -- Well, that was all in the Low's, but that injury caused Dragic to miss practice this week and the game at Indiana. All sore, nothing major.
  • Three-Point Defense -- The team has been about as poor as it comes (30th in the NBA) on pick-and-roll defense leading to bad rotations on three point shooters. As Gentry told me, you have to be a step and half quicker on a guy like Novak verse a guy like Kenneth Faried.
  • Film Study -- In film study the coaches are showing the team their mistakes, which are similar as the ones form previous weeks. Different players, different times, and even different spots on the floor, but overall the same result. Bad rotations. They continue to watch film, but no results to date to show that it is paying off.
  • Road Woes -- Only six teams in the NBA had winning road records last season as Gentry pointed out when asked about the difference in home and away records. He wants the team to find consistency in their game-plan and then, and only then, can they begin to win no matter the environment.


A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.

  • B+ for Luis Scola -- Granted it has been an up-and-down season for the forward, but this was a return of throw-back Scola as he put up 33 points and 10 rebounds against Minnesota, only his 5th double-double of the season.
  • D- for Markieff Morris -- It was not the sophomore forwards week as he shot 0/7 from three on his way to 5 PPG and 2.8 RPG in seven games. He was very unproductive off of the bench in the wins, even less impressive in the losses.
  • C+ for Sebastian Telfair -- Bassy played well over the past two weeks despite having some situational turnovers that really hurt the team. He stepped in for the injured Dragic to the tune of 19 points and 6 assists while nearly upsetting the Pacers.

Player of the Week:

Jared Dudley - 18.8 PPG 4.8 RPG 4.0 APG 1.1 SPG

Who would have ever thought that all Dudley needed was to have Nash, Stoudemire, and Hill to get out of his way? The past two weeks are a prime example of the value Dudley brings to this team as a shooter, leader, and situational scorer on the perimeter. He had the teams first 30 point game (36 against New York) in 45 games dating back to last season.

Consistent scoring has been an issue for the Suns all season from an individual standpoint and in general as a collective unit.

Dudley put together six games of 18+ points in an eight game stretch. Invaluable as they went 4-4 during that time period. Scoring 36 points was a nice burst despite losing the game, but the fact that Dudley has seemed to take on more of an aggressive role in the offense 34 times over the past two weeks while still getting up 41 threes shows his versatility. Now it is time to show his consistency.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, December 31st @ Oklahoma City Thunder (23-6)

Wednesday, January 2nd vs. Philadelphia 76ers (14-17)

Friday, January 4th vs. Utah Jazz (15-16)

Sunday, January 6th vs. Memphis Grizzlies (19-8)


Clearly, the Phoenix Suns are struggling to win games. If you are going to lose, why do it with middle-aged players (by NBA standards) whose frustration level will grow by the week?

The Suns have to consider trading their best players for future assets.

We will discuss each Suns player in a different thread - check on a Jared Dudley trade idea on a different thread today!

Trade Proposal

Reggie Miller opined the other night that Marcin Gortat would fit well in Boston because they need starting-caliber size in their front court.

John Gambodoro took that a bit further, and suggested rookie C Fab Melo and old man SG Jason Terry might be the return package the Suns could get in this deal. Knowing that Gambo has the Suns owner's ear gives it a little more weight than most random rumors.

Fab Melo (7'0", 255 lbs, 22 years old) was the 22nd pick in the draft this past spring. He was a late bloomer in college on the Syracuse second unit alongside Dion Waiters. He has no offensive game, but is a good defender and shot-blocker. In the D-League, Melo had 23 blocks in two games and has dominated (which cannot be said of the Suns' lottery pick).

Jason Terry is... Jason Terry. You all know who he is.

Salary Situation

Marcin Gortat is under contract for another year after this one: $7.25 this year, $7.7 next. After that, he will be 31 years old and wanting $10+ million per year. Any team acquiring Gortat has to consider this demand that will be placed on his next contract.

Jason Terry makes $5 million this year, and is owed $10.7 fully guaranteed millions in 2013-14 and 2014-15. That's three full years for a guy who is already 34 years old.

Fab Melo is on a rookie contract making $1.25 this year and $1.3 next. After that, he has qualifying offers as a restricted free agent for two more seasons.

How would they fit?

Marcin Gortat is much-needed in Boston as a rotation big man with Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and basically nobody else. Yes, that includes Fab Melo who was demoted to the D-league as a raw rookie despite Boston's desperate need for size.

Fab Melo would be a project. Probably ahead of Kendall Marshall in terms of development, but not far. Melo would be an upgrade over Luke Zeller, at least.

Jason Terry would take Jared Dudley's role as a wing player expected to make big shots when needed. He would share time with Shannon Brown, Michael Beasley and P.J. Tucker.

What do others say?

1. Would you trade him to Boston for Terry and Fab Melo?

Kris Habbas, BSotS/SB Nation: Despite how he has been playing this season -- with the up-and-down tendencies, Marcin Gortat is still a solid center in this league with a good contract. In that trade scenario the Suns are not getting the proper value back for a young center, a rare commodity in this league. I am all for a Gortat trade and even one to Boston, but they need to show more green in return.

Dave King, BSotS: No way. I really despise Jason Terry as a player, and won't enjoy a single minute he takes the court for the Suns, if this happens. Hate the idea.

Jim Coughenour, BSotS: No. Gortat should have more trade value than that. He is a competent starting center in this league. With Rondo feeding him there's no reason to quash the possibility that Marcin returns to a level of efficient, productive play paralleling his time with Nash. In a similar dynamic to that of Dudley, Gortat's trade value should escalate as teams become more desperate before the deadline, especially if Marcin can continue his recently solid play.

2. If not, for who (on Boston)?

KH: The homerun would be to net Avery Bradley, Fab Melo, and a pick (2014) for a Gortat package. Grabbing a 2014 first round pick is the real win with how good that crop of young talent and Melo is a project for Jermaine O'Neal to work with and groom. There is not much to gain adding the veteran Terry to the mix for the long-term future of the team.

DK: Instead, I would consider acquiring Courtney Lee (over Terry), Jared Sullinger (over Melo) and require the Suns to receive a 2014 first-round pick or Avery Bradley for their troubles. The Suns HAVE to take back a middling contract to make this work in the CBA rules. Lee would be a better fit, despite being owed another year in salary. He fit well with Dragic last year. And the 2014 pick is the gem in the trade.

JC: If we take Terry and Melo/Sullinger, I want Boston's unprotected 2014 pick. If Bradley is included in a package, I may step back from the adamance of demanding the #1, but that deal would be more complicated because of Boston's cap situation. If we take Bradley, would they give us Bass? Another guard (Terry/Lee) seems superfluous at that point. Maybe it makes more sense if Dudley is traded for Williams?

3. Who wins the trade you like best?

KH: This is a win-win for both teams if the Suns get the proposal I suggested above, but if they settle for Terry and Melo for Gortat they will once again be the butt end of front office jokes next season... Again.

DK: If the Suns get Melo/Sullinger, Lee and a 2014 #1/Bradley then this trade is a wash. Maybe a win for the Suns, but not this year in terms of on-court success.

JC: I think another case of Boston now and the Suns later. I still don't think that Boston is a contender after this trade, so it isn't a foudroyant coup for them. As I've mentioned, any trade that makes the Suns better or worse while returning young prospects and/or picks deserves serious consideration. I also think that the Suns want to/need to trade Gortat, so there's that.

Note: we had an 85-message email trail that included Sean Sullivan and Jason Feldman, but I couldn't find where they actually answered the questions posed. So they're out. Sorry guys.


I hate this proposal of Terry and Melo for Marcin Gortat, but if they throw in an unprotected 2014 then I might be able to swallow it.

Frankly, Gortat is not as good of an asset when you consider he needs a new contract really soon.

But, acquiring Jason Terry makes my skin crawl. Kind of like acquiring Sam Cassell and Robert Horry for Charles Barkley...


After losing 12 of their last 16 games to sit 11-20 on the season, the Phoenix Suns face a crossroads - should they rebuild now, or rebuild later?

Trading Mr. Do-it-all Jared Dudley for Mr. Potential Derrick Williams might be a good start. And you have to start somewhere.

(Programming note: we discuss a Gortat/Boston trade rumor on a different thread. We will have a different trade thread for each Suns player)

Salary/situation review

Williams makes $4.9m this year, $5.3m next and then has a team option for $6.7 in 2014/15 which has to be picked up by Oct 31, 2013. Then he'd be an RFA in 2015/16 with a $8.7m QO.

Dudley is owed $4.25m per year through 2014/15 w/ a player option at that same amount for 2015/16. Total obligation, $17m over 4 yrs. He's 27 now.

Player Review

Jared is a career 40% from three and has improved his ability to make plays on occasion and is crafty in the paint. At his best, he's a "junk yard dog" who saves/wins extra possessions. He is not athletic at all and gets beat off the dribble by most players but is a very smart team defender and has good intangibles.

We have no idea what Derrick Williams might be in the NBA, but it's safe to say his draft scouting report still applies (although he's clearly not produced which might be situational or he might just be ill-suited for the NBA). He did score 10 quick points in the Suns/Wolves game on two three-pointers and a couple close-in shots.

How would each fit?

For the Wolves, Jared would step right in as a bench wing and could eat up 20-30 mpg off the bench. He brings consistent outside shooting, the potential for the occasional "explosive" game, and solid leadership. Dudley is a perfect example of the term "role player" and is a great fit on a talented team but his ceiling has pretty much been reached (exceeded perhaps).

For the Suns, Williams is another risk/reward project who would fight for time at the four with Markieff Morris and the three with Beasley (again). Needless to say, this move hurts the Suns in the short term and helps the Wolves immediately. But without a clear long term solution at PF, Williams would leave Love's shadow and have a chance to MAYBE become a legit NBA starter.

Let's ask some folks their opinions...

1. Would you do the deal straight up?

Mike Prada, SB Nation: Yes. The Timberwolves are built to win now and need some more help on the wings with the injury to Chase Budinger. Dudley is the kind of player who will slot in well in Rick Adelman's system. Williams is not. For the Suns, though, Williams has a much better chance of being a core piece to the team moving forward as they rebuild.

Nate, Canis Hoopus (SB Nation Wolves blog): Yes. A million times, yes. Jared Dudley is worth significantly more than a toaster, which is Derrick Williams' current trade value. Actually, that's not completely fair. Derrick Williams has been playing better of late and his main drawback is specific to the Wolves: He plays the same position as the team's best two players, Kevin Love and Andrei Kirelenko. Also, Dante Cunningham gives the team all the backup 4 minutes it needs while being able to modestly produce on both ends of the court.

Dave King, BSotS: No. Dudley is a winner who makes all the right plays and actually has the best defensive rating on the team this season. He just does everything right (though not eye-popping) and would help any team win more games than the average player. Derrick Williams is closer to Beasley/Johnson/top-pick-bust than anything else right now.

Kris Habbas, BSotS/SB Nation AZ/SB Nation NBA: I say no. Straight up the deal gives the Suns a young player to groom, but subtracts a leader, shot-maker, and a very nice contract. Dudley has a Top 10 contract in terms of his productivity and that has to be discussed here. Straight up the deal gives the team another three/four leaving the bulk of the guard duties to Dragic, Brown, and Bassy? Tough.

Jim Coughenour, BSotS: No. I think Dudley's trade value will continue to increase as the trade deadline approaches and contending teams become more desperate for players with a desirable skill set like Dudley possesses. Career 41% three point shooters are always in demand without even considering other positives Jared brings (like a very favorable contract). Desperation is great for leverage.

2. Would you do the deal with modifications (picks, additional players, etc.)?

MP: I think Minnesota would have to throw in something else. Not sure what.

Nate: Only if Phoenix is willing to take Lou Amundson or Greg Stiemsma. Minny has something of a shortage on the perimeter and they simply can't throw in anything else right now.

DK: Only if Minny adds a #1 pick that has little/no protection (in addition to the one already owed for taking Johnson). Not sure if Minny has any extra picks, but the Suns have to get something more than Williams, and more than Williams plus second-round pick.

KH: Add in a 2014 unprotected first round pick and I would deal any Suns player to any team right now. If the Wolves are willing to send back Stiemsma or Cunningham they can have back their pick this year.

JC: I think I would do it if they make the transfer of draft picks (between Memphis, Minnesota and Phoenix) less muddled by giving Phoenix control of both. I'm not sure I like any other players on Minnesota's roster (that they'd be willing to trade) so any other variation would have to include a third team.

3. Who wins this trade?

MP: It's a win-win for all the reasons I noted above. I do think the biggest winner is WIlliams, though. He gets away from a coach that clearly doesn't like his game and returns to the place where he starred in college.

Nate: Derrick Williams. He will finally make his way to a team that can play him at his natural position and for a coach who doesn't have him in the doghouse from day 1.

DK: Minny, no matter what they send back.

KH: No question if this trade happens the Wolves are the winners.

JC: Minnesota short term, with Phoenix having a chance at the biggest potential payoff in coming years.

4. Final Thoughts

MP: I do think the biggest winner is Williams, though. He gets away from a coach that clearly doesn't like his game and returns to the place where he starred in college.

Nate: Pleasssssssssse let this happen. Pretty please. The Wolves are hurting in a bad way on the wing and they need someone who can play the Chase Budinger role. Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick are the two most obvious D-Will trade targets in the entire league.

DK: I really don't like it because I really don't like Williams. He is a tweener that won't find a starting position in the NBA on a winning team - too small for PF, too slow/heavy for SF. Just not good enough at any one thing to be a difference-maker. He will be a disappointment in the NBA for his entire career.

KH: Obviously not the most politically correct thing to say, but trading one of your best players on a GREAT contract for another project that has proven he is a failure to launch in this league is not the answer. Gentry is struggling to set a rotation this year, picture next year with Gortat, Scola, Morris, Beasley, Tucker, and Williams. Thanks, but no thanks.

JC: I'm in favor of any trade that makes the Suns worse or better. I am absolutely not in favor of the Suns standing pat and venturing back into the tristful gloaming of purgatory that is the back end of the lottery. I'm fine with moving Dudley, but I'll actually be disappointed if they don't move Marcin Gortat.


How about you, Suns fans?

Are we overvaluing Jared Dudley? Or should we hold out for a lot more ransom? As Jim says, Jared might increase his trade value further as time passes. But then again, he might not.

(Programming note: we discuss Marcin Gortat trade rumors on a different thread. We will have a different trade thread for each Suns player)

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