Phoenix Suns Daily Links: Ruh Roh, Panic Time??

When the Suns were 14 and 3 it was not reasonable to expect them to continue at anything approaching that pace. People that suggested the Suns really might be a championship contender were delusional and somewhat love drunk on the purple and orange Kool-aid* spirits.

* At some point last year I promised never to use the "Kool-aid" reference again given it's horrific history. Sorry.

Now, with the Suns going 5 and 9 in the month of December the talk has turned from championship aspirations to wondering if this is even a playoff team. As expected, the trade machine is getting plenty of work and arrows and being fired in every direction.

Despite the flurry of excuses and the array of ways this team has found to lose games it is not as bad as all that. Hopefully.

What we've learned is that the Suns are who we thought they were. A team that can put up points with the best of them and struggles to rebound and play defense. There's been some promising development from young bench players (Dudley and Dragic) and some that are still trying to figure out the game (Lopez and Clark).

Over the Hill?

Grant Hill is showing signs of his advanced (in basketball terms) age with visible signs of decline in games where he's called upon to play more than 30 minutes. According to Hoop Stats, Hill has shot 55.7% in the ten games when he's played between 20 and 30 minutes and seen that drop to 44.7% in the 18 games he's played between 30 and 40 minutes.

Hill is 8 and 15 on the season in head-to-head match-ups comparing his efficiency rating with that of his opponent. Even worse, Grant hasn't won a single positional contest in the month of December.

That's not to put the blame on Grant. It is unreasonable to expect him to deliver the kind of effort needed on a game to game basis given what's been asked of him.

When Leandro went down, the Suns bench was exposed with Clark not being ready to step in and Gentry showing no trust in Tucker. The result has been increased responsibility for both Hill and Dudley which Gentry has admitted was asking a lot. Over the past three games, Hill has been back to playing around 25 minutes per game which is closer to where he needs to be. With Barbosa on the floor, Dudley can return to his natural role of bench "energy guy" and spot up shooter.

But there's a lot of season left and more injuries to come. Unless Clark steps up at some point this season, this will continue to be a problem for the Suns.

Better Amare. More confusion?

The one other area of concern that I see that has the potential to carry over is the growing "conflict" between Nash, Amare and Gentry regarding late-game decision making.

Amare is playing his best basketball in years with his December rebounding average over 10 per game and his free throw shooting back to around the 80% mark after starting the season closer to 70%. I heard the other night that he's second in the league in dunks which is a sign of both his aggressiveness and his physical health. It is also a sign of Nash getting him the ball in great position. Amare's strength has always been finishing on the move against less mobile and less athletic defenders.

Unfortunately, on several occasions (against the Blazers, Thunder and Warriors) in late game situations we saw Gentry try and go to Amare isolated in the post. This is still not the best aspect of his game and Steve Nash hasn't let that pass without comment:

Nash’s quote after the Warriors game:

"I got caught probably trying to get the ball to Amar’e too much," Nash said of the fourth quarter, seemingly pointing to two consecutive possessions on which Stoudemire missed in the lane before fouling out with nine points. "I should have just been more aggressive for the stretch.

"My point guard nature takes over where I should just be single-minded until they stop it."

And he made a similar comment on the 24th after the Suns went to Amare in the post against the Thunder on a key late possession:

"I think we got to in some ways just simplify the game at the end. Space the floor and if they switch take the ball hard to the basket. I think sometimes we get locked into trying to throw it inside on the mismatches and we have a hard time getting it there and we have a hard time reading and reacting down there when they converge so I think we’ve just got to be aggressive and not be so thoughtful at the end of games to be honest."

With the team struggling are we starting to see some cracks in the cohesion between Nash, Amare and Gentry? Too soon to say that but it is worth watching.

 

Links:

Programming Note: Game Preview will be up later this afternoon after the Suns/Lakers shoot-around and media availability.

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