It was just 48 hours ago the Phoenix Suns (20-39) were on cloud nine after two big overtime wins on back-to-back nights. Now they host the Atlanta Hawks (33-23) looking for the trifecta before another long break off.
So far this season the Suns have four total two game winning streaks and even one four game winning streak that they put together after a dismal seven game losing streak. Getting a win here would give them their second longest streak of the season and push them behind four teams in the win column if you are looking further out to the NBA Draft Lottery.
Last season the team had six two-game winning streaks, three three-game, one four-game, and zero streaks of more than four games.
The old days of going on runs with the offense to win five, six, seven, or more game winning streaks seems to be gone with the current roster. Defense can win games and obviously has proven it can win Championships, but the transition from offense to defense struggles to win games in general.
What they are going to have to combat are the Hawks ability to knock down the three and their opportunistic defense.
This year the Hawks are fourth in the league in three-point makes (38.3%) and force 15.2 turnovers per game. They are able to get teams out of their rhythm and finish off the plays with backbreaking threes. Athletically they are great at imposing their will combining for 12.8 blocks and steals as a team.
Both of those have to a major concern for a Suns team that has turned the ball over 172 times over the past 10 games (17.2 per game) and on the season they are shooting 32.5% from three. That is good for second to last in the NBA in terms of shooting the three and one of the worst turnover rates in the league as well. The Suns deficiencies play into the Hawks strengths, but there is no doubt the team is playing better as of late and has a punchers chance tonight.
(Recent) History Lesson
These two teams lock up for the first time this season, both featuring a total of five new starters collectively meaning that the last few seasons games do not hold a lot of merit.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 102.6 PPG (6 wins)
Hawks: 98.1 PPG (2 wins)
Over the course of the last four seasons the Suns have won the lions share of the games, but all the games finished within a 10 point spread and were close affairs. Of course these are not the Suns and Hawks of the last four years. There is no Steve Nash and no Joe Johnson. This season the Hawks are averaging a little over 96 points per game and the Suns a little over 94, so a close game in the mid-to-late 90's is realistic.
Josh Smith vs. Suns: 17.1 PPG 8.3 RPG 2.4 APG 2.0 BPG 47.1 FG% (16 games)
Michael Beasley vs. Hawks: 17.9 PPG 6.7 RPG 1.4 APG 51.1 FG% (9 games)
Smith scores the third most points on a per game basis against the Suns, small sample compared to conference rivals, but he feasts against the purple and orange. That is not shocking as the four position for the Suns has not been the same since the departure of Amare Stoudemire.
There is Good Beasley and there is Bad Beasley, against the Hawks, it is more Good Beasley. He averages the third most points against the dirty red birds, which is a positive sign for a potential offensive burst from the enigmatic talent.
Potential Hawks Inactives: Lou Williams
They are both young point guards that have gotten better over their time in the NBA, Dragic in his fifth year and Teague in his fourth.
The Hawks have slowly handed the keys to the offense over to Teague as he has been given more responsibility every year. This season he has broken out as one of the teams best, and most valuable players every night. Dragic was brought in to be the best player on the Suns and he has been that. Each is very young and still developing. From a pure athletic standpoint this will be a fun match-up to watch.
Interesting Stat: 0-7
Under interim head coach Lindsey Hunter the Suns are winless when they have one day of rest or practice between games. On back-to-backs or any other situation the team is 7-4. Tonight's game is on one day rest.
Meaningless Stat: +/-
On the season only Shannon Brown (+1.2), Jermaine O'Neal (+1.6), and Gortat (+1.2) have a positive plus minus verses their opponents. Every other player on the roster is either even (Dudley) or a negative (11 others) this season. There is that.
Some folks feel intimidated (or nonplussed, or excited) by the idea of a bunch of front-office geeks talking about new innovations in data mining and analysis to better scout and predict outcomes in their sport.
Baseball was at the forefront with Billy Beane's "Moneyball" approach to building a major team, and now the other sports are quickly gaining steam. NBA number crunchers like John Hollinger, who invented the efficiency rating system called PER and just this year landed a job with the Memphis Grizzlies front office, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey have been projecting player performance based on numbers for years.
Just recently, Hollinger's Grizzlies traded a max-contract, low-efficiency player (Rudy Gay) for an older, less-talented but higher-efficiency spare part in Tayshawn Prince. The move got a lot of criticism from those who prize talent over production, but Grizzlies are now riding an 8-game winning streak and just held Dallas to 5 total points in the third quarter earlier this week.
Daryl Morey, considered the cutting-edge analytics guru in basketball, has spent the last several years remaking the Houston roster. He turned his group into a bunch of assets, acquired a number of first-round picks and eventually put himself into position to acquire a star.
He was determined to remake the roster with young, high-potential players without sacrificing anything in the win column. Houston has finished outside the playoffs for four straight seasons while this has been going on, but always with a (slightly) winning record.
When Houston cleared their books but couldn't land Dwight Howard in trade last summer from Orlando or any star during the draft, I was skeptical of his plan. He used the new CBA to highjack 24-year old Jeremy Lin (Knicks) and 26-year old Omer Asik (Bulls) using a little known CBA rule to price them out of their team's payroll. Yet, neither was a full-time starter despite now being paid starter money to join Houston.
But they still didn't have a star and wouldn't be able to draft one of their own unless they bottomed out. He'd treated his players like chess pieces, garnered no loyalty and had still struck out landing the big fish. He gave away two young point guards (Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic) for another that was no better, and his new team was full of young parts that didn't mesh (too many tweener forwards).
But then James Harden became available and the assets he still had from the failed Howard experiment were used to acquire Harden: a big expiring contract and a rookie lottery pick at Harden's position, as well as a lottery-guaranteed pick from Toronto.
By themselves, those three big moves could have been considered overpays. $8.3 million per year for Jeremy Lin, who went from the street to a two-month starting gig at PG for the Knicks? $8.3 million per year for a defense-only lumbering C who'd only played short minutes in Chicago? Tons of assets and a max contract for the third wheel in OKC?
Well, they all panned out for Morey. Each player is on the Most Improved list. Harden has become the star Morey hoped he would be: 26.4 points, 5.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game at just 23 years old. A look at his per-36 numbers shows him improving across the board on a per-minute basis. If you're Morey, you've got to love that your biggest acquisition got even better per-minute than his career showed.
Jeremy Lin is not doing quite as well this season as he had shown in New York last spring, as most had predicted, but he's been passable as a starting PG with 12.4 points and 6.3 assists per game to rank third and first on the team, respectively. Is that worth a million more per season than Goran Dragic, who Morey let go in order to get Lin? On Houston, Lin is producing less despite plenty of opportunity to put up numbers compared to a Knicks team that featured Melo, Amare and JR Smith.
Omer Asik has been better than advertised on offense while maintaining his monster rebounding numbers and pedestrian secondary statistics on bigger minutes in Houston.
All of those moves were based on the use of analytics to project these guys' impact with bigger minutes. Two hits and one "ehh" is a good ratio. Houston is pretty much a lock to make the playoffs this season, a step up from prior years, without hitting bottom to draft that star. They acquired assets and turned them into Harden. And this summer, they still have room to acquire another star.
The Phoenix Suns were late-adopters in the analytics arena, one of half the league that did not send a representative to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference before the current front office came into position three years ago.
This year, 29 of 30 teams are represented (the only team missing is the Lakers).
"We have 6 people at the conference," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby told me. "We have both basketball and business analysts there. Zaheer Benjamin manages our analytics department. On the basketball side he reports to Lance with a strong dotted line relationship to me."
For comparison, guru GM and conference co-chairman Daryl Morey has 6 staffers at the conference as well as himself.
The Conference is a two-day fest featuring topics like:
These are just a handful of the dozens of sessions planned, going up to four at a time. No wonder teams are sending so many representatives. Football, basketball, soccer and baseball all have special topics about them. The business side of analytics is covered as well.
"We want to make sure we are in the vanguard of the work being done in this area," Babby said.
Quite a couple days of geekdom!
I really wish I was there.
With all the rumors surrounding the Phoenix Suns leading up to the trade deadline they managed to basically swap Sebastian Telfair and a second round pick for Marcus Morris, Hamed Haddadi, and a second round pick.
Since Morris arrived the team is 2-2 with back-to-back wins in overtime.
He joined the podcast this week to introduce himself to the Suns community and let them know a little bit more about the player they just acquired. The Philly kid is here to bring the best out of his brother while proving his doubters wrong. In Houston he was buried on the bench, but here he has a shot to prove he has the skill to play major minutes at the three or the four.
I am flying solo this week, so be kind folks...
Check out the full podcast here
Check out "Mook" on Twitter @MookMorris2
Make sure you tune in next week on Wednesday (as stated in the podcast) for an EXTREMELY AWESOME PROMOTION. That is all.