Today, the Phoenix Suns kick off their five-game road trip in a trip to my home state to face the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio is off to a dominant 8-0 start at home, with an 8-4 record overall.
The Suns are reeling from a three-game losing streak capped by a Steve Nash- and Grant Hill-less loss to the New Jersey Nets on Friday. The past two losses have seen the Suns give up big numbers to opposing point guards Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams, a problem that could continue today against the Spurs' Tony Parker, the team's leading scorer at 17.8 ppg.
The Spurs are playing without star and team leader Manu Ginobili, who broke his shooting hand two weeks ago, while the Suns may be without Steve Nash and Grant Hill, who are both questionable with sore legs and Steve's chronic back pain.
After compiling the best record in the Western Conference and promptly losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs are out to prove that their run as an elite NBA team isn't over yet. The Suns are struggling in a similar vein, trying to remain competitive while transitioning from being an elite team to a rebuilding one.
The Suns look to improve on their 1-3 record last season against the Spurs, and the Spurs are seeking to even the all-time wins between the teams at 72 apiece.
Tim Duncan vs Channing Frye: "Timmeh" is averaging career lows of 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds at age 35. His game as a forward is opposite that of Channing's, and it'll be interesting to see whether Channing remains on Duncan or whether Gentry decides to put Frye on Dejuan Blair and Marcin Gortat on Tim Duncan. Either way, the Duncan/Blair duo makes for matchup problems for the Suns.
Tiago Splitter vs. Markieff Morris: my grandmother will no doubt be sitting in her San Antonio home cheering on Tiago Splitter, her favorite young Spur. Spurs fans love this Brazilian guy and he just scored a season-high 14 points Friday. Markieff Morris can handle him, though. 'Kieff has been a great early surprise this year and a bright spot for Suns fans.
If there's any game for Robin Lopez to 'get his' it's this one. He'll likely match up with Matt Bonner, who he should be able to handle in the post. Lopez, despite solid per-48 numbers, has been unable to get the minutes that he perhaps deserves behind the Suns' best scorer, Marcin Gortat.
Jared Dudley and Channing Frye are crucial elements to Suns' success. Can they find their game and help save this season?
Upcoming Road Trip
The Suns' recent struggles have caused over-reaction by many fans, including myself, who are calling the season a loss already and are hoping for a high draft pick next year. The season is still young, however, and the Suns still have a chance to right the ship. Let's start that tonight and with this road trip.
The NBA schedule is in full swing – even if some of the players and/or teams aren’t. The schedule is frenzied. The play has been sloppy. A concomitant circumstance of the truncated, compressed schedule is the frenetic pace and volume of basketball stories and information available. Being an avid fan, I would like to contribute to that glut. Doesn’t anybody else get the feeling that diligently keeping up with the Suns and BSOTS is more of a full-time job labor of love than usual?
The Suns (like the rest of the league) have been a mixed bag. Inconsistency has been the rule. There have been moments exhilarating and intervals despairing. The chat boards have been flooded in turn with elated and crestfallen zealots. That’s a lot like the Suns any year, so shouldn’t it be expected to follow form now?
Here are some early impressions (and depressions – let’s face it, lots of depressions). Not because it’s necessarily an appropriate time to give out an official report card informal critique, but because I have the time today, because I’m sure that at least one other person on this site might be interested in my thoughts, and because some level of catharsis seems prudent after last night’s frustrating performance against the resurgent Cavaliers.
The Suns entered the season without a volume scorer. They knew it. We knew it. What has resulted from this infirmity been even more pronounced than most of us would have considered. Consider this:
A Suns player has not led a game in field goal attempts yet this season. In 9 of the 10 games, the opposing team had at least 2 players with as many or more field goal attempts as the leader on the Suns.
Suns opponents have attempted 37 more free throws than the Suns, 3.7 attempts per game. The Suns have only attempted more free throws than their opponent twice. It has been worse recently, as the Suns opponents are +35 fta for the last 5 games – 7 attempts per game.
The Suns have only had three players score 20 points in a game this season (Lopez -21, Nash – 21, Gortat – 22), and none of them has duplicated the feat. So not only have the Suns only had a player score 20 points 3 times in 10 games, but they don’t have a single player who has scored at least 20 twice this season. The Suns are the only team in the NBA who doesn’t have a player who has scored at least 24 points in a game.
All of these deficiencies speak volumes to the effect that not only do the Suns lack a true scorer, they have nothing remotely close to one. Being unselfish is one thing, but the Suns leading scorer is averaging 12.8 ppg. Shannon Brown is leading the Suns in field goal attempts per minute (not counting Telfair or Redd due to miniscule sample size) and is shooting 33.7%. The disdain for Brown’s early season performance, and subsequently his style of play in general, has already been well documented by a large segment of BSers including the controlling authority of a certain powerful coalition. Unfortunately Brown’s paltry shooting percentage isn’t the Mendoza line on the team, that dubious honor belongs to Grant Hill (33.0%) among players with a significant contribution.
Is there hope? Probably not. Nash and Hill used to be more accomplished scorers, but those days are behind them now. Redd could be a salve. He shot without compunction in his first game, jacking up 7 three point shots in only 19 minutes. If he is healthy and can still play there will be no shortage of shots for him due to the deference of his running mates. Gortat seems the other most likely candidate. He’s shooting 62.1% from the field (with an early season injury), which makes me speculate that he’s not forcing a whole lot of shots. The Suns need to get him the ball more and he needs to be more aggressive.
The Suns will struggle with this all season. They may not have a closer on this roster, but right now I’d settle for a couple players who could at least score consistently for the first three quarters and contribute 15-18 per night. Some things will almost surely improve. The Suns are only shooting 32.2% from three point range and have only made double digit threes in one game so far. Those shots will start falling. The Suns will shoot a couple teams out of the building.
Following the status quo, the Suns are once again in need of Windex. The Suns are tied for 3rd to last in rebounding differential (-4.2). They have lost the battle of the boards 8 times in 10 games. They have been outrebounded by at least 8 boards on 6 occasions.
Is anyone else a little consternated by this trend? How are the Suns this bad at rebounding? There is an innate quality involved in rebounding, but a lot of it is effort and execution. The Suns should not be at the bottom of the pile if they are sedulous in their approach to this facet.
The Suns are ninth in points against (93.2) and field goal percentage against (43.2%). The Suns are tied for 14th in the league in defensive efficiency with 99.5 points per 100 possessions. There has been significant improvement in this category. Kudos to Turner and to the team for their effort. Keep up the good work.
Nash is second on the team in minutes per game. The strategy is to limit minutes to keep players fresh for the second half of the season, but Nash is playing the second most minutes…. I have already advocated that Gentry should institute mandatory days off as a way to rest players instead of limiting playing time per game. I still like the idea of a rotation where a different player has the night off every game. I’m probably wrong, but my opinion is that this would be more effective at resting Nash. Whether he plays 25 minutes or 35 minutes he still has to rev up the motor and take some lumps. 66 games at 30 minutes per game or 60 games at 33 minutes per game is the same number of total minutes for the season. What do you think would keep Nash fresher - 3 minutes per game or 6 nights off on back-to-backs?
Since my first idiotic radical idea is unlikely to come to fruition, I hope my second concern is at least addressed. Gentry needs to start finding which combinations of players are effective together and giving them more minutes together and in general. The season is early. Some players are still being test-driven. Before too long, it will come to a point where players who are underperforming (Brown) need to see less playing time and players who are doing well (Gortat, Morris) need more minutes. There is no rule that says Gentry has to give minutes to 10 players every night. Continuing to give playing time to ineffective players just to blindly follow a dogma that 10 players must play between 20-28 minutes a night for salutary reasons does not seem like a successful strategy. After the feeling out stage is over, I really hope Gentry shrinks the rotation to 8 or 9 if he isn’t getting quality minutes from Childress’s checker club.
Nash – Still playing at an all-star level, however, age is every man’s master. Steve isn’t as much of a scorer as he was in his prime and can’t take over games in the fourth quarter like years past. The area of his game that seems as sharp as ever, distributing, is hindered by the lack of dynamic finishers on the team. Nash’s talent is not being maximized by the current roster.
Hill – While still playing good defense, his atrocious start on the offensive end has already almost assured that he will have his lowest marks for a season as a Sun for field goal percentage and scoring. Eventually everyone hits a wall, this may be Grant’s...
Gortat – He has been the Suns best player this season besides Nash. He does everything a center should – scoring, rebounding, blocks, defense. The only area I would like to see improvement in is becoming more aggressive at looking for his shot. He will need help with this, because he can’t shoot without the ball.
Dudley – So far the Dudley starting experiment has had underwhelming returns. I don’t question the effort, but effort doesn’t always translate into results. Dudley is the epitome of the Suns offensive struggles – leading the team in minutes played, but sagging below recent shooting percentages and only scoring 10.7 ppg. It appears maybe the Suns are asking Dudley to be something he’s not (or giving him an opportunity he’s not capable of taking advantage of). Dudley may well be best suited for a role off the bench where he is only counted on for exuberance and defense, not consistent offense.
Frye – He struggled shooting and was a rebounding dynamo. He regained his touch and was a rebounding dud. Frye is more important to the Suns when he’s spreading the floor than cleaning the glass, but if he could at least put up competent rebounding numbers to go with his streaky shooting it would be a boon. Frye probably won between 5-10 games single handedly for the Suns last year. So far this year by my count it’s 0.
Morris – The rook has impressed. He appears to be fairly NBA ready. He rebounds well and can stretch the court. If things continue as they currently adumbrate, Morris should garner more minutes and even possibly crack the starting rotation soon.
Lopez – Since teasing us with 21 and 7 in the opener, Rolo has been averaging about 3 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. So much for his palingenesis… He’s not getting consistent minutes, but he’s also not doing a whole lot to earn consistent minutes in the time he is playing. Robin remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma with his future as a Sun widely in doubt.
Horus – (ancient Egyptian god of sky and war) Despite providing much needed scoring to begin the season, Horus has seen his role begin to shrink. It seems he is not being used to maximum advantage on a team with obvious offensive difficulties. Then again, his defense being a sieve doesn’t help either.
Brown – What can Brown do for you? Stop jacking up Pietrus-esque long range shots and playing out of control. Some of this may be linked to coaching, but it seems that Brown is not playing to his strengths and is instead playing himself right out of the rotation.
Redd – Too early to tell much. We know he can shoot, the question is can he play?
Price – The latest in a long line of back-up point guards to wilt and die in the shadow cast by Steve’s greatness.
Telfair – Lost the battle for back-up point guard minutes to Price. Enough said.
Childress – Loves the bench.
And I’m spent….
I like 7footer's astute recognition of PHXgp's terse statement "the Phoenix Suns looked simultaneously like an aging squad and a young, inexperienced one." I think that nicely sums up not just the loss to the Cavs, but the season in general to this point.
Besides the team’s glaring issues with respect to age, speed, athleticism, scoring, rebounding, and overall talent things don’t really seem too bad.
The Suns are an Eric Gordon jumper away from being a .500 team. It is possible the Suns are on the precipice of a meteoric rise where they will produce galvanic, coruscating statistics that will offset the woeful early returns and bring the total picture back to a much sunnier disposition. Risen from the ashes, so to speak. 10 games is still a small sample. The Suns are getting their legs. Players need to settle into defined roles. Rotations need to be set. The problem is that every other team is facing the same obstacles, so just as the Suns have a chance to improve as the season progresses, so does everyone else.
I still think this team will compete for a playoff spot. The Nash era Suns have always had flaws. Most of the previous versions just had more areas of strength. These Suns are doing good things like playing more stalwart defense and taking care of the basketball (7th in turnovers). I’m not always the most sanguine person. Tomorrow’s promises don’t put food on today’s plate. But I’m also not ready to count out Steve and the Suns just yet.
Tonight, the Phoenix Suns took on the New Jersey Nets without both of their aging star players, Steve Nash and Grant Hill, who were both out with sore legs. The Suns played well overall without their two starting vets, but in the end they fell short as they lost their third straight game with a score of 110-103
Ronnie Price and Shannon Brown got the start tonight in the place of Nash and Hill, and both players performed fairly well overall. The Suns kept the game close in the first half but struggled to find a player offensively who was going to take the game over for their team.
In the second half, Gortat started out well and Ronnie Price also got extremely hot in the 3rd quarter, racking up 12 points and 5 assists in a short period of time. However, the offensive efficiency didn't last long before the Suns began missing shots while Deron Williams and Marshon Brooks lit up the scoreboard from all over the court and pulled the Nets ahead. The Suns made a nice run in the 4th quarter to pull within three points, but the Nets answered back with a three point dagger from Anthony Marrow with about a minute left to seal the deal.
Read on after the jump for more about this game, and also what's ahead for the Suns.
For the Nets, the story of the game was Deron Williams, who scored a whopping 35 points off a ridiculous six of eight three-point shooting to go along with a very Nash-esque 14 assists. Ronnie Price appeared to play fairly good defense against him, but he was simply too good to be stopped tonight.
The makeshift starting unit of the Suns played well tonight with all players scoring in double figures. Marcin Gortat led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Channing Frye had 15 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds, Ronnie Price had 18 points, 8 assists, Jared Dudley had 18 points and 4 rebounds, and Shannon Brown contributed with 13 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds.
But ultimately, it wasn't enough as the Nets were able to seemingly score at will on the Suns. In a game without Nash and Hill, one would expect the Suns to struggle offensively. But instead the Suns played pretty well in that respect, all things considered, yet struggled to stop the Nets on defense. The Suns just can't seem to find consistency in their play. On a night when they really needed to step up their defense to keep the Nets in check they just couldn't do it.
The Suns will now start their brutal five-game road trip starting Sunday against San Antonio, and then playing in Chicago, New York, Boston, and Dallas over the next seven days. None of these games will be easy, and after already losing three straight games, one has to wonder how the psyche of this team will hold up if they continue their losing streak...which is a distinct possibility given the level of competition they will be facing.
Hang in there Suns fans...The road ahead could get bumpy for awhile
No Nash or Hill tonight, Price and Brown getting the start in their place
Price looking active to start the game
Brown being Brown…Good play followed up by a poor one.Ugh
Michael Redd off to a slower start tonight, missed his first two shots off the bench
Suns lead 25-22 at the end of the first quarter.Nets 14rbs (6 offensive), Suns 9rbs (3 offensive).Suns shooting 48% and the Nets shooting 38%.
Telfair came in to start the 2nd quarter and gave the Suns improved offense and good passing.
Suns doing better with rebounding now and are getting some offensive rebounds of their own as well.
Nets lead 54-51 at the half.Suns shooting 48%, Nets shooting 49%.Suns 16rbs (6 offensive), Nets22rbs (7 offensive)
Deron Williams has 13pts and 8ast.Humphries with 10pts 5rbs.
Suns are getting a lot of contributions across the board, but nobody is really stepping up to take this game over yet.
Channing Frye leading the Suns in scoring with 10pts, and also ties a team high with 3rbs.Suns will need both of those numbers to go up for someone in the second half if they are going to get this win.
Gortat making his presence known, scoring the first two baskets to start the third quarter assisted by Price.
Ronnie Price comes out on FIRE to start the second half…Now with 13pts and 7 assists after the first 6 minutes of the 3rd quarter
After the Suns had briefly retaken the lead, Marshon Brooks hits a three and then Deron Williams comes back with two more three pointers to pull the Nets back ahead by 6.
Deron Williams nails another 3…Suns need to get on him fast
Nets now leading 88-82 at the end of the 3rd quarter.Gortat now leading the Suns in scoring and rebounding with 18 points to go along with his 8 boards.
Telfair not nearly as effective to start the 4th quarter.Struggling to run the offense.
This is yet another game where Markieff Morris looks like he's struggling. The Suns could really use him right now
Marshon Brooks is also killing the Suns.He now has 18points as well.
Ronnie Price now back in with just over half of the quarter left to play.
Gortat now has 20 points and 10 rebounds…He’s done his job tonight.
The Suns are starting to close the gap late in the 4th, do they have one more run left in them?
Channing Frye doing his best impression of Steve Nash with 7 assists to go along with his 15 points and 5 rebounds!
Anthony Morrow with the 3 point dagger to extend the Nets lead to 107-99 with about one minute left…that should do it.