Getting started with the second era in Phoenix Suns (15-30) in the past seven months has to be tough, but they handled it as well as Eric Bishoff handled the final years of World Championship Wrestling. For the ten of you that got that reference, you're welcome.
@ Sacramento Kings - W (106-96)
vs. Los Angeles Clippers - W (93-88)
@ San Antonio Spurs - L (108-99)
@ Dallas Mavericks - L (110-95)
In hindsight it will be the looked at as simply a 2-2 week with two sets of back-to-backs on the schedule. For those without a sense of revisionist history (rarity) this was a week of ultimate highs and very familiar lows. The team charged out to a 2-0 start under Interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter before dropping the next two on the road in Texas.
Before heading on the road to Texas it seemed Hunter was able maximize the effort from his team. They came out playing great defense and scoring well in the first quarter, which has been a problem this season.
The issue the previous regime had with the roster was consistency. That does not seem to have changed as they won two games behind defense and lost two games behind defense immediately after. That balance of effort on the defensive end while still scoring enough to be competitive in the fourth quarter is the item behind mystery door number three, but the Suns keep choosing doors one, two, or falling short in the speed round just before.
Through 41 games the Suns were -16 overall (468-484) in offensive rebounding as a team. Over the last four games they were -16 (35-51) in that five day window alone. One of the staples of a good defense is the ability to shut the door on the possession with a rebound or forced turnover.
Coincidentally they won the first two games despite being aggressively mauled on the offensive glass, but as a whole the team does not have an enforcer in the paint to put the finishing touch on what have been very good overall defensive possessions. Instead they are giving up multiple shots most possessions making the defense work even harder while allowing the same amount of points to the opponent, just in more attempts.
They are currently on pace to be out-rebounded -164 on the offensive glass over the second half of the season. That is unlikely, but the pace is being set.
Lindsey Hunter became only the fourth Suns coach to begin his career 2-0 joining the fraternity of Jerry Colangelo, Scott Skiles, and yes, Alvin Gentry. The winning was short lived, but showed signs of potential.
In the two wins the Suns were a +15 overall in the scoring column holding two Divisional rivals to a combined 43.8% from the field, 37.9% from three, and forced a combined 39 turnovers. All three of those intangibles are reflective of the way the defense played.
With three days of practice and against a struggling Kings team and a Chris Paul(less) Clippers team the Suns shined. On no practice the team was picked apart by a Tim Duncan (and Greg Popovich) less Spurs team and a struggling Mavericks team. That pretty much sums up the week.
There has to be consideration to the lack of practice time because Hunter is a new coach, but the Suns were outplayed from the jump in each game.
In these two games in particular however the team was simply outplayed by teams that were more prepared, coached better, and knew what to do to win games. That is going to happen often to the Suns and it is not meant as a knock in the slightest, but expectations should be realistic. The team is struggling and is going through the growing pains of a reboot.
Hunter was able to run three practices before the teams first game and they were ready to play. He emphasized defense, which the team delivered in those first two games.
Here are the highlights from practice.
There was a clear tone to Hunter and how he was going to handle things. This team is going to play defense, play hard, and make the philosophy switch never seen here in the valley before; Defense. So far that has been the case as they held their first two opponents to 92 PPG, but they were run out of the gym in Texas giving up 109 PPG. The learning curve seems to go up-and-down.
The team played hard under Alvin Gentry and gave effort on defense, but it wasn't to be. Seems Hunter is getting about the same out of his guys on that end.
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 - 15.75 PPG 2.25 RPG 9.25 APG 43.4 FG%
An aggressive Goran Dragic is what the Suns need and that is exactly what he provided early in the weeks two wins. He was attacking the rim going in with a purpose looking to score or distribute. On the defensive end he has spearheaded the noticeably more opportunistic defense.
Dragic is the straw that stirs the drink for the Suns so when he is aggressive and making plays the rest of the team has more of a pep in their step. They go after it harder on defense and become a better overall team.
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Wednesday, January 30th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (19-25)
Friday, February 1st vs. Dallas Mavericks (19-25)
Saturday, February 2nd @ Golden State Warriors (26-17)
Well, Lindsey Hunter, it seems that the Suns ascent to being on the same level as the Spurs (seriously, why on Earth would he say this?) might take just a tad bit longer than you imagined. Also, it turns out, that a bad team playing their fourth game in five nights, on the road against a team who's season is on the bubble might not end well. Go figure.
Oh, and that improved defense you've been talking about? We've been hearing about that for like five years now, so don't worry about delivering. We're used to ignoring all that talk.
The Suns started the game well enough. The ball was moving. Goran Dragic had four assists in the first six minutes. But things fell apart really fast when the bench came in.
A 16-16 tie game at about the five minute mark of the 1st was quickly turned into a rout thanks to a Mavericks 22-5 run over the next seven. It started when Michael Beasley came in the game and wasn't helped at all by five uneventful minutes from Kendall Marshall. (An air-balled three is not considered an event, right?)
Shawn Marion, playing in his 1,000th NBA game, reminded us what a mistake it was for the Suns to trade him. This guy is a special player and can still impact the game with his energy, hustle and crazy ability to find net with his array of "shots".
Lindsey Hunter's Phoenix Suns cut the lead to six in the third and were down "just" nine going into the fourth. But once again, the bench was horrible and Michael Beasley was Badsley. The Mavs used a 14-5 run to put things to bed.
Goran Dragic was the best player on the court. He finished with 18 points and 8 assists along with some blocks and rebounds and stuff. Everyone else was pretty forgettable except KENDALL MARSHALL HIT A THREE!!!! TWICE!!!!! WOOHOO!!! Get that kid signed up for the Shooting Stars Contest!
I except to see a Lindsey Hunter quote telling us how it's not long now before he's in the All-Star Game. That's how it works, right?
Vince Carter lit the Suns on fire with 15 points on 5-8 shooting. At least Dragic managed to kick him in the balls at one point. That was fun.
The Suns head home and get a couple of days off before welcoming Steve Nash back to Phoenix on Wednesday. Will/would you boo Steve? (Expect to hear that question asked a few thousand times between now and Wednesday.)
Same old Suns get down big, fight back a little, and come up short in the fourth quarter. Phoenix dropped their second game of the Texas trip in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
What have we learned so far about the Lindsey Hunter Suns? Not much. The rotations have been tighter with nine guys seeing action. The youth movement some were expecting hasn't materialized. The team is playing hard, but they (mostly) did that before. They are better defensively according to the stats but small sample size.
Oh, and Michael Beasley has had two decent games after being freed from Gentry's dog house where he somehow managed to piss off the old coach with some undisclosed off-court antics.
Q&A: Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry on the Suns' Struggles and Michael Beasley - The Triangle Blog - Grantland
It can mean almost anything when coaches point to "off-court" problems. Can you elaborate at all?
I can’t elaborate on it. I think Michael has a good idea, and most of us have a good idea of some areas he has to work on. But we keep that in-house.
Many of us had hope that Beasley would gel with Gentry and the young and immature talent would blossom into some kind of consistent basketball player. That obviously didn't happen and there's little doubt that Michael was one of the few players happy to see the coaching change.
Three games, however, isn't much and if Hunter intends to live up to his accountability mantra, it seems like the clock is ticking before we see Beasley benched due to poor defensive effort. That has to be the mostly likely outcome at this point.
But you just never know what might click with a guy like Beasley. If Lindsey can manage to turn the Beas into a productive and CONSISTENT player, then forget about giving him a long-term contract, the Suns should just put him directly into the Ring of Honor.
Shawn Marion (the only Suns player who's jersey I own) will appear in his 1,000th game on Sunday. Fittingly, the milestone comes against the team where he logged 660 of those games. Trix will be only the 107th player in NBA history to achieve this mark. Well done, Shawn.
The Mavericks are seven games under .500 but have won five of their last seven and might just be rounding into form. According to our friends at Mavs Moneyball, they are in that classic part of the season leading up to the trade deadline next month. If they can continue to play well, they might be buyers at the deadline or at least stand pat and make a run. If not, they might dump some players in return for "future assets".
You certainly get a sense that their season is at a tipping point.
Dirk is back at the helm after missing the first two month's of the season. In his 16 games back from knee surgery, he's shooting just 40.9 percent and has yet to score more than 20 points in a game.
The biggest offensive threat for the Mavs remains O.J. Mayo (18 ppg, .456 FG%).
The Mavericks rank 19th with an Off Rtg of 104 and 22nd with 106.9 Def Rtg. The Suns are 23rd and 25th respectively.
Game tips at 5:30pm in Phoenix and is on Fox Sports Arizona.
Bonus: Goran Dragic getting some praise:
Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic building confidence in leadership role
"I feel like his confidence is at another level," (Spurs coach) Budenholzer said of Dragic since becoming a starter midseason in Houston last year. "He really looks like he believes in himself and has control of the team. We feel like he’s the key. He’s surprisingly athletic in his length and his explosion. He uses some on the defense end also. He’s grown and matured over the years."