The Suns' stumble to four consecutive losses and a .500 record was a quick fall.

      
 
 

It may have been a rough week for the Suns, who went 0-4 and lost those 4 games by just a combined 14 points. However, Bledsoe did his best to keep the team competitive, as he averaged 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game.

I don't think we appreciate Eric Bledsoe nearly as much as we should.

After last night's rough loss to the Detroit Pistons, Dave gave the fans on this website the opportunity to rank the players and rate their performances. In typical fashion, Goran Dragic, who finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 turnovers on 8-12 shooting, was given 113 likes and 22 dislikes.

On the other hand, Eric Bledsoe, who shot 6-9 from the field and finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 turnovers, was given 53 likes and 69 dislikes.

Now, it is clear that the team did not play with much effort last night, and that few players deserved to be praised. But to me it is mind-boggling that there was such a discrepancy in support among the fans for our two backcourt stars. A European bias perhaps? After all, the article was posted at a time when many Arizonans were asleep.

And yet, I get the sense that this is still Goran Dragic's team in the minds of the fans. Hell, I've already made 2 Dragic videos in just a month. And Dragic is, after all, the one who has been with the team for half a decade now (over two stints).

But maybe it's time that we started sharing some of that affection with Eric as well. The stats are telling us that so far, he has deserved every penny of that contract extension.

Over the past 10 games, Bledsoe has averaged 19.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Over that span, he also shot 45% from the field, 34% from deep and 90% from the free-throw line.

He is doing it all right now, and has become a supreme stat sheet stuffer. His triple-double against the Clippers several days ago (27 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists) is further proof of what he is capable of at his best.

Are turnovers still a problem for him? Absolutely. Bledsoe is averaging 3.7 turnovers per 36 minutes, which is even more than the 3.6 turnovers he averaged in 2013-14. And while that is an ugly number, you would be hard-pressed to find other areas of his game right now to complain about.

Look at it this way. If the NBA salary cap will really be as much as $91.2 million by 2016-17 due to the new TV deal, then Bledsoe's $14 million salary that year will account for 15.35% of the cap. That is when Bledsoe will be 27, and likely in his prime.

On the NBA's current cap of $63.065 million, Ty Lawson's $11.6 million contract takes up 18.4% of the cap. That is considered a fair deal, and yet the borderline All-Star Lawson is currently shooting 40% from the field (though, to his credit, is also averaging about 16 points and 10 assists per game). If that is a fair deal, then Bledsoe is an absolute bargain.

Here are Bledsoe's highlights from the first quarter of the season. One miscellaneous but exciting stat is the fact that he has dunked the ball 9 times in only 24 games so far. Last season, he dunked just 5 times in 43 games. Bad for the knees, but good for the highlight reels I suppose.

Also, Anthony Tolliver made his way into this highlight reel by sinking a three. That's my subtle message to all of you to not be so down on Tolliver. Telling you that that was my subtle message is my not-so-subtle message that you shouldn't be so down on Tolliver.

Seriously, though. He's made 44% of his threes over the past 12 games.

Poll
Who is your Suns player of the week?

  74 votes | Results

With roughly a quarter of a season gone by, the 2015 NBA All-Star Balloting is officially underway.

The Phoenix Suns have not had an All-Star representative since the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando. This was when Steve Nash was still dishing out over 10 assists per game and got voted in as a reserve by the coaches. Before that the Suns had a 6 year run, from 2005 to 2010, when at least two Suns players played in the All-Star Game each year.

Throughout that period Amar'e Stoudemire , Shawn Marion and Steve Nash were taking turns as Suns representatives, joined once by Shaquille O'Neal in 2009 (when Shaq had to share the MVP award with Kobe Bryant), making it a total of 13 Suns All-Star appearances in 6 seasons.

In 2007, all three; Amar'e, Shawn and Steve were in the All-Stars mix together. Since then there haven't been 3 All-Star players from the same Western Conference team.

Prior to 2007, three Suns were on the same All-Star team in 1993, though then one of them was the coach: Paul Westphal joined by Charles Barkley as a starter and Dan Majerle as a reserve of the bench. The last time three Suns players were on the same All-Star team was way back in 1981; Walter Davis, Truck Robinson and Dennis Johnson with Suns coach John MacLeod acting as the West Team's coach. Four franchise representatives in one All-Star Game is pretty good.

The point of this history lesson is that the Phoenix Suns have been quite successful in their All-Star appearances. Looking through the rosters of past All-Star Games the Suns have seldom been left out.

It hasn't all just been coach voting either, the fans have had a hand in it as well. Most of all in 2010 when both Amar'e and Steve were voted in as starters getting a total of over 3 million fan votes.

So what of our odds this year?

If there is to be a Sun on the 2015 All-Star Game roster either or both of two things need to happen:

A) Winning.

If the Suns get back on their winning pace in the next month or so with Goran Dragic remaining as consistent and as efficient as he has been this past few weeks, there is a chance the coaches vote him in as a reserve based a bit more on last year's play/snub.

B) Voting.

Lots of voting. Suns fans, want to enjoy the All-Star Game a bit more this year? Want Goran to love Suns fans forever and never leave do the midget and throw a pass to Steph Curry for the 3? Want to see Eric block LeBron? Want Gerald Green to dunk on Hibbert? Want some twin synergy confusing the East? Want to troll and finally get Zoran Dragic in the game? Did at least one "YES!" go through your mind? Well, then lets get voting. Now! And be sure to get your friends, family, strangers on the street involved. There are only 37 days left to vote.

How to vote?

There are 5 easy ways: Online, Mobile, using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Detailed instructions below:

via Suns.com

Voting ends on January 19 and starters will be announced on TNT on Thursday, January 22. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will take place in New York City's Madison Square Garden, on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

The addition of Isaiah Thomas and the emergence of Alex Len have made the Suns one of the deeper teams in the league. This has created an interesting dilemma in terms of apportioning playing time, which raises the question - how deep is too deep?

A goal for the Phoenix Suns entering this season was to become a deeper team that was more resilient to injuries. After all, the time Eric Bledsoe missed last season was a major factor in derailing the team's ambitions of making the playoffs.

The major moving components were the departure of Channing Frye and the arrivals of Isaiah Thomas (primarily) and Anthony Tolliver (secondarily). Thomas would provide depth to the backcourt and insurance against injuries. Tolliver would play minutes in the stretch four role vacated by Frye.

These moves haven't been quite as successful as hoped due to several factors. First, there is a paucity of minutes to go around between four deserving guards. Then, while Hornacek was still experimenting with the lineup, Thomas went down with a sprained ankle that sidelined him for eight games.

Meanwhile, Tolliver has struggled to find consistency, both with his outside shot and his playing time.

Adding to the lineup turmoil has been the emergence of Alex Len. The second year center is healthy and has been outplaying starter Miles Plumlee on a fairly regular basis in recent games.

The Suns may not have the elite top end talent of some contending teams, but they have a lot of good to very good players. Even when Isaiah was out there just weren't enough minutes to go around.

So just how deep is the Suns' rotation compared to the rest of the league? Let's take a look.

Depth Chart

**Through Thursday night's games.

(A) - This column is a list of the players who have played at least 15 minutes per team game.

(B) - This column is a list of the players who average more than 20 minutes per game.

For example, Alex Len doesn't qualify for column (B) because he only averages 18.5 minutes per game (less than 20), but he does qualify for column (A) because he has played more minutes (425) than 15 per team game (23 x 15 = 345).

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Per column (B) the Suns have eight players averaging at least 20 minutes per game. Only the Pacers, Thunder, Timberwolves and Rockets have more, with injuries being a major factor. Yes, Isaiah has missed time for the Suns, but when he returns the core rotation will remain largely unchanged. Len is averaging 18.5 minutes per game and that number is trending upwards.

The Suns play a nine man rotation steady minutes and that is as much as any team in the NBA.

Looking at column (A) there are only three teams that have more players averaging at least 15 minutes per team game. The Knicks, Bucks and Pacers are the only other teams giving more players steady time than the Suns.

In fact, in the Western Conference 7 of 15 teams only have seven regular rotation players by this criteria. 8 of 15 only have six players averaging over 20 minutes per game. The Suns, on the other hand, are very close to having nine.

What does this mean, does coach Hornacek need to tighten the rotation?

Starters Minutes

*Houston's totals include Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley as starters.

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This certainly suggests so. The Suns' starters are averaging less minutes per game than any of the playoff teams ahead of them. Even the Spurs are playing their starters heavier minutes (at least when they play).

This chart can actually shed some light on the minute distribution for the Suns' latest back to back set against the Clippers and Heat.

In the first game of that set the Suns' starting five logged a total of 150 minutes. That is still lower than the average of any of the teams ahead of them. That game went to overtime and the starters still played less than the average of the teams ahead of them...

The next night against Miami the starters only played 139 minutes. That's well below average for a Western Conference playoff team and even below the Suns' usual average.

Basically, coach Hornacek rested his starters against the Heat.

In that game specifically Hornacek went with the hot hand of Marcus Morris. Marcus played 37 minutes off the bench, his second most minutes in any game this season. He was also the best player on the court for the Suns that night.

Bledsoe (+3) and Dragic (+2) played slightly more than usual against the Heat, but that was likely directly related to the Thomas injury.

The bench was given more time and responded by outscoring the starters 55-42. Were the starters tired from the game the previous night? From a playing time standpoint they shouldn't have been. Perhaps it was emotional exhaustion? If so, though, then why was the bench still crisp.

But what about the frenetic pace the Suns play? Surely the starters can't sustain that playing heavier minutes, right?

Well, the Golden St. Warriors play the fastest pace in the league, have the best record in the league and play their starters more than the Suns. They are also one of those teams that gives the lion's share of minutes to six players. Astonishingly, 14 of the Warriors 19 victories have come by double digits and their starters are still playing more... despite the fact they could be rested in the blowouts.

The Clippers, Blazers and Rockets are all top all top 10 in pace and play their starters more than the Suns.

What to do?

Paring down the rotation isn't necessarily an easy task. There are many problems ancillary to the overall distribution of minutes.

The Suns have too many good guards and not enough good centers.

Neither Miles Plumlee or Alex Len appears poised to garner the majority of center minutes on a consistent basis due to their sporadic play. The production from the five has been underwhelming for the Suns this season.

The backcourt raises another dilemma. If the Suns can't play combinations of Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas and Green where three of them are on the court together then something will have to give. It just doesn't make sense to squander resources by banishing them to the bench. The Suns have two quality sixth men and they're both guards.

Hornacek was experimenting with this in the Suns loss to the Pistons, with the four guards logging a total of 112 minutes. That's 16 more than the 96 available between the one and the two.

What Hornacek appears to have gotten right so far is limiting playing time for the younger players at the end of the bench. With just 84 minutes played on the season, T.J. Warren is still ahead of Archie Goodwin, Shavlik Randolph, Tyler Ennis and Zoran Dragic. Rookies, especially, just don't get much burn on playoff teams.

Only five rookies on teams that would currently make the playoffs have played more minutes than Warren.

Houston Rockets - Nick Johnson 113 minutes, Washington Wizards - Jordan Clarkson 126 minutes, Chicago Bulls - Gary Harris 140 minutes, San Antonio Spurs - Kyle Anderson 142 minutes and Cleveland Cavaliers - Joe Harris 193 minutes.

None of these players has averaged even ten minutes per team game or made any significant impact.

So does Hornacek need to play the best players more minutes? There's no reason they can't handle a bigger load. After all, none of Bledsoe (43rd), Dragic (52nd) or Markieff (67th) are near the top of the league in minutes played.

Just looking at point guards, though, Kyrie Irving, Ty Lawson, Deron Williams and John Wall are all in the top 10.

Or is it just a case where the roster makes the situation untenable? It is a turbid outlook for the Suns' second year coach and front office.

An enigma that must be solved, because .500 basketball is unacceptable.

The Jam had three tough games since our last update. Though there were some strong performances, the team struggled and lost 2 of the 3 games.

Back again, its time for our roughly once a week Bakersfield Jam update! The Jam had three games since our last update - facing off against the Reno Bighorns, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, and the Canton Charge. Despite strong performances from unexpected sources, the team struggled and lost its games to the Bighorns and the Charge, but managed to handle the D-Fenders, the team's rival, handily.

Reno Bighorns 135 vs. Bakersfield Jam 131

The Jam first faced off against the high scoring Reno Bighorns, led by three point specialist Brady Heslip. The Jam won the teams' first meeting of the season on the back of very strong performances from Xavier Munford and Mac Koshwal, and high overall shooting efficiency from the team. This game, that wasn't to be.

Koshwal managed to have another good game, lighting up the scoreboard for 23 points on 11/15 shooting. Elijah Millsap had the kind of game we have come to expect of him, scoring 25 points on 45% shooting, but turning the ball over 9 times. Unexpected production was enjoyed from swingman Renaldo Major, who had 26 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.

The rest of the team struggled. Despite shooting 47% overall from the field, the team hit only 22% of its three point shots. To go along with the tepid shooting beyond the arc, the team surrendered 19 steals. On the defensive end, the team once again failed to adequately defend the three point line -- the Bighorns took 63 shots from beyond the arc, and hit at a 37% clip.

The Bighorns were led by Brady Heslip (21), David Stockton (25), David Wear (21) and Ra'Shad James (23). Overall, the team had 6 players in double figures.

Los Angeles D-Fenders 100 vs. Bakersfield Jam 119

In their next game, the Jam took on the D-Fenders, who the Jam beat in their only meeting of the season to date, a pre-season matchup that ended 105-103. The D-Fenders are among the worst teams in the D-League this year, and the expectation for the Jam had to be a victory. They were not disappointed.

While the Jam won the game handily, only two players had particularly standout games. Earl Barron had 34 points and 14 rebounds on about 60% shooting, while Chris Wright had 29 points and 8 rebounds on 65% shooting. Millsap had a relatively quiet game, with just 12 points, but added 10 assists and 8 rebounds.

The team as a whole managed to continue its strong shooting from the previous game, hitting on 48% of its shots, and rebounded a bit from its poor three point shooting, hitting at a 38% clip. Also improved was the team's turnovers, which declined to just 16.

The D-Fenders struggled to score against the Jam defense, particularly from beyond the arc. The top performers for the team included Roscoe Smith (24), Eloy Vargas (15 points) and University of Arizona product Josiah Turner (14 points).

Bakersfield Jam 95 vs. Canton Charge 98

If the D-Fenders were something of a pushover opponent without any serious talent (particularly after they dealt us Elijah Millsap), the Charge are anything but. While the team isn't full of particularly notable names from the college scene (other than perhaps Alex Kirk), it has a reputation for hard nosed defense. That reputation was more or less lived up to in this game.

The Jam really struggled to deal with the Charge. Other than Barron, who had 43 points and 12 rebounds and continued his strong play, only two Jam players were in double figures (Prather, who had 19, and Koshwal, who had 10).

The Jam's shooting woes from three point range resurfaced this game, with the team hitting only 4 of 22 threes. At the same time, the improved overall shooting percentage from the last two games disappeared, and the team reverted to the mean, shooting just 41% overall.

The Charge, meanwhile, while committing more turnovers, shot at a significantly better rate, particular from beyond the arc. The team was led by D-League veteran Antoine Agudio, who had 23 points, and Alex Kirk, who had a double double. 6 players were in double figures.

NEXT UP: Bakersfield Jam vs. Westchester Knicks, TODAY, 5 PM Arizona Time, YouTube

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